Roxanne, Sexually assaulted and beaten. Busted hundreds of times and chased off Biscayne Boulevard by cops and neighborhood activists. There's nothing glamorous about this working girl's life.
In some segments of Dade County society, Roxanne Falco is a famous person. Stories are told about her, news of her whereabouts exchanged. But the talk is not complimentary, unless you consider sheer notoriety flattering. Roxanne Falco is a prostitute, and she is generally unwelcome in the part of town where she lives. In fact, the bluntly stated goal of many of her northeast Miami neighbors is to drive her out.
Roxanne Falco isn't just any prostitute; she has become a kind of symbol of the inner-city blight that community activists are fighting to keep off their streets and away from their homes. "Roxanne is a prototype of all the hookers on Biscayne Boulevard," says Ernestine Stevens, one of the most assertive of northeast activists, a woman who is not above chasing hookers off the boulevard herself. "Getting rid of her for me will be a symbolic victory. Her tentacles are like a taproot going down into our existence. People say prostitution is a victimless crime, but they should look at what it does to the neighborhoods. We're the ones who suffer the burglaries and violent crime, and the declining property values that come along with the drugs and the hookers. This area has to change -- it cannot thrive as a red-light district."
A few years ago Miami police, with input from the community, compiled a hit list of Biscayne's ten most troublesome hookers, visibility and number of arrests being key factors. Roxanne Falco was number one. By her own count, roughly corroborated by cops and court records, the 34-year-old prostitute has been arrested more than 400 times during her ten years on the street and has done three short stints in state prison on drug convictions. Besides the activities conventionally associated with prostitution, she is said to have exposed her breasts at a convenience store, mooned passersby from the back seat of a police car, and attempted to sell an Uzi to a schoolgirl. (She denies this last allegation.)
"Of all the prostitutes on the boulevard, Roxanne has been the most standoutish," comments Darrell Nichols, one of two Miami police officers who work out of the city's Neighborhood Enhancement Team (NET) office on Biscayne and 66th Street. "Maybe it's because of her appearance, I don't know. But she probably generates more [complaint] calls than anybody. For a lot of people in the community, it's become a personal vendetta. She is rather obnoxious. We've asked her time and time again, 'Listen, don't you understand you're not welcome? People don't want you here.'"
"Where would I go?" Roxanne responds in a girlish voice that always seems to have a cheerful lilt, even when muttering obscenities or bemoaning the latest black eye inflicted by her pimp. She has lived in northeast Miami longer than many of the homeowners who want to banish her, and she won't consider leaving her mother there, virtually alone.
Rowdy, bawdy, and unrepentant, she squeezes her five-foot-tall, 200-pound frame into a tiny spandex dress or a tank top and a miniskirt, and thrusts herself down the boulevard, swigging from a can of beer or bottle of cheap wine in a paper bag. Still, even as she tosses her long blond hair, bounces her ample (44DD) breasts, and cheerily greets her fellow Biscayne denizens, there is about Roxanne a sense of numbing inertia, the kind that seems invariably to overshadow a way of life that permits little in the way of reflection or regret.
Lately, though, Biscayne Boulevard's most notorious hooker has been forced to make a few adjustments. There's the unrelenting attention from police and residents, and the fact that, at almost age 35, she's not as resilient, not as hot a property as she once was. And since late September, prostitutes have been contending with a new enemy: Police suspect that a serial killer may be responsible for the murders of five hookers who frequented a stretch of SW Eighth Street. Prostitutes are rarely shocked by deaths in their ranks, whether by violence or disease, and few were worried after the first two murders. But as autumn wore on and more bodies turned up strangled or smothered on the residential roadsides of West Dade, they were forced to acknowledge the danger that is an inseparable element of their profession.
Miami police officer Greg Bavonese works the three-to-midnight shift, riding alone on a beat that includes the stretch of Biscayne between 38th and 87th streets. An intense and tenacious eleven-year veteran of the force, he keeps files on all known hookers in his area, a sort of personal memory aid that includes aliases, dates of birth, criminal histories, and photos. The hookers know Bavonese, his hours, his personality quirks (his quick temper; his requirement that they address him as Officer Bavonese, never just the last name; the fact that lying infuriates him), and they know how to avoid him -- stay off the boulevard.
On this night, as he maneuvers his patrol car around the potholes and disoriented street-crossers on Biscayne, he spots a tall, skinny woman mincing down the sidewalk. She's a newcomer to the boulevard, he notes as he brakes suddenly; he and some other officers had spoken with her a few nights ago on 79th Street. When he confronts her tonight, though, she's all innocence, denying in a thick Alabama accent that she's working as a prostitute in Miami. Bavonese barks at her to stay the hell off the boulevard. From the counter phone at a market across the street, he calls the Metro-Dade Police Department's criminal identification unit and requests that they run the Alabama woman's record. "Sure, she's not a prostitute," he quips. Sure enough, the computer search turns up a couple of local arrests for drugs and prostitution-related activities, which he notes on her newly created file card.
"Bavonese's got me at least 150 of my arrests," Roxanne estimates with the aplomb of a CPA tallying a quarterly report. He says that's an exaggeration; for one thing, he doesn't always arrest the girls he encounters. (Like most people who work with prostitutes in one capacity or another -- including the prostitutes themselves -- he generally refers to them as girls, regardless of their age.) Bavonese's preferred method is to make himself such a nuisance that most eventually give up and go someplace else, at least during his shift. "That's all I can ask them to do -- change venue. I know I'm never going to get rid of prostitution," the 35-year-old patrolman explains in rapid speech that still carries a slight accent from his native New Jersey. As he crushes out one of the half-consumed Marlboros he chain-smokes, his pale eyes look strained but watchful behind wire-rimmed glasses. He smoothes a conservative reddish-brown moustache and takes a last sip of Dunkin' Donuts coffee.
"Charity! Come over here a second!" his voice booms over the public-address mike in his patrol car. The object of his attention, a young woman with wavy, shoulder-length black hair, prances across the street to the car. "If you swing your hands one more time, it'll be disorderly conduct," Bavonese warns over his loudspeaker, in reference to the particular way hookers provocatively swing their arms as they walk down the street to indicate that they're on duty.
"Hey, Officer Bavonese, are you picking on me now?" the girl asks sullenly, in the remote, disconnected voice of a very stoned person. Tonight she's dressed in black high-top Reeboks, white shorts, and a black T-shirt. She carries a portable radio attached to small headphones. Her brown eyes, free of makeup, dart in all directions. "I just need one date," she says, knowing she'll get no sympathy.
Charity Fay Nava is 23 years old. She says she began her career as a prostitute six years ago, after leaving her grandmother's home in Waukegan, Illinois. She dismisses the unfortunate turn of her life with a few obscenities and defiant, impatient tosses of her head. There's a history behind the gold front tooth that flashes when she smiles; the real tooth got knocked out by her pimp. Not long ago, he broke her jaw. She's been cut with knives on the back and arms and had guns pulled on her. "I'm the only one who takes care of me," she asserts, bumming a Marlboro from Bavonese, who orders her off the boulevard as he complies with the request. "I don't want to see you out here any more tonight," he warns. She speed-walks away, arms flailing furiously.
Because a police officer must physically witness a prostitute propositioning a client in order to arrest her on the misdemeanor charge of soliciting, cops fall back on a litany of other charges: disorderly conduct, obstructing a public roadway, and disobeying a police officer are among the most popular. But Bavonese says he and his colleagues generally try a less drastic approach before they resort to an arrest; they simply ask the girls to move on. Such tolerance is lost on the brazen ones like Roxanne, who isn't fazed by threats and whose behavior has often virtually dared the police to bust her.
"But life is so tough out here that a lot of times arresting them is a favor," Bavonese remarks. "They thank me for it. Some will have had a fight with their pimp and won't have anyplace to go. Some spent all their money on crack, they're wasted, no place to go. There's a love-hate relationship out here. I don't really love them, but sometimes I've actually forced some of them to go to the hospital. One girl was walking around with blood in her eyes, head split open; her pimp almost killed her. It makes me really angry when they refuse to press charges."
Less than a block away, shouting erupts in the parking lot of the Paraclete Motel. A svelte young woman in jeans and a flowered tank top sprints madly toward Bavonese, only to speed off in the opposite direction when she sees him. In the lot, he finds a scratched-up man, his shirt torn almost completely off. The prostitute had attempted a strong-arm robbery after they'd left their motel room. She got his beeper, but he doesn't want to press charges because he is married.
Back in his car, Bavonese falls silent, cruising south under Biscayne's bright streetlights, past the all-night markets and the motels -- the Saturn, the Seven Seas, the Economy Suites, the Sinbad.
In their crusade to clean up the boulevard, Ernestine Stevens and other residents of the increasingly gentrified neighborhoods east of Biscayne have exerted unyielding pressure on police and city officials to crack down on prostitution and drug dealing, and on the tattered motels that shelter the hookers, dealers, and pimps. About three years ago, then-Dade State Attorney Janet Reno put her then-chief assistant Katherine Fernandez Rundle in charge of a special Biscayne Boulevard enforcement effort. Despite activists' lobbying for harsher punishments, the leniency of the courts toward misdemeanors did little to moderate the behavior of hookers like Roxanne, explains Ed Griffith, Rundle's legal assistant. "One of the concerns [of the northeast community groups] was Roxanne would come into court and all she would get was time served." He remembers her well: "What can you say about Roxanne Falco? Albert Camus would love her: She's the ultimate outsider."
The city's Nuisance Abatement Board has had some impact on prostitution on the boulevard. A few motels have been temporarily shut down for on-premises drug sales and prostitution. Most recently the Seven Seas and the Shalimar were ordered to close for six and nine months, respectively; the Economy Suites received a warning. To close a motel, the City Attorney's Office must present proof of three police undercover operations (i.e., stings) that resulted in at least one conviction related to drugs, prostitution, gambling, gangs, or noise. (If no convictions resulted, the required minimum is seven such incidents.)
North of 36th Street, the population of prostitutes has dropped, according to police, residents, and the hookers themselves. Many now work west on 79th Street, farther south on Biscayne, or have moved east to Miami Beach or out to the strip of cheap motels on SW Eighth Street.
Of course, there are always the newcomers, like the fourteen-year-old runaway Bavonese recently stopped, and the prostitute from Alabama. Girls who have yet to be admonished for addressing him by his last name and who don't quite understand that he is serious about chasing them off the boulevard.
It's Friday night, the weekend is beginning, and look at her.
Roxanne's upper cheekbone is mottled purple; so is the area around her left eye. Both fleshy white arms are spotted with bruises, worst at the elbows. Pop, her pimp, has been hitting her again. Today it was a soup ladle. Which means tonight she won't be staying in the motel room they share. She'd like to find shelter in her mother's room at a boarding house in Little Haiti.
Outside the chainlink fence that surrounds the two-story home, which once must have been glorious but is now patched and overgrown, Roxanne calls loudly for her mother. "If I can't stay here, I'm in big trouble," she murmurs, hanging her head. "I can't go back there. I really should get another home. For three years he's had me trapped like this." She adds almost forlornly: "But he can be good."
After a few minutes, a barefoot woman in shorts and T-shirt emerges from the vicinity of the porch, rubbing her eyes. She walks down the cracked concrete pathway to the padlocked gate, but she can't open it. "I can't get out," she tells her daughter. "That asshole [landlord] won't give me the key."
Gloria Falco works part-time cleaning one of the motels on Biscayne. Her short, silver-blond hair is uncombed, her mouth swollen on one side, locked in the grimace of an abscess. "Do you have an aspirin?" she asks. "There's no 'lectric up there. Can you believe it, I'm paying this guy $60 a week and they go and cut it off. What am I gonna do?" She clutches her forearms, rubs as if she's cold. "I'm telling you, it's not going to work," Gloria says nervously when Roxanne asks to stay the night. "People are going to call the cops and I'm going to lose my house. I can't believe you left your good dress back there," she chides.
"Better than an ass-beating," her daughter replies.
Roxanne says she doesn't report the violence because the police have told her they can't arrest Pop unless they see him hitting her: "They don't care; they think I deserve it." That isn't true, the cops respond; charges can be filed if a weapon is used -- including a ladle. Moreover, if a woman is living with her attacker, he can be arrested on a domestic-violence charge (a felony) if she shows signs of being beaten. It's difficult to discern whether Roxanne is ignorant of this or if she's too jaded to believe the legal system can help her, or if she simply doesn't believe it would deter Pop, who Greg Bavonese says has been arrested frequently enough to have lost any respect he might have had for the system.
Gloria Falco has been kicked out of the last two places she lived because she let Roxanne stay with her. Both times, when police learned where Roxanne and her friends were entertaining johns while Gloria was at work, they warned the building managers about the statute against harboring or condoning prostitution on the premises. Gloria calls the police behavior harassment, and she is bitter about it. "They have no right to run you out of your own place," she complains. "They'll tell you they understand and they won't do nothing, and then they turn against you. How am I supposed to get by like this?"
Just across the narrow street, several neighborhood kids are gathered around an ice cream truck. Their laughter and shouts mix with the overamplified calliope sounds coming from the van. Roxanne greets two teenage boys who glide past on bikes. She knows them because they sell her crack.
When the owner of the house, a tall, middle-age Haitian man, appears from around the corner, no one says a word, but he knows immediately why Roxanne is outside the gate. "I cannot let you go in here," he warns. "You're going to make she lose her room."
Roxanne leaves, walking east toward the boulevard, where the full moon is rising over the trees. "I'd be better off going to jail," she says, her accustomed insouciance taking on an angry edge. Instead she'll turn a few tricks to get together enough cash for a motel room. "But I'm going down to the thirties," she vows. "I ain't gonna deal with Bavonese."
At 30th Street and Biscayne, she stops at the Pronto Food Market for a bottle of pink Cisco wine. "Four servings," she reads approvingly off the label. Her bad mood gone, she smiles broadly, showing large, straight teeth with a small gap between the two front ones. She stakes out a corner on Biscayne, pacing stiffly and evenly back and forth like a two-dimensional duck on a carnival firing range. One arm swings, up and back. After a while a car stops, and Roxanne climbs in quickly. A half-hour later she's back on her corner, reeking of liquor and twenty dollars richer.
A young blond man who looks straight out of a frat house pulls up in a red sports car. "Hey," he exclaims cordially, "I've been looking for you!" They drive off. The kid isn't just a client, Roxanne explains when she returns; he's also a prostitute, specializing in gay men. Now she's got enough money for a motel room. "Even if I do get a room, what am I doing to do at eleven o'clock tomorrow night?" she wonders unemotionally. "It's Saturday night. I'll be out on the street, and he'll be out on the street. He can track me down. He just asks the other girls. They'll tell him where I am. Everybody likes to see, you know, somebody get hurt."
The lushly landscaped modern house on NE 85th Street in the quiet Shorecrest neighborhood looks almost exactly the same as it did fifteen years ago when the Falcos lived there. The elephant ear philodendrons Gloria Falco planted are thriving; the curving wooden walkway to the front door and the deck the family built out back are in good shape; the names they scratched in wet concrete remain: Rocco, Gloria, Bryan, Roxanne.
"If people knew the true story of Roxanne's life, they wouldn't be so quick to condemn," says Monique Taylor, a northeast Miami property owner who knew the family in its days on 85th Street. "She is an incredible victim. Her life has been a Grecian tragedy."
Roxanne lets out a quick laugh, almost a snort, when the notion of her victimhood is raised. But she's willing to talk about her past, if she's in the right mood. A little alcohol often helps.
She was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, in January 1960, the second child of Rocco and Gloria DiFleice Falco, a couple in their mid-twenties who had married when both were thirteen, according to Roxanne. Rocco, tall and handsome, with thick black hair, was a policeman known to most of Easton's 20,000-plus residents. During his eight-year career he received commendations for saving the life of a toddler by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and for helping capture a burglar at a dry cleaner. When he resigned from the force in 1967, he was president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Life was pretty good until Rocco went into the restaurant business, opening Rocco's Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge in nearby Bethlehem Township. He and Gloria worked long hours, leaving for the restaurant every morning at 9:00 a.m. and returning home at about 5:00 a.m. the next day. Left alone most of the time, Roxanne's big brother Bryan began using drugs.
Rocco's burned down in November 1972. Local newspapers reported that arson was strongly suspected, but a year and a half later, the Falcos collected a $76,000 payment from their insurance company. In January 1974, Rocco and Gloria, who had purchased a popular Easton restaurant-bar called Trembler's, were arrested after police raided a dice game there. When the evidence against them was ruled to have been illegally seized, the case was thrown out. The restaurant was fined for liquor-law violations late that year, and not long afterward, the family left Pennsylvania. "They skipped town to Florida," Roxanne recalls. "They left everything up there except most of my grandmother's antiques. They had some very valuable pieces."
The family settled near Tampa, in New Port Richey. Roxanne was sent to the Adirondack Southern School for Girls, Bryan to Admiral Farragut Academy, and Rocco and Gloria opened another restaurant. "Things started going bust again," Roxanne recounts. "I'm fifteen by then. Me and my brother both got kicked outta the private schools, which my father had no business sending us to. I got kicked out because I was no good. I didn't give a fuck."
Bryan, who was still abusing drugs, was diagnosed as schizophrenic. And again, suddenly, the Falcos left town for points south. This time they left the antiques behind, too. Rocco got a bartending job in Miami, Roxanne remembers, and Gloria worked as a cashier at a restaurant. They saved enough to make a down payment on the house on 85th Street. Sometime around then, Rocco allegedly went into the drug business. "He started selling capsules of powder," Roxanne says. "He would show 'em to me. Then he graduated to higher quality [cocaine]."
In 1976, at age sixteen, Roxanne met a mechanic just out of the army. They moved in together, and in 1978 Roxanne gave birth to a daughter. She was working as a cashier at Pantry Pride at the time. "Yeah, I got them for a lot of money," she says. "Because I'm good with figures. I'd just leave the cash register open and when someone bought something, I'd be able to add it up real quick and put money in my purse. I'd come home most nights with $100 or $150." Eventually her thievery was discovered and she was fired. Short-term stints at other markets ensued. For a time Roxanne ran a dancewear shop on Biscayne that her parents bought for her. But business was never good, and she closed after about a year.
In October 1981, Bryan Falco walked into his parents' bedroom, pulled out the .38 Smith & Wesson revolver Rocco kept in a cabinet next to the waterbed, faced the mirror near the door that led to the patio, and shot himself in the head. He was 24. Roxanne, 21 years old and six months pregnant with her second child, says she "never cried. It was kind of a relief. He was a very hard person to get close to. But then, so am I."
Rocco and Gloria had already had a few brushes with the law here, but after Bryan's death they were arrested several times on drug charges. "They had made it okay. They just got greedy," Roxanne says. ("Rocco was the only unemployed bartender I knew who drove a Rolls-Royce," a neighbor recalls.) In late 1982, they were tried on cocaine-trafficking charges but were acquitted.
In 1982 Roxanne and her two children, Gina and Rocco Ernest, moved back in with her parents. "He was an asshole," Roxanne says of her husband, who she thinks is in Fort Lauderdale now. "He just wouldn't work." She supposes Rocco Ernest is with him; she hasn't seen or heard from her son, now twelve, in a few years. Sixteen-year-old Gina, who lives in Miami, recently gave birth to a boy -- Roxanne's grandson.
Meanwhile, the Falcos were having money problems. The house was lost to foreclosure. The family moved into an apartment down the street, and subsisted mostly on welfare checks, according to Roxanne. In 1985 she turned to hooking; "I don't know A it was something that was just there, and I did it," she says. She speaks of her four years with James, her first pimp, with almost as much affection as she reserves for her mother, daughter, and grandson. They met one afternoon when she was drunk and he was sitting on a bus bench. "He was just cute," she remembers with a smile that would be bashful were it not for the context. "I needed money, he needed money. We just got together. He had a room."
She and James had two boys, born in 1986 and 1987. Both children were taken from her by the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) and put up for adoption; she hasn't seen James since he was sent to prison in July 1989 on attempted-murder charges. Rocco Falco disappeared one day in 1987. Neither Roxanne nor Gloria has any idea where he is. Family members back in Easton say the last they heard, Rocco was in Delaware.
Until about seven years ago, Roxanne says, she and her counterparts on the boulevard wouldn't even let anyone who smoked crack work near them. But these days, just about everywhere the majority of the prostitutes on the streets are addicted. (Though she smokes it, Roxanne says she's not crack-dependent. She admits to being an alcoholic.) A high percentage of hookers are also HIV-positive; during the past six months, voluntary testing of women arrested for prostitution by the Metro-Dade Police Department revealed 26 percent are infected with the virus that causes AIDS. Enslaved by crack, members of this new prostitute underclass are willing to work for whatever money it takes to stave off the jones, and are more vulnerable than ever to brutal pimps, crime, and disease. Most long-time prostitutes complain that nowadays it's much harder to make a decent living; desperate addicts have driven the prices down.
Despite repeated arrests, hookers are almost always back out on the street within hours or days, because prostitution charges are misdemeanors and aren't given high priority by law enforcement. With this in mind, Ernestine Stevens and other like-minded activists in northeast Miami thought it might be a good idea to target the clients. Since this past August, the names, addresses, and birth dates of men convicted of prostitution-related crimes have been displayed several times per week on the city's cable-TV channel. But the impact of that effort, too, is limited. Most defendants are able to plead no contest, and in exchange for a fine and community service, they keep their records clean and avoid television exposure.
Many people who work in law enforcement are convinced that the only way to put a stop to the cycle of degradation is to legalize the sex-for-money industry, require that prostitutes be licensed and submit to regular medical tests, and restrict the trade to one or more strictly delineated zones. Not surprisingly, that idea -- with its requisite suspension of moral and social taboos -- has never caught on with Florida politicians.
Recognizing the countless hours spent by police and corrections officers arresting, booking, jailing, and releasing the same drug-dependent prostitutes over and over again, the Metro-Dade Police Department recently initiated a program they hoped would pluck at least some out of the routine. Now prostitutes are occasionally offered crack during stings. If they accept, they are arrested and charged with cocaine possession -- a felony -- making them liable for much more time in jail than they'd get for the usual misdemeanors. The next step is Dade's special drug court, where defendants are given a chance to enter drug-treatment programs. Aside from protests from the Dade Public Defender's Office that the policy is unconstitutional, even its advocates acknowledge that it probably won't salvage many lives. Crack-addicted prostitutes are among the most incorrigible of all street people, and rehabilitating every one arrested under the new policy would require time and resources the county doesn't have.
"Their motives are good, but every girl they offer a rock to isn't going to leave [the street]," says Rhaynetta Cheatham, a former prostitute who now does AIDS-prevention outreach work for the Liberty City Health Services Center and heads an AIDS ministry at Mount Tabor Missionary Baptist Church. "Dade closed its women's drug-rehab facility two years ago, and there are only four county-run treatment programs. There are less than a hundred county-funded beds for women. If you go to intake, you have to wait for a bed."
But the real barrier to change, Cheatham explains, is the psychic one all prostitutes must maintain to survive on the street: "You don't let your guard down. Prostitutes don't feel anything. There are three parts of a prostitute's body that work: the head, the hands, and the feet. Those are active at all times. A nice girl will get blown out of the water. It's very scary out there. But at the same time, you get comfortable. It's a place where no one demands anything, and if society doesn't have faith in me, why should I try, because they won't give me a break, anyway."
At age 38, Cheatham has full-blown AIDS and an overwhelming motivation to fight the virus with unceasing efforts to educate, salvage, and support its most unfortunate victims. Charismatic, she is possessed of a dramatic presence that is enhanced by her golden eyes, flared nostrils, and talent for public speaking. She grew up in a religious family and was a top student at her high school in Plant City (near Tampa), a member of the National Honor Society and Latin Club president. But she was sexually molested for years by her mother's white boss, and all the strict middle-class values she learned were of no help to her in struggling to cope with the trauma. At age sixteen she was a steady drug user, and about ten years ago she became a part-time prostitute in order to to pay for cocaine. From there Cheatham slid all the way into the street life, relinquishing her five children one by one to the care of her family or to HRS.
Fresh out of drug treatment in 1992, doing her utmost to establish a new life, Cheatham recalls working at McDonald's for minimum wage and watching prostitutes earning $100 an hour right outside the window. "I was terrified to come out of the house; it was too tempting," she remembers.
Today she takes her bike out a few times a week just to greet the working girls, hand them some condoms, or talk if they want to. In this context, Cheatham says, she's spoken to Roxanne, but never about anything of substance. When she meets prostitutes on the street, she doesn't condemn them. All she can do is inform them about where to get help should they decide to seek it. She refuses to look at prostitutes either as a class of offenders or as a class of victims. She knows they're people like her who are in deep trouble and who, if they decide to get out, will need strong support. "I understand the people in this neighborhood wanting prostitutes off the street," Cheatham says. "But there is a human being under there. Some reason pushed them out there. A lot were not nurtured or supported; there was verbal or sexual abuse. Those values I learned in that crinoline slip and white patent-leather shoes don't apply. We've all got some belief or value that just didn't work."
At the Checkers drive-in on Biscayne and 17th Street, Roxanne has struck up a conversation with a young man wearing a backpack and hiking shorts. It turns out he's from Pennsylvania. Amazingly, she knew some of his relatives when she lived there. He has wandered down to Miami after a devastating breakup with his wife, and he's homeless. They decide they can help each other, but first Roxanne wants to visit her mom to see if she has any money to give her, and she wants to stop by a women's shelter to find out whether they'll allow her to sleep there during the day and go out at night. She and the man agree to meet back at Checkers later.
At her mother's, though, there's no money for Roxanne. Gloria still doesn't have electricity, and she still can't unlock the gate. "Look at me," she complains, dragging on a stub of a cigarette and flicking the butt onto the grass. "I'm just sitting here listening to a little radio with nothing else to do."
When Roxanne arrives at the Miami Rescue Mission's women's shelter, she is told she can sign up for a bed at 4:00 p.m., if one is available. By the time Roxanne makes it back to Checkers, more than two hours late for the promised rendezvous, her new friend isn't around. It's Saturday night, and again she is unsure about where she'll sleep. Without her good dress and boots, which she left back at the motel with her pimp, she's got to go to work in her flip-flop sandals.
Like many Biscayne regulars, Roxanne has been catching lifts a few times a week over to SW Eighth Street. Saturday nights have been good on the Tamiami Trail, almost like the old days on Biscayne, when men would actually wait in line in their cars, or engage in bidding wars over certain prostitutes. The fact that Bavonese is on duty tonight makes the option of hitting the Trail even more attractive.
As she readies herself for the ride to SW Eighth Street, Roxanne is unfazed by the two strangulations that have occurred to date, even though she was quite familiar with one of the victims, the pretty transvestite named Lazaro Comesana. She's a veteran, and she believes in her ability to sense trouble and avoid it. "Always follow your first instinct," she says, lighting a cigarette with a Bic lighter lifted from a john the night before.
That's not to say she hasn't made some bad judgments.
The last time she was pregnant, for example, a john forced her at knifepoint to fellate him, cut off chunks of her hair, and, as she fled half-clothed, hit her with his car. Another time, she got in a van with two men who took their money back by force. But she's wiser now.
She steps out onto the Trail wearing a tiger-print T-shirt, stretch miniskirt, black lace tights, and the flip-flops. Her green eyes are clear, luminous (she swears she hasn't taken any drink or drugs all day), highlighted with a touch of mascara. Still, the clarity reveals the hint of an underlying malaise, a tiredness.
Roxanne stands in the dim light of a corner near the Trade Winds Motel, shifting from one foot to the other. Across the street, at the corner of the Graceland Memorial Park cemetery, a tall, auburn-haired transvestite dressed in a business suit moves out of the shadow of a tree. To the west, a skinny girl in black leather paces up and down; a heavily madeup woman wearing a shiny green party dress stands near a bus bench. All up and down the calle cars pass, occasionally slowing suddenly and turning onto a side street. A girl will walk up to the window, words are exchanged, maybe she gets in. Roxanne turns down offers from a couple of carloads of young kids. "They woulda hurt me," she says later. At one point a Metro cop stops to look her over. When he orders her to go somewhere else, she crosses the street and stands outside the cemetery. That gives her the creeps, so she crosses back as soon as she feels it's safe.
The good johns aren't biting.Roxanne goes for a quick date with a young guy a little after midnight, and about an hour later she hits on a middle-age man in a middle-age Cadillac. He pays ten dollars for a room at the Ernesto Motel and twenty dollars for sex. It hasn't been a particularly lucrative night, but when it's over there is enough money to rent a motel room, enough to stave off for another few hours the monotonous scramble for money and the inability to escape from a relationship with a violent man.
Now and then Roxanne mentions that she's been entertaining the notion of going back to school to learn accounting. She's good with figures. Of course, with her arrests and felony convictions, getting hired would be a miracle. But can she continue like this? She feels trapped in every way. "I don't have a life," she says with no trace of bitterness or sadness. "I don't live."
Not long after this, Roxanne's mother will lose her motel-cleaning job and get kicked out of the boarding house in Little Haiti. Pop will be arrested and thrown in jail on cocaine-possession charges. The body of Charity Fay Nava will be found face-down on a roadside in Westchester; a fourth corpse will turn up a week later, and then a fifth. As the fear sinks in, hookers will desert SW Eighth Street. Some will filter over to Biscayne. But not even Greg Bavonese will have seen much of Roxanne.
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