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Ruby between the cracks, p.9
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.9

           P.D. Workman
 

  Chapter Nine

  CHUCK LOOKED UP AT his secretary, who had been hovering over him for several minutes, waiting for him to look up.

  “Hi.”

  “Ruby Simpson is here to see you.”

  “She doesn’t have an appointment.” Chuck frowned.

  “She seems pretty upset,” the woman persisted.

  Chuck pursed his lips.

  “How upset?”

  She shrugged in exasperation.

  “I think you should see her.”

  “All right,” Chuck sighed, “send her in.”

  Ruby walked in a couple of minutes later. Chuck noted that his secretary was right. Ruby did look upset. She was white as a sheet, her mouth in a pronounced frown, and she moved jerkily, looking around as if she thought she was being chased. Chuck motioned for her to sit down. Ruby plunked into the chair.

  “I want to be moved,” she said immediately.

  “Moved away from the Winters?” Chuck said.

  “I’m not going back there!” she asserted.

  “What happened?” Chuck questioned, keeping his voice low and calming.

  “I want to be moved,” Ruby repeated.

  “You’ve never asked to move to a different family before. Is that what you’re asking?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “I’m not going back there,” she said forcefully.

  “Okay. Relax. I’m not going to take you back there. We’ll move you to a new family.” He let it sink in for a few moments. “Now. Are you okay?”

  Ruby breathed out slowly. Chuck watched her hands gradually release the arms of the chair.

  “Are you okay now, Ruby?” he repeated.

  “Yeah.”

  “I will need to make a report on why you want to be moved. For your file.”

  “I just don’t like it there.”

  “What don’t you like? The Winters are experienced foster parents.”

  Ruby swallowed strenuously. She rubbed her hands along the arms of the chair.

  “I just… feel closed in.”

  Chuck studied Ruby, frowning. Ruby never said that. The only time that she talked about being closed in was when she was talking about her own family.

  “What made you feel closed in? I thought you and the Winters were getting along all right.”

  “What do you know?” she challenged.

  “I know Mrs. Winters called me last night to tell me that you came home drunk out of your mind,” Chuck suggested.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “So what could possibly have happened between Mrs. Winters putting you to bed and you getting here this morning?”

  “Nothing. I just don’t like it there.”

  Chuck shrugged.

  “I’ll have to talk to the Winters too.”

  “Go ahead.”

  “If you’ll go sit in the waiting room, I’ll get something arranged for you. Okay?”

  “I want to talk to Ronnie. Can I talk to her on the phone?”

  “You know you’re not allowed to talk to Ronnie.”

  Ruby shook her head and walked out of his office. Chuck called Mrs. Winters.

  “Hi. Samuels.”

  “Mr. Samuels. Hi, what’s up?”

  “I guess you know Ruby’s asked to be taken out of your care,” he said delicately.

  “What?” Mrs. Winters’ voice was shocked. “No—she walked out of here this morning without a word. I had no idea...”

  “Did something happen this morning?”

  “No… she woke up with a hangover. We talked for a minute in the bathroom. Then she got all jumpy.”

  “What made her jumpy?”

  “I don’t know for sure. She told me to get away from her. I don’t know what happened to upset her.”

  “Okay. See if you can remember anything. I think something happened that made her think of her family. I’d like to figure out what it was.”

  “I’ll let you know if I can think of anything.”

  “I’d appreciate it.”

  Chuck made a few phone calls to potential foster families, wrote some notes on Ruby’s file, and went out to the waiting room to see her. He looked around, but she wasn’t in any of the chairs waiting for him. He started to walk back to his office, but the receptionist waved him to a stop as he walked by her. She covered up the mouthpiece of the phone, interrupting her call.

  “Looking for Ruby? She’s at the phone.”

  Chuck turned and looked around. There were pay phones between the double doors, and Ruby stood at one of them talking. He went over to see who she was talking to. Ruby was talking urgently into the mouthpiece, visibly agitated. She saw Chuck coming up on her, and quickly cut off the connection. She hung up the receiver clumsily.

  “Who’re you talking to?” Chuck questioned casually.

  “Never mind,” she growled.

  “You’re not trying to get Ronnie, are you?”

  “No.”

  “Who?”

  “None of your business.”

  “Well, let’s get you to your next foster family.”

  Ruby nodded, picking up her knapsack. Chuck motioned for Ruby to go ahead of him, and Ruby led the way to his car.

  When Chuck got back to his office after dropping Ruby off, he found messages on his desk from Ronnie’s foster mom and from Mrs. Simpson, Ruby and Ronnie’s mother. He sat down and opened Ruby’s file up again. He called Ronnie’s foster mom.

  “Hi. It’s Mr. Samuels.”

  “Oh. Thanks for calling me back. I thought I should let you know that Ruby’s trying to talk to Ronnie again.”

  “I suspected as much,” Chuck admitted. “Something is going on with Ruby, but I don’t know what it is yet. I don’t think she should be allowed to talk to Ronnie... but if this goes on for long, it might be the only way to find out what’s on Ruby’s mind.”

  “You don’t think she’s going to come here again, do you?”

  “I don’t think she will. Let me know if she shows up, though.”

  Ronnie’s foster mom agreed. Chuck hung up and called Ruby’s mother.

  “Hi, Mrs. Simpson. Did you get a call from Ruby this morning?”

  “What’s this all about? Why is she calling here?”

  “I’m not sure. I was hoping that you could tell me what it was about.”

  “I don’t know. She wanted to know where Chloe was, and if she was okay. Why wouldn’t Chloe be okay?” she demanded.

  “I’m not sure what’s going on with Ruby today, Mrs. Simpson. She asked to be taken out of her foster home. I think something has happened that worried her. Is that all Ruby asked?”

  “Yes. That’s all. She hung up suddenly.”

  “Ah. I interrupted her. Let me know if she calls you or shows up there again, okay?”

  When he hung up, he pulled out Ronnie’s file. He turned back to the back pages of the file, the reports on Ronnie’s visit to the hospital. He read through it slowly, thoughtful. Chuck walked by his secretary’s desk.

  “I want to know if Chloe Simpson, Ruby’s sister, has ever been taken to emergency. I’m going over to talk to the Winters.”

  She nodded.

  “Okay.”

  Sitting in the living room, Chuck put the file on the coffee table and slid it across to Mrs. Winters.

  “Let me tell you my thinking here. When Ruby came into foster care, we had no indication that she was abused. She never said anything to lead us to believe that she was leaving for any other reason than what she said. She said she felt trapped, closed in, restricted. She fought constantly with her mom. It wasn’t until the hospital called us about Ronnie being admitted to emergency that we started to wonder. Both girls were the same age when they came to us. No-one in the family will admit that there is anything going on. This morning, when Ruby asked to be moved, she said that she felt closed in. I think something happened to remind her of her experience at home.”

  “And this?” Mrs. Winters indicated the file.

  “I want
you to read through the hospital and police reports of Ronnie’s condition when we took her into foster care. I think that what happened to Ronnie happened to Ruby. And something happened last night that reminded Ruby of that. I want to know what connections you can make between these reports and what happened last night.”

  “You don’t think that Ruby was assaulted last night?”

  “I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I am not accusing you or your husband of anything. Whatever happened may have been before she even got back here.”

  Mrs. Winters opened up the file. She read through the file silently. She looked up after a few minutes, brows drawn down.

  “Ronnie had alcohol in her blood.”

  Chuck nodded and didn’t comment. That had jumped out at him too. Mrs. Winters looked back down at the file again. She frowned after a while.

  “What does it mean that all forensic evidence had been eliminated?” she queried.

  Chuck raised his eyebrows.

  “She had a bath after she was assaulted. Cleaned up to eliminate any forensic evidence that would have proven it was her father.”

  Mrs. Winters pursed her lips.

  “I gave Ruby a bath last night. She reeked of drink and vomit.”

  Chuck nodded and wrote it down.

  “That’s two things.”

  Mrs. Winters went reluctantly back to the file, not wanting to read any more. She sighed.

  “All Ronnie was wearing was a nightgown.”

  “And Ruby?”

  “I bought her some nightgowns when she came here. She usually just put on big t-shirts. Last night, after I bathed her, I put a nightie on her.”

  Chuck nodded.

  “Okay. So those three things together—too much to drink, someone bathing her, and waking up in the morning in a nightgown—that was enough to remind her of what had happened to her at home. Enough to scare her off.”

  Mrs. Winters nodded.

  “I think that’s everything. I don’t see anything else.”

  “Well, it’s a start. I don’t know if it will be enough to get one of the girls to talk about it, but it’s a start. If they were that drunk at the time of the assaults—it at least explains why they are so confused.”

  Ruby was not going to like it at the Skinners. They had a full house, four other foster kids. Ruby was sharing a room with a seventeen year old. She left her knapsack on the bed and took advantage of the fact that Marilyn was at school and went through her drawers and closet. Then she went outside without telling Josie Skinner where she was going, and walked to the closest bus stop.

  Ruby’s timing was not good, arriving at the elementary school between recess and lunch. She walked around in the silent schoolyard for an hour before they let out. It was another half-hour before she spotted Ronnie. Ruby still wasn’t used to those cutesy dresses and braids the foster family dressed her in. Ronnie looked surprised to see her.

  “Ruby?”

  “Yeah. How’s it going, Ron’?”

  Ronnie shrugged, looking around as if she expected someone to break them up. Ruby put her arm over Ronnie’s shoulders and walked partway out to the soccer field with her.

  “Ronnie... what happened at home?” she asked.

  “What do you mean?”

  “I don’t remember much of what it was like. Did mom or dad—hurt you?”

  Ronnie shook her head emphatically.

  “What happened when you went to the hospital? It was somebody else that hurt you?”

  Ronnie nodded.

  “Uh-huh.” Her voice was small.

  “Your foster family doesn’t do nothing to you, do they? They don’t try to touch you or anything?” Ruby pressed.

  “No. They’re nice,” Ronnie assured her.

  Ruby breathed out slowly.

  “Good. You gotta watch out, though. Sometimes folks who seem nice aren’t really,” she warned. “They’re just waiting for a chance.”

  “Not my foster family. They really are nice.”

  “Okay.” Ruby started to walk away, then turned back. “Ronnie—mom and dad never hurt Chloe neither, did they?”

  Ronnie shook her head wordlessly.

  “Okay. Good.”

  Ruby was aware that she had stepped off of the bus a couple of stops early, but her mind was whirling with uncertainty and doubt. She needed to walk, to breathe, and she wasn’t concentrating on where she was going. Feelings had surfaced in her that she hadn’t felt for years. Other than a couple of flashes of memory, the night before was a black hole, a complete blank. But what she did remember stirred up unwelcome and painful emotions. She couldn’t sort through them.

  Lost in thought, she didn’t realize she was in the no-man’s-land between the Jags’ and the Terminators’ territories. Before she knew what was happening, Troy had her arm twisted up behind her back, and his arm pulling hard around her throat. He jerked her head up towards him, grinning at her.

  “Don’t you know you shouldn’t be walking in this part of the woods alone, little girl?”

  Ruby tried to say something, but the words were stuck in her throat. She couldn’t get her voice to work. He was pleased with her submissive reaction.

  “You’ve been a good little girl, haven’t you? You’ve helped me get right where I wanted to be.” He chuckled. “You just remember how to keep your mouth shut, won’t you?”

  He slowly released his tight hold on her. He turned her around and pulled her close. He cupped the back of her head and kissed her hard. Ruby wanted to pull away from him, but was paralyzed. Her muscles were frozen. Her skin crawled when he touched her. She felt sick. Troy pressed her into the wall and continued to kiss and grope her. It seemed like eternity before he released her and backed off. He grinned at her, licked his lips, laughed, and walked away. Ruby hit the ground on her knees and threw up.

  Chuck was sick and tired of hearing about Ruby when Merrill called.

  “I want to ask Ruby Simpson some more questions. But her foster mom says she’s been moved.”

  “I thought that stuff was all cleared up now,” Chuck said in exasperation.

  “We’ve run into some complications. Two of our suspects in the murder were killed yesterday.”

  Chuck shook his head.

  “I don’t believe it. I’ll get you her new number, but she is probably at school.”

  “You yourself admitted she doesn’t spend much time there. We already checked the school. She’s not there.”

  Chuck opened Ruby’s file again, muttering under his breath.

  “I can’t believe one kid could cause so much trouble in one day.”

  “Having some trouble with her today?” Merrill inquired.

  “That’s an understatement. Okay, here’s the new number.” Chuck read it off to Merrill.

  “Thanks,” Merrill said, writing it in his notepad.

  Chuck hung up the phone, and his secretary hovered close by.

  “Another call from Ronnie’s foster mom,” she informed Chuck when he looked up. “Something about Ruby showing up at the school.”

  Chuck swore.

  “And you asked about Chloe Simpson’s hospital records. She was admitted through emergency three years ago. Apparently she is allergic to wine.”

  Chuck stared at her.

  “What’s her date of birth?”

  She looked down at the file in her hands, and calculated it mentally.

  “She’s eleven.”

  “She was eight when she was admitted.”

  “Yes.”

  “Was Ruby ever admitted before she came into foster care?”

  “Nothing on her file. I’ll have to check with the hospitals.”

  “Do that next,” Chuck instructed.

  “Sure.”

  Tim was looking off into the distance, thinking. He watched the girl huddled against the wall for a couple of minutes before he focused in and realized that it was Ruby. He cut his conversation short and jogged over to her.

  “Ruby? What’s the m
atter, Ruby? Are you hurt?”

  He sat her up, looking for injuries. There was no blood. He pulled up her shirt, but there were no bruises or broken ribs.

  “What’s the matter, Ruby? Come on. Let’s get you out of here before someone sees us.”

  He pulled her to her feet, and half-dragged her a few blocks away until they were on safe ground. Tim stopped and hugged her, holding her face in his shoulder.

  “Settle down. It’s okay, Ruby.”

  Ruby started to sob, her body shaking. Tim held her tightly, rubbing her back and stroking her hair. He murmured comfort to her. She eventually started to settle down.

  “What happened?” Tim questioned when she was more relaxed and had stopped crying. Ruby shook her head in response. Tim took her back to the apartment.

  “Are you going to be okay?”

  Ruby looked around uncertainly. She saw that Tim had picked up her knapsack on the street, and took it from him.

  “I have to shower,” she said quietly, and she went to the bathroom.

  She stripped down and stepped into the shower and turned the water on hot. She relaxed under the steam, withdrawing into herself and erasing all the memories. The shower door creaked open, and Ruby jumped. Tim smiled reassuringly.

  “It’s okay, relax. I thought you might like this.”

  He handed her a drink. Ruby took it, nodding.

  “Thanks.” She looked down at the liquid in the glass, at the drops from the shower hitting the surface, and giggled. Somehow she found it funny. She took a soothing drink. Pretty soon it would all be gone. She wouldn’t remember anything. She would succeed in blocking it out.

  Ruby spent the evening with the Jags. Mostly it was uneventful.

  “Who’s leader of the Terminators now that Slash is dead?” Ruby asked Tim.

  “A hood called Troy. He’s pretty twisted, but he’ll keep a good grip on the gang.”

  Ruby nodded. She had feared as much. Not only had she gotten Laskin killed for his involvement in a murder he didn’t commit, but she had rewarded the one who really did pull the trigger. She dreaded what would happen next.

  Ruby went to school the next afternoon, but was distant and uninterested in both classes and friends. Marty asked her a few times what was wrong, and Kate pestered her to find out what she’d been doing. Ruby kept to herself and stared up at the boards blankly. Her mind was on so many other things, she couldn’t even be bothered to laugh at Kate’s desperate flirting with all of the boys. It just didn’t interest her. After school, she went back to her foster home instead of going over to the high school to look for Brian or one of the other boys she knew.

  Josie came up to Ruby’s room a few minutes after she walked into the house.

  “Where were you last night, Ruby?”

  “I stayed over with a friend.”

  “You can’t stay with friends on school nights. I expect you here after school, unless you call me to tell me where you are and get permission. And you’ll have a curfew of nine o’clock. You have to be back here by then each night. Okay?”

  “Okay,” Ruby agreed with a shrug.

  Josie looked awkward, having expected a fight. She didn’t say anything for a moment.

  “We’re having dinner in an hour. Do you have homework?”

  “No.”

  Josie nodded.

  “Okay.”

  Josie went back downstairs. It wasn’t until after dinner that Josie told her that Merrill and Banks were on their way to see her. Ruby tried to decide whether to leave, or stay and answer their questions. She decided she was too tired to bother taking off, and stuck around. Merrill and Banks showed up just at the time that Josie was giving directions as to who was to do the various evening chores. Ruby was excused to go talk to them.

  “Have you remembered anything about the night Mike was shot?” Merrill questioned sarcastically.

  Ruby shook her head.

  “Figures. Well, we’ve had some interesting developments on Mike’s murder. What do you think about that?”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “What do you think has happened?” he prodded.

  “How do I know?”

  “I think you know. You’ve been hanging around with the Jaguars lately.”

  “So?”

  “What happened to the Terminators who killed Mike?”

  Ruby suddenly knew what they were after her about. What they didn’t know—couldn’t possibly know—was that she had been there. Her face got hot.

  “How do I know?”

  “I think you know.”

  Ruby looked at him, keeping her eyes steady, and didn’t say anything.

  “Two of the Terminators we suspected of being involved in the murder have been killed.”

  “So?”

  “Who did it?” he questioned.

  What would he say if he realized he was talking to one of the shooters?

  “How do I know?” Ruby shrugged.

  “I think you know.”

  “I don’t know anything about it.”

  “You’ve been hanging around with the Jags a lot. One of them must have said something to you.”

  In fact, they had said a lot. There had been little else discussed by the Jags the previous evening.

  “No-one said anything to me,” Ruby lied.

  “Did you ever meet either of the boys who were killed?”

  “No—I don’t know who was killed.”

  “Oh, yeah. Well, I guess we’d better take you down to the morgue to find out if they were the boys who killed Mike.”

  Ruby gritted her teeth and looked around the living room, thinking it through. She couldn’t very well argue it. She’d been there when Mike was killed. She said she didn’t know what had happened to the boys. What could she say?

  “I don’t want to go.”

  “Well, it’s not a fun job, but we need to know if we can close this case.”

  “You’ll leave me alone if I go down there?”

  Merrill nodded slowly.

  “If you can identify that these boys were the ones who killed Mike, and fill in the details, we can close the file.”

  “I’ll go, then,” Ruby sighed in agreement.

  “Good. Tell your mom, and we’ll go.”

  “She’s not my mom,” Ruby reminded him. She got up and told Josie that she was going out with the officers. They took her out to the car, and Ruby sat uncomfortably in the back for the ride to the police station. They went into the room where two bodies were laid out under two tables under sheets. Ruby stood between the tables, making her face expressionless and looked straight ahead, waiting for them to show her the bodies.

  Merrill pulled back both sheets to reveal their faces. Ruby stared at the faces without seeing them. She focused on the air a few inches above their faces.

  “Is it them?” Merrill questioned.

  Ruby nodded.

  “Yeah. It’s them.”

  He stared at her, and Ruby grew uncomfortable under his gaze.

  “What?” she demanded.

  “You told us you never saw their faces.”

  Ruby’s mind whirled. It seemed like such a long time since she had talked to them. It seemed like another lifetime, before everything else had happened.

  “I said I didn’t remember anything,” she told him. “Their faces jogged my memory.”

  “Their pictures didn’t jog your memory.”

  “Then they must have been bad pictures,” Ruby snapped. Merrill didn’t argue it. They all stood around for a few minutes longer. “Well, you said if I identified them you would leave me alone.”

  “I know this has been hard on you,” Merrill said gently, trying to meet her eyes.

  “Tell that to Chuck,” Ruby muttered, thinking about how he had dumped her when it all started.

  “What?”

  “I said tell it to my social worker.”

  Merrill nodded slowly.

  “I’ll let him know you’ve been helpful,” he agreed.
r />   Ruby shrugged.

  “Can I go now?”

  “I’ll drive you home.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “No... I don’t want to go back there.”

  “Where do you want to go, then?”

  “I have a friend.”

  “Do you want us to drop you off?”

  Ruby would have said yes, but the last time she had gone to Marty’s she had been dropped off by a cop, and she didn’t think she’d better make a habit of it.

  “No. I’ll take the bus.”

  “Is this another boyfriend?” Merrill questioned.

  “That’s not any of your business.”

  “It is if he’s in a gang.”

  “It’s not a boyfriend,” Ruby said. “She’s a girlfriend I stay with sometimes.”

  “Good. We probably won’t see you again, so you take care of yourself.”

  Ruby nodded, and Merrill walked her out of the building.

  When Marty opened the door and saw Ruby there, she was surprised at how pale and tired Ruby looked. She opened the door the rest of the way and held out her arms. Ruby stepped in and held onto Marty tightly. She didn’t cry, didn’t collapse, didn’t do anything but stand there holding Marty. After a few minutes, Marty withdrew and reached around Ruby to pull the outside door shut. With one arm still around Ruby, she guided her friend into the bedroom. They sat down on the bed. Ruby stretched out on the bed face-down. Marty rubbed Ruby’s back and stroked her long, fine hair.

  “What happened, sweetie?” she questioned after a while.

  “I don’t know,” Ruby said into the pillow. “I’m all mixed up.”

  “Did you sleep last night?”

  “No.”

  “You look beat. And at school today... you sure you can’t tell me what’s wrong?” she coaxed.

  “I don’t know what’s going on,” Ruby mumbled through the pillow.

  “Is it the Jags? What did they do?”

  “No, not the Jags. Mrs. Winters.”

  “What did she do?” Marty prodded.

  “I don’t know. I can’t remember anything.”

  “You remember something.”

  Ruby felt nauseous. She rolled over.

  “There’s some pills in my bag. I need them.”

  Marty went through the knapsack and took them out.

  “Are you okay?”

  Ruby nodded, taking one of them.

  “I need a drink.”

  “I’ll get you some water for that,” Marty agreed.

  “No, a drink.”

  “Pills and booze don’t mix.”

  Ruby sighed. She lay there, waiting for the nausea to pass. Thinking about Mrs. Winters, but trying not to. Marty sat on the bed next to her, brushing Ruby’s hair back from her face.

  “Why don’t you tell me what you remember,” Marty suggested.

  Ruby propped herself up onto her elbows, frowning.

  “Marty... did you know me five years ago?”

  “When you first went into foster care? I knew who you were. I didn’t really get to know you right away.”

  “Did I ever say anything to you? About home?”

  “You’ve never talked about home. All I know I’ve guessed.”

  Ruby looked at her and didn’t say anything. Marty looked a little sad. She cocked her head to the side, looking into Ruby’s eyes.

  “You never talk about your dad,” Marty elaborated. “But I guess whatever he did to you was pretty bad. Most nine-year-olds don’t run into the arms of the first man they meet. You want comfort from anyone but people like my dad.” Ruby didn’t say anything, not quite believing what she was hearing. “Ruby, sleeping with these guys now is one thing,” Marty said. “It’s not good for you, and you’ll only get hurt. But sleeping with them before you were ten? That means something.”

  “Why wouldn’t I remember, if something happened?” Ruby challenged.

  “I don’t know. Because you didn’t want to. You blocked it out. What did Mrs. Winters do?”

  Ruby didn’t answer the question directly.

  “I don’t remember fighting with my dad—just my mom,” she said.

  “Whatever he did—she had to have known. Maybe you were mad at her for ignoring what was going on.”

  Ruby thought about it.

  “Why would she let anyone hurt me?” she questioned, brows drawn down in concentration.

  “Ronnie got hurt, right?”

  Ruby nodded. She’d mentioned it to Marty weeks before.

  “Yeah, but she said it wasn’t our dad.”

  “Who was it, then?”

  “I don’t know,” Ruby shrugged. “She didn’t tell me.”

  “Why not?”

  Ruby swallowed.

  “Because she didn’t want him to get in trouble?” Marty suggested. “She knows who it is, right?”

  “She knows who it is... but she said it isn’t him.”

  “Then it’s because she has feelings towards him, is afraid to tell anyone who it was.”

  “I need a drink,” Ruby said, looking around.

  “You just took a pill. You can’t have a drink.”

  “I really need a drink,” Ruby insisted, voice raised.

  “You drink too much. It’s not good for you.”

  Ruby got up and left the bedroom. She went to the liquor cabinet in the front room and poured a drink. Marty’s mother happened to walk by her into the kitchen.

  “Stay out of the liquor, Ruby,” she said, without raising her voice.

  “I really need a drink.”

  “There are better ways to deal with your problems. Come talk to me.”

  Ruby joined Marty’s mom in the kitchen with a glass in her hand. Mrs. Rodger pointed to the table.

  “Put it down and tell me why you need it so badly.”

  “If you don’t believe in drinking, why do you have booze in the house?”

  “That’s not what we’re here to discuss. Tell me what’s going on, Ruby. What’s the matter?”

  Ruby sat down at the table and put her tumbler down. She stared at it.

  “I don’t know what happened... I was drunk.”

  “Well, that’s a good reason not to get drunk again. What do you think happened?”

  Ruby put her face in her hands, swearing.

  “Something bad. Something bad happened. Something happened to Ronnie. And something happened to Chloe. And something happened...”

  “To you?”

  Ruby nodded. She rubbed her burning eyes with her fists.

  “I need a shower. I can’t think. I need to have a shower.”

  She stood up. Mrs. Rodger put her hand gently on Ruby’s arm, stopping her.

  “Ruby...”

  “What?”

  “If you’ve been hurt, you shouldn’t have a shower. Not until you’ve been to the hospital.”

  Ruby looked up at Mrs. Rodger’s face, and saw her concern.

  “It’s way too late for that,” she said, and she went into the bathroom to shower.

  Marty went into the kitchen and saw the drink still sitting on the table. She poured it down the sink.

  “Do you think she’s okay?” she asked her mother.

  “Ruby’s tough. She’ll work her way through this eventually. She’s staying the night?”

  Marty looked at her watch.

  “I think so.”

  “I’ll call her foster mom.”

  Marty shook her head.

  “No. She hurt Ruby. She’s not going back there.”

  “I can’t say I’m disappointed she’s left. Things have been pretty disrupted since Ruby moved in there.”

  Marty shook her head.

  “I can’t believe Mrs. Winters could do anything to hurt her. You think you’re safe with a foster mom.”

  Merrill watched Samuels’ apartment building. He’d been there quite a while and hadn’t seen anything. He hoped he wouldn’t see anything. It was getting quite late when he saw Samuels pull into the un
derground parking in a white sports car. And there was a passenger in the car. Merrill called his partner and gave Samuels and his company lots of time to get up to the apartment and get settled in. Banks pulled up beside Merrill, and they went up to Samuels’ unit together. Merrill knocked on the door. Samuels didn’t answer. Merrill continued to knock, and eventually the door was opened, Samuels looking irritated. He was disconcerted to see Merrill and Banks there.

  “Merrill? What’s wrong? Is Ruby okay?”

  “We have a warrant to search your apartment.”

  “Now?” The social worker went sheet white.

  “Now, Mr. Samuels.”

  He didn’t stop them from pushing their way into the apartment. Merrill looked around and headed for the bedroom. Samuels just stood there looking like he was going to faint. Merrill found Samuels’ young lady friend lying on the bed in a man’s housecoat. When Merrill walked in, her mouth dropped open, and she swore.

  “Cops?” she questioned weakly.

  “That’s right, honey. You’re going to have to get dressed again. How old are you?”

  “Eighteen.”

  “Got any I.D.?”

  She shook her head. Merrill picked up her purse.

  “Is this yours?”

  She nodded wordlessly.

  “Can I take a look?”

  She shrugged. Merrill found her I.D. inside. She was seventeen.

  “Are you in foster care, Julie?” he questioned, looking over her I.D.

  “Yeah.”

  “And Mr. Samuels is your social worker?”

  “Yeah.”

  “How long have you been seeing him?”

  She gathered the robe closer to herself.

  “Not long... just a few times. He’s on the rebound. Just broke up with his old girlfriend.”

  “Has he told you anything about Ruby?”

  “No, not really. He misses her. But he doesn’t really talk about her.”

  “How long were they together?”

  She shrugged, shaking her head.

  “I dunno. A couple years, I think.”

  “Do you know how old she was?”

  Julie shook her head silently.

  “She’s thirteen now.”

  She stared at him, eyes wide.

  “Thirteen?” she repeated.

  “Thirteen. Also one of his wards.”

  “That’s...” she couldn’t find the appropriate words. Merrill nodded.

  “Yeah. I’m going to need you to come down to the police station with us.”

  She motioned to her clothes. Merrill left her alone to get dressed. He nodded to Samuels.

  “You’re under arrest.”

  Samuels just stood there, eyes wide and horrified.

  Merrill splashed cold water on his face in the bathroom and went back to talk to Chuck, who had been booked on a number of charges and was looking very gray.

  “I want to talk to you about the assault on Ruby after Mike was killed.”

  Chuck frowned.

  “What would I know about that?”

  “I am told you were there that night.”

  Chuck’s jaw dropped.

  “What?”

  “We have witnesses that put you in the area,” Merrill told him.

  “I didn’t get there until after the police had arrived!” Chuck insisted.

  “What did you see?”

  “Nothing. I saw the flashing lights, and I saw Ruby being loaded into the ambulance. I left.”

  “Why did you leave?”

  “I didn’t want to be seen in that neighborhood.”

  “I think Ruby was assaulted by someone she knew,” Merrill told him.

  “I never hurt Ruby!”

  “I sure hope not.”

  “I would never do anything to harm her.”

  Merrill rolled his eyes, and Chuck shifted uncomfortably.

  “Other than sleeping with her,” Merrill amended.

  Chuck put his face in his hands.

  “And abusing a position of trust,” Merrill reminded him.

  “You don’t know how it was,” Chuck protested.

  “Let me see if I can guess. She needed more attention than you could give her at work. You started meeting her after work. You got close. You realized she was so much more mature than her age. It just happened so naturally. It felt so natural.”

  Chuck shook his head, speechless. Merrill studied him, disgusted.

  “How many other girls?” he questioned.

  “Just Ruby.”

  “And Julie.”

  “Yeah. But... I knew it wouldn’t work.”

  “You don’t seem to realize how serious this is.”

  “I didn’t pursue this. It was Ruby’s idea, and she kept it going. I ended it when things got out of hand.”

  “When things got out of hand? How long did that take?”

  Chuck looked uncertain. Merrill waited.

  “A couple of months.”

  Merrill shook his head.

  “Closer to a year, maybe,” Chuck amended.

  Merrill shook his head again. Chuck was silent.

  “Ruby is very mature,” he said finally, “and very pushy. She’s manipulative and a flirt, and when she puts her mind to it...”

  “You are an adult. She is not. It was your responsibility to make sure nothing happened.”

  “You don’t understand what she’s like.”

  “I understand she is a thirteen year old. And I understand that two years ago she was eleven. Eleven years old!”

  Chuck put his face in his hands again.

  “I know,” his voice cracked and he started to sob.

  Ruby stood under the shower spray for a long time. Until the water turned ice cold. She felt gross, like she was sweaty and grubby and she had to get clean. She stayed in the shower until the water was too cold to stand it anymore. She shut off the water and got out of the tub. Drying off, she rubbed her arms hard to warm up. Ruby wrapped the towel around herself and went to Marty’s bedroom. Marty was busy doing homework. She looked at her watch as Ruby walked in.

  “That was some shower,” she said. “You’d better be sparkling clean now.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Feeling better?” Marty questioned.

  “A little.”

  “You’d better get some sleep tonight.”

  Ruby looked through Marty’s closet for something to wear. She was shivering violently, her teeth almost chattering.

  “You silly kid,” Marty told Ruby, moving her out of the way. She pawed through the clothes on the shelf, “You’ll catch cold.” She handed Ruby a fuzzy fleece night-shirt, and kicked her slippers out of the closet. When Ruby had the night-shirt on, Marty handed her a housecoat. “There, wrap up. And go sit on the bed.”

  Ruby wrapped the housecoat around her and went over to the bed to snuggle under the warm blankets. Almost before she laid down, she was asleep.
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