Books & Badges – Chapter Thirteen

NOT EDITED

Theodore woke up on his couch around eleven the next morning. He turned his head to the side, eyes landing on Russell. The man was asleep on the floor, arm shoved beneath the pillow tucked under his head. Theodore sat up, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms.

He vaguely remembered hearing something outside last night and being too on edge to fall asleep. Russell had offered to stay at the house with him, just to make sure everything was okay.

And Russell, the damn saint that he was, had slept on the floor, like he wasn’t an adult whose back and neck would most likely raise hell once he was awake.

Theodore dropped his hands back to his lap. “Russell?”

“Mm?”

“You slept on my floor.”

Russell cracked open one eye. “Appears so,” he mumbled, voice rough. He closed his eye. “Do you want me off the floor?”

“That is… totally up to you.”

“Mmhmm.”

Theodore cleared his throat, dropping his feet to the floor. “It’s a little after eleven. Are you hungry?”

“If we keep hanging out, you’ll learn I’m always hungry.”

Theodore chuckled. “Okay. Let’s get you something to eat, then.” Russell sat up with a groan, one hand moving to the back of his neck. “Sore?”

“Yeah, but that’s more or less my perpetual state of life. Spend a lot of hours hunched over a desk and paperwork.”

“I can only imagine.” Theodore pushed himself to his feet and walked over to Russell, sticking out a hand. “Come on, old man.” Russell chuckled and slapped his hand into Theodore’s. Theodore tugged him to his feet before looking down at their hands. Russell’s grip was strong, his skin soft, his hand warm.

Theodore released his hand like he’d been burned, green eyes snapping up to Russell’s face. “I’m sorry.”

Russell only smiled. “It’s okay. Who would I be if I was angry that a cute guy held my hand for a couple of seconds?” He walked past Theodore, lightly bumping his shoulder with his own. “Come on. Let’s go find something for food.”

Theodore turned to watch Russell walk to the kitchen. He felt like an idiot for the heat that rose to his cheeks, but he couldn’t help it. Cute. Russell thought he was cute. That was a compliment he hadn’t heard in a long damn time. When he was with Shane, it was like people could see the man’s ownership over him. Men barely looked at him, much less called him cute.

Theodore headed for the kitchen, grabbing his cane on the way. “Hey, Russell?”

“Hmm?”

“Can I ask you something and you tell me… if you think it’s too soon?”

“Of course.”

“Or if you think it’s idiotic?” Theodore asked.

“Also of course. What’s up?”

“How, umm…? What would you think if I asked you out to supper?”

“Well, my first thought would be that it’s a date. Would you like me to think of it as one while I answer your other questions?” Russell asked.

“Yes.”

“Okay. Well, I don’t think it’s idiotic. And… when you say ‘too soon’, I have two thoughts. Which one are you referring to?”

“Probably both, but I guess I’ll start with, ‘Is it too soon in our… current friendship’?”

“No. You can take someone out on a date the very day you meet them,” Russell said.

Theodore nodded. Even he knew that much, but his mind didn’t quite feel up to functioning at full capacity this soon after waking up. “Okay. What about with, umm, Shane? Is it too soon to start taking guys out on dates again?”

“Only you can decide that,” Russell said. “So, when you ask yourself that question, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?”

“Well, Gina’s still kinda stuck in my head right now, so I guess the thing that comes to mind is that I can’t let him ruin my life from behind bars,” Theodore said.

“And what happens when you try to think outside of that? Is there anything else there on it? Or is it just Gina’s voice? Either one is totally okay and completely reasonable.”

“I-I don’t know that there is anything past that. I mean, except for all of the thoughts of me worrying. I guess that’s there pretty presently.”

“I can only imagine. You’ve been through a lot of shit, Theodore. Worry is to be expected.” Russell turned to face him, a box of pancake mix in his hand. “Mm?”

“Sure,” Theodore said, his voice soft.

“Awesome.” Russell turned back around, setting the box on the counter. “When it comes to those worries, are there any of them I can help with? Or do you need to work through them on your own?”

“Umm… maybe a bit of both? I’m not sure,” Theodore said. “And I don’t wanna risk making you uncomfortable.”

“Ah, hit me with your best shot.”

Theodore nodded, watching Russell go through the cupboards and drawers, getting the bowls and measuring utensils he needed. It took him a few tries to find whichever one he was looking for at any given moment, but he didn’t complain or get pissy. He just… looked, found, and moved on to the next one.

“How many angry exes do you have?”

“As far as I know, none. I’ve dated a couple women. I’ve only recently come out as bisexual, now that I’m not holding that against myself for being… different,” Russell said. “Which, if you aren’t okay with that, you don’t have to ask the rest of your questions.”

“I’m gay. I like men. Why… would I not be okay with that?”

Russell chuckled, though it held much less humor than usual. “You would be totally surprised by the shit I put up with when people find out sometimes. I’ve yet to actually go on a date with a guy that doesn’t end it when he finds out I also like women.”

“That’s shitty. I’m sorry, Russell.”

“Ah, that’s okay. I mean, it’s not. But, like, I’m okay,” Russell said. He looked back at Theodore, throwing out a charming smile. “But thank you.”

“No problem.” Theodore cleared his throat. “So you’ve… never had a boyfriend?”

“Nope. Just several guys I’ve gone on half a date to a full date with.”

“What about girlfriends?”

Russell nodded. “I’ve had three actual girlfriends since graduating college. Otherwise, I focus most of my attention on work.”

After a moment, Theodore nodded, though Russell was busy stirring together ingredients for pancakes. “Are you a workaholic?”

“Eh. I do my best to devote as much time and personal resources as I can to the job when I have a case on my desk. I don’t want to be lazy when I’m trying to find someone’s killer, you know? Otherwise, no, I’m not a workaholic,” Russell said.

“Are you working a case right now?”

“I am.”

“So… you can balance a personal and social life between your job, even when you’re on a case?” Theodore asked.

“Oh, of course. If I think the person at the other end of that social life is worth it, anyway,” Russell said.

For the second time that morning, heat climbed up Theodore’s neck and to his pale, freckled cheeks. Russell considered him ‘worth it’. That was more than he’d ever gotten with Shane.

Which sounded absolutely pathetic, but Theodore had long since been aware of how pathetic and naive and just plain stupid he was.

“Do you… want a boyfriend?”

“Of course. I want someone I can start a life with. Whether that’s kids or animals or just me and him–or me and her–doesn’t matter. I just want to take the next step in my life, and now that I’m happy with my body, with my mind, with my job…” He lifted his shoulders. “The next step for me is a partner, and not in the criminal sense.”

Theodore chuckled. “Well, that’s good to know,” he said quietly. “Russell?”

“Hmm?”

“With all of, umm, that in mind, will you let me take you out to supper next week?”

“I sure will. I would love to go out to supper with you,” Russell said. He turned to face Theodore. “I don’t wanna be blunt, okay? I don’t want you to feel like I’m trying to shame you or anything like that. But right now, are you able to take someone out to supper? Or shall I take you?”

Theodore cleared his throat. “You’re talking money, right?”

“I am.”

“I… get paid Friday.”

Russell nodded. “How about I take you out? You can get the next one.”

“The next one?”

Russell smiled. “Yeah, assuming you don’t get sick of me after date numero uno.”

Theodore chuckled, a faint smile coming to his face. “I’m okay with that idea. I’ll take you out for date number two. So… the place is also your choice for the first date.”

“Do you have a preference?” Russell asked.

Theodore shook his head. “It, umm… wasn’t my job to be picky about what I was willing to eat or where I was willing to go. It was Shane’s way or the highway, literally.”

Russell’s expression softened, but Theodore was glad not to see pity in his eyes. He looked sad and a little angry, but there wasn’t that familiar hint of, ‘aww, poor Theo, couldn’t hold his own against the big, bad Shane’ that he was used to seeing in everyone else’s eyes.

“I know that’s not something you’ll work through instantaneously, by any means, but I do want you to know that, when you’re with me, you’re allowed to have an opinion and a voice. And I won’t kick you out of the car for having them,” Russell said.

Theodore offered a smile. “Thank you.”

“No problem. So, if you can, uh, mind telling me if there’s any food you don’t enjoy all that much?”

Theodore swallowed roughly. He knew Russell wouldn’t hit him or charge him or scream at him, but somewhere in the back of his mind, he still worried. How could he not? “I… was never really a fan of sushi?”

“Okay. No sushi. Got it.”

“I, umm, don’t really enjoy seafood in general. I can only do fish if they’re those breaded, beer-battered fillet things that probably aren’t even fish by the time they’re done being processed.”

Russell chuckled, nodding. “Okay. No seafood unless I take you to a restaurant with kid’s menu options.” He smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m not a huge fan of any of that, either. If I can see that it has a tail or eyes, I don’t want it,” he said. “Anything else?”

“I-I don’t think so.”

“Mmhmm. No seafood, then. I’m sure I’ll find something that works just fine,” Russell said. “What about places? Are there any places you don’t want to go specifically due to bad memories? Bad days? Anything like that?”

Theodore bowed his head, rubbing the back of his neck. “Umm… you know that Italian place that opened up a year or two ago?”

“I think so.”

“I can’t go there again. Like… ever.”

“New Italian place is off the list, I promise,” Russell said.

It was unbelievable how calmly Russell said things, how much he acted like the limitations didn’t bother him in the slightest, like they weren’t extra trouble. Shane would’ve held them against them for the next decade, and even that was probably on the short end of things.

“You’re sure it’s no trouble?” Theodore asked.

Russell reached out and squeezed his arm. “I promise you that it is no trouble at all. And if you think of anything or anywhere else you need on the no-go list, you let me know. All right?”

Slowly, Theodore nodded. “Okay. I will, umm, be sure to keep that in mind.” He cleared his throat. “But for now… pancakes?”

Russell flashed that charming, easy smile of his. “Pancakes.”


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Books & Badges – Chapter Twelve

NOT EDITED

When it came right down to it, ‘Friday after work’ had come far too quickly for Russell. He was closing in on the monster that had murdered that young girl, Tia Harrison. He was certain he was closing in on the man responsible. As it stood, he had a man named Max Hill in his sights for the murder.

Max had known Tia in high school. From what Russell had gathered from teachers and former friends, Max had had a crush on Tia for the longest time. She had been a shy gal, calm and quiet. She kept to herself, did her homework, read her books, did track and field from seventh grade and all the way through senior year of high school. She had been a good student with only a friend or two.

But Max had wanted her. Desperately, one of Max’s old friends had told him. But desperation had apparently turned darker when Tia turned him down as her date to the prom. It wasn’t even that she had anything against him–prom simply wasn’t something she was interested in.

Russell figured that Max had allowed that anger to fester inside of him for years before finally snapping the next time they saw each other. Russell was about four hours away from being able to get a warrant for Max’s credit and debit cards. The night Tia had died, she had been at a bar. Witnesses had seen her leave with a man she hadn’t come in with. He had been relatively tall–maybe six-foot or so, according to some witnesses–and had dark hair. He was white, and he’d been wearing a hoodie.

Russell couldn’t say much for the hoodie, but Max was also white with dark hair, and he was also right around six feet tall. He had questioned Max, but unsurprisingly, he hadn’t gotten much out of the man.

Now, though, Max’s trash was in the forensic lab, a few select things being tested for his DNA so it could be run against the DNA they had found on Tia’s face, which had definitely come from her killer.

Once they had a match, he could get a warrant to look at Max’s recent payments. If Russell was right, it would connect him back to the bar on the same night as Tia, at the same time as Tia.

That was all he needed.

But… that could wait. It wasn’t like he could help the DNA processing move along. It wasn’t his job, and he’d have no idea where to begin if it was. He’d leave that up to the professionals, and he would enjoy supper with Theodore and Vera.

Russell smoothed his hands over his suit before knocking on the front door.

Theodore pulled it open, free hand wrapped around his cane. “You look… very nice,” he said softly.

Russell smiled. “Sorry. The suit’s daunting, I know. I said I’d come after shift, and I still ended up being late. I didn’t want to make food wait on me running home to change,” he said.

“No, that’s okay. You look nice.”

“Thank you. You look nice, too.”

“Ah, yes, these are my ‘nice enough for Fridays at work’ jeans,” Theodore said.

Russell laughed, walking inside once Theodore stepped aside. He kicked off his shoes and shrugged out of his suit jacket. “Is everything ready? Or do you need help finishing up a few things?” he asked.

“No, I’ve got it. Not much left to do, so I can handle it. Thanks, though,” Theodore said.

“No problem. Let me know if that changes. I’m always happy to help.”

Theodore smiled at him. “Thank you. Uh, you can hang out in the living room if you want. I’m just going to finish up a few things in the kitchen, and then food will be ready.”

“Perfect. Where’s Vera?”

“Living room. She’s drawing. I, umm… I figured you wouldn’t mind.”

“Do you really trust me enough for that? Or are you trying to prove something to yourself? Because I don’t want to make you worried or scared, Theo,” Russell said.

“It’s okay. She’s promised me that she’ll punch you in the balls if you do anything she doesn’t like. I advised her to kick instead.”

Russell grinned. “A kick is more effective. I’ll teach her some good ol’ fashioned combat skills. You know, when she’s done drawing.”

That soft, timid smile came back to Theodore’s face. “Thanks. Maybe you could teach both of us sometime.”

“I will. If you want to learn self-defence, I’ll teach you anything and everything I learned in Academy. And I can teach Vera simplified versions of all of it. I’m serious,” Russell said.

Theodore watched him for a moment. Slowly, he nodded. “Maybe. I, uh… Let’s see how a second supper goes first. Then we’ll look into… self-defense classes with a detective. Does that sound okay?”

“Yeah, of course. Whatever works best for you, Theo. I’ll make sure it works for me.”

“You’re sweet. Thank you.” Theodore cleared his throat and took a small step back. “I’ll be in the kitchen. My daughter has permission to kick you in the nuts if you do anything shifty.”

“Deal.” Russell walked into the living room once Theodore turned to head back to the kitchen. “Hey, Vera.”

Vera lifted her head, a smile coming to her face. “Hi, Russell.”

Russell draped his suit jacket over the back of the couch before sitting down on the floor in front of Vera’s coloring book. “What’re you working on?”

“A fish. Daddy likes fishies.”

“Oh, yeah? Do you guys have any fish?”

Vera nodded. “Daddy has a goldfish. He used to have a really, really big tank, but Father broke it.”

“He broke it?”

“Yep. With a baseball bat.”

Russell expression softened considerably. “I’m sorry to hear that. I bet that was scary.”

Vera nodded. “Father was scary. Daddy made me safe, though.”

“I’m glad your daddy was here to protect you. He’s a really good guy.”

“He is. Very… good.” Vera lifted her head again. “Are you a good guy, Russell?”

“I sure try to be, yeah.”

“You seem good. Daddy says Father used to seem good, too.”

Russell cleared his throat. “Do you remember… when Father seemed good?”

Vera shook her head. “No. I was a baby. Daddy says I was only… two months old when he met Father.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that.”

“Daddy keeps stuff quiet. He doesn’t like to com… complain.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed that.” Russell shifted as Vera went back to coloring in the goldfish in her coloring book. Though hers was more of a glitter pen fish than anything resembling a goldfish. Russell had a feeling Theodore would love it that way. “Does your daddy normally cook for you?”

“Mm. We do frozen stuff since he got hurt. Frozen is okay. Daddy doesn’t have to move around as much if it’s frozen.”

Russell nodded. “Right. You let your dad know that I’m totally okay with frozen food, too, okay? But after I leave.”

Vera smiled. “Okay.” A pause. “Russell?”

“Hmm?”

“Are you and my daddy dating?”

“No. We are, uh… we’re acquaintances.”

“What’s that mean?” Vera asked.

“It means that we have met each other, but we don’t know enough about each other to be friends yet. So we’re nice to each other, but we aren’t quite friends,” Russell said.

“Oh. Okay. Will you be friends?”

“If your dad wants to be, totally. I just wanna make sure I respect your dad’s boundaries. He’s a little… nervous around new people. I’m still new people.”

“Even though you’re a cop? Dad says cops like you have shields to fight away bad guys and monsters, and that I shouldn’t be afraid of them.”

“He’s right, yeah. I think me being a cop is the only reason your dad lets me inside for food, especially around you.”

“Mm. Maybe.” Vera met his eyes again. “Can I see the shield you fight the bad guys with?”

“Of course. It’s much smaller than you might think. I have to keep it on me at all times, so it needs to be small enough that it doesn’t get in my way,” Russell said, looking down as he unclipped his badge from his belt. He handed it over to Vera. “There you go.”

“What’s it say here?”

“Detective Steele.”

“Is that you?”

Russell nodded. “Mmhmm. My last name’s Steele.”

“What about this part?”

“That’s Rustin Police Department. That’s where I work.”

“I live in Rustin,” Vera said.

Russell smiled. “Yeah, you sure do.” He lifted his head as a throat cleared off to his left. Theodore stood behind the couch, one hand resting on it. “Hey.”

A smile came to the other man’s face. “Hey. Supper’s ready. You can keep the detective talk going once we sit down if you want. I don’t mind.”

Vera sat up and handed Russell’s badge back to him. “Thanks for keeping Rustin safe from the monsters.”

Russell reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “You’re very welcome, sweetheart.” Vera jumped up to her feet and bolted for the kitchen.

“Walk, baby girl. I don’t need my little helper falling and getting hurt.”

“Okay!”

Russell pushed himself up and made his way over to the couch. “How’s your hip?”

“Not as terrible as yesterday. I sat down at work today, so… that helped,” Theodore said.

“Good. Taking it easy isn’t always a bad thing.” Russell tucked his badge into one of the pockets of his dress pants.

“I know. It’s just that, somehow, adjusting to doing this on my own is harder than I was ready for. Which makes… no sense at all, since Shane wasn’t exactly big in the helping department.”

“Change is hard. Even if it’s changing from living with someone like Shane to living with just your daughter.”

“Yeah,” Theodore said quietly. He cleared his throat. “Umm… thank you for just talking to her. To Vera. She’s not used to men just… listening and responding to her. So thank you.”

“No problem. She deserves it.” Russel flashed a smile. “You deserve the same. Just, you know, for the record. You deserve the same.”

“Thanks,” Theodore whispered. “Come on. We should go ahead and get some food in our systems. Then, umm, then we’ll start thinking about those self-defense lessons.”

“Yeah, sure thing. Lead the way.”

***

Russell looked away from the television as Theodore pushed himself to his feet. “You okay?”

Theodore offered a little smile. “Yeah. I just need to get Vera to bed.”

“Can… you handle that?” Russell asked. “I’m not underestimating your ability to push yourself, but is it pushing yourself to your limits, or past them?”

“Probably past them, but she’s my little girl. She’s not to the age where I’m going to let her stay out here if she falls asleep out here. She wakes up in her bed. That’s all.” Theodore leaned his cane against the couch and walked over to the chair, where Vera was curled up and sound asleep.

“And I imagine I can’t help in any way?” Russell asked.

“I’ve got her. Thanks, Russell.” Theodore scooped her up, adjusting his hold on her once he shifted his weight to better balance it between his hips. Russell looked back at the television, deciding it was his best option to keep his mouth shut and not push the topic any further. He respected Theodore for still doing everything he could for his daughter, but it didn’t mean Russell couldn’t see the little winces when he moved too much or lifted too much.

Several minutes later, when Theodore came back into the living room, he stopped behind the couch and laid a hand on Russell’s shoulder. Russell turned to look at him, one eyebrow raised. “How, umm…? Do you want to leave?”

“Do you want me to leave?” Russell asked. Theodore didn’t respond. The questions that forced him to put his wants and needs first seemed to be the most difficult for him to verbally answer. When he did actually answer him, it always took him longer to get to that answer. Russell didn’t exactly have a hard time understanding why. “Okay, let me try that again. Uh, let’s see… are you tired?”

“No.”

“Do you… need to take a shower?”

Theodore glanced up before shaking his head. “No.”

“Do you want to watch a movie with me?”

Theodore stared at him for a moment before nodding. “Yes. I would… I’d like that.”

Russell smiled. “Okay, then I’ll stay. Come, sit.”

Theodore patted his shoulder before rounding the couch. A hand on his cane, he sat back down beside Russell. Letting out a breath, he dug the heel of his palm into his hip. “Thank you… for coming over tonight. My friend at the bookstore–her name’s Gina–says that… I shouldn’t let Shane continue to ruin my life from inside a prison cell. Having you over here is, umm, apparently a good step in that new motto.”

“She’s right, and I’m glad I could help,” Russell said. “You’re still pretty on edge about the whole thing, aren’t you?”

“A little, yeah. I feel like an idiot for it, but… yeah.”

Russell shook his head. “No, you’re not an idiot. You’re a man that has every right to be suspicious of other men. There’s nothing stupid or idiotic about your leariness around other men, me included. You’ve been through a lot, Theo. You both have. You’re allowed to feel suspicious of the other men around you. And you can do it without letting Shane ruin your life.”

Theodore smiled at him. “Thanks, Russell.” He leaned forward and grabbed the Xbox controller from the coffee table. After switching over the channel on the television, he turned on the gaming console. “Were you actually serious about teaching me and Vera self-defense?”

“Of course. If it makes you feel safe in even the slightest sense, I’m more than willing to teach it to you. You should both be able to defend yourselves.”

“Because… you think we’re in danger?” Theodore asked.

“Oh, gosh, no. I hope you two are never in danger again. But in that same vein, I think pretty much everyone should learn at least some semblance of self-defense, even if it’s only a couple moves. If, God forbid, someone ever comes up behind you–or even up to you from the front–a little bit of knowledge in self-defense can help keep you safe. That’s not a bad thing. It’s better to be prepared for the unlikely, just in case.”

“Yeah,” Theodore said quietly. “I think I want you to teach us a little bit. I don’t know when or… or how much I want to know about self-defense, but I think we both need it. I think… maybe I can sleep easier at night if I know that both of us have the know-how to defend ourselves, God forbid it comes to a point again where we need that know-how.”

Russell nodded. “I’ll teach you, then. I’ll teach both of you. And if you’re ever uncomfortable with something you’re learning or something she’s learning, you just have to let me know, and I’ll stop. I won’t teach either of you anything that you don’t want to know or that you don’t want her to know.”

“Thank you,” Theodore whispered.

“No problem.” Tentatively, Russell reached out and patted Theodore’s knee. “You just let me know when you’re ready to start learning it. I’ll make time. Until then, what do you say you pick out a movie for us to watch, hmm?”

“Yeah, I can do that. Thank you.”

Russell smiled. “No problem.”


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Books & Badges – Chapter Eleven

NOT EDITED

Just after midnight, Theodore pushed himself to his feet as Russell’s car pulled into the driveway. Russell climbed out, the engine still running, the headlights bright against the garage door. “What’re you doing out here, Theo? Jesus, I–”

“I’m sorry. I lied. There was no noise.” Theodore held out a plate of cookies. “I didn’t know how to apologize over text. By the time I read your texts, it had been several hours, and I… didn’t know how to apologize without making you feel I was only doing it because I can’t stand up for myself.”

Russell took a tentative step toward him, eyes on the plate rather than Theodore. “What’ve you got there?”

“Cookies. I went with chocolate chip. I figured it was harder to pick a cookie someone hates if you go with chocolate.”

Russell’s eyes flickered up to his face, but he didn’t come any closer. “You read all but my last two texts as soon as I sent them.”

“Yeah, okay, ‘read’ is the wrong word. I couldn’t respond to them for several hours. Kids. Th-they need you most right when you’re in the middle of other things. Vera had a nightmare. I had to stay in her room for a bit, let her know she was safe,” Theodore said.

Russell came up the drive. “Is she all right? The nightmares–”

“You don’t have to worry about my kid or what she sees in her sleep, Russell. She’s fine. I’m taking care of her.” Russell almost looked… hurt as he took a step away from Theodore. “I think that came out wrong.”

“Nope. I get it.”

“It’s just… this is the first time it’s truly just been me and Vera. Ever. Letting other people know what’s going on in her head or in mine is… I don’t know. Dangerous. I can’t let people in again.”

“Like I said, I get it.”

Theodore cleared his throat. “Anyway, I’m sorry for not responding, and I’m sorry it made you feel like you’d totally ruined my night or… however it made you feel. I don’t want to cancel Friday’s plans.”

“You don’t want to let people in.” A pause. “Which is understandable, but keeping supper plans is… quite the contradiction.”

Theodore offered a smile. “Me making supper for you makes us even.”

“Even?”

“Then I don’t owe you anything for making us supper.”

“You don’t owe me anything in the first place. It was a meal I offered to bring on my own time. I made that decision,” Russell said.

“Maybe, but… it still feels like I owe you. I don’t want to be in anyone’s debt anymore. I was always in Shane’s debt.”

Russell stepped forward and grabbed two cookies from the plate. He held them up. “We’re even. Night, Theo.”

“Russell–”

“I’m sorry, Theo. I’m not going to make you cook me supper so we’re even. That’s not a way of life I believe in. Forcing someone to make me a meal so we’re even is… the opposite of who I am. So we’re even. Try to get some sleep.”

Theodore’s brow furrowed as Russell turned and walked back to his car. “I-I already told Vera you were coming over for supper. She’s real excited, Russell.”

Russell laid a hand on the top of the door, tilting his head back. “Do you want me not to worry about her and how she’s doing, or do you want me to care about her feelings?”

“I don’t know how to answer that,” Theodore whispered.

“Look, Theo, I’ve got absolutely nothing against you. I’m just trying to respect your wishes here, and I’m trying to make sure you don’t feel like you owe me anything, because you don’t. I don’t operate on making deals with people so they owe me things. That’s not who I am,” Russell said. “So without telling me that you’re making supper for me to make sure we’re even, please let me know if you want me to come over for supper on Friday.”

Theodore drew in a deep breath, letting it out as slowly as he could manage. “I would love for you to come over for supper on Friday. Not to make us even. Just… to have you over for supper.”

“All right. I’ll see you on Friday after I get off work.”

“Okay,” Theodore whispered.

Russell walked back over to him and stole another cookie from the plate. He flashed a smile. “This one’s for the drive back home.”

“You can take the whole plate. That’s why I made them.”

“All of them?”

That’s why I made them,” Theodore repeated.

“Mm.” Russell set the cookies in his hand back on the plate, taking the plate from Theodore instead. “Well, then I’ll bring this back Friday.”

Theodore smiled. “Sounds perfect.”

Russell smiled right back at him. “I’ll see you Friday. Thanks for the cookies.”

“No problem. I’ll see you then.”

***

Theodore sat behind the counter at the bookstore, hands toying with his cane every now and then. It was a relatively slow day, and he was more than happy with that. He was rather certain that the slowness was the only reason he was willing to actually sit down instead of forcing himself to stay on his feet.

If nothing else, that was a plus.

Theodore raised an eyebrow as Gina laid a hand on the counter. “Hello.”

“Hey. You skipped coffee this morning,” Gina said.

Theodore grabbed his travel mug and held it up for her to see. “Sorry. I brought my own today.”

“Hmm.” Gina crossed her arms over the counter. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I just…” Theodore sighed. “I was worried you’d immediately know I had something stupid on my mind.”

“I doubt it’s stupid. What’s up?” she asked.

Theodore set his coffee mug back on the shelf beneath the counter. “That, umm, detective. His name’s Russell, and I invited him over for supper again. How… stupid do I have to be to start inviting men over for supper on a consistent basis?” he asked. “I even had the chance to let him turn me down, which he… thought he was doing for my benefit, but instead, I told him that Vera was already excited that he was coming over again.”

“And was she excited?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t told her yet.”

“Using your daughter to get yourself a date?” Gina asked. “I think you’ve evolved to your final form, Theo.”

“N-no, not a date. Just…” Theodore shook his head. “I don’t know what the hell it is.”

“Okay, that’s okay. You don’t have to know. Hell, Theo, it doesn’t have to be anything. It’s just what it is, you know?” she asked. Theodore offered a shrug. He didn’t know, not really. Russell definitely liked men. Whether he was gay or not, Theodore didn’t know, but no straight man would ever look him up and down the way Russell had several times now. “Why do you think it’s stupid?”

“Date or not, I’m still inviting a man into my house. I just got rid of one abusive man. Should I really be going out of my way to make it worse now? To… find another one?”

Gina’s expression softened. “It’s totally reasonable for you to have that fear, Theo. But for what it’s worth, assuming everyone’s an abuser makes sure they never have the chance not to be in your head. Even if they never lay a hand on your or Vera.”

“After what happened, isn’t it better to be cautious?” Theodore asked.

“That depends, I guess. I think it’s okay to be cautious to a point, but you shouldn’t let it stop you from living your life. Now, I’m not telling you that you have to march outta here and go find a boyfriend, but… you shouldn’t let what that fucker did ruin you,” Gina said. “You can be cautious. You can play it safe. That’s okay. But don’t let it stop you from living. The nightmare with Shane is over. The… main event, anyway. He’s behind bars. He can’t hurt you and Vera. Don’t let him keep destroying your life from inside a prison cell.”

“I wish it was that easy.”

“I know, Theo. I know. I wish it could be easy for you, too. You deserve for something to be easy in your life, just this once.” Gina offered a smile. “But, hey, I’ll always be here to talk to you. And if any other guy ever starts treating you like shit, you let me know, and I’ll beat his ass.”

Theodore smiled. “Thanks, Gina. Thank you for always being the one I can count on.”

“No problem. It’s what I’m here for. You know that.” She leaned across the counter and punched his shoulder. “I’m always gonna be here for you. That’s all there is to it.”

“I know you are. And it’s appreciated. Always has been, and… hopefully always will be.” Theodore sighed. “So I’m not an idiot for inviting him over again? I didn’t ask him on a date. It’s not… I don’t want it to be a date. But let’s say he’s a… kind acquaintance. Does it make me stupid?” he asked.

“Well, let’s see. Has he treated you well?” Gina asked. Theodore nodded. “And how about Vera? How did he treat her?”

“He let her show him all of her drawings. I mean, like, all of them. They’re mostly oddly shaped people and scribbles, but he treated each one like it was a piece of art. Shane… would never, not even when he was still pretending he wasn’t the worst person in the entire fucking world.”

“See? Date or not, having a guy in your life that’s not like Shane in any way, shape, or form, is a good thing, Theo. It’s a step up. It’s progress. You don’t have to be dating him for it to be progress.”

“Really?”

“Really. Theo, the only positive male figure you have in your life right now is your dad. Of course adding another one is progress. Of course it’s a good thing. Even if he’s only ever just a friend, it’s a good thing.”

Theodore smiled. “Thanks, Gina. This has… This was helpful. Thank you.”

“Never a problem. You’re welcome.” She pushed herself away from the counter. “I gotta get back to work, but I just needed to know everything was okay. See you after shift?”

“For what?”

“I can drive you home so you don’t have to take the bus.”

“Oh, no, that’s okay. I’ll manage.”

“Theo, come on. Until you’re good to handle driving again, I have no issue driving you to and from work whenever we work together. I can only imagine that’d be less stressful for you,” Gina said.

“Possibly, but it feels like it’s asking too much. And before you say it, yes, I know I didn’t ask it, you said it. I know. But still.” He cleared his throat. “You have to let me pay you gas money at the end of every week.”

“Fine. If that makes you feel less terrible about it, that works for me.”

“Great. Thanks, Gina.”

“Sure thing, Theo. I’ll see you after shift.”


I don’t know about you, but midnight cookie plate is one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever written in a romance book. Ugh, I just love ’em so much

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Books & Badges – Chapter Ten

NOT EDITED

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.

***

So, gossip.”

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.”

“Thanks, Jenny.”

“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: Really?

Russell: Really

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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March 2nd, 2020

Hey, guys!

Thank you so much for a great February! With 98 visitors, the website hit 796 views, which is just over 300 more than we hit in January!

Announcement-wise, I only have three things to go through.

One, The Hacker is now available in its entirety here on the website.

Two, there’s a new voting poll available! This is for the premise of book six in the Carer-Baxter crime series.

Three, this month is Ashes in the Light’s first birthday! It was my first release last year, and it’s still in desperate need of reviews. I’m giving out free PDF copies of the book in exchange for reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or both. Ashes in the Light is a paranormal story following Aurora Cole as she moves into a new house, a farmhouse that’s the haunted talk of the town.

If you’re interested in reading Ashes in the Light exchange for a review, shoot me an email with the form below (you only have to fill in your name and email). Thank you!

Books & Badges – Chapter Nine

NOT EDITED

Theodore stood in front of the full-length mirror in his bedroom, one hand wrapped tightly around his cane. He’d been in a bit more pain that day than expected, but he was doing his best to manage. His boss had given him a chair to sit on behind the register, but Theodore had done his best to stand and walk around for as long as he could. Based on how he felt now, that had been the wrong decision.

His eyes roamed over the outfit he had changed into–a blue button-up and a pair of dark jeans. He didn’t think it looked date-worthy, which was the overall hope. He wasn’t going for date clothes. He was going for ‘I’m just not planning on wearing my beat up band tee from college to supper’ clothes.

Was it too late to cancel? Theodore turned to look at his alarm clock on the nightstand. Yeah… far too late to cancel. Unless he wanted to be a total asshole, of course. As it stood, being a complete asshole to the cop who had come to the house at three in the morning–off-duty–to check out a noise that had turned out to only be a raccoon wasn’t in his plans for the day.

“Daddy! He’s here!” Vera called from the other room.

He stepped away from the mirror, letting out a slow breath. “Coming, sweetheart!” Well, there was definitely no canceling now. Theodore walked out of his bedroom, flipping off the light. Vera waited for him in the foyer, her stuffed toy panda hugged to her chest. “Ready?” Theodore asked as he wrapped a hand around the door knob.

Vera nodded. “Are… you?”

Theodore smiled. “You don’t gotta worry about me, V. I’m okay.” He pulled open the door just as Russell climbed out of his car, parked in the driveway rather than on the street.

The detective smiled. “Look what I brought.” Pinning the tupperware containers to his chest, he held up Theodore’s travel mug with his free hand.

Theodore chuckled. “Impressive. Come on in.” Russell walked up the drive. Eyes on the ground, he made his way up the stairs and onto the deck. “Here, I’ll take the mug, if nothing else.”

Russell let go of it once Theodore had successfully wrapped his free hand around it. “So I kept my promise. I didn’t spend a dime. We’ve got chicken nuggets for the kiddo, and we’ve got chicken breast for you and me. Also mac and cheese to go with the nuggets, if Miss Vera is interested, and we have some real fancy cumin-citrus roasted carrots for you and me.”

Theodore’s heart practically melted. “You did… all of that for us?”

Russell’s smile faltered for the briefest of moments, and Theodore wasn’t even certain he’d seen it happen at all. “I did, yeah. You guys have had a rough go of it lately. The least I can do is make some great food for the both of you.” Chin resting on the lid of the top tupperware container, he reached back with his free hand to close the door. After dusting his hand on his pants, he held it out to Vera. “I’m Russell.”

She looked up at Theodore before grabbing the detective’s hand. “My name’s Vera.”

“It’s very nice to meet you, Vera. You wanna help me carry some of these to the kitchen?”

Vera’s eyes lit up at the idea of being allowed to help an adult with something. She loved being included in everything there was to do in the world. Theodore loved that about her. “I’d love to!”

“Okay. The two on the bottom are yours. You can take those,” Russell said.

“Okay.” Vera took them from him and headed for the kitchen.

Russell lifted his eyes back to Theodore’s face and flashed a smile. “Come on. Let’s get supper ready.”

***

After supper, Theodore set Vera up with his iPad in the living room. “One hour of screen time, baby girl.”

“Thanks, Daddy.”

“Ah, you’re very welcome.” He smoothed a hand over her hair and headed back to the kitchen. In the doorway, he leaned on his cane, head cocked to the side. Russell was… washing dishes. No one had washed dishes for him since… Christ, who knew. It certainly hadn’t been his husband, that was for sure.

“You don’t have to do that,” Theodore said. “I can do them later.”

“Do you want to do them later?”

Theodore snorted. “No.”

“Then I’ll take care of them. I don’t mind.”

“Thank you.”

“No problem, Theodore.”

“Theo’s fine.”

Russell nodded. “Do you prefer it?”

“Yeah, most of the time. I-I’ll let you know if that changes.”

“Sure thing, Theo.”

Theodore leaned back against the island, simply watching Russell. If he had been Shane, he would’ve been washing dishes to use it as ammunition later, a reason to throw back at Theodore to excuse his own behavior.

But Russell was just… washing dishes in a house that wasn’t even his own, for a person he had no physical reason to wash them for. But that couldn’t be right. That wouldn’t make sense.

“Russell?”

“Hmm?”

“Can I ask you a question… without offending or harming you?”

“Uh, probably.”

“And… you’ll answer truthfully?”

“Yeah, definitely.” Russell set the last fork in the dish drainer, turned off the water, and grabbed a towel. After drying off the sink, he turned to face Theodore, drying his hands. “What’s up?”

“Why did you want to make supper for us?”

“Because you and your daughter have had a pretty tough go of life so far. Supper isn’t much, but it’s… something.”

“And… dishes?” Theodore asked. “Why would you do them?”

“You were with your daughter, and we both know you’re in a lot more pain this evening than you were this morning. Standing doesn’t seem to be treating your hip too well today.”

“It’s that obvious?”

“You winced every time you stood up or shifted on your chair.”

Theodore sighed. “Yeah, that, uh… Yeah. It’s not treating me well today,” he agreed.

“Yeah, that’s what I figured. I just wanna help, Theo. I’m not here to… Well, I guess you think I’m gonna hurt you or Vera. I’m not. I understand the weariness, and I’ll never stand here and tell you to just get over it, but I’m not… your ex-husband. I didn’t come here to hurt you. I came here to make sure you both ate good food and had a good night. That’s it.”

“And you… promise that?”

“Do you actually believe in promises?” Russell asked.

Christ, it was like the man could read his mind. Finally, Theodore shook his head. “No. Shane promised never to do it again a million times. Promises of no more pain, a better life, a better job, a better father and husband…” He shrugged. “None of those promises were ever carried out. Promises are BS.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. What can I say that would make you more willing to believe it?” Russell asked.

“Who’s someone that’s important to you? Someone who… means the world to you.”

“My niece,” Russell said. There had been absolutely no hesitation there. His niece definitely meant the world to him.

Theodore nodded. “You could swear on her.”

“I swear on my niece’s life that I am not here to hurt you or Vera. I’m just here to make sure you both eat a good meal and have a good night. That’s it,” Russell said.

While Shane had the eyes of a charming, practiced liar, Russell had the eyes of a caring and genuine man. Theodore had seen the same care in his mother and father’s eyes, the same genuine expression in Gina’s.

“Okay. I believe you.” Theodore pointed at him. “For now.”

“For now works. I’ve definitely had people say worse.” Russell cleared his throat. “Well, I suppose I’ll get outta your hair and head on out for the night. I hope everything was okay.”

“The food was great, Russell. Thank you.”

The detective nodded. “Yeah, no problem.” He reached out toward Theodore, hand freezing before he dropped it back to his side.

Theodore’s brow furrowed. “What was that?”

“I was gonna squeeze your arm, but… I’m not a big fan of surprising you or startling you.”

“Believe me, an arm squeeze is the least of my concern,” Theodore said.

Russell smiled. He gave Theodore’s arm a quick squeeze as he walked past him. He grabbed the tupperware containers from the island, holding them to his chest with one hand. “It was good to see you… less scared tonight, Theo, even if you were in pain. If there’s ever a, uh, next time for me bringing supper for you guys? Doing the dishes? All that? Umm, feel free to cancel if you need to, even if I’m already in the driveway. If you’re in too much pain to be around people or if you’re too on edge to be around people. You can cancel. If there’s a next time.”

After a moment, Theodore nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you again, Russell.”

“No problem.”

“Want me to walk you out?”

“Oh, no, that’s okay. You go ahead and sit down, relax. I’ll see myself out. Goodnight, Theo.”

“Night, Russell. Uh… don’t let the raccoon bite.”

Russell chuckled. “I’ll watch myself, promise. Take care, Theo.”

Theodore nodded. “You, too.”


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Books & Badges – Chapter Eight

NOT EDITED

Russell perched himself on the corner of Andrew’s desk, crossing his ankles.

Andrew glanced up at him. “Whatcha doin’?”

“I need an adult.”

Andrew snorted. “What do you want?”

“I’m making supper for someone tonight, hopefully making them feel better about some things. And returning this here travel mug,” Russell said, holding out Theodore’s mug. “I wanted to just bring supper over, but I was told I couldn’t spend a dime on him.”

“You can’t cook. At all.”

“That’s where you and Emey come in.”

“What do we come in for?” Emelia asked as she sat down at her desk, a fresh cup of coffee in her hand.

“Russell thinks we’re making supper for him and his date,” Andrew said, leaning back in his desk chair.

“No, no. Not my date. Just a guy and his daughter that I’m treating to supper. They could both use the mood booster,” Russell said.

Emilia raised a brow. “Why?”

“Why… what?”

“Why could they use the mood booster?”

“They’ve had a hard time this year.”

“Hmm.”

“Come on! You guys can cook. How is it fair or right to have the ability to cook but refuse to bless others with it?” Russell asked.

Andrew laughed. He held up a relatively thick folder. “How about because we’re detectives and have just been put on rotation for this cold case, and this is all the paperwork we need to go through in search of a lead?”

“Okay, okay. So how about I help go through paperwork, and you guys make supper for my friend–”

“Date.”

“Not a date, fuck off.”

Andrew hid a smile behind his coffee mug. Emilia only shook her head, leaning over to backhand her husband’s shoulder. “You had me at ‘help go through paperwork’. What do you, your friend, and friend’s daughter want for supper?”

“I don’t know. I’m not an expert in appropriate suppers. I either order in or have, like, cereal or ramen when it’s just me. I have no idea what you feed a guy and his daughter,” Russell said.

“Okay. So… you didn’t ask what either of them liked?”

“I did not.”

Emilia nodded. “So I would go ahead and text the guy and ask him if he has any preferences for food, and tell him that includes any preferences his daughter has. Come tell us when you know.”

Russell jumped down from his perch on Andrew’s desk. “Thanks, Emey.”

She smiled. “Of course, Russ. Tomorrow, bright and early, paperwork.”

“Deal.”

***

Around noon, Theodore texted Russell back with a few things that he liked and a few things that his daughter, Vera, liked. Before Russell had a chance to respond, Theodore sent in a second message.

Theodore: If you don’t like any of the things she likes, you don’t have to make food. Vera and I will be okay with cereal again. Or something easy, in the microwave. Don’t strain yourself for me. I’m okay just getting my mug back if that’s the only thing you want to do.

Russell: Nonsense. I have no problem making two meals if I have to. It’s not a strain at all.

Russell: But if you don’t want me to make supper, let me know. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.

Theodore: I’m not uncomfortable. I’m just

Theodore: I don’t know. I guess I’m nervous. It feels like a date, and I don’t want to be dating anybody.

Russell: It’s not a date. It’s me making supper as a thank you for coffee

Russell: Ah, and a thank you for all of our great early morning conversations

Theodore: Ha

Theodore: Really though?

Russell: Really. If it was a date, I would’ve asked you out on a date. I would’ve used the actual word. I don’t want to mislead you, Theo. You have enough to work through as is. I don’t want to add onto the world you’ve got resting on your shoulders.

Theodore: Yeah, my bad hip has a hard enough time supporting that weight as is

Russell snorted, rolling his eyes.

Theodore: Thank you. I appreciate that. The knowing and the respectfulness. Thank you.

Russell: No problem, Theodore. You let me know if something changes. Otherwise, I’ll see you tonight after I get off from work.

Theodore: Okay, see you then

Russell locked his screen and tucked his phone back into his pocket. He pushed his chair out from his desk and rolled his way over to the space between Andrew and Emilia’s desks. “So, the kid likes chicken nuggets. Like, she’ll eat just about anything–and I have a pretty good idea why–but her favorite is chicken nuggets. Theo says–”

“Theo?” Andrew asked.

“Yeah. Theo. That’s the friend,” Russell said.

Andrew nodded. “Okay. Continue.”

“He says that he’s also pretty used to eating whatever food he’s given, uh, but if I was making him pick a favorite, he’s a fan of, like, perfectly seasoned chicken breast,” Russell said.

“So which one do you wanna do?” Andrew asked.

Russell offered a smile. “I was thinking both. I-I know you guys… don’t know these two, but they both deserve it. They’ve been through hell and back, and that hell lasted for several years. They both deserve their favorite things. I’ll go through all that damn paperwork if you want me to. I’ll help with the food and with case stuff in whatever way I can.”

Andrew leaned back in his chair, eyes shifting over to his wife’s face. “Whaddya think, Em?”

“We’ve been eating out a lot recently. It wouldn’t kill us to make the food and make enough chicken for the both of us, too,” Emilia said. She looked over at Russell, a smile on her face. “We’ll make supper for you and your friend. And the kid. You’re not allowed to spend money on it, right?”

“Right. And thank you.”

“Of course.” Emilia pulled open one of the bottom drawers of her desk and opened her purse. A moment later, she handed her debit card over to him. “You still know the pincode?”

“Yes?”

“Good. I’ll text you a recipe for the chicken breast. Get everything on the list. I’ll text you a few things to get as sides, too. Okay?”

“Are you sure?” Russell asked.

“Positive. You took a bullet for me, remember?” Emilia asked.

Russell snorted. “You also got shot that day.”

“Yeah, but you were first. Now get your ass outta here before I change my mind.”

“Ah, of course, Buchanan.” He rolled his chair back a good foot or two. “I’m gonna take my lunch break and run to the grocery store, then. Want me to grab you guys anything for lunch?”

“Arby’s? Fries and a… roast beef?” Andrew asked.

“Can do. Emey?”

“Ditto for me.”

“Awesome. Back in a bit. And thank you, again,” Russell said.

“Sure thing, Russ.”

***

Emilia handed three tupperware containers over to Russell before crossing her arms over her chest. “Everything’s separated so the sides don’t mix with the chicken breast or chicken nugget. A lot of kids won’t eat things if they touch, and some adults can be the same way.” She smiled. “Didn’t wanna take any risks.”

“You’re the best, Emey, thank you,” Russell said.

“Thanks, and you’re very welcome.”

“Do I look okay? I wanna look nice, but I don’t want to look too nice.”

“You don’t want it to look like you’re on a date,” Emelia said. Russell only nodded. Thankfully, she was a bit better with words than he was. “I think you look nice, Russ. The sweater is a nice middle ground on date-fancy and casual-fancy.”

Russell let out a relieved breath. “Thanks, Emey.”

“No problem.” Lightly, she punched his shoulder, a smile coming back to her face. “Have fun, okay? And then tomorrow, you’re stuck with Andrew and me on paperwork duty.”

He smiled. “Deal. Thank you, again.”

“Of course. Now get your ass outta here before you thank me again.”

His smile broadened as he took a step back. “Will do.” He lifted the tupperware containers. “See you tomorrow, Emey.”

“See you then, Russ.”


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February 13th, 2020

Hey, guys!

I’m still working on moving my books over to the website, but I’m making progress! I’ve started uploading The Hacker, but it’ll take a little bit to move all 36-ish chapters over.

I also redesigned the homepage to make it load a little faster, and hopefully to make it look a little cleaner (mostly on mobile; the original looked great on desktop).

Another new thing is that the books are organized by genre to appeal to different readers, and each series will eventually have its own landing page (i.e., The Killer in Training series).

Also! Today, the total views for this month hit 250. Thank you!


Books & Badges – Chapter Seven

NOT EDITED

Theodore leaned back against the front door, letting out a heavy breath. Tonight wasn’t a date, not in the slightest, but his sudden onslaught of nervousness made him feel like it was. He hated that feeling. Theodore had no real plans to start dating again anytime soon. He had more than enough to deal with from his last relationship first.

“Daddy?”

Theodore’s eyes snapped open. He tilted his head down to meet his daughter’s eyes. “Hey, baby girl.”

“Hi.” She tilted her head to the side. “Are you okay?”

“Oh, of course. I’m fine sweetheart. Went out for a little bit of air, is all. And then I needed a little break.”

“Are you in pain?”

“Not anymore. I just needed a break from the cane for a moment.”

“Oh, okay.”

Theodore cleared his throat. “Are you hungry, sweetheart?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Anything sound good to you?”

“Umm… we can do eggs.”

“Okay, I’m good with that. Fried or scrambled?”

“If we do scrambled, can I help?” Vera asked.

Theodore smiled. “Of course, sweetheart. I’m always happy to have your help in the kitchen.”

Vera returned his smile. “Awesome.” She held out one little hand. “Come on. I’ll help you to the kitchen, Daddy.”

Theodore grabbed her hand, touching his cane to the wall as he pushed himself away from the door. “Thanks, Vera.”

“You’re welcome, Daddy.”

***

Gina set Theodore’s coffee on the counter before he even made it up there. “Are you going to let me pay for this one?” he asked.

“Nope.”

“Ugh. You’re such a pain in the ass.”

Gina grinned. “You love me.”

“Some days more than others.” Theodore grabbed the coffee cup from the counter, leaning on his cane a bit heavier than before. “When are you going to let me pay for them again?”

“After you get your first paycheck.”

“Okay, I guess I can live with that”

“Great.” Gina leaned down, crossing her arms over the counter. “I was babysitting for my brother last night. Couldn’t get the baby to sleep, so I took her for a drive, ended up going past your house. There was a cop car sitting out there. I mean… just one of those unmarked Dodges, but it had the lights on top. Was everything okay?”

He let out a harsh breath. “Yeah, everything was fine. I heard a noise outside and I called the detective that I met once before after he spotted my ex after the… thing. Umm…” He cleared his throat. “He came over to check out the noise for me. It was a racoon, so now I’m getting nice and paranoid, too.”

“You have every right to be paranoid, Theo.”

“He didn’t beat me because he snuck into the house, Gina. He beat me because he’d been doing it for years, living inside my house, sleeping with me in my bed.”

“I know,” she said, her voice soft. “But where he was or how he was inside doesn’t change the fact that you have every right to be paranoid. It’s understandable why you are or… or why you were. That’s all I’m saying.”

“Well, thank you. I think.” He set the coffee cup back on the counter, leaning forward slightly. “I… I felt guilty about making him drive out there for a damn raccoon, and I felt even worse for asking him to stay, but I just… Whatever, it doesn’t matter. I gave him coffee when he left, and he asked if he could make me and Vera supper when he returned the mug.”

“What’d you say?” Gina asked.

“Yes, so long as he didn’t spend any money.”

“Does that make you nervous? Not the money thing. The supper thing. Because you look like it makes you nervous.”

“I know it’s not a date, but my mind keeps telling me it is, and it puts me on edge. It… it, like, activates my fight or flight, and I’m not much of a fighter,” Theodore said.

“Believe it or not, you’re more of a fighter than you could ever imagine. Just because you didn’t physically attack that bastard doesn’t mean you aren’t a fighter,” Gina said. Theodore offered a shrug. “Maybe you should give the detective a call and tell him you aren’t up for supper right now.”

“I can’t cancel on him. He’s been nothing but kind to me. He drove over to my house at three in the morning for a raccoon, Gina.”

“He didn’t know it was a raccoon. Neither did you.”

Theodore sighed. “Still. He’s too nice for me just tell him not to come back. I already told him we could do supper.”

“Right, but if it sets off your flight or fight response, canceling is the best option you have. If not that, you could reschedule. That’s not canceling. It’s promising it’ll happen on a different day,” Gina said.

“Maybe. But, umm, I already told Vera we’d be having supper with a detective at the house tonight. I wanted to give her time to prepare for that. She’s not as nervous for that as I am–she was pretty excited–but I can’t reschedule on her,” Theodore said. “She’s my baby girl. She needs and deserves stability.”

Gina nodded. “I could be there, if you think another person would make it… easier for you. Less nervous energy or something.”

“Would it be weird to let him know I had invited a friend?”

“Uh… I don’t know. Maybe.”

Theodore let out a breath. “I’ll make it work. Thanks for letting me talk, though, Gina,” he said.

She smiled. “That’s sorta what friends are supposed to do, Theo. But you’re welcome. You can always talk to me.”

“Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind, now that, uh, now that I don’t have anyone in my life telling me who I can and can’t talk to.”

“Yeah,” Gina whispered. “I hate that it took that… very bad beating to get you there, but I’m damn glad you aren’t chained down to that bastard anymore.”

Theodore nodded. “Me, too, Gina…. Me, too.”


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Books & Badges – Chapter Six

NOT EDITED

Russell opened his eyes as Theodore shifted on the couch. He turned his head to the side, just to see if the man had woken up. Nope, still sound asleep. Russell reached out and grabbed the blanket, carefully tugging it back up to cover Theodore’s shoulders. When the man didn’t move or protest, Russell pulled his hand back to himself and leaned his head against the back of the couch again, closing his eyes.

Russell, though he missed getting an extra three hours of sleep, hadn’t been lying when he’d said he didn’t mind staying at the house with Theodore. If it meant the man could sleep, he saw no harm in losing his own sleep. Russell had certainly functioned on much less sleep, anyway.  When he’d been working the Narcotics Division, he had managed on half-hour naps for weeks.

Theodore, unliked Russell, was already injured. The more sleep he got, the better. He’d heal faster that way. Russell didn’t need sleep to heal anything. He’d manage just fine, as long as he got to close his eyes every now and then.

Theodore grunted, jolting away from the back of the couch. Instinctively, Russell laid a hand on the man’s back. “Hey, you’re okay. I-it was just a bad dream. You’re safe,” Russell said, his voice soft. It felt odd to use his, ‘we just arrested him, he can’t hurt you anymore’ voice on Theodore instead of some homicidal maniac’s captive. It felt incredibly odd.

“I didn’t… I didn’t scream or anything, right?” Theodore asked, dropping his head to his hands.

“No, you didn’t. You grunted like you were in pain, and then you sat up real quick. That’s it,” Russell said.

Theodore nodded. “That’s something,” he said quietly. “What time is it?”

Russell looked down at his watch. “You slept for about two hours, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Christ.” Theodore scrubbed both hands over his face. “Are you hungry, Russell? Can I… can I make you breakfast or something?”

“Are you hungry? Because if you aren’t, I’ll just grab breakfast when I head in for work.”

“I don’t know yet, but I know I need something to do with my hands, something to keep myself busy,” Theodore said.

Russell nodded. “Okay. Let’s go make breakfast, then.”

“You can sit in here if you want. I’ll be fine by myself long enough to make breakfast,” Theodore said.

“Do you need me to stay in here?” Russell asked. Theodore shook his head. “Do you want me to?”

“I-I think… I would prefer you in the kitchen. I just don’t want you to be uncomfortable if I don’t let you help.”

“I won’t help with breakfast if you don’t ask for it. I’ll just watch until instructed otherwise,” Russell said.

Theodore’s shoulders seemed to relax. “Thank you.”

“Of course.” Russell pushed himself to his feet and grabbed Theodore’s cane. “Benefits of inviting a detective over. I’m really good at following orders.” Theodore smiled, accepting his cane as soon as Russell pressed it to the floor in front of him.

“I’m glad. I don’t think I can handle another person telling me what’s best for me or trying to take over for me,” Theodore said. One hand wrapped tightly around his cane, he held out his free hand. “Can you…? I’ve been sitting too long.”

“Of course,” Russell repeated. He grabbed Theodore’s free hand and helped him to his feet.

“Thank you.”

“No problem.” Russell kept his pace slow as he walked alongside Theodore on the short walk to the kitchen. “Do people really believe they know what’s best for you?”

“They’re well-intentioned. I just have things I have to do for myself–by myself–or else I feel like I’m failing at something. Failing at being human, failing at rehab, failing at healing, failing at being a dad.” Theodore shook his head. “Just a lot of failing, I guess.”

“It’s understandable. The fear and feeling of being a failure after an accident of some kind. Suddenly having to count on other people and rehab and therapy can be difficult as hell,” Russell said.

“Have you ever had an injury bad enough for that?”

“For rehab? Uh, only once. I got hit by a car when I was a kid, fucked–sorry, screwed up my back pretty bad. I was in rehab for the first two weeks, and then I had normal physical therapy for a few months after that.”

“Christ. You just got hit by a car?”

“Yeah. One of the guys in my class–Guess I should say by ‘kid’, I meant high school. That’s important. One of the guys in my class drove up onto the sidewalk to ‘joke’ around or something. I think that was his argument when we sued for medical expenses. He did it four times, hit me on the fifth time. According to his argument, he tried to hit the break to scare me with the noise, like he’d done the first time. But he just pressed down on the gas harder instead. Apparently, it was an accident.” Russell shrugged. “Never knew how true that was, but you know.”

“I–Thank God you’re okay.”

“Yeah, I definitely thanked Him a couple times, in between thanking the doctors and the fact that he wasn’t going faster. Hell, apparently, if he had hit me from a slightly different angle, I could’ve shattered my pelvis. If I had fallen differently, I could’ve damaged my spine enough to never be able to walk again.” Russell shrugged. “Just a lot of things that could’ve happened if one thing had been different, you know? Keeps me thankful, I guess.”

Theodore nodded. “Jesus, it’s so damn nice to hear someone else express that thought, too.”

“Which one?” Russell asked.

“Being thankful that it wasn’t worse. It always upset my parents when I said that, like they thought it was my way of defending him. Christ, I was done defending him. I’d done that my whole relationship with him. But every time they talked about what he’d done to me, I just said I was thankful that it wasn’t worse.

“It wasn’t defending him. At least, it wasn’t supposed to be. I was just… genuinely thankful it wasn’t worse. I could’ve been dead. He could’ve beat Vera or killed her after the ambulance took me away, but I had worked up the courage to tell them to call the cops, to take her away from him, that I hadn’t just fallen down the stairs like he said I had. But, umm, but I’m just glad to hear… someone else think the same thing. I’ve felt like a crazy person since this happened.”

Russell nodded. “People can have a hard time wrapping their minds around it. They’ll say things to people like, ‘You should be thankful it’s not worse’, or ‘Well, it could’ve been worse. You should be thankful this is all that happened’. But when you say the same thing, you’re downplaying what happened to you. In my experience, most of the time, they think they’re being helpful, even though it just sounds condescending.”

“Yeah, my parents were definitely trying to be helpful. They just… didn’t realize that me saying that it could’ve been worse is what was getting me through my days,” Theodore said.

“And believe it or not, that was entirely valid,” Russell said. “For that to be what was getting you through the day? That’s valid.”

Theodore offered a smile. “Thank you, Russell. Really.”

“No problem.” Russell drummed his hands against the counter. “Sure I can’t help with breakfast?”

“Sure. I’m sure.”

“Okie dokie.” Russell folded his arms over the counter. “What… are you making?”

Theodore chuckled. “You don’t have to keep me talking every second. Silence is okay.”

“Do you want silence? I’ll shut up if you do, but say yes because you want silence, not because you think I’m tired of talking,” Russell said.

“Are you… tired of talking?”

“Never in a million years. I’ve been told to shut up more times in my life than days that I’ve been alive,” Russell said.

Theodore laughed. “Good to know. Well then, Detective. Keep the chit-chat coming.”

***

Russell slid into the driver’s seat of his car, flashing a smile as Theodore held out a travel mug. “You don’t have to do that.”

“I do. You got no sleep for me,” Theodore said. He gave the mug a tiny shake, so small it was barely even noticeable. “Just make sure to bring it back, Detective.”

“Bring it back. Will do. Thank you.” Russell grabbed the mug and set it in the cup holder. “What do you and your daughter currently eat?”

“Why?”

“Because breakfast was… hard for you. Believe it or not, I saw that you were in pain. I just kept my mouth shut on that particular thing, talked about other things instead. So I’m imaging it’s all been easy meals since the accident.”

After a moment, Theodore nodded. “Yeah, mostly pizza or takeout food that I can have delivered to the house. If I don’t have to leave, and if it’s cheap, I’ll probably get it,” he said.

“Thought so. So, how about tonight, after I get off shift, I return this coffee mug to you and bring you guys food?” Russell asked. He held up a hand before Theodore could say anything. “I’m not asking for anything in return. I’m not asking to stay and eat with you. I’m not asking you to offer up any kind of favor in return. I’m just asking if, since I’m already making a trip back to return the mug, you also want me to bring supper.”

Theodore cleared his throat, adjusting his grip on his cane. “I don’t want you spending money on us, on me.”

“Is that the only thing stopping you from saying yes?”

“I… think so?”

“It’ll be homemade, then. I won’t spend anything more than what I already have access to,” Russell said.

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

Theodore held out his free hand, pointing at the badge clipped to Russell’s belt. “Swear on your badge?”

Russell smiled. “I swear on my badge. I won’t spend any money.”

“Then… I guess I’ll see you tonight. Does six work for you?”

“Six works just fine. I’ll see you with food and this here travel mug at six,” Russell said.

Theodore smiled, though it was faint. “See you then, Russell. Drive safe.”

“Will do.”

Theodore took a step back and closed Russell’s door. He lifted a hand in departure, which Russell quickly returned. The man smiled, not heading back toward the house until Russell had pulled away from the sidewalk.

Russell planned to stay true to his word. He wasn’t a liar, after all. He would, however, be phoning a friend.


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