I always felt that Ryan got the shaft between Always and Cloudy with a Chance of Murder. He was the only one who did the right thing, but was treated like crap by Esposito and Kate didn't even thank him for saving her life. I wanted to give Kevin closure. It's pretty well AU from After the Storm. This is my first Castle fic, so pardon any OOC-ness. Standard disclaimer applies. I don't own the characters, heaven knows I'm making no money, don't sue. ~ Mel
The hard concrete vibrated through his feet with each pounding step, breath harsh in his throat, and his lungs burned with every panting intake. This would be so much easier if he wasn't so deeply, fucking exhausted. He was starting to regret his choice of footwear as well. His heart pulsed loudly in his ears, and he could swear his vision was starting to gray a bit at the edges.
“Stop, or I'll shoot!”
Of course he was bluffing. He couldn't spare the time it would take to draw his weapon and, at this speed, he'd be lucky to hit the broad side of a barn even if he did risk it. His so-called “partner” was half a block behind, so no help there.
The half-tweaked drug dealer and wanna be boyfriend of their vic, also the current favorite as her killer, ducked into an alley. Gasping in another deep breath, the detective slowed his momentum enough to turn the corner a few steps behind him. Only to have a blinding pain burst through his midsection when the drug dealer swung a board into his stomach.
Doubled over, vision definitely graying this time, Detective Kevin Ryan had time for one thought before grappling with the murder suspect. This is gonna be bad.
Ignoring the burn in his belly and lower ribs, he stood up and twisted so his right hip was furthest from the man hefting the broken two-by-four like a Louisville Slugger. Before Kevin could reach his weapon, the board swung again. Blocking it with his left arm, he bit back a howl of pain and instinctively grabbed the board with his right. Detective Ryan gave a mighty jerk and the board came free of the dealer's hand. He flung it behind him and again started to reach for his weapon.
The tweaker roared in fury and launched himself at the detective, wrapping his arms around him and taking them both to the grimy concrete of the alley. It was suddenly a free-for-all schoolyard scrap. Ryan grunted as an elbow caught him on the left side of his face. The dealer was a good four inches taller and twenty pounds heavier than the detective and Ryan knew he had to end this fast or he was in serious trouble.
Smaller and faster, as well as trained in self-defense, Kevin finally managed to twist around and wrap his legs around the suspect. He slid into position and got the guy into an arm bar just as Coker jogged into the alley from the street. The older detective met Ryan's eyes briefly before his gaze slid away. “You okay, Ryan?”
Cold anger flashed in cobalt eyes as Detective Ryan glared up at his temporary partner and practically snarled. “Just cuff him.”
Detective Matt Coker bent down to slap the cuffs on the captured arm and Ryan rolled off so the older man could reach the other wrist. Once the suspect was handcuffed and hauled up, Ryan staggered to his feet and bit back a moan. No way in hell was he going to show any weakness in front of Coker. Kevin had done his best for nearly three weeks now to keep the emotion from his face. To keep what they were doing to him from showing.
It was an uncomfortable and long walk back to the car with their suspect and Ryan let Coker handle the jackass. It was all Kevin could do to keep upright. His abdomen burned like fire with every inhalation, and his left forearm throbbed a steady beat. He knew he was going to be sporting a black eye in the morning. Thank goodness his wife was in Paris on business. He hated when Jenny worried.
Jenny was the only one that would be worrying. The others...were gone. He was the Judas now. A pariah in the bullpen. A tiny desert island in the tumultuous sea that was now the 12th Precinct's Homicide division. All because he had made the hard choice and done the right thing.
On the long ride back to the precinct, Detective Ryan leaned his forehead against the cool glass of the passenger window and once again slipped into the self-destructive circular second-guessing that had become his constant companion since that day. The day he went behind the backs of two of the most important people in his life.
Maybe he should have called Castle a couple more times. But he had been almost a second too late on that roof as it was. He'd had to round up backup at the 12th and he had had to clear it with Gates first. That had taken time, right? Suppose he'd spent that time trying to get Castle to answer his freaking phone? But suppose Castle never did? Kevin would have had to get backup and explain it to Gates anyway and he would have missed her. Literally missed her as she fell.
But, what if Castle had answered his phone? Then Kevin wouldn't be missing his best friend. He wouldn't have just got his ass kicked as punishment for betraying his brother and sister in blue. What if Castle hadn't answered his phone? What if Kevin had just gone by himself and not taken backup, not spoken to Gates? But, Kevin knew the answer to that one as well. He never would have been able to pull Beckett up from that ledge by himself. The only thing that had kept him from going over with her had been the secure grip on his belt by the two guys behind him on that roof.
Yep. Circular. Self-destructive. And never far from his mind.
When Coker parked the car at the 12th, Detective Ryan opened the door and clenched his teeth tightly to keep from making any sound. The fire in his ribs and belly re-kindled. Gulping back a sudden surge of nausea, Ryan opened the door to the back seat and yanked their suspect from the car. He shoved the taller man at Coker and trailed a step behind the pair as Matt led the handcuffed suspect up to Homicide and to an interrogation room.
Several detectives from the bullpen walked over to slap Coker on the back and congratulate him on catching the killer. Ryan's glare burned at their backs, but none of them had even spared him a glance. Coker and his partner Pete Walters led the suspect into the small room to begin the interrogation. But, really, it was a formality. Kevin had already found the proof they needed. Not that any of them were going to admit to that. Detective Ryan was fairly certain his name would be left out of that part of the report.
Ryan was still seething with barely suppressed anger as he made his way slowly to his desk and saw the stack of files waiting for him. It had grown while he was taking a beating in that alley. A beating he knew Coker had purposely let happen. The man was pushing forty, but was still in excellent shape. Kevin knew damn well Coker could kick his ass on the track any day. His “partner” had been slow, knowing Ryan would have trouble subduing the suspect on his own. Or hoping Kevin couldn't catch him and would look stupid for letting the suspect get away.
Easing himself slowly into his chair, Kevin paused to clear his angry thoughts and reached for the first file. This was his life now. Homicide's whipping boy. He didn't know now much longer he could keep it up. He rubbed at his burning eyes and fought a surge of fatigue. He was just so very, very tired.
Captain Gates watched Detective Ryan's progress across the bullpen and noted the disheveled look and the blossoming bruise on his face. Her dark eyes narrowed, though her ire was not directed at Kevin Ryan. Victoria Gates was no fool. She knew Detective Ryan had made a hard choice the day he went behind his partners' backs and assembled backup. She knew the unspoken code in law enforcement and knew Ryan had broken that code in order to save his friends' lives. Of course everyone else conveniently forgot about the saving lives part. They only focused on the going-behind-their-backs part. An unforgivable betrayal. Leaving one detective on admin leave and the other...turned in her shield and gun. Resigned. Not that Gates had ever forwarded that resignation. Again, Victoria Gates was no fool, and had known Detective Beckett would never be able to leave the job like that.
Kate Beckett would be returning once she had served out her suspension., along with Javier Esposito. But, they were not her concern right now. Gates was already two detectives down. Three if you counted Castle. And Gates would never ever admit that she counted Castle among them.
Watching Kevin Ryan as he started on what was probably another detective's paperwork, she could see the bruising under his red-rimmed eyes that had nothing to do with whatever had just happened. His stiff posture hinted at some other discomfort and he held his left arm closely to his belly. Already trim and wiry before, Ryan seemed even thinner now.
Gates knew how everyone was treating him. She knew they were probably doing everything within their power to make his life miserable. But unless Detective Ryan told her specifics and made a formal complaint, her hands were tied. She also knew that Kevin Ryan would never admit to her that anything was going on. He almost seemed to accept it as his due punishment for his betrayal.
Captain Gates was afraid she'd be losing another detective before Beckett's and Esposito's admin leave was up.
By the time Kevin got the stack of files to a manageable size, a glance at the clock showed it was after 8pm. The bullpen was empty, which was a welcome relief. Well, almost empty. Detective Walters stopped in the doorway, jangling his car keys. Walters reminded Ryan a lot of Castle. Tall, sandy hair and boyish. But instead of having a goofy smile and an eager gleam in his eyes, the detective gave off an egotistical, cruel vibe.
“Hey, Judas! I gotta take my kid to the doctor early in the morning, so the lieutenant switched us out. You've got the on-call the next three days. I'll take yours next week.”
With that, Walters smirked and headed for the elevator. The pencil in Kevin's hand snapped as the doors closed, leaving him alone in the bullpen. He knew damn well Walters would get out of taking the on-call next week. Just as Coker had done the last three days. And Bryant the three days before that. Of course, they all went to different supervisors with their sob stories so that nobody realized the same person was getting stuck with the on-call every time. Fuck.
It was useless to fume over the situation. There was nothing he could do about it accept go to Gates. And that had worked out so well for him so far, hadn't it? With nobody around to hear, Kevin did nothing to muffle his groan of pain as he stood from his chair and stretched to a standing position. The fire had banked to a more manageable dull pain, so Ryan no longer feared internal damage. Just severe bruising. He flexed his left hand and rotated his wrist. Nothing broken in his arm, probably. Certainly not painful enough to want to spend the next several hours in an ER waiting room for x-rays.
He gathered up his phone and keys and headed for the elevator to go home. While he was glad Jenny was away so that she didn't see the damage to his face and ask awkward questions, he was so very lonely at night with her gone. Nobody was there to help keep the demons away.
His mind played the “what if” loop most of the way home, but he was too tired to pay it as much attention. He stopped briefly for some Thai and trudged up the stairs to his and Jenny's apartment. Once inside, he locked the door behind him and headed for the kitchen. With no wife there to demand he use real dishes, Kevin simply grabbed a bottle of water and a paper towel in lieu of a napkin and headed for his couch.
Jenny had agreed to keep the road-kill couch. It was comfortable and she liked the color. But she had insisted on getting it cleaned, which Kevin had happily done. Esposito had been happy about the cleaning too, never having gotten over the fact that his partner had found it abandoned on a sidewalk. Kevin's sighed softly at that memory and he picked up the remote control to turn on the TV to distract himself. He would visit that problem in his sleep. No sense in dwelling on it while awake.
When the phone rang at 4:08am, it was a blessed relief. Kevin jolted out of his nightmare just as Beckett slipped from his grasp and started the long fall to the concrete. At least this time he would be spared the gruesome image of her body as it hit the ground. That one induced a mad dash to the bathroom every time.
“Ryan.” His voice was a rough croak and he muffled the speaker to clear his throat as he listened to the cop on the other end. “Yeah, I got it. Be there in about twenty. You call the ME? Okay, thanks.”
Dragging himself from the bed, Kevin stumbled into the bathroom and ran a cold shower. He spent only enough time under the icy spray to wake up and rub a little body wash around to rinse off the sweat before stepping out and toweling dry. He didn't pay a lot of attention to what he put on and simply ran a hand through his hair a few times. He just couldn't be bothered. He was out of the apartment and headed for the crime scene in record time.
There was nothing like an abandoned warehouse in the wee hours of the morning to bring out the creepy feelings. Suppressing a shudder that was only partially due to said creepiness, Kevin headed for the yellow crime scene tape and portable lights. He relaxed minutely when he recognized the form kneeling by the body. Dr. Lanie Parish. Ryan was grateful, because he didn't think he could handle the crankiness of Perlmutter right now.
Hunching his shoulders against the glares he knew were directed at his back by some of the officers on the scene, Kevin stared at the body a moment then turned to Lanie. “What do we have?”
Lanie stopped with her pin poised over her notebook, and frowned up the remaining member of Beckett's team. Ryan looked like hell. Bluish shadows under his eyes, his hair was a disheveled mess, his tie didn't match his shirt and his left cheek was swollen and bruised. “What the hell happened to you?”
Touching his cheek gingerly, Kevin shrugged. “Suspect.”
“Uh-huh.” It was amazing how much disbelief Lanie could express in a simple tone. “And weren't you on call last night? And five nights ago when we had the dead girl in the park?”
After glancing around at the hostile faces by the crime scene tape, Keven pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Just tell me what we have, okay Lanie? Something came up and I got the on-call again. The sooner I get started, the sooner we can wrap this up and start chasing leads.”
“Uh-huh.” Again that disbelief. “Our vic is a Caucasian male, appears to be about 20-25 but no ID. Looks like a single GSW to the chest and I figure time of death between midnight and 3am. A homeless guy stumbled across him, looking for a place to crash and actually called it in on a pay phone.”
“Yeah, wonders never cease.” Kevin walked around the body and squatted opposite Lanie to get a better look, wincing at the pain in his abdomen as he did so. The young man had blond hair that would probably have been curly if it had been shorter. He had a scar on his left cheek about half an inch long, but the pale face was otherwise unremarkable. Ryan could tell from the amount of blood and the spray pattern that the victim had been shot at the scene. “What was he doing out here at this time of night? We find any shell casings?”
“Nope, nothing.” Scribbling in her notepad, Lanie glanced up and her gaze shifted over Ryan's shoulder. She caught the eyes of the two officers glaring daggers at the detective's back and frowned. The two men guiltily looked away, and she shifted her focus to the detective across from her. Her expression softened and she tried to catch Kevin's eye as he visually cataloged the body. “Hey, Ryan.”
Dull blue eyes met her gaze and she frowned in concern. “Are you okay? Are things in Homicide...I mean...are they okay?”
Ryan's eyes skittered around at the circle of officers, flitted back to Lanie and away again. He knew that, when it came to his friends, he was a terrible liar. Avoidance was his best defense. He stood quickly and looked at his surroundings. “I better take a look around and see if there are any cameras in the area.”
“Ryan, don't you think you should take someone with you? This place gives me the willies.” Lanie stood and made a failed attempt to capture Ryan's eye. “Kevin?”
At the use of his given name, Kevin briefly caught her concerned look and glanced away. Looking once again at the hostile faces pretending not to be listening to every word, he shrugged and shoved his hands into his pockets. “It's safer if I do it by myself.”
With that cryptic remark, he was striding quickly away into the darkness, and Lanie watched him go with a growing sense of dread. It occurred to her that this was the first thing resembling a conversation they'd had since Kate Beckett and Javier Esposito made the wrong-headed decision to go after Maddox on their own. It looked like they weren't the only ones being punished for the events of that day. Lanie crossed her arms, addressing the officers at large. “If I find out one of you laid a hand on that man, I'm gonna make sure you lose your badge. You get me?”
A few officers looked back with bewildered faces, but the majority looked away or shuffled guiltily. Apparently, news on the PD grapevine spread fast and far. But had somehow missed Lanie in the morgue. The ME narrowed her eyes and vowed to keep her ear to the ground to be sure someone had Ryan's back. Obviously, no one else did.
The area around the crime scene gave Kevin the creeps, but it still seemed safer to go it alone and only have to worry about the unseen dangers. He shouldn't have to worry about what a fellow cop might do given darkness and no witnesses. It made him sad that he even considered that scenario. Why wouldn't Esposito just talk to him? Five years of partnership and friendship, gone in an instant. Hearing the name Judas hurled at him by others at the 12th didn't hurt nearly as badly as having heard it come from his own partner's mouth. It was that moment Kevin had known he would not be forgiven. Only anger had kept him going after that.
Derailing that train of thought, Kevin kept his ears attuned to every noise in the deserted street and kept his eyes high for signs of security cameras. He didn't really have high hopes for it, but it was worth a try. Half an hour of fruitless searching proved his hunch right, however. Nothing. The exhausted detective trudged back to the crime scene, made sure CSU had taken over, climbed back into his car and headed for the precinct.
The drive back to the 12th scared Kevin badly enough to give him the jolt of adrenaline needed to make it there in one piece, but he had been so close to that light pole it freaked him out. He hadn't even realized he'd dozed off. He seriously needed some nightmare-free sleep. He couldn't take a sleeping pill because of being on-call. If this kept up, he'd have to take a taxi to the next crime scene. As it was, Kevin was determined to take the subway home and leave his car at the 12th.
Once safely in the bullpen, Ryan headed over to the murder board and wrote in what information he had on the vic and the location of the crime. Even his handwriting was shaky. Great, something else for people to complain about. With a depressed sigh, he returned to his desk and booted up his computer. He might as well get started on the footwork. Who owned the building? Any missing persons reports matching the victim? Any recent crimes in that area? There wasn't a whole lot he could do until they could ID the guy, and that would have to wait for fingerprints. Assuming their vic was in the system.
By the time the rest of the detectives rolled in a few hours later, a few pieces of paper had been added to the murder board. The warehouse was owned by a company called West Enterprises, owned in turn by a man named Kyle Sutter. There were no recent reports of any major crimes in the area and no missing persons reports matching their dead body.
The detective responsible for the information was hunched over at his desk, head pillowed on his arms, breathing deeply in sleep. A few weeks ago, he would have been left in peace to wake on his own. They'd all been there and knew how it felt. But that was before Maddox. Before betrayal and disloyalty.
A large stack of files was dropped unceremoniously on Detective Ryan's desk, narrowly missing his head. “Hey, Judas! Got some cold cases for ya. Don't worry, we'll take care of the John Doe that came in last night.”
Jerking awake, Kevin sat up too quickly and hissed in discomfort. He blinked blearily at Walters and bit back his first response, which was to tell the pompous detective where he could stick those files. Rather than giving him the satisfaction, Ryan handed him the crisp new file on their John Doe and slid the stack of cold cases closer to his computer. At least this would keep him from pounding the pavement with some other asshole detective for the day. On the plus side, he could take an actual lunch break at the precinct. Skype with Jenny just to hear a friendly voice. He couldn't wait for Espo's admin leave to be over so his partner could re-join him. Assuming, of course, that Esposito would re-join him as his partner. Or would even talk to him.
From much practice over the last three weeks, Kevin dragged his mind away from that thought and dug into the first cold case. A murdered little girl. Seven years old. Great.
It was long, horrible day. Apparently, being stuck in the precinct all day wasn't the relief Ryan had thought it would be. Most of the detectives moving around the bullpen managed to bump into him at some point during the day. Or knock files off his desk. Or spill hot coffee on his shirt. Or “accidentally” stick a foot out to trip him up as he walked by. It was like being back in the tenth grade.
As soon as the clock hit five, Kevin grabbed his things and bolted for the stairs. No way in hell he was getting stuck in an elevator with those clowns. He knew it was showing weakness to leave in such a hurry, but he just couldn't take another minute of that atmosphere. He did as he'd promised himself and left his car at the 12th and took the subway home.
Once home, he took a hot shower then settled on the couch in his boxers to find some mindless television show while he ate leftover Thai. Seemingly against his will, his hand picked up his cell phone from the coffee table during yet another episode of some stupid “reality” show and long slim fingers typed out the thirtieth text to Javier.
Javi, just call me. Please. He hit send before he could re-think it and waited. He knew he would still be waiting when morning rolled around.
Kevin never made it to bed, falling asleep on the road-kill couch instead. The television was still flashing its light across the room from an infomercial when the detective bolted up from sleep, one word ripping from his tightening throat.
Wiping sweaty bangs from his eyes, Kevin gave a strangled moan and scrambled off the couch. The kitchen was closest. The detective barely made it to the sink before heaving up that evening's Thai. Made even more fun by the aching soreness of his bruised abdomen. Once he was finished, he rested his clammy forehead on the edge of the cool stainless steel and laughed mirthlessly. “Great, now I have to clean the sink.”
He rinsed out the sink, filled it with water, dumped in some bleach and just left it. He then crawled in the bed to try to salvage what was left of the night. As he checked his phone to be sure his alarm was set, he confirmed that Javier had once again ignored him. Kevin had no sooner begun to drift back into sleep, when the phone rang. One glance at the screen showed the ID as NYPD dispatch. “Oh, c'mon!”
The trip to the crime scene was a blurry memory. Ryan had asked for a uni to meet him at his building and had hitched a ride to the location. Which, naturally, had to be a fifth floor walk up. Trudging up the stairs, practically pulling himself up by the railing, Kevin spared a thought that it must suck to be a medic or body snatcher in this city. Once he reached the fifth floor, he followed the sounds of police radios to room 514. The apartment was small, made even smaller by the crowd of officers, CSU techs and the ME. Too many people. Ryan squeezed past a uniformed officer into the tiny living room and raised his voice.
“If you're not collecting evidence or a body, please step out into the hall.”
A dozen heads swiveled his way and Det. Ryan could tell more than one thought briefly about challenging his authority. But his badge trumped theirs' and they knew it. With bad grace, the unies left the room. Kevin met their stares with his own icy gaze. Sore and exhausted he might be, but Ryan was a seasoned NYPD Homicide Detective and he wasn't going to take any more crap at a crime scene.
Once the room cleared and was a little less stifling, Kevin made his way over to the body. Taking a fortifying breath, preparing himself, the detective stood next to Sidney Perlmutter. Ryan took one look at the body and raised a surprised eyebrow at the ME. “What the hell?”
A rare chuckle escaped Perlmutter as he knelt once more by the body. “I know. That was pretty much my first thought. Clearly, this is not the original crime scene.”
“Clearly.” Kneeling next to Perlmutter, Kevin used a pen to lift the front of the decomposed jacket to check the pockets. “I don't suppose you have anything yet.”
“Not much. Female, say twenty-five to thirty-five judging by her teeth. The ones that are left, anyway. I'd say Caucasian, but won't know for sure until I get her on the slab. Probably been dead ten to fifteen years.”
“Huh.” Kevin wrote everything down in his notebook, along with a description of the clothing as best he could tell from what was left. A skirt suit, possibly blue. The skirt was cinched with a belt that bore what was probably once a sparkling letter G. Gucci? Maybe the first letter of the person's name? “Wonder how the heck she ended up here?”
“Well, that would be your job, Detective Ryan.”
And there was the Perlmutter he knew and dreaded. Kevin stood and headed out into the hall to track down the landlord. He found the landlord pacing the lobby, grumbling to himself and shooting dark looks at the uniformed officer at the door. The landlord was a heavyset man with about three days' growth of stubble and hair that was more gray than brown. Ryan moved to block his pacing and flashed his badge.
“Detective Ryan, Homicide. Can you tell me who lives in 514, Mr.-?”
The landlord folded his arms and sighed, but clearly decided cooperation was faster than obstruction. “Coleman. Damian Coleman. Guy leasing that apartment was a kid named Bowen. Chris...Kevin...Case. Yeah, Case Bowen. Punk's three weeks behind in his rent. I went in to fix the sink and leave him a late notice and found the Mummy instead.”
Jotting the name down in his notebook, Kevin nodded then glanced back up. “Can you describe him?”
The landlord clucked his tongue in irritation, frowned in concentration and finally bobbed his head. “Yeah, young. Mid-twenties maybe. Average height, kinda thin. Blond hair, longish and kinda wavy.” Coleman touched his left cheek. “Got a scar right there. Haven't seen the kid in a couple a days.”
Ryan stood frozen, pen poised over his notebook. That just described...wasn't that...? “Thanks Mr. Coleman.” Without another word, the detective headed back up the stairs with a renewed burst of energy. When it came to dead bodies, there was no such thing as a coincidence.
Somewhere around the fourth floor, Kevin's energy began to flag and he was forced to slow down. He really needed to try to eat more. And sleep. Yeah, sleep would be great. He took advantage of his slowed pace and pulled on a pair of blue latex-free gloves. He had planned to let CSU comb the apartment, but now he really needed to find a picture of the apartment's owner.
Ignoring the uniformed officers still milling in the hallway, Kevin ducked back into the apartment. He went straight to the bedroom, looking for framed pictures. Sure enough, there was one on the dresser of Case Bowen and a young woman. Girlfriend, probably. The detective slipped the picture from the frame and went back to the living area to get an evidence bag from Perlmutter. Ryan ignored the ME's eye roll and slid the picture into the plastic bag, sealed it up and put it in his coat pocket.
Stepping out into the hall, Kevin glanced around at the uniforms and tried to find someone familiar and non-hostile. He smiled at the taller African-American officer near the stairs. “Hey, Scott, can you give me a lift to the 12th?”
Officer L.T. Scott ignored the pointed looks from several of his brothers in blue and waved his arm. “Sure, Detective. I was about ready to take my break anyway, and I hear you got a killer espresso machine in Homicide.”
Grateful for a friendly face, Kevin grinned and followed Scott down the stairs. “You're welcome to use it any time, Scott. Any time.”
The ride back to the precinct was the most relaxed Ryan had been in days. Scott kept up a steady stream of chatter as he drove and seemed to instinctively know that the detective in his passenger seat wasn't up to reciprocating. Kevin let the comforting cadence of L.T.'s words drift around him and had dozed off halfway to the 12th.
“We're here, detective. Hey, Ryan, wake up.”
Jerking himself away, Kevin blinked in confusion for a moment. At the concerned look on the officer's face, he grimaced and rubbed a hand over his face. “Jeez, Scott. I'm so sorry, man. I didn't mean to be rude and nod off on ya.”
Ryan climbed out of the car and joined Officer Scott on his way into the precinct. Once on the elevator, Scott sighed and turned to the exhausted looking detective next to him. “Look, Detective Ryan. I know what's goin' on here at the 12th. I got a buddy works in Narcotics and he told me what happened. For the record, he's pretty pissed about how those guys are treating you. You still have friends in Narco, just so you know. They remember you and know you did the right thing.”
Officer Scott shrugged self-consciously as the elevator dinged and the doors slid open. Stepping off and heading in the direction of the break room, Scott smiled encouragingly. “This'll all blow over soon and all anyone will remember is that you saved Kate Beckett's life.”
Kevin was so stunned by the unexpected conversation, the doors had started to close again before he could move. He reached out and slapped his hand on the side of the door to keep them open and stepped off. The detective ran Scott's words through his head as he made his way over to the murder board. He hoped they were true. It certainly made him feel good to know he still had friends down in Narcotics. That not everyone had turned on him.
Running the name Case Bowen through the DMV and watching the driver's license picture pop up confirmed Kevin's suspicion. The dead man from the warehouse was Case Bowen. Why was there a decade old body in his apartment? What had Case been doing in that warehouse in the middle of the night? Who was the mummified corpse? Questions swirled around Ryan's head and he desperately missed Javier, Beckett and even Castle. Bouncing ideas off each other sparked hunches and connections to things previously missed. And made the horrors they witnessed bearable.
Maybe going back to Narcotics wasn't such a bad idea. Except that Kevin had hated who he'd become those last few months in Narco. The job had changed him and he didn't want to go back to that person again. Kevin gave himself a shake to erase his funk and spun the murder board around to use the empty back side. Using a magnetic clip, the detective hung the picture up on the board. He uncapped a dry erase marker and stared thoughtfully at Case Bowen before writing underneath it, “Victim/Suspect”. Kevin added in the details of the decomposed body as he knew them and a description of the clothing.
There was something there, niggling at the back of his mind. Something about the clothing. He knew there was a clue there. He knew something and just couldn't bring the memory into the light where he could see it. Kevin recognized that he was barely functioning, having had so little sleep for such a long stretch of days. If he was going to come up with some brilliant solution, he was going to have to get some rest.
He finished filling in the board with the details of the time line of the body's discovery, the last time the landlord had seen Case and the time Case's body was found in the warehouse. Once done, he recapped the pen and flipped the board back around. Not a lot had been added to Bowen's side of the board as victim. The wound in the chest was from a .45 and fairly instantaneous. The time line had a few notations of credit card purchases and a subway card swipe. Still a long way to go.
Leaving the pen in the tray, Ryan headed downstairs to the morgue. The employees down on the first floor had a great couch in their break room and he knew he'd be undisturbed for a while. Sure enough, the place was empty. Once upon a time, Kevin might have found it a bit creepy. But now, he was just grateful for the peace. The detective took off his jacket and hung it on the back of a chair. Loosening his tie and undoing the top button of his dress shirt, he flopped down on the fake leather sofa with a sigh of relief. He didn't so much fall asleep as hurtle into it head first.
When Lanie Parish walked down the hall to the break room to get her first at-work cup of coffee, she saw two lab techs standing in the doorway with fresh steaming cups and having a whispered conversation. She frowned, assuming is was work gossip of some kind. The two men parted to let her into the break room and she re-assessed her assumption. She turned back and raised an inquiring eyebrow at the techies. The shorter one, Petersen, quirked a smile and shrugged. “Don't look at us. He was there when we got here. Didn't so much as twitch as we got our coffee, so we figured we'd leave him there.”
“Thanks, guys.” As the two men turned to leave, Lanie reached out a hand to stop them. “Listen, let's keep this to ourselves. It doesn't leave the morgue. He's got enough to deal with up there right now, and those clowns would find a way to tease him about crashing down here.”
Petersen nodded solemnly and the techs headed off to their lab. Lanie slipped quietly into the break room and shut the door softly. Detective Ryan slept soundly, even as Lanie carefully removed his shoes and put them on the floor by the sofa. The ME walked over to her locker and pulled out a small lap blanket she kept there for the times she used the break room for a quick power nap. She draped it over the sleeping detective then went to sit at the table as she pulled her cell phone from her pocket and hit speed dial.
“Captain Gates? Good morning to you, too, sir. I was just calling to ask if I could borrow Detective Ryan for a few hours this morning. He's helping me out with something for the warehouse body we found the other day. Yes, sir. I'll be sure to send him back upstairs as soon as we're finished. I appreciate it, Captain. Thank you.”
Don't let it be said that Lanie Parish couldn't bluff with the best of them. The next call wouldn't be so easy, but she dialed the number just the same. The ME took a calming breath as she waited for the call to be answered. This conversation was overdue and would have to be handled delicately. And delicate was not a word usually associated with Lanie Parish. The ringing stopped and a gruff you-just-woke-me-up voice answered from the other end. “Esposito.”
“Hey, Javi. Sorry for waking you up.”
“Hey, chica. You wanna grab lunch again today?”
“Not today, Javi. That's not why I'm calling.” There was a long pause as Esposito waited for her to continue and Lanie tried to find the best way to bring it up. “Listen, have you-have you talked to Ryan since the Maddox/Senator Bracken thing?”
“Ryan? Why would I?”
Lanie could hear the hurt and anger in Javier's voice and once again cursed Beckett's decision for she and Esposito to take on Maddox on their own. “Javi, I know you're angry and I know you feel like Ryan betrayed you both, but have you seriously thought about what would have happened that day if he hadn't?”
She could tell the breath she heard Javi blow out was an angry one. “I'm not having this conversation with you, Lanie. Call me again if you want to get together, but I'm not re-hashing what he did.”
The call disconnected, and Lanie silently fumed for several long minutes. Men. She knew Javier was angrier at himself for letting Maddox get the drop on him, for not being there on that roof with Beckett. Esposito couldn't bring himself to lash out at Beckett, so he instead hit back at the next closest target. His partner.
Rolling her eyes, Lanie dialed once more. This conversation had better go more smoothly or Lanie was going to stop using words and start using her hands to fix this. More than one person needed a good slap upside the head.
Once again a sleepy voice answered the phone. “Rick Castle.”
“Castle?!” Lanie quickly glanced over at Ryan, but the detective hadn't moved at her sudden outburst. Lowering her voice, the ME held the phone closer to her face. “What are you doing with Beckett's phone?”
“Uh...I thought it was mine?” The writer's voice made it more of a question than an answer.
“And why would your phone be anywhere near Kate's at this time of the morning?” Could it be? Could Beckett and Castle finally, finally have worked out that they were madly in love with each other? And why was Lanie just finding out now? Kate Beckett was a dead woman.
“Um, you know what? I'll just let you talk to Kate. Uh, Beckett. Here.”
There was muffled talking as the phone was clearly passed from Castle to Beckett, then Kate's sleepy and puzzled voice. “Lanie?”
“Girl, you owe me an explanation. And a drink. Or several. How long have you two been together?”
A sudden shyness crept into Kate's voice that made Lanie smile. “Since the night Maddox threw me off the roof.”
“Three weeks?! And I'm just hearing about it now?” At a noise from the couch, Lanie grimaced and looked over. Kevin had shifted a bit at her raise in volume, but quickly settled. “Dammit.”
“Not you. I almost woke up Ryan.”
“Kevin? Lanie, where are you?” There was confusion and a slight hint of accusation in Beckett's tone that made Lanie bristle.
“Yes, Kevin. And I'm in the break room at the morgue where your boy is sleeping off what I can only guess was another late night body drop.”
“We have a perfectly good sofa in Homicide. What's Ryan doing down in the morgue?”
“I'm guessing because even death is a better atmosphere than up in Homicide for him these days.”
Frustration was evident now in Beckett's voice. “Look, Lanie, I appreciate that you're clearly looking out for Ryan. But what exactly are you getting at? What atmosphere?”
“C'mon, Beckett. You've been a cop a long time now. How do cops usually get treated when they rat out their partners?”
There was a moment of silence on the other end then, “Oh, no. I didn't even think--. Castle and I...we've been so wrapped up in this new thing we have. God, Lanie, I haven't even talked to Ryan since we wrapped up the Maddox thing.”
Lanie was momentarily stunned. “Not once?”
“No.” Self-blame was evident in Kate's quiet admission. “What about Espo? Have he and Ryan talked about what happened? I know Esposito was giving him a hard time while we were trying to track down that file Maddox wanted.”
“That's a big fat 'no'.” A flare of anger had Lanie's fingers tightening reflexively on the phone. “I tried to talk to him about it earlier, but he's being his usual pig-headed self.”
There was a heavy sigh of guilt on the other end. “How's he holding up? Ryan.”
Lanie frowned and rubbed her forehead. “Look, Kate. You're my friend, you know that, but we need to fix this. Before permanent damage is done.”
“Come over to Castle's when you get off work. Have dinner with us and we'll figure something out.”
Oh, there would be payback tonight. “You're on, girl.”
“So, what's wrong with Ryan?”
Having only heard Beckett's part of the conversation, Castle's curiosity was bursting. He waited as Kate settled against his side and rested her head on his chest. He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. He still couldn't believe, after all this time, they had finally managed to break down their walls and admit to each other how they felt.
Kate's sigh ghosted across his chest as she spoke. “Lanie was kind of vague, but I guess the rest of the guys in Homicide are giving Ryan a hard time for going to Gates for backup. Espo won't talk to him and neither of us has said a word to the poor guy since we identified the Senator.”
Hearing the guilt in her voice, Castle gave her shoulder a comforting squeeze. “We'll all be back at the precinct soon, and we'll make it up to Ryan.”
Lifting her head so she could look Castle in the eye, Kate frowned. “I never even thanked him for saving my life, Rick. All I told Kevin was that I understood that he did what he did because he was looking out for us. I was on my way to the pavement when he caught me. And I never said thank you.”
Laying her head back down, Kate felt tears of regret and gratitude burn her eyes. “How do you forget something that important?”
Castle pulled her even closer at the mention of her near plummet to the earth from that rooftop. Just a split second later...it didn't bear thinking about. “I'm as guilty as you are, Kate. You're the most important woman in my life and I almost lost you. I'll never be able to repay Kevin for pulling you up from that ledge. Not ever.”
“How do I fix this?”
“We'll figure something out. With Kate Beckett and Richard Castle on the case, how can we lose?”
Beckett appreciated Castle's effort, but she knew it wouldn't be so easy. Esposito was nothing if not stubborn.
The sounds of ruffling paper and the scratching of a pen filtered into Ryan's hearing as he dragged himself from sleep, peeled his face from the sofa with a groan and sat up. He rubbed his face tiredly, felt the bristly stubble and mused that it was probably high time he shaved. He blinked a moment at the figure sitting at the table across the room.
The ME looked up and smiled at him, a gentle look on her face he hadn't seen before. “Hey, Kevin. It's about time you woke up. I was about to have to call Captain Gates and stall for more time.”
Still somewhat disoriented, Kevin glanced at his watch and grimaced. It was after 10:30am. His ass was grass. He swore and stood to grab his coat. Ryan was momentarily confused when he realized he wasn't wearing shoes and didn't remember having taken them off. He spotted them placed neatly beside the sofa, sat down and started to pull them on.
“There's no need to rush, Ryan. I told Gates you were down here helping me with the warehouse body.”
Kevin paused as he was tying his shoe and gave a half smile at the amused glint in Lanie's eyes. “Well, I can help make that a truth if you want.”
Lanie put her pen down and quirked an eyebrow. “Do tell.”
Finishing with his shoes, Ryan stood and slipped into his jacket. “Our dead guy in the warehouse can be identified as Case Bowen, age twenty-one.”
“And how did you find that bit of information? I ran the guys fingerprints and he wasn't in the system.”
“No, but his picture was in the apartment where we found Perlmutter's mummy and the landlord identified him as Case Bowen. I ran his name through the DMV and both pictures match our warehouse vic.”
“Mummy?” Lanie was missing a few pieces of the puzzle, clearly.
There was a stack of files on the table in front of Lanie, where she'd obviously been adding case notes. Ryan stood transfixed for a moment, his thoughts whirling. Files.
Shaking himself out of his stupor, Kevin turned and headed for the door. He'd made a connection. Swinging the door open, he shot an apologetic look over his shoulder at the stunned ME. “Sorry, Lanie, got to check something out. Perlmutter has all the notes on the corpse in Bowen's apartment. Can one of you call me when you have a cause of death on her?”
Without waiting for an answer Kevin hurried down the hall, skipped the elevator and jogged up the stairs instead, ignoring the dull ache of his bruised abdomen. He went straight to his desk and sat down to go through the stack of cold case files in his Out box. It was in one of those files. A belt buckle with the letter “G”. He remembered it now. The preoccupied detective ignored a few grumbles behind him about his late arrival and focused on the case notes in folder after folder until he found the one he was looking for.
The file contained the twelve year old disappearance of a woman named Denise Edwards. White female, light brown hair, 5'5”, thirty-two years of age. Last seen wearing a blue skirt, white blouse and matching blue suit jacket. Also, a navy blue belt with a rhinestone letter “G” as the buckle.
A bubble of excitement burst in Kevin's chest and he looked up out of habit then realized there was no longer anyone there to share the news with. A wave of sadness rolled over him, but Ryan shrugged it off. A case was waiting to be solved and couldn't be bothered with his personal problems. The detective went back to the case notes to try to locate next of kin, but apparently Denise had been a single mother. No parents or siblings listed. Her only child, a nine year old boy named Case.
“Language, Detective Ryan.”
Looking up in surprise, Kevin shrugged apologetically. “Sorry, Captain.”
Gates fought a smile at the sincere apology and tilted her head toward her office. “Why don't you step into my office and catch me up on the body found last night.”
Detective Ryan gathered up the cold case file on Edwards and preceded the Captain into her office. He perched nervously on the edge of the chair across from her desk. He knew Esposito kidded him for it mercilessly, but being called into the Captain's office always felt like being called to see the Principal. The nervousness was a knee-jerk reaction.
The Captain settled into her own comfortable chair, steepled her fingertips and raised an inquiring brow. “So, where are we on the body found last night?”
Kevin cleared his throat and slid the cold case file across the desk to Gates, opened to the clothing description. “The body is a woman by the name of Denise Edwards, age thirty-two, who disappeared twelve years ago.”
Sliding on her reading glasses, Gates picked up the folder and skimmed the notes. She glanced back up at the detective across from her. “Perlmutter just called up here about an hour ago and had nothing on the ID of the victim.”
“Well, he wouldn't. The only way I found it was because I've had so many cold case files the last few weeks and recognized the clothing description.” Letting his excitement at the other discovery overcome his innate nervousness, Kevin leaned forward and tapped at the file in Gates' hand. “And look at the name of her son. Case. He's the body that dropped two nights ago, found in a warehouse. The last names are different, but it can't be a coincidence that her body turned up in an apartment twelve years later owned by a kid named Case Bowen. I just have to figure out where her body's been all this time and why it's turning up now. Clearly her death eventually led to his for unknown reasons.”
Gates removed her glasses and handed the file back to Kevin. “Good work, Detective. Now that you've had a nap, maybe you'll be refreshed enough to verify their connection.”
The nervousness returned with a vengeance. “Uh, sir?”
Motioning to her own cheek, the Captain gave her detective a mock stern gaze. “Red marks on your face from the sofa.”
Rubbing at his cheek self-consciously, Ryan tried to come up with an excuse that wouldn't implicate Lanie. He started to speak, stopped, rethought and tried again only to end up with a resigned “Yes, sir.”
Discretion being the better part of valor, Kevin left it at that and went back to his desk. He figured the best way to solve Case's murder was to solve his mother's first. Like Castle always said, start at the beginning of the story and the end will naturally follow. With that thought, Ryan couldn't help glancing back to Beckett's desk and the empty chair next to it. He missed how much the writer's presence had really lightened the mood in the bullpen. He hoped Castle came back when Beckett did. At least that was one person who likely wouldn't treat Kevin like a pariah.
Poring over the file on Denise Edwards, Kevin searched for some kind of connection. Hitting a wall, he went down to records and signed out the evidence box for her case number. He blew off a decade's worth of dust and carried it back to his desk. Ignoring the evidence bags, he dug around until he found the notebook-the handwritten notes of the detectives who had investigated the disappearance.
Detective Ryan spent the next several hours going back and forth between the notes... really, the investigator's handwriting was worse than Kevin's own...and the case file, checking and re-checking facts. He took a short break to run to the restroom then hit the vending machines for some crackers and a granola bar. Add a cup of coffee from the break room and voila. Lunch. Which he ate while adding Denise's picture from the file to his side of the murder board, along with the details of where she worked and when she disappeared.
Kevin returned to his desk, brushing granola crumbs from his tie, when his phone rang. He dropped down in his chair and picked up the receiver, recognizing the extension as the morgue. “Detective Ryan.”
“You want the COD on the mummy?”
“What d'ya have for me, Perlmutter?”
“You'll love this, trust me.” Obviously, the ME was dragging it out for his own enjoyment.
“Hit me with it.”
“Well, if you insist. I hear you ID-ed the vic already. I ran the dental against the records in the file for Denise Edwards and you're right. It's definitely her. Cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the chest.”
Holy crap. Definitely not a coincidence. Kevin held his breath, waiting for the rest of it.
“By a .45. We're just waiting to hear back from ballistics.”
“You're awesome, Perlmutter. Thanks.”
“I know, and you're welcome.”
Ryan went back to the investigator's notebook with renewed energy. Both Denise and Case had been killed by a .45. There had to be something there that explained why she was murdered. And it was there. Buried in scribbled notes near the back of the notebook was the connection. A neighbor of Denise's had mentioned that she heard Mrs. Edwards say she was going to have dinner with a friend the day she disappeared. Elizabeth Sutter. Sutter. The name of the man who owned West Enterprises, the company that owned the warehouse where Bowen was found.
Bam said the lady.
The notes went on to advise that Elizabeth Sutter stated Denise had arrived at her office to meet for dinner. They left, ate at Il Giardino then returned to the office where they had left Denise's car. Elizabeth stated she had left first, as Denise had gone to use the restroom at the office before leaving. And that was where the time line ended. Denise's car had been found three weeks later abandoned in Queens. There was a brief mention of a related possible burglary case, so Kevin put in a request to pull the case number.
As far as the disappearance, that meant a dead end. But as for Mrs. Edwards' murder, Kevin had so much more to go on. He spent the next few hours on the phone. First, trying to track down Elizabeth Sutter. He finally managed to reach Kyle Sutter's secretary who stated the two had been in Chicago for the last week and were due back tomorrow. Ryan made an appointment for the next afternoon to speak to them both regarding the disappearance, and recent discovery, of Denise Edwards. He spent the rest of the shift trying to track down the records for Denise's son, Case. He finally managed to get a court order for the release of Case's CPS and/or adoption records, which would be available for the detective to pick up the following morning.
Once more flipping the murder board around to Denise's side, Kevin made another time line. He now had one for the disappearance and one for the recovered body. He filled in both with everything he now knew and added under 'persons of interest' Elizabeth and Kyle Sutter. Flipping the board back around, Detective Ryan contemplated adding more to Case Bowen's side. He quickly decided against it, until he knew for certain that Case Bowen was Denise's son. He was sure the CPS files would confirm his suspicion that Bowen was either Case's father's name or an adopted surname. He would update it then.
A glance at the clock showed it was almost seven. That was enough for one day. Kevin gathered up his jacket and keys and took the elevator downstairs. He paused to gauge his level of exhaustion and decided he was energized enough from the case to make it home in one piece. He was sure he would crash later, once the adrenaline of the hunt wore off. Ryan focused on the case as he drove home, pleased at the amount of information he'd been able to gather so far. If he caught a few breaks, he might actually solve two murders at one time. Not bad for a Judas.
By tacit agreement, dinner had been enjoyed with only non-current-work-related conversation when Lanie had arrived at Castle's home. The ME had been a bit surprised with how well Richard Castle could cook. Who knew the goofy writer had it in him? Still, it had been a nice, relaxing evening sharing stories of old cases and Lanie grilling them both about their blossoming relationship. She hadn't see Kate so relaxed and happy in a long time. If ever.
All good things come to an end, however, so when she took her last bite of chocolate mousse, Dr. Parish wiped her mouth and laid down her napkin. Taking a sip of wine, she watched as Castle and Beckett did the same. Once she had their undivided attention, she put down her glass. “So, you two are together, Esposito is brooding in his apartment and Ryan is being hounded mercilessly at the precinct.”
Kate Beckett glanced at Castle then back at Lanie. “What exactly are they doing at Homicide and why hasn't Gates done something about it?”
“Well, first of all, Gates can't do anything about anything if Ryan doesn't tell her about it. And after what happened the last time he went to her for help, I don't think he's going to tell Gates anything. He's already being called Judas by half the detectives up there. I doubt he wants to make things any worse than they already are. I talked to Perlmutter, and I think Ryan's been on call for the last week and a half. At least.”
Castle groaned and slumped guiltily in his chair. “I should have called him.”
“Yes, you should have.” Lanie gave him a look of stern exasperation. “Both of you should have. And if you haven't talked to Esposito, that's a phone call long overdue as well. But what's done is done, and all we can do now is repair the damage.”
At the pitiful look of shame on Castle's face, Lanie's expression softened. “Look, if you want to make amends then go see Esposito and Ryan. Make Javier come to his senses, and make sure Ryan doesn't drop dead from exhaustion before your suspension is up.”
Castle and Beckett exchanged a wordless look of agreement. Kate reached out and touched Lanie on the arm. “Thanks, Lanie, for looking out for the boys. I'll go talk to Esposito since I think he'll listen to me better than he would Castle.”
Nodding in agreement, Castle ran a hand through his hair and sat up straighter. “I'll check on Ryan. I owe him everything for saving Kate's life. It's time I started repaying that debt.”
“Glad to hear it.” Lanie stood and gathered up her plate and silverware. “Now, let me help with these dishes then I need to scoot. It's a work night for some of us you know.”
“Rub it in, Lanie.”
Shooting Beckett a stern look, Lanie shook her head. “Uh-uh, girl. You only have yourself to blame, there. Besides, you and your shadow will be darkening my door again before you know it.”
“It can't come soon enough.” Kate smiled at Castle's sudden pout. “It's not that I haven't enjoyed your company, Rick. It's just…it's what I do. What I am. And I miss it.”
Castle stood and leaned over to kiss the top of Kate's head as he picked up her empty plate and glass. “I know, Beckett. It's what makes you so amazing.”
“Ugh. Get a room.”
“I have one.” Waggling his eyebrows at their guest, Castle dodged the napkin Kate tossed at him and led Lanie to the sink to start rinsing the dishes. The evening hadn't gone as badly as he'd expected, all things considered.
The three worked like a well-oiled machine getting the dishes rinsed and loaded in Castle's high-tech dishwasher, spent a few minutes chatting as Lanie gathered up her coat and purse then all three walked down to the street where Castle flagged a taxi. After Lanie's cab pulled away, Rick linked his arm through Kate's and the two headed back up to his apartment.
Pouring two glasses of wine, Rick sat down on the sofa and handed one to Beckett as she settled in beside him. “So, lunch with the boys tomorrow?”
“Separately.” Kate sighed a bit sadly and swirled the wine around her glass. “I don't think throwing them together in a public place and forcing the issue will help the situation.”
“You're probably right. I'll try to take Ryan to lunch tomorrow. You take Espo?”
“Sounds like a plan, Castle.” Kate leaned over to grab her phone from the coffee table and typed out a quick text to Esposito. Bored. You? Javier's response was almost immediate. That. in and of itself, answered her question.
Yep. Daytime TV sucks. Primetime not much better.
Beckett smiled at that. Lunch tomorrow?
I'll be there. 12:30?
Works for me. See you there. Kate set her phone back down and smiled at Rick. “Well, my date's set.”
Rick set his glass on the table and pulled his own cell from his pocket. “Time for me to call my date, I guess.” Castle ran his fingers up and down Kate's arm as he waited for Kevin to answer his phone.
“Wha-?” Castle could hear Ryan clear his voice. “Ryan. 'S 'nother body?”
“Hey, Ryan. It's Castle.”
“Castle? Wha-what're you doin' at a crime scene? Gate's 'll go ape shit.”
“Crime scene? What-no.” The disorientation and slurring gave Castle pause for a moment, wondering if things were worse than he thought. “Ryan...Kevin, are you drunk?”
“'Course not. Can't drink while 'm on call. Don' be stupid.”
So, not drink. Sleep. “Ryan, how many days in a row have you been on call?”
There was a long pause on the other end and Castle began the think the younger man had nodded off. “I dunno. What day's it?”
Another long pause, but apparently math was now beyond Ryan's ability. “I dunno. You got a body?”
“What? No, I don't have a body.” The conversation was slipping into the surreal.
“Then why're you wakin' me up? I jus' want some sleep.” Ryan's voice ended on a plaintive note and the call disconnected.
Castle held his phone out for a moment, staring at it. “Huh. That was an interesting conversation.”
He looked at Kate's inquiring gaze and smiled. “On the up side, I now have an idea of what Ryan is like when he's drunk. I'll try him at the station tomorrow.”
Setting her wine glass on the table with Rick's, Kate stood and pulled Castle up from the sofa. “Why don't we do what Lanie suggested and get a room?”
“I'm gonna get lucky,” Castle sang as he led the way to his bedroom.
Sitting in a quiet booth in the back their favorite Chinese place, Beckett went over what she planned to say to Esposito when he arrived. This was a conversation long overdue. In the rushed aftermath of the incident on the roof, chasing and ultimately finding Maddox...the Senator...there hadn't been time to face each other and hash it out. Afterward, Beckett had holed up with Castle and they hadn't given much thought to the outside world. Kate regretted it deeply because Esposito and Ryan were the brothers she never had. She shouldn't have forgotten them so easily.
She picked at her napkin, played with her chopsticks and generally fidgeted with everything within reach until she looked up at the sound of the bell on the door and spotted Javier walking toward her booth. Kate stood and greeted him with a firm hug. She truly missed her team.
“Hey, Espo, thanks for joining me.”
Having returned her hug with genuine affection, Javier smiled and sat down. “Not like I had anything better to do, but I've honestly missed you.”
Kate smiled, picked up the menu and opened it, though she nearly always ordered the same thing. “Still, I owe you a thank you lunch so I'm glad you came.”
“Thank you? For what?” Esposito looked genuinely puzzled, making Beckett once again grateful for the loyalty and friendship she acquired the day Javier joined Homicide.
“For having my back, Espo. For being there when I needed you.”
Esposito snorted and hid his face with the menu. “Yeah, I did a bang up job of having your back.”
Reaching over to push down the menu, Kate frowned. “Javi, you did have my back. It was my own foolish decision to go chasing after a professional killer by myself. What happened on that roof wasn't your fault. It was mine.”
“I still should've been there.” Javier laid his menu on the table and smiled sadly. “Anyway, what's done is done. We'll be back on the job next week. Let's just enjoy our lunch.”
Beckett gripped Esposito's hand where it rested on the plastic menu. “Besides, I think you've probably punished yourself enough the last couple of weeks.”
The two cops gave their order and chatted about safer topics as they waited for their food. Beckett wanted to mention Ryan, but knew it was better to wait a while. Ease into it. She talked about the books she caught up on while on suspension. Esposito talked about his visit with his family. Their food arrived and they continued to dance around the elephant in the room as they ate.
When she could tell that Espo was finally comfortable and relaxed, she knew it was time. “I never really told you about the details of what happened on that ledge, did I?”
Esposito wiped his mouth with his napkin, took a sip of water and shook his head. “Not much beyond being thrown off and R-being pulled up.”
The hesitation and quick correction to avoid saying the name hurt Beckett more than she expected. She leaned forward and captured Javier's gaze. “Maddox threw me over the edge like I was nothing, Espo. I was hanging there by my hands and he could have finished me off, but he left me there. He knew I wouldn't be able to pull myself up and he wanted me to suffer those final minutes.”
Beckett's gaze was intense and Esposito couldn't have looked away if he wanted to. “All I could think about was Castle. How I'd let it all slip away. Every chance I'd had to say what I felt, wasted. I was calling for him. Begging him, essentially, to save me even though I knew I'd pushed him away and he wouldn't be there. It was all I could think to do.”
Clenching her napkin tightly in her lap, Beckett took a deep breath. Telling it like this was harder than she'd thought, but knew it needed saying. “One hand slipped off and I didn't have the strength left to reach up and grab the ledge. I was losing my grip. My other hand slipped off and I fell.”
Leaning forward, emphasizing her next words, Beckett continued. “I fell, Espo. A hand grabbed mine, then another. In the back of my mind, I think the wedding band registered but all I could think was 'Castle found me'. When Ryan pulled me back onto the roof, I even asked him.”
The memory shook her for a moment. “Of course, Castle wasn't there. Like I said, I'd pushed him away. Just Ryan, some Unies and Gates were there.”
“Gates.” Javier snorted in disgust. “The Judas ratted us out.”
Beckett slapped her hand on the table startling Esposito and every patron in a twenty foot radius. She leaned closer to her partner and hissed angrily. “Do not ever call him that again, Javier Esposito. He's your partner. Your brother. And he saved my life. If he had done one thing differently, just one thing, I would be dead. He threw himself over the edge to reach me. If two guys hadn't grabbed him by the belt, I would have taken him down with me. Don't you see?”
“I should have been there!” Esposito clenched his jaw and sat back in his seat after the uncontrolled outburst. Too much laid bare in that one exclamation.
Sighing sadly, Beckett nodded. The words had been said, but she couldn't make Esposito accept them. He had to work this one out himself, it seemed. “You did your best. We both made mistakes. I just wish we were the only ones being punished for them.”
She left it at that and went back to her meal, but the atmosphere was too tense. After picking at her food another ten or fifteen minutes in silence, watching Espo do the same, Beckett waved her hand for the check. They boxed up their leftovers, Beckett paid the check and Javier left some cash for the tip then the two headed back out onto the sidewalk.
“Espo, we'll all be back at the 12th in less than a week. We have to be able to work together and trust each other. I hope you can work through this before then.”
Avoiding her gaze, Javier shrugged half-heartedly. “See you Monday, Beckett. Thanks for lunch.”
Watching him head down the street toward the subway, Kate felt like yelling. Why did men have to be so damn stubborn? Especially macho, ex-military homicide detectives.
It seemed odd to be walking into the bullpen with half of their team out on leave. The place was mostly empty for once. A few detectives hovered near the murder board or talked quietly on the phone at their desks, but the usual noise and activity was missing. Castle paused at Ryan's empty desk and frowned. He hadn't been able to reach Detective Ryan on the phone and had hoped to catch him at the precinct. Apparently that plan had failed.
“He ain't here.”
Looking up at the voice, Castle wrinkled his brow at Detective Walters who stood next to the white board with a file in his hands. “Who?”
Walters closed the file and jabbed a finger at Ryan's empty desk. “The Judas. If you're lookin' for him, he ain't here.”
Castle stood to his full height and glared in what he hoped was an intimidating manner. “I'm looking for Detective Ryan. I can see that he isn't here. Do you know where I can find him?”
Shrugging off the verbal rebuke, Walters turned back to the murder board. “Pounding the pavement on a cold case somewhere. Don't know, don't care.”
Glaring at the man's back wasn't getting him anywhere, so Castle reluctantly gave up and left the precinct. He pulled out his cell phone and tried once more to reach the missing detective.
“Hey, Ryan. I swung by the precinct to buy you lunch but you're not here.”
“Uh, thanks Castle. For the thought, I mean. I'm working on something and have an appointment to meet a witness in about an hour. It's halfway across the city. Maybe another time.”
Castle huffed out a quiet breath of frustration. “Well, maybe a late lunch after your meeting?”
Ryan's voice sounded distracted. “Look, Castle. I would love to, but I'm a one-man-band now and I have a lot to do. I'm trying to solve two cases here and I don't have time for lunch. Maybe tomorrow or something. Listen, I gotta go.”
Thwarted, Castle glared at the “called ended” on his phone's screen and clenched his hand around the offending cell. He thumbed the button to call Kate and sighed when she answered. “My date was a no-show. How was yours?”
Kate sounded equally dejected. “Well, mine at least showed up but that's about all that went right. Espo's still not ready to forgive Ryan. I know it's displaced anger, and he mostly blames himself, but it's ridiculous how much angst those two are shouldering for something that's entirely my fault.”
Looking up at the surrounding buildings, Castle ran a hand through is hair. “It'll all work out somehow, Kate. It may just take some time. I'll try again tomorrow. See how things stand on his end. I only spent a few minutes in the bullpen, but Lanie's right. Things are not going well for Ryan up there.”
“Come on home, Rick. I could use a hug right now.”
“One hug coming right up.” At least providing Kate with a bit of support and comfort would make Castle feel like he was doing something.
Flipping the screen on his phone with his thumb, Kevin Ryan saw the missed calls from Castle. They must have come while he was going through the old CPS files for Case Bowen. There had been no reception down in the dim basement housing the records he'd needed. Sure enough, Bowen was Case's adopted surname. He had been born Case Edwards. His mother was definitely Denise, dead since the day she disappeared. Twelve years later, Case followed her. Why?
A phone interview with Case's adoptive parents, Jillian and Michael Bowen, had turned up nothing spectacular. Case had been a good kid, was going to college and worked two part-time jobs. They had no idea why he would have been in that warehouse. After checking with Case's employers, the one thing that did make sudden sense was the time of death. The reason Case had been at that warehouse so late at night, was because his shift as a pizza deliveryman had ended at midnight. He must have gone to the warehouse after work. Again, that same question persisted. Why?
Detective Ryan hoped the interview with the Sutters would fill in the blanks and just possibly provide him with a suspect. As he slid behind the wheel of his car and shut the door, Kevin wondered why Castle suddenly wanted to have lunch with him. The detective pulled on his seat belt and shook his head. With Castle, anything was possible. Besides, two mysteries were enough to be going on with for the moment. He'd worry about the flighty writer's motives later.
The office Ryan was ushered into for his meeting with Elizabeth and Kyle Sutter was fairly impressive. Original artwork adorned the walls, and the furniture probably cost more than Kevin would make in a year. Or two. The Sutters greeted him cordially, shook his hand and gestured to a leather arm chair before taking a seat together on the sofa opposite. Ryan sat in the chair indicated and pulled his notebook from his pocket.
Kyle appeared to be in his early to mid-fifties, but still fit. His hair was going a bit gray and Mr. Sutter seemed to be content to let it. His haircut, suit and manicured nails spoke of money, yet weren't a statement. Mrs. Sutter was similar in appearance. Slender, blonde, skin starting to show here age but she still carried herself with a certain grace. Kevin found himself liking them both. Gut instinct told him they weren't the suspects he'd hoped they'd be.
“Thank you for meeting with me, Mr. and Mrs. Sutter. I appreciate your time. I'm here to ask a few questions about Denise Edwards.”
Leaning forward, Kyle Sutter clasped his hands and met Ryan's serious gaze. “It's been more than ten years since the officers came to us to say she was missing. My secretary said you'd found her, deceased. Did you find the money?” Mr. Sutter leaned back and breathed through his nose, shaking his head. “No, I guess you probably wouldn't. Not this long afterward.”
“Money?” Detective Ryan glanced between the two, knowing only what he'd read in the burglary file.
Elizabeth shared a glance with her husband and sighed softly. “The last time I saw Denise was at the warehouse. She told me she needed to use the restroom, went inside and that was the last I saw of her. The next morning, my brother went to open the office and saw the safe was open. $10,000 in cash was missing. When the officers later told us Denise had disappeared, we thought she'd stolen the money.”
“$10,000? Why so much?” Kevin scribbled the new information into his notebook, glancing up to meet Mr. Sutters' eye.
“I wouldn't normally have had so much in there. There was always a sizable amount to pay the day laborers in the warehouse. But two days before, we'd sold some equipment to another company and they'd paid cash. I was going to put it in the bank that Friday after payroll. Except that I never got the chance.”
“Mrs. Sutter, was anyone else inside the office when you left?”
“I don't think so, Detective.” Elizabeth closed her eyes briefly, as if imagining that night. “I didn't go back inside with Denise. I just unlocked the door to let her in. It would have locked behind her when she left, so I didn't stay. I wish…I've often wished…that I had waited for her.”
Ryan smiled gently at her and shook his head. “It's best, in all honesty, that you didn't. Whatever happened that night, happened for a reason. Had you been there, you might have had the same fate.”
Kyle reached over and clasped his wife's hand tightly, staring into her brown eyes intently. Ryan could clearly see the what-ifs on the other man's face. Imagining what might have been. Breaking the gaze, Mr. Sutter gave the detective a somewhat shameful look.
“Detective Ryan, what ever happened to her son? I feel badly that we didn't look after him, but with the stolen money we thought-well, I guess we were stupidly resentful.”
Shifting uncomfortably in the plush leather chair, Kevin glanced between them. “Case was taken in by CPS and later adopted. His body was found the other night. In your warehouse.”
Elizabeth covered her mouth with a shaking hand and shared a horrified look with her husband. Kyle reached once more for her hand and gripped it gently this time. “The old one? The same one Denise disappeared from?”
“I'm afraid so. I don't suppose you have any idea why he would have been there?”
Shaking his head, Mr. Sutter frowned thoughtfully. “That warehouse is scheduled to be torn down in a couple of days. I don't know why anyone would be in there. There are demolition signs all over the building.”
His hand froze, the pen pressed to the notebook, as Kevin's brain made a leap of logic. The mummified remains of Denise Edwards had been moved. Moved because someone might have discovered her body when the building was torn down. But why Case's apartment? Why was Case murdered?
What if he'd seen the person moving his mother's corpse that night?
“Mr. Sutter, was there any press mention of the scheduled tear down of the warehouse?”
“I believe so, Detective. We sold the land to some developers, who are going to be building new lofts. The whole area is being redeveloped as an up-and-coming neighborhood for young professionals.”
Unconsciously, needing to work it out aloud, Kevin wrote quickly in his notebook as he voiced the thoughts in his head. “He must have seen it. A flyer on campus, or a mention in the paper. He went to say goodbye to his mother at the place she was last seen. He went after work, when it would be practically guaranteed to be empty. Case saw someone moving the body. Her murderer couldn't chance her body being found during the demolition process. Case was seen and the killer did what he'd done before. Shot and killed a witness. The killer put the body in Case's apartment until he could figure something else out and probably went back for Case. Only we got there before he did.”
Blue eyes snapped back into focus to see twin looks of surprised interest and Detective Ryan flushed at being caught talking to himself. “Someone else took that money, Mr. Sutter. Someone who had access to your warehouse. I'm going to need a list of names and contact information, if you have it, for anyone who had access to the warehouse office.”
“Certainly, Detective. I'll have my secretary email or fax it to you. Just leave her your card.”
“I will, thank you.” Closing his notebook, Kevin stood and shook hands with the Sutters. He left his card with the secretary on his way out, with a request to receive the list as soon as possible.
On the elevator ride down to the lobby, Ryan's cell phone buzzed in his pocket. “Hey, Lanie, what's up?”
“Hey, Ryan. I've got your ballistics report back. Your two bodies were killed by the same gun.”
“Thanks, I'm getting close and that backs up my theory.”
“That's great, Ryan.” There was a loaded pause and Kevin was about to ask of anything was wrong when Lanie spoke again. “Hey, Kevin, did-did Castle call you by any chance.”
“Yeah, he wanted to meet for lunch but I've been out all day. Why?”
“Oh, no reason. I just...heard he was looking for you is all.”
Kevin wasn't a detective for nothing. He could hear the dissembling in Lanie's voice. “C'mon, Lanie. What have you cooked up and why?”
“I don't know what you're implying Kevin Ryan. I just thought you'd like to know that Castle wanted to meet with you.”
Although he liked to think he was a tough New York Police Detective, even Kevin wasn't brave enough to push Dr. Lanie Parish when she used that tone. “Sure, Lanie. Well, I'm sure Castle will call me back later. Thanks again for the ballistics report.”
Seriously, how did women manage to put so many words into those two syllables?
So the ballistics report proved his theory that the same person killed Denise Edwards and her son, Case. Kevin had a feeling the suspect would be on the list he got from Kyle Sutter. Someone on that list owned a .45 and came into a large amount of cash on a fateful night twelve years ago. It was the only thing that made sense.
And, okay, the third mystery of what Castle wanted to talk to him about was starting to bug him. Like an ear worm in the brain from a song you can't get rid of.
The rest of the day was spent updating both sides of the murder board, ignoring the glares from Walters and his partner for having found more on their victim than they had, and poring over the financials for Kyle and Elizabeth Sutter. Sure, he'd liked them. But Kevin wasn't stupid. Cold hard facts trumped gut instinct when it came to proving a case.
Once he'd finished his paperwork, Ryan packed up and headed home. He was worn out, but didn't have the nearly nauseating exhaustion of the day before. Once home, he'd even managed to throw together a salad for dinner which he ate while watching an episode of Archer. Something he normally couldn't watch in the living room, because Jenny detested the animated show.
After enjoying his guilty TV pleasure, Kevin showered, changed into a pair of flannel pajama bottoms and logged onto his computer. He slipped on a pair of earphones with a microphone and signed into Skype. It was the wee hours of the morning for Jenny, but she'd sent him an email earlier in the day asking him to call anyway. They were both desperate for the sound of the others' voice. In two days Jenny would be home. Saturday couldn't come soon enough for Kevin, for many reasons.
A sleepy, but happy voice suddenly came through his headphones. “Hey, Kev.”
“Hey, sweetheart. I miss you.”
Maybe it was part of being a writer, or maybe just a quirk of his own personality, but Castle could take a problem and worry it to the bone. The conversation in the bullpen was bothering him. Also the fact that he couldn't be sure if Ryan had just been busy or was purposefully avoiding him for some unknown reason. Put the two together and Rick was about to drive Beckett up a wall.
“For crying out loud, Castle, just go knock on his door, make sure Ryan is alive and get it over with so we can both sleep tonight.”
As if just waiting for permission, Castle stammered out both a thank you and an apology then hurried out the door before she could change her mind. His imagination continued to make up scenarios of why Ryan had avoided meeting him the entire cab ride to the detective's building, up the elevator and to the door. Castle shook his head to rid himself of the last ridiculous line of thinking and knocked.
There was a long moment of silence and Rick was just about to knock again, when he heard the slide of a deadbolt. The door opened and Kevin Ryan stepped back to let him in. The detective stood in only a pair of worn plaid pajama bottoms and headphones, holding his service weapon casually at his side.
“Hey, Jen, I have to go. Castle's here. I have no idea, he just showed up.”
Castle realized the headphones had a microphone attached and Ryan was clearly talking to his wife. As Ryan shut the door and once again flipped the deadbolt, the writer caught a full view of the large bruise on the detective's bare abdomen and a matching one along his left forearm.
“Jeez, Ryan. What the hell happened to you?”
Kevin wrapped his free hand around the mic, but apparently too late. He glared balefully at Castle and gestured with his gun toward the sofa. “No, honey, nothing's wrong. I just-had a scuffle with a suspect a couple of days ago and got a black eye. No, I'm fine. I promise. Yes, I mean it. I love you, too, Jen. I'll call you again late tomorrow night. Good night.”
Laying the service weapon on the side table, Kevin yanked off the headphones and sighed loudly. “Thanks a lot, Castle. You know she knows I'm lying. I'll pay for that when she gets home.”
Settling in on Ryan's sofa, Castle gave him a sheepish look. “Sorry. But, seriously. What the heck happened?”
Kevin sat in a side chair, tucking his feet underneath him and shrugged. “Just what I said. I got into a fight with a suspect. Took a two-by-four to the stomach and an elbow to the face. No permanent damage.”
Castle glanced around the living area with a writer's curiosity. This was the first time he'd ever been to Ryan's home and he was a bit surprised at his surroundings. The place was neat, well-ordered, but comfortable. Books were everywhere. On bookshelves, the coffee table, side table and a couple were on the floor by the chair Ryan was sitting in. He'd always suspected the younger man was smarter than he let on.
“Castle, don't take this the wrong way, but why are you here?”
His eyes met Ryan's brighter blue and suddenly Castle felt like an idiot. Still, the detective didn't have to know that. “Well, you didn't have time earlier today so I just thought I'd drop by.”
The puzzled look on Ryan's face was inevitable. “Why?”
With a sigh, Castle shifted the cushion behind his back to stall for time. But, really, honesty was the only way to get through this as painlessly as possible. “Ryan. Kevin, look, I just wanted to thank you.”
That the younger man genuinely appeared confused as to what thanks Castle might owe him, made Rick want to hug Ryan. In a manly way, of course. “For saving Beckett's life. She wants to thank you, too, and will when she sees you again.” Lame, Castle. You're a better writer than that.
Oblivious to the writer's inner monologue, Kevin shifted his feet out from under him and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “Look, Castle. What I did that day, I did because I ran out of choices. For no other reason than that. Beckett and Esposito are my partners. My family. I did what I had to do to keep them safe. That's all.”
“I was at the precinct today, in the bullpen.” Castle didn't imagine Ryan's twitch at that announcement. “It's obvious you're being punished for what you did to save your partners' lives. I'm sorry for that. Sorry that I didn't answer the phone when you called. Sorry that I wasn't there to help you. But, I'm so very grateful that you were there to pull Kate up from that ledge. There is nothing I could ever say or do to express my gratitude for that.”
Uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation, Ryan shrugged one angular shoulder and tapped his bare feet on the wooden floor. “There's nothing to be sorry for and nothing to be grateful for. I didn't do it for you. But, if it makes you feel better, you're welcome.”
“Thanks, Ryan.” Castle caught the younger man's gaze and pinned him with a rare, serious look. “But what about what's going on at the precinct.”
Again with the one-shouldered shrug. “It is what it is, Castle. It'll all blow over when Beckett and Esposito get back.”
Castle gestured at the bruising. “And if more of that happens in the mean time?”
“Despite what you and a few jerks in Homicide think, I actually can take care of myself.” Kevin quirked a half smile. “I'm a big boy, Castle. When you, Beckett and Espo come back to work, I'll still be there. Bowed, but unbroken. Right?”
“So it seems.” Castle smiled in admiration at the younger man. Ryan seemed to be handling the situation as best he could and was determined to weather it. “And Esposito?”
Pain flashed briefly in those cobalt eyes before Ryan blinked it away. “He'll eventually get over being mad at himself, will pull his head out of his ass and we'll move on.”
Rick let the subject drop and shifted the conversation to safer paths, asking how Jenny's trip was going. Just being able to relax and talk about his wife seemed to make Kevin's eye light up and his shoulders release the tension of the invisible weight he'd been carrying. It wasn't long, though, before Castle noticed the droop in the detective's eyes and knew it was time to go.
As he stood in Ryan's open door to leave, Castle insisted on providing a limo on Saturday to take Kevin to the airport to pick Jenny up from her flight home. Ignoring the younger man's protests, Rick persisted and told Kevin it was the least he could do.
Castle felt a little better on his cab ride home. He'd said his thanks, assured himself that Ryan was alright...relatively speaking...and had been able to express his gratitude. The only fly in the ointment was Esposito. Kate had planted the seed, but had nothing to show for it so far. Maybe what Esposito needed wasn't a friend, but a kick in the pants. Which Castle wouldn't be the one to give. He was a best-selling author, not suicidal.
The thrill of the chase thrummed through Kevin's veins. Shortly after arriving at the precinct that morning, Det. Roselyn Karpowski hand delivered a fax to his desk. It was the list of employees from Mr. Sutter. “Thanks, Karpowski.”
“Hey, Ryan. I just got back from vacation today and I've heard some interesting scuttlebutt about what's been going on around here the last couple of weeks.” Karposwki tucked a strand of wavy brown hair behind her ear and rested her hip against Ryan's desk. “You wanna talk?”
Eyes already glued to the faxed list, Kevin waved a negligent hand in her direction. “Nah, it's good. No problem. Welcome back.”
Roselyn rolled her eyes and stood to go back to her own desk. “Well, the offer stands. Yell if you need anything.”
“Yeah, sure.” Kevin flipped to the second page and sighed at how many names were there. Still, the answer was right there if he looked in the right place. Picking up his phone, he called down to NCIC to have the names run for warrants and criminal histories. The second call was to have them checked for gun licenses. Most of the names on the list were warehouse workers, but a few were office employees. Kevin started with Mrs. Sutter's brother, Joe Killick. He was the one who had discovered the missing money the morning after Denise Edwards had disappeared. Ryan put in a request for the man's financial records then decided to go interview Mr. Killick in person.
He poked his head in Gates' office to tell her where he was going, but the office was empty. Eyes darting around the bullpen, Ryan spotted Lieutenant Jacobs. “Hey, Lieu, I'm headed over to 2nd and 81st to interview a witness.”
The Lieutenant raised his eyes from the clipboard he held in his hands and frowned thoughtfully a moment. “You're by yourself until the rest of your team returns Monday, aren't you?”
“Take Walters with you.” Lt. Jacobs' eyes went back to the schedule on his clipboard.
“Sir? If it's all the same to you, I'd rather go alone.”
The Lieutenant lowered his clipboard and pinned his detective with a withering gaze. “It's not all the same to me, Detective Ryan. Take backup with you. You're working the dead boy from the warehouse, correct?”
Well, technically. “Yes, sir.”
“Walters and his partner are also working that case, so take Pete with you.”
Fingers twitching into fists at his side, Kevin inwardly admitted defeat. His jaw muscles bunched as he grit his teeth, steeling himself for a miserable afternoon. “Yes, sir.”
Knowing Detective Walters had heard the whole conversation, Kevin didn't bother to speak. He turned on his heel and headed for the elevator, his newly appointed “partner” following behind.
He missed the smirk Pete Walters shot his partner, Coker. Detective Karpowski, however, did not.
The thunderstorm predicted for that afternoon had hit its full stride by the time the unmarked car pulled in front of a building on E 81st . Detective Ryan unbuckled his seatbelt, pulled the small portable radio from the glove box and clipped it to his belt as he reluctantly opened the door and climbed out into the downpour. As he began to close the door, he realized Walters hadn't made a move to exit the vehicle. Ryan caught the door before it could shut and leaned down, blinking against the rain.
“You getting out or what?”
“Nah, you got this. I'll just wait here, Judas.” Walters' tone was bored and he slouched down into his seat.
Kevin sighed and shook his head. “Whatever, man.” He slammed the door shut and hurried up the stairs, hitting the buzzer for number 406. By the time a man's voice answered, asking who he was, Ryan was soaked down to his boxers.
“Detective Kevin Ryan, NYPD. I'm making some inquiries into a missing woman named Denise Edwards. Mind if I come up?”
There was a pause, then a short buzz as the front door unlatched. Ryan hurried inside and glanced around for the elevator. There wasn't one. Naturally. He trudged up the stairs to the fourth floor, paused on the landing to gauge the direction of the numbers then turned down the corridor to the left. A dark green door near the end of the hallway bore the worn brass numbers of 406. Kevin gave a few short taps with the small knocker and waited.
The sound of deadbolts and a chain being removed dissolved into a click as the door opened and an older man with graying blonde hair stood in the gap. “You got I.D.?”
Detective Ryan unclipped his badge from his belt and held it up for the man to see. The man made a satisfied grunt and stepped back to let the detective in, eyeing him warily. The door clicked shut behind Ryan and a deadbolt slid home.
The man led the way into the living area and took a perch on the edge
of a worn brown armchair.
“What's this about, officer?”
“As I said, I'm looking into the disappearance of a woman named Denise Edwards.” Ryan pulled his notebook from his pocket and slid the pen from its loop. “You're Mr. Joe Killick, correct?”
“Yeah, that's me.” The man rubbed his palms across his thighs and shifted in his seat. “I don't remember anybody by the name of Edwards.”
Sliding forward in his seat on the sofa slightly, enough to rest his feet firmly on the floor and shift his center of gravity, Kevin glanced down at his notebook. Mr. Killick was a bit too twitchy for his liking. Stupid, vindictive Walters. “She was last seen at your brother-in-law's warehouse twelve years ago. The next morning, you apparently discovered an open safe and $10,000 missing.”
Joe Killick laughed nervously. “Oh, yeah. I remember that. Didn't remember her name. Was a long time ago. You catch her?”
Ryan leveled his gaze at Killick and shook his head. “No, Mr. Killick. We found her body recently and are trying to figure out where she's been all this time.”
“Oh, well, I wouldn't know that. Not sure I ever laid eyes on the woman.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I'm sure.” Killick once again wiped his damp palms on his legs.
Switching tactics, Kevin pretended to look at his notes once more. “Mr. Killick, do you own a handgun? A .45.?”
“N-no. No, I don't.”
“Oh?” Kevin made sure to let a little skepticism enter his voice and made a couple of scribbles in his notebook. Sure enough, Killick leaned forward as if to try to see what the detective was writing. “Tell me this, Mr. Killick. How did Mrs. Edwards get into the safe?”
“Wh-what do you mean?”
“Well, it doesn't look like the original officers ever asked the obvious question. How did Mrs. Edwards get into the safe?” Kevin leveled a piercing gaze at the nervous man across from him. “I looked at the crime scene pictures. The safe was undamaged. What, the single mother working as a secretary was a safe-cracker on the side?”
In the blink of an eye, Joe Killick snatched a heavy-looking vase from the small table next to his chair and hurled it at Detective Ryan. Kevin dodged as best he could but caught a glancing blow across his already bruised left cheekbone. By the time he'd blinked his vision clear, Killick was turning the deadbolt and opening the door. The detective pulled his weapon from its holster, lunged up from the sofa and took off after the suspect as Joe ducked out into the hall.
As soon as he cleared the door frame, Ryan jerked himself back toward its cover. Killick had pulled a .45 from his waistband and leveled it at the homicide detective. Two shots hit the door frame and one ricocheted down the hall. Hearing the pounding of feet on the old wooden floor, Ryan crouched low and ducked back out into the hall with his gun leveled. Killick was already ducking out of a window at the end of the hallway and onto the fire escape.
“Killick, stop! It's over!” Detective Ryan ran down the corridor and stuck his leg out to crawl out onto the fire escape landing. He nearly got his foot shot off in the process. Pulling himself back inside, Kevin took a few precious seconds to grab his radio, key the mike and call it in.
“Detective Ryan, badge number 42344. Shots fired, 555 E 81st. Shots fired, 555 E 81st. Suspect white male, late forties, blue jeans, green shirt, armed, on the roof.”
He quickly re-clipped the radio and, leading with his gun hand this time, Ryan stuck his head out and looked up. Just in time to see Killick's jeans clad legs disappearing over the ledge. The wind-blown rain stung his face as Ryan holstered his weapon, grabbed the rusty metal ladder and began to climb.
The detective could just hear the dispatcher's voice crackle over the radio, calling for backup and requesting his status. Concentrating on his grip on the wet slick iron of the ladder, Ryan couldn't spare the time to answer. He grabbed at the grimy ledge at the top and snatched his hand back as a bullet ripped across the edge, peppering his wrist with sharp bits of concrete. The momentum of his movement caused him to lose his footing and he slipped.
After Ryan and Walters left the bullpen, Karpowski couldn't get Pete's smirk out of her mind. There was something cold and calculating that, combined with the rumors she'd heard, made her seriously worry for Ryan's safety. She tried to concentrate on the file in front of her for a while, but gave up when she'd read the same sentence four times and still didn't know what it said. Catching sight of Matt Coker striding into the break room, Karpowski grabbed her empty mug and hurried to follow him.
Detective Coker was dropping coins into the soda machine when she entered the break room, so Karpowski casually grabbed a carafe and poured some coffee into her cup. “Wanna tell me what Walters has up his sleeve?”
A rumble and thunk announced the arrival of the diet soda, so Matt took a moment to gather his thoughts as he reached down to grab it. Karpowski pinned him with an angry, determined gaze, assuring the older detective that she wouldn't put up with a bullshit answer.
Coker tapped the cold metal of the soda can and sighed. He'd had all he could stomach of the “Judas” business, to tell the truth. “He won't back up Ryan. Whatever goes down, he'll leave it to Kevin to deal with it himself.”
“Like you did.”
Disgust was clear in her tone of voice and Matt winced, feeling a bit sick. “I can't tell you how sorry I am for that, Ros. It was a chickenshit thing to do and could've gotten Ryan killed. If I could take it back, I would.”
“You and I will be having a heart-to-heart, Detective Coker, after you return from backing up Kevin Ryan.”
Karpowski and Coker both startled and turned toward the break room door, where a furious looking Captain Gates stood with her arms crossed. “Dispatch just received a shots fired call from Ryan. Get your butts over to 555 E 81st St. and cover him. We'll discuss this other business later.”
The two detectives dropped their drinks on the counter and bolted for the stairs. It was a tense ride to the scene as Karpowski see-sawed between fear for Ryan's safety and anger at the man sitting next to her. And Walters, the jackhole.
As for Coker, his stomach twisted into one big knot of shame and fear. He worried about what they'd find when they arrived at the scene. And he fretted that he'd stupidly, blindly followed his partner into losing his job.
There was a dizzying, terrifying moment where Ryan flashed to Beckett slipping from the ledge. But nobody was there to catch Kevin. He was on his own. His left hand caught the rung below and jerked him to a stop, slamming his chin into the rung. His teeth snapped shut, digging into his lower lip and his mouth filled with hot, tangy blood. He wrapped his right hand quickly around the rung above and managed to plant his feet. He clung to the ladder like a limpet for a moment, trying to clear his head.
Ryan spat out the blood, climbed back to the top of the ledge and took a deep breath. He pulled his Sig from its holster and fired off a quick pair of shots as he pulled himself up and over the ledge. He took a second to check for cover and darted behind a large metal box. Air conditioner? As long as it provided cover, Kevin didn't care.
A few bullets pinged against the other side and Ryan tried to remember the count. The pain in his face made it hard to concentrate. He ran a tongue over his teeth, relieved in a detached sort of way that they were all there. His lower lip was already starting to puff up, and blood kept trying to run down his throat. He spat out another mouthful and raised his voice over the noise of the rain and thunder.
“Give it up, Killick! I called this in. This whole building will be surrounded by cops in about two minutes. You have nowhere to go. Don't make this any worse for yourself than it already is.”
“Why did you have to come? Why did that stupid kid have to be in that building?!”
Kevin felt a brief flash of excitement that he'd guessed everything right. He shifted his position to ease the discomfort in his still-bruised abdomen and flinched at another burst of gunfire. “She was his mother, Killick! He was there to say goodbye to her. You orphaned him, Joe, when you killed Denise.”
“I didn't mean to!”
“She saw you, didn't she? When she went back to the office that night to use the restroom. She saw you emptying the safe. You panicked and you shot her. Hid her body somewhere at the warehouse. Then you heard they were tearing it down. Couldn't risk anyone finding her so you went to move the body. Case showed up, you panicked again and killed him. Why move Denise's body to his apartment? That was just stupid.”
Another couple of shots dug into the metal he was sheltering behind and Kevin reasoned Joe didn't much like being called stupid.
“The kid was dead. I was going to dump them both in his apartment until I could figure out where else to put them where they wouldn't be found. When I got back to the warehouse to get the kid, you stupid pigs were crawling all over the place.”
“You still have time to turn this around, Killick. Put down the gun and give yourself up. This is a life and death decision, Joe. I'm talking about your life, not mine.”
When Karpowski and Coker pulled up in front of the older apartment building, there were already two marked units there. A sergeant was coming down the steps as they hurried up to the front entrance and Karpowski relaxed minutely when the officer's face reflected worry, but not the anguish of a dead brother in blue.
“What do we have, Sarge?”
“Your boy is up on the roof, pinned down by the witness he'd apparently come to interview. His worthless partner doesn't even know who he was here to see. Luckily, the open apartment door and bullet holes told us what apartment he'd been in, so we know who the suspect is. Not that it helps us right this moment. I've put in a call for SWAT, but it looks like your boy is doing a good job so far, trying to talk the guy down. As long as it looks like Detective Ryan is okay, we'll let him keep trying. If nothing else, the perp will eventually run out of bullets.”
The sergeant continued his path to his patrol car and the two detectives hurried inside. They found the stairs and headed up to the roof. At the top of the landing, hovering around the door to the roof, stood Walters and a uniformed officer. Karpowski tried to keep the loathing she felt from showing on her face.
“What the hell happened, Walters?”
The older detective had the grace to look worried, glancing at the uni before shifting his gaze back to Roselyn. “I don't know. I heard the call on the radio and by the time I got up here, the suspect was already holed up and shooting at anything that moves. There's too much open space beyond the door so no way to get to cover before the nut shoots you. Two more officers are on the fire escape, a landing below the roof.”
Taking a threatening step forward, Karpowski frowned. “What do you mean, you don't know? Where the hell were you when Ryan went to interview the suspect?”
Walters held up a hand defensively. “Hey, we didn't know he was a suspect. Ryan was just there to interview the guy as a witness. I stayed in the car.”
“I don't think so.”
All eyes turned to Coker at his statement. He shifted uneasily, not having meant to draw the fiery female detective's angry gaze. “I think Ryan was on to something before he left the station. He seemed pretty excited about something, but I'm not sure even he knew all the details yet.”
Ros gave them both a look of contempt. “Well maybe if you guys had been working with Ryan, instead of against him, you would have solved this a bit sooner and we wouldn't be standing here with our thumbs up our asses while a fellow detective gets shot at.”
Shouldering past Walters and the riveted young uniformed officer, Karpowski pulled on the handle and cracked open the door to the roof. A bullet ricocheted off the metal door and they all ducked as she let is slam shut again.
“Well, shit.” Ros put her hands on her hips and glared once more at Walters. “Esposito is going to kick your ass, I hope you know.”
“Think of your sister, Joe. She seemed like a nice lady who would probably be devastated if she lost her brother. It's time to come clean. There's no other way out of this alive.”
Detective Ryan was aware of the officers and detectives manning both exits off the roof. He'd caught sight of SWAT snipers settling in to position on the roof next door. If Joe Killick didn't give up soon, if he made a run at Kevin, he was a dead man. “Mr. Killick, please. Enough people have died, don't you think?”
The rain continued to beat down on Ryan as he crouched behind cover, a puddle growing on the roof around him. The silence stretched, broken only by the increasingly distant thunder as the storm moved its way west. Until, finally, the detective's patience was rewarded.
“I didn't mean to kill her, you know. I turned around and she was just...there. I only wanted the money.”
There was a watery thud as something heavy hit the puddle covered roof. “I put my gun down, detective. I just want this to end. I'm tired of being afraid.”
Kevin held his weapon steady, blinking rain water from his eyes, as he stood on stiff legs and peered around his cover. Joe Killick was on his knees, hands in the air and weapon several feet away. Ryan looked up as the door to the roof burst open and Karpowski, followed by Walters, Coker and a uni, rushed forward to secure Killick. Once the suspect was cuffed and pulled to his feet, Kevin let his arm drop. He holstered the Sig and walked on wobbly legs to the stairs. It was a long trek down to the sidewalk, ignoring everyone's questions along the way.
Once back on the solid concrete of the sidewalk, Ryan watched as Killick was placed in the back of a marked unit and taken away to the 12th for a formal confession before being booked on two counts of murder. The wet and bleeding detective opened the door to his unmarked car only to be halted by a hand on his elbow. Karpowski and Coker both stood next to him with oddly matching looks of concern. Karpowski tugged Ryan away from the car.
“You need to let the medics check you out, Ryan. You're bleeding all over yourself.”
Wiping at his chin, Kevin grimaced at the blood on his hand. “It'll keep for a little while. I'll have it looked at after we get Killick's confession.”
“He pretty much confessed on the roof, Kevin. We'll get his formal confession at the station, but you really need to get that stitched up.” Matt Coker nodded his agreement behind Roselyn, which Kevin felt was a bit odd considering the man's stand on Ryan's betrayal just a few short days ago.
Firmly pulling his arm from Karpowski's grasp, Kevin smiled grimly. “I appreciate the concern, Ros, but I'm going to the station. Once he's written his statement I'll go. I'll even let you take me to the ER. But not before then.”
Rolling her eyes at the stubbornness of males, Karpowski gave up. “Fine, but you're riding in with me. Matt can ride with Walters.”
Honestly, Kevin could have kissed her.
He spent the ride to the 12th precinct trying not to fall asleep. The adrenaline of the standoff had fled, leaving him feeling weak and slightly nauseous. His wet clothes clung to him in an uncomfortable way, which no amount of squirming in his seat could alleviate.
His first stop once they reached the precinct was the locker room. Ryan opened his locker and suddenly remembered he'd taken his gym clothes home to be washed. And hadn't yet remembered to bring them back. With a sigh, Kevin pulled his sneakers from the bottom of the locker and closed the door. He spun the dial on the locker next to his, knowing the combination by heart. He found a neatly folded gray and black NYPD t-shirt and a pair of sweats on the top shelf. Esposito's. They'd be a bit big, but at least they were dry. And his partner wasn't there to complain about Kevin wearing them.
Once dry and dressed in the borrowed sweats and t-shirt, Kevin made his way upstairs to interrogation. He'd grabbed a hand towel from the shelf by the gym door and used it to try to stop the bleeding from his chin and mouth. Without much success.
Karpowski was already seated across from Killick at the table in interrogation when Ryan slipped into the observation room. Gates turned from the one-way glass and crossed her arms. “You should be getting that face looked at Detective Ryan.”
“Yes, sir, I know. I will as soon as he signs his statement.” Ryan tried to look as dignified as is possible while holding a bloody hand towel to your chin. It was getting more difficult to talk clearly as his lip had really begun to swell.
It has to be a genetic thing with women, Ryan thought. He and Captain Gates both turned back to the window at the sound of Ryan's name.
“You heard me, lady. I don't wanna talk to you. I'll sign your stupid statement, but only if I can talk to that Detective Ryan.”
Ryan looked over at his captain and raised his eyebrows, seeking permission. With a long-suffering sigh and a nod, Gates flapped her hand toward the door. “Fine, Detective. Just get him to sign the confession and get your butt to the emergency room. That's an order.”
“Yes sir.” Kevin smiled around his fat lip and left the observation room. Gates turned back to the window as Detective Ryan made his way into the interrogation room, taking the empty seat next to Karpowski.
“Hello again, Mr. Killick.” Ryan slid the official form closer to their suspect and uncapped the pen. “Just tell it like you did up on the roof. Start from the beginning, with Denise.”
Their suspect picked up the pen but paused as he looked across the table into the piercing blue eyes of Detective Ryan. “Just do me one favor, Detective?”
“Tell Elizabeth that I'm sorry. Tell my sister that her brother loves her and that I didn't mean for any of this to happen. I was stupid. I had some gambling debts to some seriously scary people, and I just wanted the money to pay them back. I didn't mean for anyone to die.”
Kevin nodded and gestured to the paper. “I'll tell her, Mr. Killick. Putting everything down on official forms will go a long way to saving your life, which will make things a little easier for Elizabeth.”
Satisfied, Joe put pen to paper and began telling the whole tragic story.
Once they had the formal confession in their hands and Killick had been taken over to booking, Karpowski held Kevin to his promise and drove him to the ER to have his face looked at. After one look at the bruise on his left cheek, the doctor had done x-rays. Luckily they were negative for any facial fractures, but the lip and chin had required stitching.
Groggy from spent adrenaline, long exhausting weeks at work and a shot of pain medication Kevin hadn't really felt was necessary, the newly stitched detective blinked blearily at Karpowski as she snapped a picture with her camera.
“Wha're you doin'?”
“Blackmail material, Ryan.”
“Oh, several people.” Roselyn snapped a couple more pictures of the mussed up, bruised and half-asleep detective and smiled. “You, once you sober up, for one.”
“'M sober. Ish.”
“Sure you are, hotshot. Good thing for you, I called for a ride.”
Roselyn fought down a giggle. She was so going to give Ryan crap about this one day. “For you, Kevin. You're going home. I'm going back to the station and I can't trust that you can get yourself home alone in this state.”
“'S not my fault. I tol' that doc I was fin'.”
“Sure you are.”
Kevin could tell she was just humoring him so he gave up. “Where's m' phone?”
“In the pocket of your sweats.”
“Oh.” Fumbling beneath the warmed blanket that covered him, Kevin found the phone and turned it on. Luckily it hadn't had too bad a soaking while in his jacket pocket. Fingers clumsy, he laboriously typed out a text message to Esposito. It was made more difficult by his wandering attention and suddenly blurry vision.
Javi, got blood on ur gym clothes. Srry. Ill wash & bring back sorry
Satisfied, Ryan dropped the phone on the blanket and relaxed back on the pillow. He let the drugs and exhaustion drag him into sleep.
Blood? Whose blood?
Seeing the phone light up at the incoming texts, Roselyn picked the cell up from the blanket and read the messages from Esposito. With a frown, she put down Kevin's cell and pulled her own back out of her jacket pocket. She fired off a quick response and a copy of one of the pictures she'd just taken.
This picture answers your question, Javier. Hope you pull your head outta your ass. Walters almost got your partner killed tonight. Happy?
She didn't get a response, but she hadn't really expected one. Roselyn settled into the chair next Ryan's ER bed and waited for her replacement.
Following the pointed finger of the nurse behind the counter, Beckett knocked gently on a door as she pushed it open. Castle slipped into the room behind her and waved at Karpowski. The writer frowned at the sleeping man in the ER bed. “He looks worse than he did last night.”
Kate Beckett took in the bruising, the swollen bottom lip and the neat row of black stitches on the bottom of Ryan's chin and sighed. Kevin's face was relaxed in sleep, and Beckett was reminded of when Kevin first joined the team. He'd been so young. Ryan had grown in so many ways since that day.
Almost as one, Kate and Castle turned to the other detective in the room. Karpowski yawned tiredly and stood, stretching her back. “Thanks for coming, guys. I need to get back to get a start on the mountain of paperwork this thing is going to generate, but I wasn't going to let Ryan try to get home on his own.”
“Thanks for looking out for him, Ros.” Beckett smiled warmly at her co-worker, genuinely grateful. “What went down, anyway?”
“Jeez, where to begin?” Karpowski took a moment to gather her thoughts then filled them in. “So Ryan's apparently been on call for--I don't know--a couple of weeks, maybe. He caught a body in a warehouse a few nights ago. It was a young man named Case Bowen. Shot and killed. Next body that drops is a woman who'd been dead more than a decade. Found in Case's apartment. Turns out she's his mother, killed twelve years ago. Ryan puts the two together, goes to interview the warehouse owner's brother-in-law. The brother-in-law gets squirrely during questioning, hurls a vase at Ryan and bolts for the door. Shots are fired, the guy ends up on the roof, and Ryan went after him. From what I got from Kevin, he slipped on the ladder to the roof and bashed his face, so that's how that happened. There was a standoff on the roof and Ryan talked the guy into surrendering. Turns out he was the one who killed both victims.”
Glancing over at Kevin then back at Karpowski, Beckett couldn't quite hide the gleam of pride in her eyes. Her team was the best. “So he solved both murders on his own? Why didn't he have someone assigned to work with him while Espo and I are on leave?”
Seeing the look on Castle's face, Karpowski knew they were both at least aware of some of what had been occurring back at the 12th in their absence. “Nobody wanted to work with Ryan, apparently. When Ryan headed out to interview the brother-in-law, Lieutenant Jacobs made him take Walters as backup.”
“So where was Walters when this all went down?”
Castle's disgusted snort drew attention from both women. “What? That guy's a jerk.”
“Castle's not wrong, there.” Roselyn couldn't help the angry frown that twisted her features. Stupid, stupid man. Pete Walters would be surprised at how many people were now standing in line to rat him out for what he'd done to Ryan the last few weeks. Ironic, really.
“Walters, the jackass, sat in the car when Kevin went up to interview the witness. He didn't know anything was going on until Ryan's shots fired call went out over the radio. He was completely useless.”
Kate sighed, knowing the fallout would not be pleasant for Walters and hoping it wouldn't make things worse for Ryan. “So is he checked out and ready to go?”
“Yeah, just sleeping off a pain medication. He should wake up enough to get him to the car.”
Reaching down to the sleeping man, Kate grabbed his lax fingers and gave a gentle squeeze. “Hey, Ryan, time to wake up. We need to get you home.”
The hand in hers twitched and Ryan turned his head to blink open his bleary eyes and stare at her, a look of sleepy confusion sliding over his bruised face. “Wha' 're you doin' here?”
“We're your ride home, Ryan.”
Kevin's glazed blue eyes shifted over to Rick and he attempted to smile around his swollen lip. “Hey, Castle. You bring th' F-” Kevin found the word Ferrari too difficult to say around a fat lip. “Th' good car?”
“Sorry Ryan.” Castle laughed and shrugged. “We cabbed it over here.”
“Oh, well. Le's go.”
Castle helped Ryan sit up and he and Beckett put on his sneakers for him, as Kevin yawned and tried to keep his eyes open. What the heck had that doctor shot him up with? Karpowski handed over the discharge and after-care paperwork to Kate as Castle helped Ryan stand and get his bearings. Once they were satisfied that the younger man wouldn't face plant, they headed out of the sliding glass doors of the ER and out to the waiting cab. Castle kept a firm grip on Ryan's arm, just in case.
Kevin slid into the back seat and seemed to melt into the worn vinyl. He was out again before Castle could finish buckling the seatbelt. Kate took the middle and Castle walked around the back of the cab to climb in next to her. As the taxi pulled away from the curb, Rick leaned around her to check on Ryan. He settled back in his seat and Kate gave him a fond look. “He grows on you, doesn't he?”
“Like an annoying kid brother? Yeah.” Rick reached over to hold her hand and give it a gentle squeeze. “I'd like to pound the other annoying kid brother right now.”
“It'll all work out, Castle. Those two are too close to let this end their partnership. Right now, Espo has distance to help him hold onto his anger. Once he's forced into Ryan's company eight plus hours a day, his resolve will crumble. Seriously, Castle, could you stay mad at Kevin very long?”
Once again leaning over to look at Ryan's ridiculously innocent face, Castle's smile wrinkled the corners of his eyes. “No.”
“Exactly. Let them work it out.”
“I don't like unresolved stories. But, for you, I'll try to contain myself.”
Laughing softly, Kate pulled Castle's arm close to hers and rested her head on his shoulder. “I appreciate that, Rick.”
A sudden thought had Beckett sitting up again. “Keys.”
Kate twisted in her set, running her hands over the pockets of Kevin's borrowed sweats.
“Beckett, are you molesting Ryan?”
Rolling her eyes, Kate pulled her cell phone from her jacket pocket. “Don't be ridiculous, Castle. I was checking his pockets for his keys. We have no way of getting into his apartment.”
“Who are you calling?”
“Esposito. He'll have a spare key.”
“Oh.” Castle watched as she put the phone to her ear, waiting for a response. “You sure he'll meet us there?”
“Like I said, Rick. They're partners. Angry or not, he'll meet us with a key.” She held up a finger for silence when she heard Esposito's voice on the other end.
“Yo, Beckett. What's up?”
There was something almost like regret in Javier's voice that made Kate wonder if he already knew what had gone down on the roof. “Hey, Espo. We're taking your partner home from the hospital, and he doesn't have his keys on him. Can you meet us at Ryan's with a spare?”
“In Europe on business. Which you would know, if you'd talked to Ryan at all the last couple of weeks.” Beckett hadn't meant for that to come out the way it did and she closed her eyes, running a hand through her hair. “Sorry, Espo. It's more my fault than yours. Meet us with a key, okay? You don't even have to speak to him, just open the door.”
A long sigh came through the phone. “Okay. I'll be there in a few.”
“Thanks, Espo. I appreciate your help.”
“No worries, Beckett. Later.”
The call disconnected and Kate smiled sadly at Castle. “He'll meet us there.”
After hanging up with Beckett, Javier Esposito stared at the phone for a moment then got up from his kitchen table where he'd been eating a late lunch. Or early dinner. Time didn't seem to matter as much when you weren't working. He grabbed his jacket, made sure he still had Kevin's spare key on his key ring and headed for the door. His thoughts and emotions were a whirlwind at the moment, but if his girl Beckett needed something he was going to help.
The text from Kevin had been a bit disconcerting, but the picture Karpowski sent him made his blood boil with rage. Sure, he was pissed at his partner. But nobody else had the right to take any anger out on Kevin Ryan. Esposito would be sure to let a few people know that fact, in a very direct way.
Javier only lived a few blocks from Ryan's apartment, so he had already found a place to park and was waiting in front of the building when the cab pulled up to the curb. Castle climbed out of the car on the back passenger side, and came around to open the other door. Esposito walked over to give the writer a hand in pulling Ryan from the backseat. His partner looked like shit.
With an exasperated sigh, Javi pulled Kevin's right arm across his shoulders and hefted him upright. The way Ryan's face lit up and the huge smile he somehow managed around his swollen lip melted some of Esposito's angry resolve.
“Javi! I've missed you.” The younger detective relaxed his weight against his partner, and Ryan's smile slipped a little. “Hey, I got blood on your clothes. Sorry.”
“Don't sweat it, bro. It'll wash out.” Looking over Ryan's drooping head, Esposito frowned at Beckett. “What the heck did they shoot him up with?”
Shrugging, she smiled at the concern in Espo's voice. “I don't know, but I don't think it was anything overly strong. I think he had an...interesting...reaction to it they didn't quite expect, hence not being allowed to go home alone.”
With an annoyed huff, Esposito wrapped an arm around Ryan's waist and hoisted his partner upright again. “Well, whatever it was we need to make sure he never gets it again. Even dead drunk he's able to support his own weight better than this. Good thing you're so skinny, bro.”
Sharing amused smiles, Beckett and Castle preceded Javier up the steps to Ryan's building. Castle unlocked the front door with the key Espo dug from his pocket and held it open, laughing at the way Kevin was waving his free arm around as he gave his partner a dramatic play-by-play of the day's events.
“Castle! A little help here?”
Taking pity on Esposito, Rick grabbed Kevin's flailing arm and pulled it across his own shoulders. The younger man looked up in annoyance at the disturbance of his narrative. “Go 'way, Castle. You're too tall.”
Beckett trailed behind the Three Stooges down the hall to the elevator, covering her mouth to stifle her laughter. It was almost like it was before. Oh how she'd missed this feeling of family. Her thoughts promptly sobered when Ryan's discourse took a 180.
“Hey, Javi, you're still gonna be m' partner yeah? Y' know, when ya come back? 'Cause, I gotta tell ya, those other guys 're gonna get me killed. I got Jenny now. I can't jus' get killed. I'll hafta go t' robbery or somethin'. Think Demming'll put in a good word?”
“Shut up, Kevin. You're not going anywhere. I may be mad at you, but I'm still your partner.”
Castle twisted around to look at Beckett, lifted his hand from Kevin's waist and gave her a discreet thumbs-up. Kate smiled back at him and nodded. Esposito had made the first steps to mending bridges. It was a start.
Once inside Ryan's home, Castle and Esposito half-carried the still chattering detective into the bedroom and let him drop onto the bed. Kevin immediately lay back and started to drift off. Esposito grabbed his hands and tugged him back into a sitting position. “No you don't. Let's get that bloody shirt off. Castle, grab a t-shirt from the top drawer over there.”
“I want to ask how you know which drawer has what, but I'm afraid of the answer.”
“Shut up, Castle.”
This time, Kate couldn't stifle her laughter. At Esposito's death glare, she laughed even harder. “Oh, get over it Espo. We know Kevin's your work wife.”
“Hey, how come I'm th' wife?”
Javier helped Kevin off with the borrowed shirt and couldn't help a small smile. “Seriously, bro? You hafta ask?” When he caught sight of the bruising on his partner's stomach, he glared up Beckett. “What the hell?”
Handing over a New York Yankees t-shirt, Castle filled him in. “He got in a fight with a murder suspect. He didn't go into details, but from what happened today I'm guessing whoever had his back...didn't have his back.”
“Why the fuck would they risk something like that?” Javier had to force himself to calm down as he wrestled Kevin into the Yankees shirt, carefully avoiding the sore lip and chin as he pulled the garment over his partner's head.
Helpfully pushing his arms through the sleeves, Kevin answered the question. “'Cause I'm the Judas.”
Javier caught his partner's eye and frowned. “Who the hell called you that?”
Esposito's sigh of regret was loud in the sudden quiet. “You're right, bro. I did. I'm sorry, Kev. It should never have gone beyond the two of us.”
Esposito was going to punch someone in the face very soon. He wisely kept that to himself as he picked up the flannel pajama bottoms Kevin had left at the foot of the bed that morning. “C'mon. Give me the sweats back and change into these.”
His partner grabbed the waistband of the borrowed sweats with both hands and shot a horrified look in Beckett's direction. Kate couldn't help the bark of laughter at the expression on his face.
Shooting her a you're-not-helping look, Javier shook his head. “C'mon, Kevin. I know you wear boxers--shut up Castle--so just hand 'em over.”
By now, Castle was silently shaking with his own laughter. He leaned against Kate for support as they both lost it when Kevin whispered loudly to Javier, “M' boxers were wet when I changed. I'm goin' commando.”
“Y'know what, bro? Keep the sweats. I'll buy new ones.”
And that was it. Kate and Rick lost all control and laughed until they cried. Esposito ignored them both in an attempt to regain some dignity. He waited until Kevin crawled under the duvet and promptly dropped off to sleep before turning off the bedside lamp. Javier stepped over Castle, wheezing on the floor as the writer tried to control his laughter, and went to settle in on the stupid road-kill sofa.
It was several long minutes before Beckett and Castle stumbled into the living room to join him, wiping their faces and fighting off residual giggles. “You two done yet?”
Clearing his throat, Castle attempted to look sober and serious. He wasn't entirely successful. “Yes, absolutely. You've given us fodder for months, so yeah. We're done for now.”
Javier hurled a throw pillow at the writer, hitting him in the face with it. “So when does Jenny get back?”
Sitting on the sofa next to Javi, Beckett shot Castle a questioning look. “Tomorrow, right Rick?”
“Yeah, about 10am. I arranged for a limo to pick Ryan up to meet her. A sort of thanks-for-not-letting-Kate-die thing.” Rick frowned, suddenly remembering something Kevin had said to Jenny as he opened the door the previous night. “He's supposed to call Jenny tonight.”
Esposito waved a dismissive hand. “I'll log into his computer and call her. Let her know Kevin's out for the night after a difficult case.”
At the smirk on Castle's face, Javier sighed. “Yes, I know his password.”
“You are married!”
“Castle, don't make me shoot you.” Esposito rubbed a hand over his head in frustration that Castle still didn't get how they worked. “Look, we're cops. Bad shit happens sometimes. I know his password, he knows mine. I know his locker combo, he knows mine. Clearly.”
Beckett leaned over and lightly punched Javier in the arm. “It's okay, Espo. We get it. I'm just glad you're letting your anger go.”
“Yeah, well. Staying angry at someone you've known so long is really energy-consuming.”
Kate stood and nodded in the direction of the hallway. “Are you planning to stay tonight?”
“I've got a couple of things to do, but yeah. I'll camp out here for the night. Make sure Kevin's up in time to catch his ride to the airport for Jenny.” He looked up at his boss and shot Beckett a lop-sided grin. “I might even go with him just to witness the show. When Jenny sees his face, she's gonna freak.”
After a quick check to make sure Ryan was out for the count, Esposito walked out with Beckett and Castle, locking the door behind him. He had something he needed to do.
As he watched the first coffin being lowered into the ground, Kevin unconsciously scratched at his chin. The stitches had come out that morning, but the newly healed wound itched like crazy. His hand was quickly slapped away.
“If you don't quit doing that, you're going to get it infected.”
“I can't help it.” Ryan shoved his hand in his pocket in an effort to resist temptation. “How'd you know where to find me?”
His partner turned to watch as the second coffin also began its final descent. “Jenny told me. Said the Sutters had paid for the burial. Nice of them.”
Javier glanced at Kevin from the corner of his eye. “Why didn't you tell me this was where you were going when you left the precinct?”
His younger partner gave a shrug and shifted his weight uncomfortably. “I guess I just figured you had better things to do. You didn't handle this case...no personal interest. Y'know?”
“Maybe. But it was personal to you and you're my partner. Of course I was going to be here.”
Kevin smiled and they both waited patiently in the waning light as the graves were quickly filled in. Leaving flowers on the two graves, Ryan looked at the inscriptions on the headstones.
Denise Edwards ~ Beloved Mother
Case Edwards Bowen ~ Beloved Son
“C'mon, bro. Drinks are on me.”
“Sure.” As the two headed down the gravel path to the parking lot, Kevin nudged his partner with his shoulder. “So, a little birdie told me that someone beat the crap out of Pete Walters the night we arrested Joe Killick.”
“Yeah? Karma can be a bitch sometimes, huh?”
“Seems so.” Kevin fought back a smile. “I seem to recall someone having some scabbed over knuckles when he came back from suspension.”
“Maybe someone didn't like the guy almost getting you killed.”
“Maybe. It wasn't really necessary, but I bet it was pretty satisfying to give the guy a fat lip of his own.”
“Bet it was.” Javier fought back a smile of his own. “Not that I would know or anything.”
“Of course not.” The two detectives had reached the parking lot and they stopped, each reaching into pockets for car keys. The familiar rhythm of banter felt good. “Thanks just the same.”
Esposito opened his car door and paused. “You're welcome. 'Til the wheels fall off?”
“'Til the wheels fall off.”
Those wheels might have wobbled a bit, but it would take much more than a breach of trust on both sides to make them fall off.
“Hey, Kevin. Did I show you this picture Karpowski texted me?”