Stefan stepped aside to avoid Roy walking right through him in his usual agitation and masculine posturing. Stefan glanced back in irritation, but Roy was still complaining under his breath and paid him no thought. He noticed Roy didn't give Rusty the same treatment, though he didn't exactly step aside for the older detective either. Rusty offered a rude gesture to Roy’s back and took a drag from his cigar.
“Well, there's your case, Bekowsky. Hope you're happy,” Rusty grumbled.
“I guess so,” said Stefan.
It was only his first homicide case, and the only thing he had learned was that Rusty was perfectly content to let something go uninvestigated if Stefan didn’t push him hard enough. This time he had been lucky to have Cole pushing for an investigation as well. Next time he might have to stand up to Rusty himself, and while Stefan was not a pushover by any means, he hated to be ‘that guy’ rubbing people the wrong way in his department. He admired that about Cole, and was simultaneously envious for his apparent aloofness in the face of unpopularity. Stefan decided to seek out his former partner for some advice.
“We can leave the paperwork until tomorrow.” Rusty said.
“Alright, tomorrow,” Stefan said by means of farewell.
He and Rusty had split up during the day to cover more ground, so they had taken separate cars—though Stefan suspected Rusty had skipped out most of the afternoon at some dive near Hollywood Station. He wondered how Cole had dealt with someone so his opposite and still manged to come out looking even more the hero of the department after the Black Dahlia murders.
Rusty gave a brief gesture with his cigar as he got in his car, which may have been a wave. Stefan headed for the alley behind the Broadway Hotel. He had half a mind to take Cole for a drink to thank him for making his first case so easy. As he reached the alley he wasn’t so sure Cole was in any shape for a drink. Cole had one steadying hand out against the brown brick wall, and one hand covering his eyes. Stefan stepped back a few paces in an attempt to preserve his dignity.
“Hey Phelps, you make it?” he called before he came back into sight.
“Bekowsky,” said Cole, “how was your first case?”
Cole’s face still looked grimmer than usual, but he was making an effort to cover whatever was bothering him.
“Did something happen?” Stefan asked carefully.
Cole shook his head slightly and looked like he regretted it. Stefan usually just worked around Cole when he was being reticent.
“How about a drink then?” Stefan offered.
“I think Roy’s supposed to be buying everyone a round. Colmyer volunteered him,” said Cole.
“Roy left. Probably didn’t want too many people to catch wind of such a generous offer,” said Stefan.
“I can give you a ride. I’ll even let you take the wheel and you can take out every postbox on the way,” Stefan joked.
“You drive,” said Cole, not even rising to the dig about his driving.
Stefan led the way to the department-issued Buick, and got behind the wheel. Cole got in beside him and closed his eyes against the headlights of the oncoming black and white. Stefan spared him a quick glance and started the car.
“Does Roy have a usual haunt?” asked Stefan, still waiting for Cole to get to the point where he was ready to admit he had a problem.
Cole had covered his eyes with his hand and was slouching uncomfortably in the seat, his hat placed on the bench seat between them
“I’d rather just go home if that’s alright with you.”
“What happened? You look like you’re going to chuck. I’ll pull over, just don’t do it in the car.”
“I’m not entirely sure, a head injury I guess. It happened hours ago. Roy says I lost consciousness for a bit, but I don’t remember.”
“Oh I see, you’re taking your lumps like a big boy,” Stefan said snarkily.
“Look, it’s not like working with you, or even Rusty! Roy sees an opening and he takes it, physical or emotional. He’s good at what he does, but...” Cole held his head, his disproportionate anger evidently setting it throbbing.
“It’s okay, Cole. Don’t get mad about it. It just sounds like you might have a concussion so maybe—and don’t bite my head off for suggesting it—maybe you should go see a doctor.”
“I’ve had worse, just take me home.”
“We’ve all had worse—”
“Okay fine, I’ll take you home.”
“No. Pull over.”
Stefan didn’t need to be told twice. He pulled out of traffic and Cole opened the door, slid out and retched. Stefan cut the engine and carefully walked around the front of the car. Cole still held the door handle with one hand but was crouched on the dry dirt of an unfinished Elysian subdivision, his pale face briefly illuminated by the headlights of passing cars. He closed his eyes against the light, looking pathetic in a way Stefan had never thought he could. Stefan knelt carefully beside him and placed a steadying hand on his shoulder while Cole tried to recover from his bout.
“Cole, I really think you need to see a doctor,” Stefan said as gently as he could, squeezing Cole’s shoulder.
“All the doctor will say is rest and tell me not to go in to work tomorrow. That’s not an option,” Cole said, wincing as he tried to slide back into his seat dizziness impairing his perception of distance.
“Why not? You’re injured. You have blood in your hair,” said Stefan, catching Cole under the arm as he half-missed the seat.
“I just can’t.”
“Because of Roy? I know the guy’s a complete jerkoff, but you’re being really irrational right now! I may not have boxed in the Marines, but I know what a good sock to the head feels like and the advice I’ve always heard is to let a doctor look at it!”
“Are you going to take me against my will?”
“No,” said Stefan crossly.
He closed the passenger side door with slightly too much force, and went back around to the driver’s side and started the car. He drove silently and Cole held his head in the next seat, his eyes closed tightly against the streetlights, shop-lights, and headlights that lined the way.
Stefan was furious that he somehow had allowed himself to be pushed around once again against his better judgement. If Cole had not stepped into the Randall case earlier, would Stefan have fought with Rusty to follow Mal’s suspicions or would he have let it go? Stefan wondered if his conscience could take working with Rusty
“Thanks, Stefan,” said Cole getting out of the car unsteadily.
Stefan got out of the car to walk at Cole’s side in case he had another dizzy spell.
“I don’t need you to walk me to my door,” Cole protested shortly.
“That’s fine, I want to make sure your wife knows what she’s in for,” Stefan said stubbornly, knocking at the door.
“It’s my house, you don’t need to knock,” Cole said angrily, dropping his keys on the stoop.
“I wouldn’t want to just show up int your living room uninvited,” Stefan insisted.
“You’re not invited. Go away,” Cole snapped.
Cole crouched to get his fallen keys and pressed the back of his hand to his mouth, grasping the bottom of Stefan’s suit jacket, once more overcome with pain and nausea. Stefan gripped his arm a little roughly and pulled him back to his feet.
“That’s no way to talk to—”
The door opened and Stefan plastered on a winning smile. Marie Phelps was in a bathrobe and looked very surprised to see her husband being supported by another detective.
“Mrs. Phelps? Stefan Bekowsky, I worked with your husband in traffic.”
“Nice to meet you,” she said, stepping back as Cole pushed his way into the house and disappeared out of sight.
“Cole?” Marie called after him.
She turned back to Stefan who had stepped into the foyer. She looked both confused and annoyed.
“Mrs. Phelps, he has a concussion. He insisted on coming back here, I couldn’t convince him to see a doctor.”
“You think he needs to go to the hospital?”
“I think he should have gone hours ago.”
“What do you want me to do about it? It’s the middle of the night, I can’t call a sitter,” she said.
“I’ll take him if you can convince him.”
“Why didn’t you take him in the first place? It’s not as though you need my permission.”
“I’ll remember that the next time this happens,” Stefan said darkly.
Marie pursed her lips and left the room. Stefan tried not to listen to the tones of conversation echoing from the bathroom. There were no raised voices, but he could hear Marie’s voice, as short with Cole as she had been with Stefan. After about ten minutes, they re-emerged and Cole looked...contrite? That couldn’t be it. Stefan could have sworn he looked guilty.
“Please telephone and let me know how you are,” Marie said, squeezing Cole’s arm, then, “Thank you, Detective Bekowsky.”
“Ma’am,” he said, taking Cole back to the car.
The settled back into the car and Stefan turned the key. Cole just seemed like he wanted to sleep, but couldn’t find a way to rest his head, and returned to blocking out the lights with his hand.
“What convinced you?” Stefan asked at length.
“The colours in the bathroom looked wrong.”
“Really? That’s it?”
“You win, Stefan, don’t rub it in.”
“Cole, it’s after midnight and we had to get your wife to step in and resolve a dispute that should have ended with us going to the hospital anyway. Nobody won.”
“You can just drop me off, I know you’ll have paperwork in the morning.”
“Not a chance,” smirked Stefan, “I’m invested. I’m staying until the doctor lets you go or pronounces you dead.”
Cole exhaled in what might have been a laugh in a different situation.
“You’re okay, Stefan,” he said.