Jasmine fell headlong down the swampy embankment. The upshot roots were like hands grabbing at her feet. She could hear the dogs barking, the hunters yelling as the beams of their flashlights cut through the mosquito air. They would soon have her if she didn't keep moving. Panting like a smoker in a marathon, she moved through the muddy swamp bottom, into the green underbrush. Jasmine knew that persecution would eventually come, but she never dreamed so soon. She couldn't let them catch her. Not tonight. She had to fight, to die if she had to, but fight she must. At the moment, fighting meant running. And run she would.
Her heart pumped blood faster than water tumbling over Niagara Falls. Her neck palpitated from the surge. Jasmine couldn't swallow enough air. Her lungs hungered for more. Her hands shook from the adrenaline. Who would have imagined such a night? Who could have predicted such a turn of events?
At age 45, Darren had the physique of a 28 year old. Darren had lifted weights seriously for ten years. His well-tanned body bordered on perfect, except for his slight limp from a football injury in high school. His fine tuned body showed that he still had lots of potential.
His freshman days at Stanford had introduced him to the wild life and he soon discovered that girls weren't his thing. He'd been a leader in the Gay Rights Movement 26 years since those early college days.
He was voted most likely to succeed in high school, and was valedictorian in his class at Harvard Law in 1995.
Now in 2014 after having led Locus for the past ten years, he was at the prime of his power. He was taking Locus, and the country, to a whole new level.
Jasmine lived most of her childhood in Southeastern Tennessee. Her family moved there from Boston when she was six in 1988. They lived in the black part of town, called Six Ward by the white folks. Although there were plenty of other black students, she always felt a little different. She couldn't wait to graduate in three months and move out of town.
"So Jasmine, I hear you worship Mohammed?" asked Rick.
"Rick, you should know better than that," Jasmine said. "First of all, Muslims worship Allah not Mohammed. Secondly, that's my parent's beliefs, not necessarily my religion," Jasmine said.
"Ooh, someone's a little defensive about her beliefs," said James.
"Maybe if you studied a little more you'd know the difference between Allah and Mohammed," Jasmine replied.
"I heard Muslim people love war," said James.
"Have you ever heard of the Crusades? Weren't they led by Christians?" asked Jasmine.
"Whatever. You're just jealous because no one's asked you to the dance on Friday," Rick said.
"That's a real intelligent response Rick," Jasmine said.
"Hey, where are you going? Don't walk off. I thought we were having a discussion," James said.
When she walked in the kitchen later that day, the letter was there waiting for her. She grabbed it and ran upstairs. She busied herself with vacuuming to take her mind off of it, while the unopened envelope sat on her dresser. She looked up at the envelope, knowing it held her future's fate. She'd be sick if Duke University rejected her.
Jasmine lay curled in the ditch, listening for the dogs. She thought back to her high school graduation, fourteen years ago. This was her first time back in her home-town in two years. She never thought she'd be running for her life the next time she came back.
She looked out over the ditch. Nothing. No dogs, no flashlights. She could only hear her own breathing. "O God, please don't let them catch me tonight."
She tried hard to stay alert, as she gazed at the stars and awaited her enemies. "I just need a good night's rest," she whispered.
"Darren, I'm afraid we haven't found her just yet. We're close on her trail...." Nick said.
"What? You lost her?" Darren said.
"We haven't exactly lost her, we just...."
"Nick, I'm depending on you to bring her in. Now do your job."
"Yes sir," Nick said as the phone went dead. Nick parked the jeep and went into the small cabin. He looked around the room, like a coach staring at his team after a defeat.
"Men, you've got a job to do. Put on your equipment and find her, tonight!" Nick could see the fatigue in their eyes. But, wars weren't won by the lazy.
The rumble of motorcycles filled the night, as they drove off into the dark. Nick gazed into his coffee cup as his right hand held up his head. All he could think about was sleep.
He made his way out to the jeep and walked to the back where the dogs were. "Hey boys, you ready to go hunting again?"
Before long they were on old man Lane's property down by Candy Creek. Nick released the dogs after giving them another whiff of Jasmine's shirt. "Go find her boys!"
Nick double checked his nine millimeter and strapped on his night vision. He couldn't help but think how nice the weather was, as he traipsed through the high weeds on the lower bottom of Lane's field.
Jasmine's blood surged as she heard the dogs barking. She wasn't sure how long she'd slept, but she knew it wasn't enough. She looked through the woods. She heard dogs, but saw no flashlights. They sounded like they were coming her way, from the road.
She scrambled out of the gully and made her way farther into the swamp. She couldn't help but think of snakes. Fortunately, there were no alligators in this part of the country. But, snakes were enough.
Water filled her new sneakers. "Thank you God this isn't a deep swamp," as water circled her ankles. She thought back to how she used to go trekking through here as a young girl with her father and old man Lane's son. She never dreamed she'd be relying on those skills to save her life. She needed to make it past the fence and over to the Tyler property. Then she'd have a clearing to the creek.
But the dogs were closing in on her. Her shoe wedged under a log and she fell forward, catching a small piece of wood in the neck. "O God, please help me," she whispered as she climbed back to her feet. She was now at the fence she'd scaled so many years ago. She placed her right hand on a tree and used the fence like a ladder. She heard the dogs moving in. But her shirt caught on the barbed wire and her other foot slipped. "Lord, please don't let it end this way. Not tonight." Tears began to fall, as she worked frantically to free herself.
She fell on the other side, leaving a patch of clothing on the fence. She took off toward the creek, moving through the underbrush with as much energy as she could muster. She thought about the events that had led her to this point, her gay lifestyle, her depression, her conversion to Christianity, her stand against Locus.
"Run Jazz," she coached herself. "You can't give up now," she wheezed.
Finally, she finished the hundred-yard dash through the thick undergrowth. She could hear the creek bubbling. She fell from exhaustion. "Just a little farther," she told herself. "God, give me strength."
She made her way onto the pebbled shore by the creek. She bent over to get a drink when she heard the pebbles crunch behind her. She raised her head to listen, too afraid to turn and see.
Darren paced the floor in his three-story home in the Brookline area of Boston. He carried his green health shake in one hand and his cell phone in the other.
"Why don't you settle down Darren, they'll find her. You've been pacing for hours," Ted said.
"I know," Darren said.
"Why don't you come back to bed. It's three in the morning," Ted said.
"I'm a nervous wreck. I think I'll just go into my office so I won't disturb you."
Frisky looked up from her round doggie bed when Darren walked in the office. "How you doing, girl?"
Frisky rolled over so Darren could rub her belly.
"You are one spoiled dog aren't you girl?"
Darren sat at his desk and looked at the screen of his laptop. He thought of how much progress Locus had made under his leadership. How they'd lobbied the courts to win their way into the homes of Americans.
Jazz's left eye began to quiver. She recalled how kids used to make fun of her wandering left eye. The pebbles crunched again behind her. Her hands were shaking and she had nowhere to run. The creek was too wide at this point.
"Jasmine Flowers, you're under arrest for spreading hatred and prejudice," came a man's voice.
"You have no authority to arrest me," Jazz said. "You don't represent the law."
"Shut up lady! I'll do the talking," Nick said. "Now, put your hands on your head, or I'll shot you right here."
"You can't do this. You're not the law," Jazz said.
"I can arrest you and I am arresting you," he said.
"Where are my parents? You said you wouldn't harm my parents if you got me," she begged. "Where are they?"
"We told you not to run from us," Nick said as he slipped on the cuffs. Then he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and put it over her mouth. "Now, someone's going to pay," he whispered into her right ear.
Nick pulled out his phone.
"Good news boss! We've got her." He listened for a moment. "Will do," he said and clicked his phone shut. "Come on Jazz, we've got a trip to take."
When she came to, she was in a one-bed cell, eight by ten feet. She had a headache and didn't remember anything after getting in the jeep. Except a syringe. She did remember Nick giving her a shot. Her left eye began to quiver again.
She noticed the camera in the corner of the cell. There were other cells around her, but no prisoners.
"Where am I?" she asked the lady standing guard outside her cell.
"You're in prison," the lady said.
"But where? What state? What jurisdiction?"
"Miss Flowers, you're in prison and that's all you need to know right now," she said with no emotion. This guard reminded Jazz of the librarian in high school, a body without much life.
The guard then put her hand up to her ear, where a curly white wire stretched from somewhere inside her shirt.
"Yes sir Mr. O'Neil," she said looking up at Jazz.
"Miss Flowers, please have a seat on your bed, Mr. O'Neil is coming down to see you now," the guard said firmly.
Jazz sat without a fuss.
She heard a clank at the metal door outside her cell. The green door opened and a tall white man walked in.
"Miss Flowers, we meet again," the man said. He stood close to the bars, and shoved his hands into his pockets.
"What do you want Darren?" Jasmine asked.
"You know what we want, Miss Flowers. We want trouble-makers like you to go away. My people want equal rights and you're standing in the way."
"Where are my parents?"
"Miss Flowers, one thing at a time. Tomorrow, you will be put on trial in a private court. Since you're a capable lawyer, you'll be defending yourself. If you're found guilty, I'm afraid both you and your parents will have to pay." Darren smiled, then walked away.
"Don't leave! Where am I? I want to see a lawyer. Hey!," she screamed as the metal door closed. The female guard stood staring at the wall behind Jazz as though nothing had happened.
"Lady, please, tell me what day it is," Jazz managed through her tears.
The guard stood silently, unmoved by Jazz's plea.
Three men came into Jazz's cell and cuffed her hands, her left eye darting back and forth. They placed a scarf over her eyes. Her forehead began to sweat. She walked with the three men through the green metal door and then up some stairs. She was placed on a gurney and wheeled for several minutes.
"Where are you taking me?" she asked again.
Several minutes passed as she lay in utter quietness, not knowing if she was alone. Her heart raced. "What are you going to do to me?" She started weeping.
Then, the guards pushed her gurney through a set of doors. They removed the blindfold. It was a court room, wooden benches and all.
Darren wore a black robe and sat behind the bench with his gavel in hand. There were two black people sitting where the jury was supposed to be. The guards guided her to her table at the front of the courtroom. There was a black woman sitting at the opposing table rubbing her chin with her index finger. Jazz assumed the lady was the prosecutor.
Jazz shivered from the cold concrete floor under her sock feet. The room smelt like an antique store, a musty odor mixed with old furniture.
"How does the defendant find herself on charges of spreading hatred and prejudice?" Darren said as judge.
The others looked at Jazz and waited for her response. One of the two jurors, the one with dread locks, actually seemed to have sympathy in her eyes.
"Miss Flowers, how do you find yourself?" Darren repeated.
"This is not fair...."
"You will address this court as 'Your Honor.' Now how do you plea?"
Jazz wished she could control her left eye.
"Your honor, I am not guilty," she said through tears.
He slammed his gavel down. "Then, we shall proceed accordingly."
Jazz could hardly breathe. How could this be happening?
"Miss Flowers, you may now testify as to your innocence," the judge said.
"Your Honor," she hated herself for saying it, but she had to play along. "Your Honor, I am being accused of spreading hatred and prejudice. This is absurd. Three months ago, I defended a church for refusing to hire an openly gay man for a staff position. A church has the right to refuse a paid position to someone who doesn't hold to their values."
"Are you finished Miss Flowers?" the judge asked.
"For now, that's all I have to say."
"Then Mrs. Barnes, you may now cross examine."
Mrs. Barnes rose quickly and walked over to where Jasmine sat. The prosecutor wore an Armani suit that covered her trim figure. Her neck was long, like it was made of taffy and stretched. She couldn't have been more than thirty five years old.
"Miss Flowers," she said with the voice of Mrs. Huxtable on the Cosby Show. "When you studied law at Duke, you were taught to approach the law without prejudice or passion, were you not?"
"Yes," Jazz replied.
"While you were there in North Carolina studying law, were you not highly involved in the gay lifestyle?"
"Just answer the question," Mrs. Barnes screamed.
"Yes," Jazz said.
"Were you not also a leader in a popular gay organization?"
Jazz looked up at the prosecutor.
"Were you?" the prosecutor demanded.
"Yes," Jazz said.
"Why this change of heart Miss Flowers?"
"About a year into my law practice, my lover Sheri left me. I hit bottom. I was depressed and using more and more alcohol," she said, putting a tissue up to her eyes. I'd been miserable for a while, but it all came out when Sheri left me. I even thought about killing myself. And then, a Christian co-worker shared her faith with me. We discussed things for several months, and then I became a follower of Christ. I gave up the gay lifestyle and started working to fight the movement."
"Yes, and fight you did," Mrs. Barnes said with admiration.
"Why should America support your gay lifestyle?" Jazz said standing up.
"That's enough Miss Flowers," Mrs. Barnes chided. "Now sit down."
"Your part in the recent legislation of Mountain Road Church v. Smith has been costly to our movement. It's a set back, but we'll eventually overturn it. And when we do, people like you will go to jail for life," Mrs. Barnes said pointing her finger.
"But at least I'd get a fair trial in a real court," Jazz stood again.
"We're done here," Darren declared.
The two jurors returned after fifteen minutes.
"Have you reached a verdict?" Darren asked.
"We have, your Honor," the man in a gray suit said.
The bailiff took the paper from the juror and gave it to the judge. Darren inspected it and returned it to the bailiff.
"Jurors, how do you find Miss Flowers on the change of spreading hatred and prejudice?"
"On the charge of spreading malice and prejudice, we find the defendant..."
Jazz sat there thinking she must be dreaming. This couldn't happen in America. Someone would be looking for her soon.
"...guilty on all charges," a juror said.
Jazz almost threw up when she heard it.
"What are you going to do with me?" she screamed. "What have you done with my parents?"
"Miss Flowers, you have been found guilty of spreading hatred and prejudice. You and your parents will now face the consequences," the judge said.
Jazz was blindfolded and taken to a small dark room. Her blindfold was removed and she saw her parents crying on the other side of the room.
"Mom, Dad, what have they done to you? I'm so sorry."
"Don't be sorry Jazz, you stand strong now," her father said.
"What are you going to do to us?" Jazz asked.
"You'll soon find out," the tall man said.
The man placed Jazz beside her parents. They wept together, but couldn't hug because of the cuffs.
"I'm so sorry," Jazz said.
"Don't worry honey, we'll be Ok," Mrs. Flowers said.
"Alright, it's time to go," came Nick's voice behind them.
Jazz turned around. She gasped when she saw the three ropes awaiting them.
See "The Radicals" (Story 3 of 3) at http://www.neednotfret.com/content/view/65/29/