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Ruby between the cracks, p.6
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.6

           P.D. Workman
 

  Chapter Six

  ANGRY AT CHUCK, RUBY grabbed her knapsack and went downstairs. Mrs. Winters was vacuuming in the living room. She looked up as Ruby came down the stairs.

  “We’re having supper soon. Where are you off to?”

  “I’m going to Marty’s,” Ruby snapped.

  “Ruby?”

  Ruby didn’t answer. She opened the door and walked out without another word. She couldn’t believe that Chuck was keeping her from Ronnie. And Chuck had dumped her and threatened her. And he and Mrs. Winters were both harassing her about where she had been the night before. She was so furious she could hardly think. She didn’t know where she was going to go or what she was going to do. She grabbed a bus and sat and watched out the window.

  When the bus got up to the arcade, Ruby got out. She started towards the arcade, but changed her mind and went into the cafe instead. Jack and a few of the other Jags were there. Ruby sat down beside Jack uncertainly. He was deep in conversation, leaning forward with his elbows on the table. He didn’t acknowledge her immediately. After a few minutes, he looked up.

  “Hey, Ruby,” he greeted, straightening up and sitting back in his seat. “Been a while since I’ve seen you around here.”

  “Yeah, I guess.”

  “Are you going to go out with us tonight?” he teased, knowing full well that gang stuff wasn’t her speed. He was the only guy that she spent time with that treated her condescendingly, like she was a little girl. Some of the younger members of the gang were not that much older than her.

  “Maybe I will,” Ruby shot back.

  Jack laughed.

  “You wouldn’t last an hour, baby.”

  “Yeah? I’ll go with you.”

  “You’d just slow us down,” Jack said, shaking his head.

  “I learn quick.”

  “Sure, let’er come,” Tim encouraged.

  “Are you going to be responsible for her?” Jack demanded.

  “Sure.”

  “You’ll look out for her if we get in a jam?”

  “Would I go back on my word?” he countered.

  “Fine. You look after her,” Jack said with a shrug.

  Tim looked past the other boys to Ruby.

  “You got a rod?” he questioned blithely.

  “No.” Ruby unzipped one of the pockets of her knapsack. “But I have this.” She took out a switchblade and flipped it open. The boys looked surprised.

  “Where’d you get that?” Tim questioned.

  “It’s Mike’s,” Jack answered for her, studying it. “How did you get your hands on that?”

  “I don’t know. It was in my bag after he got shot. Fell in there, or something.”

  “I wonder how the cops let that one by. Well, do you know how to use it?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “How hard could it be? It’s a knife.”

  He laughed.

  “You are so naive, kid. Well, Tim, she’s all yours.”

  Ruby’s heart raced, even though all they were doing was hanging around looking for trouble. They had stopped in at a couple of bars and arcades picking up other Jags. Jack was looking around, his eyes narrow and suspicious, watching shadows and movements in the dark. He turned and looked at her.

  “You still got a cop on your tail?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Well, I do. This is the third time I’ve seen that car tonight. They usually quit after a couple weeks. How come they’re still watching you?”

  Ruby shrugged, not wanting to talk about the second attack. Jack watched her suspiciously.

  “It’s been more than a month since Mike got wasted. How come they’re still tailing you?”

  “I don’t know,” Ruby insisted.

  “Well, let’s lose’em.” He looked her over, squinting in concentration. “Give her your hat, Tim. Put your hair under the cap or inside your jacket,” he told Ruby. “At least you’re wearing a dark jacket.”

  Ruby didn’t know what a dark jacket had to do with anything. Jack nodded.

  “Let’s go, then. The Lamplighter.”

  Ruby went along with them. She stayed toward the back of the group, but Tim grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into the center of the group.

  “Less visible. You’re too obvious. You don’t want the cop to be able to see you all the time.”

  “Why?”

  “Just trust me.”

  Ruby tried to stay in the center of the group. They led the way to the Lamplighter, a dance club. The bouncer let the gang in, though he glared at Ruby as she went by him. It wasn’t the type of place that Ruby would have gone into without the gang. There were lots of punks, lots of black leather, studs, chains and tattooed bare skin. There had been a number of motorcycles parked out in front of the club, and Ruby picked out the burly bikers. She wouldn’t have wanted to be there without the gang, but with them there, she felt safe and free to look around and see what was going on.

  The gang dispersed in different directions. Ruby grabbed Tim’s arm before he could leave her. He looked back at her, startled, then grimaced.

  “Yeah. Sorry, forgot I was babysitting. Come on, let’s get something to drink.”

  Ruby stuck close to him. They sat down at the bar and ordered a couple of beers. The woman bartender looked Ruby over.

  “Sorry, honey. You’re under age. You’re not getting any drinks from me.”

  “Give her a drink,” Tim said.

  “I don’t serve underage kids.”

  “Then give me two beers.”

  She topped off two mugs and put them on the bar in front of Tim. Tim slid one over to Ruby, grinning. The bartender acted like she didn’t see it. Tim and Ruby had a few drinks, and watched the other members of the gang. Harlan was dancing with a girl with black makeup and an orange stripe. Other guys were hitting on girls, picking fights, or just drinking.

  “What’re we doing here?” Ruby questioned, shaking her head.

  “Getting thrown out,” Tim said with a grin.

  “What?”

  “Enjoy your drink and the show.”

  Things were sort of quiet for a while. Then Jack started to mix it up with a skinny punk on the other side of the room. Ruby tensed up, but Tim put his hand on her thigh.

  “Relax. Just sit and watch the fun.”

  The rest of the Jags gathered from the room and joined in the fight. The bouncers moved in to clear the room. Ruby stood up. Tim stood up and put his arm around her shoulders. They watched the Jags and other fighters get thrown out of the club. There was shouting and fighting for a couple more minutes, but the fighters dispersed before police were called.

  “That’s our cue,” Tim told her.

  “For what?”

  “Come on.”

  She went with him out the back of the club into the dark alley. They worked their way through back streets to another bar. Ruby sat down at the new bar with Tim. Tim ordered nacho chips. Ruby looked around. It was much quieter than the club. A bar that Ruby might have gone to by herself, if they would let her in.

  “Where are the others?” Ruby questioned.

  “They’ll be here. Have a drink.”

  Ruby accepted another drink, although she was starting to feel lightheaded. She’d probably had enough. But Tim was still chugging them back without any effect. It was about an hour when the rest of the Jags showed up. Jack was grinning, in high spirits.

  “No more cop,” he said, pleased.

  “We lost him?” Ruby questioned.

  “Yeah, you lost him. With any luck, he’ll stay lost. Now we can have a good time without bein’ watched. Have a drink, baby.”

  “I’ve already—”

  “I said have a drink,” he said sharply.

  His eyes were angry, hard and cold. Ruby turned on the bar stool.

  “I’ll have another draft,” she said quietly.

  “She’ll have a tequila,” Jack interposed, “and I will too.”
>
  Ruby shook her head, but the bartender gave her one, and Ruby picked it up and sipped it. Jack picked up his and gulped it down. He put the glass down firmly on the bar.

  “I thought you could keep up with us,” he challenged.

  Ruby tipped the glass up sucked down the tequila quickly. It made her choke, and it hit the beer afloat in her stomach and made her nauseated. She coughed and gagged and tried desperately to keep it down. Jack stood grinning at her. Tim thumped her on the back.

  “We just gonna sit around drinking all night or are we gonna do something?” Harlan questioned impatiently.

  “Yeah, we’ll go. Come on. Let’s find some action.”

  Ruby got up, a little unsteady on her feet.

  “Saw you dancing at the Lamplighter,” Ruby said to Harlan.

  He grinned.

  “Some chick, huh? I’m gonna meet her again later.”

  They went out on the town looking for trouble, but the night was reasonably quiet. Ruby felt really good for the first time in weeks. The tension drained away. She felt relaxed and unafraid, ready to handle anything. Tim looked at her once during the night and commented,

  “I think this is the first time I’ve seen you smile.”

  Ruby put her arm around him in answer. She couldn’t remember much of what happened the rest of the night, other than going back to the apartment that Tim and some of the other boys shared. Tim helped her off with her coat when she couldn’t seem to get it off on her own.

  “You did good tonight,” he told her. “You handled yourself real well.”

  “Thanks.”

  Ruby enjoyed sleeping in without having to wake up for school. The apartment was warm, and she knew the sun must be high in the sky outside, but the windows were covered so little light leaked in, and they all just sprawled in bed. Ruby knew it was getting late, but she didn’t care. She felt warm and comfortable and safe, and didn’t ever want to get up. She felt Tim stir beside her a few times, but they both just readjusted and went back to sleep. Ruby had a headache, but it didn’t bother as long as she laid still, so that’s what she did. She could hear the others getting up and moving around after a while, but they were quiet and didn’t disturb her. It was quite a while later that she heard one of the Jags close to the bed.

  “Man, I never thought we’d find anyone as lazy as Timmy.”

  Ruby pulled the covers over her head.

  “Get lost,” she groaned.

  Tim rolled over.

  “Come on, guys. It ain’t that late. Let us sleep.”

  “It’s after noon.”

  “So? We didn’t get in until four or something.”

  “We’re going out. You coming?”

  “We’ll catch up to you later.”

  The other boy laughed, and after a while they were left alone again in a quiet apartment. Ruby drifted off to sleep again. She awoke a while later with Tim’s arms around her. He stretched languorously.

  “You are lazier than me,” he breathed. Ruby turned to face him.

  “Man, my head hurts.”

  “Hangover. You packed ’em away pretty good last night.”

  “Mmm.”

  Tim cuddled her close, kissing her gently. Ruby pushed some of her covers back, too warm in the midday heat.

  “Am I interrupting?” a voice questioned. Ruby startled, and whipped the covers back over herself, turning to identify the voice. It was Harlan, standing in the doorway grinning. He shared Tim’s room. Tim sat up, stretching.

  “You got lousy timing, man.”

  Harlan just stood there grinning. Ruby tried to find her clothes and figure out how to get at them. She felt her face getting red. She knew that all of the guys must have been around when she’d undressed for bed, but she couldn’t remember that.

  “Give’er a break,” Tim commented. “Let her get dressed.”

  Harlan stood there a minute longer, then shrugged and withdrew. Ruby quickly pulled on her clothes and stumbled to her feet. Tim got up, pulling on a pair of jeans, and followed her. In the living room/kitchen, Harlan smiled slyly at them. He motioned to the girl waiting for him, and they went into the bedroom and shut the door. Tim opened the fridge and looked inside.

  “We should give them ten minutes and then bust in on them,” Tim offered.

  Ruby smiled her approval, and sat down at the table and held her pounding head.

  Merrill slapped the top of his desk hard. The noise of the report echoed off of the walls like a gunshot. He took a deep breath before speaking into the phone receiver again.

  “What do you mean, you lost her?” he demanded.

  “She met up with a group of Jaguars last night. They all went to a club. The Jags got thrown out a while later, and we followed them. We realized a few blocks later that Ruby was no longer with them, and went back to the club. She wasn’t there either. Gave us the slip. It may have been accidental or intentional.”

  “So how to you intend to find her again?”

  “We’ll keep an eye out at the usual places. But we can’t put a lot of manpower on it.”

  “Do what you can. She could still be in danger.”

  Chuck glanced at the caller I.D. and picked up the phone with a stifled sigh.

  “Hello.”

  “Mr. Samuels? It’s Mrs. Winters.”

  “Hi. What’s up?” he questioned, impatient for her to get to the point.

  “I think Ruby’s run away,” Mrs. Winters said tentatively.

  Chuck drummed his fingers on the desk.

  “Well, has she or hasn’t she?”

  “She told me she was going to Marty’s. But she wasn’t there when I checked up.”

  “What did Marty say?”

  “She said that Ruby didn’t want to talk. But I’m sure Ruby wasn’t there.”

  “Same as yesterday. I think Ruby’s got a boyfriend at school that she stays with now and then. She’ll probably come back after school.”

  “She isn’t at school.”

  There was silence on the phone while Chuck considered that. He cleared his throat, and his voice was a tone lower than it had been before.

  “I hesitate to take any steps right away. Ruby has been known to disappear for a day or two before. I don’t know that there’s much point getting the police involved, if she’s just upset about something or testing her limits.”

  “I really don’t feel comfortable doing nothing.”

  Chuck looked at his watch.

  “Why don’t you give me a call when school lets out? If Ruby doesn’t come home then, we’ll do some looking.”

  Mrs. Winters sighed.

  “All right. I’ll talk to you in a couple of hours, then.”

  Ruby didn’t really start feeling like herself until late in the afternoon. Her head pounded and her stomach was queasy. She knew it was just a hangover, but she couldn’t remember being that sick from drinking before. She often drank small amounts, but not like she had with Tim and Jack. Tim gave her some aspirin, but it didn’t seem to help. They went out as the evening wore on, and met up with some of the other Jags. Jack was with them. He glanced at Ruby, seeming unimpressed by her presence.

  “You coming out with us again?” he questioned.

  “Yeah, I guess.”

  “Got your blade?”

  Ruby nodded, touching it in her pocket.

  “Why? What’re we doing?”

  “You never know.”

  His question made Ruby uneasy. Later on in the evening, Tim warned her that they were entering Terminator territory. Jack obviously had in mind a little turf war to pass the time. Ruby kept her hand in her pocket, around the knife. Even Tim was getting jumpy, though he tried to appear nonchalant. For the first little while, it looked as if they weren’t going to run into any of the Terminators, and Ruby was starting to relax. But then she saw a large group of them up ahead. Ruby froze. Tim shoved her.

  “What’s the matter with you? Keep going.”

  She managed to keep her feet movin
g, although her mind was numb. She was trapped between the two gangs, and the last thing she wanted was to face the Terminators. She pulled the knife out of her pocket and opened it. Tim eyed her, but didn’t say anything. When they reached the other gang, Ruby expected them to throw themselves at each other tooth and nail, but both sides seemed oddly calm.

  “What’re you doing here?” one of the Terminators demanded. A chill went through Ruby. She had heard that voice the night that Mike was killed. He had been there. The Terminator scanned the Jaguars there. Ruby didn’t even hear Jack’s answer. The Terminator’s eyes stopped on Ruby.

  “You recruiting girls now?” he questioned with a sneer. “We like to save our girls for after the fights.”

  Jack grinned, bouncing up and down on his heels.

  “Then how come you brought all these girls with you?” Jack questioned, gesturing to the group of Terminators. There were growls of anger from the Terminators, and a few of them surged forward, but were held back.

  “My girls can match your little boys any day,” the Terminator leader said.

  Both sides seemed to be heating up. Ruby saw, out of the corner of her eye, some of the Jaguars palming knives and brass knuckles.

  “Get ready,” Tim warned her.

  Ruby couldn’t take her eyes off of one of the Terminators in the middle of the group. He saw her watching him and grinned. There were a few more insults tossed back and forth between the gangs, and then the Terminators were on top of them. Ruby tried uncertainly to defend herself. She was too distracted by the two boys who had killed Mike. She tried to watch both of them at the same time as she tried to protect herself from the approaches of other Terminators. She felt like she was in a haze, and everything was happening in slow motion around her. She noticed that one of the younger Jags was trying to fight off two Terminators, and she pushed in beside him to help. He grinned his thanks without a word. The crowd engulfed them again. Ruby was grabbed from behind by two strong arms, and she squirmed around to face the Terminator who had killed Mike. He leered at her, pleased with himself. Ruby froze up for a minute, face to face with him, on the same level with him for the first time. Her stomach knotted up and she couldn’t seem to pull away from him.

  “How about you and me go somewhere quiet to get reacquainted,” he suggested, oblivious to the chaos around them. Ruby shut her eyes and tried to block it all out. The world spun around her, and she felt like she was falling. Her mind went back to that night... Something suddenly blew the two of them apart. Ruby caught herself against a wall and opened her eyes. She righted herself and started back into the fight. After an eternity, she heard someone calling her.

  “Ruby—come on, will you?”

  She looked around, and Tim grabbed her by the arm.

  “Come on! Get out of here!”

  She realized there were only a couple of Jags left fighting around her. She was trying to stave off four Terminators, and had not even realized it. She turned and ran after Tim. He glanced back a couple of times to make sure that she was still with him. After a few blocks, they stopped running. Tim waited for Ruby to catch up, and they walked for a few minutes in silence. Another group of Jags was walking up ahead of them, just within sight and calling distance. Tim started to breathe more slowly, to relax a bit. He glanced at Ruby and didn’t say anything. She tried to smile at him, but it was strained. Her heart was racing out of control still, and the world seemed eerily quiet. Someone in the group up ahead of them was coughing. Fog was gathering as the night got cooler. Ruby sped up her pace a little, trying to get closer to the main group. Tim stayed close to her. They went a few more blocks, and caught up to the other Jags. Jack turned as they walked up.

  “You didn’t do too badly,” he commented. He had a good shiner and a cut lip.

  “Are you kidding?” Harlan questioned, sounding like he had a cold. “She was great! Man, she was something out there.”

  “Saved my butt,” one of the young Jags agreed.

  Ruby shrugged modestly. She’d protected herself; that was all. If she’d done it well—she was lucky. Jack nodded.

  “Not bad,” he repeated, smiling. He touched her cheek briefly.

  “You’re bleeding, you know.”

  Ruby wiped her cheek with the back of her hand. It came away smeared with blood. She wiped it again with her palm, and wiped her hand on her jeans. She smiled slightly.

  “Let’s go celebrate,” Harlan suggested. He dabbed at his nose tenderly with a rag, dabbing away a thin stream of blood.

  “We lost, moron,” Jack snapped.

  Harlan considered.

  “Then let’s go anesthetize ourselves.”

  Ruby glanced around.

  “I gotta go back to the apartment and get my stuff,” Ruby commented.

  “Aren’t you going to stay around tonight?” Tim questioned in surprise.

  “I got somewhere to be tonight,” Ruby said firmly.

  They eyed her speculatively. But she was more of an equal with them now, and if one of the Jags said that he had something to do or somewhere to be, who was going to challenge him? Ruby was one of them now. They said nothing when she separated to go back to the apartment. She picked up her knapsack, took out the latest business card, and caught a bus.

  Willhelm opened the apartment door, and then looked like he would shut it again. Ruby put her foot in the doorway so he couldn’t close it if he tried.

  “I need help,” she told him.

  “I can’t help you, Ruby,” he shook his head.

  “I need somewhere safe! Please!”

  He hesitated, and Ruby stepped up and pushed through the open door.

  “Come in,” Willhelm said belatedly. “I’ll call the police.”

  “No, don’t call them. If the gang sees me talking to another policeman...”

  “Nobody’s going to see. I assume you didn’t tell anyone you were coming here,” he seemed suddenly worried.

  “No. Of course not. But if they followed me, or if they have someone on the inside...”

  “Don’t you think you’re being a little melodramatic?”

  “Does this look melodramatic?” Ruby demanded, gesturing to her face. She’d looked at it in the mirror at the apartment. Dark blood stood out along the cut on her cheek, with several streams of blood down her cheek, and soaked into the collar of her t-shirt. It looked ugly, although it was only a surface cut and didn’t even hurt.

  Willhelm looked a little sheepish.

  “I’m not used to having clients burst into my house at all hours of the night,” he explained.

  Ruby looked around, and sat down in the corner of the couch, pulling her knees up to her chest and her chin resting on her knees. She rubbed the smooth skin of her calves and thighs.

  “I’m cold,” she said meditatively. “Could I maybe have a coffee or something?”

  “Yeah, I’ll put something on.” Willhelm eyed her, buttoning up the top couple of buttons on the shirt he had obviously just thrown on when she rang the doorbell. He looked at her for a minute, then turned and went into the small kitchen.

  Ruby looked around carefully, gleaning everything she could about Willhelm from her surroundings. He was a tidy person, but not obsessive like Chuck. There were magazines laying on the side table, and a book open on top of them. So he liked to read. It figured that a lawyer would like to read. He had a tie draped over the back of one of the chairs. A pop can on the other side table.

  Willhelm returned with a cup of coffee.

  “It’s just instant,” he warned, handing it to her. “You just take it black, right?”

  Ruby couldn’t remember how he would know that. She nodded and took it from him.

  “Thanks.”

  She made sure he saw how her hands were shaking when she took it. He looked at her for a moment, then left the room again. He brought out a blanket for her. Ruby wrapped it close around her.

  “I’m just a little shaky,” she offered.

  “What happened?


  Ruby shook her head.

  “I don’t know... it all happened so fast. I’m not sure what happened.”

  “Are you okay? Other than the cut on your face?”

  “I think so.”

  “Once you’ve warmed up, we’d better clean that cut.”

  Ruby nodded. She sipped at the coffee, watching him steadily over the rim. Willhelm fidgeted under her gaze.

  “You can stay the night,” he said slowly, “but in the morning we’ll make some phone calls and figure out some other arrangement.”

  “Okay. I’m sorry, I just didn’t have anywhere to go...”

  “Well... at least there was somewhere safe for you to come.”

  Ruby nodded and was quiet. She drank the coffee very slowly, trying to draw it out. Willhelm sat watching her. He was tired. His eyes were puffy and his eyelids kept sliding downward, but he was trying to give her his attention.

  “I got you out of bed,” Ruby observed.

  He smiled wryly.

  “It is two in the morning.”

  “Oh... sorry. I guess you want to go back to sleep. I’ll just... sit out here a while.”

  “I could sleep on the couch and let you have the bed.”

  “No, no—you take the bed. I can sleep out here.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yeah. I don’t want to mess you up. You’ll be tired for work if you try to sleep on this couch.”

  “Okay—do you need anything?”

  “No, I got a blanket. I’ll be fine.”

  Willhelm nodded. He really wanted to go back to sleep. He stood up.

  “Let me know if you need anything.”

  “I’m fine.”

  He went back to bed. Ruby turned the TV on quiet, and sat up watching it for a while. There was no noise at all from the bedroom. After an hour or so, Ruby turned off the TV and slipped down the hall into the bedroom. Wilhelm had a queen bed. He was asleep right in the middle of it. Ruby squeezed in beside him, careful not to shake the bed or touch him and wake him up. After a few minutes, he shifted away from her without waking up. Ruby gathered the blanket around her and went to sleep.

  “What are you doing here?”

  Ruby opened her eyes, squinting. It couldn’t be very late in the morning yet. Willhelm was sitting up in bed, staring at her in what could only be described as horror.

  “I got here last night,” Ruby murmured, and turned over.

  “You were on the couch.”

  “I got cold.”

  He didn’t move or say anything. Ruby eventually turned around to look at him again.

  “What’s wrong?”

  “Everything. This is wrong.”

  Ruby squinted at the clock.

  “What time is it? Why are you awake?” she questioned.

  “It’s six o’clock. I have to get ready for work.”

  “Okay. Go ahead.”

  He stared at her, perplexed, and then got out of bed. She watched him go to the dresser and closet to get his clothes before going into the bathroom and turning on the shower. She lay there for a few minutes, dozing, before the running water reminded her of the drinks and coffee she had consumed not so many hours ago. She dragged herself out of bed and went into the bathroom.

  “Hey, do you mind?” Willhelm growled.

  “What?”

  “Some privacy?”

  She looked at the sliding doors on the shower in amusement. They were frosted glass, and she couldn’t see anything more than his shadow unless she opened the doors.

  “Sorry. Just be a minute.”

  “Couldn’t you wait?”

  “Nope. Hey, you want some company in there?”

  She could see him turn suddenly towards her.

  “No. Will you get out?” he demanded.

  “Yeah, yeah.”

  Ruby washed her hands and left him alone. As soon as she was out the door, he turned off the shower. She imagined Willhelm was probably into his clothes before even drying off completely. She grinned and went into the kitchen. Ruby took off her shirt and ran hot water over the collar to see if she could get some of the blood out. It didn’t seem to do much good. It was already stained. Willhelm walked up behind her.

  “Now what are you doing?” he demanded, exasperated.

  Ruby turned around.

  “Just trying to clean off the blood,” she explained, showing him the shirt.

  “That won’t come out.”

  “Yeah, so I discovered.”

  He was staring at her chest. Ruby shrugged and stepped towards him.

  “Doesn’t matter. I’ve got another one in my bag.”

  He stood there, frozen. Ruby grinned and walked by him, brushing against his arm as she passed. He turned and watched her go back into the living room and pick up her knapsack. The doorbell buzzed. Willhelm hit the button to release the front doors of the apartment building. He shrugged at Ruby.

  “People buzz me because I’m first on the board.”

  “Yeah.”

  Ruby dumped her knapsack onto the couch to find her extra shirt. A key turned in Willhelm’s door, and the door swung open.

  “John, thanks for—”

  A man walked in, and stopped, spotting Ruby standing there only half-dressed.

  “Oh...”

  He quickly averted his eyes, and turned his head away. He didn’t seem to want to look at Willhelm either.

  “Uh, come into the kitchen,” Willhelm invited, his face flushed bright red. He glared at Ruby, and led his friend into the other room. Ruby pulled a shirt on, repacked her knapsack, and joined them in the kitchen.

  “This is Ruby. She’s a—uh—friend of the family. Needed somewhere to stay for the night.”

  The other man nodded awkwardly at Ruby.

  “Sorry...”

  “It’s okay. I got nothin’ to hide. So you’re Johnny’s... ?”

  “Darren’s a friend of mine,” Willhelm explained. Ruby nodded. Willhelm looked at his watch.

  “I’ve got to get ready for work. Are you ready to go, Ruby?”

  “Yeah, I guess,” she said reluctantly.

  “Good. You want to be dropped off somewhere?”

  “No, that’s okay. I can find my own way around.”

  Ruby walked along the street, thinking over the visit with Willhelm. She’d have to meet with him again soon. She had a feeling she could win him over with a little time together. She stopped at a coffee shop a few blocks away from Willhelm’s apartment building. She sat down at the counter and ordered a coffee. Sitting at the counter with it, she gathered her tangled hair back with both hands, and holding it in place tied it with a rubber band. She picked up the coffee and sipped at it. She put it back down on the counter.

  “What do you call that?” she demanded, her mouth twisting in disgust.

  The counter boy turned around. His eyes flicked over her quickly. A far cry from her admirer in the cafe near Chuck’s apartment, he scowled at her.

  “What’s the matter with it?”

  “Is this supposed to be coffee or sewage?”

  He shrugged.

  “I don’t hear anyone else complaining.”

  “Make a fresh pot.”

  “Not until this one is empty.”

  Ruby reached across the counter and picked up the nearly empty pot of coffee. She dumped the remaining dregs on the floor, and set the pot down.

  “It’s empty now.”

  He scowled at her. He ignored her as he mopped up the spilled coffee. He squeezed the rag soaked with coffee into her cup.

  “There you go, blended just for you.”

  Ruby knocked the mug onto the floor and stood up. What a dump. She moved on towards the school. There was, at least, fresh coffee in the cafeteria. She’d surprise everyone by being there before classes even started.

  The school was quiet. There were only a few teachers and students there. Ruby was used to being able to sleep in late into the morning. She was never up early, especially after
a late night like she’d had with the gang. She sat down in the cafeteria with a Styrofoam cup of piping hot coffee. One of the guidance counselors saw her and came up to the table.

  “Well, hello Ruby. This is a pleasant surprise.”

  “Morning, Mr. Kyle.”

  “You’ve been missing an awful lot of school lately,” he observed.

  “Uh-huh.”

  “Are you okay? How are things at home?”

  Mr. Kyle sat down across the table from her, raising an eyebrow. She sipped her coffee. They’d talked before. She had talked with all of the guidance counselors at the school at one time or another, as they shunted her back and forth, hoping that she would “click” with someone. That someone new might be able to reach her.

  “You know I’m not at home,” Ruby reminded him.

  “Your foster home, I mean. Are things going all right?”

  “I’m here, aren’t I?”

  “Your foster mom called here the other day looking for you. She was pretty upset about you disappearing.”

  Ruby looked up at the clock on the wall.

  “I guess I’ll call her before class.”

  “You mean you haven’t been back there?” his voice rose.

  “I’ve been busy.”

  “The police were even looking for you,” he expounded.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “It’s no big deal. I’m all right.”

  “Well, I’m hoping you’ll attend more than two classes today…” He cocked his head to the side and smiled, cajoling her.

  “What difference does it make?” Ruby said, rolling her eyes.

  “You can do it, if you put some effort into it.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I’ve missed too much to ever catch up. There’s no point.”

  “When you decide that maybe you do want to get an education, there are a lot of programs to help students like yourself get back on track. You just have to say the word.”

  “I don’t care about school.”

  He shook his head, lips pursed.

  “Make sure you at least let your foster mom know you’re okay. You’ve created quite a bit of concern around here.”

  “Yeah, okay.”

  He got up and left her alone again. Ruby sat there, lost in thought. Marty and Kate spotted her a few minutes before the first bell. Kate was bouncing and hyped up about something. Marty frowned and sat down next to Ruby. She touched Ruby’s cheek gently with her thumb.

  “Who did that?”

  Ruby pushed Marty’s hand away. She held onto it briefly to show that she wasn’t mad, and then let go.

  “It was an accident.” She shrugged.

  “Uh-huh. What boy were you with this time?”

  “I don’t know where you find all these guys!” Kate interjected. Marty ignored her, staring steadily at Ruby. Ruby shifted.

  “I wasn’t with a boy.”

  “How’d you get cut?” Marty demanded.

  “I was with the Jags.”

  Marty looked exasperated.

  “The only thing worse for you than one boy is a whole gang. When are you going to figure it out, Ruby?”

  “Guys aren’t so bad,” Kate said. “You just don’t have a boyfriend, that’s why you get so mad.”

  “Why would I want a boyfriend?” Marty questioned. “So I could end up shot or beaten up like Ruby?”

  “A boyfriend might mellow you out a bit,” Kate pointed out.

  “No thanks. Ruby, you gotta get out of this life. You’re really gonna get hurt.”

  “I’m all right.”

  “You won’t be one of these days.”

  Ruby looked at the clock.

  “I have to make a phone call.”

  She walked away from them. She put change in one of the pay phones inside the main doors of the school, and dialed the Winters’ number. Mrs. Winters answered after a couple of rings.

  “Hello?”

  “Hi.”

  “Ruby? Where have you been? Are you okay?”

  “I’m fine. I’m at the school.”

  “Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick.”

  “Yeah, I’ve just been with friends.”

  “You need to let me know if you’re not going to be home. I have to know where you are and make sure that you’re going to be safe.”

  Ruby was in no mood to listen to a lecture. However nice Mrs. Winters might try to be about it.

  “I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later.”

  She hung up the phone. Ruby didn’t know where she was going to be after school, so there was no point in telling Mrs. Winters that she would be home when she might not. The bell rang, and Ruby went to her classes.

  Ruby looked around at lunch for Brian, but couldn’t find him. She used some more change to call Chuck.

  “Hi, Chuck. Are we going to get together tonight?”

  “If you want to make an appointment to see me, I have an opening at three,” he told her evenly.

  “What’s the matter, someone listening to you?”

  “No.”

  “Then come get me tonight,” she invited.

  “Sorry. That’s over. Time for both of us to move on.”

  “You’ll be sorry, you know that.”

  There was silence for a while.

  “Did you want to make an appointment?” Chuck questioned finally.

  “No. When can I see Ronnie?”

  “You really messed things up there. I might be able to set something up, but you haven’t made things easy for me. Are you back at the Winters now?”

  “No. I’ll meet Ronnie somewhere else.”

  “Not unsupervised, you won’t. Will you meet at her foster family’s?”

  Ruby shook her head, staring up at the ceiling.

  “I guess,” she conceded.

  “I’ll look into it.”

  “What’s their address?”

  “I’ll let you know after we get something set up.”

  “You can’t call me,” Ruby reminded him.

  “You really should get a cell. Just call me later, and I’ll let you know what we’ve arranged.”

  “Aren’t you going to ask me where I’ll be?”

  There was no answer from Chuck for a few minutes. Ruby heard his suppressed sigh.

  “Honestly, Ruby... You’ve been able to look after yourself up until now. I don’t know what you’re doing, and I don’t want to hear. Okay? If you tell me, I’ll put it on your file. Everything from now on goes on your file,” he said sternly. There was a muffled thump, and she pictured him smacking his hand on top of her file for emphasis.

  Ruby stood there with the phone to her ear, her mind blank. She didn’t really believe that Chuck was serious about breaking up. She couldn’t understand how he could suddenly be so cold toward her.

  “Why put it on my file? It isn’t like you want anyone to actually look at it,” Ruby sneered.

  Chuck hung up. Ruby didn’t waste her money on another call. She went and found Marty.

  “I’m not going to stick around this afternoon. You want to go somewhere?”

  Marty hesitated.

  “I have a test to write this afternoon. If I don’t write it...”

  Ruby rolled her eyes.

  “Fine. Where’s Kate?”

  “Chasing boys.”

  “Junior high boys!” Ruby made a disgusted face.

  Marty touched the cut on Ruby’s face.

  “That’s what older boys do to you.”

  “Are you going to be around tonight? If I come over or something?”

  “Yeah. I’ll be home.”

  “Okay. I don’t know. I might come over.”

  Marty nodded.

  “If it’s the Jags or me, come over, huh?”

  Ruby shrugged. She left the school and went looking for the Jags.

  There were a couple of black jackets in the arcade, but they weren’t Jags, so Ruby didn’t stick around. They might recognize her as having been at the fig
ht the night before. She had to be more careful now about being seen alone. She went by the apartment and one of the boys let her in. Harlan was lying on the mattress in the front room watching a fuzzy picture on the TV. He turned slightly when she came in to look at her.

  “Well, so you came back.”

  His nose was bandaged or something. The whole side of his face was bruised and swollen up. His words were unclear, sort of muffled. Ruby looked at him for a minute.

  “How’d all that happen? You out with that punk girlfriend again?”

  Harlan laughed loudly, wincing when the movement jarred his sensitive muscles.

  “Yeah right,” he snorted, his eye tearing a little. “Got it at the rumble last night.”

  “I don’t remember you looking that bad last night.”

  “It hadn’t bruised up yet. You don’t look so great yourself.”

  Ruby knew her face was slightly bruised, and of course there was the cut on her cheek, but she didn’t look nearly as bad as Harlan.

  “I just need a hot shower. And some more sleep.”

  “Why, your boyfriend didn’t let you sleep in?” he teased.

  Ruby clenched her jaw, and looked for something flippant to say, but knew that she had failed to respond quickly enough. She ended up not saying anything, just smiling knowingly at him and going into the bedroom. Tim wasn’t there. Ruby frowned and went into the bathroom to shower. The apartment was quiet aside from the noise of Harlan’s TV and the occasional outburst from the other couple of gang members who had hung around. Ruby shut the door behind her, but it didn’t even latch properly. The seat on the toilet was up, naturally, and the inside of the shower stall stunk of mold. Ruby stripped down quickly and stepped gingerly inside. At least there was hot water, even if there did seem to be a shortage of soap. Ruby opened the shower curtain and got a sliver of soap out of her knapsack. Always helped to be prepared. She let the steam fill the room and stood idly under the stream of hot water, letting it soak her hair and warm her body. Her muscles were stiff and sore after the fight. She hadn’t realized what a workout it had been. She had plenty of minor bruises mottling her body. She massaged her skin gently, lathered a little soap over her body and hair, and rinsed off again. There was a cool draft when someone opened the bathroom door, and Ruby glanced at the shower door nervously. She remembered barging in on Willhelm that morning, and grinned. She waited a few moments, and then peeked out the corner of the curtain. Julian, one of the younger boys, was scraping his face with a dull razor.

  “Need a hand?” Ruby questioned.

  He started, cutting himself, and swore. He turned and looked at her, his neck flushing red.

  “I didn’t know it was you in here!” He cursed again, looking back at the mirror and the cut on his face. “Man, you can’t do that when a guy’s shaving!”

  “Hand me a towel?” Ruby said politely.

  He prodded the towels on the floor with his toe as Ruby shut off the water. He picked one up and handed it to her.

  “I didn’t know it was you in here,” he repeated, embarrassed.

  Ruby wrapped the towel around herself before opening the door.

  “Can a person get some privacy around here?” she questioned. “Girl stuff, you know?”

  Julian looked panicked.

  “Yeah. Sorry. I’m going.”

  He hurried out of the room, pulling the door shut behind him. It stayed open a crack, but Ruby forced herself to take her time drying off and getting dressed. If they were going to spy on her, they would only be encouraged by modesty on her part. As long as she was casual, the thrill would quickly wear off, and she’d get more used to changing around them. Ruby ran her fingers through her hair, and put her knapsack over her shoulder. She walked back into the bedroom. Everyone was out in the front room. They were joking around with Julian, who was extremely red-faced, but trying to look cool and composed. Harlan cackled when he saw Ruby.

  “What’d you do to poor Julian? Pull your knife on him? First chick I known who takes her knife in the shower.”

  Ruby just smiled.

  “I think he slipped while shaving,” she said innocently. Julian had apparently nicked himself pretty good. He was trying to stop the cut from bleeding, but kept pulling it around with his fingers and starting it bleeding again.

  The door opened, and Tim walked in.

  “Hey, what’s up?” he questioned. He nodded at Ruby. “Hey.”

  “Hi. You doing anything?”

  He shrugged.

  “No.”

  “But I am,” Jack said from the doorway. He had followed Tim in. “You’re with me this afternoon.”

  Ruby looked at him.

  “Why? What’s up?”

  “Come on.”

  Ruby looked around at the others. They were all waiting for her response. Ruby shrugged her shoulders, trying to look cool. Her stomach was tight and slightly nauseous. She held her arm out for Jack.

  “Let’s go, then.”

  He nodded approvingly and put his hand on her back to escort her out. She tried to relax, so that he wouldn’t know she was nervous. She was finding it hard to breathe quietly, hard to get air. The door to the apartment shut behind them, and Jack rubbed her back soothingly.

  “Hey, take it easy, baby. I just want to talk.”

  Ruby nodded as if she was unconcerned.

  “Where are we going?”

  “Over to my place.”

  “Where’s that?”

  “It’s not far.”

  Ruby kept quiet. His apartment was a few blocks away from the others, pretty much the same type of place. Cheap subsidized housing projects, with thin walls and grungy halls. Jack let go of her while he unlocked the door, then pushed her in gently ahead of him. Ruby took a look around while he shut and locked the door again. Jack took a quick look around the apartment to make sure that they were alone. Then he went to the fridge and pulled out a couple of beers. He handed her one. Ruby nodded her thanks and pulled the tab.

  “So what’d you think of the fight last night?” he questioned.

  Ruby shrugged with one shoulder.

  “We lost.”

  “Yeah. But that wasn’t the point.” His eyes were steely, intense. Ruby glanced away from him.

  “Then what was?”

  He took a drink of his beer, timing his answer.

  “Which one killed Mike?”

  Ruby took a deep breath. She’d wondered if he’d ever ask her, but she’d about decided that he didn’t care and wasn’t going to ask.

  “Take all the time you like,” Jack said evenly. “I got lots of time. You just take time to remember their faces, and tell me which ones were there.”

  Ruby tried not to remember. She tried to block it out of her mind.

  “How do you know it was Terminators?” she questioned, ignoring the images trying to force their way into her brain.

  “I’ve known from the start it was Terminators. That was obvious. I want to know which ones.”

  “I’m not feeling so good,” Ruby said weakly, and went to find his bathroom. Jack didn’t stop her. Ruby hadn’t had anything to eat since coffee in the cafeteria, but she hung retching over the toilet anyway, her eyes tightly shut, trying not to remember those two nights. She’d rather do anything than let herself remember. It was a long time before she managed to settle her stomach down, and Ruby splashed cold water on her face, trying to chase away the nausea. She shut off the taps and went reluctantly back out to talk to Jack. He watched her walk in, and didn’t say anything.

  “I only saw one of them last night,” Ruby lied.

  “Okay. Which one?”

  Ruby licked her dry lips.

  “The one you were talking to. Their leader, I guess.”

  “Slash. Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me. Was he the trigger?”

  Ruby stared at Jack.

  “Was he the one that shot Mike?” Jack prodded.

  Ruby hesitated. She nodded her head slightly. Jack watched her closel
y and didn’t believe it.

  “Who pulled the trigger?” he repeated.

  “He wasn’t there last night.”

  Jack sat back and took another swig of his beer. He watched her thoughtfully.

  “I think you’re lying to me.”

  “He wasn’t there.”

  “Describe him to me.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “It was dark. I couldn’t see them. I just recognized—Slash’s voice last night.”

  “No, I don’t think so.” Jack was silent for a few moments, drinking his beer and watching her. “Slash was there... and somebody else...” he mused. “It would have to be one of his lieutenants. Troy, Cash, or Laskin.”

  Ruby just looked at Jack. She didn’t know his name. She knew him—his face, his voice, his hands... but she didn’t know his name. It meant nothing to her. She took another drink, struggling to keep the memories deeply suppressed.

  “Cash is handsome, the chicks love him. Nice face. Dark hair. Good build.” He studied her face. “Laskin is more like Harlan. Big, broad. Pale face. Lot’s’o’ muscles. Dirty blond. No? Troy, then.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I didn’t see. They were shining lights in my eyes. I couldn’t see them.”

  “Troy’s just a little guy, but vicious. Crazy cat. Dark, greased hair. Bright blue eyes. Wiry, tough guy.”

  Ruby’s stomach was doing gymnastics. She swallowed, trying to keep the beer down. His description was accurate, adding clarity to the flashbacks. Ruby tried to put down her beer, but couldn’t reach the table. She tried to find something to steady her shaking legs. She thought she should try to get back to the bathroom, but the room was dissolving around her so that all she could see was the flashbacks.

  “Steady there.”

  The images overwhelmed her. Hands closed over her arms, and Ruby fought loose.

  “No—don’t touch me—please…” the words caught in her throat, she felt like she was being strangled.

  “Relax, honey. Just relax.”

  She fought off his hands with failing strength. The harder she tried to protect herself, the more paralyzed she felt. Paralyzed, just like that night. Unable to keep his hands off of her body. She felt him pick her up, but she could no longer fight back. She saw Troy’s face clearly in her mind, his ugly leering smile. She could feel his gentle touch on her body. The gentle, soft strokes that sent waves of confusion and uncertainty over her. His voice filled her ears, quiet, soothing, like you talked to a baby or frightened puppy.

  He was slapping her cheeks gently, steadily, talking to her in a low, steady, slightly angry tone. Ruby became slowly aware that it was Jack, not Troy, and that she was lying on his bed as he tried to bring her out of her flashback. Ruby moved her face away from his hands.

  “Stop—stop it.”

  He studied her, his eyes piercing.

  “What’s the matter with you?”

  “Nothing. Nothing, I’m okay.” Ruby pushed herself up to a sitting position.

  “I never figured you the fainting type.”

  “Did I faint?” Ruby questioned weakly.

  Jack shrugged.

  “I don’t know what else you’d call it. Too many pills.”

  “No, I don’t take pills.”

  “What did he do to you?”

  “Who?”

  “Troy.”

  “I never saw Troy.”

  “How stupid do you think I am? If Troy and Slash shot Mike, we’re gonna kill them,” he said it casually, as if it was nothing. “And if you’ll tell me what he did to you, I’ll make him suffer first. What’d he do, beat you up?”

  “No—he didn’t hurt me. He didn’t do anything. I don’t know if he was the one who shot Mike.”

  “He was. And we’ll pay him back.”

  “No... it couldn’t have been him. I remember when he was standing there—it was a big guy.”

  “Laskin? Are you sure?”

  “No—it’s all muddled up... they woke us up, and shone the lights in our eyes. It was really disorienting. And then everything happened so fast, and they were gone. I really don’t know what happened.”

  “But you remember he was big.”

  “It seemed like it, yeah,” Ruby lied desperately.

  Jack nodded.

  “Good. Then we’ll take care of it.”

 
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