"Mr. Tookers, you're aware that you have the right wait until an attorney is present, correct?"
"Yeah, your partner made that pretty clear while he was reading me my rights."
"So you're agreeing to proceed on your own, is that right?"
Danny sat with his hands clasped on the table while Mindy set up the camera at the end of the table, opposite Morgan.
"Well, my lawyer is my cousin Lou and he's currently incarcerated, so…" Morgan trailed off while his eyes continued to avoid the camera.
"And you don't want one provided to you?" Danny offered one more time.
The room was silent while Morgan appeared to ponder the offer. After a while he shook his head and leaned forward with a shallow laugh, covering his stubbled face with both of his hands. He rubbed his eyes slowly and replied, "You know what? No. It's pointless. I just need to own up to what I did. Let's just get this over with." He gestured vaguely towards Mindy, indicating that he was ready for her to record. She obliged, pressing a large red button on the side of the device. Danny waited a few seconds for a red light to shine near the lens before he commenced.
"Alright, state your name for the camera, please," he instructed firmly.
Morgan sat up straight and replied, "Morgan Ransom Tookers." Danny wanted to stop the camera in order to ask him if "Ransom" was his legal middle name. He didn't get the impression that Morgan was being insolent, so he continued and resolved to ask him when they were done with the important business of his confession.
"Mr. Tookers, can you state for the camera your understanding as to why you were taken into custody?"
"I was arrested under suspicion of murder," he replied, almost sounding robotic. "More specifically, I was arrested for the stabbing of Josh Daniels."
"And do you admit to stabbing and killing Josh Daniels?"
There was pause, then Morgan took a deep, rattling breath. "Yes, I stabbed Josh Daniels."
Danny looked to Mindy, who had taken a seat on the other side of the table. She put on her best poker face as she asked her first question. "When you agreed to be the official chauffeur for the Daniels mayoral campaign, was your intent to eventually kill him?"
"No!" he denied emphatically. "Not at all! I actually liked him a lot. He seemed like the kind of guy I could have a beer with, y'know?"
"Okay, so what changed?"
He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. "Well…it started when he asked me to drive him to a hotel way out of town to meet some woman. It's not the first time I've driven someone to their affair, but he didn't bother hiding it or lying about it or looking the least bit ashamed. And I was just so…I mean, have you met Tamra Daniels? Like, actually met her? She's an absolute goddess. I just didn't understand how anyone could do that when they had her to turn to. And she's so kind and funny and smart. The best part of taking Daniels to his speeches and interviews was getting to see her. Just being near her became everything to me."
"So would you say that you're in love Mrs. Daniels?" Danny asked.
"I would, yeah." He nodded before looking at his hands resting on the table. "But I knew I never had a chance."
"Soooo," Mindy searched his eyes, "is that why you killed him?"
"No, but that's when I realized how much of a snake he was. It totally changed my perception of him."
"Tell us what happened after that," Danny urged.
"Well, soon after that I had to take him to lunch," he explained. "Instead of having me take him to Pickles he asked to be dropped off at the park to meet up with Tamra. I thought that maybe he'd decided to finally do right be her or something, but that night he was right back to getting dropped off at a gross motel. The second time he asked to be taken to the park was the same day that Tamra called me from out of town in order to find Jason. That's when I realized that he wasn't meeting her at all. The third time I dropped him off is when I actually ended up tailing him. That's when I saw him enter the back of the Grape Leaf with Phil Dayflower."
The mention of Dayflower caused Danny to instantly perk up. Morgan had led them to a very vital part of the discussion. "How do you know Phil Dayflower?"
The name of the dishonorable cop triggered a tightness in Morgan's jaw. Soon he was unable to make eye contact with anything other than an imaginary spot on the table. "Phil Dayflower was Detective Colin Park's partner. Park was the one who…" When he couldn't say anything more, Danny helped.
"Who was Jamie Tookers?"
There was another brief pause before Morgan answered. "My brother."
"And Dayflower was present when Park shot him, correct?"
Nodding, Morgan added, "He was the main one covering up for Park. Jamie had major plans to start his life over, you know? Jail changed him. He was quitting the drugs, he had just landed a job, and he was going to volunteer his ass off. He said he was going to end all of it. He was a kid when he first got caught up in all of it and he just didn't want to see any more young kids end up like him. When the big guns in the drug ring found out, they basically sent these two glorified henchmen with badges out to change his mind. As soon as they saw that they weren't convincing him they just…took him out.
"Seeing Josh there laughing it up with the man that watched my brother fight for his life on the cold pavement just…made me snap. I wanted to avenge Jamie. Going to the police was a joke, so I just made the decision to take things into my own hands."
Mindy shifted into a position that was more comfortable – one foot planted on the chair while her hands clasped around her knee – before launching any further questioning. "Take things into your own hands? You mean kill him?"
"Yes and no."
"Yes and no?" Mindy repeated skeptically. "What does that mean?"
It was Morgan's turn to readjust, taking a moment to stretch out his back before slumping forward onto the table. "I mean…I had a moment when I thought that drugging him was a really good idea. I don't know why. I honestly have never hurt anyone intentionally. Your detectives saw my apartment. All those dogs? Rescues. All ten of them. I'm mostly a good guy! I just saw him with that scum and thought 'This man is going to hurt so many more families.' When my brother was killed, our family died with him. My grandmother deteriorated, my cousins kind of went wild, and my uncle became so fucking depressed. It's been a nightmare."
"Yeah, I bet," Danny mumbled softly, imbued in a creeping sympathy for the man that would be forever labeled a murderer. He was familiar with the pain of seeing a family fall apart, but this type of suffering was on an entirely different level that was, thankfully, beyond his personal experience.
"So night after night of watching this man be so careless – thoughtless, even – I just reached my limit. The night before that shindig at the hotel I kept thinking how fucking awesome it would be if…if Josh just dropped dead. How many problems would that solve if he just…" Morgan gave a snap of his fingers to illustrate his point. "My grandmother makes this excellent alfredo that the office goes nuts over. She's always sending batches to Josh, Jason, and some of the volunteers. She made some to take with me the following day and the next thing I know, I'm crushing some of her meds into Josh's pasta."
"The Plendil, you mean," Mindy clarified, more than likely for the benefit of the recording.
"Yeah," he confirmed. "My cousin and I would argue with Gam-Gam all the time about giving up her grapefruit juice while she was on the stuff. Once I remembered that Josh drank grapefruit juice in the mornings it just felt…right. So I take the pasta with me the day of the fundraiser and just as I'm about to step out of the car, I chicken out."
"You couldn't give him the pasta?" Danny asked.
"I couldn't. I wanted to, I did. I just…couldn't. So I brought in everyone else's and left his in the car. It wasn't until much later when I was picking him up from Heather's apartment that I noticed that his bag was missing. I asked him about it and he told me that he saw the container with his name on it and ate it because he hadn't eaten all day."
"Ugh," Mindy uttered, momentarily dropping her neutral expression in favor of a disgusted one. "He ate pasta that had been sitting in your car all day?"
"He did," Morgan confirmed, looking equally nauseated. "Although, pride kind of goes out the window when you're extremely hungry. But still. Gross."
"Then what happened?" Danny continued.
The man propped his elbows on the table and roughly ran his hands through his hair, almost tugging to the point of stretching the skin at his temples. "I freaked. At first I told him that the pasta had gone bad and that we needed to get his stomach pumped right away. He didn't buy it. I started thinking about how he could have his juice in the morning and just drop like a fly. I imagined him talking to Jason one moment and keeling over the next. I'm clearly not a doctor; I don't know how probable all that is, but I didn't want to risk it. So I decided to tell him."
Danny's eyebrows quirked upward, but he kept silent to allow Morgan to continue.
"Of course, he went bananas. I can't blame him for that, obviously, but he just lost it. He demanded that I pull the car over at this empty warehouse-looking place, jumped out, and immediately came around to my side and started banging on my window. 'Get out of the car, asshole,'" Morgan imitated in a muted roar while his fist mimed the banging. "'Get out of the car so I can fuck you up.' So I got out. I wasn't scared of him, obviously. I mean, look at me."
Danny understood what he was implying and readily agreed. Morgan was easily over six feet tall and while not the buffest, he still looked solid. If Danny were a betting man, he'd choose Morgan to best most men in any fight.
"And I promise I got out of the car to calm him down," Morgan continued, his tone pleading. "I didn't want to fight him. I even offered him a free punch! I just wanted him to understand what led me to do it in the first place. Before I could get to any of that though, he kept pushing me against the car. With each push he just dug at me…called me a piece of trash and how my only purpose in life was to drive him from destiny to destiny, or some Shakespearian bullshit like that. And I was fine with all of that. It's not like I haven't heard it all before. It wasn't until he brought up my family that we had a serious problem."
Danny could hear Mindy shift again before she asked, "What did he say?"
Morgan's face was blank as he tried to remember. "He kind of went into comic book villain mode and started talking about his plans as the mayor…how he was going to bring back all these old school cops who understood the 'hierarchy.'" The last word was framed in air quotes. "He said he was going to 'fix' the NYPD and get back some of the power to the guys that deserved it. He said that his first order of business was making sure that my family rotted in a cell or in the dirt." His bottom lip quivered for just a moment before he steeled himself and continued. "Then he said he knew just the guys for the job. He said any guy that can kill my 'scummy' brother and get away with it was good enough for him. I'll be honest, after that I went blank."
The interrogation room had heard many stories of insane ex-lovers, senseless petty crimes gone wrong, jealousy, and hate. This story, however, was probably one of the most emotionally taxing tales Danny had ever heard in his many years on the force. It was difficult not to sympathize when his mind kept wandering to visions of his own brother lying in a crumpled heap on damp concrete the way Jamie Tookers certainly had been. If this story had been different – had been his – and Richie had suffered the same fate as Morgan's brother, he would like to say that he would remain on the right side of the law if faced with Josh-like bullying. He couldn't say for certain, though, and that brand of uncertainty chilled him. It could just as easily be him, sitting in front of a camera and recounting the moment his life changed for the worse. Returning to the moment, Danny cleared his throat and asked Morgan to recall the clearest moment after Josh's threat.
"I remember his hands around my throat," he sighed. "I remember thinking he was stronger than he looked. I remember the panic I felt when it became harder to breathe and I couldn't focus my eyes. Had it been any other guy or any other circumstance I would have just fought to get him off of me. That rage, though…I just reached in my pocket and grabbed my knife. I blacked out again. Didn't come to my senses until I was sitting next his body." He hung his head. "I didn't think I could go to the police. I didn't know how deep things with Josh ran, or who was on whose side. I just put him in my trunk and drove."
"And you eventually dropped him off at that parking garage," Mindy supplied. "What made you go there?"
"Drivers and cabbies love that spot. The cameras stopped working a year or so ago and you never see any cops over there. One of the guys I used to work with met his weed dealer there all the time before he went to rehab."
"Okay, Mr. Tookers," Danny sighed. "One more question for you: did you work alone?"
Morgan nodded readily. "Unfortunately, yes. I wish I hadn't been, though. It would have been nice to have someone there to save me from myself. You know, I always thought that saying was stupid until just now."
Danny looked to Mindy to see if she had any more questions. Without saying anything else, she stood and took her place behind the camera and quickly located the 'record' button. It wasn't until the red light died that he finally felt like the case was closed. The unmitigated joy he was certain he'd feel at the arrival of this moment didn't arrive. Instead, he felt an uneasiness that coiled at the pit of his stomach.
After a brief burst of applause and celebratory pats on the back, Danny decided to take a moment in the break room alone to decompress. He leaned against the counter and silently berated himself for not being happier about his and Mindy's success. We got him, he thought. This is good, Castellano. It wasn't long before he heard the footsteps of someone entering. He was already beginning to mourn the loss of his alone time until he heard her voice.
"I could really get used to the celebrity treatment after a solved case," Mindy gushed, her smile somehow just as bright in the late night as it was mid-morning. "At my last precinct, the solving of cases was recognized in the form of a Tootsie Roll pop, which was gifted to us by our administrative assistant. Betsy's not going to do something like that, right?"
He chuckled. "Nah, but don't give her any ideas."
Mindy took her place next to him against the counter. "So, how does it feel?"
"Well…" he trailed, trying to think of a less pathetic way to voice his concern. "It feels good, but…I don't know. When he was talking about his brother…did you, like…"
He considered rescinding his question, but Mindy looked too expectant as her eyebrows lifted almost to her hairline and her eyes made contact. "What?" she pressed. "Did I picture my brother getting killed by some dirty cop and slicing Daniels from his heart to his dick for trivializing it?"
Danny's head snapped in her direction. "Uh, yeah. Exactly that."
"Oh, definitely. I don't see how anyone with a loved one couldn't imagine somewhat where Morgan was coming from."
Danny turned his body fully towards her and asked in a hushed tone, "And that doesn't scare the shit out of you? It doesn't freak you out that we're not really as above heinous crime as we think?"
"Dan, of course not," she replied with a sympathetic chuckle. "No, we're totally above murder, okay? Understanding why someone would do something and actually condoning it are two different matters entirely. For instance, I could see why someone might think that replacing the bread in a sandwich with two fried chicken breasts would be an excellent idea. That doesn't mean I'll be next in line at KFC to put that into my body."
Though he rolled his eye, Danny smirked. "I'm going to pretend that you didn't just compare murder to the Double Down."
"If you think about it –"
"Okay, maybe that was a stretch," she relented quietly with a smile. "But you know what I mean." Mindy reached out to tug on the flap of his leather jacket. "You're a really good guy. That doesn't change just because you understood a criminal's motive for a moment. Now stop sulking and enjoy the fact that we totally kicked this case's ass."
Relieved, he let out a relaxing exhale and finally allowed himself to enjoy their success. "We did nail this assignment, didn't we?"
"Fuck yeah, we did…I mean I did most of the heavy lifting, but…"
"Nah, you helped, you helped."
They laughed while Danny's hand found the one still clutching his jacket. "You were great. You don't need me to tell you that, but you were."
Mindy gave an imperceptive nod, allowing herself to be gently pulled into his personal space. "You too, Danny. You were amazing, actually." The warm feeling of her hands creeping underneath his jacket and resting on his chest propelled him to wrap his arms around her waist.
"Amazing, huh?" he teased.
"And to think, you used to have a problem working well with others!"
Shaking his head, he countered, "Nah, I still have that problem. Not with you, though. You're the greatest thing that ever happened to me career-wise, friendship-wise…"
Mindy tried unsuccessfully to cover up her smile. "And more-than-friendship-wise, surely."
"Yeah," Danny readily agreed, laying a kiss on her forehead. "Without a doubt." He kissed her cheek. "The improvement in my more-than-friendship life is arguably the best of all the improvements." Grinning, Danny trailed a path of tiny kisses from the ridge of her cheekbone to the corner of her mouth. He felt her hands tense up on his chest.
"In the break room, Danny? Somebody is going to walk right in here!" Mindy made no effort to move.
"I hope it's Lang," he mumbled against her cheek. "He kind of lingered on that handshake after the bust."
With a turn of her head, Mindy's lips met Danny's willingly and eagerly, her previous warning regarding their location pleasantly forgotten. She pulled back after only a brief nibble on his bottom lip. "We should really celebrate. Not here, obviously."
Danny dropped a kiss on the tip of her nose. "How about some place nice? Tomorrow night. We'll dress to the nines and find the snootiest, most ridiculously priced restaurant we can find. Like, 'Jesus, this slice of chocolate cake has flecks of gold in it' ridiculous."
"Okay, that sounds delicious and right up my alley," Mindy responded enthusiastically, "and I will take you up on that offer very, very soon. But for now, I was thinking something more…immediate. Like, tonight. We can pick up some Japanese hibachi and take full advantage of my uncharacteristically clean apartment."
Danny could already feel his pulse quickening at the invitation. His eyes searched hers, desperate to understand her implication. "You're inviting me back to your place?"
Mindy bit her bottom lip and nodded confidently. "Unless your heart is really set on this golden chocolate cake, then we can always do that."
"You're crazy if you think we're going out for expensive cake now," Danny laughed. He disengaged just enough to still be able to cling to her hand as he led her out of the break room. "Let's go."
That night while draped in cool sheets and long black hair, Danny concluded that there were far better sounds than the thud of a lonely case file dropping into dusty cabinet – like a creaking headboard, or Mindy Lahiri moaning his name over and over again…