Ruby Between the Cracks, p.4P.D. Workman
RUBY’S CALL RANG FOR several minutes before Chuck finally picked up the phone.
“It’s Ruby.” Which he probably already knew from the caller I.D.
“How did it go with the police?” he said coolly.
“What? Okay, I guess. I couldn’t help them.”
“So why are you calling me?” he asked.
“I miss you. I want to meet you tonight.”
“No. You’ve got at least another week with the Winters. Then if things stay quiet, we’ll see what arrangements we can make. Now hang up, and don’t call me here. You know better.”
“I’ll keep calling you until you agree to meet me,” Ruby threatened.
“If you start harassing me with phone calls, I’ll have you assigned to another social worker.”
Ruby slammed the receiver down. She exited the phone booth and walked towards the arcade. There was a boy leaning against the wall outside the arcade smoking. Nothing unusual. But she saw his black jacket and turned and went the other direction. She slipped into the fast-food joint and looked around. There were a couple of boys in the far corner of the restaurant. Ruby hurried up to them and slid into the seat next to them. They stopped talking abruptly and looked at her in consternation, surprised at her behavior.
“You’re Jaguars,” Ruby said breathlessly.
“Yeah,” one of them said, “So what do you want, baby?”
Ruby tried to catch her breath, and she looked out the window to see if the boy had followed her. The Jags watched her curiously, waiting for her to answer.
“I was—I was with Mike. I saw—one of the other gangs...”
“Ah, you’re the chick Mike was always picking up. So you saw who did it? Who wasted him?”
“No. Not very well. I just know it was one of the other gangs.”
“Yeah, we know that. You want a soda?”
Ruby shook her head. Her stomach was churning. She didn’t want them to see how scared she was—how she panicked every time she saw a black jacket that wasn’t the Jaguars’.
“What’s your name, kid?” he prodded.
“You’re a lot younger than I expected. So you’re looking for some protection?”
“I’m Jack. This here’s Joe Milner. If you want to hang around here a while, go ahead. You’re a friend of Mike’s, you’re a friend of the Jags.”
“Thanks,” Ruby breathed.
“No problem.” Jack took a sip of his drink “So the cops been on your case to tell you what happened?”
“Yeah. But I don’t remember anything if I’m talking with them.”
“Good for you. You realize you got a cop on your tail?”
Ruby followed his gaze through the window.
“Sure. Right there.” He pointed. “Plain clothes. With the newspaper.”
Ruby watched the man Jack indicated. He didn’t seem to be looking their way.
“Are you sure?”
“Sure I’m sure. You watch what you do the next little while. You’re going to have a shadow wherever you go.”
“Why would they do that?”
“In case Mike’s killers decide to take care of you. Then they got their men. You, sweetheart, are valuable. You’re their live bait.”
Ruby frowned, watching the man through the window.
Ruby got through the week, sleeping over at Marty’s some of the time, once at Brian’s, when his mother wasn’t around, and a couple of times at the Winters’ house. She hated not being with Chuck, but she managed to get through another week without him. Chuck hesitantly agreed to let her move out from the Winters again. He picked her up from the house to make it look official, then dropped her off at the coffee shop near his apartment.
“Now you be careful, all right?” he instructed, “I don’t want you to make people suspicious.”
“I know. I’ve done it before, haven’t I?”
“Sure, but not with as much attention as you’ve had lately. The officer who took you to the hospital after the accident figured out that you were on the streets.”
“Well, no-one else is going to get shot, so that’s not very likely.”
“All the same...”
“I know. I’ll look out,” Ruby told him. “But you have to treat me right, got it? I want to see you.”
“You’ll see me, just not every night.”
He just looked at her and didn’t answer. Ruby shrugged and got out of the car.
The first day after being removed was fine. Ruby started to be a little more relaxed and was recovering from the scare she got when Mike was shot. She managed to push it further and further away from herself, so that it seemed like a dream, or like something that happened to someone else. She still panicked whenever she saw a black jacket, and she spent a lot of time hanging around the Jaguars where she felt safe.
It was two days after leaving the Winters that everything fell apart.
It was late, and Ruby was walking down the street, looking for Chuck’s car. She was sure that he would pick her up—after all of her coaxing, he would be nervous that she would say something she shouldn’t. Besides, it had been over two weeks since they’d been together. They were never away from each other for that long. It was never more than a week. He was bound to be looking for her.
Someone grabbed Ruby by the arm, and she whirled around, expecting a drunk or something. The boy grabbed her tightly and pulled her close to himself, into the shadow of the doorway.
“Keep your mouth zipped!” he warned sharply. Ruby felt the gun shoved into her ribs. She gasped and tried to sort out the confusion fogging her mind. He clamped his other hand over her mouth, and jerked her back further into the doorway.
He backed into the building, shoving the door open and pulling her in. He threw her down on the floor, training the gun on her.
“You know who I am?” he demanded.
Ruby recognized his voice instantly. She nodded, wondering when the cop who’d been trailing her would show up. What was he doing? Calling for backup? Taking a pee? Where was he?
“Sure you know who I am,” he agreed. “Now you’ve been a good girl and not told the cops anything, right?”
Ruby nodded again. He fired the gun, and Ruby curled up in a ball and shut her eyes, her whole body tense and waiting for the pain. He laughed and fired again. Ruby didn’t move. She heard her coming closer to her, and knew he couldn’t possibly miss. He touched her and she flinched, trying to escape his touch.
“You don’t have to be scared of me,” he said soothingly. “As long as you don’t talk, I’m not gonna hurt you. There...” he touched her face, and Ruby tried weakly to push him back. Where was that cop? Couldn’t he hear the shots? Didn’t he know what was going on? How could they just let him do this to her? He stroked Ruby’s face gently, his touch making her shudder.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he repeated.
How could he threaten her and shoot at her and then expect her to not be afraid?
“Just do what I tell you,” he whispered, “and you won’t get hurt.”
Chuck drove slowly past the bar, looking for Ruby. She wasn’t there. He had been sure that she would be. She’d been so insistent that he pick her up. She had to be there.
Flashing lights down the street caught his eye, and a strange, tight feeling crept into his stomach. He told himself that it was stupid. He was just paranoid because the last time she hadn’t been there was the night that boy had been killed. Chuck was just associating bad things with her not being there. He pulled up beside one of the police cars.
“What happened?” he questioned someone who was watching from nearby.
“Some girl got messed up by one of the gangs.”
“A girl? Did you see her?”
“She’s still in there.”
Chuck tried to
Bryant tried to get the girl to stand up. She didn’t appear to be hurt, but she wouldn’t move. He coaxed her and talked to her quietly, but she flinched whenever he touched her, and she just sat there, frozen, hunched over, hugging her knees, shutting the world out. Her shirt was torn at the shoulder, but otherwise she seemed to be unharmed. It was a while before the paramedics got there. They managed to maneuver her around to lift her up onto the gurney to take her to the hospital.
Chuck watched them bring the girl out on the stretcher, and strained for a good look at her. Everyone else was trying to see, crowding as close as they could. He caught a flashing glimpse of blond hair over the side of the stretcher, and knew without a doubt that it was Ruby. He sat there, trying to decide what to do. What was he going to do? Walk up and tell them he was her social worker? That he just happened to be in the area? Chuck watched them load the stretcher into the ambulance, and went back home.
Merrill rolled over and grabbed his phone, silencing it in hopes that it wouldn’t disturb his wife. He slid out of bed and stepped out into the hallway before pressing the talk button, and answering lowly.
“Detective Merrill? It’s Doctor Brown at the General. We just admitted a girl, she had your card in her wallet.”
Merrill rubbed his eyes, trying to focus.
“Uh-huh. A girl? Who?” he questioned.
“Ruby. What’s she been admitted for?”
“Apparently she ran into a gang downtown.”
Merrill didn’t say anything for a moment. He rubbed his forehead, already feeling a headache coming on. He closed his eyes and leaned against the hallway wall, thinking.
“Is there an officer with her?” he questioned.
“Yes, there was one at the scene,” Brown said helpfully.
“No, beat cop who I guess found her.”
“She was supposed to have a plainclothesman following her,” Merrill said.
“Well… he’s not here. No-one like that around.”
Merrill mouthed a curse, but didn’t say it out loud.
“Is she badly hurt?” he questioned, fearing the worst. Obviously Ruby hadn’t been able to talk to the doctor. He hoped that didn’t mean that she was intubated or in a coma.
“No. Mostly shock, it looks like,” Brown assured him.
“I’ll be down shortly. She should also have a number for her social worker. She’s in foster care.”
“Yes, we found it. I’ll call him next...”
“Don’t worry about it,” Merrill interrupted, “I’d rather talk to him myself.”
“Oh, all right then.”
Merrill pressed end and stood there for a moment. He thought the matter through as he went to his study and pulled a set of clothing out of the closet to get dressed. Once ready, he called his superior.
“Frank? Merrill. I just got a call that Ruby Simpson had some trouble with one of the gangs tonight.”
“Did she? What happened?” Frank sounded concerned.
“I’m just going down to the hospital to find out. Who’s supposed to be on her tail tonight?”
“Uh—no-one. We took off surveillance yesterday.”
“No,” Merrill protested.
“Sorry. It seemed like things had gone smoothly and she was out of danger.”
“They must have been waiting until she was unprotected,” Merrill observed, “How obvious was the surveillance?”
“Well... not our top guys. But not bad, either.”
“I’d better get up there. Can we get surveillance on her again, but a little more discreet this time?”
“I’ll see to it. We’ll go over the case at stand-ups in the morning.”
Merrill looked up the number for the social worker and gave him a call. The phone was picked up before Merrill even heard it ring.
“Mr. Samuel? I’m calling about Ruby Simpson.”
“Is something wrong? Is she okay?”
Merrill frowned and didn’t answer immediately.
“Ruby’s up at the General. I’m just on my way up to see her now. I thought you’d like to be there.”
“I’ll be there.”
Merrill hung up his phone thoughtfully, and headed out to the hospital.
Ruby didn’t look as bad as she did after the shooting—she didn’t appear to be injured at all. But the doctor seemed concerned.
“Miss Simpson is in pretty bad shape,” he confided, “she’s completely unresponsive—although there is no physical cause. Whatever happened, it was pretty traumatic. I’m afraid you won’t be able to question her tonight.”
Merrill looked down at Ruby, laying on the bed staring off into space. When he bent over her, she didn’t focus. Her eyes didn’t follow his movements, and she didn’t even blink. He nodded.
“I’ll just wait for her social worker to arrive, then,” he said lowly.
Samuels was only a couple of minutes behind him, even though Merrill had come in his squad car with the lights and siren on. He hurried up to the bed and leaned over Ruby, grasping her hand.
“Ruby? Are you okay? What happened?”
He looked up at Merrill in confusion when she didn’t respond.
“What’s wrong? Is she hurt?”
“We’re not sure what happened. But she’s not going to be able to talk to us tonight. She’s not hurt, just... out of it. Traumatized. She’ll probably be fine in the morning.”
“What happened?” Samuels questioned, shaking his head.
“Have you talked to her foster family?”
“She didn’t go home tonight. Where was she?”
“I don’t have the details. Something about a run-in with one of the gangs. I’m on my way over to the scene next.”
Samuels nodded, and sat down in the chair beside Ruby, watching her worriedly.
There were still police cars with their lights flashing all along the street, yellow crime scene tape strung around the building, plenty of officers and investigators swarming over the site. Bryant, one of the officers who had first arrived on the scene, caught Merrill up on the details.
“We have a few witnesses who heard gunshots. No-one wanted to get too close, and no-one bothered to call it in. We responded to a routine alarm in the warehouse. One of the gangs likes to use it for their business, so we often get alarms here. Usually it’s nothing. Pretty hard to get these kids for more than trespassing. No-one saw anyone come in or out, but no-one was getting too close, after the gunshots.”
“But the girl wasn’t shot,” Merrill pointed out.
“No.” Bryant motioned Merrill to follow him into the warehouse. “This is where we found her,” he pointed out the ‘x’ that someone had drawn in chalk on the concrete to reference the spot. He then pointed to each of the smashed bullets within a few feet of the x. “He didn’t shoot her. Just did a bit of target practice. Personally, I’d rather take a bullet and get it over with than have them whizzing around my head while some psycho amused himself.”
“Not only that,” Merrill said slowly, “but a psycho that Ruby knew wouldn’t hesitate to kill her. This girl was witness to her Jag boyfriend being executed two weeks ago.”
“Oh, heard about that. She was there?” Bryant whistled through his teeth and shook his head slowly, “No wonder the poor kid was so freaked out.”
“Yeah,” Merrill agreed, “anything else you turned up here?”
“No. It was about forty-five minutes between the alarm going off and us getting here. The shots were fired pretty close to the time the alarm went off. Probably he threatened her, then left her here alone. She’s too scared to leave in case he’s still out there, just stays put until we get here.”
“You didn’t see anyone leaving the scene?” Merrill questioned.
“Does it usually takes you forty-five minutes to respond to an alarm here?”
“Sure. Usually longer. Like I say, we can’t usually bust anyone for anything more than trespassing. If there’s anything else going down, it takes priority over an abandoned building alarm. Tonight was quiet, so we got here pretty quickly.”
“So they would have known they had lots of time. Can you describe the suspect in the alley?”
“Hard to give you any description... slim. About my own height. I figured more likely a junkie at the time. The Terminators are rarely alone.”
“Terminators?” Merrill repeated.
Bryant nodded. Being a homicide detective, Merrill was familiar with the Terminators and their work. They were one of the local juvie gangs. And it was true, they usually at least worked in pairs. One person alone was much more vulnerable. Well, at least now they knew which gang had done Mike in. That was more than they had known before.
“Who are your witnesses? That heard the shots?”
“Couple of working girls. They’re in the cars out front,” Bryant jerked his thumb in the right direction.
Merrill went out to talk to the girls. They sat in the back of one of the squad cars talking to each other causally, like this happened every day. A black girl and a red-head. Both young, but not underage. Experienced professionals, not they type to be scared off by an interview with the cops.
“So you ladies heard gunshots?” he questioned without preamble.
“That’s right,” the red-head told him, “And no, we didn’t bother to call the cops. You hear gunshots around here pretty regular. Usually some guy in a bar showing off to his girlfriend. Or the gangs. By the time the police can get here, everything is long over.”
Merrill didn’t think there was any point in disputing her judgment.
“What time did you hear the shots?”
“Eight-thirty?” Merrill looked at the slender black girl for confirmation. She nodded. “See or hear anything else after that?”
“Any Terminators around tonight?”
“Mmm, a couple,” the redhead confirmed, frown lines appearing on her face momentarily as she thought about it. “But that’s not unusual.”
“Who did you see?” Merrill’s pencil hovered over his notebook.
“I figure that might not be too bright. We don’t want to get involved with this. With them.”
It figured. They knew, but they weren’t about to give any information that might get them in trouble with the locals. Considering the way that Ruby had been treated when she hadn’t fingered the boys who killed Mike, he couldn’t very well blame them.
“What about the girl?” he questioned. “Did you guys know her?”
“Nobody’s bothered to tell us who it was.”
Merrill shut his notepad, not expecting a positive response. The girls were prostitutes, and he had no indications that Ruby was in the business.
“Her name is Ruby,” he said.
Both girls looked surprised.
“Ruby?” the redhead repeated, “A real young kid with blond hair?”
Merrill opened up his notebook slowly.
“Yes. Is she around here often?”
Both nodded vigorously.
“Sure. Every night, usually. Waiting for her boyfriend. But she hasn’t been around for a couple of weeks.”
“Not since she got shot when the Jag she was sleeping with was murdered,” Merrill deduced.
“Oh, the poor girl,” the black girl said, speaking for the first time. “Poor Ruby.”
“You say she’s here every night?”
“Yeah,” the redhead agreed.
“No sir! Ruby’s a one-man woman. Her boyfriend picks her up here.”
“Why here? Why doesn’t she go to his house?”
“He doesn’t show up every night. He only picks her up when he feels like it. Probably has a wife the rest of the time, or another girl.”
“Who is this guy?”
“Don’t know much about the guy. His name is Chuck. Good looking white boy. Little white sportster.”
“When did you see him last?”
“I thought I saw his car tonight,” the black girl said, “About the time all the cops showed up. Might not have been him, though.”
“I want you to call me if you see him again.” Merrill handed them each one of his cards. “I want to know if he picks Ruby up again.”
They shrugged. Merrill knew they probably wouldn’t bother.
“Is Ruby okay?” the black girl questioned.
“She will be,” Merrill sighed. “She’s a mighty scared little girl. But she’ll get through it.”
Ruby still wasn’t talking in the morning. She was a little more responsive, her eyes starting to follow movements, but there was no point in trying to question her. Samuels had stayed with her all night, then left for work in the morning, leaving her alone with her police guard. At that point, there were no solid leads, and all of the evidence was being reviewed by forensics, so Merrill went home to get a little shut-eye himself.
Ruby’s condition improved slightly day by day. Each time Merrill and Banks went by to see her, she was a little more responsive to their presence. On the fourth day, Merrill knew immediately that she was aware of what was going on. Her lawyer, Willhelm, was there. Ruby and Willhelm looked up at the approach of the homicide officers.
“Feeling pretty good today?” Merrill questioned.
Ruby didn’t say anything. Willhelm looked up at them, his face serious and composed.
“Ruby’s feeling a little more like herself today,” he acknowledged.
“Well then, maybe she can tell us about what happened,” Merrill suggested.
“I’ve been trying to convince Ruby that it would be in her best interests to do so. However... with the gang involvement in this matter, I’m not having much success.”
“Ruby,” Merrill sat down and looked earnestly into her eyes, “this guy is going to keep terrorizing you unless you do something about it. Next time, maybe he really will shoot you.”
“No, he won’t,” Ruby asserted in a quiet, hoarse voice, “not if I don’t say anything.”
“You think you can trust him to keep his promises? We know which gang he’s in. It’s only a matter of time until we find out which one of the Terminators it is. Then what?”
“Then I’ll testify it’s not him.”
Willhelm looked at Ruby sharply.
“Ruby. That would be really stupid. You could end up in jail for perjury.”
“I’m not putting him in jail.”
“You don’t want him to be convicted? This guy killed your boyfriend, and you don’t want to see him behind bars?” Merrill demanded.
Merrill studied Ruby, trying to figure out what was going on in her mind. In the past, she’d been obstructive, but she had only been concerned about what would happen if she talked. Now, she was protecting the guy, vowing to lie to keep him out of prison. He could see the shock and worry on Willhelm’s face. The last thing that Willhelm wanted was a client who was going to lie on the stand. Whatever had happened to change Ruby’s outlook, she hadn’t told him the details either.
“Are you still going to tell me that you don’t remember what happened when Mike was killed?”
Ruby nodded, looking down at her knees.
“What happened Tuesday night?” Merrill asked.
The girl’s eyes got distant, and Merrill watched her carefully, trying to identify her emotion. Fear? Pain? She sank back in the bed, and turned her face away.
Willhelm touched her shoulder after a moment.
She turned and looked a
“Are you okay?” Willhelm questioned.
Ruby shook her head, brows drawn down.
“I’m tired,” she objected.
“Can we set up an appointment to talk later?” Willhelm questioned the officers.
Merrill consulted his schedule and set up a time when they could interview her.
Ruby Between the Cracks by P.D. Workman / History & Fiction have rating 2.3 out of 5 / Based on30 votes