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A Distant Rumour (To The Young)

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“Citizen calls a 415 at the freight yards just south of the 6th viaduct, unit to handle code 2 respond,” the radio crackled.

“We can respond to it if you want,” said Roy flatly.

“We’re in the neighbourhood, we might as well,” said Cole before picking up the radio receiver and responding. “Car 11-K, we’ll handle the 415.”

Roy flipped on the sirens to get through traffic, but flipped them back off so as not to arouse any unwanted attention as they followed a dirt path along the train yards between the rows of warehouses.

“Which one?” asked Roy shortly. Cole supposed his partner’s annoyance was fuelled by the lengthening shadows that meant he would actually have to earn his overtime today, or maybe he was still worked up about whatever ‘winds of change’ he kept banging on about.

“Corrugated roof,” Cole pointed to a broad building with two peaks, “Roy there’s someone in the upper window.”

Roy threw the car into park as buckshot pinged off the hood of the Cadillac. They both slid out of the passenger side onto the hard dirt and loose gravel to take cover behind the Cadillac.

“Fuck! How are we the first ones on the scene?” Roy griped mostly to himself, checking his magazine.

He had barely spoken the words when a familiar two-toned Nash came to a halt further back from the warehouse and two black and whites raced to cover the other side of the warehouse. Cole was relieved to have backup, but Roy seemed further incensed as he caught sight of the two homicide detectives.

Cole had yet to see anyone aside from the shooter inside of the building, but these things were rarely the brainchild of a single shooter, especially when they were so close to the freight lines. Perhaps they would get lucky and find some more dope; that might turn Roy’s mood around.

“LAPD! Put the weapons down now!” Cole shouted, drawing another round.

Stefan Bekowsky rolled in beside them, drawing Roy's ire.

“I thought we just got rid of you two.”

“No such luck,” said Stefan. “Looks like they're up on the catwalks.”

“No shit, Bekowsky.”

“Roy,” said Cole firmly, “how do you want to do this?”

They heard the clatter of bullets on metal on the other side of the warehouse; the officers on the other side had already made their decision.

“Move in, I'll cover you,” said Roy.

Stefan and Cole took off across the sun-baked dirt and sparse gravel, kicking up dust as they each made for a side of the wide warehouse entrance. Behind them Roy and Rusty provided cover from behind their respective cars. Cole thought he could see shadows moving inside the building, but the setting sun gleamed off of every chrome surface of the parked cars leaving purplish lines burned into his retinas. He could see Stefan was having the same problem, squinting against the sun as he signalled to Cole.

“Cole, move, I've got you covered!” hollered Roy.

Roy hadn't failed him yet, so Cole pushed into the warehouse. A spray of bullets from in front and above forced him behind a lumber pile against the wall. He had lost sight of Stefan but saw the brief flash of shots toward the opposite wall and body fell from the catwalk. He reloaded.

“How long d'you think you can hold out?” he called out.

Another shooter on the ground floor exposed their position and fell as Roy pushed in, ducking behind a pile of lumber.

“Get to the catwalk!” Roy hollered

Cole knew he was closest and made a dash for the metal grated stairs.

“I need cover!” he shouted, losing his hat as he shoved into an abandoned foreman's office.

The glass of the window shattered down on him and line of bullets painted the opposite wall. Shaking the glass from his collar he rose from his crouch to take out the perpetrator of the attack. He jumped through the window bearing no thought to the jagged glass still in the frame as it tore at his sleeve. Below he could hear Rusty swearing and Roy egging him on. On the opposite side of the warehouse two uniformed officers had also made it onto the far catwalk. Between Cole and the uniforms, three figures dashed down the ladder on the opposite wall firing recklessly.

Cole was too far away, his bullets glanced off the grating of the catwalk in tiny showers of sparks. He heard another round of bullets, heard Rusty’s litany as he ducked behind a lumber pile to reload. Roy was cursing after the three, but it was probably Cole's shout that allowed the moment of hesitation the criminals needed to get free of the warehouse.

“Bekowsky's down!”

Rusty popped up from behind the lumber to try and catch sight of his partner and nearly caught a bullet himself.

“Cover me!” Cole implored the detectives on the ground.

“That's my fucking car!” he heard Roy shout, and lost sight of his distracted partner.

“Rusty, cover me!” Cole shouted, as he ran recklessly across the catwalk and down the opposite stairs. He suspected Rusty was not sober enough to hit a moving target, but with Roy out, Cole knew it was his only chance to get to Stefan before he bled out.

Cole dove behind a pallet of wooden crates and took aim at the last criminal in the vicinity. Seeing him fall, Cole ran the length of the warehouse to get to his former partner. Rusty pulled himself up from behind the crates where he had taken cover, and Cole could hear only their footfalls echoing though the warehouse. He arrived at Stefan's side a moment before Cole, but seemed to be frozen by the scene before him. Stefan leaned back against the lumber where he’d had taken cover and clutched his leg, though he seemed unsure where the blood that slicked the concrete was coming from.

“Rusty,” said Cole, kneeling beside Stefan and assessing Stefan’s injuries, “get to the car, call an ambulance and get back here.”

“Right,” he said without his usual argument.

“Stefan, let me see,” said Cole, trying to pull back the left shoulder of the burgundy glen plaid jacket.

“It’s my leg, Phelps,” Stefan shivered, while contradictorily covering the shoulder wound with his hand.

Cole decided to take his word for it rather than argue. He tore open the outside seam of Stefan's trousers to expose the wound on his thigh. He pressed Stefan's hand over the wound, noting the torn skin on his fingers. Probably not from a bullet.

“Press here,” Cole instructed, holding Stefan's hand over the wound. “It's only a graze. Let me see your shoulder.”

“I told you it’s my leg,” Stefan insisted through greying lips.

“It's not just your leg, Stefan,” Cole said, his voice steady.

“That's the only thing I felt.”

Cole loosened Stefan's tie and unbuttoned the first few buttons on the shirt. He pulled back the fabric to see a nasty swollen hole, blood running into Stefan's sparse chest hair.

“No exit wound.”

The lodged bullet was probably preventing most of the bleeding. Cole pressed his handkerchief against the wound to staunch the flow and Stefan sat up suddenly with a shout in response to the pain.

“Stefan,” said Cole trying to keep his attention, “what day is it?”

“Monday.”

“Close enough,” said Cole, just trying to keep him talking.

Rusty returned a moment later, sweating and out of breath and knelt down with them.

“Rusty I need you to put pressure on his thigh,” said Cole pointing it out. “What happened to Roy?”

“Asshole took off in my car. That's some partner you've got there, Phelps,” as he spoke, Rusty pulled out his own yellowing handkerchief and pressed it to Stefan's leg.

“God Rusty, don’t touch me with that thing,” shuddered Stefan, gripping Rusty's suit jacket.

“Kid, you're getting blood all over my thirty dollar suit. Hands to yourself,” he said, though it seemed like his heart wasn’t in it.

“Are the uniformed officers still here?” Cole asked, using his free hand to take Stefan's injured one from Rusty's sleeve and examine the scrape that must have come from the lumber behind them.

“Yeah, one casualty. They've got someone out by the road to escort the ambulance.”

Stefan closed his eyes.

“Stefan, keep your eyes open,” demanded Cole, pulling at the bottom lids.

“Jesus, what’s taking ‘em so long?” Rusty complained.

“Rusty,” cautioned Cole with a glance at the paling man between them.

“Rusty thinks I'm dying,” Stefan said.

“Don’t you think just because you caught a bullet you can go around pretending to know what I think!”

“You're not dying,” said Cole, though his own stomach was tightening with worry as the colour had long drained from Stefan’s face.

“I suppose you would know.”

Cole kindly ignored the dig, whatever Bekowsky was implying. Instead, he held Stefan's wrist, monitoring the thready beat beneath his fingers.

“Stefan,” Cole's fingers tightened around Stefan's wrist. “I need you to keep your eyes open.”

“I’m just really tired…”

“I know, just keep talking to us,” Cole looked to Rusty for help.

“What about that sister of yours? The pretty one?”

“That's my sister you're talking about, Rusty. Don’t try and make her your fourth wife,” Stefan tried to joke, but he kept his eyes shut, his head lolled back against the lumber pile.

“Think that’s funny, Bekowsky?”

“She's a bully anyway, threw me down the stairs once.”

“Tell me about her,” said Cole.

Stefan just sighed and lost consciousness.

“Stefan! Open your eyes, Bekowsky!” Cole nearly shouted.

“Cole is he…?”

“Just unconscious,” but Cole could hear the panic in his own voice.

“You hear that?” Rusty asked.

“Sirens,” said Cole.

“Where is he?” a voice echoed through the warehouse.

“Here!” Cole shouted, Rusty waved a free hand.

The medics arrived with the stretcher.

“When did he lose consciousness?”

“Only a moment ago,” said Cole.

“We’ll take it from here detectives,” said one of the medics as they rushed Bekowsky unceremoniously into the back of the ambulance.

Cole stared after the ambulance. Rusty lit up beside him and offered one to him from a Bakelite cigarette case.

“No thanks,” said Cole, and after a pause, “what now?”

“Let’s grab a car and see where that fruit you call a partner got to,” said Rusty making for a police car.

“Don’t say stuff like that,” said Cole, sliding into the driver’s seat.

“Cole, if you’d heard half the stuff I have—”

“Rumours are ugly business,” said Cole, suddenly feeling a little sensitive about some of his own secrets.

“Christ, you’re always so straight-laced,” complained Rusty.

“Just make the call to KGPL so we can find your car,” said Cole.

Rusty picked up the breaker and made the call. Apparently Roy had already called it in and they didn’t have far to go before they found him smoking against a chain link fence in a parking lot as a tow-truck sped away with his beloved Cadillac. The Nash looked no worse for wear, save a missing rear window. Cole and Rusty got out of the car and crossed the lot in the darkening evening to the seething figure.

“What happened, Roy?”

“Your fucking hero complex, that’s what happened! Every fucking call!” Roy flicked his cigarette across the lot.

Cole was not about to rise to Roy’s dramatics.

“What do you want to do?” he asked calmly.

“We’ve got shit to do, figure out who whacked your war buddy,” he snapped, throwing Rusty’s keys near the older detective’s feet and making for the black and white.

“Prick,” Rusty grumbled under his breath.

“When he wakes up, tell Stefan I’ll see him later,” said Cole quietly, handing Rusty his fallen keys and following Roy to the car.

Chapter Text

Stefan came to through a haze of pain. He was beginning to recognize these beige hospital walls after a few days, but the waking up never got easier. When he was administered morphine there was no pain, but the world became difficult to understand: he couldn’t make out the letters on the newspapers that his sister would bring for him. Last night when Rusty had come to visit, he had told him that there were spiders crawling in through the window even as he knew it couldn’t be true. The worst was when the pain would return and there was nothing that could get the drug in his veins fast enough. Now he found himself somewhere in between as he opened his eyes to find none other than Cole Phelps in a grey suit, staring out his window.

“Cole,” he said, his throat raw from sleep.

Cole turned and sat down by his side.

“Stefan. I’m glad you’re okay,” he said.

“Yeah fine. Not really, but not dead or anything,” Stefan said, unable to stop himself putting a hand to his face as the world shifted.

“Do you need a nurse?”

“Just to keep me warm...no I don’t even feel like that, I’d just ask for something for this headache.”

“I’ll call one.”

“Wait,” said Stefan, trying to keep a clear head for as long as he could, “Rusty said you would be here sooner but something happened with you.”

Stefan searched his mind for what Rusty was trying to gleefully show him in the newspaper the night before. Cole looked grim, ashamed.

“Why were you in the paper?” Stefan asked.

Cole shook his head slightly and exhaled as though he didn’t know what to say.

“You’re always in the papers, what happened?”

“I...had an affair. And I got caught. My wife threw me out, I got demoted, my wife is charging me with adultery. I deserve it,” said Cole grimly.

“What?” said Stefan incredulously, squinting at Cole.

“I know that I did was a terrible thing. I just wanted to check in on you but I understand if you don’t want to be seen with me—”

“Are you kidding? I’m just...well I don’t believe that you of all people—I mean what hope does that leave for mere mortals like us...but c’mon! Half those pricks at the top have a bit on the side, and most of them pay for it.”

“This is not the reaction I was expecting.”

“What do you mean?” Stefan said with a half-laugh.

“I’ve spent the past few days getting insulted by my fellow cops and anyone on the street who recognizes me.”

Stefan thought Cole looked relieved to unburden that particular fact.

“Hypocrites. Every one,” said Stefan.

Stefan thought of his own shameful secrets, the ones he wouldn’t want his fellow cops to know, let alone have them splashed on the front page of the newspapers. A few of them would likely do worse than get him demoted.

“This isn’t...I came here to make sure you were okay,” Cole said.

“In that case...maybe you could get me a nurse...”

“For the pain?”

Stefan nodded and the sound of Cole’s footsteps faded down the corridor. Those few minutes without anyone in the room seemed to drag on with no distraction from his own dark remembrances. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the pillows, clutching the blanket in his good hand as the pain became more intolerable. He should have known he didn’t have much time in is right mind before this would happen.

“Detective Bekowsky,” greeted the nurse, as she pulled back his sleeve.

“I just need something to take the edge off,” he said through clenched teeth.

“I’m giving you a low dose of morphine,” she said administering the shot.

“Thank you,” he said.

As she left Cole returned and sat down. Stefan was already feeling the fuzziness in his head from the drug, though the pain was still quite intense. He must have shown it on his face because he felt Cole’s hand squeeze his good arm.

“It’s not so bad,” Stefan lied.

“I know how bad it can be,” said Cole, “it’s why I shipped home early.”

“I feel like I must have known that,” said Stefan.

“It would have been a good guess anyway.”

“I got stabbed once. I thought it was worse than this...I couldn’t even feel it when I got shot, but that stab wound hurt every time I moved. But this is worse now, this is definitely worse,” he said clutching the blankets again waiting for the morphine to hit him.

“Just give it a minute,” said Cole, his hand still resting comfortingly on Stefan’s arm.

“I meant to ask,” said Stefan as he started to relax, “how did anyone know...about your affair?”

Cole’s expression darkened as though he was grappling with something. The expression left Stefan was certain he wouldn’t get the truth out of Cole today.

“It doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t have been unfaithful,” he said.

“Cole...”

“I need to get going. I’ll come back and see you soon.”

Cole stood and left and Stefan nodded as sleep washed over him.

~*~

“Bekowsky.”

Stefan opened his eyes to see the sun had set. It was Rusty this time, an enormous smile on his face. Stefan could smell the alcohol on his breath. He inhaled sharply, his shoulder throbbing along with his heart.

“My sister was here, did she leave?” Stefan managed.

“She must have left, I didn’t see her. She’s a widow right?” Rusty pulled a cigar from his jacket.

“Don’t smoke that in here.”

Rusty grumbled as he put the unlit cigar back in his jacket. Stefan badly wanted something for the pain but he was hesitant to let Rusty know this. Why on Earth did Rusty keep visiting anyway?

“Are you lonely or something?” Stefan sniped.

“I’m tryin’a do a nice thing here. We’ve got murders piling up on our desks,” said Rusty completely contradictorily.

“You’ve been in homicide for decades, you can’t handle it without me for a couple weeks?”

“Weeks? You’re going to be here weeks?”

“Rusty, go home. You’ve had too much to drink.”

“Fine Bekowsky,” he said getting unsteadily to his feet and continuing his drunken tirade, “maybe I’m just tryin’a be a good partner. I barely know you, but you’re no Floyd Rose, kid.”

“You’ve come to insult me? I think I want Phelps back.”

“I know that son of a bitch couldn’t be as good as he always pretended to be,” Rusty said with a fond grin, sitting back down and pulling the cigar out of his jacket once more, “makes me like him better.”

“Jesus Christ, Rusty! I said you can’t smoke in here!” Stefan shouted, and leaned back into the pillows clutching his collar and trying to gulp back a pained noise.

“Nurse,” Rusty gestured down the hall as he called out.

Stefan kept his eyes screwed shut and breathed shallowly against the throbbing in his shoulder. The nurse took his arm gently and Stefan felt the beginnings of relief as she gave him another dose.

“Visiting hours are over, detective. You should be on your way,” she admonished Rusty as she left the room.

Stefan had not yet opened his eyes when he felt a meaty hand clap him on the good shoulder so hard Stefan wondered it it had torn out the stitches on the injured one. To his credit, Stefan only sucked in a short breath in response.

“It hurts,” said Rusty, “that’s good.”

“Don’t see how,” Stefan grimaced through clenched teeth.

“Means you’re alive, kid.”

The echo of Rusty’s uneven gait echoed out of Stefan’s hearing as his partner took the nurse’s advice and left.

Chapter Text

Elsa was always away on Saturdays, warming up at the club and performing late into the night. Left alone, with no overtime allowed to puzzle over the Suburban Redevelopment Fund, Cole was driving himself crazy with his thoughts. He had met Biggs briefly in a diner, but the arson detective only told him to let it go until there was a better case. When he set it aside he could only think of his girls, and how he hadn't seen their faces in nearly three weeks. Trying not to feel sick over his own betrayal, he would remember Roy's off the cuff sounding remarks and wondered when his former partner had known about the affair. Sometimes he wondered if that had been Roy's plan all along. He let his mind cycle through the wasteland of betrayal over and over; the habit kept his mind from wandering into darkened caves filled with the screams of the dying.

Needing to get his mind off of it all, he got in the car and decided that he should at least check in with Stefan. The detective had since left the hospital, but had yet to return to work and Cole felt ashamed that he had not visited as he had promised. Approaching Stefan's building on North Grand, he parked in front of a tobacconist and sat for a moment. Now that he was here, he wondered if dropping in on Stefan was the right thing to do. No point backtracking now, Cole got out of the car and headed up the creaky wooden stairs to Stefan’s door. He knocked twice. It wasn’t Stefan who answered the door, but a woman who bore a striking resemblance to Stefan and stood eye-level with Cole.

“Yes?” she said.

“Cole Phelps,” he said.

“Alina, let him in,” he heard Stefan’s voice.

“You must be Stefan’s sister,” said Cole politely, removing his hat.

“And you’re the detective from the papers.”

“Yes,” said Cole awkwardly.

He stepped inside still wringing his hat in his hands. Stefan sat on a well-worn sofa, his arm in a sling and a cane resting against the sofa. A tow-headed boy played with the knobs on the radio, though he mostly only managed to pick up static.

“Come in detective, we were just leaving. Aleks,” she called to the boy.

“Alina, you’ll be back for dinner?”

“Yes, Stefan. I won’t let you starve,” she said grabbing her son’s hand and leaving the apartment.

After a moment, Cole shut off the radio, which had been left between stations. He sat down in the armchair beside the sofa and looked back at the door.

“Was it something I said?” he asked.

“No. She’s working too hard. I’m probably not much help...”

“How are you feeling?” Cole asked.

“Okay. I can’t go back to work for another week or two. I thought I’d like the time off, but I’m bored.”

“Understandable.”

The silence stretched between them.

“Why are you here, Cole?”

“I thought I should...visit.”

“C’mon Phelps, you don’t visit. I haven’t seen you in two weeks. Even Rusty shows up once in a while...although I don’t have a drop of alcohol left in the place.”

“I’m working a case...I can’t really share my suspicions until I get more evidence,” he admitted.

Stefan nodded and looked at Cole intensely for a minute.

“I heard a rumour that Roy Earle sold you out.”

“Where did you hear that?” said Cole, still unwilling to actually engage it that fact.

“Rusty got it from Donnelly.”

Cole stood up and returned his hat to his head, unable to sit still and discuss anything related to that night he fell from the LAPD’s good graces.

“Do you want anything from the newsstand?”

“C’mon, Cole. You’re not the first guy to get caught sticking it to another broad.”

Cole made for the door, offended by the gross mischaracterization of his relationship with Elsa.

“At least let me come with you,” said Stefan, using the cane for support as he stood.

Cole stopped guiltily and waited for Stefan. It took somewhat longer to get down the stairs and to the news stand on the corner than Cole thought it would. Stefan took a short break to sit on a bench to catch his breath and enjoy the pleasant afternoon. Cole was antsy, and asked if Stefan wanted him to go on to the newsstand and come back.

“What’s wrong with you, Cole?”

Cole sat down on the bench beside Stefan.

“I’m still seeing her.”

“The German?”

“Her name’s Elsa. The department said to stop...looks bad, I know. I haven’t even found my own apartment yet, I’ve just been staying with her.”

“Well...you can’t love one woman forever,” said Stefan, getting back to his feet.

“It’s that easy for you?” asked Cole.

“Yeah.”

Stefan got a couple of pulps from the newsstand and they made their way back in silence. Within sight of the building Stefan slowed down again.

“Going to make it?” prompted Cole.

“Gimme a break, Phelps,” he grumbled.

Cole followed Stefan’s slow progress to the door, but at the stairs he grabbed onto Cole’s jacket sleeve, dropping his cane.

“I can’t...” Stefan said, and Cole heard the frustration and embarrassment in his voice.

Cole grabbed the cane from the floor and gripped Stefan under the elbow.

“Take it slow,” he encouraged, remembering the frustration of his own rehabilitation. Stefan didn’t have the advantage of military medical personnel charting his progress.

Cole supported Stefan up the stairs and back to his apartment. He seemed paler and less coordinated as they reached the apartment. Cole helped Stefan to the sofa and set down the pulps on the coffee table and the cane against the arm of the sofa.

“Are you taking anything for the pain?” asked Cole, as Stefan sank into the sofa.

“Bottle on the side of the sink,” said Stefan tightly.

Cole retrieved it and brought Stefan a glass of water. Stefan took two capsules and leaned his head back against the wall. Cole returned to his seat.

“I think I’ll be fired before the year’s through,” Cole said.

“What? You’re a pretentious ass, but you’re still the best they’ve got.”

“Thanks, Stefan.”

“I’m only saying that now I know that you’re just like the rest of us...and I’m delirious with pain...”

After a pause Stefan lifted his head and asked, “why do think your job’s on the chopping block?”

“Because I can’t let it go.”

“The German girl?”

“The case I was working on. Something doesn’t seem right; there’s something wrong at the management level and I’m going to find it out.”

“You make things difficult for yourself, you know?” grumbled Stefan, “sometimes things are exactly as they seem.”

“Occam’s razor again...except it seems like I arrested the wrong guy...”

“Cole, c’mon...”

“Straight as an arrow, right? They know I’m a sinner and I still don’t fit in. I screw up on arrests just like the rest of them, and still...”

Cole got up, there were records he wanted to check on his own time.

“Thanks for visiting, Cole,” said Stefan sarcastically.

“I’ll come back next week if I can,” said Cole, “you’ve really helped me out.”

“I should start charging!” Stefan called as Cole left the apartment.

Chapter Text

Coming back to work should a more pleasant occasion, Stefan reflected. There was a certain stillness that hung over the station that morning. First day back and he was met at his desk by Rusty, not cajoling or even irritating. Rusty was somber, pulled up a chair and sat across from him. Stefan would have thought the seriousness was joke coming from anyone else, but Rusty never had the restraint to be silent in his melancholy.

“What’s the matter with you?” asked Stefan.

He had been expecting Rusty to manhandle him and tell him to get on the stack of paperwork that was piled on his desk. Instead, his partner put out his cigarette in the ashtray on Stefan’s desk.

“Cole’s dead.”

The room seemed to roar with silence for a moment. Stefan stared at Rusty, not entirely sure he had heard him correctly.

“What do you—how?” asked Stefan.

“His body came out of the sewers, along with a dozen mobsters. Half the department is still on the scene.”

“That’s not really an answer,” Stefan snapped.

“I don’t know all the details!” Rusty snapped.

Stefan stood.

“Where’re you going?” Rusty asked irately.

“Nowhere,” said Stefan, crossing the room.

To his relief, Rusty did not follow him out of the office. Stefan took the stairs down to the main floor, his leg still stiff from the now month-old injury. He ground his teeth against the vacuous hole that seemed to be growing in his chest. He left the station and shut himself in his parked car and inhaled desperately trying to fill his lungs, but they seemed to have turned into honeycombs, not releasing the breath caught in their sticky cells. A few more of these despairing breaths through the painful lump that had formed in his throat and he realized he was just sobbing without any tears. He gripped the steering wheel and forced himself to breathe normally, his jaw clenched against the sickening emptiness that had so suddenly hollowed him.

The passenger door pulled open with a jerk and Rusty sat down. Stefan started, his dry eyes stinging as he focused them back out onto the asphalt. Rusty was silent beside him for a moment, seemingly aware that he had intruded on something personal, but unwilling to let Stefan retreat back into the hell that arisen inside of himself.

“We still have work to do.”

“Not...” Stefan paused.

Rusty shook his head.

“Not the sewers. Some guy shot in an alley. Don’t worry, the press won’t be there. The other story is too good for those vultures to miss.”

“Okay.”

“Let’s get going.”

Stefan nodded and started the car. Perhaps that was the best they could do for Cole Phelps. Just keep doing the job.

~o~

After days of a sort of internal rawness, the funeral came as a relief to Stefan. He arrived just before it began. Gordon Leary gestured him over with a slight tilt of his head and moved over one seat. Stefan sat down beside his former captain and saw Rusty stumble in and sit down a couple rows behind Biggs out of the corner of his eye.

“How’ve you been holding up, son?” asked Leary quietly.

“Fine.”

Leary looked as though he doubted this but squeezed Stefan’s shoulder briefly. It wasn’t really a lie. Phelps was certainly not the dearest person he had ever lost; he had lost both of his parents before he had reached adulthood and what felt like half his generation had disappeared over one ocean or another while he walked the beat. Certainly, he acknowledged, it was a cruel twist of fate that the man who had kept him from bleeding out on a warehouse floor mere weeks earlier was now in the closed casket at the front of the church.

Stefan felt sick watching Roy Earle standing before the sparse assembly to deliver the eulogy. He clenched his fists in his lap. Beside him Leary gave him a warning look and Stefan leaned back in his seat, unclenching his hands that had become slick with cold sweat. He tried to ignore the commotion across the aisle between the woman who must have been Phelps’s lover, Herschel Biggs, and another man he didn’t know. At least he wasn’t the only one fed up with Earle’s bullshit.

As the funeral wrapped up Rusty, reeking of cheap booze and stale smoke, slid into the seats behind Stefan and Leary. He was characteristically a little out of breath with a slight sheen of sweat on his face and neck.

“Donnelly set up a wake at Galway Arms. I’ll see you there.”

It wasn’t so much a pleasantry as an expectation. He grabbed Stefan’s bad should as he got up and Stefan inhaled sharply at the sudden pain. Holding his shoulder, he watched Rusty walk away, limping slightly from the stiffness in his knees. He and Leary followed out at a more appropriate pace, then proceeded to the interment in Leary’s car.

“Bekowsky, don’t do anything stupid,” Leary said as they got on the road.

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Stefan.

“Things are changing, and that means they’re staying exactly the same. You’re a good cop, so you may be tempted to take a swipe that that son of a bitch, Roy Earle. Don’t rise to that temptation.”

“Captain, I really don’t know what you’re trying to say,” Stefan said, being intentionally obtuse.

Leary braked hard and Stefan caught himself on the dashboard. The sudden shock to his arm once more sending a jolt of pain to the healing tissue in his shoulder. This time he didn’t react beyond a suppressed grimace.

“After three years at the traffic desk, I’d like to think I know you. You’re loyal and you’re trustworthy, and Phelps was your friend.”

“He was my partner. And you missed the part where I’m lazy and not vengeful! No one likes Earle, but no one is stupid enough to mess with that cocksucker! Least of all me.”

Leary took his foot off the brake and accelerated through the intersection.

“Good.”

They attended the burial in silence, Stefan trying hard not to watch Phelps’s widow sobbing into a lace handkerchief. Biggs, Elsa, and the other man were not there. Within an hour, he and Leary had washed up at the Galway Arms. Most of their fellow cops had skipped out on the burial and had beaten them to the venue. Stefan sat down at the bar beside Rusty, carefully ensuring that Rusty was on his good side so as not to suffer further injury from carelessness. His partner offered him a cigar.

“What took ya so long?”

“I didn’t leave halfway through the funeral,” Stefan returned, pulling out his lighter.

“You think it changes anything, whether we see the box go in the ground or sit here and drink to his name?”

“No,” said Stefan agonistically, not bothering to argue with a drunk Rusty.

“What’ll it be?” asked the bartender.

“Two fingers of whiskey, the cheap one,” said Stefan.

“Not terribly discerning, are you Bekowsky?” came a voice from beside him.

Stefan stared dead ahead so he wouldn’t have to make eye contact with Roy Earle. A hot flash of bile rose in his throat and he fought it back with a gulp of whiskey.

“Not all of us are on the mob’s payroll,” Stefan said evenly, still refusing to look at him.

“Easy, Bekowsky. Can’t we all just get along and toast our fallen brother?”

“You gonna shut up and have a drink, Earle, or you just gonna mouth off?” Rusty drawled, his tone rising threateningly.

Stefan swore could hear the vice detective smirking so he focused on his drink.

“The blue label,” Roy instructed the bartender with false congeniality in his voice, “three glasses.”

“I’ll just have another,” Stefan said, pushing his empty tumbler across the bar. He would be damned if he was about to accept a drink from Roy.

“I insist,” said Roy, clasping his shoulder firmly.

Stefan felt his lips tighten into a bloodless line. He wasn’t sure if Roy knew whether or not that was his injured shoulder, but this whole charade felt like a barely veiled threat. For what, he wasn’t entirely sure. He got the sense Roy was just toying with him because he could get away with it.

“Much obliged,” said Rusty, only slightly facetiously.

Only then did Roy let Stefan’s shoulder go, to stand up and toast Cole Phelps with the same sincerity he had in the church. Stefan passed his glass over to Rusty and went back to his preferred swill, finishing a third glass by the time the vice detectives had added their grovelling praise of Phelps’s impeccable character. In that time Rusty had drained the glass and left, and Stefan was no longer willing to sit and hear the detectives around him hijack Cole’s memory for their own gains. He paid his tab, left the smokey bar and stepped out into the cool night air.

Approaching the dark street he remembered that he had left his car at the church. Home was not so far, so he resigned himself to walk, though his leg was starting to ache again and the pain from his much abused shoulder radiated into his chest. He had barely turned the corner to find Rusty bent over, one arm supporting himself against the building, the other holding his tie and jacket against his body while he caught his breath.

“Rusty,” said Stefan.

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll fuck off and never speak of this,” he said, wiping the cuff of his sleeve across his mouth.

“So you don’t want me to take you in for public intoxication?” Stefan said, observing that Rusty had somehow managed not to throw up on himself.

“Watch it.”

“Where are your keys? I’ll take you home,” said Stefan.

Rusty handed over his keys and slumped into the driver’s seat. As Stefan drove he caught sight of the pure sadness in Rusty’s face and realized how much of the bluster was just a front. He parked in front of the tobacconist, turned off the ignition and sat for a moment.

“This isn’t home,” Rusty complained finally.

“It is for me.”

“Did you just take advantage of me?”

“You mean of your car?”

“You took my car and didn’t take me home.”

“Well, you can stay on my couch. I wouldn’t recommend you getting behind the wheel.”

Stefan got out of the car and clutched the thigh that no longer wanted to hold his weight after the stress of the day.

“Still hurts?” asked Rusty, who had gotten out of the car as well.

Stefan nodded, limping toward his building. Rusty came up beside him and caught his arm in his grip, ostensibly offering support.

“You can’t even walk in a straight line, how is this going to help me?” Stefan said as they made for the stairs.

“Do me a favour and stop talking about it. Also, quit trying to make a stand against Roy Earle. You’re not Phelps, so don’t go starting that holier-than-thou shit.”

Stefan pulled his keys from his trouser pocket and opened the door.

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” he asked, sitting with a grimace in the armchair.

Rusty sank down onto the sofa, clumsily pulling off his suit jacket.

“Because you’re one of the last clean cops out there. Let it go. I’m not saying start taking bribes from Mickey Cohen or anything, but you are too soft to go against the likes of Earle.”

Rusty laid down with his jacket draped over his torso.

“Fuck you, Rusty,” said Stefan without much enthusiasm.

Stefan got up stiffly and went to his bedroom, stripping down to his underclothes and crawling beneath the covers. He stared at the streetlight coming in through the gap in the curtains and slicing across his bed. He could already hear Rusty’s muffled snores, and the ambient city noise that he only noticed as he was falling asleep.

In lieu of nothing Stefan sobbed silently for a few minutes, his mind plagued by how terrible it must be to die in the sewers. The sudden sorrow was complete, his entire body shuddering as he choked and pressed the sheets against his face, trying to keep his desire to wail suppressed. Eventually, he caught his breath, and though his shoulder felt worse than when Roy had dug his fingers into the wound, the vacuity in his chest felt somehow smaller, more manageable. He closed his eyes, his breathing still ragged from the sudden catharsis, and let the distant sound of cars lull him to sleep.