The shot, a crack in the air, louder than the wind, the waves, and the sick, wet sounds that came from the automotin above her, split its head, burying a bullet in it's metal skull. The sludge burst from the hole as if it had been under pressure, missing her face and spilling over the front of her coat
The worms stopped their advance, pulling up from her skin and back into the safety of the machine, its metal hands releasing her abruptly to stand and run back into the building, leaving her in the doorway.
"Go! Catch it!" someone growled as she sat up, starring down that her ruined coat.
"You ok, girl?" the man asked.
She looked up, an officer, pistol still in his hand. Fuck, she thought.
"I'm fine," she said.
"What happened here?" he asked gruffly crossing the space between them, dragging her to her feet. She didn't recognize him, the cops who worked the Walk were all familiar with her and the pick up work she did for the businesses. This was someone new. Young, his hair under his hat was cropped short and neat, his cheeks rosy in the cold weather. He grimaced, the smell strong. "What is that?"
She shook her head, "I don't know. Something from that automotin."
"What were you doing here?" he asked, stepping back and pulling out a handkerchief for her.
She took it from him and began to wipe away the muck from her face, the cold touch of the worms still on her skin. "I heard there was a crash. I was just coming for a lookie."
"Just looking, huh? Why?"
She shrugged hoping that she sounded like some curious kid with not enough to do as he looked closer at her.
"And the door here, what of that?" he said pointing.
"Nothing. I was standing up here to get out of the cold when I saw there was nothing on the beach and that motin grabbed me. Can I go? I need to clean up."
"Don't I know you?" he asked slowly, looking at her closely.
"No, sir," she said quickly.
"Ruby! What are you doing here?" another cop yelled from a few feet away, coming from behind the building.
Fuck, she thought again as Chuck, his middle aged body breathing hard from the effort of the chase, jogged to them.
"Sargent Lewis," Chuck said lifting his hand in greeting, his heavy face red from the effort. "We lost the motin, Sucker was fast. In the back though, it looks like someone was murdered. That black stuff we found out here is all over the floor in there."
Lewis frowned at her, "Who's this girl?"
"Ruby? She's a tinkerer. Works around the Boardwalk during the season. You come down for some odd work for someone?" Chuck answered. One of the regular officers on patrol in the area, he was used to her presence.
She shook he head, "No, I came to look. I heard about what happened."
Chuck shook his head, "Don't waste your time with her. She's got nothing to do with this."
Fuck, she thought again, his dismissive tone to Lewis made perfect sense to her. He was saying, you'll owe me. And he would come to collect before the sun down. The little bit of cash she'd made from the parts would be gone before she got home, and the coat would need replaced, again.
Lewis looked at her hard, "Take her back to the station. I want to talk to her about what she saw."
Chuck nodded and pointed his chin towards the buggy. A large one meant to carry prisoners. Plain steel, meant for utility, there was nothing flashy or decorative about it. The steam engine in front sat idle and cold. Sighing she walked towards it and he opened the back. "Throw the coat in the boot, you can ride up front with me."
She took it off, thankful that she hadn't had time to hide anything in the pockets. She inspected the scarf and saw that surprisingly, it had made it through her ordeal with no damage. She wrapped it around her neck but with just the sweater, it wasn't enough.
Sighing she slid into the seat next to Chuck who started up the engine, steam pouring from the stack, rising above the car as it sputtered into life and moved forward at Chuck's suggestion.
"Bad luck, Rube, bad luck to come out today," he said wistfully.
"Seems that way," she replied rubbing her arms, the bit of warmth rolling off the engine not enough to chase the cold away from her bones, the cold not enough to erase the touch of the worms that had brushed her face.
"What were you doing down there anyway? Come to try and get some scrap?" he asked conversationally.
"Came to look," she lied.
He chuckled, "Same as always, Rube, same as always. What was going on with that motin?"
She shook her head, "I don't know, it just attacked me."
"Cog's doesn't have a registered guard. Looked like something was wrong with it. That stuff on your coat, we found it out on the beach too."
She shrugged again, "Must be some kind of oil."
"Oil smelling like that? I know you're smarter than that. Be careful though, Lewis, he's a real hard-ass. Edwards can't pull you out of this, your problems are above his pay grade."
"What's he here for?" she asked, curious despite herself.
"Central called him in. Sent straight from the Golden Tower down to our miserable Walk," he said.
"But why?" she pressed.
He flexed his hands on the steering wheel, the words clearly fighting to be let loose. "I shouldn't tell you," he said, "But here's some free info, something that won't be in the papers. The bodies we pulled from the beach? They were crawling with something. Some sort of worm. I'd stay away from the beach and let us keep the coat. I'll get you something from the evidence locker."
"A dead man's coat?" she said.
He smiled, "I'll let you pick it."
They pulled into the station and he climbed out first, coming around the side to let her out as well. He helped her down and shivering she followed him into the station.
Inside the men moved quickly, shouting over each other as they pushed criminals, handcuffed towards the cells in the back. "Rookie!" Chuck called to a young man in uniform, brown eyes stared from a brown face, young, just out of school. "Take a trash bag and get that coat from the back of the car I just came in on. Put it with the rest of the crash stuff!"
The rookie nodded and scurried away, ready to do as he was told. "I'll take you for your coat first," Chuck said pushing her towards the stairs. Together they walked down the staircase to the offices located on the first basement level. Below she knew would be the morgue, the deep, underground rooms easy to keep cold throughout the year.
He stopped in front of a door at the end of the hall and knocking, it opened.
"Need a coat, for her, what do ya' got laying around?" Chuck asked the man who stood in front of them. Old with glasses, he motioned for them to follow. She stepped into the room, following his halting steps.
"A coat?" he said thinking. "Not much I'm afraid, been awhile since we had anything in like that. Last round of them came from that robbery and they're a little beat up I'm afraid." He motioned to a box on the wall.
Sighing she reached into it and pulled out the first item, a jacket, half burnt. Tossing it aside she dug further, each piece of clothing she pulled out more and more ruined until finally she reached the bottom of the box.
A leather jacket, three quarters length and slightly too big for her in the shoulders and sleeves. A light lining, not made for the dead of winter but it would be fine for now, give her a couple of weeks before she had to replace it if she doubled up on sweaters. Only one bullet hole, this one right in the chest, over the heart. Whoever had shot the owner had aimed true. The whole thing was stained through, darker brown against brown, but it was fine, it didn't smell.
"Dead man's coat," she said holding it up to Chuck.
"Beggars can't be choosers," he said in a sing song voice. "But you're not much of a beggar, are you, Rube?" he asked.
She didn't answer as she followed him out, rolling up the sleeves on the new coat. He walked her back through the station and dropped her in an interrogation room. "I'd stick to your story, if I were you, get out of here as soon as you can. That one, he's looking for something."
She sat in the chair, hard and uncomfortable but the same as always. "Hey Chuck, wait."
"Yeah," he said stopping, door open.
"You said you didn't see anything in the kitchen?" she asked.
"Nothing, just a stain on the floor. Why? Did you?" small smile on his heavy face.
She shook her head, "Not a damn thing."
"That's my Ruby, you keep that attitude. Be a shame if the Walk missed you next season," he said closing the door.
She nodded, taking his warning to heart. The tapped the table, waiting. The door clicked, the handle turning.
Here we go, she thought.
Keep that same energy, Ruby.
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