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Ruby between the cracks, p.18
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.18

           P.D. Workman
 

  Chapter Fifteen

  RUBY WAS DANCING WHEN the police crashed the party. Not dancing with Jack—he was at a booth in the corner still drinking. She was dancing with a young man that had approached her while she was up by the bar. Ruby had checked to make sure that Jack couldn’t see her from the corner, and agreed. Jack wasn’t the jealous type, but he was possessive. If she was out with him, he wanted her to be with him. So she danced with the new boy, keeping an eye on Jack’s corner booth in case he got up looking for her.

  When the cops came into the pub, Ruby stopped dancing for a moment, then continued, ignoring them. She watched the police come in and start putting people in handcuffs. A couple of cops stood with their guns out, watching for anyone to make the wrong move. A couple of dopes tried to get out the back way, but Ruby knew they’d have men and a car out the back too. There was no point in fighting them. Ruby’s dance partner had stopped dancing, but she ignored this fact and kept moving until somebody killed the juke.

  “Party’s over,” one of the cops told her, putting handcuffs on her wrists and giving her a little shove towards the door. Ruby looked around for Jack to see where he was. The cop pushed her harder. “Come on. No dawdling. Out the door to the wagon.”

  Ruby headed for the door. One of the cops at the door frisked her while another eyed her appreciatively. Ruby lowered her eyes and swung her hips as she went by him. He grinned and slapped her lightly on the butt as she passed. Ruby went out the door and another cop guided her into the waiting van and shut the door. Ruby glanced at the other occupants of the van. Jack wasn’t one of them. She sat back and waited.

  She had to wait at the police station while everyone was processed and sorted out. Eventually one of the police officers came into the waiting room to talk to her. Ruby saw it was the officer that she had flirted with at the bar, and smiled. He returned the grin and sat down on a backwards chair in front of her.

  “Ruby, right?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “What were you doing at the pub?”

  “Drinking.”

  He flashed another handsome smile.

  “You’re too young to even be allowed into a bar, let alone sold drinks,” he pointed out.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “I’m old enough.”

  “You’re fourteen.”

  “I’ve had two babies. Doesn’t that make me old enough?”

  He looked at her for a moment, one eyebrow raised.

  “No, it just makes you promiscuous.”

  Ruby felt her face get hot. He shook his head.

  “They served you drinks?”

  “Sure.”

  “How much did you have today?”

  “A few beers.”

  “Anything else?”

  “What else would I get there?”

  He was still smiling.

  “Don’t play with me, doll. I’m not going to get on your case if you can give me straight answers. But I’ll make your life miserable if you get cagey on me.”

  Ruby didn’t say anything. He studied her seriously.

  “We’re going to do a blood test on you. What are we going to find in it?”

  Ruby searched his eyes.

  “Are you really going to do a blood test?”

  He nodded.

  “We do a drug bust, we run a blood test on everyone who was there. Now what are we going to find?”

  Ruby shook her head, not trusting him.

  “I don’t believe you.”

  He didn’t say anything for a few minutes, looking at her with his lips pursed.

  “Okay. Well then, let’s get that blood test. Stand up.”

  Ruby stood up, and he took her down to the station doctor. Ruby watched the doctor put a tourniquet on her arm to raise a vein. She looked away when he took out a needle and jabbed her.

  “Don’t like needles?” the doctor questioned.

  Ruby shook her head, pale. The doctor finished up and labeled the vial.

  “So what are we going to find?” the officer questioned.

  “What’s your name?” Ruby asked him.

  “Charlie. What’s your blood test going to show?”

  “Charlie, that’s nice. I like it.”

  “I said no games, Ruby,” he warned.

  “I guess maybe I’m a little drunk.”

  “I guess so. What else will we find?”

  Ruby rubbed the arm of the chair with one finger.

  “I’ve been taking some painkillers...”

  “What painkillers?”

  “Oxy.”

  He shook his head.

  “So we’ll find narcotics. How long have you been taking those?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Since I broke my ankle.”

  “How long ago was that?” he questioned.

  “A few months.”

  “How many months?”

  “I dunno. Ten or eleven.”

  “So you got yourself hooked on them, huh?”

  “No. I just need them because it still hurts.”

  “After a year it doesn’t still hurt. You’re addicted to the painkillers. Do you get them by prescription?”

  “No.”

  He nodded.

  “Why not?”

  “The guys get them for me.”

  Charlie nodded.

  “Is that all we’re going to find in your blood?”

  Ruby nodded. Charlie studied her closely. He didn’t believe that she was telling the truth.

  “What else?”

  Ruby thought about her answer. If she lied, he would find it in the blood test and know it.

  “I get depressed,” she started uncomfortably.

  “So what do you take? Prozac or something?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “What do you take when you get depressed, Ruby? Speed? Uppers?”

  Ruby nodded. Charlie nodded as well.

  “So you had alcohol, narcotics, and amphetamines tonight. That’s a great combination.”

  Ruby didn’t say anything. The doctor interrupted.

  “You can’t mix drugs and alcohol. You could end up killing yourself. At your age, you shouldn’t even be touching alcohol or these sorts of drugs.”

  Charlie nodded.

  “Uh, let’s go back and talk some more, okay?”

  He led Ruby back to the interrogation room and they sat down again.

  “Okay, sweetie. Is that all we’re going to find?”

  “Yeah.”

  “No crack? No coke? Nothing else?”

  “No.”

  “Good. Did you buy the drugs at the pub?”

  Ruby bit her lip.

  “No.”

  “Where, then?”

  “I got them earlier from one of the guys.”

  “From who?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I don’t have to tell you.”

  “It would be to your benefit if you did.”

  “No.”

  “I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me,” he coaxed. “If you want to help yourself, you help me. If you don’t want to help yourself, fine. You just tell me that.”

  “I don’t want any help.”

  “Okay. I guess you and me are pretty well done, then. I’ll call your folks to talk things over.”

  “I don’t live with my parents.”

  “Where do you live?”

  “With friends.” Ruby shrugged.

  “Do you have a social worker or something?”

  “I did, but he got put in jail,” Ruby said.

  Charlie laughed.

  “You’re joking.”

  “No.”

  “What for?”

  Ruby shrugged and didn’t explain.

  “Well, we’ll find out who your new social worker is.”

  The door opened, and Ruby looked up, expecting to see the guard with lunch or something. But it was a man in a suit that she didn’t know.

  “Who’re you?” she demanded.

&nbs
p; “Mr. Clive, your social worker.”

  Ruby studied him with pursed lips.

  “Well, you aren’t nearly as cute as Chuck.”

  She was hung over, and it made her in a bad mood.

  “I didn’t come here to exchange insults.” He put down his briefcase. “Are you interested in being assigned to a new foster family?”

  “No.”

  “We could help you get straightened out, put you back on the right track.”

  “I don’t do foster families anymore.”

  “Do you know what the alternative is?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “I don’t care. I don’t like living with foster families. I haven’t done that since I was eleven.”

  “So you don’t want any help from Social Services.”

  “No.”

  “Fine, then. I have plenty of kids to look after who do want to be helped.”

  “Then go help them.”

  He shrugged and turned to leave. Ruby had a thought, and stopped him.

  “Hey—are you Ronnie’s social worker? My sister?”

  “That’s confidential.”

  “If you are, would you tell her I miss her?”

  He nodded.

  “Is she still with the same foster family she was before?”

  “That’s confidential.”

  “Did you know they want to adopt her?”

  He shook his head slowly. He waited.

  “Is that everything?” he prodded.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Yeah, that’s all.”

  He left. Ruby got her lunch a few minutes later. After eating, she lay back down to go to sleep. She slept most of the afternoon and was wakened by the door opening again. This time it was Charlie. He smiled at her.

  “Hi, darling. How’re you feeling this fine afternoon?” he said cheerily.

  Ruby winced at his volume.

  “Hi.”

  “Ready to move on?”

  “Are you releasing me?”

  “Releasing you? No, not today, sweetie. But you’re off to some new quarters.”

  Ruby stretched and massaged her temples tenderly.

  “Where to?”

  “Drug rehab.”

  “What?” Ruby’s voice rose. “I’m no junkie!” she protested.

  “You certainly are if you’ve been taking narcotics and amphetamines in the amounts they were in your blood last night for very long,” he pointed out.

  “Oh, come on. I was partying last night. I had a bit too much. I don’t usually. I just had a bit much last night.”

  “Don’t tell me, baby. Tell the counselors in rehab. Come on. I’ll take you over now.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “You can’t make me go to rehab if I don’t want to.”

  “We can if your guardians approve it.”

  “I don’t have any guardians.”

  “Your Social Worker made the decision that you would do best in rehab.”

  Ruby opened her mouth to argue, but there was nothing to say. She’d refused to go to a family. She’d refused Clive’s help, so he’d left her to go to rehab. Ruby got up, rolling her eyes a little at Charlie to make him chuckle.

  “Well, it’s better than here, huh?”

  Charlie nodded.

  “You got it, baby. At least you’ll have some company.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “I don’t like to be alone.”

  “You don’t strike me as a girl who likes to be alone.”

  Ruby took his hand.

  “I especially don’t like to sleep alone,” she told him slyly, giving his hand a squeeze.

  “I don’t think they allow that in rehab,” he snickered. He gave her shoulders a squeeze and turned her around to handcuff her wrists. He escorted her out to his car. Ruby sat in the front seat with him, and looked out the window.

  “What’s it like?”

  “What?”

  “Drug rehab.”

  “Better than jail, and better than juvie hall.”

  “How long will I be there?”

  “At least a couple of months. And then we’ll put you back in foster care and try to keep you on the right track.”

  “I don’t want another foster family.”

  “Well, a halfway house maybe. Let’s work on getting you straightened out first. Get you dried out.”

  Ruby rolled her eyes, and was quiet. He patted her on the shoulder.

  “Sorry, sunshine. Got to do my job.”

  They drove across town and pulled up to the rehab center. It was right on the edge of town, away from everything else. Charlie turned off the engine and put his arm around her shoulders. He leaned over and kissed her firmly on the lips. Smiling, he got out of the car. He opened her door for her, and escorted her into the imposing looking building. Ruby grasped his hand as they walked up to the admitting area, her stomach tying itself in knots and her heart thumping hard. He squeezed her hand reassuringly and walked her up to the desk.

  “This is Ruby Simpson. We called her in.”

  “Come around to the back,” she ordered, opening a gate for them. Charlie took Ruby around to a bare room in the back of the admitting area.

  “Tell me about her,” the matron ordered.

  “Ruby was picked up last night in a drug bust. She had high levels of alcohol, narcotics and amphetamines in her blood. She said last night she’s been using narcotics for almost a year. She’s fourteen. She’s been in foster care since she was eight. She has arrests for assault, armed robbery and murder.”

  The woman nodded.

  “Okay, honey. Strip.”

  “What?”

  “We do a full search to make sure you can’t smuggle anything in. So that we know you’re dry from the minute you come in. We’ll take your clothes. You’ll be wearing a uniform while you’re here.”

  Ruby looked at Charlie. He unlocked the handcuffs and patted her butt.

  “Just take it easy and follow instructions. You’ll be settled in before you know it. I’ll come back to check up on you in a few days. Okay?”

  Ruby nodded, her arms folded across her chest protectively. Charlie nodded to the woman and left the room. Ruby swallowed hard and tried to blank her mind. She started to undress under the woman’s steady gaze.

  Ruby’s “processing” was completed as the evening drew on. A couple of counselors told her that she would receive her “orientation” in the morning. In the meantime, she was introduced to her new bunkie. She was to share quarters with a big, masculine looking girl. Her name was Lynn Carole, and her head was shaved short like an army buzz-cut. She regarded Ruby without much interest, looking her over casually. Ruby watched TV from the back of the common room until lock-up time. People ignored her—no-one bothered to introduce themselves. A few people looked at her, but didn’t say anything. Ruby looked for Carole at lights-out, but didn’t see her. One of the counselors directed her to her room. Carole was already there undressing for bed. She motioned to the bunk-beds.

  “You get the top,” she said curtly.

  “Okay.”

  They were both tucked into bed when the lights went off. Ruby lay there listening to Carole breathe for a while.

  “Lynn?”

  “Shut up and go to sleep.”

  Ruby lay still for a while, then climbed out of bed. She sat down on the edge of Carole’s bunk. Carole startled from sleep and looked at her.

  “Can I sleep with you?” Ruby whispered.

  Carole laughed huskily.

  “Usually I have to bust heads to get some company,” she said, and she held up the blankets for Ruby to crawl in. Ruby cuddled up close to her on the narrow bed. Carole encircled her with both arms and kissed her full on the lips. Ruby closed her eyes and put her face against Carole’s neck and tried to pretend that she was back home with Marty.

  In the morning Ruby stuck close to Carole, trying to follow her lead and figure out the rules of the place. She didn’t get the formal orientation she’d been
promised. The counselors seemed to have pretty much forgotten about her. Carole told her where she was supposed to go when. She showed Ruby where the group session for the beginners was, and Ruby joined the other nervous-looking teens in the conference room and tried to look cool. Mostly they just got lectured, and Ruby managed to avoid talking to the counselor about her “problem”. Once the group session was finished, she looked around for Carole again.

  “Well, if it ain’t Lynnie’s new sweetheart,” a dark, tough-looking girl commented, sizing Ruby up. Ruby tensed up and looked quickly around, trying to figure out what she was going to do. Her first decision was never to be caught unarmed again. She knew from the Jags’ talk about prison and rehab that you could make your own weapon, and had better do so the first chance you got. Everyone else who was tough would have one, and it wouldn’t do to be left unprotected.

  “And not even so much as a black eye,” another chimed in. “Usually Lynn’s bunkies are pretty roughed up for the first few weeks.”

  Ruby eyed the two of them warily. Two she could handle—but only if they were both unarmed. Any more than that and she was going to be in trouble.

  “It would be a shame to see such a pretty face messed up. She is pretty, isn’t she?”

  Ruby stepped towards the first speaker determinedly, shoving her hands deep into her uniform pockets, trying to look confident and threatening, like she was sure of herself and her ability to handle whatever they dished out.

  The gathering crowd suddenly dissipated and everybody went their different directions. Carole came up on Ruby’s shoulder.

  “They giving you grief?” she demanded.

  “I can handle it.”

  “You’re going to handle it, little girl? Most of them are twice your size, and experienced too. You let me take care of things for you.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I have to get a knife or something. You’re not going to be here all the time.”

  “They know me. They wouldn’t dare do anything.”

  Ruby was stubborn. She didn’t give in. Carole grinned.

  “You think you’re one tough little cookie, don’t you? Well, don’t you worry. I’ll look after you.”

  She motioned for Ruby to follow her and they went into the common room, where some of the girls were watching TV and others were settling in to play cards.

  Glenning watched Carole take Simpson back to their quarters with a casual arm around her shoulders. They went inside and the door shut behind them. Glenning shook his head. He walked down the hallway and stopped at their door. He stood there for a moment looking in through the narrow window. It was one-way glass, so that he could see in but they could not see him watching them. They were talking on the bottom bunk, Carole with one hand on Simpson’s cheek, but Simpson seemed entirely comfortable with the physical contact. She didn’t pull away or argue. Quite the contrary, after a few minutes she put her hand on Carole’s thigh, fingering the fabric of her jumper. Glenning withdrew and continued on down the hallway. He stopped in the staff room to light up a cigarette.

  “Anybody know anything about Simpson, Carole’s new bunkmate?”

  One of the counselors swiveled to face him.

  “She was pretty quiet in group.”

  “Why was she put with Carole?”

  “Only place to put her. We’re pretty much full up.”

  “You’re keeping an eye on her, aren’t you?” Matron Black questioned.

  “Yeah. She and Carole are getting pretty close.”

  “How close? The last thing we need is a lawsuit because she’s getting beaten up.”

  “Real close. But I don’t foresee any lawsuits.”

  Black looked at Glenning for a moment in puzzlement. Then she nodded, frowning.

  “Keep an eye on them. And I’ll sign her up for a consult with Dr. Rivers in case she needs to talk to someone.”

  Glenning nodded.

  “I’ll keep an eye on them.”

  Marty took a deep breath and opened the door. She pushed the stroller in and bent over to unbuckle Stella.

  “Marty?”

  Her mother came out to the front room, and hugged her.

  “Marty, you scared me. Where were you? Why didn’t you tell me where you went?”

  Marty hugged her back tightly.

  “I didn’t know what to do.”

  Her mom stroked her hair gently.

  “I’m sorry, honey. I’m sorry.”

  “It wasn’t you. I just... I couldn’t believe Dad would...”

  “He’s gone,” her mother interrupted. “He won’t be coming back.”

  “What did he say?”

  “He really didn’t have anything to say. What could he say?”

  “How could he do that... ?”

  “I couldn’t have been more shocked. When I looked at Ruby’s baby, and saw your face... and her webbed toes... I just couldn’t believe it was possible.”

  “Sheree.”

  “What?”

  “That’s what Jamie named the baby. That’s where I was.”

  “Are you okay?”

  “Yeah. I’m glad I don’t have two babies to look after all the time.”

  “Were you looking after Sheree?”

  “Yes. She’s a high-needs baby too, like Stella. Not the same, but… I would be worn right out if I had to look after both of them.”

  “Well, it’s a good thing Jamie wanted a baby so bad.”

  Ruby rubbed the thin blade against the metal supports of the bunk bed. Carole lay on the bed watching her.

  “You don’t have to do that.”

  Ruby didn’t answer. Carole touched Ruby’s arm.

  “Come on, Ruby. Don’t you have better things to do?”

  “Nope.”

  “You’re a persistent little thing, I’ll say that for you.”

  “I’m not walking around here unarmed.”

  Ruby tested the edge of the knife. She slid it into the homemade sheath on her arm.

  “Done?” Carole questioned.

  Ruby nodded.

  “Yeah. Let’s go out.”

  Ruby looked up at the counselor that approached her as she sat playing cards with Carole and a couple of other girls.

  “You’ve got a visitor, Simpson.”

  “What?”

  “A visitor. A cop.”

  “Oh.” Ruby left her game and went to the visiting area, wondering what cop wanted to see her. She got there and looked around and saw Charlie. He grinned at her.

  “I told you I’d come check up on you.”

  “I didn’t think you would.”

  He took her hands and sat down with her.

  “I keep my promises. How are you doing?”

  “Okay.”

  “Yeah? Feeling okay?”

  Ruby rolled her eyes.

  “I feel like a drink.”

  “I bet. Pretty tough quitting, isn’t it?”

  “How would you know?”

  “I’ve helped a lot of kids through rehab. I know how tough it can be.”

  “Oh. So you come see lots of kids here, huh?” Ruby heard the resentment enter her voice, even though she hadn’t intended to give her feelings away.

  Charlie cocked his head at her.

  “Is that jealousy, Ruby? I see lots of kids, but none as special as you. Come on. Would I take an interest like this in just anyone?”

  When he held her gaze, a wave of warmth went over Ruby. She looked away, smiling and trying to hide the blush.

  “Okay.”

  “So have you made some friends here?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “Might be nice if there were some guys around.”

  “Well, they like to deal with one problem at a time here. You told me you’ve had two babies?”

  “Yeah.”

  “If you were in a co-ed program, you’re telling me you wouldn’t be pregnant again in a month?”

  “I want to get an operation so I can’t get pregnant.”


  Charlie cocked his head.

  “Why don’t you just abstain?”

  “What?” Ruby frowned.

  “No boys, no babies.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “No way. And don’t tell me to use birth control, because it doesn’t work!”

  Charlie shook his head and tactfully changed the subject.

  “What’s your roommate like?”

  “You wouldn’t like her.”

  “Why not?”

  “Trust me. She’s not your type.”

  “Do you get along with her?” he persisted.

  “Yeah, all right.”

  “Good. You getting to know anyone else here?”

  “No.”

  “Well… I can’t stay too long. I’ll be back in a few days to see how you’re doing. Maybe then we can talk then about what’s going to happen after rehab.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “You don’t have to come back. I can look after myself.”

  “I’ll come back to look in on you again,” he promised, and stood up. Ruby hesitated, then stood up and kissed him. Charlie smiled.

  “Okay, cutie. See you in a couple of days. Take care of yourself, okay?”

  “Okay.”

  He gave her a friendly hug. He paused, his hand over the sheath on her arm. Their eyes met, and Ruby’s mouth went dry, knowing he was going to turn her in.

  “How am I supposed to protect myself?” she questioned.

  He released her slowly.

  “I don’t want to hear you’ve been hurt.”

  “You won’t.”

  “Or that you’ve hurt someone else.”

  “Only if I have to defend myself.”

  Even then, he hesitated. Finally he sighed and nodded.

  “I’m trying to look out for you.”

  “You’re not stuck in here. I am.”

  Charlie nodded and went on his way. Ruby watched him until he was out of sight. When she turned to leave the visitors room, Carole was standing in the doorway scowling at her.

  “You and Kojak are a little familiar, aren’t you?”

  Ruby approached Carole with a bit of a provocative swing.

  “His name is Charlie, and he’s going to get me out of here,” she said firmly. Carole studied her, and backed off.

  “Okay, whatever. I just don’t like to see you wasting yourself on something like that.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “You and Marty would sure get on great.”

  “Who’s he?” Carole questioned suspiciously.

  “She’s a friend of mine. She’s always getting after me for the guys I see.”

  “I don’t know what you see in boys.”

  “Yeah, you sound just like her.”

  Black approached the two girls. She frowned at Carole, but spoke to Ruby.

  “You’re scheduled to see Dr. Rivers.”

  “Who’s he?”

  “Prison shrink,” Carole informed Ruby. “Have fun. And be careful what you tell him.”

  “Whatever you tell him will be privileged,” Black corrected, “You don’t need to worry about it being repeated to anyone.”

  Ruby rolled her eyes at Carole, letting Black escort her off to her appointment.

  “You should stay away from Lynn Carole,” Black advised her lowly, when they were out of Carole’s earshot.

  “Pretty hard to do that when she’s my bunkie,” Ruby countered.

  “Do you want to be moved?”

  “No.”

  “You two shouldn’t spend all your time together.”

  “I thought I could spend free time with whoever I want.”

  “Well, for a newbie, you’re certainly well-versed in all the rules, aren’t you? There’s rules, Simpson, and then there’s smarts. I’m telling you how to be smart.”

  “If it’s not a rule, I don’t have to do it.”

  “I’m telling you for your own good. People who spend a lot of time with Carole have a habit of getting themselves hurt.”

  “Then why did you put me with her?” Ruby demanded.

  “Carole usually takes a while to get warmed up to someone. We don’t usually see the warning signs until after a few weeks. But you and Carole seem to have warmed right up to each other. So I’m warning you—she’s dangerous. You’re going to get hurt if you spend too much time with her.”

  Ruby said nothing. She let Black lead her to the shrink’s office. She sat down in the chair in front of the huge desk. Black murmured a greeting, and disappeared. Ruby sat there and studied the psychiatrist. He was an older man, with a round face and a graying mustache.

  “Hello, Miss Simpson,” he greeted.

  “Ruby.”

  “Okay, Ruby. I am Dr. Rivers.”

  “Yeah, I figured. What’s your first name?”

  “Doctor,” he said firmly.

  Ruby rolled her eyes.

  “Are you not comfortable with that?” he questioned.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “I don’t care. I like to know people’s first names.”

  “You aren’t happy just having something to call people by?”

  “Whatever.”

  “So what would you like to talk about today?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Are you getting settled in here?”

  “Yeah, I’m fine.”

  “Little bit scary, huh?” he sympathized.

  “No. I’m not scared.”

  “You’re surrounded by addicts, people you don’t know. Some of them with violent pasts. I would find that scary.”

  “They’re just regular people.”

  “You’re used to having people like that around?”

  “Not junkies, no. But... tough guys—I’m used to that.”

  “How do you deal with it?”

  Ruby shrugged uncomfortably.

  “I don’t ‘deal’ with it. That’s just the way it is. I don’t control it, I just…”

  “Go with the flow?” he suggested.

  Ruby frowned.

  “Yeah, sort of.”

  “Tell me about your friends.”

  “What friends?”

  “You friends on the outside. People you spend time with.”

  Ruby leaned back in her chair and thought about what to tell him.

  Ruby sat on the couch with Carole, watching TV and rubbing her temples.

  “What’s the matter?” Carole questioned.

  “I got a headache.”

  “It’s withdrawal. I’ll get you some Tylenol.”

  Ruby nodded. Carole got up and walked away. Ruby felt the atmosphere of the room change immediately. She glanced around and saw that there were no counselors or guards hanging around. She folded her arms, letting the tips of her fingers rest under her sleeve on her knife. She pretended that she didn’t see the other girls looking at her and watched the TV.

  “Are you sitting all by yourself?” Kimberley questioned.

  Ruby looked at her and smiled, her lips tight and unnatural.

  “Well, I’m not sitting with you,” she sneered.

  “Oh yeah?” Kimberley questioned, moving closer.

  Ruby was aware that she looked like an easy target. She was younger than a lot of the others, and definitely smaller in build. But they didn’t know that she’d been with the Jags, that she knew how to take care of herself in a tough situation.

  “Stay away from me, Kimberley,” she warned.

  “Or what? Lynnie took off and left you all alone. Who’s going to look after you now?”

  “I can look after myself.”

  “Oh yeah? I dunno, little girl. You might think you’re grown up, but you ain’t been around long.”

  “I been around,” Ruby countered, putting her fingers around the handmade knife’s hilt. She slowly moved into a position where she could stand up without making herself vulnerable.

  “You know the talk. But I don’t think you know the walk, kiddo.”

  Ruby took a step to
wards Kimberley, inching the knife out of its sheath.

  “I think you’re the one that better watch your step.”

  Two other girls moved in to flanking positions. Ruby eyed them and decided it was time to move before anyone became too comfortable. She pulled the knife the rest of the way out of the sheath and held it low as she moved in. By the time the girls saw it, it was too late. Ruby had disposed of Kimberley and was turning towards the others before they connected with the thought that she was armed. They tried to pincer her between them, but Ruby forced one of them back and didn’t let herself get caught between them. Kimberley was on the floor, moaning and swearing and holding bloody hands over her stomach. Ruby kicked her without dropping her eyes, and both of the girls looked down when Kimberley cried out. Ruby took advantage of that split-second to move in on one of the girls, holding the point of the knife against her stomach.

  “If you don’t want to be split wide open, you’d better call off your friend,” she said.

  “Marsha—back off,” the girl said with a gasp, frozen in position. Ruby watched Marsha warily, but both girls had decided that they’d had enough

  There was a shout:

  “Simpson, drop the weapon and put up your hands!”

  Ruby looked around and saw Glenning. He had his holster unsnapped and his hand on the butt of his gun. He looked pretty jittery. Ruby saw Carole come up behind him, her jaw dropping when she saw what was happening. Ruby made the girl gasp by pushing the knife in slightly.

  “Drop it!” Glenning shouted, the gun jumping halfway out of his holster. Ruby stepped back and let the knife fall to the floor with a clatter. She put her hands up. Glenning handcuffed her, closing the bracelets tightly over Ruby’s wrists. He snapped his holster back up, and took out his walkie-talkie to call for medical aid for Kimberley. Carole watched Glenning escort Ruby away, looking stunned.

  “Why couldn’t Rivers tell us Simpson was ticking?” Glenning demanded. “That’s the kind of thing he’s supposed to find out for us.”

  “Dr. Rivers only had one session with her,” Black protested. “He can’t know everything.”

  “We should have been told that she might be violent.”

  “Her record should have told you that she was violent,” Black snapped. “Considering that she has arrests for assault, armed robbery and murder. What were you doing leaving her in the common room with no guard?”

  “She was only unguarded for one minute.”

  “One minute too long.”

  “Are we going to charge her?”

  “Well, we have to charge her, but I doubt if it will stand. Not when she’s claiming self-defense.”

  “She made a weapon,” Glenning pointed out the obvious.

  “Is she the only one in the center with a weapon? Because if you can find anyone else who’s carried a weapon, she can still claim it was for self-defense.”

  Glenning didn’t argue it. They found weapons all too often for him to make any kind of claim about the center being clean on this count.

  “How’s Kimberley Cox? Is she going to be okay?”

  “Yes, she’ll be up and around in a day or two. It looked a lot worse than it really was. Just tissue damage—no vital organs.”

  “She could just as easily have been killed.”

  “Good thing for you that she wasn’t.”

  Ruby looked up when the door to her current accommodations opened. It was Charlie. He looked considerably less cheerful than usual. He glanced around the dim, bare isolation cell.

  “Hi there,” Ruby said.

  “Well, I guess I should have known better than to let you hang onto that shiv.”

  “I needed it,” Ruby asserted.

  “I thought you said you wouldn’t use it.”

  “Would you rather I was in the infirmary? Or the morgue?”

  “Did you really have to use it?” he questioned, sitting down on the narrow bed beside her.

  “It was three against one. I needed it.”

  “Three against one?” Charlie repeated.

  “Yeah. Cox and two of her buddies. I wasn’t going to wait until they had me pinned down.”

  “I’m glad you didn’t get hurt. But you know this is just going to get you in more trouble.”

  “What’re you going to do about it? I have a right to protect myself.”

  “It’s not up to me. But I’d like to help you get out of here and go straight. If you go getting into more trouble, I can’t necessarily help you out.”

  Ruby grimaced.

  “Yeah, okay. But I have to take care of myself. You’re not here to look after me. No-one is. I look after myself.”

  “Well, hopefully after this incident people will decide to leave you alone. But I’m not counting on it. Sometimes things just keep escalating—until someone gets killed.”

  “I won’t get killed,” Ruby promised.

  “I hope nothing happens to you. But back off, try to stay away from trouble. Whatever you have to do.”

  “I’m not scared of anyone here.”

  He smiled.

  “You talk tough, Ruby, but…”

  His words sounded just like Kimberley’s. Ruby felt her face tighten, and she scowled at him.

  “I know the walk too,” she snapped, “I thought I just proved that to everyone!”

  Charlie looked taken aback.

  “Whoa, where’s that coming from, sweetie? I didn’t mean you can’t handle yourself. What I mean is... It’s okay to be afraid. And it’s okay to admit it to me. Just because you’re tough doesn’t mean that someone couldn’t get the better of you. Look, I’m tough too. But I get scared out there sometimes... someone could pull a gun on me when I write a traffic ticket. Or when we raid a bar. Or anything. You have to be scared of what you can’t control.”

  “Well, I’m not scared,” Ruby said stubbornly.

  Charlie cocked his head.

  “Okay. You’re not scared.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “So how are you doing other than this?” his gesture encompassed the isolation cell.

  “Okay.”

  “How’s it feel to be dry?”

  “It’s okay... but I could really do with a drink. Just a small one.”

  Charlie laughed.

  “You don’t need it.”

  “No, I just really want it.”

  “You’re doing pretty good. You handle this, and you’ll be able to get out of here in a few weeks.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Yeah. Did you tell Marty I was here?”

  “Marty? No. Who’s that?”

  “The girl I live with.”

  “Oh, sure. Give me her details, and I’ll let her know for you.”

  Ruby gave him the information. He wrote it down in his notepad, and stood up.

  “Can’t stay and visit today, darling. I’d better be getting to work.”

  Ruby got up and hugged him. He patted her on the back.

  “I’ll see you next week.”

  “Okay.”

  “Keep yourself out of trouble, now.”

  “I will.”

  He squeezed her and let her go. He knocked on the door and the guard let him out and shut the door again.

  Outside the isolation cell, Charlie watched a girl arguing with a guard. As he walked by them, he heard the girl mention Ruby’s name. He turned and looked at her. She was an older teen or young adult—and twice Ruby’s size. She had a hard face, with angular features.

  “Are you Ruby’s roommate?” he questioned curiously.

  She hadn’t seen him as he went by. She scowled at him.

  “When she’s not in iso, yeah. What’re you doing here again?”

  “Just visiting.”

  “Why don’t you just stay away from her?”

  “Ruby wants to see me. She needs someone looking after her.”

  “I look after her.”

  “That doesn’t give me great comfort. I’ll handle this my own way.”

  “Sh
e doesn’t want you here. She just sees you because she thinks you can get her out.”

  Charlie studied her.

  “Are you jealous of her or of me?” he questioned.

  The guard caught Carole as she tried to hit Charlie. Her face was flushed dark with anger, and the guard had a hard time holding her back.

  “I think you’d better go,” he advised.

  Charlie nodded and left, grinning.

  The house seemed quiet and empty. Marty was restless and didn’t know what to do. She had the radio on whenever her mom was out, for company. She’d often been alone in the house before, just her and Stella, but it was different now. Her dad was gone and wouldn’t be back. And Ruby had never stayed away for so long before. Marty was worried that something had happened her. She hadn’t been to Jamie’s or Brian’s. Marty wasn’t about to ask the Jags if she’d been staying with them, and she really couldn’t go to the police. Marty didn’t know whether something was wrong or whether Ruby just wanted to stay away from Marty’s dad.

  It was evening when the doorbell rang, and Marty was expecting her mom to be home any minute. She answered the door to a uniformed cop.

  “Hi. Are you Marty?”

  “Yes.” Marty didn’t say anything at first, just looking at him. He wanted to be invited in, but Marty didn’t ask him. “Is it Ruby? Is she okay?”

  “Ruby’s fine. She asked me to stop by and talk to you to let you know she’s okay.”

  “Is she in jail or what?”

  “Drug rehab.”

  Marty breathed out.

  “Good. I was afraid something happened.”

  “No, I picked her up in a raid. She was charged with illegal drug use, but it’ll be dropped if she completes the rehab program.”

  “If?”

  “Well,” he grinned, “she doesn’t have a choice. Social services put her in a closed care facility.”

  “Do you think it will help?”

  “Initially. But not if she goes back to her old drinking buddies. I would recommend that social services put her in another city when she gets out, but she would just come back here, so there’s not much point.”

  “Well, I’ll try to help out, but Ruby likes action. She won’t just stay around here. She’ll be off looking for boys and action.”

  “It’s up to Ruby. She’ll need help, but staying clean has to be her own decision. We can’t force her.”

  “Can I go see her?”

  “Normally yes. But not this week, she’s in some trouble.”

  Marty rolled her eyes.

  “What did she do?”

  “Got into a fight. Apparently self-defense, but she was carrying a hand-made weapon. So she’s in isolation for a while.”

  “But she’s okay?” Marty questioned.

  “She’s just fine.”

  “How long before she gets out?”

  “Out of isolation or out of rehab?”

  Marty shrugged.

  “She’ll be out of isolation next week, I think. It’ll be a few weeks or a couple of months until she’s out of rehab.”

  “Thanks for coming to let me know.”

  He nodded.

  “No problem. Ruby asked me to let you know, and I said I would.”

  Marty closed the door slowly, and the cop stepped back and walked down the sidewalk. Marty sighed and sat down, relieved to know that Ruby was all right.

  Ruby found when she got out things were different. The other girls looked at her differently. Ruby looked for a chance to fashion another knife, but the guards watched her closely, and frisked her down several times a day. But the other inmates still looked at her as if she was dangerous, instead of the little girl that they had seen her as before. They didn’t sneer at her and stand close to her like they did before. Their voices were respectful instead of sneering and goading. Ruby ignored them, though some of them tried to make friends for her. There were a couple that she talked to, but mostly she kept to herself. She sat in the common room watching TV or spent time with Carole.

  She’d been out of isolation for a few days when Marty came by to see her. Marty brought Stella and was waiting for her. Ruby gave Marty a quick hug, checking over her shoulder to make sure that Carole wasn’t close by. She motioned for Marty to sit down. Stella sat on Marty’s lap sucking a fist and looking around. Ruby grinned.

  “Did Charlie come see you?” she questioned.

  “Charlie?”

  “The cop.”

  “Oh, sure. He didn’t tell me his name.”

  There was silence for a few moments.

  “I’ll be out in a few weeks,” she offered.

  “Are you doing okay?” Marty questioned, looking her in the eye.

  “Yeah. It’s not so bad. Other than having no boys and no booze.”

  “Any more fights?” Marty questioned.

  “Did Charlie tell you about that? He shouldn’t have. It wasn’t anything.”

  “What happened?”

  “Couple girls thought they’d gang up on me. I cut one of them.”

  “How bad was she hurt?”

  “Not so bad. She’s still in the infirmary. But she didn’t have to go to the hospital.”

  “I wish you didn’t have to do that,” Marty said with a repressed shudder.

  “I don’t care. I protect myself if I have to.”

  “So are you going to stay away from the drugs after this?” Marty raised her eyebrows.

  “No.”

  Marty shook her head.

  “Why not? You know it’s not good for you.”

  “Yeah.”

  “So why not give it up?”

  “Listen, I get enough lectures around here without yours. I only take what I need to keep going.”

  “What do you mean, what you need? You don’t need drugs.”

  “Maybe you don’t, but I do.” Ruby pressed her lips together. “You haven’t been through the same stuff as me.”

  Marty’s expression changed. She pretended for a minute to fuss over Stella, straightening her dress and hair. Ruby studied her, puzzled.

  “What’s the matter?” she questioned.

  Marty usually said exactly what she meant, straight out and unvarnished. But she hesitated, not looking at Ruby and speaking up.

  “Marty? What’s the matter? What’d I do?”

  “It’s not you, honey. It’s my dad.”

  Marty looked up at Ruby, and was surprised by Ruby’s expression of hate and fury.

  “What’d he do to you? I’ll kill him if he touched you!” she snarled.

  “No,” Marty said quickly. “No, it’s not anything he did to me. It’s what he did to you. Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “Oh.” Ruby’s eyes wandered away. She looked down, unable to meet Marty’s gaze.

  “He’s Sheree’s father, isn’t he?” Marty pressed.

  Ruby shrugged, looking down.

  “Yeah, I guess,” she admitted.

  “I’m so sorry. I can’t believe he would touch you...”

  “It doesn’t matter. He ain’t going to touch me again,” Ruby blustered.

  “Mom kicked him out,” Marty reassured her. “He won’t be there when you come back.”

  Ruby looked up, surprised.

  “Why would she do that?”

  “Because she knew that Sheree was dad’s daughter. As soon as she saw her. She knew that you wouldn’t go to my dad, that you didn’t let him—do that.”

  Ruby bit her lip.

  “I don’t want to talk about this.” She shifted uncomfortably, scratching behind her ear. “I don’t want to think about it.”

  Marty nodded.

  “I know... but I had to talk to you about it. I had to let you know that mom and me—we’d never have let it happen, if we knew.”

  Ruby shrugged, staring at the blank wall behind Marty. She swallowed and said nothing.

  “Ruby... the first time you got pregnant... what happened?”

  Ruby’s stomach tied in knots. She shook h
er head.

  “I can’t talk about it, Marty.”

  “It wasn’t your social worker.” Ruby shook her head. “And it wasn’t Brian.” Ruby continued to shake her head. “And it wasn’t Mike or one of the other Jags.”

  Ruby covered up her face.

  “Shut-up, Marty. Just shut-up.” Her voice was tight, her face white.

  “Was it your foster dad?” Marty persisted.

  “No.”

  “Who?”

  Ruby got up from the table and headed for the door. Marty stood up to stop her, but she didn’t know what to say. Ruby got to the door, and in the hallway she stepped into the arms of another girl. Carole held onto Ruby when she tried to pull away, held her close and tight. Ruby sobbed and let Carole hold her. Marty stood in the visitor’s area watching for a few moments, but Carole stared at her with hate-filled eyes, and Marty decided it was time to go.

  Glenning saw Carole and Ruby and headed towards them to see what was going on.

  “Break it up,” he told Carole, touching her on the shoulder with his billy. Carole stroked Ruby’s hair but didn’t release her.

  “Leave her alone.”

  “What’s the matter?” Glenning questioned, figuring out that Ruby was crying. “Is she hurt?”

  “She’s okay. Now leave her alone. Just leave us alone.”

  “Let her go. Just let me see her, make sure.”

  Carole released Ruby, and Glenning frisked Ruby down and looked her over. He pushed her back to Carole.

  “Take her back to your room until she settles down.”

  Carole nodded and put her arm around Ruby to take her down the hall. Glenning made a mental note to let Black know about the incident and set up another psychiatric appointment for Ruby.

  Carole shut the door behind them and sat down on the bottom bunk. She hugged Ruby to her.

  “What is it? What did she do to you?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “Marty didn’t do anything,” she sobbed, choking for breath.

  “Oh, that was Marty.”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “What’s the matter, Ruby? Come on, don’t cry...”

  Ruby wiped at her eyes.

  “I’m not,” she protested.

  Carole brushed away the tears on Ruby’s cheeks and pushed her hair back.

  “You’re okay. Nobody’s gonna hurt you. What’s the matter?”

  “Nothing.”

  “You’re pale as a ghost. What did she say to you?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I don’t want to talk about it.”

  “And what’s with the baby, anyhow? Little slut…”

  “It was my baby,” Ruby said flatly, stopping Carole. Carole looked at her, startled.

  “Your baby?” she repeated.

  “My first one.”

  “Your first... how many... ?”

  “Two.”

  Carole opened her mouth, and Ruby shook her head.

  “I don’t want to talk about it.”

  Carole looked at Ruby with a frown, not liking this new development. Ruby was getting her composure back. She cleared her throat and rubbed her eyes.

  “I’m just tired,” she said. “My headache’s back.”

  Carole nodded.

  “Why don’t you take a nap?”

  Ruby lay down and Carole left her alone to sleep.

  Dr. Rivers studied Ruby. She sat uncomfortably, re-crossing her legs and licking her lips several times.

  “So, why are you here today?” he questioned.

  “I dunno.”

  “I guess you’ve had a few ups and downs lately,” he suggested, laying down a conversational path for her to follow.

  Ruby shrugged and said nothing.

  “Can you tell me what’s on your mind?”

  “No. Nothing bothering me,” she said crisply.

  “I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me.”

  “I’m not looking for help,” Ruby pointed out.

  “You don’t think you need any help?”

  “No.”

  “Why not?”

  “I don’t need anything.”

  “You think you’re pretty self-sufficient, do you?” Dr. Rivers said.

  “Sure.”

  “Everyone needs help sometimes.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “You take care of yourself by carrying a weapon?” he prodded.

  “I don’t have anything.” She spread her arms wide in a shrug, then pushed up both of her sleeves to show she had nothing hidden.

  “Not today.”

  Ruby didn’t say anything.

  “I hear you were upset about something yesterday.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “No, you weren’t upset, or no you don’t want to talk about it?”

  She rolled her eyes.

  “I don’t want to talk about it.”

  “Your counselors are concerned that you’re not getting much out of the program here.”

  “They’re probably right.”

  “You don’t think this is beneficial to you?”

  “No.”

  “Why is that?”

  “Because it’s stupid. How’s this going to keep me from going to a bar as soon as I walk out the door?”

  “Well, hopefully you realize by now what it does to your body.”

  “So what?”

  “You don’t care that it’s killing you?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Why don’t you care?” he pressed.

  “I don’t know. I just don’t really care. I like the way it makes me feel, I like how it takes the pressure off. So what if it’s not good for me? Neither are a lot of things.”

  “Do you realize just how bad it is for you?”

  Ruby looked pointedly at Rivers’ clock.

  “How long is this going to last?”

  “If you keep it up, you could kill yourself within a year.”

  She rolled her eyes.

  “I know plenty of guys who take a lot more than I do, and they’re older than me.”

  Rivers sat back and studied her.

 
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