Armed with his phone and a cup of coffee, Russell sat on the couch, leaned back against the armrest. Theodore sat between his legs, his body twisted just enough to the side that his hip was supported by Russell’s leg rather than crushed by it.
Russell took a sip of his coffee before setting it on the end table behind him. “What am I supposed to say when I call him?”
“I think that mostly depends on if you get his voicemail or not.”
Russell nodded. “Yeah, probably.” He let out a breath, pressing the call button on his phone before he could change his mind. He set the call to speaker and set his phone on his thigh, waiting.
After the second ring, a man answered with a simple, “Pitman.”
“Umm… hey. I’m, uh, Russell Steele. I’m…”
“Vince’s boy,” the man said, his voice soft. “I’d heard about his death. I’m very sorry for your loss, Mister Steele. Vince was a damn good cop, an even better man.”
“Yeah,” Russell whispered. “I, uh, I’m investigating his death, a-and he always told me that if I ever needed anything I couldn’t get from the station, I should call you.” A pause. “I need something I can’t get on my own, something I worry will get another one of the good cops killed.”
“I’m about twenty minutes from Rustin. Can we meet up to discuss what you need?”
Russell muted his end of the call. “Theo?”
“Meet him here. I don’t want you to meet him alone,” Theodore said.
Russell pressed a kiss to the top of Theodore’s head and unmuted the call. “Yes, we can meet. I’ll give you my address, unless you have another plan.”
“Whatever you’re most comfortable with, Mister Steele.”
Russell gave his address to the man, who promised to be there within half an hour. “Are you sure you’re okay with him coming here?” he asked after ending the call.
“You’re going to be here. That’s… that’s all I need right now to know it’ll be okay,” Theodore said.
Russell wrapped Theodore in a hug, resting his chin on the other man’s shoulder. “I love that you feel safe around me, Theo.”
“Me too. Even… even though it still makes me a little nervous.”
“I’d be a little worried if you weren’t at least a little nervous. For the first, like, decade after we got away from my biological father, anyone I didn’t feel nervous around made me suspicious. I just assumed I must’ve been manipulated by their charm.”
“Understandable. Never thought of it that way.” Theodore let out a breath. “Do you just wanna… sit here together until he gets here?”
“I’d love that.”
Theodore laid a hand over one of Russell’s, threading his fingers through Russell’s much longer ones. “What’s your plan for tomorrow?”
“I don’t know. I-I don’t know if I can walk into that station tomorrow. I’m considering calling in, not going at all, but then I gotta tell Andrew to stay outta this shit, too. I brought him into it, but I gotta…” Russell sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t know what my plan is.”
“That’s okay. I wouldn’t know what the hell to do, either.”
“The only thing I know for sure is that you, me, and Vera are gonna get all the candy in the neighborhood. I know the best houses to hit.”
“Oh, do you?”
“I do! I normally take my niece trick-or-treating every year.”
“Hopefully I’m not taking you away from that this year?”
“Nah, she says she’s too old for it. Makes me even more thankful for your invitation, honestly.”
“Well, I’m glad we could help. Though… it’s technically Vera’s invitation.”
Russell chuckled softly, arms tightening around Theodore briefly. “I’ll be sure to thank her personally.” He shifted, burying his nose in Theodore’s neck. “Can I ask you something?”
“Uh… about me?”
“How do you feel about… terms of endearment? Babe, baby… Stuff like that?”
“Maybe someday it’ll be different, but as it stands, I don’t like them,” Theodore said.
“Because of Shane? Or you just have never been a fan of them?”
“Because of Shane.”
Russell nodded. “Okay. Then I will absolutely respect that. I just wanted it clarified before I get to a point where I slip up and use them around you.”
“I appreciate that, Russell.”
“My pleasure.” Russell lifted his head, pulling one hand away from Theodore to grab his coffee instead. “Thank you for staying up with me.”
“It’s Sunday. I don’t work anyway. But you’re very welcome.”
Russell chuckled, squeezing Theodore’s hand. He took a sip of his coffee and passed it to Theodore, who took a drink without complaint. “What’s your middle name, Theo?”
“Looking for cool things to call you, of course.”
Theodore snorted. “You’re gonna have to look elsewhere, because my middle name’s Robert, and if you start calling me that, we’re totally over.”
Russell smiled, dropping his chin to Theodore’s shoulder. “I’ll do you one better. My middle name’s Ernesto.”
“No fuckin’ way.”
“Oh, absolutely fuckin’ way. Russell Ernesto Steele. My father totally planned his hatred from day one.”
“Have you ever wanted to change it?”
“Couple times. Mom considered it when I was younger. In the end, I think we just had too much going on to change it when I was growing up. Now it just seems… pointless, I guess. I’ve already lived with it this long, y’know?”
“Yeah, I get that. At a certain point, there are things that just feel, well, pointless.”
“Very.” Russell leaned his head against the back of the couch, closing his eyes as he stroked Theodore’s chest with his thumb. “You ever think about getting fish again? Besides the goldfish you’ve got in your bedroom, I mean.”
“No. I mean… technically. I’ve considered it, but even walking past the fish at the pet store makes my chest all tight. I only have the goldfish because Dad took Vera to a fair, and she won him for me.”
Russell smiled, his eyes still closed. “That child loves you so damn much.”
“I lucked out with her, that’s for sure.”
Russell nodded. “I’m sorry that bastard killed all your fish, Theo.”
“Thank you,” Theodore said after a moment. “No one’s ever expressed… sorrow at the idea that my fish died. It’s always sorrow at the idea that he shattered that expensive tank, that he must’ve scared the hell outta me. It’s never about the fish.”
“I’ve heard you talk to the goldfish in your bedroom. I know you love him the way other people love their pets. Them being fish doesn’t take away from the fact that they were your pets, the fact that you probably loved them. It doesn’t make their lives less important.”
Theodore reached back to touch Russell’s cheek. Russell leaned into the man’s palm. “Thank you for understanding that, Russ. I’m pretty damn used to the ‘they’re just fish’ response.”
“No problem at all, Theo.”
Russell pulled open the door, eyes landing on Jamal Pitman. Though he’d never met the man in person, he had seen him on the news more than once. He was a proud authority figure in Los Angeles, a pillar of a proud black man who had worked his ass off to be promoted to chief of police and hold the position for years longer than most other chiefs around the country.
Jamal smiled softly. “Jamal’s fine. May I come in?”
“Yeah, of course.” Russell stepped away from the door. Jamal stepped inside, tucking his hands behind his back once he’d closed the door. “Umm, this is Theo, my boyfriend. Not a cop, but absolutely involved in these conversations.”
Jamal untucked his hands and held one out to Theodore. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mister…?”
Theodore grabbed his hand. “Theo’s fine. I prefer it.”
Jamal nodded. “Theo, it is, then. What about you, Mister Steele?”
Russell shook his head. “Russell’s fine with me.”
“Of course.” Jamal tucked his hands behind his back. “So… shall we sit down and discuss this case before you tell me what you need from me?”
“Yeah, this way.”
After walking Jamal through the case, Russell held his phone out to Jamal, Derek’s Instagram pulled up on his screen. “This is them. Derek Adler and Bonnie Clouse. I need to know what kind of shit they’re involved in, what Vince and Lauren could’ve seen or heard to get them both killed,” he said.
Jamal grabbed his phone, eyes flicking up to Russell’s face before falling to the screen. He pulled his own phone from his pocket, dialed a number, and pressed it to his ear. Russell laid a hand on Theodore’s thigh, more than thankful that the other man grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze.
“Franklin, I need you to get two names to Jeremiah for me. Derek Adler and Bonnie Clouse. They live here in Rustin and they work for the Rustin Police Department. Have him get their addresses first before he dives into their emails and social media profiles.” A pause. “I’m looking at Instagram, Adler’s page. I can give you his username, offer a bit of a head start.” Jamal read off Derek’s username letter-by-letter, doing the same for Bonnie’s a moment later.
Admittedly, Russell was a little more than surprised that Jamal knew how to find Bonnie’s username from the tagged people section of the site.
“Tell Jeremiah to keep an eye out for anything that is a potential connection to anything suspicious. A large withdrawal, a large deposit, texts, emails, phone calls… I want every spec of dirt he can find. First update on the hour, yeah?” Jamal asked. He glanced up at the ceiling. “All right. Thank you, Franklin. Out in a bit.”
He pulled his phone from his ear and handed Russell’s phone back. “I’m going to have my driver bring you a burner phone. It’s how I’ll contact you with any information we find. We have to assume that, at the very least, they have access to your text messages. It’s not hard to gain entry into that. Right now, since you’re alive, they don’t suspect you of knowing anything. I’d like to keep it that way.
“However, there’s always a chance they do know. There’s a chance they fear it. Because of that, I’m going to put a bodyguard on you. We’ve already lost Vince, and I swore to that man that I would protect his family if I outlived him. That includes you.”
“That’s why you were near Rustin,” Russell said quietly.
Jamal smiled. “Yes. I keep my word. A man’s only as good as his word.” He cleared his throat, nodding toward Theodore. “Do they know you are dating him?”
“He’s been in the station. There’s… a chance they may have seen us hug.”
“Okay. I’d like to put a guard on him, as well. Unless you two are planning on remaining inside this home until this is said and done.”
Russell shook his head. “Theo has a job at a bookstore, and his daughter has school.”
“I’d like one on her, so long as you’re comfortable with that.”
“Umm…” Theodore cleared his throat. “Would it be a man?”
“Yes. My men are very well trained and vetted. They will not lay a hand on her,” Jamal said.
“Okay. I-I’m okay with it, then.”
“Good,” Jamal said softly. “Is there any chance they know his name? First and last?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Do they know you have a sister and a niece?”
“I’d like to put guards on them.”
Russell nodded. “Okay.”
Jamal laid a hand on Russell’s knee. “Like I said, my word is my bond. While we search for this information, you and your family will be safe, boyfriend included. I will make sure of it. That is a promise.”
“Thank you,” Russell whispered.
“Any family of Vince’s is family of mine.” Jamal pulled his hand back to himself. “I need a moment to discuss which guards will be assigned to whom, and then I will bring you pictures of each so you know that if you see them, they are my men. You’ll excuse me for a moment?”
“Yeah, yeah. We’ll, umm, we’ll be here.”
“All right.” Jamal pushed himself to his feet. “We will get justice for Vince, I assure you. He was a very good man, and I will not let this go unsolved. My men need a bit of time to find what we need, and then we’ll get ‘em. You have my word.”
A/N: I don’t know about you guys, but seeing Jamal pop up in other books is always one of my favorite things about them
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