By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Frank Owen
After the cabby is out of earshot, Allen laughs. "I love getting these guys. I know the owner of the company." He flavors his voice with an unidentifiable accent in imitation of the cabby's boss. ""Goddammit! I tell these guys not to talk to the girls.'" By the time we cross the street and return to his car, everyone is gone again -- except the lone girl standing on the corner.
From Allen's vehicle we hear a man nickel-and-dime the female officer for a blowjob. "Just so you know, straight up: I don't do anal sex," she warns; she asks the john if he'll use a condom, and he agrees. We hear a different man ask her if she's selling. Another asks her if she's a cop. "Are youa cop?" she retorts. "'Cause the cops are out tonight; I just saw a bunch of them."
Here's a myth-breaker: Law enforcement officers are not bound to reveal their identities. "Of course not," Allen guffaws. "How could we get anything done?"
A young black guy sporting dreadlocks is busted. He sits cross-legged on the street and watches as one officer searches his knapsack while another loads his yellow mountain bike into the trunk of a squad car. Contents of the knapsack: An almost-empty bottle of Absolut, deodorant, cigarettes, a small plastic sandwich bag of weed, and a green Plexiglas bong.
Another john stands beside his blue Chevy truck with his hands up in the air. He's wearing Bermuda shorts and a gingham shirt. He's well-spoken, but his eyes are wide. "I'm terrified," he tells Allen, who informs him of the vehicle-impoundment ordinance and the two-hour booking process that awaits him. "Whatever," says the guy. "I just want to get through this as fast as possible, get my car, and be on my way."
The squad decides to take a break and grab some dinner. Allen offers to drive me up and down Federal Highway, between Pembroke Road and Sheridan Street, pointing out the road's more troubled areas. There is no brothel per se in Hollywood, but there are several motels along Federal Highway that police have branded as vice havens. The Royal Inn is known for its ongoing criminal activity; the Venezia, the Blue Sands Motel, and the Travel Budget Inn have all been raided during the last three years. Some, like the Blue Sands, were shut down under racketeering-influenced corrupt organizations (RICO) statutes after incurring multiple felony charges. Since its purchase by new owners, the Blue Sands is now a legit motel and is no longer targeted by Hollywood police.
During our tour Allen tells me that most of Hollywood's prostitutes live in the highway's motels, with about three quarters of them conducting business from their home base and a smaller percentage working in johns' cars. We also comment on the huge yellow moon hovering over the rooftops and Allen's career change 20 years ago from special education teacher to police officer. I plead with him to help me track down Stephanie.
"There she is, right there!" he says, as if on cue.
She's walking north on Federal, just shy of Lee Street. And she's moving fast. Allen flashes his high beams at her, then points toward the side street. When we pull up, she looks nervous, but she's smiling. She's a little thing, about five-foot-four and maybe 100 pounds. She's wearing jeans shorts, a white T-shirt, and slouch socks with sneakers. Her clothes are clean. From behind she looks like a teenager.
But when she approaches Allen's window, she looks older than her 37 years. Her skin is stretched tight over her face, her cheeks hollow. Allen told me earlier she is a crackhead, adding that 90 percent of the girls working in the city have drug addictions. The Hollywood P.D.'s Website offers a collage of pictures chronicling one prostitute over ten years' worth of mug shots. Picture number one depicts a hard-faced blond woman. Picture number ten shows a skeletal, sexless visage: hair thinned, lips sunken, eyes unfocused. It's as if the drugs and the life have bled her dry.
Stephanie resembles that prostitute in her seventh year. She isn't yet completely cadaverous, but she's well on her way.
Allen introduces us, and I assure her that I'm not interested in getting her into any trouble. I just want to hear her story. She agrees to meet me tomorrow for lunch. Then she complains to Allen about getting thrown out of the Budget.
"Shit," he says. "Where are you going to go? The Antique?"
"I don't know. Probably. I was just walking over there."
We say our good-byes, and as she walks away, Allen pokes his head out the driver's window. "Hey, Stephanie! Stay off the rock, willya?" She keeps walking, as if she hasn't heard him.
Rene Reese has worked at the Gratitude House in West Palm Beach for three years. The nonprofit rehabilitative and support center first opened in 1968 and offers chemically dependent women a fresh start. I find Reese covering for the receptionist behind the front desk, an almost finished bowl of vegetable soup in front of her. Although she is the office manager now, she first visited Gratitude House more than 12 years ago as a client.