Ruby plans a trip. Whatever that means
“Now are you sure you’ve got everything?” Martin asked, anxiously staring over his newspaper.
Ruby gripped her clipboard tighter. “Oh, Martin, I’ve been planning this trip for months.” She read down her list. “Passport. Funny money. Suntan lotion (high and low factor). Travel-sickness pills. Her head began to swim. Did I say passport?”
“Oh, Honey, will you stop by at Walsingham and keep Fifi company while I’m away?”
“Keep her company?” exploded Martin. “Darling she’s a dog.”
“Mrs Greeves will feed and walk her but I’m afraid the woman’s exceptionally dull. Fifi will be ever so bored.”
“Maybe you’d like me to tell her a bedtime story?”
“Oh, Honey, would you?” Ruby beamed. “She’d love that.”
Martin sighed deeply. “Darling why don’t you put that stupid mutt in a boarding kennel while you’re gone.”
Ruby pouted. “Fifi is not a stupid mutt. Why sometimes I think she’s as clever as me.”
Martin nodded gravely. “You might have something there,” he conceded.
“And I don’t see that a few minutes of your day would make all the difference,” Ruby continued. ”It’s not as if you’re busy.”
Martin put down his newspaper brushed his dark hair out of his eyes. “As it happens I expect to be rushed off my feet.”
“My investment advisor’s coming over later and we’re going to knock my portfolio into shape.”
“That blonde woman?”
“With the big?”
Ruby smiled. “Oh, good, she seems nice.”
Martin frowned. “I wouldn’t judge a book by its cover. I expect it’ll be jolly hard while you’re away. She’ll work me like a dog. I’ll have to wrestle with her figure – figures that is. We’ll probably be going at it until god knows what time.”
“You poor dear.”
Martin nodded, “don’t worry about me darling, I shall overcome.”
Outside a horn beeped
“That’ll be the taxi.” Ruby kissed him and grabbed her travel bag.
“Have a good trip, darling,” Martin called as she rolled out to the car. He lit a cigar and smoked it by the window. When the taxi had disappeared out of through the estate gates he reached for the telephone.
A few hours later another taxi squeaked to a stop outside the house. Ruby got out and let herself in with her key.
Martin was nowhere to be seen. “Honey,” she called. “Honey, do you know how many airports London has?” She counted in her head. “Well, several at least.” She hung up her coat and looked around.
“And by the time I got to the right one the man said my plane was half-way across the Atlantic! And you know what Honey? When I said if it’s only half-way, you can darn well bring it back again, you know what he did?” She paused, partly for dramatic effect, and partly because the conversation was beginning to seem increasingly one-sided.
A distant rhythmic squeaking was coming from upstairs. “He laughed at me honey!” She added feeling she ought to finish the story.
Ruby followed the squeaking noises upstairs to the master bedroom.
Martin appeared to be doing press-ups. In bed. Naked.
“Honey,” she called, ”I’m home.”
“Darling!” Martin froze then slowly rolled over. Ruby saw that Melania was also in the bed. They both looked quite flushed. Martin gathered the bed sheets around himself. “You’re back early,” he said airily.
“ What’s going on?”
“Ah,” Martin’s face went if anything, a slightly deeper shade of lobster. “Well… Melania… fainted. Yes! That was it. She’s fainted and I was performing CPR on her.”
“She fainted in our bed?”
“Of course not,” Martin said crossly, ”I carried her up here. I couldn’t very well leave her on the floor now could I?”
“Ok,” said Ruby, “I guess that makes sense but why is she naked?”
“God, Ruby, I’ve never done any first aid. I knew you were supposed to loosen someone’s clothes but I couldn’t remember whose. I just thought it best to cover all bases.”
Ruby beamed. “Oh, Martin you’re so thoughtful.”
Melania sat up. “For god’s Martin, you little wimp. If you won’t tell her I will.”
“Tell me what?” Asked Ruby.
“Martin wants a divorce.”
“Err, what, yes,” said Martin sheepishly.
It was at this point that Ruby burst into tears.
Ruby stared out of the leaded light windows and across the rain soaked Lawn towards the dovecot. Fifi looked questioningly at her mistress.
Ruby sighed and ruffled her fur. “I feel the same way,” she admitted.
“Yes, Walsingham can be a bit of a dump sometimes.”
Fifi tilted her head to one side.
“I do actually.” Ruby said becoming a bit brighter. “I’ve decided, everyday to try something new. Today, I think I’ll go into town on the bus. Apparently, they’re not as bad as people say.”
Ruby grinned. “No, silly. When the rain stops. “
Fifi let out a long mournful howl.
An hour later Ruby stepped off the bus near the church. The driver had refused both her gold-card and her fifty-pound note, despite the fact she clearly remembered they were good for payment of debts up to ─
Actually she didn’t remember.
Luckily there had been that other nice man. What had he said? The word ridiculous had come up a lot. And he’d seemed very concerned about the time but anyway the upshot was he did have the exact money only ─ whatever that meant─ and paid her fare.
Why, there he was how. She waved but he didn’t notice her and ran off clasping a briefcase to his chest and trying to look at his watch at the same time.
At the coffee stop she bought a double mochaccino with a cinnamon and marshmallows to cheer herself up. she couldn’t remember the PIN on her gold card but the young man behind the counter took her fifty without comment.
In the park she sipped her coffee but it was cold and the marshmallows hadn’t melted. After a while a girl came and sat next to her. She was accompanied by a mangy terrier which lay down on her feet. Ruby eyed the girl’s tattoos and her dirty combat trousers and shuffled up the bench.
“S’all right,” said the girl, “I don’t bite. I’m Lesley. Or Les,” she added by way of breaking the ice. She produced a paper bag. “Wanna sarnie?”
Ruby indicated that she didn’t.
“Suit yourself. I’m selling the big issue,” explained Lesley. “But I’ve got an hour off ‘cos Dirty Dennis always does the post office at lunchtime. We got a rota,” she added by way of clarification.
Ruby looked at her coldly and said nothing. It didn’t do to encourage these people. Soon she’d be onto the spare change lark.
“Gawd, you’re a one,” observed Lesley. “You wanna lighten up. Barney!” She tapped the bench. The little terrier jumped up and Lesley fed it the end of her sandwiches. “They were stale anyway,” she explained.
Sandwiches finished Barney began to sniff the bench. Then he sniffed Ruby. Then he tentatively licked her hand.
“Barney! Sorry miss.” Lesley moved to scoop up the little dog.
“It’s all right,” Ruby said and immediately wished she hadn’t.
“Cor, it can talk,” said Lesley with a grin. She took out a harmonica and began to squawk out a tune.
Ruby sighed, “I just left my husband,” she said, “or rather he left me.” At least she thought a conversation might stop the harmonica.
“Bummer,” said Lesley sympathetically. She rummaged in her combats, produced a cigarette and lit it. She took a drag and blew out a cloud of pungent smoke. “Here,” she said, offering the cigarette to Ruby, “try this.”
Ruby eyed it. It wasn’t the kind you could buy at the Newsagent. “I don’t smoke,” she said.
Lesley grinned. “This ain’t smoking. Go on. Live a little. Try something new!”
Cautiously Ruby put the thing to her lips and inhaled. The smoke was hot and bitter. Ruby coughed and for the second time in a week the bottom fell out of her world.
Ruby woke late and rolled off her mattress. She stumbled down to the kitchen where she found Jennifer boiling the squat’s one battered old kettle over the camping stove.
Jennifer slopped water into a cracked cup. “Instant,” she said.
Jennifer poured the rest of the water into the sink and started on the washing up
“Jenn, it’s Lesley’s birthday next week.”
“I wanted to get her something special, but I’ve only known her a few months. What do you think she’d like.” Ruby blushed. “ I’ve got a bit of money, maybe I could get the electricity reconnected?”
Jennifer shook her head. ”Suppose they turf us out tomorrow but your name on the bill, huh?” She turned to face Ruby. “There is something but,” she hesitated, “it’s hard to come by these days.”
Ruby stood under a bus shelter and stared across the rainy street to the pub. I’ve come this far, she thought, and when there was a break in the traffic she crossed the road and pushed into a room that was aptly named the snug.
There were only two customers; a dapper man in a suit and a rough looking tramp asleep in a corner. Ruby bought orange juice and sat down near the dapper man. What was it Jenn had called the stuff?
“I’ve come about some acid,” she said. The man ignored her. Was that the wrong word? There was another word, wasn’t there? “LSD?” She said a little louder in case he hadn’t heard.
The man winced.” Keep your goddamn voice down,” he muttered.
“I’ve got the money,” added Ruby waving some notes, in case that was the problem.
The man grimaced.
“Excuse me young lady,” the tramp was standing next to her holding a silvery metal badge. Ruby caught the word Police.
“Fuck!” Said the dapper man and ran out the door.
“Oi,” the man with the badge leaped up. “I’ll be back for you in a minute,” he shouted at Ruby, and dashed out after the dapper man. When Ruby’s brain started to work again she found she was handcuffed to the bar.
Look -- it’s raining.
Ruby stared out the barred window and watched rain falling on the gloomy moor.
It’s always raining.
No different to Walsingham, really.
I wish Lesley was here.
Or even that woman who used to be in the cell opposite.
She wasn’t much of a conversationalist.
Yes, but at least we didn’t used to talk to ourself.
Shh, there’s a van in the yard.
Another poor bitch banged up.
Mind your language. What would mother say?
Ruby was awakened by the gentle sound of a harmonica.
She stared past the bars. “Oh,” she said, “it’s you. Your playing’s improved.”
Lesley put down the harmonica and smiled. For a while neither spoke.
“Well, say summit then. I come all this way.”
“Not for you mind.”
“No.” Ruby blinked. She felt stupidity welling up in her throat and pushing itself out her eyes. “What they get you for?” She said at last.
Lesley grinned. “They didn’t. Not exactly.”
Ruby stretched her arm through the bars but it was too short. You must have done something.
“I ‘spose. I like the hair. Suede-head.”
Ruby laughed. “It’s practical.”
“And the scar.”
“You should’ve seen the other girl.”
“Big day today, Miss Oporto?”
Ruby froze at the top of a press-up and looked passed the bars to where Jamie was mopping the floor. Jamie wasn’t too bad.
“Maybe,” she said trying to sound non-committal. She started on squats.
“The parole board, prompted Jamie.”
Later orderlies came and took her to a cell she didn’t recognise where she waited for an unknowable time. Eventually a face peered through the window in the padded door. Keys clanked and a man in a white coat entered.
“Hello, Dr Scheckler,” said Ruby sweetly, “how lovely to see you. I’d shake your hand but I’m a bit tied up.” She strained against the leather straps securing her wrists to the chair.
Scheckler slipped into a chair facing Ruby. “I‘ll get straight to the point Miss Oporto,” he unclipped a sheath of papers and laid them down. “The board denies your request for release.”
Ruby stared at the desk.
“Doctor,” she said looking up, “I’ve had problems but I’m better now.”
Scheckler mopped his brow.
“Miss Oporto, since you entered this prison following minor drug offences your behaviour has only deteriorated.” He glanced at his papers. “Fighting with other girls...”
“They drew on my painting of Fifi.”
“Warden said Fifi looked like a walrus.”
“The board’s decision is final, miss Oporto.”
“Bastard!” Ruby threw herself forward with such force that she and the chair fell across the table.
Ruby lunged wildly trying to bite Scheckler but he leapt back and a moment later three orderlies burst in with nightsticks.
Back in her cell Ruby touched her face and winced.
Across the way Lesley hissed, “I guess it’s on then?”
Ruby nodded. Her hand closed over the metal object in her pocket.
Ruby checked her watch. Midnight. She grabbed her rolled up her blanket. She probed her call lock with the paperclip. Come on silly thing, Ruby began to sweat.
Lesley slipped out of her cell, her blanket over her shoulder. “Think anyone heard?”
“Too bad for them if they did.”
Five minutes later they threw their blankets onto the barbed-wire fence and scrambled over.
For the first hour they resisted the temptation to holler. Ruby saw the gleam in her companion’s eyes and that was enough. They ran in silence conserving their breath, bound by an unspoken understanding. After the second hour they came to a river and stole a boat. After that it was easy. They moved rapidly downstream stopping only to raid the deserted fishing huts they encountered until they had each a change of clothes.
“Whatcha gonna do now?” Lesley asked as they dropped their weighted down uniforms into a lake.
Ruby grinned. “I’m going to call on an old friend but first I’m going to do some shopping.”
The sky was lightening when she got back to Walsingham. She had planned to let herself in with a brick but the spare key was still in Fifi’s kennel. Ruby stuffed a rucksack with as much cash and other valuables as she figured she could carry. To stay here was dangerous but her eyes wouldn’t stay open so she wolfed down the contents of some tins and then she slept.
She awoke to the sound of sirens and cursed her stupidity.
“So ‘owed yer escape?” asked Lesley wide eyed the following day.
“I think yer did.”
Ruby laughed. “I grew up playing hide and seek in Walsingham. I know every priest-hole in the place.”
Together they fenced the contents of the bag, though Lesley said they could hardly really be stolen goods as they belonged to Ruby. After that they bought the weapons, the wire, a tarpaulin and a spade. For digging a big hole, was all Ruby would say.
“Can’t I come with yer?” Lesley asked when they were done.
Ruby shook her head.
“Your going to kill ‘im aincha?”
Ruby shrugged. “Better you don’t know.”
“Darling, I’m home.” Martin leaped out of his Porsche and ran up to the front door. The door stood ajar and splinters of wood lay on the step. Shit!
He went back to the car, grabbed a golf club and pushed the door open. A muffled noise was coming from the lounge. He peered in.
Melania was sitting in one of the dining chairs. Naked. Her arms and legs duct taped to the chair and a cloth in her mouth. She grimaced at him and gurgled something incomprehensible.
Cautiously he approached, golf club raised. He pulled the cloth out. “Darling, it’s all right.”
Melania nodded at the window. “Out there, Ruby.”
Bang. The first shot smashed the window and spattered off the floor inches from Martins feet. He dropped the golf club and dived behind the forty-eight inch TV in the middle of the room. Bang. The TV toppled and Martin scrambled behind the sofa. Crash. Ruby, dressed in combats, kicked in the French windows. She threw down the sniper rifle she held, and pulled a couple of pistols from her belt. Martin ran for the door.
Outside he looked around frantically. The woods. Lose her in the woods. He ran.
After a few minutes he threw himself against a tree. Had he lost her? He stuck his head out. Bang. The trunk next to his head exploded in splinters. He stared at the high estate wall. There was only one other gate.
Again he ran. His lungs were burning but yes, there was the gate. Bang. A tree to his left exploded in splinters. He veered right. Bang a tree on his right exploded. he veered left, and that was when he caught his foot and fell. Someone, he saw as he fell, had stretched a fine wire between two trees, he threw his arms out towards the leafy ground stop himself but the ground gave way and he fell tumbling into a pit. He sat up in a pool of water that stunk like sewage. Though he realised unhappily some of the smell was coming from inside his trousers.
A shadow passed against the sky. He looked up to see Ruby had a gun trained on his head.
“Please don’t kill me,” Martin sobbed. “I always loved you really. It was Melania…”
“Kill you?” Ruby spat. “I’m not going to kill you I just wanted you to have a good trip.”
“What are you going to do now?” Lesley asked.
Ruby grinned and her hand closed on her false passport. “I think I’ll take a trip,” she said.
“Can I come?”