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Ruby between the cracks, p.32
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.32

           P.D. Workman
 

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  CHARLIE GOT A PAPER while they were at the gym, and while he was warming up on the stationary bike, looked through the advertisements for apartments to rent. He wanted to be out of their building by the end of the week.

  Ruby stayed with Sheree in the kiddie center instead of doing her weight training. Charlie had suggested that one of them should stay with her and Ruby had volunteered without hesitation. Charlie cut his workout short so that he wouldn’t be away from Sheree for too long.

  Ruby stayed with them for the drive over to the day home, which she didn’t usually do. They dropped Sheree off, and Charlie and Ruby looked at each other.

  “Are you g-going to t-tell the c-cops what happened?” Ruby questioned.

  Charlie thought about it.

  “Yeah, I’m going to make a report.”

  “Who d-do you think d-did it?”

  Charlie swallowed.

  “I don’t know.”

  At Ruby’s request, Charlie dropped her off at a street near their building before going back on shift.

  “Do you think Ruby has psychological problems?” Charlie asked. “I mean, other than the depression?”

  Ruby’s therapist raised his eyebrows.

  “What do you mean?” he questioned.

  “I mean... schizophrenia or multiple personalities or something.”

  “No, I don’t think Ruby shows symptoms of any serious disorder like that.”

  “Some of the things that Ruby’s done... I don’t understand how she could have. They just don’t seem to fit.”

  “Well, all of us have sides that we hide from other people.”

  “Do you think that Ruby has an... evil side?”

  “I think that’s pretty strong. I think she has fears and weaknesses that she tries to hide with her behavior, like anyone else.”

  “Do you think she has a conscience?”

  “Yes, Ruby has an active conscience. She carries around a lot of guilt that weighs very heavily on her.”

  Charlie nodded. He wondered what secrets of Ruby’s the doctor knew that he didn’t. He wondered how much Ruby told him and if he could have explained things to Charlie if it wasn’t for doctor-patient confidentiality.

  “Does she talk much about Sheree?”

  The doctor shrugged and didn’t answer clearly one way or the other.

  “You don’t think... that she could ever be a danger to Sheree?” Charlie questioned.

  The doctor frowned.

  “Has Ruby done something to make you think Sheree is in danger?”

  “No... not that I know for sure. But I’m worried that she might have done something... or might be thinking of doing something.”

  “Ruby has never said anything to make me think that she would set out to hurt Sheree, if that makes you feel better. But you have to remember that Ruby herself had a pretty tough upbringing. She may have different ideas of parenting than you do.”

  “But you don’t think that she would set out to hurt Sheree.”

  “No, she’s never said anything to lead me to believe that.”

  Charlie breathed out heavily.

  “I’m glad to hear that. I guess I’m just an overprotective parent.”

  “You’re there to supervise for a reason. I’m not saying that Ruby would be capable of taking care of a baby on her own.”

  “I can handle that,” Charlie agreed.

  When he pulled up in front of the day home, there was a marked police car already sitting there. Charlie’s gut tightened and he hurried into the house.

  “What’s going on? What’s wrong?”

  A pair of officers was there talking with Ruby and the day home provider. Sheree jumped up and ran to Charlie, hugging him around the legs.

  “Where were you?” she demanded.

  “I worked late,” Charlie said, picking her up. “What’s going on here?” he looked pointedly at Ruby. Ruby wasn’t supposed to be there. Trying to pick Sheree up on her own again, probably.

  “You finished work an hour ago,” Ruby accused. “Where’ve you been?”

  “I had some errands to run,” Charlie said.

  “Ruby was concerned when you didn’t show up,” the officer explained. “I guess you guys have had a couple of... incidents… and she was worried.”

  Charlie felt guilty for jumping to conclusions.

  “I’m sorry, baby. I wasn’t thinking about you getting worried. I shouldn’t have taken so long.”

  “Can we go to McDonalds?” Sheree questioned, breaking the tension. Everybody laughed.

  “Yeah, let’s go to McDonalds. You want a happy meal?”

  “You should have one too,” Sheree patted Charlie’s hand.

  Charlie squeezed her.

  “Let’s go.”

  Ruby followed them out to the car.

  “Come on, spend a night with us for once,” Erwin urged. “Your boyfriend can do without you for one night. We miss you when he’s on day shift.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I g-gotta get home.”

  “How come you’ve been so jumpy lately? You guys having problems or something?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Things aren’t g-going so well.”

  “So have a few drinks and get your mind off of it,” he suggested.

  “I have to g-go,” Ruby repeated.

  “When does he swing shifts again?”

  Ruby considered it.

  “S-Sunday. I think.”

  “So you’ll come out on the town with us then?”

  “Yeah.”

  Erwin shrugged and let her go on. Ruby was stopped at the door by Max.

  “Hey, Ruby, where are you goin’ so early? The night is still young”

  She shoved him.

  “G-get lost.”

  “I’m just inquiring after your health, no need to get snippy.”

  “S-stay away from me, you g-got it?”

  “Um... no.” He touched her arm lightly. “Now come on, is that any way to treat a friend?”

  Ruby pushed past him.

  “How’s your little girl?” Max questioned, and Ruby whirled around.

  “Leave my b-baby alone.”

  He shrugged and watched her go.

  Ruby looked around the basement suite and shrugged.

  “What about animals?” she questioned.

  Charlie looked at Ruby in surprise, raising an eyebrow. The landlord hesitated.

  “The last people here had a cat…”

  “S-so we c-could k-keep our d-dog?”

  “I suppose.”

  They asked a few other questions, and left. Charlie looked at Ruby curiously.

  “Our dog?”

  “We need a g-guard d-dog.”

  “I don’t know, Ruby...”

  “Not a p-puppy like Ralph. A b-big d-dog.”

  Charlie thought about it for a minute, but didn’t fight it.

  “Okay, we’ll look around.”

  Charlie glanced over his shoulder towards the bedroom. He hadn’t heard Sheree or Ruby for a few minutes. He’d almost fallen asleep watching TV. He got up slowly, stretching out stiff muscles. He’d worked out harder than usual at the gym. He went to Sheree’s bedroom and opened the door. Ruby was sitting in a reclined position on the bed. Sheree was standing beside the bed in nothing but her underpants. Sheree saw Charlie first.

  “Hi.”

  Ruby looked up.

  “Oh. You were asleep.”

  “What’s going on in here?”

  “We’re playing dress-up,” Sheree said. She picked up Ruby’s evening dress and held it in front of her. She slipped it over her head and paraded around.

  “It’s bedtime for you, honey,” Charlie advised.

  “I don’t want to go to bed.”

  “I’ll read you a story. Come on, let’s get you into the tub first.”

  Sheree pouted.

  “We were playing.”

  “And now it’s time for bath and
bed.”

  Sheree headed towards the bathroom in Ruby’s dress. Charlie looked at Ruby for a moment, then followed Sheree. He started drawing the bath, and gently encouraged her to take the dress off and had her in the tub a couple of minutes later. Ruby stood in the doorway.

  “You shouldn’t bath her,” she said.

  Charlie looked up.

  “Why not?”

  “C-cause she’s g-got nothing on. I should d-do it.”

  Charlie shook his head.

  “She’s just fine with me doing it.”

  Ruby stood there, not moving.

  “You shouldn’t t-touch her when she’s g-got nothing on,” she persisted.

  “What’s the problem? You’ve never had a problem with this before,” Charlie pointed out.

  “I d-don’t want her t-to g-get hurt.”

  “I would never hurt Sheree. Would I, sweetie?”

  Sheree shook her head.

  “Charlie’s not hurting me.”

  Ruby turned and left. Charlie rolled his eyes and continued getting Sheree ready for bed. He took her into her bedroom to put her in the crib. Ruby hung around the doorway.

  “C-can she c-come in with us?”

  Charlie glanced at her.

  “Sheree needs to start sleeping in her own bedroom. She’ll be all right.”

  When he finished reading her a story and kissing her goodnight, Charlie went back to the front room where Ruby had turned on the TV.

  “She’ll be fine on her own,” he advised. “We’re safe here.”

  “I j-just want her with me.”

  “You can spend time with her during the day.”

  Ruby watched TV and didn’t say anything. Charlie could tell that something was bothering her, but she didn’t say what it was.

  Ruby couldn’t put her uneasiness into words, and Charlie never seemed to listen to her any more. He just told her what to do or not to do and didn’t hear what she had to say to him. He gave all of his attention to Sheree, leaving nothing for Ruby. They hardly went out anywhere now, and never anywhere without Sheree.

  All the same, she couldn’t get rid of the feeling that Sheree was in danger. Whoever it was that had killed the puppy so brutally was watching them still and waiting for the right time to make his move. She didn’t like Sheree to be anywhere alone, however much she wanted time to patch things up with Charlie one-on-one. Ruby even found herself suspicious of Charlie and the attention he gave Sheree. She kept hearing Marty’s warnings about Jamie giving Stella attention, and then what she had found out about Jamie from his own lips. What did she know about Charlie? Just because he was a cop, that didn’t mean that he was an angel. He knew from the start that Ruby wasn’t really eighteen, but he ignored the law and stayed with her anyway. He said he wouldn’t tell the homicide officers if she had killed Jamie. What other laws and morals was he prepared to overlook if it suited him?

  Charlie drove Sheree to the daycare, deep in thought.

  “Do you still think your mama doesn’t like you?” he questioned after a while.

  Sheree and Ruby had been spending more time together, and Charlie wondered if it made a difference to the way Sheree felt about Ruby.

  “She makes a face when she looks at me,” Sheree answered obliquely.

  Charlie snickered.

  “What face does she make?” he questioned.

  He looked in the mirror at Sheree as she attempted to imitate it, her brows drawn down.

  “I think mama’s just worried about you,” he advised. He wasn’t sure whether Sheree’s expression was meant to be a scowl or a worried frown.

  “Where’s my daddy?” Sheree questioned.

  Charlie bit his lip.

  “Do you mean Jamie?” he questioned carefully, wondering if Sheree remembered him.

  “No. A daddy like the other kids have.”

  “I don’t know, sweetie. I don’t know who your daddy is.”

  “I don’t either,” she agreed with a sigh.

  “It’s okay. You have Charlie instead. I’ll bet none of the other kids have Charlies.”

  Sheree giggled.

  “You’re my Charlie,” she agreed.

  Ruby tied the dog outside the door, looking around for anything suspicious. But there was no-one around. She didn’t pat the dog. She didn’t want him to be friendly. She wanted him to tear apart anyone who got close.

  She went back into the apartment. Charlie was putting Sheree to bed. Ruby stood outside the door where he couldn’t see her, listening. She used to like the way he dropped little terms of affection when he talked. Darling, baby, sweetheart... but it grated on her nerves now. He used them when he was talking to Sheree all the time now too. Things were different.

  Joe came up and sat on the bar stool next to Ruby after she ordered her drink.

  “You got your blade?” Joe questioned.

  Ruby nodded.

  “Sure.”

  “Ready for a rumble tonight?”

  “Yeah. We g-going ahead?”

  “Yeah, Terry just told us. You’re around tonight for it, right?”

  “I won’t miss it,” Ruby confirmed.

  “Good.”

  Ruby put her hand in her pocket and touched her knife. It had been a while since she had been in a rumble. She was looking forward to the fight, but she was a bit nervous too. She was always a little nervous before a rumble. Anybody who wasn’t crazy or high was nervous before a rumble.

  “Where are we meeting them?”

  “Over on fourth, you know the field behind the liquor store.”

  “Oh, sure.”

  “I’m goin’ to the bar. You coming?”

  Ruby nodded.

  Joe put his arm around Ruby’s shoulders, leaning on her to steady himself, pretending that he was just being friendly.

  “You’re a good rumbler, you know that?” he said conversationally.

  Ruby smiled, holding onto him around the waist to keep him from pulling her over.

  “So’re you, Joe.”

  “Yeah, but you’re—you’re a natural. Look at you, you hardly even got a scratch.”

  Unlike Joe, who had an ugly gash across the forehead that was bleeding pretty profusely. And she had seen him sometime during the middle of the rumble on the ground being kicked in the belly by a couple of big bruisers. Ruby hadn’t been able to get to him to help out.

  “You’re punch-drunk, Joe,” she told him.

  Joe laughed, nodding.

  “Yeah, I am,” he agreed. “One of those guys was bouncin’ my head off the ground. I thought he’d bust it right open.”

  “You oughtta see a doctor.”

  “Maybe.”

  Ruby looked around at the others to assess the damage the gang had suffered. Joe looked around too.

  “How did the new guy do?”

  “Max?” Ruby looked for him, a chill going over her. She had seen him before the rumble, but she hadn’t noticed him during the rumble or afterward. Why would he disappear right before the rumble? He knew people would be watching him to see how he performed. “Where is he?”

  “I don’t see him,” Joe advised.

  “Where would he go? Why would he s-skip out?” Ruby demanded.

  “He’s around somewhere.”

  Ruby grabbed Erwin as he came up to them.

  “Erwin—take Joe,” she tried to transfer Joe’s grip over to him. Erwin hung onto Joe uncertainly.

  “Why? Where are you going?”

  “Has anyone seen Max?”

  Erwin shrugged.

  “I don’t know. What’s going on?”

  “He ain’t here...”

  Ruby had been uncomfortable around Max since he had shown up. And with everything that had happened with Sheree, she had become increasingly nervous about Max and his comments and questions about her and her family. Charlie was on shift all night, and Sheree was sleeping at the day home, unprotected.

  “I g-gotta go,” Ruby said, and let go of Joe. “Make sure he sees a
d-doctor.”

  “Yeah, sure.”

  There were lights on in the house, which Ruby thought was strange, since it was the middle of the night and all of the houses on the block were dark. She went up to the door and stood there looking into the living room and listening to see what was going on. She could hear Sheree crying, and raised voices. She couldn’t make out Max’s voice until he walked into the front room. He had Sheree over his shoulder and was shouting at the woman whose house it was. Max burst through the front door before Ruby realized he was headed out. She was against the door, and he bowled her over onto the lawn. He stood there for a moment on the steps, frozen, and stared at her. Ruby got up, a little stunned, feeling for her knife. Max grabbed her wrist and pulled her to her feet.

  “Shut up or you’re gonna get hurt,” he warned, dragging her along with him.

  Ruby felt for her knife, but her pockets were empty. She struggled, but Max just tightened his grip and pulled her closer.

  “If you try anything, I’m going to hurt this little girl. You hear me?”

  Ruby nodded, and stayed close to him while she tried to think of what to do. Sheree was wailing at the top of her lungs, with Max muttering at her to shut up and be still.

  Charlie didn’t hear the first call that was made calling an officer to Sheree’s day home, but shortly after he was called.

  “Charlie, your kid was taken from the day home again.”

  Charlie picked up the CB.

  “Ruby picked her up?” he questioned.

  “A young man. But the lady says that she thinks Ruby was outside.”

  “Oh... well, I’ll go by the house and see if she’s there,” Charlie said.

  “Let me know what you find out.”

  Charlie put the CB down, frowning.

  “A young man?” Davidson repeated.

  Charlie shook his head.

  “I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense.”

  “Are things okay between you guys?”

  “Sure... as much as ever.”

  “Where’s your new place?”

  Charlie directed him to the apartment. When he got there, the house was dark, and the dog was in the back yard. Charlie tried to open the back door quietly, in case Ruby was there with someone else, but the dog was barking his head off, warning them if they were home.

  The suite was empty. Charlie took a look around, his stomach tied in knots. There was no sign that Ruby had been there lately. But there was no indication either that she didn’t intend to come back. Her overnight knapsack was still in the closet. And Sheree’s clothes didn’t appear to be disturbed. Wherever Ruby had gone, she must not have planned to be away for long. Charlie went back out to the car.

  “Let’s go to the day home. They’re not here.”

  Davidson followed his directions, and they pulled up behind another squad car in front of the house. Charlie and Davidson went in to talk.

  “She didn’t go home this time. Can you tell me what happened?”

  “This young fellow started banging on the door,” Mrs. Clover explained. “He said that Ruby had sent him to pick up Sheree. When I opened the door to talk to him, he just pushed his way in. I shouldn’t have opened the door.”

  Charlie heartily agreed, but he didn’t say so.

  “Did you see Ruby?” he questioned.

  “Not when he came to the door. But I thought I saw her with him when he left. It could have been someone else, I didn’t see really clearly, but I assumed...”

  “It must have been. Who else would want to take Sheree away?” Charlie said.

  Who else indeed? Who had killed the puppy? Charlie tried to block the images out of his mind and concentrate on the matter at hand.

  “Do we have a description of this guy?”

  Mrs. Clover described him briefly.

  “Was he in the gang?”

  “He didn’t have a jacket on.”

  “We’ll have to check just in case. What exactly did he say about Ruby?”

  “Just that she told him to come pick up the baby.”

  “Did you see what direction they went in?”

  “They left on foot,” the other officer advised. “But I imagine they had a vehicle close by.”

  “Do you have anyone looking?”

  “There’s a couple cars cruising the area.”

  “You’ll come down to the station to look at mug shots?” Charlie suggested to Mrs. Clover.

  “Um—yes, I guess I’ll have to.”

  “He’s probably known in the area.”

  She nodded.

  “I’m so sorry... I never should have opened the door. I didn’t think he would force his way in.”

  “He probably would have forced the door if you hadn’t opened it,” the other officer commented. Charlie knew it was true, but he was angry at her for letting him in anyway.

  Charlie sat up at home most of the night and on into the morning, hoping that Ruby would bring Sheree back by the time he would normally have gotten off of his shift. She would bring Sheree back unharmed and say that she had just wanted to be with her baby. But Ruby still hadn’t returned by daybreak. Midmorning, Charlie got a call from the detective in charge of the case to say that Mrs. Clover had picked out the boy’s mug shots.

  “The abductor’s name is Maxwell Terrace. He’s not a Jag. Not even from the city, but he was incarcerated here and apparently stuck around after he got out.”

  “You don’t mean he was at juvie here? He’s not a juvenile, right?”

  “Sure, he’s juvenile. Why?”

  “Ruby went to juvie for a few months for that armed robbery.”

  “You think they met there?”

  Charlie shrugged.

  “I don’t know. You’d better check it out.”

  “All right. I will. No word from Ruby yet?”

  “No. Nothing.”

  “We’ll find them. It’s only a matter of time. They’re probably at his place or with one of the Jags or something.”

  “Does he have an address here?”

  “Haven’t found one yet. But we will. Maybe his PO will know something.”

  Charlie hung up. He was tempted to call juvie hall himself, but knew better than to interfere with the investigation. He washed up and made sure that someone was watching the house before he went down to the station so that he could be in on any new developments. Bates, who was running the investigation, didn’t look pleased to see him.

  “You were right. They met in juvie. Apparently had a bit of a romance going on for a while there, but then they broke up. He must have contacted her when he got out a few weeks ago. We’ve been talking to the beat cops in Jag territory, and apparently Terrace has been seen with them. We’re going to start hauling some of the boys in to see what they can tell us.”

  Charlie nodded.

  “I still don’t get why Ruby would take off with Sheree like that?”

  “Have the two of you been having problems?” Banks questioned.

  “No... nothing major.”

  “You reported an incident a few weeks ago...”

  Charlie swallowed and nodded.

  “Yes, but I don’t think that could have been Ruby.”

  “But you’re not sure.”

  “No, I guess not.”

  Bates pulled out the boy’s mug shots.

  “Did you ever see him around your neighborhood?”

  Charlie took the picture, memorizing his face.

  “No. I’ve never seen him before.”

  “Terrace got out of juvie two weeks before your trouble with the dog.”

  Charlie shuddered.

  “Do you think he did it? What’s his background?”

  “An all-round bad guy. Gangs, drugs, and murder. We’ll have to talk to some of the officers who have had contact with him, see what they know...”

  “Why would Ruby get involved with him?”

  “Who knows? Ruby has a history of rushing into romances with the wrong people.”

&n
bsp; Charlie’s face got hot and he hoped he wasn’t as red as he felt. He cleared his throat.

  “I’d like to think that I would have noticed if her... interests were elsewhere.”

  “Did you notice when she was involved with him in juvie?”

  “No, but we didn’t see each other very often. And she was depressed, off of her medication. I knew she was unhappy.”

  Bates nodded.

  “Well, maybe you’re right. At any rate, Terrace certainly has an interest in Ruby.”

  They had all been thrown together into an old, noisy car that was a block or so away. Max said nothing to Ruby or Sheree, but he let go of Sheree in order to drive. Whimpering, Sheree crawled into Ruby’s arms and cowered there, shaking. Ruby held onto her, stroking her head soothingly, all the while trying to figure out how they were going to get away from Max. She couldn’t jump from a moving car with Sheree, the little girl might get hurt. They would have to wait until they stopped for gas or something.

  Ruby felt her pockets again for her knife, but it wasn’t there. Ruby couldn’t figure out where she had lost it. She had folded it up and put it away carefully after the rumble. But it was not there now.

  Max drove most of the time with one hand, the other resting in his lap. Ruby was sure he was armed. He had a gun or something in the shadows by his legs, but it was too dark to see clearly. She thought she might try to talk to him, but she couldn’t think of anything to say. What was she going to do, talk about the gang? Try to talk him out of what he was doing or find out his motives? If she asked the wrong thing, he could blow her away. Or hurt Sheree. He had no reservations about killing the defenseless. He had to be the one who had killed Ralph and disfigured the little body. For what? For kicks?

  She rode in silence, trying to settle Sheree down and stay on top of what was going on.

  “Have you ever seen this before?” Bates questioned, showing a knife to Charlie.

  “Yeah—that’s Ruby’s pocketknife. Where did you find that?”

  “On the lawn at the house. She must have dropped it.”

  “Ruby didn’t go anywhere without a knife.”

  “That doesn’t mean she can’t lose it. So we know for sure she was at the house last night with Terrace. And that she was armed.”

  “I still can’t figure out why Ruby would do this. She didn’t even like Sheree that much. They got along, but Ruby didn’t... really have strong feelings for Sheree.”

  “We’ll see if any of the Jags can give us some insight. We’re having vice pull as many of them in as they can.”

  “I hope they can help.”

  Bates looked at Charlie for a moment.

  “So do I,” he agreed.

  Terry watched the officer who came into the room to question him. The cop sat down. The cop didn’t look tough, ready to fight, like they usually did.

  “Were you with Ruby Simpson any time yesterday?” he questioned.

  Terry considered.

  “Sure, I saw Ruby yesterday,” he agreed.

  “You talk to her?”

  “A little.”

  “What about?”

  Terry shrugged.

  “This and that. Why?”

  “Did you talk about anything specific? Unusual?”

  “No.”

  “How did Ruby seem? Nervous? Calm?” the cop prodded.

  “What’s going on, are you going to tell me?” Terry demanded.

  The cop didn’t answer right away.

  “You know Ruby has a daughter?” he questioned eventually.

  “Yeah, I remember when she was born.” Terry nodded.

  “Her little girl was kidnapped last night.”

  Terry leaned back in the chair with his arms folded across his chest and looked at the cop, frowning.

  “Kidnapped? Is Ruby okay?”

  “Ruby’s not around.”

  Terry was uncertain how to respond to this.

  “Is she a suspect?”

  The cop nodded.

  “In kidnapping her own daughter?”

  “She didn’t have custody. We don’t know what happened yet. That’s what we’re trying to figure out. Think you can help?”

  Terry shook his head.

  “No... Ruby’s been jumpy lately. I dunno why. She took off suddenly last night, didn’t say what was going on.”

  “What was Ruby’s relationship with Terrace?”

  “Max Terrace? There was something between them.” Terry nodded.

  “Not a relationship?”

  “Ruby didn’t like him. She never said why, but she wouldn’t stay around him.”

  “That’s not what the other Jags are saying.”

  Terry shifted and crossed his foot over his knee.

  “Some of the guys don’t know Ruby real well. She and Max... Max was interested in her, but Ruby didn’t like him.”

  “Did they or didn’t they have a relationship?” the cop persisted.

  Terry was uncomfortable answering. He cleared his throat and licked his lips.

  “They did get together... but Ruby was high. She wouldn’t get near him if she was sober.”

  “But Terrace, he was interested in pursuing a relationship.”

  “Yeah, sure. They knew each other in juvie. He thought...” Terry shrugged, “he could pick things back up, you know?”

  “How did Ruby feel about her daughter, do you know?”

  “Ruby didn’t talk about her.”

  “Ever?”

  Terry shook his head.

  “Not that I remember. Ruby isn’t the mommy type.”

  Bates studied Joe Crenshaw with a frown. The boy had to be practically dragged in. He was pale as a ghost and had a big goose-egg on his head. He moved like an old man. Joe put his head down on the table when he sat down, and closed his eyes.

  “Did you and Ruby talk yesterday?” Bates questioned.

  “Yeah, sure.”

  “What did you talk about?”

  “Mmm. Don’t remember.”

  “Did Ruby ever talk about her little girl?” Bates suggested.

  “Her baby?” Crenshaw’s breathing was ragged, like he’d been running. “No, not really…”

  “But she did once or twice?”

  “I guess.”

  “How did Ruby feel about her baby?”

  “I dunno.” Crenshaw shifted, grunting in pain.

  “Did she like her? Dislike her?” Bates pursued.

  “I dunno. In between.”

  “Apathy?”

  “I dunno.”

  Bates leaned closer to Crenshaw.

  “Are you okay, kid?”

  “Yeah, fine.”

  “You need a doctor.”

  “Probably,” he admitted.

  “Have you seen one?”

  “No.”

  “Stay there.”

  Like he was going to jump up and dance off. Bates left the room to call for the station’s doctor.

  When they checked into the motel, Ruby’s brain went into high gear as she made escape plans. But when Max parked and went to check in, he reached over and grabbed Sheree.

  “You stay here and keep quiet,” he warned Ruby, and went to the main office. Ruby sat in the car, trapped. Max was a few minutes checking in, and then came back. He motioned Ruby out of the car, and she followed him to their motel room. He put Sheree, drowsy and mostly asleep, down on a chair, and motioned Ruby to the bed.

  “Get undressed.”

  Ruby shook her head, folding her arms across her chest. Max laughed.

  “One of you two is coming to bed with me,” he advised. “Which is it gonna be?”

  Ruby swallowed hard and slowly took off her shirt. Two minors checking into a motel—why were there never cops around when you wanted to be busted?

  After Max fell asleep, Ruby slipped carefully out of bed and dressed in the dark. She crept over to where Sheree was sleeping on the chair and picked her up.

  “Stay away from the door,” Max warned.

 
; Ruby jumped. Max hadn’t moved. It was too dark to see whether his eyes were open and whether he was holding his gun. Ruby sat down, cuddling Sheree close and waiting for Max to fall back asleep.

  Ruby awoke in the morning with a stiff neck from falling asleep sitting in the chair. Sheree was stirring from sleep. She sat up and put her arms around Ruby’s neck.

  “Mama... I want to go home.”

  Ruby rubbed her eyes and looked around. Max was sitting on the bed watching them. He was using a switchblade to trim his nails, and his gun was in easy reach on the side table. Ruby rubbed Sheree’s back, holding Sheree close, her head nestled in Ruby’s neck.

  “I know, s-sweetie,” she whispered.

  Ruby didn’t usually call Sheree sweetie. That was Charlie. Ruby gulped and breathed evenly, trying to keep her emotions from surfacing. Trying to stay calm.

  “I want Charlie,” Sheree complained.

  “Charlie’s not here.”

  Sheree looked over her shoulder at Max. Shuddering, she turned back to Ruby and burrowed into her neck again.

  “Why did you take me here?” Sheree asked Ruby, her voice muffled.

  “I didn’t bring you here. He did,” Ruby said.

  “You brought me,” Sheree insisted.

  Ruby tried to ignore the knot in her stomach. What if she got away with Sheree and then Sheree told Charlie it was Ruby who had kidnapped Sheree? What would Ruby do then? What would Charlie do?

  “I have to go to the toilet,” Sheree said.

  “Come on.”

  Ruby stood up and took Sheree into the tiny bathroom and shut and locked the door. While Sheree sat on the toilet, Ruby started the shower running and investigated their surroundings. The window was small, and when Ruby examined it, she found it was painted shut, and it had a security grill over the outside. Ruby tested the temperature of the shower.

  “Do you want to shower with me, Sheree?”

  “I don’t like showers.”

  “You wait in here, then. I’ll run a bath for you when I’m done.”

  “I want to go home.”

  “I know, sweetie... we will,” Ruby promised.

  “When?”

  “I don’t know. Soon.”

 
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