Home from a potential homicide he had responded to–which had turned out to be nothing but an early Halloween prank–Russell stripped out of his suit and changed into his pajamas. On the drive home, he had decided a shower could wait until later on that morning. For now, he just wanted to sleep.
He climbed into bed and tugged the sheets over his shoulder, shoving one arm under his pillow. He closed his eyes, a little smile coming to his face. If nothing else, supper the night before with Theodore and Vera had been a success. They had liked the food–he’d need to thank Emilia and Andrew for that again–and neither of them had been absolutely terrified of his presence there at the house.
That definitely had to be something.
“Steele, I’ve got a homicide on my desk. Do you want it?” Lieutenant Marcus Kane asked.
“You’ll let me work one without a partner?” Russell asked.
“Might as well. What good are you to the station if I just make you sit at your desk all day?”
Russell smiled. “Not a bad point.” He pushed himself to his feet. “What kind of homicide?”
“Dead gal,” Marcus said, heading back toward his office. Russell followed. “They found her body in the ditch. She’s in one piece, she’s clothed, but she’s been beaten. That’s about the extent of what I know so far.” He grabbed a folder from his desk and held it out to Russell. “Homicide officers responded this morning around four, forensics took their pictures, and she’s since been moved down to the morgue. I’m sure you could find out more from them than you can from me.”
“Great.” Russell held up the folder. “Thanks, Loo.”
“Yep, you’re welcome, Steele. Good luck. And let me know if you need help. We’ll find a temp for you to work with until one of our own is ready for promotion. Or I can place you with an officer.”
“I’ll handle it alone for now, but I’ll let you know.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Russell walked out of the office and back to his desk. He grabbed his coffee mug and dropped into his chair. Andrew and Emilia weren’t in yet–or, if they were, they were out questioning people rather than going through more paperwork–so he’d talk to them to thank them for supper whenever they got to the station.
Sipping at his coffee, he set the folder down and flipped it open. As of an hour ago, the victim was still unidentified. She was bruised, bloody, and beaten, but she was still recognizable. He’d probably be able to run her face through the system and find a driver’s license or non-driver’s ID, depending on what type of person she was.
Russell turned on his computer. After logging in, he scanned the picture into the computer and set it up to run against the driver’s license and non-driver’s IDs in Rustin. He’d let it run while he went down to the lab to speak to forensics–two birds with one stone and all that.
He headed to the lab, coffee cup in hand. He knocked on the door, smiling when Adriana lifted her gaze to his face. “Hey. I’m officially working that homicide from this morning. Young-ish gal found in a ditch?”
“Ah, right.I don’t have a lot yet. I had evidence from yesterday that still needed to be gone through,” she said. “But, this is what I do have.” She held a thin stack of paper out to him, only two or three pieces. Russell crossed the room and grabbed it from her. “She was stabbed a couple of times. If the killer was squatted over her when they did it, the spatter on her shirt suggests that the killer may have been around five-six or so.”
Russell lifted his eyes to her face. “Think we might be looking at a female killer?”
“I don’t know. I swabbed the victim’s face, neck, hands, arms… The works. I’m checking for DNA that isn’t hers. If we luck out, something turns up and can–at the very least–tell us if our killer is male or female.”
“All righty, works for me. What else? Autopsy, blade type? What’re we looking at?”
“Measurements show that you’re looking for a five-inch clip blade as the murder weapon.”
Russell nodded, eyes settled on the papers in his hands. “She was stabbed five times?”
“Yeah. Outside of that, she was beaten. The stabs were all, well, stabs. No scratches with the knife, no defensive wounds. Just stabbings.”
“No hesitation wounds?”
“No, none that I could identify.”
“Hmm.” Russell cleared his throat. “Anything else?”
“I’m still working on the report from the crime scene, and then I’ll get into fingerprints, potential DNA… evidence. And then I’ll let you know.”
“Great.” He lifted the papers. “Thanks, Adriana.”
“Sure thing, Russ.”
Russell headed back upstairs and sat down behind his desk. It had been a while since he’d been given a case, especially since he’d been partnerless. Most of the time, Emilia and Andrew threw him a bone and let him help them with cases, but that was about the extent of it. Though he always hated when a homicide rolled through, he was still pretty damn happy to be working again.
Working an actual job would always be a plus in his book.
Russell lifted his head as the bartender set a beer down in front of him. “Gossip about what?”
“How’d your date go?”
Russell snorted, shaking his head. “Not great. He stalked my phone and found out guys aren’t the only thing I’m interested in.”
She frowned, crossing her arms over the counter. “I’m sorry to hear that, Russ. He’s a bastard. Doesn’t deserve you anyway.”
“Mmhmm.” She raised an eyebrow. “I get off shift at two. If you’re interested.”
Russell chuckled. “Sorry, Jenny. I just got a new homicide to work. You know I’m not good at balancing. As soon as it’s solved, though? I’ll treat you to supper, and then to a bed.”
Jenny smiled. “Sounds like a plan.” She patted his arm, pushing herself away from the counter. “Back in a bit for more gossip. Let me check on a few regulars.”
“Sure thing, Jenny.” Russell pulled his phone from his pocket as it vibrated with a text. Theo.
Theodore: Hey, it’s me. Uh, Theo. Vera wanted me to thank you again for supper.
Theodore: And me. Suppose I wanted to say thank you again from myself too.
Russell smiled. Theodore was cute, even over text.
Russell: Well, you’re both very welcome. Having supper with you two was a real pleasure
Theodore: I’m glad you think so.
Theodore: So… how would you feel about another one?
Russell: I think I’d feel great about another one.
Theodore: That’s great. When are you free?
Russell let out a breath. If he stuck to his usual habits of working a case, he wouldn’t be free again until it was solved. Tomorrow, a week from tomorrow, in a month or two, in half a year. It was impossible to know how long the case would take to work, how long it would be before he allowed his schedule to clear up again.
But maybe just this once, he could ease up long enough for supper for one night. It wouldn’t kill him. It wouldn’t halt progress on the case. It was just one night.
Russell: What works best for you? I can almost always make free time in the evenings
Theodore: How does Friday sound?
Russell: Friday sounds great
He could make Friday work without feeling too guilty. He’d be able to spend the entire weekend working on the case in exchange for one night of supper with a… friend. Not exactly a bad deal, when it came right down to it.
Russell: Am I bringing more food without spending a dime?
Theodore: No, no, I’m cooking this time.
Russell: Are you sure? I don’t mind bringing something
Russell was pretty sure he’d be able to convince Emelia and Andrew into helping with food again. Despite their protests, they had both seemed happy that he was eating with anyone, even if it hadn’t been a date.
Theodore: You made food the first time. I’ll make it the second.
Theodore: Maybe you can get the odd numbers. You know, if Vera wants you over for a third supper.
Russell smiled. He didn’t even mind that Theodore was using Vera as his pawn for things he–hopefully–wanted. Theodore had had it rough for many years, and he had no reason to just up and trust Russell like he was one of the good guys. Or, more appropriately, like he wasn’t one of the bad guys. Theodore didn’t know enough about him to know that his kindness was genuine, that it wasn’t a ploy to trick him into anything before Russell turned on the evil bastard personality instead.
So if Theodore needed to say Vera wanted something in order to validate whatever he was saying or doing, so be it. If it meant supper with the cute bookstore guy and his daughter, he’d take what he could get.
Russell: Handling every odd numbered supper works perfect for me. Love me an odd number
Theodore: Oh, really? You love odd numbers?
Russell: I do now
Russell cleared his throat. Those three words looked oddly needy by themselves, but they weren’t meant to be.
Russell: That came out wrong
Russell: I don’t eat a lot of actual FOOD. Actual food meals with actual people is nice. That’s all I meant
Russell: I’m sorry that probably made you uncomfortable as hell. Phrasing isn’t my best attribute
Russell watched the little check mark appear at the bottom of the messages. Theodore had read them, but he wasn’t attempting to respond. Russell sighed, setting his phone on the bar. Well, if nothing else, he’d be able to keep his streak of being terrible with men, friends or otherwise. Andrew was about the only guy he’d ever managed not to accidentally chase off.
Russell: I’m sorry. You can cancel Friday’s plans if you want. Not my intention to make you uncomfortable in any sense, so uh
Russell: just let me know
Russell watched his screen for what felt like an eternity. When the check mark never appeared, he locked his screen and pushed his phone closer to his beer. He grabbed the bottle and took a sip. Might as well move things along so he could get his ass home and try to sleep. He had a case to work tomorrow, and sleep would come in handy.
He’d worry about whatever Theodore had to say in the morning.
Russell had just sat down on his bed when his phone dinged with a text.
Theodore: I heard something outside.
One corner of Russell’s mouth scrunched up. It had been almost five hours without a response, and when he finally got one, it was about a damn raccoon?
Russell: It’s probably the raccoon. You need better garbage cans.
Theodore: Probably. I’ll go out and check.
Russell hated the little skip of his heart that followed the words. What if he was wrong? What if someone was really after Theodore? What if someone was really outside the man’s house?
Russell: No, stay inside. I’m on my way.
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