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Ruby between the cracks, p.23
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.23

           P.D. Workman
 

  Chapter Seventeen

  WHEN RUBY GOT BACK up to her room after physio, there was a man in a suit waiting for her in her room. He was vaguely familiar, but Ruby looked at him for a few moments before remembering he was her new social worker.

  “M-miss-ster C-Clive.”

  It was easier than Mr. Dickenson. Clive nodded and waited while Ruby boosted herself up onto the bed and got settled. Dickenson waved and left. Ruby looked at Clive to find out what he wanted.

  “I’m afraid I have some... unsettling news,” he said.

  Ruby waited without saying anything.

  “You father has been killed.”

  Ruby heard his words and understood their meaning, but felt nothing. She waited for the news to sink in. She took a sip of the lukewarm water beside her bed. Finally, she shrugged.

  “Ok-kay.”

  Clive didn’t say anything for a moment, studying her. He lips pressed together, down at the corners.

  “I’m afraid there was… foul play.”

  “M-m-murd-der?”

  He nodded.

  “Oh.”

  “Your brother shot him,” Clive said.

  Ruby was floored.

  “W-what? J-jusst-tin?” she questioned in disbelief.

  “Yes.”

  Ruby tried to count back in her head.

  “H-he’s s-sev-ven!”

  “Eight, just recently,” Clive confirmed.

  “Ac-c-cid-dent... ?” Ruby struggled to get the word out.

  “No. He admits it was intentional. He said he was protecting June.”

  Ruby swore. The news was incomprehensible. She couldn’t reconcile the picture in her mind of round-cheeked little Justin pulling the trigger of a gun and killing their father.

  “You will need to be at the funeral,” Clive said. “Once the police release the body.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “And you will probably be subpoenaed to testify at the trial.”

  “I w-won’t.”

  “If you’re subpoenaed, you have to.”

  “Or w-what?”

  “Or you’ll be put in jail.”

  Ruby gestured to her crutches.

  “L-like th-thiss?”

  Clive didn’t want to admit that it was not very likely. He studied her with a sour look.

  “Well then, why don’t we go over what they would ask you?”

  Ruby shook her head. He ignored it.

  “Why did you ask to be removed to foster care?” he demanded.

  “B-bec-cause.”

  “Because you father was making improper advances to you?”

  “N-no,” Ruby shook her head, brows drawn down.

  “Did he ever molest you?”

  “N-no!”

  “Or abuse you in any way?”

  “N-n-no.”

  “Did he ever give you alcohol?”

  Ruby was startled by the question. She shook her head again slowly.

  “N-no.”

  “Did your mother ever give you alcohol?”

  “N-no.”

  “Have you ever consumed so much alcohol that you couldn’t remember what happened the next day?”

  Ruby frowned.

  “N-n-n-no.”

  “I don’t think you’re being truthful, Ruby.”

  She said nothing. He could think whatever he liked.

  “Were you at home when Chloe went to hospital with alcohol poisoning?”

  “N-no. W-when?” she questioned.

  “You would have been ten, I think.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “She didn’t ever say anything to you about it?”

  “N-no. D-doesn-n-nt d-drink.”

  “Chloe doesn’t drink?”

  “N-no.”

  “So if she went to hospital with alcohol poisoning, it wouldn’t be because she went on a binge.”

  Ruby shrugged, not liking where that was leading.

  “D-dunn-n-no.”

  “What do you know about Ronnie going to the hospital and going to foster care?”

  “N-noth-thing.”

  “You know she did.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “But you two never talked about it?”

  “N-no.”

  Clive stopped asking questions and just looked at Ruby. Ruby looked away from him.

  “So you’re not going to help keep your little brother out of juvenile,” he said.

  Ruby didn’t answer.

  “The other kids are going to be looking to you for what to do. If they see you being loyal to your father instead of telling the truth, they will follow your lead.”

  Ruby picked up one of Stella’s toys off of the night-stand and fiddled with it.

  “The police will be here to question you later,” Clive said.

  “Y-yessir.”

  “I hope you’ll be more cooperative with them than you have been with me.”

  Ruby shook her head slightly but didn’t answer.

  “Did you ever live with the twins?” Clive questioned curiously.

  “W-when b-born.”

  “I didn’t check the dates on your file, but I thought it must have been around that time that you left.”

  Ruby wound up the music box, pleased with the ease of movement now. Clive reached over and took it away from her.

  “This is very serious, Ruby, I need you to…”

  Ruby blew up. She reached her hand over and swiped everything off of the night stand with a crash.

  “G-go aw-way!”

  “If you behave this way with the police...”

  She swore at him, and he stood up.

  “I will pick you up for the funeral,” he said, looking down at her. Then he left.

  The nurse hadn’t said anything when she picked everything up off the floor. Possibly she had heard Ruby shouting at Clive. Ruby was still pouting when the police got there. Ruby was surprised to see that it was Merrill and Banks. They sat down to talk.

  “Hi Ruby,” Merrill greeted.

  “H-hi.”

  “I talked with Mr. Clive on the phone, and he said that he told you about your dad.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Now you’ve had a chance to think about it a little.”

  “Y-yessir.”

  “Have you thought of anything that might help us with our investigation?”

  “N-no.”

  “We need to know some details about when you were living at home.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “You were eight when you left.”

  “Y-yessir.”

  “Why did you ask to be removed?” he questioned, studying her closely.

  “B-bec-cause.”

  “Because why?”

  “I w-wann-t-ted t-to...” Ruby took a breath and concentrated on her words, knowing he wouldn’t understand her if she pushed it “b-be inn-nd-dep-p-p...”

  “Independent?”

  “Y-yessir.”

  “Eight is too young to be wanting to leave home for no good reason. What did you want to be independent of?”

  Ruby shrugged widely.

  “Did you and your dad get along?”

  “D-dunno.”

  “Did you fight?” Merrill persisted.

  “N-no.”

  “Did you do things together?”

  “N-no.”

  “Was he home much?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “S-ssomet-times.”

  “Daytime or night-time?”

  Ruby frowned and didn’t say anything.

  “When he was home, was it while you were at school or after you got home?” Merrill questioned, his eye probing.

  “Af-ft-ter s-school,” Ruby told him, her stomach tightening uncomfortably.

  “Did you ever drink in your home?”

  “N-no.”

  “Never?”

  “N-no.”

  “Was there alcohol kept in your home?”

  Ruby hesitated. If she said no, they would know better. The ho
use would have been carefully searched after the shooting. They would know where every drop of alcohol was.

  “Y-yessir,” she admitted.

  “Did your father drink?”

  “N-no.”

  “Your mother did.”

  “N-no.”

  “Then who did? Why would alcohol be kept in the house if no-one drank?”

  Ruby shrugged, staring at a spot on the wall.

  “Did your sisters drink?” Merrill suggested.

  “N-no.”

  Merrill made notes in his notepad, glancing over at Banks, then back at Ruby.

  “Do you know your brother Justin?” he questioned, changing the direction of the questioning.

  “N-no.”

  “You don’t?”

  “N-nev-ver l-l-lived w-with h-him,” Ruby explained.

  “You never talked to him?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “How about June?”

  She shook her head again.

  “Shall we go over your relationship with your parents?”

  “N-no.”

  “How did you get along with your mother?” he questioned, ignoring her answer.

  “D-did-dn’t.”

  “You fought with your mom?”

  “Y-yessir.”

  “What about?”

  “Ev-veryth-thing.”

  “About your father?”

  “N-no.”

  “About your drinking?”

  “N-no,” she denied again.

  “You realize that you are going to be subpoenaed to testify at Justin’s trial.”

  “Y-yessir.”

  “It would be helpful to Justin if you could talk about what things were like at home—why you left, your relationship with your dad...”

  “N-no.”

  “Why don’t you want to help your brother?”

  “I-I j-just c-can’t,” Ruby said flatly.

  Ruby was nervous waiting for Clive to pick her up. She didn’t have anything appropriate to wear, so she had on blue jeans and a t-shirt, and she had one of the nurses help her brush her hair well and put it back in a ponytail. She had her crutches ready, and stood in the doorway of the hospital room waiting for him.

  She saw Clive as he got off the elevator and she started walking towards him. Ruby was still a little unsteady on the crutches, but she could walk with them, and she didn’t want to go to the funeral using a walker. Clive saw her coming and waited for her at the nurses’ station. He pressed the button for the elevator when she got close.

  “How’re you doing today?” he questioned phlegmatically.

  “F-fine.”

  “Good. You look nice.”

  She had lipstick on, and a plain white t-shirt. Clive had only ever seen her in jail and right after an exhausting physio session before. She certainly hoped she looked better than that.

  “Th-thanks.”

  He didn’t say anything else, just took her downstairs to his car and opened the door for her. Ruby had difficulty getting herself into the car, but eventually fit herself into place. She held the crutches between her knees. She watched out the window as they drove to an old funeral home near her old neighborhood. Clive had timed it so that she would get there in enough time before the funeral so that they would not interrupt anything. A young man in a suit approached them.

  “Friend or family?”

  “Daughter,” Clive informed him.

  “Ah. The immediate family is having a prayer meeting before the service...”

  “N-no,” Ruby shook her head adamantly.

  Clive looked at Ruby for a moment in silence, and then nodded.

  “We will just wait in the chapel.”

  “Please follow me.”

  They walked behind him to the small chapel. The usher made his way up to the front row, but Ruby sat down on the back row, close to the door. Clive sat down beside her. The usher looked at Ruby in consternation, then smiled thinly.

  “Wherever you feel comfortable.”

  They were a few people already seated in the chapel. Ruby didn’t recognize them. They all waited in silence. After some time, the family came in. Ruby watched them choose their seats. Chloe sat down next to her mother, sitting close and putting her arm around her. Justin was being escorted by a police officer, who sat down on one side of him. June sat down on his other side. Ruby wouldn’t have recognized the twins. They were no longer baby-faced cuties like she remembered. Justin had a long face and square jaw, and a few scars on his face. He walked with a swagger and had on skin-tight blue jeans, a black tee and a gold chain around his neck. He looked like a little hood. Ruby wouldn’t be surprised if he was in one of the teeny-bopper gangs. June was dressed in a tight red dress that was off one shoulder. And she had makeup on.

  Ronnie’s foster family brought her in. They sat on the second row and Ronnie went up to the front row with the family. She hesitated and sat down beside June. There were several empty spaces between the two halves of the family. The prelude music stopped and a preacher Ruby had never seen before stood up and started to speak.

  Ruby was bored with watching the soaps. She saw a movement in the doorway out of the corner of her eye, and looked to see what it was. June stood in the doorway looking at her. Today June was dressed in a halter-top and cut-offs. She had on only lipstick.

  “Hi,” she said, voice tentative.

  “H-hi, J-june.”

  June wandered into the room, looking around. After a few minutes she turned to face Ruby again.

  “How come you won’t help Justin?” she demanded.

  “C-can’t.”

  “You can too. You just tell them how he was protecting me.”

  “I d-don’t kn-now th-that,” Ruby pointed out.

  “You know because He did it to you too.”

  “N-no.”

  “All you have to do is tell them that you left because Dad was hurting you.”

  “N-not t-true.”

  “It is too,” June insisted. “Just like he did to Ronnie and tried to do to Chloe. Just like he did to me.”

  “S-sorry.”

  “Ronnie’s going to testify. But if you won’t, then it’s three against three, ’cause Chloe won’t either. And Mom won’t because she helped Him. If you testify, then it’s all of us against Mom and Chloe, and they’ll believe us.”

  As if it was just a numbers game. The majority automatically won.

  “N-no,” Ruby said, shaking her head.

  “Come on, Ruby. You remember what it was like.”

  “N-no. I d-don’t.”

  June stared at her.

  “How could you not remember?” she demanded.

  Ruby shrugged, like she didn’t care.

  “I d-don’t r-remm-memm-b-ber m-much f-fromm...” she couldn’t finish the sentence clearly. June got her meaning. She sat down on the edge of Ruby’s bed.

  “Why? Because of your stroke?” she questioned.

  Ruby shook her head.

  “Because of the booze, then,” June deduced. When Ruby didn’t make any response, she continued. “There’s stuff I can’t remember too. After you drink a few glasses of booze, things get sort of… hazy.”

  Ruby frowned. She could remember drinking at home. She didn’t remember getting in trouble for it, but she didn’t remember anyone giving her alcohol, either. Clive and Merrill had both asked her about drinking. Ruby hadn’t figured out then what that had to do with the shooting. But now she was starting to understand. He had used booze to make them compliant, with the added benefit of memory blackouts.

  Ruby tried mentally to correct herself. What he had done to June. Or might have done. Not what he had done to Ruby.

  “Testify anyhow,” June suggested, “it doesn’t matter what you remember or what happened. Just help us out.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “N-no. S-sorry.”

  “What are you afraid of?”

  “N-no-noth-thing.”

  June shook her head in disg
ust.

  “Fine. Be like that, then. If Justin ends up in juvie, it’s your fault.”

  “H-he w-won’t,” Ruby assured June. They didn’t put eight year olds in juvie.

  June scowled. Jamie walked into the room, smiling.

  “Hi Ruby. How’re you doing?” he greeted.

  “Hey.” Ruby nodded at June. “M-my s-s-ist-ter.”

  “Hi, I’m Jamie.”

  “June,” she introduced herself tersely.

  Ruby motioned to Jamie, the baby in his arms.

  “M-my b-b-bab-by.”

  “Yeah, this is Sheree,” Jamie agreed, lifting Sheree slightly.

  “Yeah? You’re Ruby’s boyfriend?” June questioned.

  Jamie eyed June.

  “We see each other sometimes,” he said negligently.

  “B-back off,” Ruby told Jamie, not liking the way he was looking at June. “Sh-she’s eight!”

  Jamie raised his brows.

  “Eight? I would have guessed twelve.”

  June fluttered her eyes at him. She looked at Ruby.

  “Well, I’ll see you ’round,” she said, giving up on their conversation.

  Ruby watched June walk out the door, then dragged her attention back to Jamie.

  Dickenson was reviewing Ruby’s file when Sarah Rogers knocked on his door.

  “Hi.”

  “Hi. Thanks for coming by. You ready to meet Ruby?”

  “Sure. You want to fill me in?”

  “Teenage stroke victim. She retained her language, but has difficulty in speaking. She’s good for one or two short words, but she slurs and stutters. I’ve been working with her in physio and she’s improved a lot in gross and fine motor, but hasn’t shown much improvement in speech. So, I thought I’d better get you working with her.”

  “Sounds good. What’s she like?”

  “Good kid, bad temper. She’s really good at four letter words.”

  Sarah smiled.

  “Well, at least that’s somewhere to start.”

  Dickenson closed the file and stood up. They walked up to Ruby’s room. She was sitting on the chair in her room, fiddling with one of Stella’s baby toys while the TV blared away largely unnoticed. She muted it when she saw Dickenson.

  “H-hi, Mmmis-s-t-ter D-dick-ckenns-son.”

  “Hi, Ruby.”

  “I’m Sarah Rogers. I’m going to be your speech therapist.”

  “Oh. H-hi.”

  “Don’t get self-conscious, you’re doing great. Mr. Dickenson said you could only manage short words, but Dickenson is not short.”

  Sarah pretended to glare at Dickenson. He raised his hands in defense.

  “That’s the one word I’ve drilled into her. Isn’t it, Ruby?”

  “Y-yessir.”

  “What an ego,” Sarah commented. “You’ll be glad when you’re finished with this guy, huh Ruby?”

  “H-he’s t-tough,” Ruby admitted.

  “That’s how we make you better,” Dickenson said with a shrug.

  Sarah nodded.

  “Well, do you think we could start now, Ruby?”

  “S-sure.”

  Dickenson waved a hand and said goodbye, then left. Sarah sat down on Ruby’s bed and looked around for conversation topics.

  Merrill picked Ruby up for Justin’s trial. Ruby sat down where he indicated, aware that her crutches attracted the attention of the spectators in the courtroom. She kept her head down. She took a quick glance around once she was sitting down. Justin was sitting at one table with a legal aid lawyer. Ronnie and June sat behind him. Their mom and Chloe sat behind the other table. Somebody had dressed June down; she was wearing an oversize white t-shirt and blue jeans. Justin was still dressed the same, looking like a mini hood. Somebody should have had the smarts to make him look like a little kid instead. Ruby studied the others. Ronnie looked pretty normal. Ronnie’s foster parents were both there with her, acting like they were her family. Ruby’s mom had put on a lot of weight. Her rumpled clothes were several sizes larger than Ruby remembered, and she looked sloppy and dumpy. Chloe too had a full figure and her hair looked uncombed.

  Ruby found sitting through the trial difficult. Her muscles cramped and spasmed and a couple of times she had to get Merrill to go out with her to work out her muscles. It meant walking down the aisle with everybody watching her and disrupting the court. But the judge watched her struggle on her crutches didn’t say anything. She listened uncomfortably to the details of the abuse that had torn apart the family. The witnesses were convincing. Her mother was not very believable, and Ruby saw a couple of jurors shake their heads when she spoke. Chloe was stubborn and terse, and you didn’t get the emotion from her that you got from the younger kids. Then Ruby was called to the stand. She looked at Merrill, and he nodded for her to go up. She got up and slowly approached the witness stand. After having to sit for so long, Ruby was sore and her muscles were uncooperative. She was usually skilled with the crutches now, but after sitting for so long, she could hardly keep her feet. They let her sit down right away, and tried to swear her in. The clerk asked whether she swore to tell the truth, and Ruby shook her head.

  “N-no.”

  The judge looked at her sharply.

  “Young lady, this is serious. You must swear to tell the truth.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “Are you aware of any facts which may have a bearing on this trial?”

  “N-no.”

  “You’re not?”

  “N-no.”

  “Then you may state that when you are asked questions. But you must be sworn in.”

  Ruby didn’t answer. The judge stared at her.

  “Will you swear to tell the truth?”

  Ruby hesitated. Everyone waited, staring at her.

  “Yessir,” Ruby said finally.

  The judge nodded to the prosecuting attorney to proceed. The man asked several brief questions about whether Ruby had been abused by her father, which Ruby firmly denied. The prosecutor nodded, and turned her over to Justin’s lawyer.

  “You are the victim’s daughter,” the lawyer said.

  Ruby nodded.

  “Y-yessir.”

  “His oldest daughter.”

  “Y-yessir.”

  “And you left home when you were eight.”

  “Y-yessir.”

  “The age of the defendant and his twin.”

  Ruby hesitated. There wasn’t any point answering the question, and she couldn’t lie or avoid it or he would just point it out to the jury. She shrugged uncomfortably.

  “Y-y-yessir.”

  “And you asked to be removed from your family because of the abuse,” he said.

  Ruby shook her head adamantly.

  “N-no.”

  “The same abuse that has already been described to the court in detail,” he went on.

  “N-no.”

  “Lying to this court will not get you anywhere.”

  Ruby stared down at her hands and didn’t say anything.

  “How old were you when you started drinking?” he said after a few moments.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “I d-dunn-no.”

  “Before you left home?”

  “N-no.”

  “You never drank at home.”

  “N-no.”

  “You realize that your social services file was started before you were removed from your family.”

  Ruby shifted uneasily.

  “And you realize that when the family was investigated, your mother said that one of the ways you were getting into trouble was by drinking.”

  “Sh-she l-l-lied.” Ruby protested.

  “So how old were you when you had your first drink?”

  “I d-dun-nno.”

  When she was finished testifying, Ruby was advised she could go sit down. She struggled to get to her feet and walk out, but she couldn’t keep her feet. She looked at Merrill. He got up and went up to the stand. He helped her get up and walked her back down the a
isle to the door. He put one arm around her to support and steady her. Once outside the courtroom, Ruby stopped for a breather.

  “I d-don’t have t-to g-go b-b-back?”

  “No. That’s it,” he agreed.

  “T-take m-me h-h-home.”

  “Sure. Are you okay?”

  Ruby nodded. Her legs got steadier and she could walk without his support. The walked slowly out to his car.

  The trial didn’t go on for long. In a few days, it was over and the jury went out. They were out for a couple of days, and from what Ruby understood, that wasn’t a good sign. Ruby didn’t think they would convict Justin, not after the testimony that she had heard. But they might not like the looks of him, and convict him just because he looked like a punk. Or they might not believe what they heard about what had been going on in the home.

  Mrs. Winters was sitting with her while they waited for the phone call that would tell them the verdict. Ruby tried to watch TV and not think about it. She mouthed the words of the commercials, as Sarah had taught her, trying to form the words quickly and without hesitation. Mrs. Winters was studying a crossword puzzle beside her. They didn’t talk. Conversations were still too difficult, and she was still leery of Mrs. Winters. She’d come to help Ruby through a rough spot, but Ruby would not go live with her again.

  It was late when the phone rang. Ruby had thought that it was too late, and they were going to be out for another day.

  “H-hell-lo?”

  “It’s Mr. Clive. The verdict was just delivered.”

  “W-what?”

  “The jury hung. They couldn’t come to a landing.”

  “N-now w-what?”

  “Now they have to decide whether to impanel a new jury and retry Justin.”

  Ruby was silent, waiting for more explanation.

  “If they retry, you’ll have to testify again,” he said. “If they decide not to, he goes free.”

  “O-ok-kay. W-what d-do y-you th-think?”

  “I don’t think they’ll retry. No-one really wants to convict an eight year old.”

  “G-good.”

  “The twins are in a foster home. We’re trying to convince Ronnie’s foster parents to take them in so that we can keep the family together as much as possible.”

  “O-k-kay.”

  “Are you interested in being placed in the same family with the twins?”

  Ruby was surprised. She shook her head automatically.

  “N-not w-with R-ron-nnie...”

  “You and Ronnie don’t get along?”

  “N-not her p-parents.”

  “There was something on your file about that, wasn’t there? If the twins don’t go live with Ronnie’s family, would you be interested in being placed with the same family?”

  “I d-dunn-no.”

  She’d never considered it before. Ruby really didn’t want to go to a foster family, but if she had the chance to be with the twins for a little while—her own family...

  “Well, we’ll talk about it later, when you’ve had a chance to think it over.”

  “Ok-kay.”

  Ruby hung up. Mrs. Winters looked at her.

  “Was that the verdict?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “H-hung j-jury,” she explained shortly.

  “Oh dear, that’s too bad. I was hoping he would be acquitted.”

  Ruby nodded and shrugged. She turned the volume on the TV back up.

 
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