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Ruby between the cracks, p.31
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.31

           P.D. Workman
 

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  RUBY TRIED TO CLOSE her eyes to the features in Sheree’s face that reminded her so much of Marty’s dad, and to remember how Ruby had come to enjoy playing with Stella. At the hospital, recovering from her stroke, playing with Stella had been a challenge, and Ruby had enjoyed it. Stella was undemanding, let her work at her own pace, and enjoyed her company.

  She could learn to enjoy Sheree that way. She could look past her face and just learn to enjoy playing with her. She could be a good mom. She could prove it to everyone.

  Ruby wanted to hold Sheree, but Sheree would have nothing of it. She wasn’t a baby and wasn’t about to be held like one.

  “Then what d-do you d-do?” Ruby questioned impatiently.

  “I like to play with Ralph.”

  Ruby had already been introduced to Ralph.

  “Ralph’s a d-dog,” she said.

  “Ralph likes to play,” Sheree insisted.

  Sheree wandered out of the room and a few minutes later walked back in dragging a string behind her, with the puppy chasing it wildly. Ruby laughed at the romping pup.

  “Why’s he chasing it?”

  “He likes to,” Sheree said firmly.

  Ruby laughed at her. Sheree was a very strange little girl. She was just a baby, but she acted like she was an adult.

  “Why d-did you c-call him Ralph?”

  “Because that’s his name.”

  “Why did you name him that?”

  “He wanted to be named Ralph.”

  Ruby watched Sheree make the puppy run in dizzying circles.

  “Are you hungry?” she questioned.

  “Yes.”

  Ruby went into the kitchen and looked through the fridge and the cupboards. She pulled out a box of crackers and an apple.

  “Come here.”

  Sheree climbed into one of the kitchen chairs and stood up to see over the counter.

  “You have to cut the apple,” Sheree instructed.

  Ruby got out a sharp knife and sliced the apple carefully. Her movements were awkward. It was a difficult motion to master. Sheree watched her carefully.

  “Cut off the yucky parts.”

  Ruby nodded. She slipped and cut her finger and put it in her mouth.

  “An owie?” Sheree questioned.

  “Yeah. Ouch.”

  “Are you bleeding?”

  Ruby took her finger out of her mouth and looked at it. She swore.

  “Yeah, I am.”

  Sheree got down from the table and scrambled out of the room. Ruby heard her in the bathroom, and a few minutes later Sheree was back with a band aid. Ruby took it from her.

  “Thanks.”

  Ruby unwrapped the bandage and stuck it over the cut. She put a handful of crackers and apple pieces in front of Sheree. Sheree picked up a piece of the apple.

  Charlie walked into the room, rubbing his eyes.

  “Hullo, girls. Did I sleep in?” he yawned.

  “You slept late,” Sheree confirmed. “We’ve been up forever.”

  “Sorry. How are you guys getting along?”

  “She cut herself.” Sheree motioned to Ruby.

  Charlie looked at Ruby.

  “Are you okay?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Just a little c-cut,” Ruby displayed her bandaged finger so he wouldn’t be worried.

  “Be careful.” He surveyed the counter. “Is that breakfast?”

  Ruby and Sheree nodded. Charlie picked up a couple of crackers and nibbled on them.

  “Are you going to go to the gym with me?”

  Ruby motioned to Sheree.

  “Who will watch her?”

  “They have a kiddie center. They’ll watch her while we’re working out.”

  “Oh. Okay.”

  “So you’ll come?”

  “Sure.”

  “Good. How’re you feeling today?”

  “Okay.”

  “Did you take your pills?”

  Ruby shook her head, and Charlie went into the bathroom to get them from the medicine cabinet. Ruby took them, with Sheree watching alertly.

  “What’s that for?” she demanded.

  “To make me feel better.”

  “Are you sick?”

  Ruby hesitated before answering yes. Charlie got their gym bags from the bedroom and handed Ruby hers.

  “Say goodbye to Ralph, Sheree. We have to go out.”

  “He wants to go outside.”

  “He has papers in the kitchen.”

  “But he wants to go outside.”

  “Okay, get his leash and we’ll take him down. Ruby—we’ll be right back.”

  Ruby nodded.

  Ruby finished showering and changing before Charlie, and she stood outside the kiddie corral watching Sheree play. Sheree interacted easily with the other children and their supervisors. She was constantly moving and checking out new things. She seemed quite happy to be there.

  Charlie came up behind Ruby and put his arms around her.

  “She’s certainly a little sweetheart, isn’t she?”

  Ruby felt a stab of jealousy.

  “Yeah, I g-guess.”

  “I can’t believe how advanced she is. She is going to be at the top of her class.”

  “What c-class?”

  “In school. Any class.”

  “She’s just t-two,” Ruby pointed out.

  “I know that. But I’ll bet she’s reading before she turns three.”

  “Three year olds c-can’t read.”

  “Ones like Sheree can.”

  “Foster k-kids are always b-behind.”

  “That’s a big generalization. It can’t be true in all cases.”

  “Foster k-kids are d-dumb. They d-don’t d-do g-good.”

  “You’re not dumb, Ruby,” Charlie told her.

  “All foster k-kkids are d-dumb.”

  “Who told you that?”

  “Nobody had t-to t-tell me.”

  “You’re not dumb,” Charlie repeated.

  Ruby shrugged and didn’t challenge him.

  “Let’s go get her.”

  They went into the daycare to get Sheree.

  “Sheree was great,” one of the supervisors gushed. “She’s really fun.”

  “Well, she’ll be a regular here now,” Charlie told her.

  “Great. We’ll see you tomorrow then, Sheree.”

  “See you,” Sheree agreed cheerfully.

  They all headed back to the car.

  “I’m hungry,” Sheree said.

  “Well, we’ll have a good breakfast when we get back to the apartment.”

  “What will we have?” she inquired.

  “What would you like, honey?”

  “I would like cornflakes.”

  Charlie laughed.

  “I think we could manage that.”

  Ruby put her bag in the car, but didn’t get in.

  “I’m going out,” she told Charlie.

  “You don’t want to have breakfast first?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I’m not hungry. I g-gotta go.”

  Charlie nodded.

  “All right. Be careful, okay?”

  “Yeah. S-see you later.”

  Ruby left them and went to look for the Jags. Sheree made her feel so uncomfortable. Ruby couldn’t separate her desire to be a good mother from her discomfort around Sheree and the feelings collided inside her making her feel tense and sick. And Charlie fawned over her and paid attention to her like Jamie used to cater to Stella. Knowing what she did about what Jamie had really been, that made her feel even more tense. How was she supposed to be a good mom?

  Ruby went to Terry’s new place when she didn’t find the Jags at any of their usual places. Terry’s door was unlocked, and Ruby went in. Terry was at the table with another boy with his back to Ruby.

  “Hey, baby. Come meet the new guy, he’s joining up with the Jags.”

  The other boy turned to look at her. Ruby swal
lowed.

  “This is—”

  “Max,” Ruby finished for him. “Hi,” she said coolly.

  Max stared at her in disbelief. Terry watched the expressions on their faces.

  “When did you two ever meet?”

  “Juvie. We met in juvie,” Max said slowly. “But you never told me that you were in a gang.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “You never asked. What are you d-doing here?”

  “I know a couple of the guys. Things were getting too hot where I was, so I thought I’d join up with the Jaguars.”

  Ruby eyed him.

  “Uh-huh.”

  Max didn’t say anything. He knew that if Ruby wanted to, she could keep him out of the gang. But Ruby knew about loyalty within the gang, and if the other Jags had decided to let Max in, she wasn’t going to make waves over it.

  Max turned back to Terry slowly. Ruby went to the fridge, leaving them to their conversation.

  When they were out shooting pool, Max approached Ruby.

  “Hey, Ruby,” he said lowly.

  She glanced at him, and scowled.

  “What d-do you want?”

  “I just wanted to talk to you...”

  Ruby turned her back on him and went up to the bar to get another drink. The bartender handed her another beer with a warning glance so that Ruby would know that it was the last he would give her. Ruby turned and found that Max had followed her over to the bar.

  “Come on, Ruby,” he cajoled.

  “What?”

  “You could’a’ said something to Terry to keep me out of the Jags. But you didn’t.”

  Ruby looked at him.

  “You ain’t in yet,” she observed.

  “But I will be. Unless you say something.”

  Ruby shrugged. Max leaned on the bar and lit a cigarette. He rubbed his chin, frowning.

  “Look,” he said, “you’re okay. You ticked me off in juvie. I misread you. And I never knew you were a Jag. I thought you were just some chick...”

  Ruby shrugged, and looked away from him. Max was getting frustrated with her. He grabbed her arm.

  “I’m telling you I shouldn’t have done what I did in juvie. I’m sorry, okay?”

  Ruby jerked away from him.

  “Are you d-done?”

  He shrugged widely and didn’t say anything. Ruby went over to where the others were playing. She stood next to Piles and shared a joint with him.

  Ruby awoke with her ears buzzing. She put her arm over her head to try to silence it, but the motion only served to make her woozy. It had been a long time since Ruby had been that hung over. She rubbed her temples, trying to clear her head and wake herself up. Charlie moved beside her, and Ruby put her hand over his arm, which was stretched across her.

  Her eyes were blurry, and Ruby blinked to try to clear them. She slowly came to realize that she was not in Charlie’s apartment. She rolled over slowly, her stomach tightening. If she wasn’t in Charlie’s apartment, she wasn’t in bed with Charlie. She pulled the sheets up to her shoulders and turned to look at… Max.

  Max. Ruby drew back from him, feeling sick. She must have gotten pretty smashed the night before to end up in bed with Max.

  As she moved away, Max stirred and woke up. He rubbed his eyes and put his arm around her, cupping his hand around her hip.

  “Hey, Ruby.” He smiled wolfishly.

  Ruby pushed his hands away.

  “Get off me.”

  Max grinned and propped himself up on one elbow.

  “That’s not what you said last night,” he laughed.

  “I was d-drunk,” Ruby snapped.

  “You sure were,” he agreed.

  Ruby sat up, holding the sheets close to her while she looked for her clothes. She untangled them from Max’s clothes with one hand. She dressed awkwardly and got up. Max watched her movements.

  “You don’t have to run away, you know.”

  “I gotta go home.”

  “Why, what’s at home?”

  Ruby ignored him and walked out.

  It was still early, and the streets were quiet. Ruby walked part way and grabbed a bus the rest of the way back to Charlie’s. Charlie was up making breakfast for Sheree. He looked at Ruby with a frown when she walked in.

  “Well, good morning.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Hi.”

  Charlie didn’t ask Ruby where she’d been or what she’d been up to. Sheree turned around and looked at Ruby.

  “Why did you go away?” she demanded.

  Ruby sat down on a chair beside Sheree.

  “I fell asleep. S-sorry.”

  “Why didn’t you come home?”

  Ruby looked up at Charlie, swallowing.

  “I meant t-to. I just g-got... s-sidetracked.”

  “Why?” Sheree demanded.

  “Eat your breakfast, Sheree,” Charlie advised her, putting a bowl in front of her. Sheree knelt up to eat. Ruby watched her.

  “Is there c-coffee?” she asked Charlie.

  He nodded, and got it for her. Ruby sipped it slowly. She couldn’t look Charlie in the eye.

  “I d-didn’t mean t-to be g-gone s-so long,” she apologized.

  “Where you go is up to you. I didn’t say anything.”

  She knew Charlie was upset, even if he wouldn’t say so. He wasn’t used to Ruby being away when he got back from his shift. She was always there when he got in.

  Ruby went with Charlie to the gym, but he was brooding and quiet. His lips were pressed together in a thin line, and he stared straight ahead as he drove.

  Ruby stayed away from the gang, spending the time by herself. As the afternoon drew on, she went to the day home that Sheree stayed at. She rang the doorbell, and a woman answered the door.

  “Yes?”

  “I c-came t-to g-get Sheree.”

  “Who are you?”

  “I’m her mom.”

  The woman hesitated, and motioned for her to come in. Ruby looked around. A couple of other children played in the kitchen at the table. Sheree dashed in when she was called.

  “Hi.”

  The woman who had answered the door was looking at a list held in her hand.

  “You aren’t authorized to pick Sheree up.”

  “She’s my baby. I c-can t-take her where I like,” Ruby said.

  “You can’t take her from here.”

  Ruby looked at Sheree.

  “T-tell her I’m your mama.”

  Sheree nodded.

  “Uh-huh. She’s my mom.”

  “I’m sorry. I can only release her to the people on the list.”

  Ruby held her hand out for Sheree’s.

  “Come on. We’re g-going home.”

  Sheree took her hand. The woman grabbed Sheree’s other arm.

  “You’re not taking her anywhere.”

  Ruby picked Sheree up and wrenched her away. She opened the door and left, with the woman calling after her.

  Charlie didn’t pay any attention to the call for a squad car to the residential address in his area. It wasn’t his call. Ten minutes later when the officer who responded to the call reported that he was on his way to an apartment, and gave Charlie’s address, he straightened up and took notice. He looked at Davidson and picked up the CB.

  “You want to repeat that address?” he questioned.

  The officer repeated the address back slowly.

  “That’s my place. What’s going on?”

  “Sounds like an abduction by a non-custodial parent.”

  “Ruby took Sheree?”

  “Yes, that’s right.”

  “I’ll meet you over there. Before you go into the apartment.”

  “Okay. See you there.”

  Davidson changed course and headed towards Charlie’s apartment. Charlie swallowed and tried to regulate his breathing. There was nothing wrong. Ruby had decided to do a little mommying while he was gone. That was all.

  The other officer was waiting outside th
e apartment. He nodded.

  “Charlie.”

  “Hi. I’ll see if I can get this straightened out quietly.”

  “Do you want me to... ?”

  “Just stay here for a minute.”

  Davidson and the other officer stayed outside the apartment while Charlie went inside. He opened the door and went in. Ruby was watching TV. Sheree was sitting in her lap, snuggling against her comfortably. Ruby looked up.

  “What are you d-doing home?”

  “The day home called the police when you picked Sheree up.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Why?”

  “You don’t have custody of Sheree. You’re not allowed to be alone with her.”

  “I’m not d-doing anything wrong.”

  “I know, honey, but Social Services doesn’t think you’re ready to have custody of Sheree yet.”

  Ruby scowled.

  “I need to take Sheree back to the day home,” Charlie told her.

  “But Sheree wants t-to s-stay with me.”

  “Sheree. Let’s go back to daycare.”

  Sheree slid away from Ruby.

  “I want to bring Ralph,” she said.

  “Ralph has to stay here. Come on.”

  Sheree took Charlie by the hand, and led her out of the room without another word to Ruby. He went out into the hallway and closed the door. He held Sheree’s hand out for the other officer to take.

  “This policeman is going to take you back to daycare, sweetie. You go with him.”

  “I don’t go with strangers,” Sheree said stolidly.

  “That’s right. You don’t go with strangers. But if I tell you it’s okay to go with someone, you can. And it’s okay to go with this policeman.”

  “Okay.”

  “I’ll see you after work. I’ll come pick you up.”

  Sheree nodded. Charlie knelt down to talk to Sheree.

  “Now honey, if Ruby picks you up from daycare, I don’t want you to go with her, okay? You wait for me.”

  Sheree looked disdainful.

  “She would just take me anyway.”

  Charlie grinned.

  “She might,” he agreed. “Do you know how to call me on the phone if she does?”

  “Sure. If you tell me your phone number.”

  “Do you know how to call 911?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “If you do that, and you tell them who I am and what happened, they’ll be able to find me.”

  “Okay.”

  Charlie nodded and patted her on the shoulder.

  “Good girl. You go on back to daycare.”

  “Why did you pick Sheree up from daycare today?” Charlie questioned casually as he and Ruby headed to bed later that night.

  Ruby shrugged and didn’t look at him.

  “I just wanted t-to be with my b-baby.”

  “You can be with her whenever you want, Ruby. You just can’t be with her alone.”

  “I wanted t-to be alone with her.”

  “Why?”

  “I d-dunno.”

  Charlie kissed her.

  “I don’t want to cause trouble. But if you get the police called on you again, Social Services might decide that Sheree shouldn’t live with us.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Whatever.”

  “You can spend however much time you like with her, as long as I’m here. Or if you want to play with her at the day home, you could do that too.”

  “Okay.”

  Ruby was headed towards the bus stop when she saw Max. He was leaning against a lamp-post, watching her.

  “What are you d-doing here?” Ruby demanded.

  Max grinned slowly.

  “I’ve had my eye on you, girl.”

  “You s-stay away from me,” Ruby growled.

  “So you’re still with that cop, huh?”

  Ruby walked past him without a word. Max followed her and walked beside her.

  “You ignoring me?”

  She picked up her pace, but Max didn’t let himself be left behind. He kept close to her, and put his arm around her shoulders.

  “Don’t get all pouty on me, miss, just ’cause I’m taking an interest in your little family.”

  “Get away from me!”

  She tried to shake his arm loose, but he was determined to stay with her. Ruby struggled with him, but he just held her tighter.

  “Don’t fight me, girl. I’m ten times stronger than you, and I’ll hurt you.”

  Ruby stopped trying to wrestle away from him. He relaxed his grip a little, still holding onto her.

  “So tell me all about your honey,” he coaxed.

  Ruby swore at him.

  “Is the little girl his?” Max persisted.

  “Get lost.”

  He smiled and continued to walk with her to the bus and to Joe’s apartment. Then he let go of her and acted like she was just another Jag.

  Charlie got home from his shift, unlocking the door awkwardly with Sheree asleep in his arms. The apartment was dark and Ruby did not seem to be home yet. He reached to put Sheree in her crib, but there was a dark shape in it and he put his hand in to move the toy out of the way before laying her down. He touched something soft and wet and recoiled from it. He put Sheree down on the couch and turned on a lamp. He stared at the crib, feeling sick. It was Ralph. Still and black with blood. There was blood smeared all over the crib, spattered on the wall behind it. He looked down at Sheree, asleep on the couch, to make sure that she was not going to wake up.

  Charlie just stood there trying to clear his mind and think of what to do. He looked at the dead puppy, trying to convince himself that it couldn’t have been Ruby. Who else could have gotten into the apartment? Who else knew about Sheree’s puppy?

  He picked Sheree back up and put her down on their bed in the bedroom and shut the door. He had a drink and went to work on cleaning up. The knife that had been used to kill the pup was in the kitchen sink. There were spatters of blood on the white counter top in the kitchen. Ruby came in while he was stripping the sheets out of the crib. She walked in, her gait a little uneven, belying the fact that she had been drinking with the gang.

  Charlie saw Ruby look at him uncomprehendingly for a moment, then her eyes widened as they took in the bloody sheets and smeared crib. He anticipated Ruby’s reaction only a fraction of a second before she moved. She was on Charlie, with her knife out in an instant.

  “Where’s my b-baby?” Ruby demanded, as Charlie gripped her wrist tightly, trying to hold her back.

  “Sheree’s asleep in the bedroom. She’s not hurt, Ruby. She’s okay. It was Ralph.”

  Ruby stared at him for a minute, her eyes searching his face. Then she pulled away from him and went to the bedroom. Charlie picked up the sheets he had dropped at Ruby’s attack, and waited for her to come back out. She had put away her knife when she came back out of the bedroom. She looked around the room slowly.

  “What’s g-going on?”

  Charlie swallowed and tried to answer unemotionally.

  “When I got in, the puppy was in the crib.”

  “Dead.”

  Charlie nodded. He was relieved by her reaction, but still uneasy. Someone had been in the apartment, and Ruby was still the likeliest suspect. There was a side of Ruby that he didn’t know. Maybe that she herself didn’t even know. The side of her that plotted to get pregnant without him knowing. That slit her wrists. That had killed another gang member. That might have killed Jamie. He wouldn’t have ever believed any of those things about her, and he wasn’t sure if he could believe in her innocence now.

  “Who d-did it?”

  “I don’t know. But I think we should move to a different apartment. We need a second bedroom anyway.”

  He wondered how ridiculous the whole conversation must sound. The family pet had just been slaughtered and mutilated, someone was trying to terrorize them, and he was talking about moving as if it was just a logistical problem.

  Ruby agreed. She headed fo
r the door, and Charlie stopped her.

  “Where are you going, Ruby?”

  “T-to look around.”

  She walked out. Charlie realized after she was gone that he hadn’t told her to be careful. She was going out to look for some sadistic screw-up who had no compunction about killing, and he didn’t tell her to be careful. The butcher could still be hanging around out there, watching for their reaction. Getting his jollies by seeing if they called the police or panicked. He could be out there watching for them, and Ruby could walk right into his arms.

  Charlie looked out the window in the kitchen to see if he could see her. Ruby was looking up and down the street, walking along slowly looking around. After a few minutes she walked around the side of the building where he couldn’t see her.

  Ruby was back half an hour later, and shrugged at him.

  “I d-didn’t s-see anyone,” she said.

  “Do you have any idea who might have done this?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “You’re a c-cop.”

  “Yes, and you’re a Jag. Are you saying that you don’t have enemies too?”

  “I d-dunno. Not p-personal. This was p-personal.”

  Charlie considered the suggestion and agreed.

  “Yeah, this was personal. So who would have a grudge against you or me?”

  Sheree started to cry in the bedroom, and Charlie motioned for Ruby to go get her.

  “I have to finish cleaning this up. See if you can get her to go back to sleep in there.”

  “Okay.”

  Charlie knew as he washed the wall and the bars of the crib that he would miss some places. They would be finding blood spots for months. If they stayed. He did the best that he could. It would be easier to see in the morning. They were going to have to tell Sheree something. She was going to want to know where Ralph was. For the first time, Charlie wished that Sheree wasn’t quite so bright.

  He took the bag of bloody sheets and rags and Ralph’s ragged little corpse down to the garbage bins behind the building. Charlie wanted everything out of the apartment, out of reach and out of mind. He watched for anyone suspicious in the darkness. Like Ruby, he didn’t see anyone.

  Sheree was cuddled up to Ruby on the bed, back to sleep. Ruby was not asleep. Her eyes were worried and angry. Charlie slowly got ready for bed.

  “I’ll put her in the crib now,” he offered.

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I d-don’t want her out there.”

  “It’s all cleaned up now. It’s okay.”

  Ruby carefully pulled away from Sheree to undress for bed.

  “I want her t-to s-sleep in here,” she said stubbornly.

  Charlie shrugged and didn’t argue any further. They got into bed quietly, trying not to disturb Sheree. As they settled in, Ruby pulled Sheree into her arms and held her close. They both lay awake, still and quiet, for most of the night.

  Sheree woke up before either of them in the morning. She squirmed out of Ruby’s grasp and tapped Charlie on the arm until he forced his eyes open to look at her.

  “I’m up,” she told him.

  “Hi, sweetie. Why don’t you go watch cartoons for a little bit, and then I’ll make you breakfast, okay?”

  Sheree agreed and Charlie listened for her to put the TV on. There was quiet for a couple of minutes while she wandered out to the front room, and then she started to shriek.

  “Charlie, Charlie! Mama!”

  Charlie bounded out of bed. Ruby had still been asleep, but she was right behind him. Sheree stood in front of the crib, where Ralph’s stiffened corpse was again lying. Charlie picked Sheree up and whirled her around into the bedroom where she couldn’t see it anymore. He heard Ruby check out the door into the hallway, then slam the door and lock it. She stalked back into the bedroom.

  “You left the d-door open,” she accused Charlie.

  “I made sure I locked it,” Charlie snapped, holding Sheree cuddled tightly in his arms as she cried.

  “It was open!”

  “Just go take care of things out there.”

  “What are you going to do?” Sheree questioned, trying to stop her sobbing to talk.

  “It’s okay. We’re just going to clean up so you don’t have to see that again.”

  “What are you going to do with Ralph?”

  “Throw him out,” Ruby responded, before Charlie could say something more appropriate. This threw Sheree into a fresh flood of tears.

  “You can’t throw Ralph in the garbage,” she protested, clutching Charlie.

  “No, we won’t throw him in the garbage. We’ll put him in a box with his blanket, and we’ll bury him someplace special,” Charlie assured her.

  Sheree just sobbed, holding her face against his chest.

  Ruby shrugged and left the room. It was a few minutes before she came back again.

  “Let’s have b-breakfast,” she suggested.

  Charlie looked down at Sheree to see how she would respond.

  “Why did you do that to Ralph?” Sheree demanded, rubbing her eyes and looking at Ruby.

  Ruby opened her mouth and didn’t say anything.

  “Mama wouldn’t hurt Ralph,” Charlie said gently, wishing that he believed it one hundred percent, “Mama would never do anything to hurt you.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “I d-didn’t d-do it,” she said weakly.

  “I know you did it,” Sheree insisted. “You hurt Ralph.”

  She was so certain. Charlie looked at Ruby and hoped that she would just go out to the kitchen and make breakfast, and leave him alone with Sheree to find out what made her so sure that Ruby had done it. But Ruby kept standing there, not knowing what do with herself. Charlie rocked Sheree.

  “It’s okay, honey. Everything will be okay.”

  “She didn’t like Ralph.”

  “Of course mama liked Ralph.”

  “She didn’t like him. She doesn’t like me.”

  Charlie felt sick. He’d been trying to convince himself since they had taken Sheree in that Ruby really loved her. And Ruby did seem to be getting more attached. But even Sheree knew that Ruby didn’t really like her. Even she had noticed.

  “Mama loves you very much. Tell her, Ruby.”

  Ruby seemed relieved to be told what to do. She went over to the bed and sat down on it next to Charlie. She looked down at Sheree.

  “I like you, Sheree. You’re my b-baby.”

  Charlie tried handing Sheree to Ruby, although he didn’t really want to. Ruby took Sheree into her arms and cradled her.

  “It’s okay, b-baby.”

  Sheree closed her eyes and cuddled up tighter, pretending to be an infant.

  “Wah. I’m a baby. Wah.”

  Ruby laughed, thinking it was funny, and she held Sheree closer, rocking her.

  “Good b-baby.”

  Charlie got up.

  “Does everybody want a big breakfast?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Wah, baby wants milk,” Sheree contributed.

  Charlie shook his head and went out to the kitchen. He put on the coffee and while it percolated, he watched the two of them through the door. Sometime that morning, Ruby had gotten out of bed. He just vaguely remembered it. She often got up in the night to go to the bathroom, especially if she’d had a bit to drink. She couldn’t have gotten up, changed, gone outside to the back of the building and retrieved the little body. It had to be an outsider. Someone had picked the lock of the apartment and left the body there again. If Ruby hadn’t insisted that Sheree stay with them in the bedroom, Sheree would have been a few feet from the door in the crib. Where it could just as easily have been her body as the puppy’s.

  Or Ruby might have kept Sheree in bed so that the crib would be empty to put the body back in again.

 
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