Ruby, Between the Cracks

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chapter 2

drop cap rUBY AWOKE DISORIENTED, IN a fog. She rolled over and almost fell on the floor. Steadying herself, Ruby opened her eyes and looked around. She was at home, sleeping on the couch. She sat up slowly and looked around. It still smelled the same. Stale cooking, cigarette smoke, sweat, dirty shoes tumbled around the back of the door.

“Ruby’s home,” Chloe called out. Ruby turned and looked at her.

“Hi, Chlo’.”

“Hi, Ruby. What’cha doin’ here?”

Ruby shrugged. Chloe walked into the kitchen, out of sight. Their mom came down the stairs.

“What did you say, Chloe?” She saw Ruby. “Oh. You’re here. What time did you get here?”

“I dunno. Two, three…”

“Why? Your foster family kick you out?”

“No. I was just out too late. They lock me out after midnight.”

“Well, you shouldn’t be coming back here. You should be going back to your foster family before midnight. Does your social worker know you’re staying out late?”

“Sometimes.”

“I’m going to call him,” her mother warned.

“Okay,” Ruby said, shrugging.

“Go have breakfast with Chloe. I want to talk to you before you leave. Okay?”

“Yeah.”

Ruby got up and went into the kitchen. Chloe was eating a bowl of cereal. Ruby poured a cup of coffee for herself.

“Coffee’s bad for you,” Chloe pointed out.

“I don’t want to get fat,” Ruby countered.

“You’re not fat.”

“I plan on keeping it that way,” Ruby agreed.

“You still shouldn’t do it.”

June and Justin came into the kitchen, and Chloe got bowls out for them. Chloe was dirty blond, with shoulder length hair. The twins both had dark hair and round faces.

“How old are they now?” Ruby questioned.

“We’re six,” June answered, for herself.

“I remember when they were born,” Ruby told Chloe.

“Were you here?” Chloe questioned.

“Mmm… yeah. When they were born, I was.”

“You must have left right after.”

“Yeah. Pretty much. Where’s Ronnie?” Ruby looked around for their other sister.

“Foster family,” Chloe advised.

“Ronnie too? When did that happen?”

“Couple weeks ago.”

“Why?”

“She wanted to. She’s been getting into trouble from Mom and at school and all, and she thought it would be fun.”

“Really? I never would have thought she’d have the guts. So why are you still here?”

“I get along with Mom and Dad,” Chloe said loftily. “I’m responsible.”

“Well, I guess every family gets one. It’s your funeral.”

“It’s my life,” Chloe corrected primly.

Ruby’s mom walked in.

“You have an appointment with your social worker today.”

“When?”

“Ten. If you leave now, you can still get the bus.”

“Okay. See you around.”

“Bye.”

“Bye, Chlo’.”

Ruby did make the bus, and wondered on her way to the Social Services office if she should actually bother to go or not. But her mom might follow up to see if she was there or not.

Ruby didn’t have to wait long at the Social Services reception area before the woman showed her in for her appointment. Ruby had enough time to grab another cup of coffee, but not long enough to browse through the newest magazine on the side table, which happened to be a good six months old.

“Hello, Ruby,” her social worker greeted without looking away from his computer.

Ruby sat down in the chair in front of his desk.

“Hi, Chuck,” she crooned.

“Mr. Samuels here, Ruby. You know that,” Chuck insisted his eyes darting around to make sure that no one had heard.

Ruby just grinned. Other foster kids called their social workers by the first name, but it made Chuck really nervous. Ruby kind of liked to see him get flustered over her.

“So why did your mom call me today?” he asked, frowning down at the pink message slip on the desk.

“You weren’t around last night, and I couldn’t find any of the friends I stay over with, so I went home.” Ruby shrugged, and leaned her chair back, looking up at the ceiling. “I told her my foster family locks me out after midnight.”

“You could go to one of the shelters,” he pointed out.

“They do lock their doors at midnight.”

“If you can’t find one of your friends before eleven,” Chuck said, wording his statement carefully. “You aren’t going to see them.”

“I know. But I don’t like the shelters. They’re just… gross.”

“Well, I don’t think your mom minds you staying there every now and then. I just don’t want her to start asking questions about your foster family. So don’t do it too often,” he warned.

“It’s been at least a month since I was there last.”

“Okay,” Chuck approved, nodding.

Ruby let the front legs of her chair drop back to the floor with a thump.

“You know what?” Ruby offered. “My little sister Ronnie’s in foster care now.”

“I know.”

“You know?” Ruby was surprised. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Client privilege. That information is confidential.”

“Client? Does that mean that you’re her social worker too?”

“I’ve been trying to get her file. I think I would be more effective, already knowing the background she’s coming from.”

“Huh. That would be cool, hey? Having both of us? And you could arrange for us to meet, couldn’t you? If she’s not at home anymore, I can see her, right?” Ruby pressed.

“Yes, you could probably meet. I’ll see if I can arrange a ‘reunion’ for the two of you. Saturday?”

“Yeah. That would be great. I can’t believe Ronnie’s in foster care! She wasn’t ever a black sheep like me.” Ruby laughed. She released her hair from the pony tail elastic, and ran her fingers through the length of her hair, toying with it.

“Well, everyone has their own set of problems,” Chuck observed.

“Why did she leave?”

“That’s confidential. You know I’m not allowed to tell you things like that.”

“It’s not like I don’t know the ‘family situation.’”

“It’s still not allowed. And I imagine there are things going on that you don’t have any idea about. It’s been quite a while since you lived there.”

“Yeah. Well, Ronnie can tell me on Saturday.”

“Right. Well, is there anything else we need to discuss?”

Ruby massaged her scalp, and then pulled her hair back through the elastic again.

“Just whether I’ll see you tonight,” she said lowly.

“Hush. I’ll try, but you keep your mouth shut, all right?”

“I know,” Ruby said with a smile. “You just keep me happy, and I won’t say a word.”

Chuck frowned, looking at her. He took out his appointment book and looked at it.

“Nine o’clock,” he said shortly, and put his book back away.

Ruby smiled.

“Nine it is. You’d better be there.”

He nodded. Ruby stood up.

“Bye then, Mr. Samuels,” Ruby said demurely.

“Good-bye, Ruby.”

Ruby waited excitedly for her meeting with Ronnie. She had arrived early so that there was no way they’d miss each other. Ruby and Ronnie had never been close at home. They were five years apart in age, so Ronnie had hardly been more than a baby when Ruby first went into foster care. Now Ronnie was eight, and they’d really never had a conversation of more than a couple minutes in length. But with Ronnie leaving the family and going into foster care, Ruby suddenly had a longing to become close to her sister. For the first time, she felt like she had something in common with someone in her family.

It seemed like hours before Chuck’s car pulled into the parking lot. Ruby stood up and waved at them. Ronnie looked different than she expected. When Ruby had left the family, she’d been wild and rebellious, and made herself appear a lot older than she really was. But Ronnie was the same little girl Ruby remembered. She didn’t look any older or more mature. You could tell she was with a foster family instead of at home, because she had on designer pants and a blouse instead of cut—offs and a tank top. If anything, the clothes made her seem even younger, like a little girl going to her first day of school. Her thick brown hair was carefully braided into two pigtails, with ribbons around them. She looked like a doll, not Ruby’s sister.

Ronnie submitted to being hugged, but didn’t hug Ruby back. She looked uncomfortable. Ronnie sat down on the bench of the picnic table where Ruby had been waiting for them. Chuck looked hesitant, like he didn’t know whether to join them or go back to his car. Ruby motioned him away, and he went back and sat in the car.

“So how come you didn’t tell me you were in foster care now?” Ruby demanded.

“I don’t exactly have your phone number,” Ronnie pointed out.

“You could have told your social worker; they would have got in touch with me.”

Ronnie shrugged.

“So is Chuck your social worker now?” Ruby questioned.

“Who?”

“Mr. Samuels,” Ruby corrected quickly, realizing her mistake.

“I guess so. He’s the one who picked me up.”

“You’ll like him. He’s cool.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“So why did you leave? Just get tired of Mom and Dad getting on your case?”

“I guess,” Ronnie avoided her eyes.

Ruby sat down, moving in close.

“Well, then, why?” she persisted. “You can tell me. It’s not exactly like I’m gonna tattle to Mom. Or Social Services.”

Ronnie shrugged, looking down at the grass. She dug a hole with her toe.

“Ronnie?”

“Ruby…”

“Yeah?”

“Do you like your foster family?”

“Yeah, I love my foster family,” Ruby said briskly. “Why?”

“No, I mean—do you really like them? Better than Mom and Dad?”

Ruby studied her little sister, trying to see where she was going.

“I don’t know. They’re different,” she was floundering, “I guess I like them a different way.”

Ronnie looked relieved.

“Yeah, just different,” she agreed.

“Are they okay? If you don’t have a good family, Mr. Samuels can move you.”

“No, I like them.” Ronnie was silent for a few minutes. “Ruby… have you ever thought about what it would be like to be adopted?”

Ruby sat on the bench beside Ronnie.

“Adopted? By someone else? No.”

“The family you’re with—have you been with them since you left?”

“No.”

“How long?”

“Um—a year,” Ruby invented.

“Would you like them to adopt you?”

“No,” Ruby said firmly. Ronnie nodded. “Why, are they talking about adopting you?”

Ronnie nodded again. Ruby understood. Ronnie’s carefully braided hair and cute schoolgirl outfit, they were all part of a foster family trying to mold her into a daughter that they could adopt.

“You’ve only been there two weeks, and they’re talking adoption?” she questioned in disbelief.

“Uh-huh.”

“They’re not supposed to do that. They’re supposed to be working for reunification!”

“I’m not going back home.”

“I know that, and you know that, but the system—they don’t know that. They try to bring families back together. It doesn’t mean anything; just that foster parents aren’t usually allowed to adopt.”

“So they can’t?”

“They might be able to, but not for quite a while.”

“Oh.”

“It’s all right—it’s not like they’re going to send you back home. But no one’s going to adopt you. Not for a few years.”

Ronnie was silent for a while.

“Why did you decide not to stay with Mom and Dad?” she questioned.

Ruby thought back. It was a long time ago now. She hardly remembered the reasons; the restrictions put on her. She could remember being deeply unhappy, trapped, and angry. She remembered feeling desperately alone in a houseful of people. When Mom and Dad had started talking about having her taken out of the family, it had been such a relief. Getting out of there had been such a relief. The foster families she had gone to had been better, most of them less constricting, but she still didn’t have what she needed. Now she was really on her own, making her own choices. When she could, she stayed with Chuck. If she couldn’t be with Chuck, she would try to stay with one of her other friends. Foster care was really not for her. She wanted more freedom than that.

“I don’t know, Ronnie. I just couldn’t stay there anymore. I felt like I was being strangled,” she explained.

“By Dad?” Ronnie questioned.

“No, more by Mom.”

“Mom’s okay…”

“We never really got along. She wished I was never born.”

“Why?” Ronnie questioned, shocked.

“Well, she and Dad broke up, you know. Then she found out she was pregnant with me, so they got back together again and got married. So whenever she’s unhappy about the way things turned out—it’s my fault.”

“I didn’t know that,” Ronnie said, wide-eyed.

“Yeah. Well, you weren’t exactly around to know what was going on while I was there,” Ruby pointed out with a shrug.

“I don’t think Mom hates you.”

“No, she just doesn’t like having me around.” Ruby thought about it and shook her head. “But you don’t get along with Dad? How come? He never really was around much when I was there.”

“I dunno. We just don’t… get along so good.”

“Well, he can’t shout at you or anything now. You like your foster folks okay?”

“Yeah, they’re nice,” Ronnie agreed.

“What’s your phone number? Can I call you?”

Ronnie gave her the phone number.

“What about yours?”

“Oh, I’m not there very often. You just call Mr. Samuels, and he can usually get a hold of me.”

Chuck had gotten out of the car and was coming towards them.

“Why aren’t you usually with your foster family?” Ronnie asked, puzzled.

Ruby hesitated.

“We’ll talk again later. Maybe next week. But if you need anything, you find me, okay?”

“Okay.”

Chuck reached them.

“You guys have a good talk?”

Both girls nodded.

“Ronnie, why don’t you go back to the car. I just want to talk to Ruby for a minute.”

Ronnie walked away from them. Ruby watched her make her way back to the car and get in.

“Why did she leave?” Ruby questioned.

“If she didn’t tell you, I don’t think it’s my place.”

“Well, I have some information that might interest you, as her social worker.”

“What?”

“You tell me why she left, and I’ll tell you what I know,” Ruby bargained.

Chuck sighed.

“Don’t play these games with me, Ruby. If there’s something I should know about Ronnie, you’d better tell me.”

Ruby considered.

“She doesn’t want to be removed from the family, though, so that’s not why I’m telling you.”

“What, then?” he said, tilting his head to the side, waiting.

“They’re talking about adopting her.”

“What?” Chuck’s voice came out in a yelp.

Ruby nodded.

“She wants to stay with them—but tell them to lay off a bit. She’s confused; she doesn’t know what to think.”

Chuck nodded.

“I’ll tell them, all right,” he agreed. “Would you be interested in being placed in the same foster family as Ronnie? I haven’t asked them if they would take you, but they’ve looked after sibling groups before.”

Ruby shook her head resolutely.

“I don’t want another foster family.”

“Well, think about it. It would give you a chance to spend some time with a family member without being with your parents.”

Ruby shrugged uncomfortably.

“We’ll just stick to visits for now.”

Chuck nodded.

“Okay. I’ll see you later.”

They couldn’t exactly kiss goodbye, with Ronnie watching out the window. Chuck touched Ruby on the arm and gave her a little smile, then returned to the car.

Ruby ran into Mike at the arcade late in the afternoon. Although she considered herself too mature to have “a crush” on any boy, she had to admit that even just the sound of Mike’s voice gave her goose bumps. She had never met another man who made her feel like that.

“Hey, it’s Ruby,” he said from behind her, putting his arms around her. Ruby forgot her game and turned around in his embrace.

“Mike!”

“Hi, baby.”

He was handsome, smooth and cool as ice. He was tall and slim, and wore the jacket of the Jaguars, a local gang. His hair was dark and lank, his eyes brilliant blue. Sharp, prominent cheekbones. If he was with one of the boys from his gang, he paid no attention to her, but on the rare days that he was alone, he treated her like she was the only person in the world.

“You looking for some company?” Ruby questioned, snuggling close.

“Are you free?”

“Yeah, always.”

“Let’s go back to my place.”

Ruby nodded eagerly and went with him. Mike took out a couple of joints as they left the arcade.

“Smoke?”

“Sure, thanks.”

She took the joint, and he lit it for her. Ruby’s heart was beating quickly, and she wondered if Mike could tell she was breathing faster. He turned on the TV as soon as they walked in the door of the apartment. Ruby got a couple of beers out of the fridge for them, and they cuddled up on the couch.

Chuck pulled up in front of the bar. One of the ladies walked up to the car.

“Oh, hi, there. Looking for Ruby?” she questioned.

“Where is she?” he demanded.

“I haven’t seen her tonight. Anyone seen Ruby?” she looked around at the other hookers. They all shrugged or shook their heads. Chuck looked at his watch and took an impatient glance up and down the street.

“Where is she? I can’t sit around here waiting for her.”

“Maybe she has other plans tonight,” the girl suggested.

“Like what?” Chuck snapped irritably. He looked at his watch again, and pulled away.

Monique grinned, enjoying seeing Chuck frustrated and disappointed instead of Ruby for once.

“Good for you, Ruby,” she said under her breath. “You show him who’s the boss of this relationship.”

Ruby turned over again and cuddled closer to Mike. She was cold, almost shivering. They must have been having trouble with the building’s boiler. Mike didn’t seem to notice the temperature. Ruby tried to tuck her feet under his legs to warm them up, but he shifted and moved away in his sleep. Ruby curled up in a ball. There was a noise in the hall outside the apartment, and she strained her ears trying to hear what it was. There were voices, but it was late for anyone to be out. Ruby sat up. It sounded like the voices were right outside the apartment door.

There was a crash. Ruby jumped, and so did Mike, beside her.

“What was that?” he hissed, sitting up and fumbling on the bedside table, knocking things off. There was a blinding light in Ruby’s eyes; she couldn’t open them. She covered her eyes with her hand.

“Get your hands up, Mikey!” a harsh voice screamed. Ruby tried to squint through her fingers to see what was going on. All that she could see was the light pointing at her eyes. She tried to shade her eyes from the light and turned aside to look at Mike. He was frozen, one hand on the nightstand, grasping for a gun that he must have knocked to the floor. He was as white as the sheet on the bed, his eyes wild.

“Mikey, Mikey… Didn’t you hear me? I said get your hands up!” the voice screamed.

Mike slowly raised his hands. The light divided in two and one of the lights moved towards them. Mike started to lower his hands.

“Keep’em still,” the voice warned. He approached on Ruby’s side of the bed. Ruby cowered back, trying to avoid him. She could just barely see his outline, his shadow, behind the light. He reached towards her. Ruby tried to avoid his grasp. He wrapped his fingers around her long, blond hair and jerked her towards him. Ruby winced in pain and couldn’t resist.

“This your girlfriend? She’s very cute.”

“Leave her alone,” Mike said shakily.

The hand in her hair jerked again, hard. Ruby choked back a cry. The light that the man was holding went out. Then there was a gun pressing against her temple. Ruby held her breath and tried not to blink her eyes, hoping that she wouldn’t cry.

“How’d you like us to kill her, Mikey?” the voice taunted. “What do you think of that?”

Mike swore quietly.

“Please…”

The hand let go of her hair. He sat on the edge of the bed, running his hand provocatively down the smooth skin of Ruby’s neck and shoulder.

“Mmm, I could spend some time here.”

Mike swore angrily and lunged for him. There was an explosion. Ruby yelped and closed her eyes. Her ears rang and her face burned. When she opened her eyes again, the light was no longer shining directly on her eyes, but was playing over the bed. Mike was laying across her, still. Blood was splattered everywhere.

“He dead?” a different voice questioned.

The man who was closest to Ruby leaned across her to check Mike for a pulse.

“Yep,” he sat back up and touched Ruby briefly. “What do you think of that, baby?”

“What a waste,” the other voice said. “Well, we’d better blow before the cops show up. What are you going to do about her?”

“Hmm. No time for what I’d like to do. Are you going to keep your mouth shut, sweetie? ’cause if you’re not, we’ll settle this now.”

Ruby tried to answer. There was a lump in her throat, and she couldn’t speak. She nodded a bit, and covered her eyes.

“Good. ’cause I will find you if you talk.”

He bent over and picked up her knapsack.

“This is yours?”

Ruby could see him through the cracks in her fingers. She nodded again. He unzipped the front pocket and found her wallet. He looked through it, and nodded, throwing the contents on the floor.

“I’ll look you up,” he promised, and he and his friend walked out of the room. Ruby cuddled up and held Mike close.

Holt was one of the first ones to the scene. They had a few brief words with the neighbors who had called in. Then they entered the apartment with their guns drawn and a shouted warning of “police!” Holt groped for a switch and flipped on the lights as they went in. The bedroom was a mess. There was blood everywhere. After clearing the apartment, Holt holstered his gun and leaned over to check that the couple in the bed were both dead. The boy was lifeless. The girl, however, flinched away when he touched her throat to check for a pulse.

“Get an ambulance,” Holt told Jarislow.

Jarislow nodded and stepped out of the room to make the call. Holt tried to separate the couple and examine the girl. She jumped every time his fingers brushed her skin. He finally got the two of them untwined.

“It’s all right,” he said softly to the girl. “It’s okay; everything is all right. You’re safe. Are you hurt?”

The girl shook her head, her hands covering her face. She was splattered and smeared with blood. She was very young.

“Can you tell me what happened?” Holt asked. She shook her head. Holt gently tugged her hands away from her face. There was an ugly bullet-path across her forehead. He took her radial pulse. It was strong. Her eyes were wide and staring.

“Are you okay?” he questioned. She couldn’t answer. Holt turned his head to speak to Jarislow.

“Get me a wet cloth.”

Jarislow nodded and ducked into the bathroom. He came out with a towel and handed it to Holt. He carefully dabbed at the black and red mark across her head. She didn’t seem to feel it.

“It’s just a powder burn,” Jarislow observed, watching.

“Yes,” Holt agreed with relief. He glanced around the room, analyzing the scene. “There was only one shot reported… the shooter must have been standing here. One bullet got them both.”

“She’s lucky.”

“Yeah. Homicide on the way?”

“Someone will be here any minute.”

“See if you can find a blanket or coat or something.”

Holt picked up the girl’s clothes from the floor.

“Let’s get you dressed, all right? So you can warm up a bit.”

She had goose bumps, and she was shivering. Even fully dressed and with a jacket, Holt found the room chilly. The girl’s movements were slow and clumsy, but Holt guided her hands into the shirt and helped pull on her blue jean cut-offs. Jarislow came in with a dark jacket.

“This is all I could find. The closets are pretty bare.”

Holt took the jacket and turned it around to look at the logo on the back.

“Our vic’s a Jaguar. Things have been pretty hot with the Jags and other gangs lately.” Holt pulled the girl gently to her feet. Her knees buckled. Holt put his arm around her and tried to get her steadied on her feet. Jarislow went over to the bed.

“Who is he?” he questioned. “I know a lot of the Jag’s by sight.” He turned the boy over, and gagged, covering his mouth and turning quickly away. Holt glanced over, his emotions shut off. He hadn’t looked at the boy before, except to make sure that he was dead. His face had been taken off by a soft-nosed bullet. There was no way they could recognize him now. The girl moaned, wilting, and Holt took her into the bathroom. He held her up against the sink, splashing water on her face to keep her conscious.

“Come on, stay with me, here. None of that.”

She shuddered and started to come back to herself. Holt heard the homicide officers come into the bedroom. He slowly let go of the girl.

“Are you okay? Can you stand here a minute?”

She stayed steady, and he stepped out into the bedroom.

“You moved him?” one of the homicide cops questioned.

“The girl moved him. We had to shift him to get the two of them apart.”

“The girl? Where was she?”

“Beside him.”

“Has she told you anything?”

“No. She’s scared. And hurt. Hasn’t said a peep.”

The homicide officer studied the scene carefully. He looked closely at the wall and the bed sheets.

“They weren’t asleep.”

“I don’t expect so. I’d probably wake up when someone kicked the door in. His gun’s on the floor. Must not have had it under the pillow.”

“Dangerous if you’re sleeping with someone else. I want to talk to this girl. Put her in the kitchen with a hot coffee and see if it gets rid of the shakes.”

“I’ll give it a try.”

Holt went back into the bathroom and found the girl hunched over on the floor, in the corner by the grungy shower.

“Oh, no. Come on. Let’s go have a nice hot drink. Come on.”

He pulled her to her feet again and half-carried her into the kitchen. He settled her in a chair.

“There, you just sit there, and I’ll get you a coffee. Lots of sugar.”

He talked gently to her as he started the water boiling. There was only instant coffee, but it would work. A couple of paramedics came in.

“Hi, do you guys want to check her over? I’m getting her a coffee. You’ve got blankets with you, don’t you?”

“Sure.”

“She’s cold.”

One of the medics stayed to check her over, and the other one went back out to the hallway to take a blanket off the stretcher. The water started boiling, and Holt sloshed some into a cup with some crystals and stirred in a couple of spoons full of sugar. The paramedic gave it to the girl, helping to steady her shaking hands. They wrapped the blanket around her. The medic continued to examine the girl while she drank.

“Is she going to be okay?” Holt questioned.

“We should take her to the hospital. She’s shockie. She should be kept under observation.”

“Can we keep her for just a few more minutes?”

“Sure. Not too long.”

“I’ll be right back, then.”

Holt went back into the bedroom. He motioned to the homicide cop.

“Detective Merrill? If you want to try the girl now?”

“Thanks.”

Merrill followed him into the kitchen. He sat down across the table from the girl.

“Hi there, honey. You feeling a little bit better?”

She shrugged, not looking up at him.

“What’s your name?”

She mumbled something.

“What?”

“Ruby.”

“Hi, Ruby. I’m Merrill, okay? How long have you been here tonight?”

She sank further into the blanket, pulling it close.

“I don’t know,” she said in a hoarse whisper.

“Did you just meet the boy tonight?”

“No.”

“You guys know each other?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Spend the day together?”

Ruby nodded.

“Part of it,” she acknowledged.

“You want another coffee?”

She nodded at gave him her cup. Holt took it and put the kettle back on the burner.

“Can you tell me who came in here tonight?”

Ruby shook her head.

“How many were there?”

Ruby put her head down and didn’t answer, pulling the blanket tightly around her.

“Did they threaten you?” Merrill questioned.

Ruby didn’t respond.

“Of course they threatened you. And probably scared the heck out of you. Did they know who you are?”

She didn’t answer.

“Her ID is on the floor in the bedroom,” Holt contributed.

“So he found out your name and address, and he told you that if you said anything, he’d kill you.”

Ruby stayed quiet. She shook her head and closed her eyes.

“I think we should get her to the hospital,” one of the medics advised.

Merrill nodded.

“We can catch up again later. We need to call your parents, Ruby. What’s your phone number?”

She stirred herself slightly, clearing her throat.

“Not my parents—my social worker.”

“Okay. What’s the number?”

Ruby gave it to him. Then she left with the medics to go the hospital. Holt went back into the bedroom.

“Jarislow. Come on, let’s follow the girl to the hospital. We’ll call her social worker on the way.”

“Do you want me to bring her bag?”

“Yeah. Let’s take a look first, though.”

Jarislow brought the bag into the kitchen and emptied the contents onto the table. The two of them sorted through her stuff, and Holt nodded and they repacked. They headed to the hospital.

The phone trilled loudly, waking Chuck Samuels from a sound sleep. He fumbled for the receiver, swearing. He knocked the phone down, then picked it up, pulling the cord until he reached the receiver, and put it to his ear.

“Hello?” he growled. His heart was racing from the rude awakening.

“Is this Charles Samuels?” an official sounding voice questioned on the other end.

“Yeah,” he snuffled and rubbed his eyes. “Who’s this?”

“My name is Holt. You’re Ruby Simpson’s social worker?”

Chuck sat up straight.

“Ruby?” he repeated. “Yes—what’s wrong?”

“Ruby’s been in a small accident. She gave us your number.”

“Yes. Where are you?”

“At the General.”

“She’s okay?”

“She’s just under observation. I would appreciate it, though, if you could get in contact with someone who could sit with her,” Holt suggested.

“I’ll come down myself.”

“I’ll see you when you get here, then.”

Holt saw the nurse motion a man in their direction, and he stood up. They walked towards each other.

“Holt?”

“You must be Mr. Samuels.”

“Yeah. How’s Ruby? What happened?”

“She was spending the night with a friend. Intruders came into the apartment, and her friend was shot in the scuffle.”

“Shot,” he said in disbelief, “and Ruby was hurt?”

“She only has some minor scrapes. It’s more the scare than anything. She’s pretty confused.”

“Can I talk with her?”

“I think that would be a good idea.”

Holt took Samuels in to see Ruby. Jarislow was sitting by the bed, and he stood up and moved back when Holt and Samuels entered. Samuels nodded to Jarislow and sat down in the visitor chair. He leaned close to Ruby, touching her arm.

“Ruby…” he said softly.

She opened her eyes.

“Chuck.”

“What happened, Ruby?”

“Chuck?”

“The officer said you stayed at a friend’s. Where did you stay, Ruby?”

“Mike’s…” she said in a distant voice, “I was at Mike’s.”

“Who’s Mike?”

“I been seeing him for a while…”

“What happened?”

“They came in…” her eyes searched his face. “They held the gun at my head.” He squeezed her hand as they stared at each other and she tried to get the words out properly. “They shot Mike…”

Samuels swore.

“You must have been scared out of your wits, you poor kid.” He stroked the bandage on her head, his fingers light. “Are you okay?”

“They shot Mike,” she repeated.

“I know, Ruby. Did you see who it was?”

“They put a gun against my head,” she repeated touching the bandage.

Samuels held both of Ruby’s hands, trying to comfort her, to give her strength.

“It’s okay, Ruby. It’ll be okay. It’s over.”

She held his hand to her face, closing her eyes. Samuels sat with her until he figured she was falling asleep. He pulled his hand away slowly and carefully so as not to disturb her. He got up quietly to talk to Holt.

“Who is this guy she was staying with?” he questioned.

“He’s in a gang. We suspect that the killing was gang-related.”

Samuels shook his head.

“She should know better. She should have been home with her foster family.”

“Are you sure she’s still with her foster family?” Holt countered.

Samuels looked startled.

“What? Why do you ask?”

“Her knapsack. Why would a kid in a foster family need anything more than she could put in a purse? She has full changes of clothing and other overnight items. I suspect she’s living on the street.”

“Well… That’s serious. I’ll have to look into it.”

“A girl her age should not be out on her own. If she is, this won’t be the last time she gets mixed up in something like this.”

Samuels nodded.

“I completely agree. I’ll contact her foster family and find out what’s going on. I know that she was staying out late some nights, but living on the street—that’s another story. Has she said anything to you? About what happened?”

“No. She wasn’t able to tell us anything. She didn’t even say anything about them holding the gun to her head. About all she managed to get out was her name.”

“How could someone do that to her?” Samuels said, shaking his head. “She’s such a sweet kid.”

“She’s lucky they didn’t kill her too. Most of the bangers I know wouldn’t have hesitated to shoot all witnesses.”

“That’s horrible…” Nothing was said for a few awkward moments. “Do you deal much with the gangs?”

“Somewhat.”

“Ruby doesn’t hang around with them much, does she? You haven’t seen her with them before?”

“Not that I remember. There aren’t a lot of girls in with the gangs around here.”

“I hope that’s not what she spends her time doing.”

“She’s not in school?”

“She’s absent a lot. She’s not very academic.”

“From the sounds of things, I think she needs a lot more supervision than she’s getting,” Holt suggested, eyes narrowed.

“I may have to recommend a different foster family for her,” Samuels said.

“I suspect so.”

“I appreciate you being here tonight. Ruby’s a good kid, and I’m glad you were there to look out for her, and not someone who would have been rough with her, being involved in a gang shooting.”

“I can see she’s basically a good kid. I’d like to see her settled in with a family for a few more years yet.”

“She really shouldn’t be on her own like this,” Samuels agreed.

Holt nodded.

“Well, we’ll leave her with you tonight. We will need to talk to her about this whole thing again. The homicide officers will probably want to see her tomorrow after they’ve been over the scene a little more carefully. Ruby should be up to it; I would think. Should they contact you?”

“Yes,” Samuels took out a business card. “There’s my daytime number. Give me a call.”

“Thanks. Someone will.”

Holt stepped back into the hospital stall and motioned to Jarislow. They headed back to their car.

“Now there’s a social worker who really cares about his kids,” Jarislow commented.

“Yes…” Holt agreed, “he seemed very attached to Ruby.”

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Ruby, Between the Cracks

By P.D. Workman

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