Justice Delivered

By: Patricia Bradley

Prologue


JANUARY 2010

JASMINE EASED OUT of her cell-like room and down the dimly lit hallway. Two light raps on another bedroom door brought no response, and she turned the knob and slipped inside.

Moonlight filtered into the darkened room through narrow slats on the window. Labored breathing coming from the bed sent her heart spiraling to the floor. It was almost time to go, and Lily was still in bed. She eased closer, noticing that the thin blanket shook.

“It’s me, Jasmine,” she whispered. “You have to get dressed.”

Lily didn’t respond. If she wasn’t ready when Blade came to get them, there would be consequences. Jasmine touched her shoulder, feeling the tremor in the girl’s body. And the heat. Her hot skin made Jasmine wince.

“C-can’t . . .”

She knelt beside the bed and smoothed the girl’s hot brow. She was pretty sure from the way her friend had been coughing that she had pneumonia.

Lily’s eyes fluttered open, and she turned toward the only window in the small room. “It’s dark already?”

“Yeah, but don’t worry—maybe they won’t make you go tonight.” Even as she said the words, Jasmine knew they would. And if Lily didn’t bring in her thousand dollars, Blade would beat her or worse.

“I-I have t-to. C-can’t go in the H-hole again.”

The Hole was why Lily was sick. A week ago she’d had a toothache and begged off hitting the streets. And for two days he’d shut her up in a tiny room in the basement of the house where they lived. With no lights and only the bare floor to sleep on, she’d come out of it disoriented and feverish.

“You’re too sick to get out of bed.” Jasmine swallowed and lifted her chin. “I’ll tell Blade I’ll see your clients tonight too.”

“They won’t let you,” Lily said. She tried to sit up and fell back on the bed. Tears dropped from the corners of her eyes. She tried to take a deep breath and fell into a fit of coughing. When she got her breath, she slipped a bracelet from her arm and pressed it into Jasmine’s hand. “I’m not going to make it, Jaz.”

Jasmine clenched the thin chain in her hands as if holding on tightly would make Lily well. She didn’t know what she’d do if Lily died. “You have to make it.”

“I’m so c-cold.” She squeezed Jasmine’s hand. “Jaz, you . . . have to . . . forgive . . .”

“Lily, don’t ask me to do that. These men don’t deserve forgiveness!” she whispered fiercely. Someone had given Lily a Bible, and after she started reading it, she’d changed.

“None of us deserve forgiveness . . . and it’s for . . . you. If you don’t forgive . . . it will eat you alive.”

She didn’t have to ask if Lily had forgiven Blade or the one responsible for her being sold into prostitution. Peace showed on her face. Jasmine gripped the bracelet tighter. Her anger at Austin King and Blade was all she had to hold on to, and she wasn’t letting it go.

Lily closed her eyes briefly. She tried to breathe deeper and triggered a spasm of coughing. When she got her breath, she turned, and her eyes pierced Jasmine.

“You have to find a way to get out of here. Find those women.”

Last night four women from some shelter had brought coffee and doughnuts to the girls on the street. She’d ignored them, but Lily had talked to one of the ladies. Jasmine shook her head. “I can’t leave you like this. I have to get medicine and bring it to you.”

“No . . .” Lily’s chest barely moved. “Can’t breathe.” Her feverish eyes locked on to Jasmine’s. “Promise.”

Jasmine wanted to promise, but after the “modeling agent” sold her to Blade, she’d tried to get away. Escaped three times. She rubbed the scar inside her forearm. The first time, a cop found her and took her back to Blade. He branded her with his initials and beat her until half her ribs were broken. The next time he locked her in a closet for a week. The last time, he’d beaten her and locked her in her room for three weeks with nothing but moldy bread and very little water. She never tried again.

They both jerked as Blade’s voice thundered from the front of the house, ordering the women to assemble for the ride into town.

“Those women . . .” Lily’s breathing grew shallower. “They . . . will . . . help.”

Jasmine couldn’t think about trying to escape again. “They may not be there. Blade will probably drop us off in a different part of the city,” she said, looking toward the door when he shouted her name. Maybe if she told him how sick Lily was, he’d get help for her.