Last dance

In Dallas' cantinas, where the company of pretty young meseras is doled out by the drink, a killer lurks

At other times, Bork would get sobbing calls from her at odd hours. "She'd call me late at night, 4 a.m., drunk, and say, 'Eddie, I miss you.' She was like crying drunk. I had no idea what she'd gotten herself into, but she was very unhappy," he recalls.

Says her friend Laura, "When she got sad, she would say that at least her brother and sisters are getting everything she didn't get."

About two months before her death, Maria's car was stolen from in front of her apartment in the middle of the day. After that, either Laura or her parents drove her to work, and she caught rides home with friends.

Without transportation, without a steady boyfriend, without any prospects in her adopted country, Maria's life seemingly had shrunk to a desperate core.

On the day she died, she made one last grasp for a bit of happiness, an odd gesture from Maria to herself. Recalls Laura: "I went to pick her up, but she was in the beauty parlor. So I went by her house, and I saw a huge flower arrangement. I asked her mom who gave it to Maria, and she said Maria bought it herself. They were yellow roses. Beautiful flowers."

It was Valentine's Day. Her mother and father dropped her off at Tapatio around 10 p.m.

"She'd always come home about three or four in the morning," Carolina remembers. "That day she didn't."

Olivia Hernandez's mother still doesn't know what happened to her youngest daughter. Just that she is gone, returned to her native Mexico in a casket.

Olivia's sister wanted to preserve the secrecy. She couldn't bear to break the news about how Olivia's American dream had ended.

Her mother "has heart problems and high blood pressure. It would be too much for her to know what he did to Olivia," explains Maria Martinez, Olivia's older sister.

When Martinez--Olivia's only relative in Dallas-- finally managed to raise the almost $5,000 needed to send her body home to Chihuahua for the funeral, she dressed her in a white, long-sleeved turtleneck blouse and long white gloves, to cover her battered arms and hands.

"Olivia never needed any makeup when she was alive," her sister says. "When she died, they had to use some, to cover up the bruises so her mother couldn't see."

Maria Martinez's apartment is small and dark, carpeted in the drab brown favored by rental agencies. Colorful pictures crowd the living-room cupboard and spread to the walls.

Among them, almost blending in with the clutter of childish, smiling faces, stands a larger-than-life portrait of Olivia Hernandez. At 23, she was not much older than Martinez's own children, who are now 20, 13, and 7. Sitting at a small table across from the shelves, Martinez explains how she talks to Olivia.

"With each month that passes, it is worse," she says, trying to control her tears. "I always ask...What happened? Why? And how much did she suffer?

"I was the one who told Olivia to come to the U.S.," she adds. "She never thought she would stay more than a few months."

What started off as a vacation at her sister's home for the reticent 17-year-old became a succession of mistakes and bad luck that turned her life upside down. Relationships with unreliable men and two unplanned pregnancies burdened Olivia with responsibilities. Five years later, with two daughters depending on her, few job skills, and no knowledge of English, Olivia, then 24, took a job as a mesera at Mike's El Socio. That would be her last mistake.

Olivia had led a relatively sheltered life in Mexico. At 15, with a trade-school degree in business, she began working as a secretary, a job she still held when she left for her American vacation. As the youngest of seven siblings, she still lived under her mother's wing, sharing her apartment in a residential street of her native Chihuahua.

"We were not rich in Mexico, but we worked and led a calm life," says Martinez, who shares her East Dallas apartment with her husband and children. "It is very hard to save money in Mexico, and Olivia needed to buy a car. So I told her to come for a vacation, and work a bit to save some money."

Once in Dallas, Olivia became a bartender at the Golden Palace, an East Dallas bar that has since closed down. Soon the pretty bartender began dating one of her co-workers, Martin. That was where the bad luck began.

"Martin was not a good man," her sister says. He left Olivia soon after she found out she was pregnant, and "never came back--not even when we notified him of Olivia's death."

Seven months pregnant and alone, Olivia returned to her mother's home in Chihuahua and gave birth to her first daughter, Carla.

Only a few months passed before Olivia's best friend decided to try her luck in the United States. Going against the mother's wishes, that friend convinced Olivia to accompany her on a trip back to Dallas.

Leaving Carla behind with her mother, Olivia ventured into the United States again. This time, she took one of the most readily available and best-paying jobs an attractive undocumented girl can get: as a mesera at El Cisne Latin Club, a nightclub on Northwest Highway. Less than two months later, she met Humberto Virgen.

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