The sky was gray on the open road at Dexter Street in Biscayne Bay, Florida. Marcus Velez had gazed at the sky wearily from the passenger seat of his red pontiac, his stomach feeling nauseous, his head aching. At times, the sky seemed to spin as he tried to shake it off, failing miserably.
Lisa Sullivan put her foot to the floor, trying to outrace a black van that was on their tail. Marcus turned his gaze towards her, seeing a blurry body that seemed to spin over and over again. He did see the tears that fell down her cheeks, her head near the steering wheel, making it seem as though she could barely see past the windshield.
Marcus’ vision seemed to clear for a short amount of time as he made note of Lisa’s short dark hair that fell to her shoulders, framing her dark eyes and ebony complexion. She wiped more tears from her eyes with the back of her right hand; her left hand shook on the steering wheel.
“We have to get away from them?” Marcus said.
The van drew closer but continued to stay behind them.
Marcus’ mouth felt dry, his vision seemed to get fuzzy again. He remembered how one of them held him while the other shot him with a needle. He screamed because he knew that it was Molly going into his bloodstream. They thought they were going to make it seem like he had died from a drug overdose.
“Are you okay?”
“My head is spinning but if I can get to a hospital, then I’ll be okay.”
“I don’t know if we’ll be able to get away from them.”
“We have to.”
“Even if we do” - she sniffled, looking at the mirror nervously - “who is going to help us?”
“Miguel Rojas. He knows that I don’t do drugs.”
“Who is he?”
“He’s going to pitch in the minor leagues for the Colorado Rockies. He’s a closer that can throw about 98 mph.”
“Do you really think he would get involved in this?”
“If something happens to me, then he’ll get involved.”
“How can you be sure?”
“We were like brothers in high school. We watched each others back.”
“I don’t know. When will he be here?”
“In a week. We’re supposed to get together when he comes up.”
Rain pounded the windshield, making the sound of pebbles hitting the car. “We may not make it through the night.”
“We have to.”
“Marcus, I can’t stay awake. I’m really tired.”
Lisa’s head fell against the steering as the car turned off the road, smashing into a tree. Marcus’ body lunged to the dashboard before going back to the seat. He was barely conscious when the men arrived. He could hear their footsteps, laughing along the way. Lisa cried as the men reached her. Marcus could see that his vision was failing as his world turned to blackness.
He could feel the other men grabbing him, releasing him from his seat belt, transferring him to the driver’s side of the car, then putting his seat belt on.
“It will look like an accident. They’ll figure that the guy was a drug addict,” another man said. Good thing we kept that bad batch of Molly. It will come in handy now.
The four story loft office building off Euclid Avenue in Peoria, IL, was a pile of gray cement and windows that held several start-up internet companies along with the Hallmark Modeling Agency. Jasmine Herrera, along with the other 10 models, reported for work everyday for a variety of photo shoots. Many of the models such as Jasmine changed clothes in other private rooms, depending on the shots that needed to be taken.
Jasmine would spend much of her day on the roof of the building; the photographer taking pictures of her in a short black dress and over the knee boots. Jasmine would look at the pictures of herself with the photographer afterwards, seeing herself with her long chestnut hair that displayed her gray eyes and heart shaped face that was the complexion of cocoa, helping him decide on the best pictures that would appear on websites for department stores such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.
At the end of the day, Jasmine left the building, changing clothes to a red sweater and dark slacks that fell to her ankle, showing off her Jimmy Choo white high heels. She walked to her blue Plymouth, her heels clicking along with the crickets in the still of the night. She was going to have dinner with her best friend, Tanya Anderson. Since Tanya had another photo shoot to do at the studio, Tanya said that she would meet her at Joseph’s, a fish restaurant that they went to frequently.
Jasmine wiped her eyes with the heel of her hand, shaking her head angrily. Her thoughts were still on her friend, Renee Jones.
Earlier in the week, Renee had told Jasmine that she was going back to her boyfriend, Alex Gordon, and that she was quitting her job at the modeling agency. This was after an evening where he attacked her in her apartment because she didn’t have dinner ready in time for him. Jasmine went to the hospital to see Renee.
She looked at her in the hospital bed, her dark hair framing her dark eyes, aquiline nose, and small mouth, only her right eye was black along with purplish bruises on her cheek. The sounds of the beeps from a machine filled the air, making the scene ever more eerie for Jasmine.
It seemed that Alex won after that, telling Renee that she didn’t have to work as a model. The truth was that he didn’t want her to be a model since that would mean that other men would be looking at her all the time. He couldn’t handle that. Since he worked in sales for an insurance company, his feeling was that she could be at home cooking dinner and cleaning the apartment.
“You can’t be serious,” Jasmine said. “You’re really going back to him.”
She nodded her head yes.
“This has been going on for a year....”
“I never wanted you involved in this.”
“I can’t help it. We’ve known each other since college. You’re too good for this guy.”
“Why don’t you get the hell out of here,” a voice said over her shoulder.
She turned, seeing Alex in front of her, his thick dark mustache matched the color of his full head of hair that was cut just above his ears, having the bulk of an athlete since he was a football player in college. He was 4 inches taller than Jasmine, about 6-2. His jaw was thick, and a network of broken veins was visible on his nose, probably from a steady diet of whiskey.
“If I go, then I’m never coming back,” Jasmine said to Renee. “You’re on your own.”
“I can leave tonight. I’m going home.”
“I’m not going to say it again,” Alex said, shaking his head.
Jasmine turned and left the room.
“There she is,” a man’s voice said, breaking her reverie.
Jasmine turned, seeing Alex coming toward her, a huge smile on his face.
“What do you want?” Jasmine asked.
“I just wanted to tell you that Renee is mine now. She isn’t going to be working at the modeling agency anymore. So I better not see you coming over again.” His body swayed, his voice was starting to slur.
“You won’t see me again.”
“In a way, that’s too bad. You’re a hot looking babe and I had a lot of fantasies about you.”
Jasmine’s mellifluous and sultry voice that captivated men took on an angry tone. “Maybe you should remember that I slapped you in the face when you groped me at Renee’s birthday party.”
He laughed, putting his hands on his stomach. “And I told Renee that you were coming on to me. Even she said that you were dressed that night because you wanted to meet a guy at the party.”
The truth was that she was running late from a photo shoot and made the mistake of going to the party instead of getting changed. She was angry at herself for not doing that, especially when Renee wondered why she was wearing a sleeveless dress on a cold night. That was the reason Jasmine always brought a change of clothes to work after that.
Yes, Alex’s goal was to make sure that Renee would be fired from the agency if he couldn’t get her to leave, Jasmine reminisced. That was the reason he came to the office several times so he could yell at Renee in front of everyone, causing more people in the agency to stay away from her.
“Yeah, I had a lot of fun that night,” he said, rubbing his hands together.
“If you come any closer, then I’ll make sure that you won’t have any more fun for a long time.”
He shook his head, smiled. “Yeah, I remember you taking Renee to that gym that you go to. You tried to teach her how to fight. That didn’t work out.”
“Yep, I remember that.”
He drew closer, making two fists. “The truth is I don’t trust you. You’ve been a pain in my ass since I’ve been going out with Renee.”He banged his fists together, his grin growing wider. “I think it’s time to teach you a lesson.”
“You should leave now before you embarrass yourself,” Jasmine suggested.
“We’re all alone out here.”
She took a deep breath, kicked her heels off.
“Why are you doing that?” he inquired.
“I don’t like to fight in my heels.”
He laughed again, putting his fists over his stomach. “You’re really funny.”
She opened her pocketbook, took out a pair of black gloves, put them on, throwing the brown pocketbook over the car.
His eyes widened, his mouth fell open.
“Anytime you’re ready, asshole.”
“I’m really going to enjoy this.”
“Not as much as I will,” she replied.
He charged, running towards her. His movement was slow. She side stepped him, slamming him into the side of her car where the hood was with her hands.
“Why don’t we stop now, Alex? I mean, if you dent my car, then I’ll have to call my insurance company and have you pay for any repairs.”
He tried to backhand her in the mouth; she stepped back at the telegraphed blow.
She slammed her right foot into his stomach with a side kick; he folded into an accordion, grabbing his stomach. “Walk away now while you still can,” she warned.
“You bitch,” he screamed. He threw a right, missed. She threw a right, catching him on the jaw, followed by a right backfist, drawing blood from his mouth.
“It’s a little different this time, isn’t it you bastard.”
He screamed and charged again; she stepped to the side, slammed her knee into his stomach, followed by an elbow to his back. He grabbed her leg, threw her to the ground.
“Now I’ve got you, you bitch”
Jasmine rolled to the side, and he kicked her in the stomach. She felt her rib throbbing as he kicked her in the ribs again. He went for a third kick but she was ready, grabbing the leg. Being that Alex was drunk, he fell backwards to the ground.
She was up, glaring at Alex as he got to his feet. “Not so tough now, are you?” he said.
She turned her body and threw a round kick, her foot striking his jaw. He staggered back, still on his feet. She glared at Alex, moving closer.
“How does that feel tough guy?”
“Here, I’ll show you. He threw a right, catching her in the jaw. She threw an open hand palm strike to his nose, feeling it break as he staggered back, screaming in pain.
She wiped the blood from her lip, smiled. “There’s a big difference between me and Renee.”
“I hit back, only much harder.” She ran towards him, jumping in the air, catching him in the mouth with a knuckle punch, driving him to the ground.
“I guess you know how Renee feels now since you beat her up in a parking lot a few weeks ago.”
He stood up, wiping blood from his nose and mouth. “You’re a dead woman.”
She moved closer, smiling. “Come on, let’s see what you got.”
She moved gracefully as he threw a right, missing by a mile. Jasmine threw a left jab, then a right jab, then a right left combination, slamming her elbow into his jaw, driving him back. Then she slammed a front kick to his face, staggering him back against his car, a black Buick.
Tanya came out to the parking lot, laughing, raking her hand through her short dark hair that was just above her shoulders, exhibiting her dark eyes, a celestial nose, and small mouth. She wore a tight white blouse, dark slacks, and white pumps that added two inches to her 5-8 height. She said “Jasmine, do you want me to call the cops?”
“Why not. He’ll be unconscious by the time they get here.”
Another model, Amy Mulligan, joined Tanya. Her bright blond hair caught a gust of wind as she added “I’d ask you if you need help but it seems to me that he’s the one that should start running.”
“Might be time for you to leave,” Jasmine suggested.
“Not in a million years. Not even if hell freezes over.”
Tanya and Amy were laughing hysterically. He screamed, charging again. She moved to the side, slamming her knee into his stomach three times. Then she slammed it into his face, driving him back.
Jasmine glared at Alex, looked into his eyes. “Maybe you should spend a night in the hospital. She threw a right, followed by another elbow to the other side of his jaw, driving him back again. She caught him with a front kick to his face, the heel of her foot catching him in the mouth. He fell to the ground, groaning in pain.
Jasmine’s friends drew closer. Tanya grabbed Jasmine’s heels; Amy grabbed her pocketbook. “That was awesome,” Tanya said.
“Yeah, it sure was,” Amy added.
“It’s about time that someone kicked his ass,” Tanya commented.
Alex stood up, glaring at Jasmine, then turned and ran away.
“Wow, look at him run,” Amy said.
The three of them watched as Alex opened the door to his Buick. He started the car, then drove off.
“You know,” Tanya said, “we read and hear about guys like that who always beat up women. And for all the things he did to Renee, I’m glad that we got to see him get a taste of his own medicine.”
“That’s for sure,” Amy added.
Tanya looked at Jasmine and said “why did he start a fight with you?”
“He wanted to teach me a lesson because I encouraged Renee to stop seeing him.”
Both of them started to laugh hysterically again. “Are you serious,” Amy said. “He wanted to teach you a lesson.”
Jasmine shook her head yes.
“I mean,” Amy said, “you’re like the bad ass of Chicago.” She started laughing again.”
“Looks like he was the one who got a lesson on what happens when he takes a woman on,” Tanya said.
Amy put her hand in the air and said “high five.”
Jasmine slapped Amy’s hand.
“Don’t forget me,” Tanya said, putting out her hand.
Jasmine slapped Tanya’s hand, holding her left side.
“Are you all right?” Tanya inquired.
“Bastard kicked me in the ribs,” Jasmine replied, holding them.
Amy said “Let’s get you to a hospital just to make sure you’re all right.”
“I’m okay. Let’s go to dinner, Tanya.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I know you’ll be okay. Let’s go.”
Traffic was slow along the San Diego Freeway. Jasmine was behind the wheel, driving to the airport. She turned up the air conditioner in the car, smiled at her fiance, George Diaz. He was in his late 20‘s, his thick dark hair was slicked back, emphasizing a low forehead, along with his dark eyes, dark mustache, and an almond complexion.
“Should be moving along soon,” George commented.
Jasmine saw the break in the highway, the red honda civic moving faster along with the black mustang on the left and tan mercedes on the right began to move faster now. She could see other cars up ahead making the distance between them larger. In front, Jasmine saw tall white and brown high rise buildings that seemed like trees being planted in the ground. Up ahead was a sign to the airport, which was about 10 minutes away.
“Good thing we left early for our flight,” Jasmine commented.
“That’s for sure,” George replied. “I hate it that we have to wait so long just to check in.”
“Well, what can you do?” Jasmine replied.
Papa Dee from Rick Braun filled the car with music. George started to change the station on the radio; Jasmine put her hand over his.
“Why do you like jazz so much?” George asked.
“It just makes me more relaxed,” she said.
“I can think of other ways we can relax later,” he said, smiling.
She punched him on his shoulder. “It’s all you ever think about.”
“Can’t help it, I’m in love with you.”
Her smile grew wider; he came closer, kissed her neck.
“I love you too,” she replied softly.
“The wedding is only a few weeks away,” he said.
A shot rang out of nowhere, the sound of wheels screeching in front of them, a blue Monte Carlo smashed against a white Corvette.
“What the hell,” George said as another shot rang out, catching him in the collarbone.”
Jasmine’s heart beat faster as she saw the blood pour out from George. In the background, more shots rang out around her, then a car smashed into the passenger side, running her off the road. She lost control of the car, felt it flip over three times.
Still awake, Jasmine gazed at George, seeing more blood growing from his chest and head now from the car that crashed into the passenger side.
The sound of sirens filled the air now, followed by police cars and EMT’s as they pulled over to where Jasmine and George were. The door opened and two officers started pulling Jasmine out of the car.
“George. George,” she shouted.
“We’ll take care of him,” one of the officers said.
“I think he was shot,” she said, crying.
She looked over as the EMT’s pulled George out of the car. A blond haired man with an EMT uniform put a finger to George’s throat, shook his head no.
Jasmine cried profusely, looking at the highway, saw at least 10 cars piled up and blocking traffic. “This can’t be happening.”
“I’m sorry,” one of the officers said.
“This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. We were going to be married next month,” Jasmine cried.
“We need to bring you to a hospital.”
“No. No. No,” she shouted.
It was a knock at the door that woke Jasmine up from her dream. The memory was fresh even though it happened about 5 years ago. The dream where her fiance was murdered by a crazed sniper who randomly shot 6 people on the freeway in San Diego. They went there to spend the long Memorial Day weekend with George’s parents so he could tell them that he had proposed to Jasmine and she accepted.
She looked around the bedroom of her one bedroom apartment, her body felt hot. She stared at the picture of her mother and father in a large 8 x 10 frame as she got up. “Don’t tell me that Alex wants another round,” Jasmine muttered as she stood up, shaking her head.
“Who is it?”
“Ms. Herrera, it’s the police.”
She shook her head, a small grin appeared on her face. She went to her closet, opened it, took out a red robe to cover her Chicago Blackhawks jersey that fell just above her knees. Jasmine wondered if Alex was going to press charges against her.
“Okay, I’m coming.”
She reached the door, opened the peephole, saw the two men away from the door. “Ms. Herrera, we need to speak with you,” the officer on the left said, holding his badge out.
“Okay, just a minute.”
Jasmine opened the door, watched as the men came in. The one on the left was taller than Jasmine, probably about 6-3, with a shaved head and an ebony complexion, wearing a brown sports jacket that was opened, showing a white sweater and dark pants. The one on the right was Jasmine’s height, about 5-9. He had blond hair and beneath that, he had dark eyes, and beneath that, a small nose, and beneath that, a beard that wrapped around his mouth. He wore a blue sports jacket, that was open, revealing a red sweater and dark pants as well.
“What’s this about?” Jasmine asked, shutting the door.
“We need to sit down, the taller officer said.
They walked into the L-shaped apartment, the kitchen on the left, the livingroom on the right. There were two couches across from each other, both black. The officers chose the one on the far end and Jasmine sat across from them. A 38 inch Samsung TV hung from the wall. Two bookcases were on opposite ends of the room with a variety of books from cookbooks, non fiction books on military history and biographies of Presidents, as well as fiction and literature books. A paperback book of This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz was on a oak coffee table, along with Latina Magazine, Time Magazine, People, La Raza, and the Chicago Tribune.
My name is Joe Collins, blond haired officer said.
“Okay,” Jasmine replied.
“And I’m Ralph Sampson,” the other officer said.
“What can I do for you?”
“Ms. Herrera,” Sampson said, “did you have an altercation with Alex Gordon earlier tonight?”
She shook her head yes.
“What was the reason for it?”
Jasmine took a deep breath, clasped her hands together. “Do I need a lawyer? Is he pressing charges?”
“No,” Joe said.
“Then, what’s the problem?”
Both officers breathed deeply. “Ms. Herrera,” Sampson said, “it seems that after Alex ran away from you, he went back and shot his girlfriend, Renee, in the stomach, then put the gun in his mouth and killed himself.
Jasmine put her hand to her mouth, cried. “Oh my God.”
The officers nodded their heads. “It’s been on the news but I guess you haven’t looked at the TV since you were sleeping.”
“I can’t believe he did this,” Jasmine said, crying harder.
“It only gets worse,” Collins said.
“How?” Jasmine replied.
“Several witnesses that lived near them said that they were arguing. We’re pretty sure that Alex was going to leave the house with the gun and go after you.”
She shook her head no.
“Yeah,” Collins said. “Evidently, Renee wouldn’t let him go. There was a struggle and the gun went off. We’re sure that once Alex knew that he killed Renee, he turned the gun on himself.”
Jasmine put her hands over her face, cried hysterically.
“Why don’t you take a few minutes to relax,” Sampson said.
Jasmine stood up, ran over to her kitchen, took a box of Kleenex tissues back to the couch. She took off three tissues, wiped the tears from her cheeks, then blew her nose.
Sampson said “I hate to ask you this Ms. Herrera...”
“You can call me Jasmine,” she replied, the tears choking her voice.
“We need to know how the fight started.”
She took another breath, sniffled. “He threatened me. Said that I should stop talking to Renee. I had already told him that I wasn’t going to talk to her anymore.”
“Okay,” Sampson said.
“So, he said that he wanted to teach me a lesson.”
“Go on,” Joe said.
“I said fine. I took my heels off and put gloves on and said that if he wanted to fight me, then that’s fine with me.”
“So he started the fight,” Collins said.
“And you defended yourself?”
“I take it that you know Karate.”
“Yes,” she said. She took a deep breath, her body was shaking. “My father taught me.”
“Really, Collins said.
She shook her head yes. “My father was a special investigator in the army. He taught me Wing Chun and Taekwondo. He did a lot of work in Japan, China, and South Korea. Sometimes, I went with him.”
“Special Investigator. Isn’t there a TV show about a special investigator in the army?” Collins wanted to know.
She took another tissue from the box, blew her nose. “That would be Foyle’s war. One of my favorite shows.”
“There is a series of books also,” Sampson added. “Jack Reacher.”
“Yes, but he’s different than my father since he is more of a loner. I enjoy reading the series. I also speak Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Spanish.”
“Really,” Collins said. “That’s very impressive. I would think Chinese, Japanese and Korean are very difficult languages to learn, since you have to remember so many pictures.”
“Yes, with Japanese, there are over 2,500 Kanji characters. Then you have the alphabet for American words such as Hiragana and Katakana. In Chinese, there are about 50,000 characters. I know about 7,000 characters but in order to read a newspaper, you only need to know about 3,000 characters. Learning Korean first helped me since the grammar and word order is similar.”
“Why did your father teach you the martial arts?” Collins inquired.
“He felt that women needed to defend themselves.”
The officers grinned at that. “How long did you study?”
“Since I was 8. My father would come home and work with me. Since we lived on an army base, he had me work with instructors as well.”
“I guess you moved around a lot,” Sampson guessed.
“We did until I went to college at the DePaul University. I continued to study Korean, Japanese and Chinese.”
“Maybe I should take some lessons from you?” Sampson said.
“Better yet, maybe you should teach all of us at the academy,” Collins continued.
Jasmine nodded her head, took another deep breath.
“You seem to be better now.”
“I guess I’m not in any trouble.”
“No,” Sampson said.
“Tell me, how did Alex manage to get a gun considering his long record of abuse with Renee.”
Sampson said “I think you know that if someone really wants to get a gun, then they’ll get it. In this case, Alex bought a gun at a gun show in Vermont.”
“Isn’t that wonderful.”
“Yep,” Collins said. “You know how it is with the gun laws in this country.”
“So, do you think this is my fault?”
They shrugged their shoulders. “No,” both of them said.
“Look,” Collins continued. “We run into this all the time. She had an order of protection and Alex broke it. He should have gone to jail for it but he didn’t. Once that starts, it’s like you’re setting a match to gasoline. As you said, the fact that he managed to get a gun made the situation worse.”
“I know that. He should have gone to jail.”
“Obviously,” Sampson said, “he was embarrassed, if not humiliated by what you did to him. So his plan was to get his gun and go after you. Luckily, he didn’t have it with him when he attacked you.”
“I guess you’re right,” Jasmine replied.
“Guys like Alex think they could get away with anything. He beats up Renee and he doesn’t get in trouble. So he figures that he’ll go after you and he’ll get away with that as well.”
For all we know, this would have been inevitable since he had a gun,” Collins said. “Let’s face it, if they had a violent argument, then he could have used it on Renee at anytime.”
“You think so?”
Both of them shook their heads yes. “But Jasmine,” Collins said, “he could have gone to us and pressed charges.”
“Even though he started the fight.”
“Jasmine,” Sampson said. “while that is true, you don’t have a witness to that. Right?”
“I guess, although Tanya and Amy came out during the fight.”
“The last thing we would have wanted was to have you go to jail for this. I mean, based on what you’re telling us, you’re a lethal weapon.”
Jasmine nodded her head yes.
“Just something to keep in mind,” Sampson said. “Not blaming you for what happened. Alex has a long record of beating up Renee and I’m sure you would have had a case that said that he started the fight. A jury would have believed you.
“But still,” Sampson continued, “it would have been a lot of aggravation for you.”
“I realize that now.”
The officers stood up. “Just something to think about,” Collins said.
“I guess you’re right.”
“Sounds like you have a great father,” Sampson said.
“Yeah, he’s a great guy. He’s retired and living in Arizona.”
“With your Mom?”
“Yes. She was a nurse.”
“In any case, we’ll be on our way,” Sampson said. “No announcement about your fight with Alex has been made on the news of what happened yet.”
“Are you going to tell them?” Jasmine asked.
“The family is very upset about what happened. They’re suspicious that you did something,” Collins answered. “Evidently, Alex had mentioned to his parents that you were encouraging Renee to stop seeing him.”
“Yet they don’t care that their son beat up Renee.”
“You know how parents are,” Sampson said. “They always take the side of their child no matter what. In their minds, Renee was going out with Alex and they said that Alex would never beat her up. She just fell down a lot.”
“They were wondering why someone beat him up?” Collins said. “Since your name was mentioned, we came to you.”
“So, what are you saying?”
“Well, the truth is that the press knows the whole story. I’m sure that the parents will tell the police as well as reporters that you attacked their son,” Collins added.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe this,” Jasmine replied, throwing her hands in the air.
“The fact that Renee tried to stop Alex from going after you with a gun only enhances the story,” Sampson said. “This is going to be a huge story for the media.”
Jasmine raised her eyebrows, shook her head. “This is going to be a nightmare.”
“We have your side of the story. At this point, the biggest worry that you have is that this will be in the papers. I’m sure it will be on TV as well.”
“I won’t talk to them.”
“Don’t be surprised if they’re camped out on your doorstep.” Sampson advised her.
Jasmine blew her nose, shaking her head. “I can’t believe this.”