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Ruby between the cracks, p.5
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.5

           P.D. Workman
 

  Chapter Five

  MRS. WINTERS WATCHED RUBY go past her and up the stairs without any word or acknowledgment. Ruby’s face was as white as a sheet, and she looked worse than when she was staying there before. She was obviously sick and frightened. Ruby shut her bedroom door. Mrs. Winters turned and looked at Mr. Samuels.

  “She asked to be brought back here,” Chuck told her. “It’s the first time she’s ever asked for a family that she’s been with before. It’s the first indication we’ve had that there might be a chance of a more permanent placement for her.”

  “She’s a good kid. We haven’t had any trouble with her,” Mrs. Winters told him. “We’re happy to have her back.”

  “Well, I hope this means progress.”

  “What’s happened in the last week? She looks awful.”

  “Yeah, she’s had a pretty rough time. She hasn’t really said what happened, but she had a run-in with one of the gangs.”

  The doctors had said not to push her to tell them what had happened. Something about post-traumatic stress. Any time they pushed her for information, she sort of phased out.

  Chuck was confused about what had happened to Ruby. The doctors said that she hadn’t been beaten up, but she was in the hospital for four days. She still could hardly speak to him coherently. The teasing and needling that he had grown used to from her was gone. She had been silent on the trip over. When he had told her that she would have to go back to a foster family again, she’d had little to say. She’d asked distantly if she could stay with him. Chuck told her no. She’d then surprised him by asking for the Winters. Chuck agreed to arrange it, and took her to the house. In the car, he stared at her bare legs, stretching long below her short-shorts. It just served to remind him that it had been three weeks since the two of them had been together. Now it would be at least a couple more.

  “We’ll look after her,” Mrs. Winters promised.

  Chuck nodded.

  “Thanks. I’ll check up later to see how she’s doing.”

  Ruby got ready for bed, and took out the pills the doctors at the hospital had given her to help her sleep. They had told her not to take them if she didn’t have to, but there was no question of need in Ruby’s mind. They made her groggy in the morning, but they kept her from waking up in a cold sweat from nightmares. She had enough pills for another week. After that, Ruby didn’t know how she was going to make it through the night. She took one pill and climbed into bed. She closed her eyes. Fifteen minutes later, there were quiet footsteps in the hallway and Ruby tensed. The footsteps got closer and stopped just outside the door. There was a soft knock on the door and Mrs. Winters opened the door.

  “I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

  Ruby turned her face towards the door and didn’t say anything. Mrs. Winters entered the room and went up to the bed.

  “Are you okay, Ruby?” she whispered.

  “Yeah.”

  “Are you going to be able to sleep okay?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  Mrs. Winters straightened Ruby’s blanket and smoothed out the wrinkles.

  “Do you want me to stay with you for a few minutes?”

  Ruby shrugged, but she did feel safer when Mrs. Winters was there. She didn’t like being alone. She closed her eyes, knowing that Mrs. Winters would stay by her side until she fell asleep.

  Mrs. Winters got up a couple of times in the night to check on Ruby. She was sleeping soundly. When Mrs. Winters went in to wake her up for school, she was still fast asleep.

  “Ruby, time to get up.”

  She didn’t move. Mrs. Winters touched her shoulder.

  “Ruby. Wake up.”

  She shook Ruby’s arm harder, and eventually Ruby stirred.

  “Ruby...”

  Ruby opened her eyes, and snuggled down under the covers.

  “It’s time to get up,” Mrs. Winters prompted. “School today.”

  “I’m not going today.”

  “Well, let’s get you up and around, and see how you feel after you’ve been up a while.”

  “Mmm-mmn,” Ruby disagreed.

  “Come on. Get out of bed, so I can get started on breakfast.”

  Ruby climbed slowly out of bed, scowling.

  “Go have a shower and get dressed,” Mrs. Winters encouraged, ignoring her expression. She watched to make sure that Ruby was going to stay up, and went downstairs to get breakfast ready.

  Ruby slipped into one of the kitchen chairs. Mrs. Winters glanced up at her.

  “Hi, there. Feeling better?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I can’t go to school,” she said.

  “You don’t look great.”

  Ruby knew. She’d seen herself in the mirror in the bathroom. She looked like she had two black eyes. Ruby didn’t feel sick, but she didn’t feel well. She just couldn’t face going to school. All she wanted to do was lie in bed.

  “Well, have a bite to eat. Toast?”

  “I’m not hungry.”

  “Try some toast and juice.”

  Ruby sipped at the orange juice on the table. She had the corner of a piece of toast, but couldn’t get anything else down. Mrs. Winters sat down with a bowl of cereal.

  “Should I call the school and find out what you should be studying?” she suggested. “I take it you’ve missed a lot of time lately.”

  “I’ll catch up. Don’t worry about it.”

  “Well, I’ll at least call and let them know you’ll be absent today,” Mrs. Winters decided.

  Ruby shrugged. It would be a shock for the school, someone calling in an excuse for her.

  Chuck didn’t hear from Ruby for a week, which was unusual. He did, however, hear from Mrs. Winters. She kept him up to date on how Ruby was doing— the fact that she wouldn’t go to school, she just stayed in her room all day. She didn’t call her friends. She didn’t go out. She slept in late in the mornings and watched TV in the afternoon. Mrs. Winters was concerned that Ruby needed counseling. Chuck just breathed a sigh of relief that Ruby wasn’t calling him and risking giving them away. After a week, Chuck got a phone call.

  “It’s Ruby,” she said quietly.

  “Ruby? How are you? Mrs. Winters says you haven’t been feeling well.”

  “Yeah. Can I come over tonight?”

  “You know you have to stay with the Winters until things are normal again.” This was familiar territory.

  “They let me sleep over at Marty’s whenever I want. I’ll just tell them I’m there.”

  “I don’t think that would be a good idea,” he countered.

  “I’m coming by your place tonight. See you then.”

  She hung up. Chuck stared at the receiver in disbelief. He wasn’t displeased—he did want to see Ruby. But they had agreed before that she would not come directly to his place. He would pick her up if it was a good day for him. She had always complied, and had listened to his reasoning. She often complained, or pushed to get her way, but this was something new. She was coming by. She wasn’t listening to any argument. She wasn’t going to wait for him to pick her up. She was coming to his place and that was that. Chuck was bewildered. Ruby had never behaved that way before.

  Ruby buzzed Chuck’s apartment, and he released the door without talking to her on the intercom. She went upstairs, and he must have been watching for her, because he opened the door the instant she walked up to it. Ruby went in.

  “Hi.”

  “Hi, there.” Chuck smiled tentatively. He was studying her, like she was someone he’d never seen before. “Are you hungry?”

  “No.”

  “I ordered in. Come have something to eat with me.”

  Ruby shrugged, and followed him into the kitchen. She had one slice of pizza, and that was it. It was the first day since that night that she had walked outside by herself, and her stomach was all queasy. She had that horrible tight feeling in her stomach like you get when you’re caught at something you knew you weren’t supposed to do. A feeling of
impending doom.

  “Have some more,” Chuck urged. “I thought pizza was your favorite food.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I’m not hungry.”

  “You’re not dieting, are you?”

  “No.”

  “You’ve lost weight,” he pointed out.

  “So?”

  “You need to eat. You’re too thin as it is.”

  “I’m not hungry,” Ruby said flatly.

  “Mrs. Winters thinks that maybe we should get you into counseling.”

  “I’m not here to talk about foster family stuff,” Ruby said, looking him in the eye.

  Chuck smiled and stopped trying to be her social worker.

  Ruby awoke to Chuck sitting on the side of the bed and shaking her.

  “Ruby. It’s time to get up,” he told her.

  Ruby stretched and pulled the covers up further.

  “Ruby.”

  Chuck’s voice was tough, the tone he used when there was not going to be any discussion. Ruby had a tone too. A new one.

  “I’m not going anywhere,” she said flatly.

  There was silence for a moment as Chuck took this in.

  “Come on, Ruby,” he said with a bit of a laugh. “You know you can’t stay here.”

  “Exactly how are you going to get me out?” Ruby questioned, opening her eyes and turning over to look at him.

  Chuck stared at her.

  “You can’t stay here by yourself,” he repeated, not answering her question.

  “Then stay with me,” she invited, holding up the covers for him to climb back into bed.

  “I have work, Ruby.”

  “You can call in sick one day,” Ruby argued.

  “I’m not calling in sick. Get out of bed.”

  “I don’t feel good.” Ruby snuggled under the covers, closing her eyes again.

  Chuck pulled the covers back from her.

  “Get up,” he ordered.

  Ruby didn’t move. Chuck grasped her wrist firmly and pulled her up to a sitting position.

  “Now get dressed and ready to go. You’re already making me late.”

  “I’m not going,” Ruby repeated.

  Chuck picked up her clothes and threw them at her. Ruby flinched and curled up on the bed, shutting her eyes tightly. She hid her face in her arms, trying not to let Chuck see how the violent movement scared her. She knew it was silly, that he’d never do anything to hurt her, but the action made something inside her stomach snap, and she couldn’t get up again or stop the tears that sprang to her eyes and started to stream down her cheeks. She hadn’t cried since Mike got shot, but suddenly she couldn’t stop the tears. Her heart beat hard and fast, and panic welled up in her. Chuck moved towards her.

  “Ruby? Are you okay? I’m sorry...”

  “Don’t!” she pulled away from his touch. “Please don’t.”

  She started to sob. She couldn’t stand him moving towards her. She was flashing back to that night, and she couldn’t bear for him to touch her.

  “Ruby, what’s the matter? I’m sorry. Don’t cry.”

  “Don’t touch me—please don’t hurt me.”

  Chuck stood there looking down at her, trying to figure out what to do. He looked at his watch and left the room. Ruby tried to calm her tears and block the images out of her mind. Chuck came back after a few minutes and sat down on the bed next to her.

  “I’m not going to hurt you, Ruby. I’m just going to sit here by you until you get settled down. It’s all right, you’re safe here.”

  Ruby could feel him sitting on the bed next to her. He didn’t move, didn’t say anything else, and after a long silence, Ruby managed to slow her tears a little.

  “It’s all right,” he soothed, his voice low and steady. “You’ve been through a rough time. But it’ll be okay.”

  Ruby nodded. She was still covering her face, but managing to relax her muscles a little bit, trying to control her breathing.

  “Why don’t I get you a drink?” Chuck suggested.

  Ruby nodded her assent. Chuck didn’t usually approve of Ruby drinking. He said she was too young. He left the room and came back in with a glass. Ruby took it from him and held it to her lips. It was strong. She didn’t usually have anything more than beer. It burned at first, but it warmed her and helped her relax her muscles. Chuck picked up her clothes and handed them to her gently.

  “Get dressed, Ruby. You’ll catch cold.”

  “You sound like a mom,” Ruby said with a weak smile. She still found it hard to move her hands away from her face and sit up straight. She pulled the shirt on slowly. Chuck nodded.

  “Have another drink. You’re okay.”

  Ruby nodded and had another sip of the drink. She pulled on her shorts quickly, and sat with her knees pulled up to her chest and her arms wrapped tightly around her knees.

  “Feeling better?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Come into the kitchen and have something to eat.”

  Ruby climbed slowly off the bed. She sat at the table and held onto her glass with both hands. Chuck made coffee and took out the pizza from the night before. No toast and juice at Chuck’s place. Ruby glanced at the clock and was shocked to see that it was creeping towards noon.

  “You’re skipping work,” she said in surprise.

  “I told them I had an emergency. I’m still hoping to get in, though.”

  “Go ahead,” she told him.

  “Once you’re ready to go,” he agreed.

  “Where am I going to go?”

  “Wherever you feel like, Ruby. Come on, I’m tired of this fooling around. If you can’t live with the arrangement we’ve always had, I guess we won’t be seeing each other.”

  Ruby stared at him.

  “What?”

  Chuck didn’t answer.

  “You’re dumping me?”

  “I’m saying you’re getting too demanding. You used to be independent, Ruby. Now you’re clingy and want my attention all the time.”

  “I haven’t even called you for a week!”

  Chuck couldn’t find anything to say to that. He shrugged.

  “You have to be with the Winters for another couple weeks. Maybe then we can try to get things on track again.”

  “You’re not going to see me at all? Even though I can tell her I’m just at Marty’s?”

  “It’s too dangerous. I want things to go back to the way they were.”

  Ruby couldn’t believe it. She cried once, and suddenly he couldn’t stand to be around her. There was only one thing that made sense.

  “You’re already seeing someone else.”

  He didn’t deny it.

  “I need to get to work, if you’re all right now.”

  Ruby sat on a stool in the kitchen and watched Mrs. Winters while she made supper.

  “I have a sister in another foster family,” Ruby offered suddenly. “Did you know that?”

  Mrs. Winters stopped ripping lettuce and looked at Ruby for a moment.

  “No, I didn’t. What’s her name?” she questioned.

  “Ronnie. Could she come over, maybe?” Ruby questioned tentatively.

  “I don’t see why not, as long as it’s okay with her foster family,” Mrs. Winters agreed, starting in on the lettuce again.

  “Could she sleep over?” Ruby suggested.

  “It’s okay with me. You’ve been spending a lot of time at Marty’s lately. It would be nice to have you here.”

  “I’m going to call her.”

  Ruby went upstairs to her room, and found the phone number in her wallet. She was getting quite a collection of phone numbers and business cards. She looked through them for a moment, trying to place them all. Some of them she couldn’t even remember who had given to her. She went into the master bedroom and dialed the number. It rang a few times and then a man answered it.

  “Hello?”

  “Is Ronnie there?” Ruby questioned.

  “Just a moment.”


  He left the phone off the hook, and Ruby could hear people talking back and forth, though she couldn’t make out the words. It sounded like a busy place. After a while her sister’s voice was on the other end.

  “Hello?”

  “Hi, Ron’. It’s Ruby.”

  “Ruby? Hi!” she sounded pleased.

  “How’re you doing?”

  “Good. I told Mr. Samuels I wanted to talk to you again, but he said you were sick,” Ronnie said.

  “Oh, I was. But I’m better now. Do you think your foster parents would let you come here to my place? To stay overnight?”

  “Just a second, I’ll find out. Mom?” Ruby could hear her calling out over the other voices for permission. Strange that she should call some stranger mom. Ruby had never called any of her foster parent mom and dad. None of them had encouraged it, either. Ronnie’s voice faded out as she put down the phone and went to discuss it. She came back after a while and picked it up again.

  “She says as long as your foster mom says it’s okay and is going to be there.”

  “Yeah, she already said it was all right.”

  “Okay. What’s the address?”

  Ruby read it carefully off of the paper Chuck had written it down on when he brought her there. When you were only going to be place for a couple of weeks, there was no point in memorizing another address. It was just too confusing. Ronnie repeated it back to her.

  “Yeah. When will you be here?” she questioned.

  “I have to eat and pack first. Then Dad’ll drive me over.”

  Ruby got a queer feeling in her stomach hearing Ronnie talk about ‘dad,’ even though she knew Ronnie just meant her foster dad. Ruby didn’t know why she reacted like that. Although she and her father had never particularly gotten along, they hadn’t fought either. Ruby felt indifferent towards him.

  “So you’ll be here in a couple of hours?” she questioned.

  “Yup. See you!”

  “Bye.”

  Ruby hung up and went down to talk to Mrs. Winters.

  “Ronnie’s coming in a couple hours,” she confirmed.

  “Great. I’m looking forwards to meeting her. Is she close to you in age?”

  “No, she’s only eight.”

  “What are you guys going to do?”

  “I don’t know.” Ruby hadn’t thought about that. “Watch TV, I guess.”

  “You guys had better not stay up all night, or Ronnie’s foster parents won’t want her over again. Eight is still pretty young for a sleepover.”

  “Yeah, whatever. We’ll go to sleep,” Ruby agreed.

  “Good. Do you have any other siblings, or are you two the only ones?”

  “The only ones in foster care.”

  “Still others at home?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Older or younger?”

  “Younger than me. Chloe’s between me and Ronnie. And there’s some younger ones.”

  “How long since you’ve been with your family?” Mrs. Winters asked.

  “Five years.”

  Ruby felt uneasy talking about foster care, and went back upstairs to her room to escape the questions.

  The hour was getting late and the girls had been quiet for a while, so Mrs. Winters went in to see if they were getting to sleep. Ronnie, sleeping on a mattress near the door, was asleep. Mrs. Winters saw Ruby tossing and turning in bed, and slipped into the room.

  “Having trouble settling in?” she questioned.

  “Yeah.”

  It looked, in the dim light from the hall, as if Ruby might have been crying. Mrs. Winters couldn’t tell for sure.

  “Are you okay?” she questioned.

  “Yeah.”

  “Do you want me to stay with you?”

  Ruby shook her head. Mrs. Winters guessed that she wanted to look mature in front of Ronnie—even though the other girl was already asleep. She nodded and patted Ruby’s hand.

  “Try to relax, then. At least it’s not a school night.”

  She left the two of them and went back to bed.

  Chuck looked away from his computer work and answered the phone without looking at the caller I.D.

  “Yeah?”

  “It’s Cynthia Dare, Mr. Samuels.”

  “Hi, Mrs. Dare. What can I do for you?”

  “I’m a little bit concerned about Ronnie.”

  “What’s she doing?” Chuck questioned, sorting through the files on the desk to find Ronnie’s.

  “She’s been very moody since she and Ruby got together—” Mrs. Dare started out.

  “That was quite a while ago. How’s she acting?”

  “No, I mean just this weekend.”

  “What? They didn’t meet this weekend,” Chuck said blankly.

  “Ronnie spend the whole weekend at Ruby’s house. They were together for two full days.”

  “Who set this up? Ruby is only supposed to have supervised visits with Ronnie.”

  There was silence on the other end for a few moments.

  “Ruby called Ronnie. I assumed you had okayed it.”

  “No, I didn’t. Was someone else around while they were together?”

  “Ruby’s foster mom was there.”

  “Okay. Good.” Chuck found Ronnie’s file, and opened it up. “And Ronnie’s been upset since the weekend?”

  “I don’t know if upset is the right word,” Mrs. Dare said. “Up and down; unusually quiet. Like she has something on her mind. But she won’t talk about it.”

  “Why don’t you make an appointment for her to come and talk to a counselor? I’ll give Ruby’s family a call and see if they know what might be bothering Ronnie.”

  “Okay.”

  Chuck hung up the phone, scowling and shaking his head. He looked up the number for the Winters and called them. Mrs. Winters answered the phone, and Chuck identified himself.

  “Oh, Mr. Samuels. Ruby’s not home from school yet.”

  “I’ll talk to you first. I hear you had Ruby’s sister over the weekend.”

  “Yes, we did,” Mrs. Winters agreed. “The girls had a good time.”

  “Were you aware Ruby is only allowed supervised visits with her family?” Chuck questioned with a sigh.

  “Nobody told me that. But one of us was here the whole time. They weren’t in the house alone,” she assured him.

  Chuck tapped his pen on the phone, thinking.

  “Whose idea was it to get them together?”

  “Ruby’s.”

  “How did you get Ronnie’s phone number?”

  “Ruby called Ronnie. She had it.”

  “What did the two of them do?”

  “Talked, watched TV. They got to bed in good time. Everything was okay.”

  “Bed?” Chuck repeated, his voice rising. He struggled to keep it under control. “Ronnie slept over?”

  “Sure. We put a mattress on the floor in Ruby’s room.”

  “They slept separately?” Chuck verified.

  There was silence on the other end of the line, and Chuck knew the answer before Mrs. Winters gave it, her voice hesitant.

  “Ruby’s been having trouble sleeping. She ended up on the mattress with Ronnie.”

  Chuck didn’t say anything. Mrs. Winters was uncomfortable with the silence.

  “I didn’t know Ruby wasn’t supposed to see Ronnie. Everything went smoothly. They got along really well.”

  “Have Ruby call me. I want to hear from her as soon as she gets in.”

  “I will.”

  Ruby broke away from the kiss and embrace with Brian.

  “I’ll call Mrs. Winters and tell’er I’m staying with Marty,” she told Brian.

  “She never checks up?” he questioned.

  “Nope.”

  Ruby went to the phone and called Mrs. Winters.

  “Hi—it’s me. I’m going to stay over with Marty tonight.”

  “I think you should come home, Ruby. Mr. Samuels wants you to call him.”

  “I can call him from here. See
you tomorrow.”

  Ruby hung up the phone before Mrs. Winters could protest. She tried to decide whether to call Chuck. She was angry with him after their last meeting, but maybe he had come to his senses since. She dialed his home number.

  “Hello?”

  “Hello Mr. Samuels,” Ruby said in a sugary voice.

  “Ruby,” his voice was flat, not welcoming. “I hear you had Ronnie over for a sleepover on the weekend.”

  “Yeah, so?”

  “You’re supposed to go through me to set anything up.”

  “I can call up my own sister without your help,” Ruby said.

  “Wrong. You are not to contact Ronnie directly, and any visits with her have to be supervised.”

  “Why?” Ruby was nonplussed.

  “Because I don’t want Ronnie to have to deal with any more problems than she already has,” Chuck said sensibly.

  Ruby rolled her eyes. She kicked at the baseboard of the wall.

  “I didn’t do anything to her. We didn’t even talk about home.”

  “You slept with her,” he pointed out.

  “Yeah, so? She’s my sister. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

  “It’s confusing for Ronnie. She has enough to sort out without you interfering.”

  “What’re you talking about?” Ruby demanded, lost.

  “Do I have to spell it out for you, Ruby?” Chuck’s voice was a growl. “Ronnie is not in foster care because she has problems with authority. The issues were a lot more serious than that.”

  Ruby was silent, trying to sort out Chuck’s words, but not wanting to believe what she was hearing.

  “Chloe said Ronnie was getting in trouble at school, and with Mom,” she recounted.

  “Chloe is one of the reasons the rest of the kids are still with your parents. If she would cooperate with our inquiries, we would likely be able to remove her and the others to foster care too.”

  “I don’t believe anything is going on. Ronnie’s just making up stories to get attention. She wanted to get out, so she made something up,” Ruby explained.

  “Ronnie went into foster care after the hospital made a report. She’s told us very little.”

  “I didn’t know,” Ruby said in a small voice. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

  “It never occurred to me that you’d be so stupid,” Chuck snapped.

  Ruby slammed the receiver down. She turned around to find Brian in the doorway watching her.

  “Who was that?” he questioned mildly.

  “My social worker.”

  “What’s up?”

  “Everything’s screwed up.” Ruby scowled, shaking her head.

  “You still staying here tonight?” he questioned, running two fingers through her hair.

  “Yeah. Of course,” Ruby said, giving him a hug. “Yeah.”

  Chuck hadn’t expected Ruby to hang up on him. But in retrospect, it had been a pretty dumb thing to say. He wouldn’t have said something like that to any of the other kids he was in charge of, but he was too emotionally involved with Ruby. That was going to have to end—or he would have to transfer her file to someone else. He called Ruby back. Mrs. Winters answered the phone and Chuck asked for Ruby.

  “She’s not here.”

  “I just talked to her,” Chuck said.

  “She was calling from a friend’s house. Just a minute, I’ll get you the number.”

  While she looked it up, Chuck scrolled through the caller I.D. on his phone. The number that Ruby had called from had been blocked. She knew how to play the game. Mrs. Winters came back on the line.

  “Okay. She’s staying at Marty’s. Here’s the number.”

  Chuck thanked her and hung up. He dialed the number, and a girl answered the phone.

  “Yeah?”

  “Could I talk to Ruby again?”

  There was silence on the other end. Then eventually,

  “Who’s calling?”

  “Mr. Samuels. We got disconnected.”

  “Yeah. This line is bad sometimes. Just a minute.”

  The dial tone buzzed in Chuck’s ear. He tried to redial, but the line was busy.

  So Ruby wasn’t at home, and wasn’t at Marty’s house. Who knew where she was staying tonight.

  Ruby looked through her phone numbers, and picked a few out. One was for the cute lawyer she’d been assigned when Mike was killed. She dialed him up and arranged to meet with him for lunch. They met at a restaurant and talked casually for a little while before Willhelm asked her why she had asked to meet. Ruby had been enjoying the personal visit, and looked for a good excuse for having called Willhelm.

  “I want to sue the police,” she said.

  “Sue the police? For what?”

  “For not doing their job and helping me when the guy who killed Mike came after me.”

  “They did everything they could once they found you, didn’t they?”

  “There was a cop following me everywhere. Why didn’t he come when he saw what was going on?”

  Willhelm studied her, tapping his fork lightly on the plate.

  “Who was following you?” he questioned with a frown.

  Ruby leaned forward.

  “Ever since Mike got killed, the police have had a guy following me. But he didn’t do anything. I got grabbed in the middle of the street, and shot at, and stuff… and they didn’t do anything.”

  “That’s pretty serious, if it’s true,” Willhelm admitted. “I’ll have to look into it.”

  “I kept waiting for him to come,” Ruby said, biting her bottom lip and allowing her eyes to tear up a little. A lump came to her throat when she flashed back to the attack, but she pushed it away, trying not to really feel it, trying not to remember too clearly.

  “I bet,” Willhelm agreed, nodding in sympathy.

  They talked on about the situation a few minutes more, and then the conversation strayed to other things and Ruby tried discreetly to find out all she could about Willhelm. He didn’t seem to notice her new focus.

  A few times, Willhelm tried discreetly to end the conversation to get back to his office, using his “winding up” voice, putting his cutlery and then his napkin in the center of his plate, smiling and looking away from Ruby, toward the door. Ruby managed to extend the conversation and keep him talking. Finally, Willhelm looked obviously at his watch and pushed away from the table.

  “I have a very important meeting to get to. I’m glad you called me...”

  “When can I meet you again?” Ruby interrupted.

  He stopped short.

  “What?”

  “All this stuff with the gangs... I’m scared. I don’t know where to go. I thought maybe...”

  “I’ll look into this stuff with the police, but… I can’t give you a place to stay.”

  Ruby considered him thoughtfully. He said no, but she thought he could be convinced.

  “I gotta have somewhere to go,” she pleaded.

  “You have a foster family.”

  “They know about the Winters. It’s not safe there.”

  “You should talk to the police,” Willhelm told her firmly.

  “I told you, they won’t protect me. They let me be attacked.”

  Willhelm stood looking at her. He pulled out one of his business cards and wrote on the back of it.

  “I don’t know. We’ll try to figure out what we can work out for you,” he sighed.

  Ruby took his card. His address was scribbled on the back. She nodded.

  “Thanks.”

  She tucked the card away, and headed back to the house.

  Mrs. Winters didn’t smile when Ruby came in the door. She raised her eyebrows.

  “Where were you last night?” she questioned.

  Ruby’s heart raced. She swallowed, and tried to keep her breathing and voice even.

  “I told you—I was at Marty’s.”

  “You weren’t at Marty’s.”

  Ruby looked at Mrs. Winters and waited for more informat
ion. She needed to know what exactly Mrs. Winters knew before she argued the point any further.

  “Mr. Samuels tried to call you there last night,” Mrs. Winters said.

  “I didn’t want to talk to him,” Ruby shrugged.

  “He says you weren’t there.”

  “I was there,” Ruby said stubbornly.

  Mrs. Winters studied her, saying nothing. Ruby scowled and went out onto the front steps to smoke.

  Mrs. Winters watched Ruby through the door. When simply accepted for herself, Ruby acted like any normal thirteen year old. A little bit of a child and a little bit of a young woman. But push her, and she became a little girl hiding behind a sophisticated woman facade. Ruby smoked on the steps, looking like a thirty year old world-weary woman. She was easy to deal with as a child, but challenge or confront her, and she shut you out completely. Mrs. Winters let Ruby smoke and think and cool down. At least Ruby hadn’t grabbed her bags and run off.

  Merrill looked over the surveillance records. There were obvious patterns to Ruby’s activities, as there were with anyone. Ruby’s most obvious pattern was that she was never at home, where she should be. She’d only spent three nights over the last week at her foster family’s. A couple were spent with her school friend, one apparently with a boyfriend, and one at an apartment building. Ruby wasn’t spending time at school, either.

  The surveillance team hadn’t yet seen the little white sports car that the ladies had advised him Ruby’s regular boyfriend drove. The boy she’d stayed with last night drove an old station wagon. Of course, there was a garage at his house that they hadn’t gotten a glimpse inside of yet, but he wasn’t likely to be the “man” that the women had referred to, and it wasn’t likely that his parents let him drive the family’s white convertible on occasion. Merrill made a note to himself to try to find out who lived in the apartment building. It was outside the neighborhood that Ruby typically stayed within. Whoever picked her up downtown obviously didn’t live close by, or she would just walk or bus there.

  Merrill was suspicious of all of Ruby’s acquaintances. Her assertion that she would lie to protect her attacker suggested to him that she had been attacked not by a Terminator, but by someone she knew. The boyfriend’s convertible had been seen that night. Maybe he was the one who had hurt her.

  Ruby went back into the house, a little more relaxed after a long smoke. She went quietly upstairs and picked up the phone. She waited for a moment to make sure that Mrs. Winters wasn’t paying any attention what she was up to. Then she dialed Ronnie’s number.

  “Hello?” a male voice answered.

  “Ronnie there?” Ruby questioned.

  “Who is this?”

  “Her sister.”

  “Sorry. You can’t talk to her.”

  “She’s my sister. You can’t stop me from talking to her,” Ruby protested.

  “Sorry. Talk to your social worker.”

  He hung up. Scowling, Ruby clicked the hang-up switch and dialed Chuck. She got his voice mail, hung up, and then tried his home number.

  “What’s going on?” she demanded, when he picked it up.

  “Ruby?”

  “Yeah, it’s Ruby. Why can’t I talk to Ronnie?”

  “You can visit Ronnie under supervision,” Chuck said calmly.

  “They won’t even let me talk to her on the phone!”

  “No. I’ll set something up on the weekend. You can talk then.”

  “You get me in to talk to her now!” Ruby insisted, her voice screeching slightly.

  “Relax, Ruby,” he tried to calm her. “By the way… where were you last night?”

  “What do you care?”

  “It’s my job to keep track of you.”

  “Well, keep off my case and keep Mrs. Winters off my case, or I’ll tell everyone just how much you really do care,” Ruby didn’t even try to keep the snarl out of her voice.

  “Do you know what would happen to you if you start spouting off?”

  “Not as much as would happen to you,” she countered, her voice extra-sweet.

  “It’s my word against yours. Who do you think they’ll believe?”

  “Why wouldn’t they believe me?”

  “Foster kids like to make waves. You don’t have a great record in that department.”

  “I know what will happen if they look at my records,” Ruby asserted.

  That one stumped him and he was silent.

  “I want to talk to Ronnie,” Ruby repeated.

  “Well, you won’t be able to tonight, but I’ll see what I can do. Okay?”

  “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

 
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