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Ruby between the cracks, p.13
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.13

           P.D. Workman
 

  Chapter Eleven

  MRS. RODGER AWOKE WITH Ruby’s arms entwined around hers. Frowning, she worked herself out of Ruby’s grasp, and looked down at her. Ruby’s baby fat had disappeared quickly, and she was as slim and slight as ever. When she had pulled away from Ruby, the girl curled up tightly, with her fists in front of her face, as if she was a boxer. Mrs. Rodger stroked Ruby’s hair.

  “Ruby... Ruby, it’s time to get up.”

  Ruby’s face twitched slightly, but she didn’t surface.

  “Come on Ruby, wakey wakey...”

  Ruby started and her eyes flew open.

  “What is it?” she questioned worriedly.

  “Shh, nothing. It’s time to get up.”

  Ruby sat up, looking around her uncertainly.

  “When did I get here?” she questioned, uncurling.

  “Some time last night. I don’t know for sure.”

  “Was I drunk?”

  “You didn’t seem to be.”

  Ruby rubbed her eyes.

  “I don’t remember.”

  “Well, I’m having a coffee and a shower. I’ll see you later. Go check to see if Marty is up, and if not, give the baby a bottle before she wakes Marty up.”

  Ruby opened her mouth to protest, but Mrs. Rodger had already left the room. Ruby got up and went to Marty’s bedroom. Marty was lying in bed with her clothes still on. The baby was in the crib asleep. Ruby went into the kitchen and found a bottle in the fridge. She went back into the bedroom and put the nipple to the baby’s mouth. Stella started to suck, still mostly asleep, and woke up slowly and stared up at Ruby. Ruby had expected the baby to hold onto the bottle herself, and stood there impatiently, looking for a way to prop the bottle up and go make some coffee. She looked into the baby’s staring eyes, waiting for Stella to finish the bottle.

  “Ruby?”

  Ruby jumped, and she turned around to face Marty.

  “Oh, you’re up. Here.”

  Ruby held the bottle towards her. Marty didn’t move to take it. Stella started to whimper in the crib, and Ruby turned back around to plug the nipple back in her mouth again to stop the noise.

  “Your mom said to give her a bottle before you woke up.”

  “Thanks,” Marty stretched tiredly. “That was nice. I could use a break.”

  Ruby stared at the baby.

  “She has blue eyes.”

  “Sure, so do you.”

  “Not that color. They’re really blue.”

  Stella started to turn away from the bottle. Ruby pulled it back.

  “There. She’s done.”

  “She’s not done. She just needs to be burped.”

  “I don’t want her spitting up on me,” Ruby protested.

  “You use a cloth so she doesn’t. I’ll show you.”

  “No.”

  Ruby gave Marty the bottle firmly, and went out to make coffee.

  “Didn’t you warm it up?” Marty called out, looked down at the bottle in her hand.

  “No.”

  “She doesn’t usually take it cold.”

  Ruby poured water into the coffee machine.

  Marty picked Stella up and held her over her shoulder to burp her.

  “Did your mommy feed you?” she said softly to the baby, “Did you know that’s your mommy? Did you see her?”

  She jiggled and patted the baby’s back. “You were real good for her, weren’t you?” She felt Stella’s head. “Fever’s gone today, huh? You’re feeling better now.” She nuzzled Stella’s fuzzy head and sighed. She went into the kitchen to talk to Ruby.

  Ruby was sitting at the table, sipping a cup of coffee, staring off into space with a far-away look in her eye.

  “Penny for your thoughts?” Marty offered. Ruby came back down to earth.

  “Oh, I made coffee. Want some?”

  “Yeah, thanks.”

  Marty got Stella to burp and plunked Stella down in Ruby’s lap. Ruby caught hold of Stella awkwardly, looking terrified that she might drop the baby.

  “No, Marty...” she objected.

  “You can give her the rest of her bottle now,” Marty said calmly.

  “I’m gonna drop her!”

  “Relax your arms. Here, hold still.” She tried to get Stella settled more comfortably in Ruby’s arms. Ruby tried to hand the baby back to her, but Marty refused to take her. “Hold on. There. Hold her with that arm, and then take the bottle in the other hand.”

  “No.”

  “There you go.”

  Ruby was forced to hang onto the baby and feed her. She sat there rigidly for a few minutes, but then started to relax a little. Mrs. Rodger came into the room.

  “What’s for breakfast?”

  She ignored the fact that Ruby was feeding the baby, and went about just as usual.

  “What’s this?” Clive questioned. Naomi looked at the memo he held.

  “Back when Ruby Simpson left her last foster home, Chuck asked me to find out if she’d ever been to hospital. There were parallels between Ruby and Ronnie’s histories, and he wanted to find out if she’d ever been to emergency.”

  “But she hadn’t.”

  “Broken bones, infections, stitches... no sexual assault or alcohol problems.”

  “So she doesn’t have the same history,” Clive observed.

  “If she does, she was never hospitalized as a result.”

  “Okay. Put this on her file.”

  Naomi took it from him. She hesitated.

  “I still think Ruby was abused too,” she urged.

  “She ran away from her last foster home, didn’t she?” Clive questioned.

  “Yes.”

  “And no sign of her since?”

  “No.”

  “Then let’s concentrate on the kids we’ve got contact with.”

  “We could probably track her down, if we tried.”

  “And then she’d run again. Let’s worry about the kids who are willing to be helped.”

  Naomi nodded and went to file the memo. Clive continued to work through the layers of paper on his desk.

  Ruby sat on the bus looking out the window, lost in thought. Someone sat down next to her. Ruby didn’t look to see who it was.

  “Hi there,” a male voice greeted.

  Ruby turned her head to look at him. The bus was almost empty. There were plenty of free seats, but he had chosen to sit beside her. He was probably college-age, and very good looking. Ruby smiled at the boy, liking his looks.

  “Hi.”

  “I’m Jamie.”

  “Ruby.”

  “A girl of few words. On your way to school?” he queried.

  “No, I don’t go to school.”

  “Ahh. So you’re just enjoying the sun?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “You want to join me for a cappuccino in the park?”

  Ruby looked him over, and nodded eagerly.

  “Sure,” she agreed.

  “Great. My treat. I like to go to the park to study in the mornings when it’s like this. It’s nice and peaceful.”

  Ruby nodded. Whatever he liked. She always thought it was pretty boring in the morning, but she wasn’t going to argue with a man willing to treat her to a coffee in the park.

  He went on talking about school and his interests, and Ruby listened politely, nodding occasionally. They got off at his stop and he got her a drink at the little coffee stand at the front of the park. They sat down in the sun, and Jamie pulled out a few books so that it would look as if he really was there to study.

  “I’ve seen you on the bus before,” he confessed, “but I never had the guts to come sit by you before.”

  She couldn’t remember having seen him on the bus before, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t been there. She stretched out in the sun, closing her eyes and letting it shine on her face. It made her slightly sleepy, in spite of the coffee she had drunk, and she found herself dozing a little as he talked to her. He stopped talking, and Ruby came abruptly out of her doze when he
kissed her. She jumped, panicked, seeing Troy’s face vividly in her mind.

  “Sorry,” Jamie apologized, smiling down at her. “You just looked so pretty lying there in the sun.”

  “It’s okay,” Ruby blew out her breath, trying to slow her racing heart. “I just sort of drifted off for a minute.” She smiled at him.

  “I’ve been talking about myself, hardly letting you get a word in edgewise.”

  “No, it’s fine. Mmm, come here,” she pulled him closer to kiss again. He grinned and stretched out beside her to embrace and kissed her again.

  They ended up at his apartment, which was conveniently close.

  Ruby lay lazily in bed listening to him shower in the next room. After a while he came back in, wrapped in a blue robe.

  “You want some more coffee?” he questioned.

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I’ve had lots today. You have juice or something?”

  “Sure, I’ll make some orange juice.”

  He rattled around in the kitchen for a while, and returned with a glass of orange juice for her and another coffee for himself. He sat down beside her.

  “So tell me about you,” he commented. “You know all about me now.”

  Ruby didn’t answer at first. She sat up and sipped at the juice.

  “I have a baby,” she said finally.

  He looked surprised.

  “A baby? Really?”

  “Yeah. My friend takes care of her.”

  “Her? A little girl? How old is she?”

  “Just a few months. I don’t... I don’t really have anything to do with her. But I fed her this morning. For the first time.”

  “Cool. I bet you’d make a good mother,” he approved.

  “No. I don’t really even like her,” Ruby confessed.

  “Why not? Babies are fun. Can I come over and see her sometime?”

  “I guess.”

  “Let’s go over now,” he proposed.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “If you really want to...”

  “Yeah, I want to see your kid. Come on. I like babies.”

  “All right,” Ruby shrugged, “whatever you want.”

  Marty was sleeping while Stella napped in her crib. She awoke to voices, and found that Ruby had brought home some boy with her. Marty rubbed her eyes and sat up.

  “Ruby?”

  “This is Jamie,” Ruby gestured. “He wanted to see the baby.”

  Ruby led him by the hand over to the crib and pointed to Stella.

  “There.”

  Jamie gave Marty a brief wave, grinning, and bent over and picked Stella up, awakening her. He jiggled her to keep her quiet.

  “Wow, she doesn’t look anything like you, does she?”

  “No. She’s ugly.”

  Jamie studied the baby’s face, and didn’t deny it.

  “Well, they say ugly babies grow up to be beautiful ladies,” he said.

  “She looks like a monkey,” Ruby said flatly.

  Marty got up off the bed slowly, still feeling a little disoriented.

  “Ruby, can we talk?”

  Ruby shrugged and let Marty take her out of the room. Marty led her into the kitchen.

  “Who is this guy, Ruby?” she questioned in a whisper.

  “His name’s Jamie.” Ruby shrugged.

  “I heard that part. Just how much do you know about this guy?”

  “He’s nice.”

  “How long have you known him? I’ve never heard you mention him before.”

  “I just met him this morning.”

  “You met him today and you brought him home to see Stella? You never even touched Stella before today!”

  “Well, you said you want me to pay attention to her, don’t you? So I told him I had a baby.”

  “How old is Jamie?”

  “I don’t know. In college.”

  “And what does some college boy want with you? He shouldn’t be interested in a thirteen year old girl!”

  “Why not? Give him a chance, you’ll like him. He wanted to see the baby.”

  “What does he want with a baby? Come on, Ruby, this guy doesn’t make sense. I don’t get a good feeling about him.”

  Ruby opened her mouth to argue, and Jamie came out of the bedroom with Stella.

  “What’s up? Anything wrong?” he inquired.

  “Stella should be sleeping,” Marty said. “I wish you hadn’t gotten her up.”

  Jamie studied Marty, looking friendly.

  “You’re Ruby’s friend who’s taking care of the baby?”

  “Marty.”

  “Hi, I’m Jamie. I think we got you up too, didn’t we?”

  “Yeah, I was having a nap while she slept. Stella’s been sick lately.”

  “Well, why don’t Ruby and I take her for the afternoon and give you a break. Huh, Ruby?”

  Ruby hesitated. Marty shook her head forcefully.

  “Ruby doesn’t know how to take care of Stella. She’s not ready to take her out by herself.”

  “Oh, I’ve taken care of babies before. Come on, Ruby. Let’s take Stella to the zoo or something.”

  Ruby hesitated. She was interested in Jamie, not in the baby.

  “I don’t know...”

  “Come on; let’s go spend some more time together. But if you don’t want to go back out...”

  “No, no—I want to go. Let’s go,” Ruby jumped in, not willing to let him get away just yet. He was too different, too new.

  “Then it’s settled,” Jamie said with a smile. “Let’s get a diaper bag together and we’ll go to the zoo.”

  Ruby nodded and looked around.

  “Do we have a stroller or something?” she asked Marty.

  Marty nodded.

  “In the closet. But you’re not taking Stella out alone.”

  “She’s my baby. You said you wanted me to take care of her.”

  “You don’t know anything about taking care of babies.”

  “I’m taking her anyway,” Ruby said with an uncaring shrug.

  Stella was good enough to sleep through most of the zoo trip. That gave Jamie and Ruby plenty of time to linger under the trees to kiss and to walk arm in arm down the quieter pathways. Stella was really too small yet to pay any attention to the animals.

  Ruby went back to Jamie’s apartment after the outing, and they left Stella to sleep in the stroller while they spent the evening. When Stella got hungry, Ruby lay her down on the floor with a pillow propping up the bottle so that she could spend time uninterrupted with Jamie. Jamie even changed Stella’s diaper when Ruby refused to touch it.

  Ruby sort of liked the feeling of being a family. Her and Jamie and Stella. Just their own little family, like Ruby had never really been a part of herself. And taking care of a baby wasn’t as hard as Marty made it out to be. They didn’t need that much attention.

  When Stella woke them up with her screams in the middle of the night, Ruby groaned and covered up her head. After a while Jamie nudged her.

  “Aren’t you going to look after the baby?” he suggested.

  “No.”

  “She needs a bottle or something.”

  “She doesn’t get a bottle at night anymore,” Ruby disagreed.

  “Well then, she needs to be changed,” he suggested.

  “She can just go back to sleep.”

  “Don’t you think you should check on her?”

  “No. Are you going to?”

  “No.”

  “Then go back to sleep.”

  Eventually Stella’s cries did settle down, and they all drifted off back to sleep. In the morning when Stella awoke again, it was Jamie who got up to look after her.

  Marty spent a restless night worrying about Stella. It was a long time before she managed to find a troubled sleep. She was up early in the morning, and was sitting up with a coffee when her mother got up.

  “No sign of Ruby?” Mrs. Rodger questioned.

  “No. Do you think we should call the pol
ice or Child Services or something?”

  “If we had guardianship of Stella, I would. But she’s Ruby’s baby, and if we report her and get Stella taken away from her, we may never see her again.”

  “I wish I’d known this was going to happen... you could have got guardianship or something.”

  “What was it that prompted Ruby to take Stella with her? She hadn’t ever even touched her before yesterday morning.”

  “That boy, Jamie. I don’t know what he wants with Ruby or Stella, but I don’t like him. Why would a college boy want to play daddy like that?” Marty shook her head, brows drawn down in frustration.

  “Who knows? At least with the two of them looking after Stella together, she’ll be all right.”

  “As long as they don’t get bored with her and ditch her somewhere,” Marty mumbled.

  “They won’t.”

  Marty drank her coffee, not satisfied with her mother’s assurances.

  Ruby and Jamie were transferring buses down near the arcade, walking down the street to the next bus-stop to get them back to Marty’s house again. Ruby was a little nervous, not really wanting any of the Jags to see her with a baby. It was hard enough to get the respect of the gang without having some motherly rep to deal with. That was the last thing she wanted the Jags to think of her as. But it turned out that it wasn’t one of the Jags she ran into, it was one of the Terminators. Troy.

  He sauntered up to them to torment Ruby. Ruby froze where she was, holding the stroller still. Jamie looked around and saw Troy.

  “Just keep going. He won’t bother us.”

  Ruby shook her head, and looked for a way out. There was no easy avenue of retreat. Troy walked right up to them, smoking, his eyes bright with interest.

  “Well, aren’t we just the cutest family,” he sneered. “I never pictured you as the baby kind, Ruby. Who’s this, your brother?”

  “Just ignore him,” Jamie advised, taking control of the stroller and pushing it forwards. Troy stopped it with his foot.

  “Aren’t you going to introduce the baby to his uncle Troy?” he demanded. He pulled the blanket away from the baby’s face to get a look at her. He stopped, staring at her. Ruby couldn’t take her eyes off of Troy’s face. His electric blue eyes, his dark hair, his small features. She felt sick to her stomach. Ruby had blocked out as much as she could about that night last year when he’d attacked her in the warehouse. She had tried to forget the things he had said and done to her, but she just couldn’t.

  “Stay away from my baby,” Ruby warned Troy, feeling for her knife. Mike’s knife. The knife that Mike should have used to protect her last winter.

  “Your baby?” Troy repeated. “It looks more like my baby to me.”

  He tried to undo the straps that held Stella firmly in place, his fingers clumsy. Ruby got the knife out and switched it open.

  “Get away from her, or I’ll split you!”

  He looked up at her; a smile on his face, but when he saw her expression, his smile disappeared.

  “So kitten has claws after all,” he said with a short laugh.

  He stepped back a bit, considering his options. Jamie was an unknown factor, someone who might be tough or might run at the next sign of trouble. For now, anyway, he was standing up pretty well. Troy could go for his gun and threaten to blow them all to the next county, but Jamie, his hand loosely in one pocket of his jacket, could be armed and just waiting for an excuse to use his piece. At any rate, Ruby had her knife out, and she was definitely ready to use it. He’d seen her rumble before. She might be inexperienced, but she wasn’t unskilled. Troy looked down at that strange little baby in the stroller, frowning. He knew it was his baby. There was no doubt in his mind.

  “Get back,” Ruby snapped, her heart thumping hard in her chest.

  Troy chuckled.

  “I’ll get you alone again one of these days, Ruby. Count on it, ’cause I’ll be looking forward to it.”

  He backed off and left them alone. Jamie looked at Ruby and didn’t say anything. Ruby gave him no explanation. She was weak-kneed as they walked away. She was glad that she was holding onto the stroller, because it kept her on her feet. She put the knife back in her pocket and kept going.

  As soon as they walked in the door, Marty was unbuckling Stella from the stroller and picked her up.

  “Where have you guys been? Why didn’t you bring her back yesterday?” she questioned, almost frantic. “I’m the one looking after this baby; you can’t do this to me! She needs to be changed, couldn’t you even do that?”

  “Whoa,” Ruby protested. “We changed her. We took good care of her. And she’s my baby, not yours.”

  “Well, I have to go,” Jamie offered, not wanting to get in between their argument. “I’ll see you around, okay Ruby?”

  “Yeah. I’ll see you.”

  He kissed her briefly, and left. Marty took Stella into the bedroom to change her and feed her. Ruby followed her.

  “I thought you wanted me to take care of her,” she complained.

  “I do. But I want you to take it slowly, let me show you what to do. You can’t just jump into this.”

  “I did it last night. I did okay.”

  “Come here, beside me.”

  Ruby crouched down beside Marty, gagging at the dirty diaper. She watched Marty carefully clean the baby’s skin.

  “If you don’t clean her up really good when you change her diaper, or let her sit in a dirty diaper, she’ll get sores and a rash.”

  “I didn’t change her. Jamie did.”

  “Well, you need to know how to do it.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I don’t like babies.”

  Marty blew her breath out in frustration.

  “No, not unless there’s a boy hanging over your shoulder ogling her,” she agreed.

  Ruby didn’t respond.

  Jack swore, looking around. Ruby glanced around at the dark street.

  “What is it?” she questioned lowly.

  “That old geezer tripped a silent alarm.”

  “How do you know?”

  “Shut up. Keep your head down.”

  Ruby was still, watching and listening, trying to figure out what it was that Jack had seen. She saw a dark car go slowly down the street, and tried not to move. She wanted to run. Jack was tense beside her, and she could hear his breathing rasping loudly in the darkness. The car rolled to a stop across the street from them. A spotlight cut through the blackness and illuminated them and the pile of trash they had ducked down behind. The doors of the car started to open.

  “Run!” Jack ordered, and he jumped up and took off. Ruby followed him. “Split up!” he told her, as she caught up to him. Ruby veered off down an adjoining street. There were shouts behind them, and Ruby hoped that they would follow Jack, the dangerous looking hood, and not the slight figure slipping down another street.

  Ruby took a wrong turn and ended up faced with an eight foot chain-link fence. She could back up or go over the fence. She could hear one of the cops chasing after her, getting close. Ruby jumped and caught the fence up high with both hands, and scrambled to get over it. The cop was behind her as she got over the top. Ruby jumped down quickly, and rolled her ankle on the other side. She tried to keep going, but the pain prevented her from getting away very quickly. The cop was more careful how he landed coming over the fence, and he caught up to her easily.

  “Hands up,” he ordered from behind her, and as Ruby raised her hands, he grabbed the back of her collar. He swung her around against the concrete wall of the building they were beside. Ruby’s leg buckled as he pushed her against the wall.

  “Easy,” he warned her. “Stay still. Keep those hands up! Don’t move.”

  He frisked her, found her knife, and checked her pockets carefully. They were both breathing heavily. He pulled her away from the wall again.

  “Back over the fence,” he ordered.

  “I can’t,” Ruby protested breathlessly.

&nb
sp; “It’s the only way out. There’s another fence just as tall at the other end of the alley.”

  “I hurt my ankle.”

  “Take it slow, then. It’s the only way out.”

  Ruby limped over to the fence with him holding onto her arm, and looked up at the fence.

  “I can’t. Couldn’t you…”

  “Up and over. It’s the only way.”

  Another cop came down the alley on the other side of the fence.

  “Get him? I lost the other one.”

  “Got her. She’s coming back over the fence.”

  “I can’t,” Ruby protested again.

  “You’ll climb back over by yourself, or I’ll drag you over. Go ahead, your choice.”

  Ruby put her hands into the links on the fence. She put her good foot into the links to raise herself up, but couldn’t hold her weight on the other. The cop gave her a boost from behind, and Ruby got another step further. He climbed up behind her, pushing her up whenever she needed to shift her weight. Eventually, they got to the top, and Ruby carefully climbed over the top. The cop also climbed over, and as she searched for a toe-hold on the other side, his movements shook the fence and she lost her footing. She landed with a crash on the other side. The second cop helped her to her feet.

  “Let that be a lesson for you,” he chuckled. “Don’t jump fences when you’re being chased.”

  He pulled her arms behind her back and cuffed them. The first cop landed beside her, and they walked back slowly to the unmarked car. By the time they got to the car, Ruby’s ankle was so tender she couldn’t put any weight on it and even trying to hop on the other foot with the support of the two officers jarred it painfully. They helped her into the car and shut the door. Neither one said anything to her as they drove to the police station. When they got there, one of the cops went into the station while Ruby sat in the car with the other officer. The first came back out a while later with a pair of crutches. They released her from her handcuffs so that she could use the crutches. No-one said anything to her.

  “We need you to participate in a line-up,” a cop told her after she’d been sitting in a room for an hour or so. Ruby was allowed to enter the room ahead of the other girls, and then the crutches were taken away from her. Ruby nervously watched the mirrored glass on the wall. The other girls were around her age, all blond. Ruby stood there waiting. Eventually, they were instructed to leave, and an officer came in and gave her crutches back.

  “You’re under arrest for armed robbery,” the officer informed her, and she was taken back to the room that she had spent the hour waiting in. One of the officers who had chased her over the fence came in to talk to her. His name bar said ‘Blackstein.’

  “Well, Ruby. You’re in some trouble now,” he observed.

  Ruby shrugged and didn’t say anything.

  “Now, you’ve got a pretty good record, so if you will help us out here, we can probably let you off without a lot of trouble. But if you won’t cooperate... can I count on you?”

  “It’s my first arrest,” Ruby told him.

  “Well, that’s not what our record shows. Another arrest for assaulting a young girl.”

  “That wasn’t true! The charge was dropped.”

  “It’s still there on your record. Why don’t you tell me what happened tonight?” Blackstein urged.

  “Nothing happened.”

  “Give us the name of the boy who was with you when your guys robbed the convenience store. That’s all we need from you.”

  “You’ve got the wrong person. It wasn’t me.”

  “You were identified in the lineup. The store owner didn’t even hesitate. He recognized you easily. And we’ve got him looking through mug shots for your accomplice right now. It won’t be long before we have a name, but if you can give it to us first, we can work out a deal with you.”

  Ruby thought through what had happened that night.

  “I was at the convenience store tonight,” she told him. “It’s one that I go to all the time. My face would be familiar to the owner.”

  “What were you at the store for?”

  “Formula for my baby.”

  “Did you buy it?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “Why not?”

  “That guy came in with his gun, and robbed the place.”

  “You’re saying you weren’t with him.”

  “Yes.”

  “Why did you run from us, then?”

  “I thought you were his friends. You weren’t in a marked car; I thought you were his friends and if I didn’t get away...”

  “Why did you leave with him?”

  “He had a gun. He told me to come with him. I thought he’d let me go as soon as we were out of the store,” Ruby invented.

  “Your story doesn’t ring true. Describe the boy who robbed the store.”

  Ruby stared up at the ceiling.

  “Taller than me. Dark hair. I don’t know. Average.”

  “What was he wearing?” the cop prodded.

  “Blue jeans. Black shirt. Black jacket. A gang jacket.”

  “Which gang?”

  “I don’t know… everything happened so fast,” Ruby claimed, shaking her head.

  “Jags?” Blackstein suggested.

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Terminators?”

  “Maybe... I don’t think so. They’re usually in twos.”

  “You seem pretty familiar with the gangs,” he observed, his tone cynical.

  “Not really... I’ve just seen them around.”

  “Who was it, then? Rippers?”

  “Yeah... I think so. I’m not sure, but I think so. I don’t know.”

  “Wait for a second.”

  He left the room, and then came back a few minutes later. Ruby wondered if he really believed her, or if he was just playing along with her.

  “Why don’t you describe for me what happened at the store?”

  Ruby did her best, trying to throw in just enough detail for them to believe her, spinning it as if she had been an innocent bystander instead of being the one that Jack had sent in to scope the store out ahead of time.

  “How old is your baby?” he questioned, after asking for more details of the robbery. Ruby was startled by the segue.

  “A couple months.”

  “Boy or girl?”

  “Girl.”

  “Where is she right now?”

  “At home, my friend’s watching her for me.”

  “You’re a little young to be a mom, aren’t you?”

  “I guess,” Ruby admitted.

  “Is the baby’s father in one of the gangs?” he questioned, eyes sharp and quick.

  “No. He’s in college.”

  “What’s his name?”

  Ruby gave him Jamie’s name. Her ankle was throbbing and Ruby tried to put it up on the empty chair across from her. The cop shoved the chair a little closer so she could.

  “What’s the name of the boy you were with?” he sighed.

  “I don’t know,” Ruby said evenly.

  “Why did you guys pick that store?”

  “I go to that store ’cause it’s on my way, by the bus route. I don’t know why he robbed it.”

  “Isn’t it a little late for you to be out all by yourself in that neighborhood?”

  “I guess.”

  “A little dangerous, isn’t it? For someone your age?”

  “I had my knife with me.”

  “Doesn’t help if you meet up with someone with a gun, does it?” his eyebrows quirked up.

  “No. But who’s going to give me a gun permit?”

  He smiled. Ruby rubbed her bruised elbows.

  “My ankle really hurts,” she complained.

  “Well, you shouldn’t go around jumping fences.”

  “Can I at least get an Aspirin or something?”

  He sighed, nodding.

  “I’ll take you down to the station doctor. He can tape it up for you.”

/>   Ruby nodded. The cop handed her the crutches and they walked down the long halls together. Ruby was glad to get off of her foot again when they reached the doctor’s office. The doctor felt it and moved it around gently.

  “A bad sprain,” he admitted. “It’s pretty swollen. You should get it x-rayed tomorrow to make sure there’s no fracture. I’ll tape it up for tonight.”

  “Can you give me something?” Ruby questioned. Her face was pale, her head spinning after his careful manipulations.

  The doctor nodded.

  “I’ll give you codeine.” He turned his attention to the cop. “But you shouldn’t question her when she’s on codeine.”

  Blackstein sighed and rolled his eyes.

  “Well then, I guess we’re going to have to put you in a cell for the night. Do you want us to call anyone for you?”

  “No.”

  “Parents, your friend who’s taking care of your baby?”

  “No.”

  “Okay.”

  Once he had Ruby settled for the night, Blackstein went back to the crime scene to see if it jived with Ruby’s story. He didn’t believe for a minute that she hadn’t been involved in this herself, but he still had to investigate it thoroughly.

  He walked up and down the aisles, talking to the old man who owned the store, who had returned after identifying Ruby in the line-up.

  “Had you ever seen the girl before tonight?” he questioned.

  “I recognize her face. She’s been here before.”

  “So, she’s a regular customer?”

  “She’s been here before,” the man repeated carefully.

  “How about the boy?”

  “I haven’t seen him before.” The old man shook his head.

  “So they’re never together when she comes.”

  “No. I’ve never seen him before.”

  “But the girl was easy to pick out of a lineup, because you’ve seen her before.”

  “Yes.”

  Blackstein thought about that for a few moments, letting his eyes travel around the interior features of the store. Windows, lighting—a bit dim, product shelves, front counter. Considering all of the angles and viewlines.

  “How long was the girl here casing it out before the boy came in?”

  “Just for a minute.”

  “What aisle was she in?”

  “Number three, at the back.”

  Blackstein walked to the back corner of the store. Just where you would go if you wanted to make sure the store was truly empty. There was a can of infant formula on the floor. Blackstein looked around. If she had been standing there when the boy came in and wasn’t his lookout, why not just duck down? Why head towards the door, all the way on the other side of the store?

  “Did the two of them speak to each other?” he questioned, walking slowly back up to the counter. “Call each other by name?”

  “No. He just told her ‘come on’ when he had the money,” the old man said with a shrug of his hands.

  “Did she threaten you at all?”

  “No, she didn’t say anything. Just the boy.”

  Blackstein tapped his fingers on the counter.

  “Were they definitely together, or could the girl just have been a bystander?”

  The old man looked taken aback. He frowned, a crease appearing in the middle of his forehead.

  “They were together. I told you that.”

  “Yeah, well, the girl’s singing a different song.”

  The old man shook his head, his lips pursed together.

  “I’m sure they were together. She came in to case out my place.”

  “As long as you’re sure. You didn’t come across the boy in the mug shots?”

  “I don’t think so. I didn’t get a really good look at him.”

  “The girl said he was wearing a gang jacket. Did you notice which gang he was from?”

  “I didn’t see the picture... he didn’t turn his back until he got to the door, and then I couldn’t see... I’m a little short-sighted.”

  Blackstein looked at the man sharply.

  “Exactly how short-sighted?” he challenged.

  “I saw them both, I just couldn’t make out his jacket,” he insisted.

  “Okay. I’ll be talking to you again, let you know how things are going.”

  Jamie opened the door to find a policeman waiting on the other side. He looked worried and anxious about the unexpected visit. But he took a deep, slow breath, and forced a smile.

  “Uh—yeah?”

  “My name is Blackstein. Could I talk to you for a few minutes?”

  “Yeah, come in.”

  Jamie opened the door the rest of the way and let Blackstein in. He was wearing only a pair of blue jeans that he had obviously pulled on in order to answer the door. He motioned for Blackstein to sit down on the couch. Blackstein opened his notepad.

  “I’m sorry to disturb you at this time of night. I need to ask you some questions about a girl named Ruby Simpson.”

  “Ruby?” his eyebrows went up. “Okay... what do you need to know?”

  “You and Ruby are pretty close? You know quite a bit about her?”

  Jamie shook his head.

  “No.”

  “No? It sounded to me like you knew each other pretty well.”

  “Uh-uh. I haven’t known her very long.”

  “She said you were her baby’s father.”

  Jamie laughed.

  “Her father? I didn’t even meet Ruby until a couple of weeks ago!”

  “I see.” Blackstein leaned back. “Do you know who the father is?”

  “Nope. Although we ran into this one guy...”

  “Who?”

  “A guy from a gang, I guess. We were out for a walk with the baby when we ran into him. He said he thought the baby looked like him. Might just have been talk, though.” Jamie gave a wry smile, and looked away.

  “Do you know which gang he was in?”

  “No. But they weren’t on good terms. Ruby held him off with a knife. Wouldn’t let him close to the baby.”

  “You didn’t see the emblazon on his jacket?”

  Jamie frowned.

  “I was sort of shook up. I knew he was from one of the gangs, I didn’t know which one—I don’t think I ever saw the logo on his jacket.”

  “Can you describe him?”

  “Short and wiry. Blue eyes and dark hair, like the baby.”

  “Did Ruby mention his name?”

  “No, I don’t think so.”

  “You think he was really the father?”

  “I don’t know. I’ve only known Ruby for a little while.”

  “You don’t know of any involvement she might have with any of the gangs?”

  “No.”

  There was a light on in the back of the house when Blackstein approached. He knocked quietly on the door rather than ringing the doorbell. A girl about Ruby’s age holding a crying baby opened the door.

  “Where’s Ruby? Is she okay?” she questioned immediately.

  “Ruby’s fine. But she is in a bit of trouble. Can I ask you a few questions?”

  She nodded, but didn’t invite him in.

  “You’re Marty?”

  “Yes.”

  “And this is Ruby’s baby?”

  “Yeah, this is Stella, Ruby’s daughter.” Marty held her at an angle that Blackstein could see her face for a moment, then cuddled her to her shoulder and tried to calm her, patting her back.

  “Ruby was in a convenience store that was robbed this evening. She says that she was there to pick up baby formula.”

  Marty raised her eyebrows.

  “Really. I did tell her yesterday that we needed more, we’re getting low.”

  “So she might have been telling the truth.”

  “Sure.”

  “Have you known her to have any interaction with any of the youth gangs?”

  Marty rolled her eyes and sighed.

  “The Jaguars.”

  Bla
ckstein shook his head.

  “The Jags. Figures. Well, up until now her story was starting to look like it might be true. But if she is with the Jags...”

  Marty frowned suddenly.

  “You think Ruby robbed the store? With one of the Jags?”

  “That’s the idea.”

  “Oh, boy.” Marty shook her head.

  “You don’t think she could be involved?” Blackstein said.

  “I sure hope not. She hasn’t done anything criminal before.”

  “They all start somewhere. If she’s been hanging around with the Jags, she’ll get there eventually.”

  “Will she be coming home tonight? Where is she?”

  “She’s in a cell at the station. She’ll probably be home tomorrow morning. We’ll need to question her some more.”

  “Don’t be too hard on her... She’s not a bad kid, just mixed up,” Marty said. “She’s been in a lot of different foster homes.”

  “She hasn’t been real cooperative, but she hasn’t been too bad.”

  Ruby slept restlessly through the night. She didn’t think she would sleep at all, but the codeine must have made her sleep. Her ankle was stiff and swollen when she awoke. She sat on the bed, her back against the wall and her feet up on the bed in front of her. She couldn’t believe she was actually in jail. But she had to stick with Jack and the Jags, she had to do what the guys wanted her to, or she would lose their protection.

  The robbery was nothing after seeing Laskin and Slash shot. There was no violence, no blood. She hadn’t even been nervous about it. She figured it would go off all right. But it hadn’t.

  The door opened and an officer stood there. He stood there for a moment without saying anything.

  “Well, come on,” he said impatiently.

  Ruby got up and limped over to him. They had taken away her crutches. He motioned for her to turn around, and handcuffed her. He didn’t have anything to say to her. He escorted her in to where Blackstein had questioned her the day before. She sat and waited in the empty room for another hour waiting for someone to come talk to her. Then Blackstein came in. He looked tired. Ruby scowled at him.

  “When are you going to let me go?” she demanded.

  “Take it easy. I have some more questions for you.”

  “I’ve been waiting here for an hour.”

  “You’re exaggerating. Let’s get back to business, and you can go home.”

  “When’s breakfast around here?”

  Blackstein glanced at his watch.

  “Already passed. Didn’t you get anything?”

  “I’ve been sitting in here staring at the wall.”

  “I’ll get you a coffee. How do you like it?”

  “Black.”

  “Sugar?”

  “No.”

  “Okay. I’ll be right back.”

  He left again, and it was another half hour before he got back. Ruby’s stomach was growling and she was getting irritated with all the waiting. He finally got back, and handed her a Styrofoam cup of light-colored coffee. Ruby looked down at it and didn’t remind him she had ordered it black.

  “It’s about time,” she grumbled. She picked it up and took a sip. It was cold and sweet. She put it back down. “I want my lawyer,” she said flatly.

  Blackstein raised his brows.

  “What?”

  “I’m tired of you jerking me around. I want my lawyer.”

  “Hey, sorry I took so long. I got sidetracked,” he apologized.

  Ruby glared at him for another minute.

  “So are you going to ask me those questions or what?” she said grumpily.

  “Who was the Jag you were with last night?”

  “I don’t know who he was. I didn’t think he was a Jaguar, though. One of the other gangs.”

  “You know the Jags pretty well.”

  “Who told you that?”

  “I asked around,” he said with a shrug.

  “I want to get out of here.”

  “Admit that you know the Jags.”

  “I know some of them,” she agreed.

  “Admit that you were there last night to case out the convenience store.”

  “I was buying formula for my baby,” Ruby maintained.

  “Admit that you got mixed up in something that was over your head.”

  “I got in the middle of a hold-up. It wasn’t my fault.”

  “I’ll need you to sign a statement about what you told me. Then you can go home. As long as you stay with your friend so we can reach you again when this goes to trial.”

  “I’ll sign whatever you want.”

  “Good girl. You stay here. I won’t be long this time.”

  Ruby sat back to wait.

  “Can you get me more pills too?”

  He hesitated, and then nodded.

  “I’ll see what I can do. What happened to your crutches?”

  “They took them away. Thought I’d use them as a weapon, I guess.”

  He shook his head and walked out again.

 
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