"I don't know what to tell you guys. I kept his days pretty busy. There wasn't much room in his schedule to get into trouble."
Danny and Mindy stood nearby and listened while Jason Richmond packed a stack of labeled files into a dusty cardboard box. By the time they had reached the Daniels campaign headquarters most of the décor and election paraphernalia had been reduced to memories, shoved into bags and cases except a pitiful banner that hung crookedly over the water cooler. Half of the chairs and desks were stacked in the back while the other half remained untouched. The most amusing part of the scene was the man they came to see, who was packing while wearing a crisp dark business suit and immaculately gelled dark hair. He had the look of someone who was far too busy to trifle around with petty issues, like assisting the authorities in the capture of a vicious criminal.
"So were you present for every campaign opportunity?" Mindy asked with her arms crossed over her chest. "Every meeting? Every photo op?"
"I was there for most of it, but not everything," Jason replied, keeping himself busy. "But nothing ever made it onto his calendar without my say-so, bathroom breaks included. I wish that were more of an exaggeration."
"So he wasn't stepping out of his schedule behind your back?" Danny pressed. "No secret meet-ups or special lunches?"
Jason stopped his task to roll his eyes haughtily, seeming to catch on to Danny's implication quickly. "If you're talking about the women, we did a good job of compartmentalizing that portion of his life and keeping it out of our way. None of that interfered with his race."
"As far as you know," Mindy goaded.
"Fine," Jason fired back flippantly. "But what or who he did at night was really none of my concern. He was my client, not my friend. My job was to make sure he looked like a winner and that's what I did."
Danny was approaching his limit. He was prepared to respond to his attitude when Mindy spoke up with a tone of irritation that Danny had not witness in the three days of knowing her.
"Look, nobody here is questioning how effective of a campaign manager you were," she argued. "We're here because you spent more time with him in the last few months than anybody else. If you don't want to help us find the psycho who killed a guy, then fine. I just hope you understand that that makes you a total dick."
"Hey!" Jason yelped. "I'm not a dick!"
"Come on, man, you're kind of a dick," Danny provoked, still amused by Mindy's outburst. "Right now you are, anyway. Sorry to take up so much of your precious time, guy, but we're trying to solve a case here."
Jason opened his mouth as if he were about to say something, but quickly thought better of it as his hands found his hips and his attention fell to the floor. He took a calming breath then lifted his head. He had the decency to look apologetic.
"I don't mean to be rude," he explained in a much calmer voice. "This whole thing has just been a terrible mess. Between press and my very sudden need to find a new job, this has been a very stressful turn of events for me."
Mindy nodded slowly, her eyebrows furrowed. "Well, I'm sorry that Mr. Daniels' death has been such a tragic, life-ruining thing…for you."
"Thank you," Jason replied sincerely, either missing the sarcasm or choosing to ignore it. "And I'll bounce back. He was just so easy, you know? Out of all the campaigns I've headed, his was the easiest. He was likable, handsome, wonderfully predictable - like 'I don't start my day without a bowl of shredded wheat and a glass of grapefruit juice' predictable- had few skeletons outside of the whole wayward penis thing. Josh was just easy to manage. This election was a slam dunk from the beginning."
"So how often was he out of your sight?" Danny questioned as he leaned against a bare desk.
"He really wasn't." Jason scratched the back of his head and then amended, "Well, except for lunch, but I didn't really take lunches unless they were work-related. Monday through Thursday he'd take a thirty, maybe forty-five minute lunch and he usually just went to Sweet Pickles Deli on Welch Avenue. Fridays were usually spent canvassing or making local appearances."
Mindy stood a little straighter. "Did he drive himself to lunch?"
"Nah, I always encouraged him to use the car service we hired. He was a shit driver."
"Where do we find him?"
"Morgan?" Jason verified. "He's actually packing up the storage room. You wanna...?"
Danny nodded and Jason loudly called for Morgan before returning his attention to his guests. "Did you have anymore questions for me, detectives?"
"No, but we'll give you a call if we do," Mindy replied.
"Great. Oh, and uh..." Jason searched his jacket pocket and extracted a small wallet. He pulled a business card out of the bill fold and held it out to Mindy. "If any of your superiors decide to run for office, I find myself, uh, quite suddenly available. Heh."
When neither Danny nor Mindy laughed at his ill-timed joke, Jason mumbled an apology under his breath and walked away with his business card still in his hand. The detectives looked to each other and wordlessly agreed on their dislike of the tactless gentleman with a simple eye roll. Moments later, a tall man with shaggy hair entered the room from a narrow hallway in the back left corner. With a stack of boxes tucked under his chin, he staggered over to the nearest empty desk and heaved them onto the surface. He exhaled loudly while wiping the dust from the front of his navy blue track suit.
"Are you Morgan?" Mindy asked hopefully.
The man appeared to have only just noticed their presence at the sound of her voice. His expression quickly transitioned from surprise to great caution. "I might be. Who's asking?"
"Morgan, that's Detective Lahiri and her partner, Detective Castellano," Jason introduced half-heartedly while taping a box shut. "They're looking for Mr. Daniels' killer."
Morgan visibly relaxed with a nod. "Oh! Yeah, that was sad."
"You drove Mr. Daniels around a great deal, correct?" Danny questioned.
"Well, I was a lot more than a chauffer, I think," Morgan answered with a sigh as he sat at the edge of the desk. "I was also his bodyguard at times, nutritionist...a life coach in certain areas..."
Danny had a hard time believing that this man was capable of effectively training anyone. With a rather soft-looking body and poor posture, the track suit was his most athletic looking asset.
"So you two were...close?" Mindy asked dubiously.
"I mean...I offered a lot of advice and I assumed he was listening. He was hard to read, if you ask me."
"It's our understanding that you would often drive him around for lunch."
"Oh yeah. He liked to go to that awful excuse for a deli, Sweet Pickles."
Danny agreed. "Yeah, that place is terrible. Never had a more questionable roast beef sandwich in my life."
"Yes! Tragic roast beef!" Morgan exclaimed with a point. "I'll tell you one thing, detective, they're the real criminals."
The men laughed while Mindy looked on incredulously. "I'm sorry, can we please get back to -"
"Right, right." Danny gave a quick shake of his head and returned to the task. "So were you always with him? Did you ever eat together?"
"No, he was funny about eating lunch with people," Morgan explained, sounding a little disappointed. "He liked to lunch alone. I'd park nearby and he'd call when he was wrapping up. Usually took about thirty minutes."
"And this was a daily occurrence?"
"Yeah...wait, no. Yes?" Morgan's features scrunched as he struggled to remember, then he snapped his fingers with the arrival of sudden clarity. "No, it wasn't always like that. Sometimes he'd have me drop him off at Peakman Park so that he could meet his wife for lunch. He'd take a cab back here on those days, I think."
Danny was careful to keep his face as neutral as possible, but he was eager to get back to the car and discuss this development with Mindy. Tamra already made her and her husband's distance so clear that even the occasional lunch seemed odd to him...not impossible, but very odd. Try as he might to abstain from jumping to a conclusion right away, this seemed like something worth looking into.
"Did you see his wife whenever you dropped Mr. Daniels off at the park? And can you remember exactly when he would have lunch with her?"
Morgan shook his head. "No. No, I just dropped him off and let him do his thing. I couldn't tell you every time he met her, but I remember the last time was last Wednesday."
Out of questions, Danny turned to Mindy and waited for her follow-up. Instead, she smiled and noted his information in a small pad. With that, the pair made their exit.
When they left the office Danny found himself staring at Mindy, reevaluating her. Three days made quite the difference. Her outfits were no longer 'loud' but 'interesting.' Her voice no longer sounded shrill to him (or perhaps it still was and he had just developed a strange immunity to it). And the moniker of "Chipper Indian Girl" didn't feel sufficient at all anymore. Mindy Lahiri was cheerful, absolutely, but also attentive, sharp and far tougher than he would have guessed upon first meeting.
"Oh God, is there something on my face?" Mindy asked in mild panic, swiping the corners of her mouth furiously with the back of her hand.
"No, I'm just impressed," Danny said proudly. "You got a little mouthy with that Jason idiot, partner."
She let out an exaggerated "ha!" as she neared the passenger door of the car. "That was nothing! You should see how I deal with my cable company. I don't mean to brag, but I've complained enough to basically get free Wi-Fi for life."
"Well whatever the cause, it's cool to see that you've got some bite to you."
Once settled inside Mindy immediately grabbed for the iPad from the backseat. "You know, that's the first time you've ever acknowledged me as your partner," she mused without looking away from the device. The satisfied smile grew slowly as she tapped away at the screen.
The observation caused Danny to minutely cock his head to the side as he looked at her with knitted eyebrows. She was probably right - the verbal acknowledgement of their partnership felt a little new on his lips. Mindy stated the trivia, however, with the same reverence as someone who had just received an unexpected gift. He couldn't imagine why she would view this as such a noteworthy moment.
When he didn't say anything, Mindy looked up to find his puzzled expression. "Oh, don't look at me like that," she demanded playfully. "It's a big deal."
"It is, considering your initial resistance. If I didn't know any better, I'd think that Danny Castellano was actually warming up to me...but that can't be it, right?"
The corners of her mouth remained upward in a daringly gleeful smile. Her smugness was unbearable, but her impish grin was annoyingly contagious. Without meaning to, he smiled back.
"No, there's no way that could be true," he teased.
"Yeah, I didn't think so." She returned to her attention to the iPad display and tapped at the keyboard image. Danny started the car.
"So," he huffed. "Josh having lunch with his wife..."
"Bullshit," she Mindy assessed instantly. "I'm sending myself some quick notes. I don't think Tamra was lying when she said that she and Josh didn't relate a whole lot. Unless the lunches were set up as photo opportunities -"
"Which she or Jason probably would have mentioned," Danny supplied.
"And they didn't, so that was something Josh cooked up all on his own. Do you think he was meeting Heather?"
Danny took a moment to consider the possibility, then shook his head. "I don't think his other women were a secret, not to the guy that drove him around so much. He wouldn't need to lie about it. Better yet, he could have had him just drop him off at the lunch spot and not said anything. I don't know, it just seems like a really purposeful lie."
"Which is why I think we need to peek at his bank records."
Danny raised his eyebrows and briefly turned his attention from the road to look over at the passenger side. Mindy was staring back with a look of determination.
"What'll you think we'll find?" Danny asked cautiously, hoping that she wouldn't see the question as some sort of challenge of her judgment.
"I don't know," Mindy answered candidly. "We could find absolutely nothing but a bunch of random transactions. Or, we can find out just where he was spending his money if it wasn't at his usual deli. It's a stretch, I know, but -"
"No," Danny shook his head. "No, we should roll with it. It's a shot, right? And if there's nothing there, we'll just figure something else out."
Though his eyes were on the road, he could still see her victorious smile from his peripheral vision. "Okay," she said brightly. "I'll put in a seizure request on Monday. Thanks for the support, Danny."
He pulled into the station's parking garage and found a spot on the second floor. It was strange: he was ready for his shift to end, but not nearly as eager to get away from Mindy. Before he could really analyze it, he cleared his throat.
"So a lot of us like to grab a quick drink from The Tipsy Jester after work on Fridays," he explained while freeing himself from the confines of his seat belt. "I never stay that late, but it's nice to end the week with a beer or two. You should come."
She didn't have to answer. Her eyes lit up brightly enough to let him know where she stood on his invitation.
"Danny, are you inviting me to my first work hangout?!"
"I don't know, would this be your first work hangout?"
"Yeah! Well, my first hangout since transferring, anyways. This is so cool! Of course I'll come!"
He felt engulfed in her enthusiasm and that would normally irritate him. Instead, he was just happy to see her so enthused by a gesture so small. Danny accepted that Mindy was just a woman that showed a lot of excitement for little things. As a matter of fact, he was beginning to find it refreshing.
"Okay, calm down, calm down," he said with a chuckle. "I've got to finish up the report for the Hamilton case, so it'll be about another hour."
"That's fine," she replied. "I've still got to work on the request and document Jason and Morgan's accounts. We can head out together!"
Together. It was a word that would have made a loner like him twitch just the week prior. Now, however, the word – cloaked in enough excitement for the both of them – simply made him grin.
"Sounds like a plan."