Brass and Blue

Chapter 3

Upon returning to the car Mindy presented Danny with the idea of contacting the Calico Club with a fake reservation.

"You say she served you once," Mindy explained. "We can request to be seated in her area and get the last name that way. It's believable and in the event that your suspicions are correct and she does have something to do with Josh's murder-"

"- she won't get tipped off about a pair of cops looking for her and duck out of sight," Danny supplied knowingly. "No, I get it. Go for it, kid."

Danny heard her mumble "Ugh, again with the 'kid' stuff" under her breath as she Google searched for the number on her phone. Once found, she tapped the send button while he grabbed the department's tablet from the armrest compartment of the Trailblazer. He managed to pull up the search database just as she began to speak.

"Hi! I'd like to make a reservation for a small party that should be dining around lunch time," she said brightly, using an accent that he couldn't quite place. "And we'd like to request a specific server. Let's see, she has reddish hair, pretty…I think her name might be Heather? She told me her last name once before, but I can't remember it at the moment." There was a pause as Danny waited for Mindy to speak again. When she did, there was a brief sigh of victory. "Duwolski? Yeah, that sounds right…She's not there today, you say?...Oh, how horrible. Okay, that may change things. I'll talk to my group and call back shortly. Thank you."

She hung up the phone. "Heather Duwolski called out of work due to a death in the family. Pretty interesting. Uncommon last name. Should be easy to search!"

"Yeah, if I can spell it," he murmured as he entered his first guess.

Mindy leaned back in her seat with a sigh. "So what do you think are the chances that she'll have a parking violation or something?"

Danny sounded out the last name phonetically once more and tried a different spelling. After only a moment a mug shot materialized on the right side of the screen. Heather looked at him from the device with glassy red eyes and gently smudged make-up.

"There she is," Danny announced with a sarcastic fondness. "Drunk and disorderly. Arrested last Halloween."

Shaking her head and clicking her tongue, Mindy responded, "Halloween in the city: a hot-bodied girl's kryptonite. Well, where can we find her?"

He scanned the basic information on the left side of the profile and read off the address. As soon as he did, the realization of the significance of her address struck him. "Holy shit. She's right around the corner from the parking garage where Daniels was dumped."

"Shut up!"

"I wouldn't be shocked if the garage was actually shared by her building," he added as he quickly started the engine. Before slowly pulling away from the curb he looked towards Mindy and was met with a look of mild disgust.

"What?"

"You could look a little less smug, Danny," she said while securing her seatbelt. "None of this means anything just yet."

"I didn't realize I was being smug," Danny shrugged, though he was beginning to feel telltale ache in his right cheek usually brought on by a self-satisfied, half-formed smile. "But if I'm right..."

"God, I know, I know." Though she sounded annoyed, Danny caught the lightning quick upward flick of the corner of her mouth. "I wouldn't get my hopes up, though. Dumping a body a few feet away from where you sleep? Nobody's that stupid."

After getting briefly lost in a maze of interconnected hallways and random stairways, the detectives finally stood before Heather's apartment door. Danny pounded on it with his closed fist without a thought, hearing it rattle against the frame. Mindy's head whipped in his direction, her eyes wide.

"Whoa!" she exclaimed in a purposely hushed tone. "Ease up on the perp knock!"

"What are you talking about? 'Perp knock?'"

"You're knocking on her door like she's already guilty! Just..." she motioned her hands towards her body, indicating that he should pull back some of his intensity.

"I'll try, but I can't make any -"

His sentence was truncated by the door swinging open to reveal a woman in a disheveled t-shirt and non-matching shorts. Her dark red hair was thoroughly mussed and her cheeks were tear-stained.

"Can I help you?" Heather asked in a timid, watery voice.

"Miss Duwolski, I'm Detective Castellano and this," he nodded his head in Mindy's direction, "is Detective Lahiri. You attended a fundraiser gala for Josh Daniels last night. We were hoping you could assist us by answering some questions."

Heather sniffled and her face crumbled just a fraction before she stepped aside and allowed them both to enter. Danny strolled into the small studio apartment and scanned the area inconspicuously, as he did anytime he entered unfamiliar territory. The cramped space held a few pieces of dark furniture and was devoid of clutter. It looked barely lived in, aside from the vintage looking bedding on the queen-sized bed and a stuffed lion leaning precariously against her pillow.

"Can I get you both something drink?" she asked, her voice still thick. Her hosting abilities seemed to have carried over into her private life.

"No, thank you," Mindy responded kindly. "We won't be long."

The three found seating where they could: Heather sat on the edge of her bed, Mindy on a small arm chair, and Danny perched himself on a bar stool sitting next to a rather large television.

"Miss Duwolski -"

"You can call me Heather. It's fine."

"Thank you," Danny replied graciously. "Heather...you were at the Grandview Hotel last night, correct?"

"Yeah, I was there to support Jo - Mr. Daniels," she corrected as she swiped her left eye with her fingertips.

"Did the night go well?'

"I thought so," she shrugged. "Everyone there seemed to like him."

"Was there anyone who looked suspicious or upset?" Mindy asked with a lean forward.

Heather shook her head slowly. "Not from what I saw. To be honest, though, I wasn't really paying attention."

It was already beginning to feel like a dead-end conversation. Danny watched her as she shifted uncomfortably, pulling down the hem of her shirt while she crossed her legs. She wasn't making eye contact with either him or Mindy. It was hard to tell whether she actually wanted to say more or if she was actively trying to look unknowledgeable so they would stop asking her questions. He looked at Mindy, who was giving him a pointed look. Danny took that as he cue to dig deeper.

"Heather, are you okay?" Danny asked, trying to sound believably concerned. "You look upset."

He noticed an almost imperceptible nod of approval from Mindy.

"I'm fine," the redhead answered unconvincingly. "Just not feeling well, is all."

"Well, you must be shaken a little, considering that the man you were just in the presence of last night was found in your complex's garage." The way Mindy could present a hard-hitting question with such tenderness was almost commendable. Still, Danny wished they could just get to the point. Patience, he thought, is so damn inconvenient.

Mindy's approach, however, didn't take long to work. Heather's eyes darted to her feet and the grip on her shirt tightened as the tears fell freely. "It's pretty terrifying, yeah."

"Did you know the victim at all?"

"I was, uh...I supported him."

"Like, you supported his platform? Or, like, you supported him as a friend?"

"His politics, I guess," she answered with a tone of irritability.

Mindy smiled. "Which of his issues spoke to you the most?"

As Heather visibly stiffened and her chest expanded with a held breath, Danny braced himself for the lie.

"Schools!" she blurted. "He talked a lot about wanting better schools."

"Oh!" Mindy perked up. "Do you have kids?"

"Hell no. I hate kids." Heather closed her eyes and tightened her lips, appearing to regret her brief moment of candor. Danny thought she looked so pitiful that he found it difficult to get truly upset.

But he had exhausted his patience. While he wouldn't deny that Mindy's approach did accelerate the conversation, skirting the issue at hand was never his style - because, frankly, he was no good at it. He pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to keep his tone firm without terrifying their potential witness (Or killer, he added internally. Still not sure.)

"Okay, Heather listen," he began. "All we're trying to do is catch the person that did this. You can help us do that by being a hundred percent truthful. Holding back isn't doing Josh any favors. We need to you to fill in some of these blanks for us so that we can do our job. Plus, him being found so close to you...we need to make sure that you're not in danger, too."

That seemed to spark something significant in her as her eyes grew and she sat up straighter. "You think I could be in danger?"

Danny gave a slight nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. "You tell us."

He chanced a look at his partner and wondered what she thought of his tactic. Her focus, however, was trained on Heather as they waited for her to respond. When he returned his eyes to the bed the woman was crying a little harder. He was beginning to feel intrusive. His years spent at an emotionally draining job still hadn't made him comfortable with seeing a woman cry.

Heather wiped her eyes and steadied the staccato in her breath. "He was a friend."

"A friend?" Mindy echoed with raised eyebrows.

The woman huffed. "We started as friends. He used to stop by Calico for lunch and we'd see each other all the time. One thing led to another..." She trailed and finally made eye contact with both of the detectives before rushing to redeem herself against any possible judgment. "His wife was so terrible to him! I just thought he would leave her after time, but then he started campaigning and she was always standing next to him with that phony smile of hers. Then he'd visit and tell me how much he wished we could be together and how I should be standing next to him instead of that witch!"

She propped her elbows on her knees and ducked her head to allow for her fingers to run through her messy hair. After she caught her breath, she continued. "I thought it would be cute to surprise him at his big event at the hotel. I wasn't going to do anything crazy!" She assured. "I just wanted him to see that I could be there for him if he wanted, you know? I wanted him to see my face and maybe...this sounds stupid, I know."

Very stupid, Danny thought. Then he sighed and shook his head. "No, it doesn't sound stupid."

"Well, Josh thought it was." She wrapped her arms around her midsection. "He came over a few hours later and yelled at me for showing up. I yelled at him for not leaving his wife. He said that he couldn't leave her and then it just spawned into this big fight. He walked out and that's the last time I saw him." By the end her sentence she was sobbing. "Our last moments together were of us fighting. I just want that time back. I shouldn't have gone to that stupid gala. Shit, I was soooo underdressed."

Hiccuping, Heather wiped under her nose with her knuckle. "So anyway, I went to my sister's place and spent the night there. I found out about Josh on my way here."

"So you were with your sister the whole night?" Mindy asked, here eyes quickly darting to Danny before returning forward. Heather nodded.

So she had an alibi. That was unplanned, but Danny remembered that there was still a wife to consider. A mistress materializing at a public event might be just the catalyst to push someone over the edge.

"I can't believe those cameras don't work."

The sudden statement snapped Danny out of his train of thought. "What was that?"

"The cameras in the garage," Heather expounded. "Those cameras don't work. That's what the news said, anyway. You'd have the guy in cuffs if those cameras were working like they were supposed to."

"You didn't know about the cameras?" Danny asked. For reasons he couldn't quite identify, he hadn't considered the possibility of that not being common knowledge.

"Nobody did!" she cried. "And I walk through that garage at night all the time! Nothing like this ever happens here. Now I'm going to have to carry around a butcher knife, which means I'll need a bigger purse..."

Mindy stood to her feet. "We'll definitely make sure those cameras get fixed, Heather. And thank you for all your help."

At that, Heather leaned forward and narrowed her eyes like she was about to reveal a piece of salacious gossip. "I bet you anything his wife did it. You watch TV, right? It's allllways the wife."

Danny could hear Mindy quickly stifle her laughter. Hearing his sentiments coming out of another mouth - especially this mouth - added a perspective that he certainly wasn't looking for, but needed nonetheless. His theory suddenly seemed far less sound. He pulled out his wallet and grabbed a card with his contact information printed on the front. "Thank you for your time, Heather. If you have any more information for us, don't hesitate to call." Danny handed her the card as he stood to his feet.

"Thank you, detective," she said with a sniffle as she took the card and walked them to the door.

Danny could feel Mindy's eyes on him as they waited for the elevator. The more he tried to ignore her, the more penetrative her stare felt. Before the elevator could ding its arrival, Danny groaned and looked her way. "What, Mindy?"

"I said nothing," she replied in a dramatically melodic voice.

"Yeah, but you want to."

"When did I say that?"

The doors slid open and they stepped inside simultaneously. Danny pushed the floor level button. "You don't have to say anything. For once, your eyes are doing the talking instead of that mouth."

Her mouth dropped. "What do you mean 'for once?!' You've known me for all of four hours!"

"Has it only been four hours? It feels like you've been bugging me for years."

Danny cringed slightly at his abrasive word choice. He expected her to get offended to the point of yelling or indignant silence. He was relieved when she laughed instead.

"Whatever, dude. Don't think you telling me that you're bothered by me is going to get me to shut up."

Though he wanted to hold back the smile that was now tugging the corners of his lips, her stubbornness amused him. "Alright, go ahead and make fun of me for getting it wrong. Let's just get it over with."

"That's not what I was going to say," she denied. "I mean, you were wrong, but we both know that so there's no need to harp on it. For now."

Another ding sounded once they reached the ground floor. The detectives exited the elevator and immediately turned the corner as they headed towards the side entrance.

"I was actually thinking about some of the stuff Gwen told me about you during my first week."

Eyebrows furrow, Danny said, "Oh?"

"She didn't say anything terrible. She just said that you were kind of a trigger-happy guy – metaphorically speaking – and can be kind of relentless in interrogation. Your intimidating nature is quite legendary, actually."

Danny rolled his eyes and held the door open for Mindy to exit. "Remind me to have a talk with Gwen when we get back to the station."

"No, I don't want to get her in trouble!" she pleaded. "She was the only one who would talk to me when I started. Besides, she said nice things about you, too!" The SUV locks clicked and they slid inside. "I didn't tell you any of that to offend you. I told you because I wanted you to know that I saw none of that up there." She nudged her chin upward to indicate the apartment they had just left. "You were great. It was cool to see you in action."

"…Thanks."

"You're welcome."

They shared a brief moment of silence before Danny started the car. Even if he felt that he didn't really need her approval, a part of him liked having it. When she gave a compliment, it felt genuine.

Clearing his throat, Danny changed the subject. "So, uh…Mrs. Daniels next?"

"Sure, but I've gotta eat first," Mindy warned. "I'm running on little coffee and no breakfast. I wanted to have a muffin with my new partner, but he was having none of that."

"Oh yeah?" he played along amusedly.

"Yeah. He was kind of a jerk about it, but it's fine."

The teasing glint in her eyes made him feel oddly comfortable. He allowed himself to smile. "Well, I'm sure he feels bad about it."

His eyes remained on the road, but he could still see Mindy gazing at him from his peripheral vision. If he hadn't known any better he would have described the smile she emitted as shy, but that seemed like such an unlikely way to describe anything about her. Before he could think any more of it, she looked forward.

"So we'll have a quick lunch and head back to the station for a bit," Danny announced. "Then we'll pay a visit to Tamra Daniels."

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