For four years, Ruby has escaped the gangs and sweepers hunting her. Until now…
For the past four years, Ruby has lived in what was once a sprawling city of business and commerce. Now, it is the Ghetto; its main commerce exists in the form of females. Whether breeders, laborers, gang girls, or sex slaves, the Ghetto features any and every service with the Hotel as its central area of business. Thanks to her roof-topping skills and street smarts, which have made her impossible to catch, Ruby has made the Ghetto’s most-wanted list. Fortunately, she has one ally: a young man named Ink, the one man determined not to sell her. Unlike Ruby, Ink has no desire to leave the Ghetto, but she owes him a life debt and is trapped as much by her honor as by the soldiers patrolling the only exits out of the city.
Whether scavenging for food or holing up in an abandoned clock tower, Ruby and Ink remain unlikely partners until their home in an abandoned train yard is discovered. While Ink escapes, Ruby is captured by the roughest gang in the Ghetto. All too soon, Ruby learns she is bound for the Hotel where she will be used up piece by piece until there is nothing left. Unless she can escape and get the target off her back once and for all.
A haunting tale with themes of modern day slavery, Ruby in the Rough is certain to keep readers turning pages and ready to rise up with its call to action.
Women At Risk, International: On behalf of Women At Risk, International, we would like to thank Emily for her deep passion for those engulfed in modern-day slavery. This piece is a declaration of her commitment to vulnerable women around the world. We are grateful for her desire to shed light on the issue of human trafficking through her writing, and look forward to seeing how she will continue to use her talents to create her own circle of protection around at-risk and rescued women.
Exodus Cry Author Emily Shore has written a fictional account of a town overrun with corruption and human trafficking. Ruby in the Rough takes the reader on a journey to view human trafficking from an insider’s perspective. It brings to light the use of drugs, coercion, and the hopelessness felt by those exploited by traffickers. Following the story there is a discussion guide that is a great benefit to help educate the reader. –Relna Mansfield, Exodus Cry
Ruby in the Rough
The sweepers are coming.
We must get inside now.
“We cut it too close this time,” Ink says as we duck into a nearby alley that reeks of garbage ― mostly the rotted remains of dead rodents, their meat already stripped clean ― nothing useful for scavenging. “You’re not going to make it.”
He says “you’re” because his hide isn’t on the line. It’s not worth anything, unlike mine.
Tugging both sides of my cap down low over my ears, I scan the alley all around me; there’s always another route. I haven’t spent all this time on the streets without learning that. At the end of the alley is a wrought iron fence with razor wire at the top to prevent anyone from going over into gang territory. The razor wire glimmers like new daggers just daring me to give it a shot, but getting caught by the gangs is just as bad as the sweepers. All around me, the walls are flat. No notches or grooves for climbing, but as I inch closer to the dumpster with the tips of my fingers edging out from my sliced-off gloves, I sense a warm air current.
“Ink!” I whisper harshly as I flatten my palms against the dumpster. “Help me move it!”
By now, Ink has learned to obey my every command. I’ve gotten us out of enough jams ― well me out of enough jams. If it was us, my slate would’ve been wiped clean long ago, and I’d already be on my way to the cliffs and not stuck in this cesspool where I’m the new currency.
“It’s a vent shaft.” I smirk and grip it with my fingers.
“Yes, a vent shaft that leads right into the heart of the Brothers territory,” he reminds me even while helping. The collar of his shirt dips down ever so little, just enough to give me a glimpse of his namesake. I’m one of the few who knows how far down it travels.
From here, I can still hear the encroaching boots of the sweepers. We have moments left. One more tug, and it jerks free. I go in first. Ink doesn’t have to. Sweepers aren’t interested in him. Soldiers or gangs on the other hand…
“Don’t get that cape caught.” Ink shakes his head, a gesture I’m familiar with when it comes to the black cape I always keep knotted around my neck when I’m in the city.
Cramming myself into the narrow space, I hear Ink wedging the grate back into place and shifting the dumpster in front of it once again. One small corner gives me a peek into the street beyond, but all I can make out are Ink’s leather boots…and a few droplets of wine spilling like blood onto the street. What a waste. Even if it it’s cheap wine, it’s still good as treasure. Ink wanted to sell it, but I told him we were getting all sorts soused tonight. Maybe there will be some left. Judging by the faint stench, I’d wager not, but I know I’d have done the same in his place.
Just as predicted, the sweepers round the corner, their black polished shoes a dead giveaway. To think they used to protect and serve generations ago before everything collapsed. Now, they know only protection in exchange for getting served. They cart any girls they find right off to the Hotel.
“You, boy!” One sweeper marches up to Ink, who wobbles from side to side.
The sweeper’s gruff voice booms, and I almost think the grate will shake right off and expose my hiding place. Maybe I should start sliding down further, but the thought of leaving Ink behind makes my tongue feel like it’s licking the barbed wire. He might be good at charming or tricking himself out of any situation, but I know the streets better than he does. I don’t want to get separated.
“Girl come by this way?”
“Uh huh.” Ink doesn’t play dumb because that’d be a dead giveaway. The liquid sloshing alerts me that he’s getting more into his role. That ass! He better not drink it all before me!
“What’d you see, boy?”
Huh. Boy. I guess I’ve never seen Ink that way. Especially with most of his clothes off when we go wading in the pond outside the train yard. Anyone looking at him can see he’s skirting the edge of manhood. Whatever boy left in him is gripping onto his coat tails for dear life.
I watch his boots stumble around again.
“She…uh went over the wire.” He slurs his words like a pirate in a pub.
“Over the wire, you say?”
The sweeper’s shoes close in, and I hear Ink let out a yelp, which makes me think that he’s been grabbed. By the throat more than likely. He drops the wine bottle. Damn. That’s almost worth a life debt right there.
“Ya better not be lying to me, boy!” That voice is familiar.
“Come on, Tanner, kid’s too drunk to have seen anything.”
Great, Tanner. We’ve had a few near run-ins in the past. He doesn’t even qualify as a sweeper. More bounty hunter with sweeper background. I still wonder if he’s the one who coined my title that’s led to the chicken-scratch wanted posters all over the city of a red-head in a cape bearing the name of “Ghetto Fox”.
When Ink’s boots stumble backward, I know Tanner has released him. Still remaining in the role, Ink drops to his knees and scrambles for the wine bottle. Maybe there are a few drops left?
“Makes sense. Girl’s slick, this one.” Tanner’s boots stride out of my line of sight toward the fence. “She knows we can’t go into gang territory. Course, if she don’t make it out the other side, she’ll be regretting that move. And if she does, we’ll be waitin on the other side.”
“But that’s clear on the other end of the Ghetto!” A sweeper complains.
Tanner growls back at him. “Any more complaints, I’ll see that hide of yers whipped for insubordination. And I’m sure I can find the ugliest girl in the Hotel for you.”
My cringe is automatic. The Hotel is the tumorous growth on an equally cancerous city. No cure for the disease. If it gets its claws into you, you’re infected. Unless you’re immune like Ink or if you’re…me. My eyes water, and I know it’s not just from the stench of rotting garbage outside or the heat on the inside that smells faintly of burnt flesh.
“Why’s this one so important?” asks another sweeper as Tanner’s boots stomp on the ground and pause right outside the corner of the vent. I could poke my long finger out and touch him.
“This one’s slipped my fingers too many times. Sly little fox but limbs like a monkey. Monkey of the city. But even monkeys like bananas. Just gotta find her weakness is all.”
If I have a weakness, he’s two steps away from Tanner. I’ll have to give Ink bonus points for keeping up his ruse. Licking the leftover wine drops straight from the ground almost has me convinced that he’s a drunk.
“Move out! Time to hightail it to the other side,” orders Tanner. Every sweeper obeys, and I wait until the sound of their shoes has faded like a forgotten echo. I wait a few moments more just in case, but this isn’t a spot we want to stay in too long. Not with Brothers territory right there.