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Collateral Damage

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“Well, the people want what they want, you know?” Michael chuckled awkwardly and glanced away.

Now that couldn’t be right. Alexei had only been casually commenting how strange it was that J.P.’s platform was radically different than the previous mayor. It happens, of course, it wasn’t completely unheard of, but Michael’s response was unusual.

“To be sure,” Alexei agreed, vaguely. He shook off the suspicion (for now), and took the coffee mug Michael was handing him. Michael Robertson was the founder and proprietor of the best coffee shop in River Heights, Michael’s Macchiato. Most everyone in the town had at least stopped by, if not frequented, the cafe. Alexei was one such frequent customer; he stopped by at least once a week to say hello and to re-caffeinate during tough cases.

Incidentally, Michael was also a member of the River Heights Elections Committee. He was an old friend of J.P. Bennington, the newly elected mayor of River Heights. Some citizens raised concerns that Michael had a conflict of interest this year, but they were assuaged when it was pointed out that Michael had done his job on the committee faithfully for over 20 years.

“So!” Michael clapped his hands together. “Anything afoot, Mr. Magnificent?” Alexei took a sip of the latte.

“Not at the moment,” Alexei admitted. “But I may have something coming up.” He smiled over the rim of the mug. “Would you fix me up another one of these to go? A little extra vanilla, if you wouldn’t mind.”

 

 

“Alexei! What a wonderful surprise!” Maggie flashed a smile at him from behind her desk. Alexei returned the smile. Her wavy blonde hair was tied back into a ponytail at the base of her neck, and her blue dress made her eyes shine.

“Hello, Mags,” Alexei said. He perched himself on the edge of her desk and held out a paper coffee cup to her. Her grin widened as she took it from him.

“This for me? What are you angling for, Lexi?” She took a sip. “Extra vanilla, even. Now I know you’re up to something.”

“Now, I don’t have to have a reason to come by Town Hall and see my best girl, do I?” He glanced up at the hallway her receptionist desk guarded.

“Not that I’m complaining; it’s always lovely to see you,” she winked at him. He and Mags had been dancing around each other for about a year now. He met her on a case he was working for her father.

Maggie was supposed to inherit a necklace from her deceased mother on her 18th birthday, but the necklace had gone missing about a week before. Mr. Clark had been beside himself trying to find his daughter’s birthday present. It ended up being lodged in between the dresser and the wall, but Mr. Clark had been very appreciative nonetheless. Today, the blue gem sat neatly just below Maggie’s collarbone on a simple silver chain.

“I was at Michael’s and thought I’d pick up an extra latte for a certain secretary I know.” Maggie’s cheeks flushed lightly.

“That was sweet of you.” She placed the cup down by the notebook in front of her. “Now why are you really here?” Alexei chuckled; he could never fool Maggie.

“I really did want to see you, but I think I’ve got a case that the mayor might be interested in. Is he all settled in his office?” Maggie pursed her lips and reached for the records book on the corner of her desk. She flipped to today’s date.

“He’s been settled for about a week now, but he’s not here at the moment. I believe he’s out to lunch.” She looked back up at him, smiling politely.

“Ah, that’s a shame. I’ll come back later, then.” Alexei attempted to look disappointed as he stood up. “Restrooms down the hall?”

“Same place they always are, Lexi,” Maggie shook her head and opened her desk drawer to retrieve her own lunch. Alexei nodded and headed down the hallway, out of Maggie’s line of sight. He passed the restrooms on his way to the mayor’s office. He tugged his handkerchief out of his vest pocket and placed it over the doorknob, turning the handle. A smile played over his lips when there was no resistance.

Once inside the office, Alexei went straight to the desk. He tried a few of the drawers, finding nothing but paperclips and pens in most of them, until the larger drawer on the right side didn’t budge. Gotcha. There was a lock on the drawer. Alexei rooted around the drawers until he found a small key hiding behind some pens in the back of one. With a click, the drawer unlocked.

Files lined the drawer, each helpfully labeled. Alexei hesitated. This was only a hunch. Did he really need to stick his nose into this? He thought of Michael’s nervous chuckle earlier. Michael was always self-assured, charismatic. Alexei had grown up with Michael’s Macchiato just down the street from his parents’ house. Was this something he should be looking into? J.P. Bennington’s sly smile thrown towards Maggie at his last campaign rally came to the forefront of Alexei’s mind.

He rifled through the files a little more forcefully than necessary. Contacts, Public Works (Completed), Public Works (In Progress)… Alexei flipped through the files until he found what he was looking for.

The Financials file was just as dry as Alexei expected it to be. Nothing out of the ordinary. Expenditures for town hall staff salaries, a couple of budget lines for the upcoming Time Capsule, nothing strange stood out to Alexei. That’s to be expected, he thought to himself, replacing the file. If anything fishy was going on, why would Bennington keep it in his work desk? This case (if it could even be called such a thing in this early stage) would require a little more legwork. He shut and relocked the desk drawer, tossing the keys into the back of the top drawer afterwards.

Shutting the door carefully behind him, the dark-haired detective glanced down the hallway. Maggie didn’t seem to have moved from her post. He took a breath and walked back towards the front entrance.

“It was good to see you, Mags,” he smiled as he approached her. Her face lit up again.

“You as well, Lexi. Don’t be a stranger, alright? You know where to find me.” She continued writing in her notebook. Alexei brushed his fingers on her desk as he passed, still never brave enough to touch her.

Once he heard the click of the door shutting behind him, Alexei took a deep breath and contemplated his next move.

Breaking and entering the mayor’s house would be… novel to Alexei’s detective career, but it wasn’t unusual for Alexei to be in places he shouldn’t.

What was one more trespassing charge?