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Ruby between the cracks, p.26
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.26

           P.D. Workman
 

  Chapter Twenty

  RUBY STARED AT THE blood, feeling sick. She wasn’t pregnant. She had been sure that she would be by now. But her period had arrived, proving her wrong. She’d never been really regular, so she hadn’t expected it.

  That meant she would be staying with Charlie a while yet. Which was okay; she liked to be with him. He didn’t care what she did during the day when he was gone—or at night, if he was on shift. She was always there when he got home, and he didn’t ask what she did while he was gone. He reminded her of Marty in ways—he was steady and even, easy to talk to and be around. He didn’t have big expectations of her, just liked to spend time with her and enjoy her company. He rarely censured her or told her what to do, and when he did it was with a joke and a grin. He didn’t like things to get too serious.

  Ruby rubbed her stomach slowly, wincing. She got dressed slowly, and took a beer from the fridge, though she knew that Charlie would ask her about it. He watched her liquor intake pretty closely. Ruby got her knife out of her knapsack and left the apartment.

  “So what’s your boyfriend do?” Terry questioned.

  Ruby looked at him, surprised.

  “Wh-what?”

  Terry continued to shave his fingernails with his knife, studying them intently and pretending not to be watching Ruby.

  “You got a steady guy now, don’t you?” he said.

  Ruby shrugged and nodded.

  “I g-guess.”

  “Well, he ain’t one of the Jags, so what does he do?”

  Ruby avoided the question.

  “Not m-much. He’s n-not in a g-gang,” she said.

  Terry glanced up at him.

  “Just a bum?”

  Ruby laughed.

  “Yeah.”

  “He know you’re a Jag?”

  “No.”

  “So where does he think you go?”

  Ruby wondered fleetingly when she had gone from merely being associated with and protected by the Jags to actually being one of them. There had been no initiation, no clear demarcation, but now she was considered one of them.

  “He d-doesn’t ask,” she told Terry.

  Terry nodded. Ruby was silent for a few minutes, watching his busy hands.

  “How’d you kn-now I have a s-steady g-guy?” she inquired.

  “It’s pretty obvious. I mean, you never stay with us for a few days at a time like you did before, you always go home every day. You don’t sleep here like you used to with Tim. It’s just obvious.”

  Ruby shrugged. She wasn’t nearly as involved with the Jags as she had been at one time. But she still did a lot with them. She wasn’t seeing Jamie or Brian any more—couldn’t see Marty. She was still planning to go see the twins again, but hadn’t seen them since Stella died. Her life had changed a lot.

  “I’m thirsty,” she told Terry, pushing stray tendrils of hair back from her face.

  “You wanna go out for some drinks?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Yeah.”

  “I’ll see if any of the others want to come.”

  Charlie and Davidson got out of the car, both loosening their service weapons in the holsters and unsnapping them.

  “Backup coming?” Charlie questioned, casing out the pool hall doors.

  “Thirty seconds behind us.”

  “Let’s go in.”

  Davidson nodded his agreement. They rushed through the front doors and looked around. They were expecting a fight in progress, but things were pretty still. No fight. But no-one was playing pool. The patrons were all focused on the boy on the floor. It looked at first like he’d just been knocked out, but when Davidson rushed forwards and pulled back his jacket, they could see the blood and gore. Charlie looked over the faces of the clientele for the guilty one—the killer, if he hadn’t already gotten out the back. The blood was fresh. Two minutes ago it had been called in as a fight in progress. Charlie pulled out his radio with his free hand to tell the back-up units to be on the lookout for a runner, and they would get a description out as soon as they could. Then Charlie froze. At first he hadn’t seen the girl towards the back in a black jacket. She was seated on the edge of one of the pool tables, with a good vantage point of the boy on the floor. She had a stein of beer in one hand and was talking to the gang member beside her. She had her eye on Davidson, and then after Charlie spotted her she looked over at him. She froze too.

  “Ruby—what’s the matter? I think—Ruby?”

  Terry tried to get Ruby’s attention again, but she was focused on the second cop and didn’t hear anything he said. Backup arrived, and the cops started questioning everyone in the place about the fight. Charlie went up to Ruby.

  “What are you doing here?”

  “Playing p-pool.”

  Charlie looked around at the other Jags.

  “I thought you were finished with these guys.”

  Ruby shrugged. He’d never asked, and she’d never told him she was. What would be the point in lying to him?

  “You’re drinking?” Charlie questioned.

  Ruby nodded.

  “A c-couple.”

  “Did you see what happened?”

  “He g-got himself s-split.”

  Charlie couldn’t believe she was so casual about witnessing a murder.

  “He’s dead, Ruby.”

  “I kn-now.”

  “Who did it?”

  She shrugged.

  “One of the Jags?” Charlie questioned.

  Ruby shook her head.

  “No.”

  Charlie didn’t know whether to believe her or not. He was so thrown by seeing her there. But surely the other Jags wouldn’t have stuck around if it had been one of them.

  “Describe the guy that did it.”

  Ruby shook her head. Charlie frowned. He looked at her for a minute.

  “Don’t go anywhere, okay?”

  Ruby shrugged. Charlie left her alone and went to question other witnesses. Terry looked at Ruby. A couple of the other Jags moved closer.

  “You know this cop?” Terry questioned lowly.

  “Yeah.”

  “He looked surprised to see you here—where do you know him from?”

  Ruby giggled and didn’t explain. She took another drink, watching Charlie work his way across the room. She didn’t generally see Charlie in uniform, but he sure did look good in it. She and the Jags got bored with the investigation and started a new game of pool. The night wore on, and Charlie eventually came up behind her and put his hand on her shoulder.

  “Let’s go, Ruby.”

  He was uptight. He never called her Ruby—it was always ‘sweetheart’, ‘honey’, ‘sunshine’ or some other endearment. Ruby looked at him over her shoulder.

  “J-just a s-sec.”

  She carefully lined up her shot, but bungled it up with him standing impatiently behind her. Ruby shrugged.

  “S-see-ya, g-guys.”

  “See you tomorrow, Ruby.”

  Ruby turned and went with Charlie. He put his hand on her arm and escorted her out of the bar. They didn’t say anything when they got outside. Charlie took Ruby over to his car. His partner followed them out of the building. Ruby hesitated when Charlie let go of her arm beside the car. She always rode beside him in the front seat. But Davidson was there too, and she didn’t know if Charlie was upset with her or just taking her home.

  They all stopped for a moment.

  “There’s enough room in the front,” Charlie said.

  Ruby sat between Davidson and Charlie. Charlie put his hand on her knee after a few minutes.

  “So what happened, sweetie?”

  She shrugged.

  “I d-dunno.”

  “Did you see the boy who killed that kid?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Was it someone you knew?”

  “No.”

  “Could you hear what they were arguing about?”

  “M-money. I d-dunno.”

  “What about money?”
r />   Ruby shrugged.

  “D-dunno.”

  “If you didn’t hang around with the gang, you might not end up in quite as much trouble.”

  “Am I in t-trouble?” she demanded.

  He looked at her.

  “No. You ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. At least you weren’t knocking off a liquor store somewhere.”

  Ruby grinned. She tried to relax, as Charlie seemed to have settled down a bit.

  “How long have you been involved with the gang?” Davidson questioned.

  “Few years.”

  “So police raids are nothing new to you.”

  “N-no.”

  Charlie looked at Davidson and tried to change the subject.

  “If you’re looking for company while I’m out, why don’t you get a job or go back to school?”

  “I d-don’t like s-school and d-don’t wanna job.”

  “How old are you, Ruby?” Davidson questioned.

  Charlie and Ruby exchanged glances.

  “Eighteen,” Ruby said.

  “Funny, I thought you were fifteen or sixteen.”

  “Eighteen,” Ruby repeated firmly.

  They pulled up in front of the police station. Ruby got out of the car with the men, though her stomach was tight again with uncertainty.

  “You can come in and wait while I finish my shift and change,” Charlie told her.

  “Okay.”

  She followed him. He left her in some kind of common room while he went to finish his duties. Ruby hung around, looking at the posters on the wall. Various cops came through the room, and some of them recognized her and stopped to talk for a minute. It was almost an hour before Charlie came back to get her, wearing blue jeans and a white t-shirt.

  “Well, kiddo, you ready to go home?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  He put his hand on her back, then lifted it up again.

  “Why haven’t I seen you wear this jacket before?” he questioned. “Am I that blind?”

  “N-no. It’s not m-mine. C-can’t afford m-my own.”

  “So you haven’t been wearing it around the house and I just didn’t notice.”

  Ruby laughed at the image.

  “No. B-been in the c-closet c-couple t-times.”

  Charlie shook his head. He didn’t say anything for a few minutes as they walked out to the car. Charlie was frowning to himself. After a while, he spoke.

  “I don’t want you to be hiding things from me, okay Ruby? I don’t want to find out from some other cop that you were at a pool hall where somebody was killed, okay? I want to hear it from you first.”

  Ruby eyed Charlie.

  “Wh-what?”

  “I know you’re not going to change just because of me. But I’m not your daddy, I’m not going to punish you or kick you out if you break curfew. I may not approve, but you don’t have to hide anything from me. I want to know what you’re up to, I don’t want to be surprised.”

  “Yeah, okay.”

  “Good. Anything I should know?”

  “No.”

  “You sure?”

  Ruby shrugged. Charlie didn’t say anything further. They got to the apartment and went to bed.

  Ruby was awake when Charlie’s alarm went off. He rolled over sleepily and turned it off. He laid with his eyes closed for a minute, then opened them, stretching. He noticed she was awake.

  “Hey, you’re supposed to be fast asleep.”

  Ruby held her stomach.

  “I d-don’t feel g-good.”

  “You got the flu?”

  “No.”

  “Oh.” He swung his feet over the side of the bed and got up. “Are you all right? You look upset.”

  “I’m okay.”

  “Do you need anything? For your stomach?” he offered.

  “Aspirin.”

  “Okay. Are you staying in bed?”

  “For a while.”

  “I’m going to the gym. I’ll see you in a couple hours.”

  He put on a pair of pants and t-shirt. He left for a minute and came back with a cup of water and a couple pills. Ruby took them. He sat on the bed next to her, watching her face. He touched her cheek.

  “What’s wrong, sweetie?”

  Ruby looked at him. He looked concerned. He could tell there was something on her mind.

  “I’m s-sorta d-depressed.”

  “What about?”

  “N-nothing. Just d-down,” she looked away from him.

  “Do you have a doctor?”

  “N-no. Just wh-whoever.”

  “Can I set you up with my doctor? Remember I told you about Prozac? Otherwise you’re going to end up on speed again.”

  Ruby was doubtful.

  “It’ll m-make me feel b-better?”

  “Better than you’re feeling now.”

  “Ok-kay.”

  “I’ll set up an appointment for you.”

  Ruby nodded. Charlie patted her on the shoulder.

  “You take care of yourself, honey. I don’t want you to end up high or suicidal.”

  He took the cup from her again.

  “Get some rest. I won’t be too long,” he promised.

  He left. Ruby listened to the front door click shut behind him. She rubbed her aching stomach, thinking of Stella.

  When Charlie got home, Ruby wasn’t there. He expected her to still be in bed, but it was cold and unmade. She wasn’t usually gone when she knew he would be back soon.

  Charlie brushed it off and decided to use the time to tidy up the apartment. It was harder to keep it clean with two people living there. He didn’t look at the clock until his stomach started rumbling. Then he realized that Ruby had been gone for a few hours. He called his doctor to set up an appointment for Ruby to see him. He looked at his watch and wondered what she was up to.

  Eventually, it was time for him to get ready for his shift. Ruby still wasn’t back. He wondered if it had something to do with the night before. Maybe witnessing the murder had upset her more than it seemed. She had acted like she didn’t care, but she’d seen one boy kill another in a fight. It couldn’t have left her unaffected. He hung around for a few minutes, hoping she would show up, then got his jacket. The Jag jacket that Ruby had been wearing the night before was still hanging in the closet. Wherever she had gone, she wasn’t with the gang. Maybe she was with her friend Marty.

  Charlie was running late for his shift when he locked up. Then he met up with Ruby in the hall. She seemed a little surprised to see him.

  “Oh—Ch-charlie.”

  “Where’ve you been, Ruby? I was worried.”

  She looked up at his face briefly, and Charlie saw how swollen and bloodshot her eyes were. She’d been crying. He cradled her face in his hands, and kissed her gently.

  “What is it, sweetie? Are you okay?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “Where were you? What’s wrong?”

  She sniffled, considering whether to tell him or not.

  “The c-cemetery.”

  “Oh... I’m sorry. Are you going to be okay?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Who died?” Charlie said awkwardly.

  “You’re g-gonna b-be late.”

  She moved towards the door and took out her key. Charlie put his hand on Ruby’s arm to stop her.

  “I don’t think you should be alone. You’re not going to stay here by yourself, are you?”

  “I d-dunno.”

  “I think you should be with other people.”

  Ruby stood there for a minute, motionless. Then she shrugged.

  “Okay.”

  “Where do you want to go? I can drop you somewhere.”

  “N-no. I’ll g-get th-the b-bus.”

  “Okay. You take care of yourself, okay honey? I’m worried about you today.”

  “Ok-kay.”

  “That’s my girl. See you in the morning.”

  Ruby unlocked the door to get her jacket, and waved to Charlie. She wrapped the warm jacket aro
und her and closed her eyes. He had called her “his girl” tonight. He’d never called her that before. No-one had ever called her that before. She left the apartment and went to find the gang. Jack was in the cafe they always used to hang out at. Jack wasn’t really around the gang that much anymore. He spent more and more time on his own away from them. He saw her as she walked by on the sidewalk outside, and waved for her to come in.

  “Hey, Ruby,” he greeted as she walked up to him. “How about keeping me company for a while?”

  “S-sure.”

  She sat down beside him and picked up his drink to have a sip. Jack put his arm over her shoulders, sighing.

  “I’m leaving, you know,” he said.

  Ruby looked at him.

  “Wh-what? Where?”

  “I’m leaving town. Today or tomorrow.”

  “Oh.”

  “You want to come with me?”

  Ruby looked at Jack, startled. He had never paid that much attention to her. They’d spent some time together now and then, enjoyed each other’s company a few times, but she had never considered herself his girlfriend. No-one did. Jack didn’t. He said he didn’t have a girlfriend. Ruby kind of doubted that he even really liked girls. Ruby shook her head, frowning.

  “No. You’re k-kidding, r-right?”

  Jack laughed appreciatively.

  “We’d last about three days together, huh?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I d-don’t th-think we’d l-last th-that.”

  He grinned.

  “You’re a good kid, Ruby. You’re cool.”

  Ruby smiled. She wondered why he had asked her to go with him. He’d never—as far as she knew—had a steady girlfriend or any long-term relationship.

  “Why are you g-going?”

  “Oh, you know. I’m too old to be hanging around with these kids anymore. May as well go somewhere that the cops don’t know me and I can get a job or something.”

  “Huh.”

  “Whose jacket is that?”

  Ruby touched it.

  “Umm, T-terry’s, I th-think.”

  “Do you want mine?”

  She nodded.

  “Yeah.”

  He took it off and handed it to her. He pushed the drink towards her.

  “Go ahead and finish it. See ya.”

  “Bye.”

  Jack got up and walked away. Ruby watched him go, frowning. She sat there and finished the rest of the drink. She took off Terry’s jacket and put on Jack’s. She sat there for a while by herself before going to see the rest of the gang.

  Ruby was home in bed when Charlie got home. She usually was, but it surprised him now. Things had changed in the last day, and he didn’t expect her to be there. He undressed and slipped in beside her.

  “Hi, sweetheart.”

  She stirred.

  “Hi, Ch-charlie,” she murmured sleepily.

  “How was your day?”

  “Okay.”

  “How’re you feeling tonight?”

  “S-sleepy.”

  Charlie put his arms around her, snickering.

  “Okay, baby. Go to sleep.”

  He snuggled up close to her and dropped off to sleep.

  Ruby was going to see the gang when she saw the cops get out of their car and head purposefully towards her. They were in an unmarked car and plain clothes, but it was obvious they were cops. Ruby looked around quickly to see if there was any way to discreetly avoid them, but there was no way to get away without running. They couldn’t pick her up for anything, so Ruby wasn’t too worried.

  “We want to ask you some questions,” one of them told her, pushing her back into the wall of the building behind her. Not roughly, just firmly. Ruby looked them over. She didn’t recognize them from any of the places she had gone with Charlie. And obviously they didn’t recognize her either.

  “Wh-what about?” she said cautiously.

  “About Jack Wilson.”

  “Why? Wh-what’d he d-do?”

  “None of your business. Where is he?”

  “I d-dunno.”

  “You were the last one seen with him.”

  “I haven’t s-seen him s-since y-yesterday.”

  “Yeah, right before he shook his police tail,” the cop confirmed. “So where did he go?”

  “I d-dunno.”

  He slapped her. Ruby was startled. She looked from one to the other.

  “I d-don’t kn-now,” she repeated. “He s-said he was l-leaving t-town.”

  “Where to?”

  “I d-dunno.”

  He slapped her again. Ruby squirmed.

  “I w-want my l-lawyer.”

  “You’re not under arrest.”

  “Then n-no m-more questions.”

  He slapped her again. Ruby’s cheeks flamed, and her lip stung. She licked it and tasted blood. He’d split her lip.

  “Do you want to be considered an accessory?” he growled. “Because if you do, you just keep it up.”

  Ruby shook her head. He moved closer to her, uncomfortably close. Ruby would have moved away if her back wasn’t already up against the wall.

  “What did you and Wilson talk about when you met yesterday?”

  “He s-said he w-was leaving t-town.”

  “Did you ask him why?”

  “Y-yessir.”

  “What did he say?”

  “It w-was t-time to l-leave th-the g-gang. M-move on.”

  “Why? What had happened?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “D-dunno.”

  “A guy like Wilson doesn’t just up and leave his gang without a leader.”

  Ruby shrugged. That was Jack’s business, nothing to do with her.

  “Who’s the leader of the Jags with Wilson gone?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “D-dunno yet.”

  He slapped her.

  “You were the last one to see him, sweet thing. What were his wishes?”

  “He d-didn’t s-say.”

  He raised his hand and Ruby moved to protect herself this time. He grabbed her by the throat, right under her jaw, and pushed towards the wall. Ruby struggled for breath and tried to pry his hand away. When she reached for her knife, he squeezed harder.

  “Keep your hands where I can see them, or you’ll die right here, honey.”

  Ruby froze. He didn’t let go. Ruby felt herself sliding towards darkness, and he finally released her throat. Ruby leaned against the wall, gasping for breath. The cops both seemed to be blurry, on the other side of a thick fog. Ruby’s knees buckled, and she blacked out momentarily. When she came to herself, she was still against the wall, with the cop’s hands on her shoulders, keeping her on her feet. Ruby straightened, trying to get her equilibrium back. He let go of her shoulders.

  “Now, where did Wilson go?” he repeated.

  “I d-dunno.”

  “Why did he give you his jacket?”

  They must have been watching from awfully close by if they saw that. Jack must have known about them.

  “I w-wanted it. D-didn’t have m-my own.”

  “But now you do.”

  She nodded.

  “Did Jack want you to be the leader of the Jags?”

  Ruby laughed. The thought was crazy. Her leading the gang? The leader of the Jags? And going home every day to Charlie? She shook her head.

  “You’re the last one he saw,” the cop pointed out. “He gave you his mantle. It looks pretty obvious from here.”

  “N-no. N-not m-me.”

  “He didn’t tell you who was to be the next leader of the Jags?”

  “N-no.”

  “But he told you he was leaving and gave you his jacket. And you didn’t think anything of it.”

  “N-no.”

  The cop pinched the sleeve of the jacket between two fingers.

  “You’re wearing the commander’s stripes.”

  Ruby looked at the rank insignia on the sleeve. She felt suddenly queasy. She knew Jack had
never intended for her to be the leader of the Jags. But it was going to be hard to convince the officers of that.

  “Th-they’d n-never let a g-girl b-be their l-leader,” she insisted, struggling to get the sentence out clearly.

  “It would definitely make some waves. But you’re tough enough to make them fall in line, aren’t you?”

  “N-no,” Ruby protested, with a grimace. She could just picture what would happen if she tried.

  “Then who’s going to take over? Are you going to pick someone?”

  “No.”

  “Where did Wilson say he was going?”

  Ruby shook her head. She swallowed, her throat sore and swollen from his strangle hold.

  “I d-don’t kn-now!” she protested.

  His fist drove into her face, and Ruby’s head crunched back into the brick wall. Ruby yelped unintentionally, and she brought her hands up to her face to touch her cheek, where he had contacted. Tears started in her eyes, though she tried to hold them back. The cop looked surprised that he had hit her. His fist unclenched and he kept it at his side.

  “Let’s take her in,” the other cop suggested. The partner had stayed out of it until now, saying nothing and not interfering. The first cop grabbed Ruby’s arm and pulled her over to the car. He opened the door and shoved her in. They drove to the police station without a word. Not Charlie’s station. Ruby rubbed her sore face, trying to figure out what to say to them.

  The cops came back into the room, where Ruby had been sitting waiting. The tough one stripped off his jacket and threw it over a chair. He flexed his hands, and Ruby stared at his bulging biceps. He worked out a lot. And he had a tattoo on one of them. He noticed her gaze, and grinned with pride, showing them off.

  “Now, are we going to talk?” he demanded, putting both hands flat on the table in front of her and leaning on them.

  “I d-don’t kn-now anything ab-bout J-jack.”

  He slapped her across both cheeks, the two slaps echoing in the room like the rapid reports of a gun. Ruby swallowed and clenched her teeth, trying to keep her composure. He waited for her to say something, and when she didn’t, slapped her again. Tears started in her eyes again, and Ruby rubbed her eyes, trying to keep them clear.

  “What did Wilson tell you?” he questioned.

  “He s-said he w-was leaving t-town. He w-was t-tired of th-the Jags.”

  “Why?”

  “He s-said he w-was t-too old.”

  “Too old for what?”

  “The g-gang.”

  “Why?”

  Ruby shrugged hopelessly. Jack had told her next to nothing, and they expected her to be able to get inside his head. He slapped her again. Ruby’s mouth was filled with blood, and she spit, staining her t-shirt red. The tough cop slapped her again, spattering blood over the table.

  “See what you can do with her,” he told his partner, and walked out.

  Classic good-cop bad-cop. Ruby hadn’t been the subject of the ploy before. The good cop sat down slowly, looking at her.

  “Are you okay?”

  Ruby made no response. She used her shirt to try to stop the bleeding from her split lip.

  “Would you like a coffee or something?”

  Ruby ignored him. He was the good cop and he wasn’t going to threaten her. He wanted her to get friendly, to let down her guard. They’d get into a casual conversation and he would get the information that he wanted. But it wasn’t going to happen. She didn’t know what he wanted to find out from her

  He sat there looking at her and not saying anything. Ruby dabbed at her face with her shirt.

  “Wh-what’d J-jack d-do?” she asked finally. They wanted him for something.

  “What do you think he did?”

  Ruby shrugged, and looked away from him. They were both silent for a long time. The cop moved his chair closer.

  “What’s your name?”

  “Ruby.”

  “Were you and Jack close?”

  “N-no.”

  “The two of you didn’t spend any time together?”

  Ruby hesitated.

  “N-no.”

  He eyed her.

  “I don’t think you’re telling the truth. You’re telling me the two of you never spent a night together?”

  She shrugged uncomfortably.

  “The two of you seemed pretty close yesterday. I’m sure that he wouldn’t give his jacket to just anyone.”

  “He d-didn’t t-tell me anyth-thing.”

  “Mmm. But you admit that you were close?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “No.”

  “If he was leaving town, why didn’t you go with him?”

  “We w-weren’t th-that close.”

  “Did he ask you to go with him?”

  Ruby closed her eyes and didn’t answer at first. She opened them, shrugging.

  “S-sorta.”

  “Why didn’t you?”

  Ruby rolled her eyes.

  “If you weren’t that close, why did he ask you along?”

  “I d-dunno. Was w-weird.”

  “Are you good with a gun, Ruby?”

  So Jack had shot someone. Ruby shook her head.

  “We could really use your help, you know,” he coaxed.

  “I d-don’t kn-now anything.”

  “Stand up.”

  “What?”

  He motioned for her to stand. Ruby got up, and he pushed himself away from the table. He pulled her hands behind her back and cuffed them.

  “I w-want my lawyer,” Ruby told him.

  “Sorry, you’re going to lock-up for now.”

  He tightened the cuffs until they grated against her bones. Ruby bit her lip and didn’t say anything. He took her to the cell-block and had her locked up. Ruby glanced around at the other occupants of the cell and leaned against the bars.

  “We’re not going to hurt you, honey,” one of the tough-looking ladies told her. “We’re not the enemy.”

  Ruby hadn’t ever been put in a cell with adults before. They’d always been careful to put her in solitary or in with other juveniles before. She was a little nervous about it. The woman looked like a biker chick, with frizzy red hair.

  “What’s your name?” the woman asked, getting no response from Ruby.

  “Ruby.”

  “Well, Ruby, quit looking at us like we’re going to bite you, and come sit down. You look like you’re going to faint any second.”

  Ruby walked over slowly. She sat down on the same bunk as the woman was sitting on.

  “I’m Cheryl, Ruby. Oh man, look at you,” she touched Ruby’s face. “They beat you up.”

  Ruby pushed her hand away.

  “It’s n-nothing.”

  “You won’t say that when you sober up. Do you want to lie down?”

  Ruby shook her head. She leaned back against the wall, but winced when the bump on her head touched the wall.

  “Come on, lie down. Who knows how long you’ll have before they want to talk to you again.”

  Ruby stretched out and closed her eyes.

  “Nice jacket,” Cheryl commented, touching the emblem on the back of Jack’s Jag jacket. Ruby didn’t respond. Cheryl left her alone to go to sleep.

  When the officer came looking for Ruby again and the guard came to unlock the door, Cheryl went up to the bars.

  “You just leave Ruby alone. She’s sleeping.”

  “Get out of the way.”

  Cheryl didn’t move.

  “She’s been beaten up and you’re not seeing her again until you get a lawyer to represent her.”

  “Move it.”

  “If you don’t get her a lawyer, I’m going to yell from here to kingdom come that you’re denying prisoners their rights.”

  The officer looked her over and looked at the guard.

  “Forget it. I’ll talk to her later, when this lady has been transferred.”

  The guard shrugged and pushed the door shut again.

  “I want
a doctor in here,” Cheryl told him.

  “You’re not hurt.”

  “No, but the kid is, and she’s in a bad way.”

  He looked over to the bunk where Ruby was sleeping, and shrugged.

  “Looks okay to me.”

  He walked away. Cheryl went back over to Ruby to check on her.

  “Ruby, honey. Wake up. I just want to make sure you’re okay, then you can go back to sleep.”

  Ruby eventually stirred and opened her eyes.

  “Ch-charlie?”

  “Charlie isn’t here, honey. Do you want me to call him for you?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “What’s his number? Do you know it?”

  Ruby recited it slowly, trying to make her words distinct. Cheryl nodded, repeating it back a few times.

  “I’ll see if they’ll let me call.”

  She went up to the bars and called for the guard. He came to see her, looking irritated.

  “Look, if you keep it up, I’m going to put you in solitary.”

  “I just want one thing.”

  “What?”

  “One phone call.”

  “You’ve already had a phone call.”

  “It’s for Ruby.”

  “She can make her own.”

  “She’s in too rough a shape to be making calls. But she wants one made.”

  “If I let you call, will you shut up and behave yourself?”

  “Yes.”

  He unlocked the door and motioned her through. Cheryl went with him to the phone and dialed Charlie’s number. Voice mail picked up, and Cheryl left a message. The guard took her back to her cell and locked up again. Cheryl went and sat beside Ruby.

  “He wasn’t there. I left a message.”

  Ruby didn’t stir.

  Charlie told the guard who he was looking for, and he didn’t seem surprised. He sighed.

  “Yeah, over here,” he walked down the cell block and stopped at one. “Ruby Simpson. Someone wants to talk to you.”

  Another woman, a biker maybe, stood up and came over to the front of the cell.

  “Don’t you start again,” the guard said in exasperation.

  “Ruby’s not talking to anyone. If you didn’t bring a lawyer with you for her, you can just get lost.”

  Charlie could see Ruby laying on the bunk in the back of the cell.

  “Ruby. Come on. It’s Charlie.”

  There was no response from Ruby, but the other woman looked at him, surprised.

  “You’re Charlie?” she demanded.

  “Yeah. Are you the one that left the message?”

  “That was me.”

  She stepped back from the bars so that the guard could unlock the door and Charlie stepped in.

  “I thought she was asking for a boyfriend,” Cheryl said, watching Charlie suspiciously. “Not a cop. I probably wouldn’t have called if I knew that.”

  Charlie didn’t comment on this. He went over to Ruby and shook her. Ruby eventually rolled over onto her back and looked at him through half-closed eyes.

  “Charlie?” Her voice was hoarse, faint.

  Charlie stared at Ruby.

  “What happened? Who hurt her?”

  “Your brothers in blue, I expect,” Cheryl said.

  Charlie stroked Ruby’s hair.

  “Hey there, precious. Are you okay?”

  Ruby could hardly keep her eyes open.

  “Let’s see if you can get up, okay?” he coaxed her gently into a sitting position. Ruby sat there, hunched over, and didn’t do or say anything. Charlie let her just sit and get her equilibrium back, rubbing her back and shoulder encouragingly.

  “Are you okay, honey?” He noticed blood in her hair and felt for the cut. She shied away when he touched the swelling bump on the back of her head. “I think we’d better get you to the doctor.”

  Ruby nodded slightly.

  “Okay. Let’s stand up.”

  Ruby leaned on him and he helped her to her feet. She shuffled to the door of the cell, where the guard was still standing. He opened it for them, frowning when he saw Ruby’s condition, realizing he could get in trouble for refusing to get her a doctor. They got to the door of the cell, and Ruby stiffened and started convulsing. Charlie couldn’t hang onto her and tried to lay her down gently.

  “Call an ambulance,” he told the guard.

  Charlie tried to hold her still and keep her from hurting herself. It seemed like it was going to go on forever. When Ruby finally stopped convulsing, he thought she was dead. He leaned over her to try to hear her breathing. He was relieved to feel her breath. Charlie held her hand and waited for her to open her eyes again. He felt sick. If she’d had another stroke because he hadn’t got there in time... he couldn’t imagine what he would do if she was worse again. After she had worked so hard to get to where she was.

  “Wake up, Ruby. Come on baby... wake up.”

  She didn’t stir. The paramedics got there a little while later. Charlie looked up at them.

  “Can you help her?”

  “What happened?” one of them questioned, kneeling down and taking her pulse.

  “She had a seizure. She has a bump on her head. She had a stroke once before—it wasn’t a stroke, was it?”

  “No way for us to know yet. How long did the seizure last?”

  Charlie shook his head.

  “I have no idea. A long time.”

  “Five minutes,” Cheryl advised.

  “How long has she been unconscious?”

  “Longer. Ten, maybe.”

  “If it’s been ten minutes since the seizure, she shouldn’t still be blue,” the medic’s partner advised.

  “Let’s get her to the ambulance and get some oxygen going.” He pointed to the bruising on her throat. “She’s swelling up. I don’t want to have to do a trache.”

  Charlie watched them bring the gurney over and lift Ruby onto it.

  “I’m coming with you.”

  “Is she dangerous?”

  “No,” Charlie said blankly.

  “We’ll put hospital security on her. You don’t have to come.”

  Cheryl chuckled softly.

  “I think you’d better let him come along, boys. There’s more to this than meets the eye.”

  The medics looked at her quizzically but she didn’t explain.

  “Well, come on then.”

  “You’d better report what happened,” Charlie told the guard, “or they’re going to be wondering what happened to their prisoner.”

  In the ambulance, they put an oxygen mask over Ruby’s mouth and by the time they got to the hospital, Ruby was starting to wake up. She started to move around. She tried to speak, but couldn’t get the words past her damaged throat.

  “Shh, just take it easy. Don’t try to talk.”

  They took her into the emergency room, and told the doctors what they knew about her condition.

  “She’s had a stroke?” the doctor repeated.

  “The officer knows something about it,” the medic nodded towards Charlie.

  “Why did she have a stroke?” the doctor questioned.

  “She was in a fight,” Charlie explained. “Had a blood clot or something.”

  “How long ago?”

  “A few months back.”

  “Who was she in a fight with today?” the doctor said as he examined Ruby and glanced over the chart.

  “I don’t know.”

  “How long ago?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “You know how to contact her parents?”

  “She doesn’t live with them.”

  “Is she eighteen?”

  “Umm, I don’t think so,” Charlie said awkwardly. “She says she is.”

  “Can you get a hold of whoever is her guardian?”

  “Yeah, probably. Why? She’s okay, isn’t she?”

  “I’m sure she’ll be fine. But we’ll need authorization to run tests.”

  “I’ll see who I can get.”


  “There will be forms to fill out to have her admitted, too.”

  Charlie nodded and went to the admitting desk to make his phone calls. The doctor glanced at the medics, eyebrow cocked.

  “What was that about?”

  “I don’t know.”

  When Charlie finished filling out papers, he was allowed to sit by Ruby. She had machines hooked up to her monitoring her heartbeat and an oxygen mask over her face. But she was awake.

  “Hi, honey. Are you okay?”

  Ruby nodded slightly.

  “You look horrible.”

  She grinned a little. He held her hand.

  “I’m sorry this happened, baby. I’m going to find out what happened.”

  She shrugged with one shoulder.

  “Do you think you had another stroke?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “Just a seizure?”

  She nodded.

  “Can you talk?”

  Ruby touched her bruised throat, shaking her head. A young doctor in a lab coat came in.

  “Hi, there. I’m here to take a look at the bump on Miss Simpson’s head.” He sat down on a stool next to the bed and sat Ruby up to look at the back of her head. “Ouch, that’s gotta hurt.” He prodded it for a few moments. “We’re going to have to put some stitches in there.”

  “Does it look bad?” Charlie questioned.

  “It’s nasty, but I’ve seen worse... We’re going to have to shave the area first.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “Hold still. There’s no other way to do it.”

  He talked to her in a quiet, steady voice as he worked, distracting her attention from what he was doing. When he was finished, he looked at the cuts on her face.

  “I’ll put a couple of stitches on that one, too. Then you’ll be okay. Has anyone given you an anti-inflammatory for the swelling?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “We’ll put something in your IV.”

  He walked away from them to give instructions to a nurse. The nurse came over and prepared an injection for Ruby’s IV.

  “This will probably make you sleepy,” she advised. She glanced at Charlie. “Sleep’s probably the best thing right now.”

  Charlie got the hint.

  “I guess I’d better go, darling. You sleep. I’ll be back before you wake up. Okay?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Okay. See you later, precious.”

  He kissed her on the cheek goodbye, and went back to the police station.

  “I want to know who was in charge of the arrest of Ruby Simpson.”

  The officer looked at Charlie for a moment, then tapped it into the computer.

  “When was she arrested?”

  “Today.”

  “It’s not logged in yet.”

  “She was detained in a cell, she had to have been booked.”

  “Would it have been under another name?”

  “No. Don’t worry about it, I’ll find out from the guard on the cell block.”

  He nodded. Charlie walked over to the cells, just as if it was his own precinct. The guard knew what he was there about.

  “She was okay?” he questioned immediately.

  “She woke up,” Charlie allowed. “Who arrested her?”

  “Dare brought her over. Burns is his partner.”

  “And their C.O.?”

  “Naimath.”

  “Thanks.”

  It took a while for Charlie to find either of the officers. He eventually found Dare, who was pretty tight-lipped about everything.

  “What did you arrest Ruby Simpson for?”

  “Simpson? Doesn’t ring a bell. When was she arrested?”

  “Today sometime. Young blond kid.”

  “Oh, her. That’s right, she said her name was Ruby. I really didn’t have much to do with her, just took her down to the cell to cool off for a bit.”

  “But what was she arrested for?” Charlie persisted.

  “She wasn’t. Just brought in for questioning on a murder case.”

  “You detained her in a cell and she wasn’t even under arrest?”

  “Sure. She was getting punchy so we wanted to give her a chance to cool down a little bit before we tried again.”

  “Oh, I see,” Charlie nodded. “She was trouble during questioning?”

  “Yeah, you know how these gang chicks are. Trouble from the get-go,” he chuckled, sharing a joke with Charlie. “But we sort of like them that way, huh?”

  “Sure. Keeps things interesting. So did you hit her or Burns?”

  Dare pursed his lips, brows drawing down.

  “Just what’s your interest in this case, anyway?”

  “Oh, I’ve dealt with Ruby before. Thought I might be able to help out a bit.”

  “Oh. Well, let me see if I can find Burns...”

  He sidled off and looked for his partner. Charlie got a coffee and waited. When Dare came back with his partner, they were talking urgently in lowered voices. Charlie grimaced. They’d obviously heard about what happened to Ruby in the cell block.

  “Just who are you?” Burns demanded suspiciously. “And why are you asking all of these questions?”

  “I’m just trying to figure out what happened here. You’re the one who hit her?”

  Burns looked quickly at Dare, who shook his head slightly.

  “No, I didn’t hit her. She’d obviously been in some kind of fight before we picked her up.”

  He said it smoothly as if it was the truth.

  “You want a coffee?” Charlie questioned, going over to the machine. “How do you take it?”

  “Black.”

  Charlie handed him the Styrofoam cup. Burns took it, nodding his thanks and taking a sip. His knuckles were skinned. Dare’s were not.

  “I’d hate to have to report you if Ruby tells a different story. The doctors at the hospital were careful of forensic evidence, so there will be tests run to see who it was that beat her up.”

  “What do you care?” Burns demanded. “She’s just a gang banger. You’ve knocked a few of them around in your time, haven’t you?”

  Charlie exploded. He threw Burns into the wall and held him there with a fistful of his shirt.

  “Why do I care? Because she’s my girl, that’s why! She’s not just a gang chick, she’s the girl I want to marry! You think you can just pick someone up off of the street and beat them up?”

  Burns was speechless. Dare stood there with his mouth open, making no move to help his partner.

  “Your girl?” Dare echoed. Charlie nodded grimly. “How were we supposed to know that?”

  “You weren’t. But maybe you stop and listen to your detainees before you start beating the crap out of them!”

  “She didn’t say anything about you.”

  “Well, what did she do to provoke you guys, huh? She tried to run when you picked her up? She swore at you in questioning? What?”

  “She’s a gang chick,” Burns said gruffly, getting his voice back. “Isn’t that enough?”

  “No, it isn’t. What did she do? Was she uncooperative?”

  They nodded in unison.

  “What did she say?”

  Burns cleared his throat.

  “She said she didn’t know where Wilson had gone.”

  “Wilson?”

  “The leader of the Jags.”

  “So maybe she didn’t know where he had gone!”

  “She was lying. She was the last one to see him before he shook his tail. He gave her his jacket.”

  “She borrows jackets from those guys all the time. So what?”

  “Let me go, will you?”

  Charlie slowly released him. Burns straightened his collar and composed himself.

  “Maybe she was telling the truth, maybe not. How are we supposed to know? We do the best with what we’ve got,” he said.

  “Well, after I talk to your boss, what you’re going to have is a lot of time on your hands.”

  They all looked a
t each other without saying anything.

  “You make sure everyone here knows that Ruby’s my girl, okay? I thought everyone knew, but obviously not. Nobody touches her or mouths off to her, understand? If you bring her in, you treat her with respect.”

  “Are you suggesting that we protect her? That she’s beyond the reach of the law no because you took a fancy to her?”

  “I’m suggesting that you respect her rights like you’re supposed to be respecting the rights of every person you bring in.”

  They had nothing further to say. Charlie scowled at them and went to find Naimath, their boss.

 
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