Theodore lifted his head as a hand touched the counter. He smiled. “Hey, Dad.”
Jenner smiled back at him. “Hey, kiddo. I… figured you could take your lunch break with me today?”
“Is… everything okay, Dad?”
“One hundred percent. But we haven’t had lunch together–just you and me–since before Vera was born. I’d love to change that.”
The smile came back to Theodore’s face. “I’d love that, Dad. Let me just go clock out, okay?”
“All right, bud. I’ll be here.”
Jenner had taken Theodore to the diner about four blocks away from the bookstore. It had been Theodore’s favorite restaurant as a kid, particularly because of their pistachio pudding pie. He hadn’t been there in years, not since he had started dating Shane. Shane had hated the diner, claimed that the prices were nothing but a rip-off, being expected to tip the ‘piss poor’ waitresses was idiotic, and the food was ‘hardly edible’.
Theodore had obviously disagreed, but he hadn’t vocalized that to the man after the first attempt. His lesson on how important his opinions were had started then, only ending once Shane had been taken away in cuffs.
Theodore lifted his head. “So?” he echoed.
“Your mom tells me the detective was having a bad day. Far as your mom knew, that was his first one. But… I know otherwise.”
“I’m not here to call him out on something. I just wanna know how he’s holding up today.”
“I-I don’t know. I haven’t seen or talked to him since this morning,” Theodore said.
Jenner nodded. “I’ll rephrase. How was he holding up this morning before he left?”
“Okay, I think. He seemed to be doing much better after a shower, if nothing else. I guess… I mean, that’s a good thing.”
“Definitely a good thing. Something as simple as a shower or a change of clothes can have a big impact on your day, depending.” Jenner cocked his head to the side. “Do you know what about this case is messing with him so badly?”
“Yeah. Have… you seen the cop shooting on the news?”
“Oh, God, he’s working that?”
“Yeah. It, umm… It hasn’t been easy on him.”
“I can only imagine.” A pause. “What about you? How has it been for you?”
Theodore considered the question for a moment. “Scary. I-I’ve done my best not to clue Russell in on that, but it’s been scary. The cop was retired, so I keep trying to tell myself that Russell’s in no danger, but… but that cop was probably shot because he used to wear a badge. Th-the same kind Russell wears. The idea of him putting his life on the line every damn day, even when he’s not on duty, is… terrifying.”
“I bet it is. When you were with Shane…” Theodore reached across the table and gave his father’s hand a tight squeeze. Jenner offered a smile before shaking his head. “Fearing for someone you care about is hard. Fearing for them every day is ever harder. It takes a pretty big toll on the body, and an even bigger toll on the mind. So… if you ever need to talk about that fear and worry, you can talk to me. Over text, over the phone, in person. Whatever you need, I’ll be there.”
A smile tugged at one corner of Theodore’s mouth. “Thank you, Dad. Really, thank you.”
“No problem, bud.”
After his dad dropped him back off at the bookstore, Theodore headed over to the cafe portion of it.
Gina flashed a smile. “Hey. Have a nice lunch with your dad?”
“Yeah. It was a nice change of pace. Feels like… forever since I just sat down with either of them for lunch, my dad, especially. It was nice.”
“Well, hey, that’s great.” Gina cleared her throat. “Coffee?”
“Yeah. Same as always.”
“Perfect. Just a sec.” After a short wait, Gina set Theodore’s coffee down on the counter. “Still not letting you pay for it, so don’t even think about it.”
Theodore rolled his eyes. “Fine.”
Gina crossed her arms over her chest. “Hey, umm… Russell came in while you were at lunch. Like, five minutes after you left. He looked pretty upset, so I got him a coffee and told him to wait for you.”
“Yeah. He’s in the reading area in the children’s section.” Gina grabbed his hand. “Again, I think Russell is a very good man, but if you feel unsafe at any point, you call for me. Okay?”
“All right,” Theodore whispered. He grabbed the coffee and made his way back to the children’s section of the bookstore. Russell sat on the floor, toying with whatever was in his hand. Theodore tapped his cane against Russell’s thigh. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Russell whispered. “I-I saved the beanbag chair for you.”
“Thank you.” With a little help from his cane and Russell, Theodore lowered himself into the beanbag chair. “Would… you like to talk?”
“If you don’t mind.”
“Not, umm, not at all. Talk about whatever you need to, Russell.”
Russell offered a smile, laying a hand on Theodore’s thigh. “I can’t talk to anyone at the station about this. I mean… Emey and Andrew are my friends, but they’ve seen me go through hell several times, and I’m scared they’ll tell my lieutenant that the case is too close for me to work on it if I tell them too much about what’s going on.”
Theodore nodded, tentatively covering Russell’s hand with his own. “Well… I promise you I’m not going to get you removed from the case.”
“Thank you.” Russell cleared his throat, looking down as he moved his thumb over Theodore’s thigh. “When I got to the station, I went down to the basement to talk to our forensic tech. I needed to know more about Vince’s scene so I could see if it related to Lauren’s as closely as I thought it might.”
“Lauren… being your late partner?” Theodore asked.
“Yeah. Vince was shot… with two weapons. Th-the important part, though, is that both guns were reported stolen a month before the shooting. One was stolen from Texas, and the other was stolen from Minnesota within six days of each other. In Lauren’s case, it was only one weapon, but it was also reported stolen three months before the shooting. That one was from Oklahoma.”
“So… even when the gun was stolen has a cooldown period.”
“Right. And it decreased between the first and second shootings.”
“Three months to one is… a drastic shortening, right?”
Russell nodded. “Very, yeah. After not getting caught the first time, he probably felt much more confident to do it a second time,” he said.
“Very,” Russell repeated. He cleared his throat, dropping his head to Theodore’s thigh. Theodore tensed for a moment before moving a hand to the side of the detective’s head. “Vince had a jogging route he followed at night. He would’ve been on his way home when he was shot. So I checked his phone to see if he had deviated from his path any.”
“Yeah. He stopped at the gas station on his way home.”
“Do you know why?”
“No. N-not yet. That’s my next stop.” Russell lifted a hand to scrub it over his face. “Shit, I’m sorry. This is uncomfortable for you, right.”
“No, you’re fine.” Theodore combed his fingers through Russell’s hair. “Shane never would’ve dreamed of putting his head on my lap. You’re fine.”
“Awesome,” Russell whispered. “When’s your lunch break over?”
Russell looked down at his watch. “Eight minutes.”
Theodore nodded. “Then I guess mine ends in eight minutes, too.”
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