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Ruby between the cracks, p.14
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.14

           P.D. Workman
 

  Chapter Twelve

  RUBY KNEW THEY’D BE watching her. They’d be watching to see if she went straight to the gang. But she wasn’t going to give them a chance. She went to Jamie’s apartment instead. He wasn’t around, but the lock on the door was a simple spring lock, and Ruby had learned from the Jags how to get by those. She let herself in and looked around his apartment. She’d been there before, but not alone. She hadn’t had a real chance to check it out by herself and see what kind of a person he really was.

  Jamie was a tidy person. Everything was in place, like a homemakers magazine picture. He must have had a woman’s touch in his apartment sometime, because everything seemed to be coordinated. Nothing looked expensive, but at the same time, you know it wasn’t cheap. He hadn’t just picked stuff up at the flea market. And he was either very clean or had a maid come in.

  Ruby opened the fridge and cupboards, and helped herself to a sandwich. She sat down in front of the TV and waited for Jamie to get home. He started when he saw her sitting there.

  “Ruby—you surprised me. How did you get in?”

  “The door was open. Sorry, I didn’t think you would mind.”

  “No, I don’t mind.” He stood there with one hand on the door frame, looking at her thoughtfully. “There was a policeman here last night.”

  “Yeah, sorry about that.”

  “Why did you tell them I was Stella’s dad?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “She doesn’t have a dad. You were the first one that came to mind.”

  “I’m flattered. But we don’t know each other really well, so... Don’t push it, all right?”

  “Guess it was stupid, huh?”

  He shook his head.

  “I like you, and I like Stella. But I’m not ready to be anyone’s dad quite yet. You have to give me some time for that one.”

  “Okay.”

  Jamie stood there, not saying anything. Ruby turned her attention back to the TV. After a few minutes, Jamie came over and sat down beside her on the couch, putting his arms around her.

  Blackstein sat in his car in front of the apartment building, watching for Ruby to come back out. She had gone to the boyfriend instead of to her baby. Her loyalties appeared to be a bit backwards. If she cared more about seeing her boyfriend after a night in jail than she cared about seeing her baby, then what were the chances that she’d actually been at the store to buy baby formula? He knew Ruby had been in on the robbery, but it bothered him that she had a good back-up story and that the store owner couldn’t identify the boy. It should have been the other way around. He should have been able to identify the one with the gun, and not the accomplice who had cased out the store. The Jag had been standing closer and had been the focus of attention. The owner had admitted to being nearsighted enough not to make out the emblazon on the jacket when the boy was still only a few feet away at the door. But he had identified Ruby easily in the lineup. He should have been able to pick out the Jag’s mug shot from the pictures they had shown him.

  Blackstein wished Ruby had just gone home. He knew that they would never convict her without the boy, even though she was guilty. She should have gone home to her baby. She hadn’t even read the statement he gave her to sign. Ruby had said she would sign anything he gave her, and she meant it. He could have given her a statement that said she had murdered the old man, and she would have signed it. That bothered him too, because it meant that the statement would never stand up in court. Not that she had admitted to anything more than being in the store and leaving with the Jag, but it would have been nice to at least use her statement on those points. He could just hear the legal aid attorney questioning him in court.

  “Did she read the statement before she signed it? Didn’t she say she would sign anything you gave her? Why did she say that?”

  He didn’t know why she had said it. She shouldn’t have. She should have said that she’d sign it only if he got it right. She should have protested having to sign anything, the guilty ones did.

  When Ruby got home, she had Jamie with her again. He played with Stella in the bedroom while Marty talked to Ruby.

  “Are you okay? I was so worried about you,” Marty touched Ruby’s cheek, brushing a loose strand of hair back, gazing into her eyes.

  “Other than my foot, I’m okay,” Ruby said, shrugging.

  “How did you do that?”

  “Jumping over a fence.”

  Marty shook her head, smiling a bit at that.

  “But they were good to you? They didn’t hurt you?”

  “No.”

  “Were you in jail with other people? They didn’t put you in with weirdoes, did they?”

  “No. They put me in solitary.”

  “Good.”

  “Do you have some Aspirin or something? For my ankle?”

  “Yeah, in the bathroom.”

  Ruby limped to the bathroom to get some. The pain after walking and taking the bus from Jamie’s apartment was almost unbearable. Marty watched her go into the bathroom and shut the door. Marty went into the bedroom where Jamie was cooing to the baby. Jamie looked up when Marty came in. Neither of them said anything for a moment. Jamie looked back down at Stella.

  “You don’t approve of me, do you?”

  Marty stood looking down at him.

  “Why would I?”

  “Why wouldn’t you? I haven’t hurt Ruby or Stella.”

  “What interest do you have in Ruby? What exactly attracts you to a thirteen year old girl and a baby?”

  “I like Ruby. She’s cute and she’s fun to be around.”

  “She’s a kid.”

  “She’s mature. A lot more mature than most of the girls I know. And she’s not thirteen. She’s fourteen.”

  Marty looked startled, and then shrugged.

  “So she’s fourteen. The reason you think she’s mature is because she’s been hurt. She’s had to grow up and be independent.”

  “She hasn’t been hurt by me.”

  “You’re sleeping with her.”

  Jamie didn’t disagree.

  “I wouldn’t hurt Ruby.”

  “You are hurting her. Just like all the other boys in her life.”

  “I don’t know anything about any other boys. All I know is that I haven’t done anything to hurt her.”

  Ruby came back down the hallway to the bedroom.

  “What’s up?” she questioned, looking at the two of them.

  Marty shook her head, scowling.

  “Let’s go out,” Jamie suggested.

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I have to keep off my foot a while,” she said. She was pale, her face drawn and tired. “I can’t go out.”

  “Mind if I stick around here for a while, then?”

  Ruby looked at Marty.

  “Is it okay?” she coaxed. “Just for a little while?”

  “For a bit, but you need to get some sleep. You look wiped out.”

  “Yeah.”

  “Watch some TV?” Jamie suggested.

  Ruby nodded.

  “Yeah, sure.”

  They went out to the living room and sat down in front of the TV, Jamie with one arm around Ruby and Stella cradled in his other arm. Ruby rested her head on Jamie’s shoulder, her leg propped up to relieve the pressure on her ankle. Marty sat down on the easy chair to keep her eye on them, and especially on Stella. They had hardly been watching ten minutes, and Ruby was asleep. Stella fell asleep as well, and Jamie sat there with the two of them, grinning.

  “Good company, huh?”

  “Ruby’s not feeling well,” Marty pointed out.

  “The two of you are pretty close,” he observed.

  “Yeah. That’s right.”

  “That’s cool. I’m not trying to get between you two. I think it’s good that she has a girlfriend.”

  Marty frowned and looked suspicious. She walked over and took Stella from him.

  “You should leave. Let Ruby sleep.”

  Jamie didn
t like it, but he shrugged and got up, careful not to wake Ruby up. She didn’t stir.

  “I’ll see you around,” Jamie told Marty.

  She didn’t say anything to him, and he let himself out. Marty sat down next to Ruby, watching her sleep.

  Ruby awoke suddenly and sat up. The room was dark and empty. She wasn’t sure where she was. She stood up quickly, looking around and trying to make our shapes in the dimness. She took two steps away from the couch before she felt the pain of her sprain, and her leg buckled so she hit the floor with a crash. Ruby lay still, holding her foot. Tears were starting in her eyes and she lay there frozen, listening for movements. A door opened somewhere, and she heard a voice call out “Marty?” softly. There were footsteps nearby, and a light went on.

  “Ruby,” Marty’s mom rushed over to her and took her by the hand.

  “I didn’t know where I was,” Ruby whispered, sitting up and hugging her tightly.

  “It’s okay. You’re all right now. Get up, and we’ll put you in bed with Marty.”

  “I can’t. My foot.”

  “I’ll help you. Let’s see.”

  She looked at Ruby’s ankle, and realized it was swollen to twice its normal size.

  “Just don’t stand on it,” she suggested. “Hop on the other foot. I’ll hold you up.”

  She helped Ruby get to her feet. The hopping jarred Ruby’s ankle too much. She leaned her weight on Mrs. Rodger, gasping.

  “I can’t.”

  She was sheet white, and Mrs. Rodger was worried that if they went any further, Ruby would faint. She propped Ruby up against the wall.

  “Wait right there. Don’t move. I’ll get help.”

  She went back to her bedroom, and Ruby leaned woozily against the wall waiting for her to get back. Then she realized that Mrs. Rodger had gone to enlist help from her husband. She heard him grumbling as he got up, about having to take care of everybody else’s kids. Ruby tried to get down the hallway on her own, but collapsed again. Marty’s parents hurried out of the bedroom towards her.

  “Don’t touch me,” Ruby protested when he reached towards her. But he ignored her protest and scooped her up in his arms like a child. He was used to carrying far heavier loads. Ruby froze in his arms, the tears brimming up in her eyes and running down her cheeks. He put her down gently in Marty’s bed, pushing Marty away from the edge with one hand. Ruby lay still, and he looked at her foot.

  “It’s broken,” he deduced, “take her to the doctor and have it set tomorrow.”

  “Are you sure it’s broken?” Mrs. Rodger questioned. “Ruby said it was just sprained.”

  “You can never tell with ankles. But I bet it’s broken.”

  “Should we take her to emergency tonight?”

  “Tomorrow. Let her sleep tonight, if she can.”

  “Will you be okay tonight?” Mrs. Rodger questioned Ruby. “Will you be okay if we wait?”

  She carefully removed Ruby’s tight shoes and socks. When she reached for the waist of Ruby’s pants to help her undress for sleep, Ruby stopped her.

  “No—leave it,” she looked towards Marty’s dad.

  “Oh, I’m sorry, Ruby. Thanks for your help,” she told her husband. He got the hint.

  “Yeah, whatever,” he muttered, and left the room. “Night, Pumpkin.”

  Pumpkin was what he called Marty. But Marty wasn’t even awake. Ruby let Mrs. Rodger unsnap her blue jeans and take them off, and Ruby pulled the edges of her t-shirt down to cover herself. Mrs. Rodger tugged a blanket over her.

  “There. You’ll be okay?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Okay. See you in the morning.”

  Mrs. Rodger left again. The light in the hall went out. Ruby snuggled up to Marty and tried to ignore the throbbing in her foot and go to sleep.

  The next day the doctor took x-rays and confirmed what Marty’s dad had suspected. The ankle was broken. Ruby waited patiently while the doctor set it and gave her instructions on taking care of it. She picked up her crutches again, nodding.

  “You’ll give me some pills.”

  “Yes. But I don’t want you to take any more than you have to, okay?”

  Ruby nodded. He motioned to the baby that Marty was holding.

  “Are you nursing her?”

  “What?”

  “Breastfeeding?”

  “No.”

  “Because if you do, you’re going to have to stop while you’re taking the painkillers.”

  “I’m not.”

  “Okay. Try to keep off of that ankle, okay? Keep it elevated.”

  “I will.”

  Mrs. Rodger wanted to take Ruby back home, but Ruby shook her head.

  “I got other things to do.”

  “Don’t get in trouble.”

  Ruby didn’t answer. She turned and went down the street on her crutches, heading for the bus stop. Marty rocked Stella, shaking her head.

  “She’s going to the Jags.”

  “I hope not.”

  “She is.”

  Ruby got to Tim’s apartment, and went straight to the kitchen to wash some pills down with a beer. Tim watched her.

  “What happened to you?” he questioned.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Broke my ankle.”

  “How’d you do that?”

  “Jumping over a fence trying to outrun a cop.” Ruby grimaced.

  Tim grinned.

  “Well, that was pretty dumb,” he observed.

  “Yeah, I know. Seemed like a good idea at a time. Jack got back all right?”

  “Yeah. He knew better than to jump any fences.”

  “I didn’t know the alley; I didn’t know it was a dead end, okay?”

  Tim grinned.

  “Uh-huh. How’s it feel?”

  Ruby rolled her eyes.

  “These pills don’t work.”

  “I’ll bet. What’d they give you, Tylenol?”

  “I guess.”

  “I’ll get you something better,” Tim promised.

  Ruby was sleeping when the gang went out for the night. The pills that Tim had given her made her dopey. She couldn’t go out anyway, she would slow them down. Ruby drifted in and out of consciousness. She hated to sleep alone, but she was too woozy to go anywhere else. Nightmares plagued her constantly, waking her up in a hazy cold sweat. But the drugs were too much and she would fall right back into restless dreams.

  Ruby awoke to Troy’s face before her. She blinked a few times, trying to get rid of the image, but it didn’t fade or go away this time. He was really there this time. He grinned at her.

  “Hello sweetheart, you miss me?”

  Ruby struggled to sit up. Troy sat down on the bed, casually pinning down her free leg. The cast made it too difficult to move the other.

  But he had made a mistake this time. He was too sure of himself. Before he’d had a gun. Both times he’d kept her still with his gun. But this time, it was still in his pocket or waistband because he thought she was an easy target. And Ruby had her knife in her pocket. Mike’s knife. The one Mike should have had in his hand to protect her the night they held a gun to her head. The knife she should have used when Troy had grabbed her off the street. The knife that had convinced Troy to back off when he was threatening the baby.

  It seemed like it took forever to get her hand to her knife without him realizing what she was doing. But the room was dim, lit only by a bulb shining in from the other room, and he couldn’t see her well enough.

  Troy heard it snick open, and froze. Whether he realized what she was doing or not, Ruby didn’t know, but he didn’t move until she shoved the knife into his belly, and then he quivered when she struck.

  He fell across her. Skinny though he was, he was too heavy for Ruby to move. One leg was already immobilized by the cast. She could hardly even move her arms with him across her.

  Ruby was still dopey and disoriented by the drugs that Tim had given her. She struggled for a few minutes to get him off of her, but when
she couldn’t, she eventually dropped back off to sleep.

  Jack and Tim and the others got back in the early hours of the morning. Tim went to get a beer from the fridge. Johnson walked by the bedroom, and raised his eyebrows.

  “Ruby’s got company,” he said.

  Tim looked startled.

  “Who’s with Ruby? I thought everyone else was with us.”

  Johnson shrugged.

  “Someone’s in with her.”

  Jack glanced around the apartment, and nodded at the cap lying on the table.

  “Troy.”

  “Ruby doesn’t like Troy,” Tim said, frowning. “She said...” he trailed off.

  He went to the door of the bedroom where Johnson was standing, and looked at the vague shapes in the darkness.

  “Ruby?”

  Tim hesitated, and then flipped the light switch. He looked at them for a couple of minutes before he could take it all in. He swore and walked over to the bed. The blankets were drenched with blood. Johnson was motioning violently for the others to all come see. Jack approached, a snide comment on his lips, but it died away and he didn’t say anything.

  “Ruby,” Tim said softly, and he caught hold of Troy’s jacket and tried to pull him off. Troy was a dead weight. Jack came over silently and helped Tim to pull the body off from Ruby. Tim cupped his hand over Ruby’s cheek.

  “She’s hot,” he said.

  Jack nodded. He turned over Troy’s body with his foot, his eyes sharp.

  “Johnson, and the rest of you, get rid of this. And good. I don’t want the cops turning it up in a couple of days. Tim…”

  “I’m not leaving Ruby.”

  “No.” Jack looked Ruby over. “Wake her up, and get her cleaned up and changed. We’ll burn her clothes and the sheets. I don’t want her saying anything.”

  He stooped down and pulled the knife out of Troy’s belly.

  “She did the right job, that’s for sure. Come on, you guys. The cops will smell the blood a block away. Get it out of here.”

  He closed the knife and put it in his pocket. Johnson and the other boys carried Troy out of the room, and Jack went over and shut the door. He nodded to Tim. Tim shook Ruby, trying to waken her. She didn’t stir.

  “She stoned?” Jack questioned.

  “Yeah.”

  “She told me she didn’t do drugs.”

  “She needed something for the broken ankle.”

  Jack went into the bathroom and soaked a cloth with cold water. He came back and wiped Ruby’s face and neck with it. Ruby started to surface, but didn’t open her eyes. Jack slapped her cheeks lightly with his hand, and Ruby started to move to avoid it.

  “Ruby. Open your eyes. Time to get up. Open your eyes.”

  She reluctantly opened her eyes and looked foggily at the two of them.

  “Get up,” Jack told her.

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I’m tired,” she moaned.

  “I don’t care. Get up.”

  They both forced Ruby into a sitting position, though she was still unsteady. Ruby looked down at the blood soaking her shirt and breathed in sharply.

  “Oh, man... Oh, no... oh, man...”

  She swore and rubbed the front of her shirt between two hands as if she could get it out.

  “Come on,” Jack urged, sliding her legs over the edge of the bed. “Stand up.”

  “I don’t feel good.”

  “Get moving. Come on.”

  They got her up between them and took her into the bathroom. Ruby collapsed on the floor when they released her. She managed to stay sitting up, and she plucked at the blood-soaked shirt, disoriented. Jack grasped the bottom edge of the shirt with both hands and pulled it off over Ruby’s head. He threw it on the floor.

  “Get her pants off,” he told Tim, looking disgusted. All of Ruby’s clothes were soaked with blood. “And get her in the shower and cleaned and sobered up.”

  Tim struggled to get Ruby’s pants unbuttoned. He was biting his lip, trying to keep his emotions under control. He slapped Ruby’s cheeks to try to keep her awake and aware. He left bloody fingerprints on her face. Ruby rubbed her eyes, pushing Tim’s hands away.

  “Don’t touch me.”

  “Come on, Ruby. Don’t do that.”

  She pushed his hands away when he tried to work on her buttons again.

  “Don’t touch me,” she insisted more vehemently. “Keep your hands off me or I’ll kill you!”

  “Ruby, it’s Tim. It’s okay.”

  Ruby fended him off, swearing. Jack grew impatient.

  “Get her in the shower,” he advised, grabbing one of Ruby’s arms. Tim caught her by the other arm, and together they dragged her, struggling, to the shower and dumped her into the shower stall. Jack turned on the cold water. Ruby shrieked and sputtered. The water running over the tiles was tinged pink. Ruby struggled to get up or escape the cold water from the shower. After a few minutes her shouts turned to whimpers. Jack turned off the tap.

  “Tim... give me a hand...” Ruby started. He stooped over and gave her his hands and helped her to her feet. Ruby held her head for a few minutes once on her feet. She sat down on the toilet.

  “What happened?”

  “Why don’t you tell us?” Jack suggested.

  Ruby looked at him and picked up a towel to wrap around herself. She shook her head.

  “Man, have I got a headache.”

  “I’ll bet. What happened?”

  Ruby held her head.

  “Troy—is he here?”

  “We’re taking care of him.”

  “Did I kill him?”

  “Cold as ice,” Jack confirmed.

  Ruby looked relieved.

  “He wouldn’t leave me alone. He just wouldn’t leave me alone.”

  Jack lit a cigarette, watching Ruby.

  “Troy wasn’t a great guy, but this is going to cause us some real problems.”

  “Sorry I wasn’t thinking of gang politics,” Ruby sneered sarcastically.

  “Maybe you should have been. When the Terminators hear that you iced their leader, you’re really gonna have to watch your back.”

  “As long as Troy’s not there.”

  “There’s worse guys than Troy.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “No, there’s not,” she said flatly.

  Jack shook his head and lit a cigarette.

  “You got other clothes with you?” he questioned.

  Ruby nodded.

  “In my knapsack.” She rubbed at the bloodstains on her jeans. “This isn’t going to come out.”

  “We’ll burn them.”

  “What?”

  “Cops can test blood, figure out where it came from. There isn’t going to be any evidence for them to find if we burn it.”

  “Oh.”

  “So get out of that stuff and we’ll get rid of it,” Jack urged.

  Ruby struggled for a moment with the button of her fly, and got it undone.

  “Are you going to stand there watching?” she demanded.

  Jack smiled.

  “You don’t have anything I haven’t seen.”

  Ruby started to unzip and wriggle out of her jeans. Jack nodded and walked out. Ruby stood up unsteadily and Tim helped her out of the jeans and back into the shower, warm this time. He picked up the bloody clothes and left Ruby to shower off.

  Johnson and Erwin walked out of the building with Troy between them. They kept a sharp lookout for anyone who might notice them. They got about halfway down the block and Johnson noticed the two figures getting out of the car parked in front of the apartment building. Johnson picked up his pace.

  “Watch them,” he warned.

  The two men started to trail them. Johnson swore.

  “Around the corner, and we dump him and split,” he instructed lowly. Erwin nodded in agreement. The continued at the same pace until they rounded the corner at the end of the block. They dropped the body and fled. By the time the cops got around the
corner, Johnson and Erwin were too far away for pursuit. They crouched over Troy’s body.

  “He’s cold,” Smith said. Gerald nodded.

  “I’ll get a crew over. Once they’re here, we can go find the Jags the girl is staying with.”

  They didn’t know which apartment Ruby was in, but they asked questions at a few doors and were quickly pointed in the right direction. There was no answer at Tim’s apartment, and they kicked in the door with guns drawn. Smith held the Jags in the front room under gunpoint while Gerald checked out the rest of the apartment. The rooms were blue with smoke. Gerald checked out the bedroom. The blankets had been stripped off of one of the beds, but the mattress itself was stained with blood. The shower was running, and Gerald pushed the door open with his toe, gun ready. He pushed back the shower curtain.

  Ruby yelped and tried to cover herself up.

  “Get out,” Gerald told her.

  Ruby had problems stepping over the edge of the shower with the cast on her foot. He offered one hand, keeping the gun on her with the other. Ruby grabbed a grimy towel and wrapped it around herself. She looked around awkwardly.

  “Where’s your clothes?”

  “In my bag, the other room.”

  He motioned her with the gun, and Ruby walked out into the bedroom, swaying on her feet. Obviously drunk or stoned. She could hardly stand up. She found her bag and picked it up. Gerald took it away from her and dumped it on the floor, moving stuff around on his floor so that he could make sure she wasn’t going to pull a weapon on him. It wouldn’t be a smart thing to do in her condition, but it wouldn’t be the first time a gang member did something stupid. Ruby picked up her clothes slowly, pulling on a shirt and pants, struggling to get the blue jeans on over her cast and damp skin.

  Gerald took her out to the front room where the others were waiting. He left Ruby with Smith and took another walk through the apartment. The smoke was more than just cigarette smoke. There was a heap of ashes out on the fire escape. Unrecognizable, but Gerald knew it was the sheets from off of the bed.

  “Let’s frisk’em,” he said to Smith, and holstered his gun. Smith held his gun on the Jags while Gerald frisked them one at a time. They handcuffed each of the gang members and called for more units to help bring everybody in and bring homicide up to the apartment.

  Ruby sat in the squad car beside Andrew, She didn’t have a jacket on, and she was shivering in the cool night air. Andrew scowled at her and didn’t say anything. Ruby turned her face away from him and leaned against the window of the car. She closed her eyes and let herself drift. She’d hardly been able to stay awake since Tim and Jack had wakened her. Now sitting in the moving car with the drone of the engine, it was easy to fall asleep.

  When Gerald got out of the car, He saw that Ruby had fallen asleep. Smith got Andrew out of the car, and Gerald opened Ruby’s door. Ruby nearly fell out of the car. Gerald caught her and pulled her to her feet. He had to practically drag her into the police station. He put her into one of the interrogation rooms, depositing her into a folding chair. Ruby put her head down on the table in front of her, and was immediately unconscious. Gerald shook his head in disgust and left the room to see if Smith needed a hand with Andrew.

  When he got back to Ruby, she was still fast asleep on the table. A stream of saliva was running down her chin. He left and got a coffee, and brought it back with him. He shook Ruby hard to waken her, and put the coffee in her hand.

  “Drink up; it’s going to be a long night.”

  “I don’t feel good,” Ruby mumbled.

  “What are you on?”

  “Just pain pills for my ankle,” she gestured to the cast, in case he didn’t understand.

  “Drink the coffee.”

  She sipped at it obediently.

  “What happened tonight?” Gerald questioned.

  “Nothing. I wasn’t feeling good. I went to bed.”

  “Uh-huh. Why don’t you tell me who killed the boy?”

  “What boy?”

  “The Terminator your boys dropped down on the sidewalk.”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “How old are you, Ruby?”

  “Fourteen.”

  “You want to know what juvie is like for fourteen year old girls?”

  “Don’t threaten me,” she muttered.

  “I’m not threatening you, I’m telling you like it is. You ever been in prison before?”

  “I’m not going to prison.”

  “What do you think happens when you’re accessory to a murder?” he questioned, leaning forward on the table.

  “I don’t know what happened,” she protested. “I was sleeping, I didn’t see anything.”

  “Don’t lie to me.”

  “I’m not.”

  “You done that coffee? I’ll get you another one.”

  Ruby nodded. Gerald ducked out to get a second cup, and got back as she was starting to doze off again.

  “There you go. I can keep them coming just as long as you need them to keep awake. You going to be okay for a while now?”

  “Yeah.”

  “So tell me about what happened.”

  “I can’t. I don’t know.”

  Gerald slapped Ruby. Her eyes went wide, and she leaned back in her chair, moving further away.

  “That waken you up a little more?” Gerald demanded. “Maybe you can remember a little bit better now.”

  “You’re not allowed to touch me,” Ruby protested.

  “You’re not in much of a position to argue.”

  Ruby didn’t answer. She sat there looking at him with wide eyes.

  “Are you ready to tell me what happened now?” Gerald repeated.

  “Nothing happened.”

  He slapped her again, but Ruby saw it coming this time and avoided the full brunt of the blow. She swallowed, staring at him. He saw her hands clench, but there was nothing she could do. If she decided to try to fight him, in spite of the difference in size, he could put her in cuffs.

  “I want my lawyer,” Ruby said.

  “I don’t think so.”

  “I got the right to have my lawyer here.”

  “If you’re going to call your lawyer, I’m not going to help you.”

  “I want my lawyer,” she insisted.

  “What good do you think a legal aid lawyer would be for you now? You’ve got yourself in the middle of something pretty serious this time.”

  “I got the right!”

  He slapped her again. Ruby pushed her chair back and got up, moving out of his reach. Gerald walked around the table, grabbed her, and pushed her back into the chair.

  “Shall we start again?”

  “Get away from me.”

  Smith came in and stood in the doorway. Gerald went out into the hallway with him and shut the door behind him.

  “What’s up?”

  “I thought you might want some details.”

  “Go ahead.”

  “Preliminary report is that he’s been dead about three hours. He’s been lying face down since then. Stabbed to death. They turned up a knife at the scene with blood on it.”

  “Fingerprints?”

  “Two sets. Hers and one of the Jags.”

  “Okay. Let’s book the both of them. Any of those kids talking?”

  “Not yet.”

  “Someone will. We’ll play them off each other.”

  He went back into the room and motioned to Ruby to stand up. He took her by the arm and escorted her out to be fingerprinted and booked. He watched as Ruby was stripped down to change into a jail uniform. Ruby kept her eyes down. Gerald walked up to her.

  “You got your cast wet,” he commented. Ruby didn’t look at him.

  “I was in the shower,” she said flatly.

  “Looks like you got blood on it.”

  Ruby looked down at her cast. The rim of it was stained brownish-red.

  “Let’s see your hands,” Gerald ordered.

  Ruby cl
enched her fists and didn’t let him see them. The heavy-set matron who was attending to her change of clothes grasped one of her hands firmly and forced it open for Gerald to see. He examined her nails for blood, but couldn’t spot any. The matron released Ruby and briskly finished changing her. Gerald took her back to an interrogation room.

  “So your fingerprints are on the murder weapon too,” he commented.

  Ruby didn’t say anything. She rubbed the fabric of her uniform.

  “It will be better if you just tell me what happened, Ruby.”

  “Nothing happened.”

  “Don’t start that again.”

  “It’s the truth.”

  “Tell me what it was that happened. I’m sure there’s a good explanation,” he pressed.

  “I want my lawyer.”

  Gerald pushed the table violently out of the way and slapped her harder this time, making her head snap back.

  “What happened, huh? What did he do? Did he try to hurt you or were you just in a bad mood?” his voice grew louder with each question, “Did you do it in cold blood? Was it an initiation to the Jags? What was a Terminator even doing there? Someone bring him in? Tell me what happened!”

  Tears sprang to Ruby’s eyes, but Gerald couldn’t tell whether she was upset or angry. She stood up, and Gerald caught the automatic movement of her hand to her pocket before she remembered that she was not wearing her own clothes and was not armed. She was prepared to defend herself, but there wasn’t much she could do without a weapon.

  “Sit down.”

  “No.”

  He caught her by the shoulder to sit her down, and she pulled away. Gerald grabbed her arm tightly and forced her to sit down. Ruby swore at him angrily. He ignored her protests.

  “What happened tonight?” he pressed.

  “Nothing happened.”

  “A boy is dead. Murdered. That’s not nothing. You were there, you did it.”

  “No, I didn’t.”

  “How did your fingerprints get on the murder weapon?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “How did blood get on your cast?” Gerald raised an eyebrow.

  “I don’t know.”

  “Don’t know much, do you?”

  Ruby shrugged, eying him warily.

  “Do you know what’s going to happen to you?”

  “I’m going to go home.”

  “No, you’re not. You’re spending the night in a cell here, and then you’re going to be transferred to juvenile. You’ll go to court, you’ll get convicted, and you’ll go back to juvenile for a few more years. Maybe we’ll be able to convince a judge that you’re a dangerous offender and get you tried as an adult.”

  “I’m not going to jail.”

  Gerald shook his head. He walked out to find out how the others were doing. Smith was working at a desk and saw him.

  “Any luck?”

  “So far she’s denying that anything ever happened. She’s pretty sure of herself, but I think that will wear off with the drugs.”

  “She’s high?”

  “Pain pills, she says. Uh-huh. They’re not prescription, I’ll tell you that. Any progress with the others?”

  “One says he doesn’t know what happened, but he’s sure it was the girl. Seems he’s more worried about how the Terminators will react than about the cops. They’ve identified the boy as the newest leader of the Terminators. Killing the other gang’s boss is not good for PR.”

  “How did the leader of the Terminators end up in the bedroom of a Jag’s apartment?” Gerald questioned, frowning.

  “Vice says that the Jaguars and Terminators have been working together lately. They had formed some sort of alliance against the other gangs.”

  “Well, this will certainly improve that relationship, won’t it?”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Neither do I. Who should I talk to in there if I want to play them for some more information?”

  Smith looked down at his paperwork.

  “Guy in number three. Tim Nietz. He’s pretty jumpy, but he hasn’t said anything yet.”

  “Great.”

  Gerald went into interrogation room three. Tim was sitting in a chair trying to put on his toughest face, but his underlying nervousness was clear.

  “Well, Tim,” Gerald said, interrupting the other officer who was there questioning him. “Your friend Ruby has certainly been saying some interesting things.”

  Tim turned to him, scowling.

  “You don’t know anything.”

  “On the contrary. I’ve learned quite a bit about what happened there tonight. Ruby’s pretty shaken up.”

  “She’s just stoned,” Tim sneered, trying to hide his concern, “She doesn’t have a clue what happened.”

  “Drugs have a funny effect on people. Some people they make quiet, some people get talkative...”

  “Ruby gets tired. You think I don’t know? She’s been out of it all night. A bomb could’a’ gone off in the room and she wouldn’t have known the difference.”

  “She’s tired,” Gerald conceded, “But she does seem to have moments of clarity. So why don’t you help yourself and tell us what happened, so we don’t have to take this any further.”

  “I’m not talking about it.”

  “I think you’ll change your mind. I think you should reconsider, seeing as there’s only so many people that Ruby could point the finger at.”

  Tim leaned back in his seat.

  “Ruby would never point the finger at me, even if I had done something. But I didn’t.”

  “You may think so, but it’s different when a person’s scared, when they know they’re going down. They reach out for someone to drag down with them. And whoever’s closest... she probably thinks that you would understand. That you wouldn’t mind going down for her.”

  “I’m not going down. I wasn’t there,” he shrugged.

  “Can you prove it? You have an alibi?”

  “I was out with the rest of the guys. They’ll tell you that.”

  “And I suppose Ruby was out with you too.”

  “Ruby was sleeping.”

  “And this Terminator just walked into the apartment, stabbed himself, and died there.”

  Tim grinned.

  “Now you got it, man,” he agreed, running a hand through his hair.

  “Why don’t I believe that?”

  “If you believe what Ruby says when she’s stoned, you’ll believe anything.”

  “Not when what she’s saying makes sense.”

  A flash of doubt crossed Tim’s face, and then was gone. He smirked, looking self-assured.

  “Well, I’m glad something about this makes sense,” he commented, tipping his chair back on two legs. Gerald turned and walked out. He went back to Smith.

  “Which one had his fingerprints on the knife?”

  “Number six. Jack Wilson, leader of the gang.”

  “So you think the leader of the Jags killed the leader of the Terminators? I guess it’s a distinct possibility.”

  “Yeah.”

  Gerald glanced in at Ruby before going on to talk to Jack. She had managed to stay awake since he’d left her. She was sitting on the chair, fidgeting with her empty coffee cup. Caffeine was kicking in and the drugs were wearing off. He went on to interrogation room six. He planned on just listening to what the other officer was saying to Jack, but when he entered, Jack looked up at him and demanded to know who he was.

  “I’ve just been in talking to your girlfriend.”

  He snorted.

  “Ruby’s not my girlfriend. She was Mikey’s girlfriend; we’ve just been looking after her since he was offed.”

  “And that includes killing Terminators for her?”

  “Why would I kill a Terminator? We have an arrangement with them.”

  “So you’re going to let Ruby take the fall for this one.”

  “What’re you talking about? She’s not going to take any heat for this.”

 
Only two sets of prints on the murder weapon.”

  “So we both touched it since it was used. Big deal. I took it out of Troy’s guts.”

  “And Ruby?”

  He shrugged.

  “I guess she looked at it after I put it down.”

  “Why didn’t you call the police when you just happened to find a Terminator dead in your apartment?”

  “It ain’t my apartment.”

  “Why didn’t you call the police?”

  “Because I didn’t want to attract any heat, okay? I didn’t want this,” he gestured to his surroundings. “So we thought we’d just get rid of the evidence. So are you going to charge us with obstruction? Because I want to go home.”

  “Tell me what you found when you got to the apartment.”

  “We found a stiff. It wouldn’t be the first time, right? Someone got sloppy and didn’t clean up after himself.”

  “Where was Troy?”

  “On the bed.”

  “Where was Ruby?”

  “I didn’t notice.”

  “Tim said she was out with you fellows,” Gerald suggested.

  “Well, then she must have been there.”

  “Ruby said she was sleeping at the apartment.”

  “Then I guess they’d better get their stories straight, huh?” Jack shrugged.

  “Why was Troy killed?”

  “Guess he got in someone’s way.”

  “Why wasn’t he out with his own gang?”

  “Maybe he was. Maybe they were all at the apartment.”

  “I think you know that didn’t happen,” Gerald said.

  “What do I know? I wasn’t there.”

  “But Ruby was.”

  “Ask Ruby.”

  “Was Ruby the only one there?”

  “I don’t know.”

  Gerald rolled his eyes.

  “Come on Jack. We both know that you know what happened there tonight.”

  “I wasn’t there. I don’t know anything.”

  “You know what happened.”

  “I wasn’t there,” Jack repeated. “I don’t know.”

  “Can you prove you were somewhere else?”

  “Can you prove I was there?”

  “I don’t need to. The jury will take one look at you and know that you were there. We’ve got your fingerprints on the knife. We don’t need anything else to get a conviction.”

  “So convict me,” Jack said, shrugging.

  Gerald nodded his head.

  “We will, boy. You can count on it.”

  Jack laughed at him. Gerald walked back out and went to talk to Ruby again. She was still awake.

  “You ready to tell me what happened now?”

  “No.”

  “I’ve been talking to some of the Jaguars. It sounds as if you were the only one at the apartment, huh?”

  Ruby didn’t answer.

  “You were the only one there when he was killed, and your fingerprints are all over the weapon. What do you think that adds up to in court?”

  “You don’t know what happened.”

  “So tell me.”

  Ruby shook her head. Gerald got fed up with her stubbornness.

  “Fine. We’ll see how many days in jail it takes before you’re ready to talk. Come on.”

  He motioned for her to stand up. Ruby got up slowly, and he took her by the arm.

  “Let’s go.”

  She was slow and unsteady on her feet. As soon as they got out where other people were, Ruby started to make a fuss about not being allowed to see her lawyer.

  “All right, you can call him,” Gerald said quickly. He led her to a phone.

  “Where’s my bag?” Ruby questioned.

  “Still back at the apartment. It’s evidence.”

  “His number’s in my bag.”

  “Look it up in the phone book, then.”

  Ruby looked at the big phone book by the phone.

  “I don’t know how to spell it.”

  “What’s his name?”

  “Willhelm.”

  He took the phone book from her impatiently, and flipped through it.

  “J. Willhelm?”

  “Yeah, John.”

  Gerald read the number to Ruby, and she dialed it carefully. A male voice answered the phone.

  “Uh—Johnny?”

  There was silence for a moment.

  “No, this is Darren. Who’s this?”

  Ruby frowned.

  “It’s Ruby. Aren’t you...” she trailed off, confused.

  “Just a sec,” he said, and passed the phone to Wilhelm, saying something to him.

  “Who is this?” Willhelm questioned.

  “Ruby Simpson,” she swallowed. “I’m in a bit of trouble.”

  “Where are you?”

  “Police station.”

  “What for?”

  “Murder,” Ruby said, her voice small.

  “Yikes. I’ll come down. Don’t talk to anyone.”

  “Okay.”

  “I’ll be right down.”

  “Thanks.”

  Ruby hung up the phone slowly. Gerald was waiting for her impatiently.

  “All right? Let’s get you down for the night.”

  “My lawyer’s coming. Right now.”

  “Well, he can pick you up from the cell block.”

  He escorted her to the jail cells. Ruby stopped as he walked her by some of the other Jags who had already been incarcerated.

  “I want to be with the others.”

  “We don’t mix the sexes in the cells. Boys and girls are separate.”

  “I don’t want to be in with the women.”

  “Too bad.”

  He had the jailer put her in a cell with a few women. Ruby hobbled over to one of the bunks and sat down. The women looked at her and didn’t say anything.

  Willhelm walked along the row of cells, wondering what Ruby had managed to get herself into this time. He saw her sitting forlornly on one of the bunks, looking very small and scared. The officer who had introduced himself as Smith had the guard unlock the door. Ruby looked up to see what was going on, and brightened a little when she saw Willhelm. She looked exhausted. She got up slowly and Willhelm noticed the cast on her leg. She didn’t have any crutches. She limped over, and hugged Willhelm. He patted her comfortingly on the back, awkward. He tried to detach her tactfully. After a moment she withdrew. Tears had started down her cheeks.

  “Johnny…”

  “Wait until we’re alone, Ruby.”

  She sniffled and she hung onto his arm for support as they walked down the hall. The guard wanted to handcuff her, but Smith shook his head.

  “She’s all right.”

  Smith showed them into an interrogation room, and stood at the door for a minute watching through the skinny window. Ruby embraced Willhelm again, sobbing. Willhelm looked up and saw Smith still watching them. Their eyes met, and Smith backed up and left. Willhelm rubbed Ruby’s back.

  “It’s okay. Settle down Ruby, and tell me what happened.” He sat her down, and sat down across from her. “Just take a breath and tell me what happened.”

  Gerald looked up when Smith opened the door. Smith stood there waiting for him. Gerald joined him in the hallway.

  “Ruby’s lawyer got here.”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “She broke down. She’s talking to him.”

  “She’s coming off her high. She’s not feeling so good about herself any more. I bet the lawyer will be in here to plea within the hour.”

  Smith nodded.

  Ruby wiped at the tears on her face, trying to slow them down. She was embarrassed by her show of emotion, but couldn’t seem to shut the tears off.

  “I’m sorry,” she apologized.

  “You’ve had a pretty rough night. It’s okay.”

  “I had to stop Troy!” she insisted.

  “It’s self-defense. They can’t put you in jail when it was self-defense.”

  “He wouldn’t leave me
alone.”

  “We’ll work it out. Don’t you worry about it,” he soothed again.

  Ruby nodded, choking on her sobs. Smith and Gerald walked into the room.

  “So, what’s up?” Gerald questioned.

  “Ruby’s pleading self-defense,” Willhelm advised.

  “Let’s hear her story.”

  “Ruby was attacked. This boy has been terrorizing Ruby for months. He attacked her while she was sleeping and she defended herself the only way she could.”

  “Why didn’t Ruby tell us that when she was arrested? Because she needed time to think up a story?”

  “Because she wanted to talk to her lawyer.”

  “She could have requested counsel at any time. She was just high and too confused to think of anything.”

  “Ruby told me that you hit her.”

  “Ruby’s a little liar,” Gerald snapped.

  “Ruby’s a young girl in police custody with a bruised face,” Willhelm countered.

  “Ruby was arrested last week for armed robbery and this week for murder. Tell her she should start keeping better company.”

  Ruby covered her face with her hands as another flood of tears washed over her cheeks.

  “I want to go home,” she choked out.

  “You’re not keeping her here tonight,” Willhelm told Gerald.

  “Ruby’s staying in our custody until a court says otherwise.”

  “Release her to me. I’ll make sure she gets to court.”

  “Can’t do that. Ruby’s a dangerous offender.”

  “I’d like to talk to your supervisor.”

  Gerald shrugged.

  “I’ll get him. But he is going to tell you the same thing.”

  Gerald and Smith left. Willhelm looked at Ruby.

  “You know I’m not going to be able to get you home tonight.”

  “Yeah,” she sniffled.

  “You’ll be free to go tomorrow.”

  “Okay.”

  “Don’t worry. It’ll be okay. You didn’t do anything wrong. You just defended yourself.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Now what’s this about armed robbery?” Willhelm questioned.

  “Nothing. I was there when it happened.”

  “What’s up with that?”

  “It’s going to go to court too.”

  “Well, you’ve been leading an exciting life, haven’t you? Why don’t you cool it for a while?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Okay,” she said in a small voice.

  “Okay. I’m going to take you back so you can get some sleep tonight. Then I’ll talk to the police a bit more before I have to go to the office. You get lots of sleep tonight and in the morning, and we’ll get your hearing out of the way in no time.”

  “Yeah.”

  Ruby stood up and followed him to the door.

  “Johnny?”

  He glanced at her, shaking his head slightly.

  “Don’t call me Johnny, okay? John or Willhelm. Not Johnny. What is it?”

  “Darren—he’s the guy I met at your place, right?”

  “Yeah, you did.”

  “Are you and him... ?” Ruby trailed off.

  Willhelm raised his brows questioningly.

  “I know you said he was your friend,” Ruby said awkwardly. “But he has a key to your apartment and answers your phone at four in the morning. You guys are...” she hesitated, “roommates?”

  “Yes.”

  “Oh.”

  Ruby thought back to his reaction to finding her in bed with him, to her being in the bathroom when he was showering, and his confusion on coming into the kitchen and finding her shirtless, and then Darren coming in and seeing her there. She started to grin, thinking about how brazenly she had flirted with him, all the while thinking she was so close to breaking down his defenses. Willhelm smiled back, obviously thinking about the same thing.

  “Now you understand why things were so... awkward,” he said.

  “Yeah, I get it now. Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “I honestly didn’t know whether you were consciously trying to... interest me... or if it was unconscious.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “Next time maybe I’ll figure it out sooner.”

  He smiled.

  “Let’s get you to bed.”

  They couldn’t find any evidence that it wasn’t self-defense. All of the Jags backed up the story that Ruby was left alone in the apartment sleeping, if they said anything. When Ruby’s lawyer mentioned to them she was pleading self-defense, a couple of them volunteered the story of coming back to the apartment to find Troy dead in Ruby’s bed. As much as Gerald tried to discredit their stories, the details were fairly consistent. The more they dug, the more genuine the story seemed to be. Gerald was eventually told to drop the charges and let Ruby go. There was no hearing to be held, Ruby was simply to be set free. The rest of the Jags were warned about destroying evidence, obstructing justice, etcetera, and they were also let go. If there was no murder, there were no accessories, and nobody wanted to deal with the paperwork.

  “Coming back to my place?” Tim questioned Ruby.

  “No... not yet. In a day or two. I don’t feel like going back there yet.”

  Tim shrugged, understanding.

  “Don’t be long in coming back, okay?”

  “I won’t. Be there tomorrow or next day.”

  “Okay.”

  He gave her a quick kiss.

  “See you later.”

  Ruby went to the bus stop.

  When Ruby got to Marty’s house, she was ready to crash. She’d only gotten a couple of hours sleep. Marty was in the living room watching TV, and Stella was on the floor on a blanket. Marty looked up.

  “Are you okay?”

  “Yeah.”

  “You look horrible.”

  “Thanks.”

  Ruby went to the bedroom and lay down. Marty followed her into the bedroom, handing her a stack of papers and a pen.

  “Sign these where the red tags are,” she instructed.

  Ruby looked at the documents blankly.

  “What’s this?”

  “Papers giving Mom joint guardianship of Stella.”

  “Why?”

  “So that we can legally take care of her when you take off. And when you’re here, for that matter.”

  “Why your mom?” Ruby questioned. “Why not you?”

  “I’m not old enough.”

  Ruby stared down at the papers.

  “What if I want to take her somewhere?”

  “You’re still her guardian too. Both of you would be.”

  Ruby considered it, then shrugged and signed all of the tagged pages.

  “I’m going to sleep,” she said, handing them back.

  “Okay.”

  Marty’s mom got in. She greeted Marty with a smile, and took her jacket off. Marty motioned to the papers.

  “She signed them.”

  “Good. Is she still here?”

  “Yeah. Her face is bruised up. She just wanted to go to bed.”

  “I worry about her,” Mrs. Rodger sighed.

  “Me too.”

  Ruby woke up when Marty and Stella got up from their nap. She sat up and watched Marty play with Stella. Marty heard the bedsprings creak and turned over.

  “Hi.”

  “Hi.” Ruby rubbed her eyes.

  “Are you going to tell me what happened to you?” Marty questioned

  Ruby shook her head.

  “No.”

  “Why not?”

  “You’ll get mad.”

  “Why would I get mad?”

  Ruby rolled her eyes.

  “Trust me, you would.”

  “Who hit you?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I got in trouble. You don’t want to know.”

  “What kind of trouble? More police trouble?”

  “Yeah. But they let me go. They dropped the charges.”

  “Stay awa
y from the Jags and you’ll stop getting into that kind of trouble,” Marty advised.

  “It wasn’t the Jags.”

  “You weren’t with the Jags yesterday?”

  “Yeah, but it wasn’t because of them.”

  “Just tell me what happened,” Marty said in exasperation.

  “No.”

  Ruby got up and left the room. Marty shook her head and changed Stella’s diaper.

 
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