"I almost didn't come back that Christmas you know?" she says looking up at him, guilt written all over her features, "There was this guy in 'legal reasoning', we were going to go down to Mexico, get away from the cold and head for the beaches …"
"My Dad called, said they were really missing me, that months of nothing but phone calls and emails were getting my Mom down, that they both really wanted to have me home for the holidays. I guess it made me feel guilty which was probably why I was a bit of a cow the first few days home …" there's deep regret in her voice and Castle can't help but place his hand on her knee and give it a squeeze of reassurance.
She gives him a small smile of appreciation and continues, "Anyway, it got better and we had a great time over the Christmas, shopping for presents, going out with Maddie and Lanie, skating on New Year's Eve at the Rockefeller Center …" Castle wants to ask who Maddie and Lanie are, but decides to keep quiet, " … it seemed no time at all before I was getting ready to head back to Stanford, sorting out what I was going to take" Kate pauses and swallows, eyes turning to look down at the folder she's been fiddling with all along.
Castle catches something out of the corner of his eye and looking over towards the stairs he can make out Alexis' feet on the top step. He doesn't know how long she's been there and he knows she's not the type of girl to listen in on other people's conversation, but Kate's story is pretty compelling and she'd probably been on her way down but decided not to interrupt. He thinks about suggesting they take this conversation into the office but Kate seems to be settled where they are and he doesn't really want to break the mood. Deciding not to say anything for the moment, he turns back to Kate, watching her as she takes another deep breath and continues.
"I was off to California on the Monday, so we decided to go out for a final family supper on the Saturday. Whilst I'd been away at Uni, Mom had organized a group to help clean up the Washington Heights neighbourhood and she was also doing Pro Bono work at the Community Center there once a week. That Saturday she'd gone to drop some paperwork in to the Center and meet with some neighbours who were having problems … at the time I didn't know any details about this … it was just one of those things Mom did … you know what I mean?"
Castle nods in understanding and she continues "Anyway, we'd arranged to meet up at our favourite place, my Dad and I walked there from home and she was supposed to join us. We waited, tried calling but her phone kept going to voice mail. We called the Center but they said she's already left. Eventually, after two hours we went home, thinking maybe she'd got caught up with helping one of her clients outside of the Center or meeting with some neighbours and hadn't realised the time … you know, the sort of excuses you think of in moments like those?"
Castle nods, and she continues, "When we got home there was a Detective Raglan waiting for us. He told us she'd been found, stabbed to death in an alley …" she swallows and can't help the tear that escapes her eye "… those few words smashed my world to bits" and pulling the edge of her sleeve into her fist she wipes angrily at her cheeks. When Castle looks up at the stairs again he can no longer see Alexis' feet and he assumes she's gone back to her bedroom, unwilling to intrude upon them … maybe it's time they headed to the office, left the kitchen free for Alexis.
Standing up he moves close to Kate and puts his arms around her, unsure how she'll react but not knowing how else to handle the situation. At first she stiffens up, and he's about to let her go, thinking its maybe not such a good idea when he feels her relax into him, sliding her arms round his waist and hugging him tightly. He closes his eyes, lets his chin rest on the top of her head and feels her shuddering breath shake her body as she tries to control her emotions.
Eventually her breathing settles down, her shoulders relax and she slowly pulls her head back, letting go of him. Reluctantly he releases her and takes a step back, looking down at her, seeing her somewhat puffy eyes, face slightly blotched where emotions and the rubbing of his shirt have left their marks. He's expecting her to be embarrassed but she surprises him, though she keeps her eyes down she whispers a "Thank you"
"Anytime, how about we take this in to the office now, see what you've got and I'll tell you what I've found out so far?" Kate nods, begins to push off the stool and he steps back to give her room. "Would you like another coffee, a glass of wine?"
She gives a shaky laugh, "I think maybe a glass of wine would do me good" she says, and watches him as he opens a bottle of her favourite and pours them each a glass. Then taking the offered glass, she picks up the folder and follows him into the study.
Castle sets his glass down on the desk and then proceeds to push the two armchairs in the alcove together so that they can sit next to each other. She gives him a slightly raised eyebrow but says nothing, moving forwards and settling into the right-hand one when he steps back. The afternoon light is beginning to fade, silvery reflections dancing off the distant high-rise blocks as the sun begins to settle to the west, casting pale light through the windows and creating a halo round her hair.
He heads back to the desk, picks up his glass and returns to take the left-hand chair, turning to face her and resting the glass on the arm. "You ok to continue?" he asks. She nods, takes a sip of wine and bends to place the glass on the floor behind her.
"You told me you spent the following two years trying to find out what happened. What did you discover?" he asks.
"To start with, a load of contradictions. Basically there appeared to be two groups of people who might have had vested interests in getting my Mom off their backs. The attempted clean-up of the Washington Heights neighbourhood pissed off a number of local scum, especially Vulcan Simmons, one of the local drug lords. I eventually managed to get to him, told him that I just needed to know why … that I had no intention of taking it any further … I don't know if he believed me or not, but he told me that although he wanted her out of there he hadn't done it. He said it was 'convenient' for him …" here her face showed anger as she remembered her meeting with him "… but that he hadn't actually done anything about it"
"Did you believe him?"
Kate shrugs, "There didn't seem to be much point in him lying, they'd patted me down, made sure I wasn't wired or anything, I might have felt like kicking his teeth down his throat for the way he talked about her … but I didn't get the feeling he was lying"
"And the other group?"
Here she pauses, picks up her wine glass and takes a sip, sets it down near to where he's resting his on the arm rest, runs her thumb over the lip before lifting her eyes to his. "You've heard of Westland Enterprises?"