Before they could fully turn onto Prickly Pear Circle, Mindy was already groaning at the sight of the long line of cars parked outside of the light blue two-story house sitting at the end of the cul de sac. There were also three news trucks stationed across the street, keeping a respectful distance while still managing to look intrusive.
"Are we monsters?" she asked softly. "I've never had to question a person who's freshly grieving before. The closest I've come to having to do something like this was when I interrogated the guy who just lost his house in a fire…and that was only because there was an overwhelming amount of evidence from the start. Video, foot prints, a receipt for tons of lighter fluid in the driveway…he was super shitty at arson."
"C'mon, we're not monsters," Danny replied resolutely as he searched for a place to park. "We're doing our job. What are we supposed to do? Just ignore the possibilities here?"
"Not ignore, per se. Just…the timing, you know…"
Danny pulled the car behind a Fiat just at the curve of the dead end. "Okay, so how will you feel if it turns out that she killed the guy? Will you feel bad then?"
Mindy appeared to consider his point, but never answered. There was a time early in his career when he struggled with the balance between his duty and his polite upbringing. Keeping that in mind made it easier to be patient with her. He unbuckled his seatbelt and turned towards her.
"I get that you don't want to be a dick to a woman who is probably going to through the worst thing that'll ever happen to her," he sympathized, though his tone remained firm and factual. He hadn't quite nailed the sympathetic tone just yet, he realized. "But this is just a part of the work. And this will be far from the toughest thing you'll ever have to do."
"I know," she said, her voice still soft.
"Alright, so let's go do our job. We're not the bad guys, remember?"
At that, Mindy seems to get some of her resolve back. She nodded confidently. "You're right. We're not."
"Okay, so suck it up and let's get in there."
"You don't need to tell me to 'suck it up,' rude. I got the gist of your pep talk."
"I'm just making sure," Danny said with a smirk. They both exited the car and trekked to the house. Any uncertainty that Mindy may have expressed seemed to have faded away entirely. With her shoulders back and her determined strut, he wouldn't have believed that she was having any trouble carrying out their task. The transformation was so quick that it left Danny a little skeptical.
"So you're good?" he asked.
"I'm great, I promise."
Mindy was the one to knock once they reached the door. When it opened, Tamra Daniels stood in the frame looking positively statuesque. Standing before her proved to Danny just how much cameras could mute beauty. As gorgeous as he thought she was during her many local television appearances, seeing her up close – dark flesh covered by a snugly fit black dress, professionally done make-up and glittering jewels – left him dumbstruck. Only a moron would cheat on a woman like this, his thought as Mindy took the lead.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Daniels. I'm Detective Lahiri and this is my partner, Detective Castellano."
"Come on in," she responded as if she'd been depleted of all of her hospitality. "I thought y'all might be coming. We can talk by the pool. This house is crawling with people. Between you and me, I don't even like half of them."
The detectives looked at each other simultaneously with twin puzzled expressions as they were led to the rear of the house. For someone who just lost their husband in a brutal murder, Tamra seemed unusually calm. Danny could almost hear the captain's voice reminding him that people grieve differently. She could still be in shock. It was hard to ignore, however, just how devastated Heather the Mistress looked in comparison to the woman who had actually been married to him for five years.
And she had been expecting them? How was that even possible?
"I really like your dress," Mindy complimented lightly as they navigated their way through numberous guests and flower arrangements.
"Thanks!" the woman replied, visibly flattered. "Nieman Marcus!"
"I'm in love with their sales rack!"
"Girl, who isn't?"
It was like watching two women settle in to chat over coffee. Danny felt the same rising urge to get down to business like he had at Heather's apartment. The only thing that stopped him was Mindy's apparent determination to take control of this particular interview. He had no desire to be reprimanded later for undermining her or stepping on her toes. Silently, he allowed Tamra to guide them through the sliding glass door and to the covered patio furniture next to the poolside bar. Mindy and Danny took their seats while the young widow went behind the bar and fixed herself a drink.
"First of all, we wanted to express our deepest condolences for your loss."
"Thank you," Tamra replied, though her words sounded hallow and automatic. Danny tried to imagine how many times she'd had to say those words in the few hours since Josh's death. The clink of the tumblers segued into the sound of a glass bottle being extracted from an occupied cabinet. As soon as she removed the top the scent of scotch wafted in the air. It was a smell that Danny would typically appreciate, but this time managed to turn his stomach in the early afternoon.
"So," Tamra sighed, bringing the glass to her smirking lips. "I bet you guys think I did it, huh?"
Mindy's head reared back despite her efforts to maintain some semblance of a poker face.. Danny, on the other hand, could not have wished for a better start to a conversation. There would be no needless roundabout chatter with Tamra Daniels and he was thoroughly grateful. The desire to openly celebrate this, however, was overshadowed by the curiosity to see just how Mindy would navigate this conversation.
"What would lead you to believe that you'd be a suspect?" Mindy posed.
Tamra shook her head and sipped her scotch. "I've been answering the same damn questions over and over again for the past nine hours. 'Mrs. Daniels, were there any crazy-looking people at the gala last night?' I don't know, everybody looks a little crazy to me. 'Mrs. Daniels, did your husband have any enemies?' Of course he had enemies! He was a politician! Go check Christina Porter's pockets. Maybe she's got a knife somewhere hidden under one of those ugly ass skirt suits she's always wearing. Point is, I've told the police everything I know and I'm sure you two already know that. So my guess is that what I've had to say wasn't good enough. You're digging."
The silence between the three of them spoke more candidly than anyone on the patio ever could. Nobody made the effort to deny Tamra's accusations. The stranger thing was that she didn't look the least bit indignant or defensive, stating the perception of her possible guilt as plainly as someone would state the weather.
"I'm sure you understand that when it comes to matters like these we have to be thorough," Danny explained.
"Oh, I get it," Tamara assured him as she walked around the bar and made her way to the open seat next to the two. "I'm not mad. You're doing your job. I have more than enough proof that I was nowhere near the city when it happened. Witnesses, receipts, everything. You're not gonna get really far with me. Now, if I were you I'd be questioning that dumbass waitress he was always messing around with. He was found near her apartment, right? Or am I mixing her up with Meredith? He got real desperate at one point and hooked up with a girl with an eye patch…"
"Okay, pardon me for a second," Mindy interrupted, pressing at her right temple as she processed what Tamra was saying. "Are you saying that you knew about your husband's infidelity? And there were other women?"
Tamra looked at the pair as if their lack of understanding was unfathomable. "Of course I knew! And the only one that really stuck around was the redhead. She had it bad for him and I'm pretty sure he was developing serious feelings for her, too. It wasn't that hard to figure out between the late night calls, awful excuses, and the numbers and shit I found in his pants pockets whenever I did laundry. Men are idiots. No offense, detective," she said to Danny.
"None taken, I guess," he replied, still in disbelief over Tamra's astuteness. "So…your husband was sleeping around and that didn't make you upset?"
Tamra shrugged as she took another sip of her scotch. "I mean, I was upset years ago when it first started. I was really upset. But the truth of the matter is…we'd known each other since college and were in love once, and then we fell out of love. Once we came to terms with that our relationship became more about business than pleasure."
She nodded. "He decided to run for office and I sat down with his campaign manager, Jason. We all agreed that him showing the world that he was in a healthy, loving marriage was the best thing for his image. Divorcees and bachelors don't really get the votes quite like married guys."
Mindy, looking entirely intrigued, shifted in her seat then folded her arms over the top the table. "I just don't get it. What were you getting out of all this?"
"Trust me, I wouldn't just allow myself to get played. I had things that I wanted to accomplish too – youth mentorship programs and rehabilitation efforts for the homeless - and his platform was the way to bring awareness and support. He agreed to help me out, I promised to make him look good, and that was that. We kept up appearances for the public and had a privately open relationship."
In the midst of all this new information, Danny was at a loss on how to proceed. With all of his proposed motives now disproved, any follow-up questions now had the sole purpose of satisfying common curiosity. "So why not tell the women he was seeing that you were fine with it, at least? Why carry on the notion that he was some philandering jerk?"
"Because people forgive cheaters, Detective Castellano!" Tamra exclaimed. "And people also have big mouths. If word somehow got out that he was a cheater, then Josh would've had the chance to charm his way out of that. All it takes is one well-written apology and a statement from his forgiving wife and it would be old news. But if someone blabbed about the future Mayor of the city having some sort of open relationship, he'd be labeled a freak. Period. Politicians are supposed to be exposed as kinky fools after they get into office, not before. Ain't that something? People would feel more comfortable with a man having an affair and desecrating his vows than they would about two consenting adults defining the boundaries of their own relationship. I tell you what, people are funny as hell."
Danny watched her drain the last swallows of her drink and decided that he had heard enough. He looked to Mindy. "Detective Lahiri, do you have any more questions?"
Mindy, looking absolutely exhausted, replied, "Not really. Maybe you could tell us the name of someone you were with last night who can attest that you weren't in the area at the time. Just as a formality."
Tamra nodded her understanding. "I was with Tracey Whitfield."
"The political analyst?" Danny asked, recognizing the name from his weekly appearances on the local news. Shauna and Gwen would often talk about how handsome he was. The conversations usually ended with Shauna describing in great detail what she would do to him if she ever had the fortune of meeting him. He had to admit that he was a charismatic guy.
"That's the one," Tamra confirmed. "And no, it's not like that. We've been good friends for years."
Mindy shrugged as she took down the name on a small pad of paper. "Hey, what he is or isn't to you is not important. Thank you for your time, Mrs. Daniels. I think we have all that we need -"
"That wasn't my husband."
They were silent as Tamra's face showcased a sadness that they had not yet seen since they arrived. Suddenly the straight-shooting woman had trouble looking either of them in the eyes, apparently embarrassed by her own vulnerability.
"I just mean that the man that died was not at all the man I married. I honestly have no clue who that man is. Jason and his driver knew him better than I did. Josh and I didn't even sleep in the same room and we only really talked before public appearances, so…it's just hard for me to mourn a stranger when I already mourned the loss of my husband years ago."
After documenting the findings from a very productive day, Danny used the last hour to go over the case file that he now had memorized. It didn't quite feel like starting entirely from scratch, but it still felt somewhat new after a day of dead ends. They would talk with the campaign manager, but he pessimistically expected more of the same information they already had. When he mentioned this to Captain Shulman during his brief follow-up, the only wisdom he offered was a tired-sounding "step out of that box and breathe a little, Castellano." At this point, what other choice did he have?
Now he was staring at the pictures of the crime scene for the umpteenth time, trying to spot something that may have escaped the eyes of both him and his enthusiastic partner.
"So today was nuts, huh?"
Once again she had materialized without warning. He tried to look less affronted this time around. "Uh, yeah. Today was a good start, I think."
Mindy smiled and nodded. "Well, I just wanted to say thank you for showing me the ropes and eventually warming up to the idea of us working together. I know you're kind of a lone wolf at heart, but I think we could make a really decent team."
Once she said that, he realized that he thought so as well. Working alone still had its perks, but if he had to be proverbially shackled to a colleague then he was grateful that it was someone with as much moxie and heart as her.
"Well, uh…" he said, grasping for something to say. "I'm glad you, uh, think that."
Mindy nodded awkwardly. "I do."
They didn't say anything for a few seconds, which made Danny desperate to say anything to dissipate the strange tension that fell upon them.
"So, something's been bugging me ever since we left Heather's place."
"Yeah?" Mindy stepped closer to Danny's desk and leaned against the edge. "What?"
"It's weird, but something about her not knowing about the cameras not working in the garage stuck with me a little."
"Did it really? I didn't really see anything special about that."
"No," Mindy replied with a shrug of one of her shoulders. "I mean, you see a camera and you assume it works. Everyone knows that a parking garage is one of the most dangerous places. Nobody would think that a place that wants to sell residents on the safety of their facilities would be bold enough to not maintain their security equipment."
Danny understood her point. He knew every leaky faucet and cracked tile at his complex, but he was detective who could naturally spot these things. Plus, he already felt like he might have been grasping at straws. "So you don't think there could be something worth looking at with all this?"
She waved her head side to side as she considered the information. "You know, I'd like to think that this is just typical slumlord behavior where he was too cheap to update his crap. After a weird day like today, though, I'm willing to think anything's possible. If it's bugging you, then what's the harm in keeping it in mind, you know?"
Mindy stood straight and patted Danny on the shoulder. "Well, I better get going. I'm going to journal the fuck out of today. See you in the morning, partner!"
Danny chuckled as she waved goodbye. "Go journal, you weirdo. See you tomorrow."