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Ruby between the cracks, p.29
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.29

           P.D. Workman
 

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  RUBY AWOKE WITH THE sun shining in her eyes. She opened them, squinting. She never woke up to the sun in juvie, so she knew she was somewhere else. Her hand was resting on Charlie’s muscular chest. She put her arm around him, holding him close. He shifted in his sleep and put his hand over her arm. Ruby rested her head on his shoulder, closing her eyes and counting his breaths. She might not be pregnant yet, but at least she had Charlie. He was a constant, something stable in her life. He would be there for her when she needed him. If she could just get pregnant, she knew she would have a sure hold over him. He would be a dedicated dad. As it was, she had only her hope that he wouldn’t get tired of her or meet someone else. If she could have a baby, she could prove that she could be a good mom, that she could make up for what had happened to Stella.

  Charlie’s breathing quickened, and he moved. He opened her eyes and looked at her.

  “Mmm. Morning, sweetheart.”

  “Hi.”

  He pulled her into his arms.

  “You don’t know how good it is to have you back again.”

  Ruby nodded, snuggling in.

  “M-me too”

  He kissed her forehead and closed his eyes again. They lay there together, awake, but enjoying the warmth and comfort of each other’s bodies too much to move. They just lay still for a long time, and eventually Charlie stirred.

  “You going to come to the gym with me today?”

  “I g-guess,” she agreed.

  “Good. I’ll whip up some breakfast.”

  Charlie slowly swung his feet over the edge of the bed and got up to get it ready. Ruby stretched out under the covers, savoring the last few moments in bed.

  Charlie came in to get her a while later.

  “Breakfast, doll. You’re going to have to get out of bed to eat it.”

  “Mmm. Okay.” Ruby didn’t move. Charlie pulled back the sheets.

  “Come on, up and at’em.”

  “W-what t-time is it?”

  “Time to eat breakfast. Come on.”

  Ruby grumbled and got up. She pulled on the housecoat he’d gotten her before she was arrested. He took her hand and led her into the kitchen. He’d made pancakes for breakfast. The smell made Ruby queasy, but she smiled anyway. Anything was better than the slop at juvie. She sat down. Charlie sat opposite to her. He pointed at the pill bottle beside her plate.

  “Make sure you take your Prozac. I want to get you back on it so you don’t get depressed again.”

  Ruby shrugged and swallowed one. She had a couple of pancakes, and they left the dishes for when they got back. Ruby watched Charlie throw a few items into his gym bag.

  “W-what sh-should I t-take?”

  “Put a t-shirt and shorts in your knapsack. That’s all you need.”

  Ruby got dressed, put the gym clothes into her knapsack, and joined him.

  “I n-need t-to g-get a bag,” she told him. “l-like yours.”

  “Your knapsack is fine. But if you want. I’ll watch for a nice one.”

  “Yeah.”

  “Ready?”

  “Yessir.”

  Charlie was pleased to have Ruby along with him. He paid for her at the front desk, and promised to get her a membership next time they went on sale. Ruby changed quickly in the locker room, and went out to look for Charlie.

  “You want to do weights? Or you want me to show you around a little?” Charlie asked when he found her. Ruby shrugged.

  “Weights, I guess.”

  “Great. Weight room’s this way.”

  It was early in the morning for Ruby, but there were already lots of people there. Ruby took a look around. After the weight room at juvie, the one at Charlie’s gym seemed so swank. Lots more weight machines, big fancy ones. Juvie had mostly free weights, ones that had probably been there for thirty years. At the gym, there was music playing, people in chic workout clothes with multi-colored water bottles. At juvie you worked out in your usual uniform, and if you wanted a drink you went to the fountain that everybody else drank from and spit in. And music? If there was no fighting, it was pretty quiet. Just people grunting and sweating, now and then a low conversation going on. Ruby stood there awkwardly. Charlie motioned for her to use whatever she wanted, and Ruby went over to the free weights, which she was most familiar with. Charlie went to one of the weight machines nearby.

  “Let me know if you need anything,” he told her, “I’ll give you a hand.”

  Ruby started work with the dumbbells. After a while a handsome young man came over to her.

  “Hi, there. I haven’t seen you here before,” he smiled.

  Ruby nodded, concentrating on her muscles. He sat down on another bench and picked up a couple of weights.

  “Are you a member, or just trying it out?”

  “J-just ch-checking it out,” Ruby said.

  “It’s a pretty good club. I’ve been a member here about five years.”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “How long have you been doing weights?” he questioned.

  Ruby watched her weights carefully and moved slowly, making sure she worked her muscles the right way.

  “Few m-months.”

  “Not too long, hey? You live close by?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “I could show you around, if you like. Some of the girls like the aerobics program,” he offered, smiling.

  “I l-like w-weights.”

  “Nothing quite like it, is there?”

  Charlie approached them.

  “Ruby, you want to come spot me for a minute?”

  Ruby put her weights down and joined Charlie. He didn’t say anything to her about the other man, though Ruby expected him to ask questions. She spotted him for a few minutes until he moved on to his next station.

  The other man came over to talk to her again.

  “You didn’t tell me you were with Charlie,” he said reproachfully.

  Ruby nodded.

  “Uh-huh.”

  “You don’t have much to say, do you?”

  “I’m b-busy and t-talking is hard for m-me s-somet-times.”

  “Strong silent type, huh?”

  “I g-guess.”

  “Nothing wrong with that. Me, I like to talk,” he said.

  “I n-noticed.” Ruby allowed a small smile.

  “So you and Charlie are friends?” he suggested.

  Ruby looked at him.

  “L-live t-together,” she said firmly.

  “Oh. Too bad.” His voice was disappointed, finally accepting that he wasn’t going to get anyway with her. He winked at her and walked away. Ruby watched him go, frowning.

  Charlie came over some time later, wiping his sweaty face and neck with a towel.

  “What did Simon want?” he questioned.

  “S-simon?”

  “The guy you were talking to.”

  Ruby shrugged shaking her head.

  “A d-date, I think.”

  “What?” Charlie’s voice rose.

  “I think he w-wanted a d-date.”

  Charlie shook his head.

  “He doesn’t wait to be asked, does he?” he said with a short laugh. “So are you ready to go?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  When Charlie went on shift, Ruby went to find the Jags. Joe and Erwin were at Jack’s old apartment.

  “Hey, look who’s out of juvie,” Joe cheered. “How’s it going, Ruby?”

  “Hi.”

  “You just get out?”

  “Y-yesterday.”

  “Let’s go find some others and celebrate, huh? Celebrate your graduation from juvie hall?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Yeah. I’m th-thirsty.”

  “Atta girl. No drinks in juvie and you get pretty dry, huh?” he acknowledged, giving her a squeeze around the shoulders.

  Ruby grinned. Her time in juvie had been so lonely and depressing, she had forgotten how much fun some of the guys were to be with. Joe could always make her smile. It w
as like the clouds had parted and the sun peeked out.

  “Yeah. L-let’s g-go g-get those d-drinks,” she agreed.

  Joe got ready to go, changing his shirt and shoving a gun into his waistband. Erwin put his arm around Ruby’s shoulders.

  “Things aren’t the same when you’re not around, Ruby.”

  Ruby let him pull her closer.

  “Wh-where’d y-you g-get the sh-shiner?” she questioned, indicating his face. Erwin touched the bruise tenderly.

  “Bar brawl. Good one last night.”

  “Any r-rumbles l-lately?”

  “No. Things have been pretty quiet between gangs lately.”

  Ruby put her hand over her pocket and swore.

  “What is it? What’s wrong?”

  “M-my kn-nife. I d-don’t have it.”

  Erwin gave her shoulders a squeeze and let her go.

  “Lemme see what I got.”

  He went into the bedroom, and came out a few minutes later with a black switch. Ruby took it from him and switched it open a few times to learn the action.

  “Thanks.” She opened it again and tested the edge. She frowned. “It’s d-dull.”

  Erwin shrugged.

  “That guy down on the corner sharpens knives. We’ll take it by there.”

  “Okay.”

  “You guys ready?” Joe questioned.

  “L-let’s g-go.”

  Ruby was a shade late getting back, arriving just after Charlie got home from his shift. Charlie met her at the door and gave her a welcoming hug.

  “Hey, sweetie. You’re out late.”

  Ruby nodded and kissed him. Charlie raised his eyebrows.

  “Just how much did you have to drink tonight?”

  “T-too m-much,” Ruby admitted, holding onto his arm as she walked towards the bedroom. “C-c-celeb-brating.”

  “Well, let’s not make a habit of that, huh?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “I kn-now.”

  “Just booze tonight, or have you been popping pills too?” His eyes searched her face.

  “J-just b-booze.”

  Charlie lowered Ruby carefully onto the bed. Ruby bent over to untie her shoes, and nearly toppled over on her face. Charlie steadied her.

  “Take it easy, honey, I can do that.”

  He crouched down and pulled off her sneakers. She was struggling to get her shirt off over her head and get her arms untangled from the sleeves. He helped to straighten her out, and unbuttoned her pants when her fumbling fingers wouldn’t obey her instructions. Ruby squirmed out of the jeans and Charlie took them from her to throw over a chair. Her knife fell out of the pocket, and Charlie picked it up and put it on the night table.

  “Okay, sugar. You ready for bed?”

  Ruby pulled a blanket over herself and shook her head.

  “W-wanna w-watch T-T-TV.”

  “Okay. What do you want to watch?”

  Charlie found the remote and flipped the TV on. Ruby didn’t answer, and he flipped through until he found an old sitcom that looked good and left it on. Ruby sat staring at the TV, mesmerized. Charlie undressed and sat down beside her, pulling the blanket so it covered him too.

  “You let me know when you get tired.”

  Charlie and Ruby quickly fell back into their old habits and schedules, back to the comfortable routines from before juvie. Charlie made sure that Ruby took her Prozac every day so that she wouldn’t get too depressed, but Ruby didn’t think it made her feel any better. She was tempted to go back to the uppers that she could so easily get from the gang, but she was afraid that Charlie would notice if she did. He kept a pretty close eye on how she was and what sort of mood she was in, and she knew he would spot it immediately if she was anything more than a little tipsy.

  Ruby held onto her hopes of getting pregnant to make up for the wrong she had done to Stella and Marty. She would show everyone that she could be a good mom and take care of a baby properly. That she could be a great mom, not just an average one. And then she saw Marty on the bus, completely unexpectedly. Marty spotted Ruby first.

  “Ruby? Ruby, how are you? Where have you been? I never knew what happened to you!”

  Ruby shifted uncomfortably, looking around.

  “I’m l-living w-with Ch-charlie,” she said.

  “Charlie?” Marty looked blank.

  Ruby nodded.

  “Y-you m-met him wh-when I w-was in r-rehab. The c-cop.”

  “Oh yeah, the cop. Well, you remember, Kate, don’t you?”

  Ruby looked at the other girl, sitting beside Ruby.

  “Oh, K-kate. Sure. Hi.”

  “Ruby Simpson? I can’t believe it! It has been so long! What have you been doing with yourself?”

  Ruby shrugged. So everything was back to the way it used to be with Marty and Kate. Kate looked a lot older than Ruby remembered her, and had finally developed the figure that she had so longed for. She was prettier than Ruby remembered too—more sophisticated. Ruby swallowed and tried to keep up a casual conversation with them but not answer Marty’s questions about why she had left so abruptly, without a word, and hadn’t gone back again. Eventually, they got to Marty’s stop, and Marty stood up to go.

  “Why don’t you come with us?” she invited. “Just for a bit. You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I c-can’t.”

  “Well, you know you can still come by anytime. To crash or visit or whatever.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Yeah. Thanks.”

  The bus stopped, and Kate stood up too. It wasn’t until then that Ruby realized that Kate’s blossoming figure was more than just maturity. Kate’s huge tummy had not been visible to Ruby while Kate was sitting down. Ruby watched Marty help Kate off the bus, and walk slowly with her down the sidewalk, Kate moving with the slight side-to-side movement that Ruby remembered from when she was pregnant herself.

  Ruby felt suddenly nauseated. It didn’t matter to Marty if Ruby got pregnant again. Marty had already replaced her. Marty had taken Kate in and would have her baby to take care of. And from the looks of her, it wouldn’t be too far in the future. Marty had forgotten Stella, had put her out of her mind and moved on.

  Ruby didn’t know where to go. She thought about the graveyard, but couldn’t go there now. Not only hadn’t she been able to bring life into the world again to show Stella that she could do it, but Marty, the one who had been Stella’s real mom, had betrayed her. Had moved on. Ruby didn’t get out at the cemetery.

  Eventually Ruby decided to go see Jamie. Then she could see how Sheree was doing. Ruby hadn’t seen Sheree since she was born. She hadn’t wanted to go up and see Jamie, hadn’t wanted to see Sheree and be reminded of Marty’s dad. But now she had to see that Sheree was okay, that she was a healthy, happy baby with Jamie taking care of her.

  A girl answered Jamie’s door. Ruby looked at her awkwardly for a moment. She was younger than Ruby, thirteen or fourteen, maybe. Slim and pretty and young. Ruby gulped.

  “I’m R-Ruby,” she explained.

  “Huh?”

  “Sh-sheree’s m-mom.”

  The girl shook her head.

  “Sorry, I think you have the wrong place.” She started to shut the door.

  “D-did J-Jamie m-move?”

  She stopped.

  “Jamie still lives here.”

  “W-well I’m Sh-sheree’s m-mom,” Ruby said.

  “Who’s Sheree?”

  Ruby looked at her blankly.

  “Jamie’s b-baby.”

  “Jamie doesn’t have a baby,” the girl said.

  Ruby stood there looking at her. She pushed abruptly through the door into the apartment and looked around. It was still Jamie’s apartment, but there were no baby things. Nothing that he had gotten in preparation of Sheree’s birth was around.

  “Wh-where is he?”

  “Jamie went to get some groceries. You can’t just come in here.”

  Ruby wal
ked back out. She knew where Jamie got his groceries. She hurried over to the store and looked around for him. Jamie had just checked through. He saw her and froze.

  “Ruby. Hey, long time no see,” he said in a low, cool voice. He watched her warily, not smiling, not approaching to give her a kiss. None of the old feelings were in his eyes.

  “Where’s Sh-sheree?” Ruby demanded.

  “What do you care? You never wanted her.”

  “She’s my b-baby.”

  “No, you gave her up a long time ago,” he countered.

  “Where is sh-she?”

  Jamie looked at Ruby for a minute, then shrugged.

  “I don’t have her any more.”

  “Why?”

  “Social Services took her away. They found out my record and wouldn’t let me take care of her anymore.”

  “Y-your r-record?” Ruby repeated.

  “Yeah.”

  “Wh-what r-record?”

  “I’ve got convictions for molestation,” Jamie said with a shrug.

  Ruby stared.

  “Y-you n-never t-told m-me.”

  “Yeah right,” Jamie snorted. “Hi, cutie. Come on over to my apartment for coffee. Oh, and by the way, I’m a convicted child molester. It’s just a juvenile record, anyway. I was more careful after that.” Ruby stared at him, not believing it. Jamie studied her, one eyebrow raised. “It’s not like you didn’t know I like young girls, Ruby.”

  Ruby thought of the girl back at Jamie’s apartment. And she thought of the way Marty had always questioned her about Jamie. Marty had never liked any of the guys that Ruby spent time with, but Jamie in particular had bothered her. Marty had always asked what a college boy wanted with a fourteen year old. And with babies.

  Ruby looked at Jamie, not knowing what to say. She’d always thought he was a decent guy. A family man.

  “People aren’t going to tell you things like that,” Jamie advised her. “Those are the things you’re supposed to be on the lookout for yourself.”

  Jamie waited for her response, then when Ruby didn’t say anything, he walked by her and left. Ruby stood there until one of the store managers came out and asked her if there was something she needed. Then she walked wordlessly out.

  Ruby looked around the pool hall for Joe.

  “Hey, Ruby,” he came up behind her and put his arm around her shoulders, startling her.

  “Oh, hi. I w-was l-looking for you.”

  “Well, you found me, baby. What do you need?”

  “A g-gun.”

  Joe raised his brows.

  “I can find you something,” he confirmed. “What do you need?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Somebody getting on your case or something?” Joe questioned.

  “N-no. J-just g-got a j-job t-to d-do.”

  “You just need it once?” Joe confirmed, thinking about what he could get his hands on.

  Ruby nodded.

  “G-gotta b-be c-clean.”

  “Mmm. I think I know what to get you. You don’t need an automatic, right?”

  “N-no,” she shook her head, “J-just a p-pistol.”

  “No problem. I got just what you’re looking for.”

  Ruby nodded, satisfied.

  “G-good. Thanks.”

  Joe nodded.

  “I’ll have it to you tonight.”

  Merrill looked around the apartment. Nothing appeared to have been disturbed. Someone had been let into the apartment, had shot the boy, and had walked back out. No fingerprints, no forced entry, no clues. Banks was talking to the officers who were first on the scene. The girl who had discovered the body was having hysterics in the bedroom while the medics tried to get her calmed down.

  “Could be a hit,” he suggested to Banks, when he finished with the other officers.

  “Maybe. But the door wasn’t forced.”

  “Revenge?”

  “More likely. Wasn’t for money.”

  “No.” The stereo and computer were untouched. Merrill pulled back the plastic sheeting to look at the body again, but he knew what he would find. One bullet in the gut. No exit wound. Lots of blood. The bullet hadn’t hit the heart or lungs. He had died of shock and blood loss. Not instantaneous. He’d probably lingered for a quite a while. They would canvas the neighbors, but Merrill didn’t expect to get any clues from them.

  One of the patrolmen approached Merrill.

  “I just ran his name through the computer.”

  “Find anything?”

  “Molestation and a sealed juvenile record.”

  Merrill and Banks both looked toward the bedroom where the girl who had found the body was. She was young.

  “I guess we’d better call her parents.”

  “And find out if daddy has a gun license.”

  Both parents had alibis that checked out. And neither had ever owned a gun. There was an older brother too, also a juvenile, and they started investigating him. They questioned the girl, Tara, at her parents’ house, later in the day.

  “Did Jamie have any enemies?” Merrill questioned.

  Besides the families of his victims, of course. They were already starting to check them out. The ones they could track down. Jamie’s friends had given them a few names to work with, but mostly they only knew first names. And they had Jamie’s record to go by. But they would be missing names, still. You could never track down everyone.

  Tara shook her head.

  “No, no-one. Everybody liked him.”

  “You never got any strange phone calls.”

  “No.”

  “Or people asking questions about him.”

  She shrugged.

  “No, just my friends.”

  “No old friends showing up to see him.”

  Tara frowned suddenly.

  “There was this girl who came to the door,” she offered, voice uncertain. “She was weird.”

  “What did she say?”

  “She was asking about some baby. I don’t know.”

  “What baby?”

  “Jamie’s baby, she said. She said she was the mom of Jamie’s baby. But that’s just crazy, because he didn’t have a baby.”

  “What did she look like?”

  “I don’t know. A little taller than me. Blond. A couple years older.”

  “But you don’t know her name?”

  “She told me, but I don’t remember.”

  “Think about it,” Merrill suggested. “You don’t remember what she said it was?”

  “No. Cheryl or Sherry or something, I’m not sure.”

  Merrill wrote it down, glancing at Banks to see what he thought. Banks raised a thoughtful eyebrow.

  “What did you tell her?”

  “That Jamie didn’t have a baby.”

  “And then?”

  “She pushed the door open and came in. She was strong, I couldn’t stop her. She looked around, and then left.”

  “Did she say anything else?”

  “I don’t think so,” Tara pushed her hair back over her ear, shaking her head.

  “Did she touch anything?”

  “No.”

  “Do you remember anything else at all about her?” Merrill pressed.

  “No… just that she sounded drunk, I guess.”

  “Hmm. Well, we’ll look into it. Sounds like it could be promising.”

  “Did you ever meet any of Jamie’s old girlfriends?” Banks suggested.

  “No.”

  “Did he say anything about this girl when you told him about it?”

  She shrugged.

  “He said not to worry about it. It was nothing.”

  “So Jamie knew who she was.”

  Tara thought about it.

  “Yeah. He said she was nuts.”

  Banks brought a printout over to Merrill’s desk, reading it as he walked over. He set it down.

  “Sheree wasn’t the girlfriend, she was the baby.”

  “What happened?”

  “Jamie was he
r sole guardian. She was removed because of suspected abuse. And because of his past.”

  “And who was the mother?”

  “Sheree’s last name is Simpson. I’ll see if I can get the mom’s name from social services.”

  “And find out if she’s been in contact with them.”

  Banks nodded and left. Merrill went over the investigation of Tara’s older brother, reading over his notes carefully.

  When Banks returned, he was frowning.

  “The mother’s name is Ruby Simpson.”

  Merrill wrote it down and stared at the name on the page. There was something in the back of his mind that he couldn’t quite grasp.

  “Where do we know that name from?” he questioned.

  Banks sat down, still frowning.

  “I’ve been trying to remember,” he said thoughtfully.

  “She wasn’t a suspect.”

  “No.”

  “A witness?”

  As soon as he said it, he remembered.

  “A Jag that was killed. She was there.”

  Banks snapped his fingers.

  “Oh—that’s right. A young girl, like Tara.”

  “Exactly. So she and Jamie had a baby… She was a witness at her brother’s trial, too. That’s why Tara thought she was drunk—because of her speech after the stroke.”

  They both looked at each other.

  “It was her. She killed Jamie,” Banks said.

  Merrill didn’t agree or disagree. He tapped his finger on the desk, considering.

  “Did you find out whether Ruby has called Social Services to inquire about her baby?”

  “No, she hasn’t.”

  “Hmm. So she didn’t ask where Sheree is now, didn’t call to find out Sheree’s status.”

  “No. Social Services says Ruby voluntarily relinquished custody to Jamie when Sheree was a couple days old, and has never made contact since, to their knowledge.”

  “She abandoned the baby.”

  “Practically speaking. But she signed papers.”

  “Giving custody to Jamie.”

  Banks nodded.

  “I wonder what Jamie told her when she met up with him,” Merrill mused.

  Marty opened the door and was surprised to see two police officers. They were in suits, not uniforms, but displayed shields and name tags.

  “Uh, hi,” she greeted uncertainly.

  “We’re looking for Ruby Simpson,” Merrill advised her.

  “Ruby doesn’t live here anymore.”

  “Any idea where I could find her?”

  Marty shifted, pursing her lips.

  “There’s a policeman named Charlie. I don’t know his last name. She’s been staying with him.”

  “She’s living with an officer?”

  Marty nodded.

  “Yeah. What’s this about?” she queried.

  “Ruby is part of an investigation we are conducting. Could we maybe come in and ask you a few questions, since we’re here?”

  “I guess.”

  Marty opened the door for him to come in. They sat down in the living room.

  “How long since you saw Ruby?” Merrill asked.

  “I ran into her on the bus not long ago. Before that… not for months.”

  “Did the two of you have a falling out?”

  “Ruby’s been through some tough times. I don’t know exactly why she left... but it was after her baby died.”

  “Sheree?” Banks said in surprise.

  “Sheree? No. Stella. Stella was older. About a year.”

  “Oh. I didn’t realize she had two kids. Was Ruby taking care of Stella?”

  “No. I did. Ruby’s never had much to do with her kids.”

  “Did you know the guy who was taking care of Sheree?”

  “Jamie,” Marty nodded, “I met him a few times. Never really liked him.”

  “Why not?”

  She shrugged, quirking her mouth.

  “Jamie gave me the creeps. I didn’t like the way he hung around Ruby and Stella. College guys should chase college girls, not junior high girls.”

  “But he and Ruby got along?”

  “Sure. Ruby liked him.”

  “Did they ever fight?”

  “Not that Ruby told me about. And not that I ever saw.”

  “So as far as you know, she didn’t have any grudges towards him.”

  “Grudges? No.” Marty shook her head, frowning.

  “Do you know if they still saw each other?”

  “I don’t know. I didn’t like Jamie, I called him once or twice to find out if he’d seen Ruby after she left, but he hadn’t and I stopped calling.”

  “So as far as you know, they weren’t seeing each other anymore.”

  “But I haven’t seen Ruby in a long time, aside from just that chance meeting on the bus. I don’t think she saw Jamie much after she gave him Sheree.”

  “Whose idea was that?”

  “Jamie’s. Ruby never wanted Sheree. She had an abortion, but it failed.”

  “Ruby had an abortion? Jamie must have been pretty ticked off.”

  “He wasn’t real happy about it. But there was nothing he could say.”

  “But if it was his baby...”

  “Sheree’s not Jamie’s baby,” Marty interrupted.

  “What?”

  “Ruby signed custody over to Jamie. But Sheree’s not Jamie’s baby biologically.”

  “Who is the father? Or do we know?”

  Marty avoided the question.

  “You couldn’t be one hundred percent sure, with Ruby.”

  “Why would she give Sheree to someone she wasn’t related to?”

  “Jamie wanted the baby; I was taking care of Stella and couldn’t take on another one. Ruby didn’t want her. Jamie wanted her, so Jamie got her.”

  “Was there ever any sort of agreement that Ruby would take the baby back one day?”

  “No.” Marty frowned. “Why? Ruby hasn’t decided she wants Sheree now, has she?”

  “We haven’t talked to Ruby yet.”

  Marty bit her lip, studying them.

  “Then what’s this all about?”

  Merrill looked at Banks, raising his eyebrows. He shrugged and looked back at Marty.

  “Jamie’s been murdered.”

  “What? Is Sheree okay?”

  “Sheree wasn’t there.”

  “And you think Ruby might have her?”

  “No. Sheree was apprehended by Social Services a while back.”

  “Oh... I had no idea. Does Ruby know?”

  Merrill didn’t answer.

  “You think Ruby did it?” Marty demanded, suddenly understanding. “Ruby couldn’t kill anyone!”

  “We still have to talk to Ruby. Once we find this ‘Charlie’ and track her down.”

  “But you don’t seriously think Ruby could have done it? You don’t know Ruby!”

  “Actually, I do,” Merrill said. “That’s how I knew to come here. We talked to her when she witnessed a gang member’s murder a couple of years back, and then when her father was murdered while she was in hospital after her stroke. So we know Ruby fairly well.”

  Marty stared at him.

  “But you don’t know her like I do. Ruby couldn’t kill Jamie. She really liked him.”

  “Loved him?” Merrill suggested.

  “N-no... I don’t think so. Just liked him a lot.”

  “Well, we have some information that might have affected her feelings about him.”

  “What?”

  “Sorry. I can’t fill you in on that.”

  Marty shook her head, sending her curls dancing.

  “I don’t believe that Ruby would kill anyone. Especially Jamie.”

  “She’s already killed once,” Merrill pointed out.

  “What?”

  Merrill raised his eyebrows.

  “Ruby never told you? She was arrested for the murder of a boy in one of the other gangs. She pleaded self-defense.”

  “I neve
r heard anything about that.”

  Merrill nodded.

  “It’s not the kind of thing you go home and tell your girlfriend.”

  “Ruby didn’t tell me everything... but I know what kind of a person she is. I don’t know... I guess she might defend herself, but kill Jamie? She couldn’t.”

  “It’s hard to get into people’s minds and understand their motives. I appreciate your input, though.”

  Marty shrugged. She stood up, and motioned to the door, indicating that the interview was over. Merrill and Banks took their leave.

  Charlie was changing after his shift when he was approached by the two plain-clothed men. He stood with his shirt in his hands waiting for them to introduce themselves.

  “Charlie? Merrill and Banks, homicide.”

  “What can I do for you?” Charlie questioned.

  “You’re the officer that Ruby Simpson is living with?”

  “Yeah, sure,” Charlie agreed, squaring his shoulders.

  “We need to talk with her.”

  “About a homicide?”

  “Unfortunately, yes,” Merrill admitted.

  “Oh. I’m just going home. I don’t know if she’ll be there or not.”

  “We’ll just follow you and see if she’s there.”

  Charlie nodded slowly. He pulled on his shirt.

  “Who was killed?”

  “A young man Ruby used to hang around with.”

  “Are you questioning her as a witness or a suspect?”

  Merrill cleared his throat.

  “Ruby is our prime suspect.”

  Charlie swore quietly.

  “Do you know where Ruby was yesterday during the day?” Banks questioned.

  “I was on shift. She wasn’t with me.”

  “Do you keep any firearms in the house?”

  “No, just my sidearm, and I had it with me.”

  They started out towards the parking lot. Charlie was thinking about what they had said. He gave them his address when they got out to the parking lot in case they got separated.

  “We’ll see you there.”

  Charlie entered the apartment and looked around for Ruby.

  “Ruby, are you home?”

  She walked in from the bedroom.

  “Hi.”

  “We’ve got some visitors on their way up.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Who?”

  “Detectives Merrill and Banks.”

  “Homic-cide?”

  “How did you know that?” Charlie questioned, surprised.

  “M-met them b-before.”

  The detectives got there and walked in the open door.

  “Ruby says you’ve met before,” Charlie said, half a statement and half a question.

  “We certainly have. Ruby has been a witness in two of our cases. She’s also been charged with murder, but got off on self-defense.”

  “That’s right,” Charlie said, looking at Ruby. “I remember reading that on your file. A gang banger.”

  Ruby said nothing.

  “So can we count on you to help us out?” Merrill asked Ruby.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Have a seat, Ruby. This is going to take a while.”

  Ruby sat down, and so did they. Charlie stood there for a moment looking uncertain, then sat down.

  “Do you know what we’re here about?” Merrill questioned.

  “N-no.”

  “Your friend Jamie... ?”

  “Yeah?”

  “He was shot yesterday.”

  Ruby’s eyes widened slightly. She shook her head.

  “Who?”

  “Well, we don’t know for sure. That’s why we’re talking to you.”

  Ruby said nothing, waiting.

  “You and Jamie were pretty close at one time, weren’t you?” Merrill suggested.

  “A wh-while back.”

  “Why did you stop seeing each other?”

  “I m-met Ch-charlie.”

  “So it had nothing to do with your baby?”

  “Th-that too,” she admitted.

  “Was he the father of one of your babies?” Charlie questioned, not understanding.

  Ruby shook her head.

  “No. B-but he t-took c-care of one f-for a while.”

  “And you stopped seeing Jamie when he took custody of Sheree,” Merrill said.

  “Yessir.”

  “Why?”

  “I d-didn’t w-want t-to s-see her.”

  “You didn’t want to see Sheree?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Why not?”

  Ruby shrugged, looking away.

  “Who c-cares?”

  “Why wouldn’t you want to see your own baby? This is important, Ruby.”

  Ruby scratched the arm of the armchair with her fingernail, not looking at him.

  “I d-didn’t w-want t-to think ab-bout her d-dad.”

  “But Jamie wasn’t her father.”

  “No.”

  “Who was?”

  Ruby bowed her head, rubbing her temples.

  “I d-don’t w-want t-to t-talk about him.”

  Merrill didn’t say anything for a few moments, waiting to see if she would go on. If she would fill the silence. But Ruby said nothing. Merrill went on.

  “Okay. You don’t want to talk about it. Why did you go to see Jamie last week?”

  “I w-wanted t-to s-see him.”

  “Him or Sheree?”

  Ruby considered for a moment, looking at Merrill closely, and then glancing over at Charlie.

  “Sh-sheree. B-but she w-wasn’t there.”

  “So then what did you do?”

  “I l-left.”

  “What did Jamie tell you had happened to Sheree?”

  “He g-gave her t-to S-social S-services.”

  “What do you think about that?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “N-nothing.”

  “Have you called Social Services to find out where she is?”

  “No.”

  “You aren’t going to try to get custody back?” Merrill persisted.

  “N-no.”

  “What about visitation? You don’t want to see her again?”

  “I d-dunno. M-maybe.”

  “You wanted to go see her at Jamie’s. Now you don’t want to see her?”

  “I d-dunno.”

  “What made you suddenly decide to see her?”

  “I d-dunno.”

  “Come on, Ruby. You had a reason to go see her. What was it?”

  They all waited. Ruby folded her arms across her chest.

  “J-just w-wanted t-to m-make sure she w-was okay.”

  “And you found out that she wasn’t.”

  “S-social S-services has her. She’s ok-kay.”

  “This from the girl whose social worker took her to bed,” Merrill pointed out.

  Ruby looked startled. She looked at him and then glanced at Charlie. She shifted uncomfortably.

  “How’d you kn-now about that?”

  “It came out during our investigation of Mike’s murder, and your subsequent assault. I arrested him myself. So you think Sheree will fare better than you in foster care? She’s starting a lot earlier.”

  “She’ll g-get adopted.”

  “You don’t know what her status is. How do you know whether or not she’s adoptable?”

  “B-babies g-get adopted f-fast.”

  “But do you know whether they’re trying to place her yet? Maybe they’re still trying to contact you to terminate parental rights.”

  “I s-signed all that s-stuff for Jamie.”

  “You remember for sure that you terminated your parental rights?”

  Ruby frowned.

  “N-no...”

  “Does Social Services know how to get a hold of you?”

  “No.”

  “Then Sheree could be in foster care for a long time while they wait until your abandonment period is up. And then she’ll be older and harder to place.”

/>   Ruby shook her head.

  “I d-don’t w-want that.”

  “Then why didn’t you call Social Services to find out what was going on?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “I d-didn’t kn-now.”

  “Did Jamie tell you why Sheree was taken away from him?”

  “No.”

  “Are you sure?”

  She raised her eyebrows.

  “Yessir.”

  “So you didn’t know about his record?”

  “No. Wh-what r-record?”

  “His convictions for molesting young girls. Social Services took her away because they suspected he was abusing Sheree.”

  “He w-wouldn’t d-do that. He w-was r-real g-good with b-babies. He l-liked t-taking S-stella.”

  “Were you always with him when he was around Stella?”

  “Yeah.”

  “In the same room at all times, watching him?”

  “W-well... n-no.”

  “So you don’t know what he might have done when you weren’t looking.”

  Ruby stared at him, scowling. Merrill went on.

  “You met Jamie’s newest girlfriend at his apartment?”

  “Yessir.”

  “What did you think of her?”

  “I d-dunno.”

  “Think she was pretty young?”

  “I g-guess.”

  “I wonder how her family felt when they found out she was passing time with an older boy.”

  Ruby shifted her position and hugged a throw pillow in front of her.

  “J-jamie n-never d-did anything. He w-wouldn’t d-do anything you d-didn’t w-want t-to.”

  “Maybe with you. But what if you hadn’t been interested in a relationship with him like you were?”

  “He w-wouldn’t have p-pushed m-me,” Ruby asserted.

  “He was quite a bit older than you. You didn’t feel a little pressure to do whatever he suggested?” Merrill suggested.

  “No.”

  “What if he’d tried to force you?”

  “He’d r-regret it,” Ruby snapped.

  “Why, what would you do?”

  Ruby didn’t answer. Merrill studied her.

  “You’d kill him?” he suggested. “Like you killed the Terminator you said tried to assault you?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Maybe.”

  “Ruby,” Charlie protested.

  She glared at him.

  “Anybody t-tried t-to f-force m-me, I’d k-kill’em,” she growled. “It’s n-not g-gonna happen t-to m-me ag-gain.”

  Merrill waited for Charlie’s response.

  “Again?” Charlie repeated softly.

  Ruby looked at him and almost answered, but then looked at Merrill and said nothing.

  “Is that what happened, Ruby?” Merrill questioned. “As far as you were concerned, you and Jamie were finished. He asked you to come back and talk to him about Sheree when his girlfriend wasn’t there. Then he thought he would... renew old acquaintances. You were scared—panicked—maybe even flashed back to the earlier assault—and you killed him.”

  Ruby shook her head. Her face was pale and hard. Her jaw was set. She swallowed.

  “No.”

  “What happened, then?” Merrill questioned in a lower tone, leaning forward, inviting her confidence.

  “N-nothing happened.”

  “Something happened. Jamie is dead.”

  “I d-didn’t k-kill him.”

  “I think you did, Ruby.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “P-prove it,” she snapped.

  Merrill sat back, watching her.

  “Where were you during the day yesterday?” he sighed.

  “W-with the J-jags.”

  “Doing what?”

  “Hanging out.”

  “Who were you with?”

  “J-joe and Erwin.”

  Merrill wrote it down.

  “What time were you with them?”

  “All d-day. T-til Ch-charlie g-got home.”

  “Where were you?”

  “I d-dunno. Here and th-there.”

  “You’re going to have to be able to verify it.”

  “Ask J-joe and Erwin. They’ll t-tell you.”

  Merrill nodded.

  “Don’t worry, we’ll be checking your alibi.”

  Ruby stood up abruptly.

  “I’m thirsty.”

  She retreated to the kitchen and rifled the fridge. Charlie glanced at her over his shoulder, and looked at Merrill and Banks.

  “You don’t still think she did it,” he said very quietly, so Ruby wouldn’t hear him.

  “You don’t?” Merrill returned.

  “I don’t want to think that Ruby’s capable of that.”

  “She has two possible motives,” Merrill counted them off on his fingers. “One, Ruby finds out that Jamie had Sheree taken away from him, and she was angry that he might have abused her daughter. Or two, Jamie tries to start things up with her again, and she panics, lashes out.” Merrill cocked his head, considering. “Or, for that matter, she might have been jealous of his new, younger girlfriend. She wanted to start things up again and Jamie didn’t. A woman scorned.”

  “I can’t see it,” Charlie said, shaking his head. “Self-defense I can understand. But I really can’t see Ruby... killing someone—for any other reason.”

  “Well, maybe she thought she was defending herself.”

  Ruby walked back in with a beer.

  “Are w-we d-done?” she questioned, not sitting back down.

  “For now. But we’ll be back. Don’t leave town,” Merrill advised.

  Ruby shrugged. She drank her beer and watched them go. After shutting the door, Charlie looked at her.

  “Did you kill that boy?” he asked.

  Ruby looked at him over the can.

  “No.”

  “I’m not going to run to Merrill with it. If you tell me, it’s just between us.”

  Ruby shook her head. Charlie didn’t say anything for a while.

  “You don’t seem too upset about it.”

  “I haven’t s-seen him for a l-long t-time. I s-stopped s-seeing him.”

  “So you don’t care that someone killed him.”

  She looked away uncomfortably.

  “I d-don’t kn-now.”

  Neither said anything for a while.

  “When you said you wouldn’t let anyone force you again...” Charlie started off.

  “I d-don’t w-want t-to t-talk about it.”

  “Who did you mean? The Terminator that you killed?”

  Ruby nodded, then shrugged.

  “D-doesn’t matter,” she said, and then in contradiction. “I d-don’t want to t-talk about it.”

  Charlie swallowed.

  “I haven’t ever done anything that you didn’t want... ?” he trailed off.

  Ruby looked surprised.

  “No! You wouldn’t d-do th-that!”

  “You would tell me if you felt like I was pushing you, wouldn’t you?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  Charlie locked the door and went into the kitchen to get himself a beer.

  “You know you can tell me stuff, right?” he asked when he got back in. “I would keep it confidential. I wouldn’t turn you in. If something is bothering you...”

  “I kn-now.”

  “You’re so used to just keeping things inside,” he observed. “I worry you wouldn’t tell me if you needed my help.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “If you want to try to get custody of your baby, I’d help you out. We could work something out.”

  “D-do you w-want me t-to?” Ruby said, looking at him.

  “I thought you might decide you wanted to. It doesn’t matter to me what you decide.”

  Ruby gulped down the rest of her beer.

  “I d-don’t want t-to t-talk anymore.”

  She looked at him challengingly. Charlie wanted to carry on the discussion, but he saw that the opportunity wa
s gone. If he pursued it, she would just walk right out. And she might decide not to come back.

  “Okay, sweetie. No more talk,” he agreed. “What do you want for supper?”

  Ruby sat down and turned the TV on.

  “D-doesn’t matter.”

  “Okay. I’ll surprise you.”

  Joe and Erwin held up well under questioning. Both agreed that one or the other of them had been with her all day. They could each tell him a couple of places they had gone to pass the time, and substantiated each other on the things they had done as a group. If Ruby had done the murder, it hadn’t been spur of the moment, in the heat of anger or out of fear. If Ruby had done it, she had carefully made her plans and established her alibi. If she had left Erwin and Joe anytime during the day, she had told them what to say, how to cover for her.

  They didn’t turn up any murder weapon. There were no fingerprints at the scene of the murder that shouldn’t have been there.

  “Think we can get a warrant for Ruby’s apartment?” Merrill asked Banks.

  “On motive only? And a shaky one at that? No.”

  “I wonder if we could convince Charlie to let us search it voluntarily, without a warrant.”

  “Do you think she would hide something incriminating there? The gun or bloody clothes?”

  “No, but sometimes people get careless in their own homes, where they think they are safe from view.”

  “Well, it’s worth a try,” Banks agreed, “but I don’t think we’ll find anything.”

  “What we need is someone who saw her there. Or close by.”

  Banks nodded.

  “But the neighbors only ever saw Tara.”

  “They look similar enough... same build, about the same height. Both blond.”

  “You think someone mistook Ruby for Tara?”

  “It’s possible.”

  “We’ll have to look into it.”

  Charlie hesitated when Merrill asked about searching the house. But he was of the same opinion as the homicide officers—that if Ruby had done the murder, she would not have been stupid enough to leave any evidence in the apartment. He reluctantly agreed to the search. Ruby wasn’t around. She had left after their workout at the gym and hadn’t yet returned.

  “You don’t expect to find anything, do you?” he questioned when they started to look around.

  “No, but you never know. Sometimes you get a little insight, if nothing else.”

  They made comments to Charlie as they searched, asking questions as they occurred to them.

  “Ruby spend much time with the Jaguars?”

  “No, just when I’m out. And I don’t know how much of the time she’s with them, or when she’s somewhere else.”

  “How long has she had a jacket?”

  “Um, for a while, I think. I don’t know when she stopped borrowing other people’s and started wearing that one.”

  Merrill touched the stripes on the sleeves thoughtfully, and checked the pockets. Nothing of interest was in the pockets.

  “She’s on Prozac?” Banks asked when they looked through the bathroom medicine cabinet.

  “Yeah.”

  “No birth control?”

  “Uh, no.”

  Merrill looked at Charlie and didn’t comment.

  “She likes to go out on the town?” Merrill questioned when he saw Ruby’s fancy dresses in the closet.

  “We go out together now and then.”

  “She doesn’t go out by herself?”

  “Not that I know of.”

  “She’s never away when you get back?”

  “Not for long,” Charlie said, shaking his head.

  “What does she do in her spare time?”

  Banks was going through the drawers of the bedside tables, pulling things out to look at them, flipping through books, opening the jackknife he found, and watching carefully for anything that might have a bearing on the case. Charlie sat on the bed watching them.

  “She likes to be with other people. She doesn’t like to be by herself very much.”

  “That’s why she spends time with the gang.”

  “I guess so.”

  They found no weapon, no bloody clothes, and nothing they could use in building their case. Charlie saw them off just as Ruby was coming down the hallway. Ruby looked at them but didn’t speak to them. She walked into the apartment and shut the door.

  “Wh-what were they here for?”

  “To search the apartment.”

  “Wh-what for?”

  Charlie shrugged.

  “Any evidence that you were involved in Jamie’s murder.”

  “C-can we g-get p-pizza?”

  “Uh, sure. Why not?”

  Ruby looked into the bedroom to see if everything had been ransacked, but the detectives had left it tidy. Ruby sat down in the armchair in front of the TV.

  “D-do you think I d-did it?” she questioned, not looking at Charlie.

  “If you say you didn’t, I believe you.”

  “You think I d-did it,” she challenged.

  Charlie shook his head.

  “I don’t think you did it, sweetheart. But I don’t know. If you say you didn’t do it. I believe you.”

  Ruby looked at him for a moment. She nodded and turned the TV on.

  Ruby glanced around the bar for anyone she knew, and spotted Joe up at the counter. She went up and sat down next to him.

  “Hi, J-joe.”

  He looked up.

  “Oh, hey, Ruby. How’s it going?” He grinned, pleased to see her.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Okay.”

  “Saw those cops again last night. The homicides asking about you.”

  Ruby frowned.

  “Again? Why?”

  “Checking up again I guess. Same questions,” he shrugged, shaking his head slightly. “Same answers.”

  “Huh.” Ruby nodded to Joe’s glass “You d-drinking already?”

  “Why do you think I’m sitting in a bar?”

  Ruby grinned. She picked up Joe’s glass and had a sip.

  “Why’d you kill him?” Joe questioned.

  Ruby didn’t look at him. She studiously drank down the booze, staring at a spot on the wall behind the bar. Eventually she sighed and looked at Joe.

  “He’s a p-perv.”

  “What’d he do?”

  She swallowed.

  “Maybe n-nothing. Or m-maybe he hurt m-my b-baby.”

  Joe motioned to the barmaid for another drink.

  “I’d have killed him too,” he approved.

  “Thanks.”

  “What ever happened to your baby?”

  “I d-dunno. She’s in foster c-care.”

  He nodded.

  “You did the right thing.”

  Ruby nodded in agreement.

  “I kn-now.”

  “Don’t worry. They’re not going to find anything out. They can’t prove you weren’t with us.”

  “Unless s-someone s-saw me there.”

  “No-one saw you. Or you wouldn’t be here now.”

 
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