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Ruby between the cracks, p.7
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.7

           P.D. Workman

  Chapter Seven

  RUBY DIALED CHUCK FROM a pay phone down in front of Jack’s building.

  “Hello?” his voice sounded strange to her. Muffled, or as if his attention was on something other than the phone call.


  “Ruby?” he growled. “What do you want?”

  “Did you set something up with Ronnie?” she reminded him.

  “Oh—you can go over there tomorrow during the day. The two of you can’t be alone, and you can’t stay there after dark. Okay?”

  “Where do they live?”

  Chuck gave her the address.

  “I’m told the number 22 bus stops a block away.”

  “Just a sec, I have to write this down.”

  Ruby dug a piece of paper out of her bag and had him repeat it. She scribbled out the address.

  “Good. It’s been a long time since I saw her.”

  He answered her as a car came around the corner, moving very slowly while the driver looked for something. Their eyes met, and Ruby realized it was a cop. One of the ones who had been watching her. She swore. Chuck stopped talking on the other end, surprised.


  “I gotta go.”

  Ruby hung up. The car moved quickly on, the cop pretending it hadn’t been her he was looking for. Ruby tried to figure out where to go. They were still on her. She picked up her bag and found Willhelm’s card. Her fingers shaking, she managed to get through to him on the first try.


  “It’s Ruby.”

  “What do you want?” he sighed.

  “I want the cops to stop following me.”

  There were a few moments of silence.

  “I thought you were mad at them for taking you off of surveillance before,” he pointed out.

  “I’m tired of being used for bait.”

  “They’re protecting you.”

  “They didn’t protect me last time. I want them off me,” she insisted.

  “I’ll see what I can do for you—but are you sure that’s what you want?” he questioned.

  “Yeah. I know what I want.”

  “All right. I’ll talk to the police about it.”

  “Thanks. I’ll see you later.”

  She hung up the phone and decided to take Marty up on her offer for her to come over. She caught the bus and headed over. She got there before Marty was home from school and sat on the front steps waiting for her. It was an hour or more before Marty got there. She hugged Ruby briefly and unlocked the door for her. They both went in.

  “You hungry?” Marty questioned.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Not really.”

  “You had anything to eat today?” Marty studied Ruby’s face.

  “Coffee for breakfast, beer for lunch,” Ruby said with a laugh.

  Marty shook her head. She opened the fridge.

  “I’ll make something. You starve yourself. You gotta put on some weight.”

  “Yeah, I know. I just... Haven’t been up to eating much lately.” Ruby shrugged.

  “You’re going to sleep here tonight, right? You’re not going off with the Jags again?”

  “Yeah, not tonight. I’ll stay.”

  She was thinking about the police tail. If they were on her again, she would do best to stay places that would not look suspicious.

  “Do you have to call your foster mom?”

  “I guess.” Ruby went to the phone and dialed up Mrs. Winters. “Hi, it’s Ruby.”

  “I would like you home tonight,” Mrs. Winters said firmly.

  “I’m at Marty’s.”

  “Let me talk to her mom.”

  “She’s not here yet.”

  “Is Marty there?”

  “Yeah, just a second.”

  She handed the receiver to Marty, who raised her eyebrows questioningly.

  “Hi, Mrs. Winters... yeah, we’re at home. I’ll have her call when she gets in, I’m just making dinner... okay, bye.”

  She hung up.

  “My mom has to call her when she gets here. I don’t know, she doesn’t sound too happy about it.”

  “Too bad. What’s she going to do about it?”

  Marty shrugged. Ruby went into the front room, and Marty heard the liquor cabinet open.

  “I thought you had booze for lunch.”

  “Just beer.”

  “Don’t let my mom catch you in there. Don’t take enough for her to notice.”

  “I’m not.” Ruby walked back into the kitchen with a glass of wine.

  “You sleeping better now?” Marty questioned, as she mixed together some Hamburger Helper.

  “As long as I’m not alone.”

  “I wish you’d just move in here.”

  Ruby looked at Marty for a moment.

  “Your mom wouldn’t like it,” she said, looking away.

  “She wouldn’t care. We’ve talked about it before.”

  “You have?”


  Ruby picked at the salad Marty had pulled out of the fridge. She sipped at the glass of wine, keeping her thoughts to herself. She’d never really been wanted anywhere. Foster families took her because that’s what they did. Her own family hadn’t wanted her from the start. Chuck had wanted her—but only sometimes, and only on his terms. She and Marty had been friends for a long time, but she’d never heard this invitation before. Marty continued to make dinner in silence. She’d never been one to waste words. She said what she thought needed to be said, and that was it. She glanced at Ruby, and put her hand on her shoulder briefly.

  “I mean it. Live here.”

  “I’ll think about it.”

  Marty nodded.

  “How come you and Kate hang out together?” Ruby questioned, changing the subject.

  “I don’t know,” Marty admitted with a shrug. “Just ’cause we always have, I guess.”

  “You’re not alike at all.”

  “No. She wants to be part of the in crowd; she tries so hard to be cool.”

  “But you still like her,” Ruby said.

  “I’ve known her since kindergarten. I know her pretty good. No surprises.”

  “Why do you think she wants to be popular so much?”

  “Some people just do. I think her mom was popular in school, and thinks that she should be too.”

  “Huh. Why don’t you care about being popular?”

  “Why don’t you?” Marty countered.

  “I don’t know. Those people are so shallow. I don’t care what people think. I don’t want to have to be anything, just what I am.”

  Marty nodded.

  “Yeah. You want to be part of that crowd, you have to be what they dictate. I don’t do anything just because people think I should.”

  Ruby nodded.

  They were watching TV when Marty’s mom got home. She stopped to talk with them.

  “Hi, honey. Hi, Ruby.”

  “Hi, Mom. Ruby’s foster mom wants to talk to you to make sure Ruby can stay.”

  “Sure. What’s the number?” She pulled out her cell phone.

  Ruby told it to her. Marty’s mom dialed it.

  “Hi. It’s Mrs. Rodger. Marty’s mom. Ruby said you wanted me to call... no, I don’t mind her staying here any time... They’re no trouble... okay, bye.”

  She hung up the phone.

  “You can stay. I think you’d better go home tomorrow, though. She sounds pretty worried.”

  “Yeah, maybe.”

  “Are you okay, Ruby?”

  Ruby looked up from the TV, a little surprised.


  “You’re pretty pale. Did you guys get something good to eat?”

  “Yeah, we ate,” Marty assured her.

  “You two are going to bed early. I don’t want you getting sick while you’re staying here.”

  The girls didn’t bother arguing. She nodded and left them alone.

  Ruby awoke when Marty started to move around restlessly. She untang
led herself carefully from Marty’s arms, and Marty woke up. She opened her eyes and looked at Ruby for a moment, then smiled.

  “Hi. What time is it?”

  Ruby shrugged. Marty stretched lazily, like a cat.

  “I guess we don’t have to get up. No school.”

  “I’m going over to see Ronnie today.”

  “Yeah? Right away?”

  Ruby looked at the window, noting it was already bright outside.

  “Pretty soon, I guess.”

  “Do you need to do laundry?”

  Marty was always practical. Ruby nodded.

  “Yeah. I suppose it’s about time I did.”

  She slid her feet out of bed and picked up her bag. She pulled out the bundle of dirty clothes. She saw the stained t-shirt, and sighed.

  “What gets blood out?” she questioned.

  Marty looked at it.

  “Nothing, when it’s already dry. I’ll give you one of my t-shirts.”

  “Thanks. I’ll go put these in.”

  Marty got out of bed as Ruby left the room. She padded out to the kitchen to get coffee started. Marty’s father was in the kitchen drinking beer, with his feet up on a chair.

  “Hi, precious,” he greeted. “How’s it going?”

  “Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” Marty said neutrally, walking past him without meeting his eye.

  “A man needs time to unwind after work. You’re up pretty early for a Saturday morning, aren’t you?”

  “Yeah, a little,” Marty agreed.

  She went about preparing for breakfast, ignoring his presence. Ruby wandered into the kitchen a few minutes later, yawning.

  “You got coffee on?” she questioned.

  She finished the yawn and opened her eyes and saw Marty’s dad there for the first time.


  “Mornin’, Ruby.”

  She felt his eyes following her as she went over to the coffee pot. She was always uncomfortable when he was around. She felt herself flushing as she realized that the oversized t-shirt of Marty’s that she’d slipped on as a night-shirt the night before just barely reached her thighs and was extremely thin and worn. If she hadn’t just thrown all the clothes she owned in the washer, she would have gone and changed. She didn’t like Marty’s dad looking at her like that. It was quite obvious Ruby didn’t have anything on underneath the t-shirt. Ruby took her cup of coffee over to the table and sat down at the opposite end of the table from Marty’s dad, using the table as a shield from his eyes.

  “So how’s school going for the two of you?” he questioned.

  “Pretty good,” Marty answered, not turning around.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Like always,” she mumbled.

  “What’s your best subject?”

  “I dunno. English.”

  “English was never one of my better subjects. But you’re pretty good at it, aren’t you pumpkin?” This was directed at Marty.

  “Yes, Dad.”

  He grinned and gulped down the last of his beer.

  “I get the picture,” he said, “I’ll leave the two of you alone.”

  He took his booted feet off of the chair and dropped them each with a thud on the floor. He heaved himself to his feet and exited the kitchen, headed for his own bedroom. Ruby breathed a sigh of relief.

  “Why didn’t you tell me he was here?” she demanded in a whisper.

  “I didn’t know. Usually he’s in bed, if he’s home at all. How was I supposed to know he’d be here?”

  “Man, I walk in here practically naked... !”

  “What exactly is it about my dad that prompts this modesty in you? Since when do you care who sees your body?”

  “I do!” Ruby insisted.


  “Just ’cause there are a few guys I stay with, that doesn’t mean I traipse around giving anyone a peek!”

  “Why do you care if my dad sees you like that? I’m dressed the same way, and I got plenty more under here to hide. If I don’t care, why should you? You got nothing under there.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “I don’t like the way he looks at me.”

  “It’s all in your mind. He doesn’t look at you any differently than he looks at me.”

  “I know.”

  Marty heard Ruby’s tone, and turned to look at Ruby, disbelief in her face.

  “You think... ! You’re crazy. I’m his daughter, that’s all he sees. He doesn’t look at my body.”

  Ruby was not convinced.

  “Why don’t you like him, then?”

  “Why don’t I like him? ’cause he’s a deadbeat. He’s a slob, he’s crude, he spends more than he makes, and he’s a jerk. But he’s no...pervert.” Marty shook her head. She went on making breakfast, not speaking. Ruby sipped the hot coffee, putting her feet up on her chair with her knees under the shirt. Mrs. Rodger shuffled into the kitchen wearing a tattered bathrobe and furry slippers.

  “That’s ladylike,” she told Ruby. Ruby grinned at her. She went over and got a cup of coffee.

  “Thanks Marty. This smells great.”

  “Dad wake you up?”

  “Oh, I would have been up in a while anyway. Did you guys have a good sleep? Are you feeling better this morning, Ruby?”

  “I’m fine.”

  “Good. You’re still looking a little piqued. You take care of yourself. Are you staying around here today?”

  “No, I have to go see my sister.”

  “Oh, well good for you. What’s for breakfast, Marty?”

  Marty gestured.

  “Pancakes, fruit... you want anything else?”

  “That will be great. I’ll make juice.”

  Ruby watched them working side by side. She had never had that sort of rapport with her own mother. With anyone. But she’d always been thoroughly comfortable with Mrs. Rodger. She and Marty were both so open and straightforward. They weren’t loud, didn’t say more than they had to, but they were genuine.

  “Are you going to come back here tonight?” Mrs. Rodger questioned as they were eating breakfast.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “I don’t know yet.”

  “You’re always welcome here.”

  She nodded.


  Ruby checked the house number on the big brick house on the corner lot before going up the cobbled path. She rang the doorbell, shifting back and forth impatiently. Ronnie’s foster father answered the door and glowered at her disapprovingly. Ruby tried to look cool.

  “Where’s Ronnie?” she questioned.

  “You’re Ruby?”


  “You can stay for an hour.”

  “My social worker said I could stay as long as I wanted,” Ruby protested.

  “You can stay for an hour.”

  “It took me an hour and a half to get here on the bus.”

  His expression changed slightly, but Ruby couldn’t tell whether he would change his tune or not. He stepped back to let her in. Ruby slipped past him, her stomach tight. She was led into the family room, where a number of children were watching cartoons on TV. Ronnie was with them. She turned around and saw Ruby.

  “Oh—hi, Ruby.”

  Not nearly the excitement she’d shown before. The atmosphere of the room was thick with tension as everybody turned to look at her. They’d been telling stories about her. Ruby was sure of it. She squirmed under their curious stares.

  “Hey, Ronnie. Uh—let’s go where we can talk...”

  “You’ll stay in here to visit,” Ronnie’s foster dad told them firmly.

  “We can’t talk here.”


  Ruby’s face burned. She motioned to Ronnie.

  “Come on. Please? You and me gotta talk.”

  Ronnie looked uncertainly at her foster father for direction. Ruby was not going to let him control the situation.

  “I was your family long before these guys, Ronnie. I remember when you were
born. I looked after you long before these guys even knew you existed.”

  Ronnie got to her feet and approached Ruby.

  “We’ll... We’ll just go in the kitchen,” she told her foster dad apologetically. Ruby put her arm around Ronnie’s shoulder companionably, smiling. They went into the kitchen where they could have a little privacy.

  “What’s he been saying about me?” Ruby demanded.


  “You foster dad. What’s he been telling you about me?”

  Ronnie shrugged, looking down at the floor.

  “He doesn’t know anything about me—he’s never even seen me before. And Chuck can’t tell him anything about me, because that’s confidential between me and him. So anything your foster dad’s saying, he made up himself.”

  “He didn’t say anything.”

  “I’ll bet. How come no-one will let me talk to you? Can you tell me that?”

  Ronnie shrugged.

  “Mr. Samuels said I wasn’t supposed to go over to see you before. With no-one there.”

  “My foster family was there. And it isn’t like I did anything to hurt you.”

  Ronnie looked ready to cry.

  “We weren’t supposed to sleep together,” she said, her voice breaking.

  “Who told you that? There’s nothing wrong with sisters sleeping together! I didn’t do anything to hurt you, did I?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “What do you mean, you don’t know? I never hurt you! It’s no wonder I’m in trouble if you’re making up stories!” Ruby said angrily.

  Tears started to stream down Ronnie’s cheeks. Ruby only stayed angry for a few minutes, then forced herself to recall that Ronnie was just mixed up by the stories they were telling her, by everyone saying that she’d done something shameful. She hugged Ronnie.

  “It’s okay. I’m sorry I got mad. It’s not your fault.”

  “I didn’t tell anyone,” Ronnie sobbed, shaking all over.

  “I know, I know. It wouldn’t matter if you did. You should be able to tell anyone you like. It wasn’t any big secret. You didn’t do anything wrong, and neither did I.”

  Ronnie nodded, gulping. Ruby tried to brush away Ronnie’s tears.

  “It’s okay. I’m sorry. It’s your dad I’m mad at, not you,” she explained.

  Ronnie sniffled, trying to catch her breath.

  “I miss Mom,” she said, surprising Ruby.

  “Yeah. You could go back there, you know.”

  Ronnie shook her head.

  “I can’t, ’cause of Daddy.”

  Ruby tensed.

  “He didn’t do anything really. It’s just what they’re telling you, isn’t it? Like with me.”

  Ronnie didn’t answer. She just stood there looking lost and confused. Ruby hugged her close, patting her back.

  “Ronnie, he didn’t hurt you. He couldn’t have.”

  “Get away from her,” Ronnie’s foster dad growled from the doorway. Ruby jumped, and turned around. Ronnie pulled away from Ruby quickly.

  “I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Ruby told him, scowling.

  “Just get away from my daughter,” he said tightly. Ronnie moved further away from Ruby.

  “She’s not your daughter. You aren’t related to her. I am. And I’d never hurt her.”

  “You’ve already hurt her—you and her father.”

  “Dad never did anything either.”

  The man shook his head in disgust. His mouth was a tight, angry line.

  “Get out of this house,” he snapped.

  “I don’t have to.”

  “You get out of here, or I’ll call the police.”

  “No, you won’t. What’re you going to tell them? That I came over to visit my sister, and I gave her a hug so you want me thrown out? Come on.”

  “Ronnie, go on up to your room.”

  “Stay here, Ronnie,” Ruby snapped, before Ronnie could begin to obey. Ronnie stood there looking at the two of them, not moving. Her foster father picked up the receiver of the kitchen wall phone and dialed. He turned his back and took a few steps out of the room to speak, and Ruby knew it was a bluff. She turned back to Ronnie, trying to look casual.

  “He’s just blowing hot air,” she assured Ronnie nonchalantly. She went to the fridge and looked inside. Milk or juice. And there was no coffee maker or teakettle on the counter. She looked at Ronnie.

  “Isn’t there anything to drink?”

  “There’s juice.”

  “Yeah, well I guess you’re still drinking that, aren’t you.” Ruby sighed, and poured a couple of glasses. They sat down at the table to drink them, and Ruby glanced up at the doorway, where Ruby’s foster father was hovering again.

  “Leave us alone.”

  “You two are not going to be alone. Ronnie, please go upstairs. I don’t want you getting hurt.”

  Ronnie looked at him pleadingly. He didn’t back down. Ronnie stood up and headed for the door. Ruby watched her go, trying to keep her anger under wraps. Ronnie disappeared from sight.

  “You may as well leave now,” Ronnie’s foster dad observed.

  “I came to see Ronnie. You can’t make me leave,” Ruby said stubbornly.

  “Would you leave if your social worker told you to?”


  “The police are on their way over. I’m giving you a chance to leave before they arrive.”

  “I’m not leaving,” Ruby repeated.

  He shook her head.

  “Why are you doing this?”

  “Why are you trying to keep me away from Ronnie? I’m not trying to take her away from you, you know. I don’t care if you’re trying to adopt her. I don’t care if you keep her away from my folks. Why should I? I’m not there.”

  “I’m keeping you away from Ronnie because I don’t want her hurt any more.”

  “I’m not hurting her. I just came to talk.”

  The doorbell rang. A few moments later, a timid looking woman led two uniforms into the room. Ronnie’s foster dad motioned them in.

  “Thank you for being so quick. I want this girl charged with assault and taken away from the house.”

  They stood looking at Ruby blankly.

  “She assaulted my daughter a couple of weeks ago. She came here to do it again. I found them in this room in an embrace.”

  Ruby opened her mouth to object, looking for something to say.

  “You liar! I was hugging her because she was crying!”

  “She was crying because you were trying to harm her—again.”


  The cops started to move towards her, starting to understand what was happening.

  “Her father has already been charged with assault, and apparently Ruby here follows in Daddy’s footsteps.”

  Ruby stepped towards him.

  “Ronnie is not your daughter! She’s my sister!”

  “She’s my foster daughter,” he explained to the officers. “Since she was taken out of her parents’ custody for her own protection.”

  “She was not; she asked to be removed, just like me,” Ruby insisted.

  “No, she didn’t. She came here from the hospital after being assaulted.”

  Ruby couldn’t believe that he was going to have her arrested.

  “Talk to my foster family—” she started, but he cut her off.

  “Arguing isn’t going to get us anywhere. You can investigate after you get her out of here, can’t you? I want her away from my daughter; this whole thing is just tearing her up...”

  They closed in on her. Ruby just stood there, frozen, as they put the handcuffs over her wrists and escorted her gently out of the house. They warned her not to bump her head when they eased her into the back seat of the police car. They shut the door, locking her in, and went back into the house for further discussions. Ruby sat in the car, slumped back against the seat. She closed her eyes and tried to make sense of the whole mess.

  It seemed like hours before the tw
o officers come back out of the house, talking seriously with one another. One was holding her knapsack, and held it up as they got into the car.

  “This is yours?”


  They pulled out from the curb.

  “Did you talk to Ronnie?” Ruby questioned.

  “Yes, we talked to her.”

  “So where are you taking me?”

  “To the police station.”

  “Why? If you talked to Ronnie, you know I didn’t do anything!”

  “Ronnie couldn’t confirm that,” he said quietly.

  “What do you mean, couldn’t? He wouldn’t let her talk? Was he there when you talked to her?”

  “No, we talked to her alone.”

  “So what did she say?” Ruby demanded.

  “Just sit back and relax. We’ll go over everything when we get to the station.”

  “Come on! I didn’t do anything.”

  “You’ll get a chance to tell your side of the story,” he soothed.

  Ruby stopped arguing and sat back. She stared out the window, trying to keep her mind blank. They pulled up in front of the police station and one of them opened the door for her. Ruby was helped to her feet, and they took her up to the doors holding her arms gently. Ruby eventually found herself in a small office alone, waiting for the officers to come back.

  Cisco sat down on the edge of a desk and looked at his partner.

  “What are we going to do?”

  “She’s been charged. We have to investigate.”

  Cisco opened his notebook, sighing.

  “I’ll call the social worker.”

  Bentley nodded.

  “I’ll look into the charges against the father. Figure out what the history is here.”

  Cisco sat down at the desk and picked up the phone. He dialed the number Ronnie’s foster father had given to him.

  “Mr. Samuels?”

  “Yes, speaking.”

  “My name is officer Cisco. I’d like to talk to you about Ruby and Ronnie Simpson.”

  The social worker’s long exhale traveled down the wire.

  “What’s Ruby gotten herself into now?”

  “Ronnie’s foster family has charged her with assault.”

  Samuels swore.

  “You’ve got to be kidding. What happened over there? I didn’t even think Ruby would be there yet.”

  “You knew she was going over to see Ronnie today?”

  “Sure, it was a scheduled visit. Ruby was allowed to go over there any time today to see Ronnie, with Ronnie’s foster parents supervising. What happened over there?”

  “Apparently Ruby was—er—touching Ronnie inappropriately,” Cisco said delicately.

  “How could she? They were being supervised!”

  “Apparently, not closely enough.”

  Samuels swore again. Cisco rolled his eyes. The man wasn’t being terribly informative.

  “Is there anything in Ruby’s past that would lead you to think that she might hurt Ronnie?” he suggested.

  There was silence for a few minutes.

  “Ruby and Ronnie come from the same home,” Samuels said slowly, logically, his voice calm now. “If Ronnie was being abused, then it’s not much of a stretch that Ruby might have been when she was home. They were both put into foster care at the same age. Abused children can be abusive themselves.”

  “So you think it’s a possibility.”

  “Well, of course it’s a possibility. That’s why it was a supervised visit. But there’s never been any indication—”

  “Were there signs that Ruby was abused herself?”

  “No. Well, except that Ruby is... er… pretty mature for her age.”

  “Does she have a boyfriend?”

  “Not a steady boyfriend, I don’t think, but she definitely gets around.”

  “You wouldn’t be surprised if something happened between Ruby and Ronnie that wasn’t quite right.”

  “I think something might have happened to make Ronnie feel threatened, but it was probably innocent on Ruby’s part.”

  “Ronnie’s foster father said something about Ruby assaulting Ronnie a couple of weeks ago, too.”

  “Well, nothing proven. Ronnie spent a couple of nights with Ruby. Ronnie won’t talk about what happened. Ruby admits that they slept together, but not that there was any inappropriate contact.”

  “And she was allowed to go over there again today?”

  “They weren’t supposed to be left alone together. We can’t verify what happened that night. Neither one will talk openly about it.”

  Cisco shook his head wearily, noting it with a sigh.

  “Has Ruby been in any other trouble, Mr. Samuels?”

  “What kind of trouble?”

  Cisco pursed his lips, considering.

  “Why was she put into foster care?”

  “She was very rebellious. Her parents couldn’t control her.”

  “There was no suspicion of abuse?”

  “No, not back then. Ruby has problems with authority. She always has. Parents, teachers, social workers, anyone who makes the rules. She likes to run her own life.”

  “How about police?” Cisco suggested.

  “She hasn’t really had contact with the police until a couple of months ago. The occasional scrape for vagrancy or being in a bar underage, but she’s never been arrested.”

  “What’s happened in the last two months?”

  “A boy she was sleeping with was murdered. She’s had... a bit of contact with the police since then. But it’s not because of anything she did wrong.”

  “I see. Is there anything else I should know?”

  “I don’t think so. Listen—don’t tell her that I’ve given you any personal information about her, okay?”

  “Why not?”

  “I’ve spent years trying to build up a trusting relationship with Ruby. I would hate for that to all be destroyed by her thinking I’d passed on confidential information,” Samuels coaxed.

  “We’ll try to be careful.”

  Bentley was still talking on the phone when Cisco hung up. Cisco waited for him to finish. Bentley hung up, and shrugged.

  “Well, that was pretty uninformative.”

  “Likewise. What’s the scoop on the dad?” Cisco questioned.

  “There’s not much to go on. Probably he would never be convicted, but if they keep this going long enough, they can keep her in foster care... and hope that after a while Ronnie will get up the courage to accuse him.”

  “She didn’t accuse him?”

  “Nope. She went to hospital. The hospital called child welfare. They investigated and charged the dad.”


  “No. Just suspicions. There’s another girl between Ruby and Ronnie. Chloe. She denies everything emphatically. The next kids are five. They have no idea what’s been going on.”

  “The mother?”

  “Very close-mouthed. And Ronnie herself denies that daddy ever touched her.”

  “So there’s no reason to suspect him, other than that nobody is pointing any fingers in any other direction.”

  “Right. How about the social worker? What did he have to say?”

  “Like daddy like daughter. Maybe she did something, maybe she didn’t. No evidence one way or the other. Ruby’s word against the foster family’s.”

  “Well, let’s see how her story sounds.”

  They walked into the room where Ruby was waiting. Cisco sat down on the bare desk, and Bentley sat down in the chair behind it. Ruby was still sitting with her hands cuffed behind her back, looking uncomfortable.

  “Sorry to keep you waiting for us, Ruby. How’re you doing?” Cisco questioned.

  Ruby studied him suspiciously, but took his friendly tone as an indication that he was ready to listen.

  “Are you going to take these off me?” she glanced over her shoulder to indicate the cuffs.

  Cisco didn’t move.

  “I’ll get
them for you in a minute. So what exactly happened over there?”

  “Nothing! I didn’t do anything. All I did was hug Ronnie. I can hug my sister!”

  He nodded, considering.

  “Where were your hands?”

  “What?” Ruby frowned in consternation.

  “Well, when you hugged Ronnie, where did you put your hands?” Cisco prompted.

  Ruby stared at him for a moment, replaying the scene in her mind. She shifted uncomfortably.

  “On her back,” she said hesitantly, “her back—around her shoulders...”

  “Where were Ronnie’s hands?”

  “On her face—or at her sides—I’m not sure.”

  “Ronnie didn’t hug you back?”

  Ruby could see that wouldn’t sound good. She hesitated.

  “Well, not at first... she was crying... but then she hugged me too,” she claimed.

  “Where did she put her hands?”

  “Just behind my back.”

  “Above or below your waist?”


  “How much taller are you than Ronnie?”

  “A foot or something, I guess.”

  “How close did you hold Ronnie?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Were your bodies touching?”

  Ruby didn’t like his phrasing of the question. She looked for a way to answer it so that it wouldn’t sound wrong.

  “I guess we were touching... I didn’t notice.” She shrugged.

  “Did Ronnie hold you tight?”


  “She was upset, but she wasn’t holding you tight?”

  “Well, not tight—she was holding me...”

  “Did she lean her face against you?”

  Ruby was tensing up. There were no more right answers. He was asking questions in such a way that it didn’t matter what she said, it could be taking the wrong way.

  “I didn’t do anything wrong,” Ruby repeated firmly. “I gave her a hug when she was crying. I was trying to make my sister feel better.”

  “Why was she crying?”

  “Her foster dad made her upset... saying...”

  Cisco waited.

  “What did he say to upset Ronnie?” he prodded.

  “I don’t remember,” Ruby said flatly.

  “How long were you there?”

  “For a few minutes... not a long time.”

  “And you don’t remember what he said that made her cry?”

  Ruby sat there and didn’t say anything. Cisco got up and unlocked the handcuffs. Ruby looked down at her hands, rubbing her wrists.

  “I don’t know what their problem is,” Ruby said to the silence in the room.

  No-one said anything for a while. Ruby’s gaze wandered restlessly around the room. But there was nothing to look at. The room was bare and cold. The walls were green, and Ruby didn’t know if that was supposed to be calming, or if it just happened to be the bargain deal the day they last repainted it.

  “Why don’t you tell me about your family,” Cisco suggested.

  “I don’t have a family.”

  “You have Ronnie.”


  “Tell me about the rest of your family.”

  Ruby continued to stare down at her hands, and she didn’t talk as though she was speaking to them.

  “Mom, dad, me, Chloe, Ronnie, and the twins.”

  “What was it like when you were living at home?”

  “Ronnie was just a baby... she must have been three when I left. Chloe’s two years younger than me.”

  “How old were you when you left home?”


  “The same age Ronnie is now.”


  “Why did you leave?”

  “I didn’t like being trapped there. I wanted to control my own life.”

  “Why did you feel trapped?”

  “I don’t get along with my folks. I don’t like school. I like to stay out however late I feel like and eat or drink what I feel like. I don’t like being told what to do.”

  “Eight is pretty young to have that kind of freedom.”

  “I could handle it,” Ruby proclaimed.

  “Don’t your foster families have rules?”

  “I do what I want. If they won’t let me do what I want, I leave.”

  Cisco was silent. He made a couple of notations in his notebook. He looked back at Ruby, meeting her gaze steadily.

  “You said you don’t get along with your parents?”


  “Why not?”

  Ruby’s stomach started to gurgle and tighten. She stared hard at her hands, thinking back through the veil of darkness that the last five years of wandering and freedom had created. What was on the other side of the veil was foggy, like it was another life. When she thought back, she felt the same way as she had back then—the tight, sick feeling in her stomach. Trapped, worried, an urgent feeling of impending doom. But she couldn’t remember much of what had happened. The feelings were as clear as yesterday, but the memories were like they had happened to someone else.

  “I can’t remember,” she said quietly.

  “Did you get along with your dad?”

  “He wasn’t around much. I had fights with my mom.”

  Cisco sensed that she was trying to divert his attention.

  “Over what?” he questioned.

  “I don’t know. Stupid things. I don’t remember anymore.”

  “But you got along with your dad?” he returned to the former line of questioning.

  “I—I guess so. It’s a long time since I lived there.”

  “He never hurt you or touched you inappropriately?”

  “No, never!” she insisted.

  Cisco got up.

  “We’ll be back with you in a minute, Ruby.”

  Bentley got up to join him. He paused in the doorway.

  “Can I get you something, Ruby?”

  She looked up at him.

  “I’d like some cigarettes.”

  Her voice, even to herself, sounded very young and quiet. She sat in the silence of the room after they left, wondering why this was happening to her.

  “What do you think?” Cisco questioned.

  “She’s lying.”

  “Yes, but what really happened? I’m not sure what she’s hiding.”

  “Do you think she did anything to Ronnie?”

  “Not today. From what everyone has said, she didn’t have the opportunity. She was only there for a few minutes, and they were never really alone.”

  “You think something happened when she slept over?” Bentley suggested.

  “I wonder. Ronnie is pretty upset and confused about something. And I don’t think that the foster father would get this upset over nothing.”

  “What about their biological dad?”

  “Something going on there,” Cisco said with a nod.

  “You think so?”

  “I’m sure of it.”

  “So what does that mean?”

  “It means that Ruby probably left home for the same reason as Ronnie. Which means that she’s more likely to have hurt Ronnie.”

  Bentley nodded.

  “Why don’t you go back in, I’ll get her some cigarettes.”

  “I can’t believe how young these kids start smoking.”

  Cisco went back in to see Ruby. He sat down again and studied Ruby. She looked back at him, trying to keep her expression blank. She looked vulnerable, not like someone capable of what she had been accused of.

  “There’s one thing we haven’t talked about yet,” Cisco said.

  Ruby was silent.

  “What happened a couple of weeks ago when you saw Ronnie?”

  “Nothing happened,” she said, kicking the leg of the desk a couple of times. “Nothing.”

  “She came over to stay with you at your foster family’s house,” Cisco said.


  “And how d
id you spend your time?”

  “TV. Talked a bit.”

  “And she slept over.”

  “Yeah, so?” her tone was challenging.

  “Why is Ronnie’s foster dad so upset about that?”

  “’cause my social worker told him we should have been supervised.”

  “Why is that?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “So what did they think happened?”

  Ruby flushed.

  “Nothing happened!”

  “I don’t think you heard my question. I said what did they think happened?”

  Ruby concentrated on her crampy, gurgling stomach, trying to make her muscles relax. The longer she sat in the room, she worse she felt. It must have been the green color of the walls.

  “I gotta use the restroom.”

  Cisco nodded. He escorted her out of the room and down the hall, then waited outside the door for her. After ten minutes had passed, he knocked on the door.

  “Ruby?” There was no answer. Cisco opened the door and walked in. Ruby stood in front of the sink, patting her face with a wet paper towel. She looked up at him when he came in, and didn’t say anything. “Are you all right?” he questioned.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Let’s go,” Cisco instructed. He took her by the arm, and led her out of the room. He took her down the hall, as Bentley came from the other direction. He followed them back into the small office for further questioning. Ruby sat down again. Bentley handed her a small pack of cigarettes, and tossed a book of matches down on the desk in front of her. Ruby tore the package open and pulled a cigarette out. She put it in her mouth, and stuck one in her mouth. She struck a match a few times before it lit. She held the flame to her cigarette with shaking hands. It took three matches to light. Cisco watched this unemotionally.

  “You and Ronnie slept together,” he said, when she finally got it lit.

  “It wasn’t like that,” Ruby insisted.

  “What, then?”

  “I couldn’t sleep. I can’t sleep alone. I invited her over so I wouldn’t have to sleep by myself. Not to hurt her. I never hurt her.”

  “Ronnie’s not so sure.”

  “That’s because everyone’s telling her I did. She’s only a kid, she believes what they tell her.”

  “Like you believed your dad when he said he wasn’t doing anything wrong?” he suggested.

  “My dad didn’t do anything.”

  “I think he did. And I think you’re just as confused about it as Ronnie. I think that you’re trying to work it all out, in your own way.”

  “I’m not confused,” Ruby said clearly, biting off each word. “And I know I never did anything to Ronnie. Why would I hurt my own sister?”

  “Because you’re mixed up.”

  Ruby shook her head. Cisco frowned, studying her.

  “What did Ronnie wear to bed?” he questioned.

  “A night-shirt.”

  “It came down to her knees?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “Mid-thigh,” she admitted.

  “And what were you wearing?”

  “A t-shirt.”

  “With... ?”


  “Sweats, shorts, underthings?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “But I was dressed...” she protested.

  “How long was the t-shirt?”

  “I don’t know... almost as long as Ronnie’s.”

  Cisco watched Ruby light another cigarette. Her hands were a little steadier now. He let her smoke for a couple of minutes in silence while he considered her answers. He sighed.

  “Ruby. Whether or not you intentionally touched or hurt Ronnie, can’t you see how she might be confused by you getting into bed with her almost naked? You would have touched in your sleep, you probably cuddled right up together. Skin against skin... you pulling her closer...”

  Ruby started to blush. A deep red wave started at her throat and spread over her face. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. Sweat was breaking out over her whole face. She shook her head.

  “I didn’t do anything wrong,” she insisted.

  “What you did was inappropriate. You didn’t think it through.”

  Ruby shifted uncomfortably.

  “I want to go home.”

  “I don’t think you realize you’ve been arrested.”

  “Where’s my lawyer?” she demanded.

  “You haven’t called anyone.”

  “I want to call him.”

  Cisco picked up the phone on the desk and handed it to her. Ruby looked at it.

  “I need his number. It’s in my knapsack.”

  Cisco looked at Bentley.

  “Bring it in.”

  Bentley disappeared for a few minutes and came back with the knapsack. They both watched carefully while Ruby went through it and found Wilhelm’s number. She dialed his number and waited for an answer.

  “It’s Ruby... I’ve been arrested.” He had obviously asked what for, and Ruby struggled for the words. “They—they think I did something to my sister. I’m at... the police station. I’ll let you talk to the cops.”

  Cisco took the phone and gave Wilhelm instructions to find them.

  Wilhelm seemed nervous around Ruby. Watching her out of the corner of his eye, he listened to the officers outline the situation, shaking his head. He spoke to Ruby lowly. The police officers were still present, observing.

  “You admit to sleeping with her,” he said.

  “Sleeping in the same bed as someone isn’t the same as sleeping with them,” Ruby reminded him, forcing a teasing grin.

  Wilhelm looked a little green. He nodded. He spoke to the officers.

  “I admit that Ruby was imprudent, but she certainly intended no harm. Is this going to go to trial?”

  “I suspect that Ronnie’s foster parents would be satisfied with a promise that Ruby won’t have any more contact with Ronnie.”

  “What?” Ruby broke in.

  Wilhelm touched Ruby on the shoulder to quiet her.

  “Ruby, do you want to go to court? And maybe to juvenile?”


  “Then I think you’d better agree to stay away from Ronnie.”

  Ruby scowled, but kept quiet.

  “Will you release her to me?” Wilhelm questioned.

  “Yes. But if she goes near Ronnie again, this will definitely go to court.”

  Wilhelm took Ruby by the arm, picked up her bag, and escorted her out. Ruby let him take her to his car. They both sat down and were silent at first.

  “Are you feeling okay?” he questioned, after a deep, calming breath.

  “Yeah,” Ruby said in a small voice.

  “You look sick. You’re sure you’re okay?”

  “Yeah. Thanks for coming.”

  He nodded.

  “I’m sorta hungry... could we go somewhere to eat?” Ruby suggested.

  “Uh, sure. You probably need to get some sugar in your blood. You’re pale as a ghost.”

  Willhelm started the car, and took her to a restaurant. He didn’t have much to say, and Ruby figured his mind must be on other things. People didn’t normally take her to real restaurants like that. She went to fast-food places, diners, coffee shops—not real restaurants. But he probably took clients there all the time on an expense account and didn’t even think about it. Ruby struggled to read the menu, half in cursive writing and half in French.

  “What’s good here?” she questioned, deciding to short-cut the problem.

  He glanced at her.

  “Oh... I think you’d like the chicken cordon bleu. You like chicken?”


  He ordered it for her. Ruby ordered a diet coke to drink, knowing the look she’d get from him if she ordered wine. He acted bored with the place. He must have taken people there a lot. It was classy—somber colors, dim lighting, waiters in black suits, white tablecloths on the tables. Ruby relaxed, looking around and trying
to take it all in, but at the same time trying not to look as if she was awed by it.

  “So tell me about your family,” Wilhelm suggested.

  Ruby was startled. She shrugged.

  “I dunno. They’re just normal.”

  “You’re the oldest?”


  “Why did you leave?”

  “Why do I gotta tell this to everyone I meet?” Ruby demanded, peeved. “I just felt like it, okay? I found out I could leave if I wanted to, and Family Services would take care of me, so I asked them to take me away. It wasn’t ’cause anything horrible was going on. It was just because I didn’t want to be there anymore.”

  “I bet that was some shock to your parents.”

  “They didn’t care.” Ruby flapped her hand, waving it away.

  “Eight is pretty young to lose a kid. Most parents expect to have them for another ten years.”

  “They had plenty of other kids. They had their hands full. I was disrupting the family so they were glad when I left.”

  “You must have been pretty disruptive, for them to feel that way.”

  Ruby nodded, smiling a little and puffing out her chest as if it was something to be proud of.

  “I was in trouble all the time at school. And I didn’t go home every night. Even got caught shoplifting a few times.”

  “A regular little terror.”

  “I was. Always fighting with my sister and my mom, too. They hated me.”

  “Do you see them any more?” he questioned.

  “Now and then. I go back sometimes to sleep if I’m out real late or something and can’t go anywhere else.”

  “And they don’t mind?”

  “I don’t stay. Just have a coffee and hit the road again. I haven’t had a real fight with my mom for a long time.”

  “What did you fight about back then?”

  “Everything. Anything she said, and anything I said. We never got along on anything.”

  “Are you ever going to go back there to live?”

  Ruby shook her head adamantly.

  “No. I’d rather live in a cardboard box than go back there.”

  “Just because you and your mom used to fight?” He raised an eyebrow.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “I didn’t like it there,” she said flatly.

  Willhelm stopped questioning her when they brought the food. Ruby prodded the chicken a bit, and decided it looked all right. She wasn’t really hungry, that had mostly just been a ruse to spend some more time trying to bond with her cute lawyer.

  “What are your sisters like?” Wilhelm questioned.

  “Chloe and me always fought. The rest... they were too young. I don’t really know them.”

  “Ronnie included?”

  “Yeah. She was only three when I left. I haven’t really talked to her much since then.”

  He nodded.

  “What about you?” Ruby questioned, turning the tables. “What’s your family like?”

  “Not a big family like yours. I was an only child. My dad was a doctor, my mom stayed home.”

  “Nice life.”

  “I was expected to be a doctor too. So I rebelled and became a lawyer instead.”

  Ruby giggled.

  “Oh, you rebel,” she mocked.

  He smiled.

  “I never could stand blood. So I’m a disappointment to my dad, but my mom figured I turned out all right.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “My folks never wanted me to be anything. Just quiet.”

  They ate the rest of the meal in silence.

  The door was locked and Ruby had to ring the doorbell. Mrs. Winters came to the door and let Ruby in.

  “Ruby—where have you been?” she fussed. “Are you okay?”

  Ruby remembered the cut on her cheek from the fight with the Terminators. She shrugged.

  “It’s nothing. I’m fine.”

  “Where have you been? I was so worried!”

  “I called you,” Ruby pointed out.

  “Please come home at night. And don’t tell me you’re at Marty’s when you’re not.”

  Ruby shrugged and went upstairs to her room. She shut the door and put down her bag. She liked Mrs. Winters all right, but she wasn’t going to start obeying a bunch of rules for her. Rules were what she had run away from in the first place. She stayed in her room until Mrs. Winters came to get her for supper. Mrs. Winters knocked on the door, waited for a moment for Ruby’s answer, which never came, and then she opened the door.

  “Ruby, come on down for supper,” she invited.

  Ruby followed her down the stairs without a word. She sat down at the table with Mr. and Mrs. Winters, feeling awkward, like they were watching her. She picked at the food Mrs. Winters had prepared without interest.

  “I’m not that hungry,” she said. “I don’t feel good.”

  “Have you got the flu or something?”

  “I guess. I dunno.”

  “You’ll have to make sure you get to bed in good time.”

  Ruby nodded. She pushed the food around on her plate.

  “Can I make some coffee?”

  “Sure, go ahead.”

  Ruby got up and went over to the coffee maker. She fiddled with it while it percolated. The Winters watched her, but didn’t seem to know what to say to her. She had a cup of coffee, and then went up to her bedroom again.

  It was late and pitch black. Ruby crept into the bedroom and slipped carefully under the covers beside Mrs. Winters. Mrs. Winters stirred, and a minute later woke up and groaned.

  “Ruby. Go to your own bed.”

  “I don’t feel good,” Ruby protested, and didn’t move.

  “You can’t sleep here. Let’s go get you settled back into your own bed.”

  “If I move, I’m going to barf.”

  Mrs. Winters lay beside her, not sure how to react. Then she turned over and stroked Ruby’s hair.

  “Poor little one,” she murmured.

  Ruby snuggled up to her and tried to calm her stomach and go to sleep.

  Ruby felt like she was awake all night. She finally fell asleep for a few hours, but awoke out of this heavy sleep to Mrs. Winters leaning over her, looking worried.

  “Ruby? Are you feeling okay?” she questioned.

  Ruby rolled over, then regretted it as nausea washed over her.

  “I don’t feel good,” she moaned.

  “You look rotten. Do you want me to take you to the doctor?”


  “Are you sure?”


  “Can I get you anything?” Mrs. Winters offered.

  “Maybe some tea.”

  “Sure. I’ll get you some.”

  Mrs. Winters left to prepare it. Ruby lay there, still, and dozed until Mrs. Winters brought her the tea. Mrs. Winters sat on the edge of the bed to see how she was doing.

  “Did you have your own kids?” Ruby questioned, sipping the tea slowly, propped up just enough that she wouldn’t spill it down her front.

  Mrs. Winters smiled.

  “Yes. Two. A boy and a girl. They left home years ago. Your bedroom was Brenda’s. A long time ago.”

  “Where are they now?”

  “Brenda lives in Phoenix. Married a dentist. Mike lives here in town and we see him now and then on weekends.”

  “Do you wish they lived here?” Ruby wondered.

  “I had a hard time when they left. But they’re happy, and need to find their own independence. And we are never long without children.”

  “You like kids?”

  “Sure we do. That’s why you’re here.”

  Ruby took a careful sip of the hot tea.

  “But you get paid for me to be here.”

  Mrs. Winters nodded.

  “Yes, we get some money. But that’s not why I do it. I don’t like the way my house feels when it’s empty. As long as there are children here, I’ll feel young.”

  “You’re not that old,”
Ruby countered.

  She smiled.

  “To you, I’m ancient.”

  “No, I’ve had real old foster parents. Ones with white hair that could hardly walk by themselves.”

  “That must have been difficult for you.”

  Ruby readjusted her position slightly.

  “I don’t like the homes where you have to take care of the foster parents,” she agreed.

  “When it’s supposed to be the other way around. Did they have other foster kids, or just you?”

  “Couple others. Couldn’t control them, though. They just did whatever they felt like.”

  “Did you have to take care of the other children too?”

  “Not there. I’m not a good babysitter. They were older than me, though. A couple of boys.”

  “Hmm. Fun.”

  “Do you usually have more than one foster kid?” Ruby asked.


  “You ever consider adopting any of them?”

  Mrs. Winters felt Ruby’s forehead, not answering right away.

  “It’s pretty hard to adopt foster kids, Ruby,” she deflected.

  “I know. Some foster parents do, though.”

  “We haven’t ever adopted any of our kids.”

  They were both quiet for a while.

  “Are you feeling any better?” Mrs. Winters questioned.

  “I’m tired.”

  “Okay. Go to sleep again for a while. I’ll check on you later.”

  Ruby was sick all that day, and the next. So wretchedly sick that she could not even roll over in bed without feeling nauseated. She spent half the day in bed and the other half in the bathroom. The day after that, Mrs. Winters insisted on taking her to the doctor. Ruby endured a rough ride in the car and dragged herself into the doctor’s office. The doctor saw her after an hour’s wait. He talked to her a bit, and ran a few tests. Ruby was so miserable, she hardly heard a word he was saying to her. He left her in the examination room alone for a long time. After a while he came back in. He pulled over a stool and sat down, looking at her thoughtfully.

  “How old are you, Ruby?” he questioned.


  “You have a boyfriend?”

  “He just dumped me,” Ruby said flatly, thinking of Chuck and his inexplicable abandonment of their relationship.

  “Has anyone ever talked to you about birth control?”

  “Yeah, I know all that stuff,” Ruby waved a hand.

  “But you don’t use it?” he pressed.

  Ruby stared at him.

  “I always use it. Always.”

  “When was your last period?”

  “I dunno. I’ve never been regular.”

  “Are you planning anything nine months from now?”

  Ruby shook her head adamantly.

  “I always use—”

  “You’re pregnant, Ruby.”

  “No, I’m not.”

  “The blood test was conclusive. Your HCG is very low, so I expect you’re not very far along. Can you remember when your last period was?”

  “No. I’m not pregnant.”

  “You’re nauseated because of morning sickness. Since it’s so severe, I’ll give you something for it.”

  “Give me something for the nausea. But it’s not morning sickness.”

  “I’m going to schedule a follow-up appointment with you. If you’re going to have a healthy baby, you have to take care of yourself right now.”

  “I am not having a baby,” Ruby insisted.

  “We will talk about your options at your next appointment.”

  “Don’t tell Mrs. Winters I’m pregnant.”

  “I’m not allowed to tell anyone without your consent,” he admitted.

  “You’re not going to tell anyone that lie.”

  “It’s not a lie. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.”

  “No, you won’t.”

  He didn’t argue with her. He just wrote out the prescription for her and handed it to her.

  “That prescription will last you two weeks. Then if you want more, you’ll have to come back here. I also want you to start taking prenatal vitamins.”

  “Thank you,” Ruby said, taking the prescription from him. She went back out to the waiting room where Mrs. Winters was sitting. She handed Mrs. Winters the prescription, and went out to the car. Mrs. Winters lingered in the doctor’s office for a moment, then followed her out.

  “We’ll go pick this up, so you can start feeling better.”

  Ruby nodded. She waited for Mrs. Winters to unlock the door for her, and sat in the car in silence. Mrs. Winters spoke to her a few times, but getting no response, she gave up.

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