Convalescence

Missing

Castle’s heart pounds in his ears. How can she be gone? His hand fumbles in his jacket for his phone, calling hers. There’s a ringing from her bedroom, and he finds it plugged into the wall next to the nightstand. Where did she go? Why would she go without taking her phone, without leaving a note, without telling him?

He sets the coffee down on the dining room table, leaving it steaming hot and all but forgotten. He dials Lanie and listens to it ring, one, two, three times before she finally picks up. “What is it, writer-boy? I’m right in the middle of an autopsy.”

“Lanie, something’s wrong. I only left for an hour to pick up an outline from my loft and when I came back the apartment was dark and she was gone.” His words are a jumble, panic rising.

“Whoa, Castle, slow down: what happened?”

“Kate. Kate’s gone,” he says.

There’s silence for a moment. “That can’t be right...she only left the hospital yesterday! She can’t have gotten that far, not in her condition.”

“With the taxi system, she could be anywhere in the city!”

“You’re right. Castle, you don’t think they took her, do you?”

“What?” The thought hadn’t even occurred to him.

“Whoever shot her at the funeral didn’t manage to finish the job. You don’t think...”

“No,” Castle says slowly. “There’s no sign of a struggle, the door’s intact...” The man on the phone said they would leave her alone. But Lanie doesn’t know about him.

“Is there a security camera in Kate’s building?” Lanie asks. She seems to have gotten over her panic and is directing him calmly, something he desperately needs right now. Too many scenarios are running through his head, and none of them end well.

“Um, yeah, I think so, but only in the elevator.”

“Then call Javi. Make sure she didn’t go to him or Ryan, and then ask him to look at the footage. If he can’t get footage from that camera, he can look at the traffic cam outside her building. Do you have any idea why she would run away? Where she went will depend on why she ran.”

“I don’t know,” Castle replies, running his hand through his hair and looking desperately around as if the apartment can provide the answers he seeks. He’s so scared it threatens to choke him. “I don’t know. Something here could have spooked her, or...or it could be me.”

“Castle, why would she run away from you?”

“She had a breakdown, last night, and I comforted her. Then this morning she didn’t want to talk about it, like she was defensive. Kate runs away when people get too close. Maybe I—I got too close.”

“Castle, listen to me: this is not your fault. Call Javi and Ryan. Call Jim too; make sure she didn’t show up at her dad’s place. I’m going to check a few of our favorite cafés before meeting you at the Twelfth.”

“Okay,” Castle agrees. His hand is shaking as he dials the precinct.

“Esposito.”

“It’s Castle. Kate’s gone.”

“What do you mean, ‘gone’?” Esposito’s voice is low, quiet.

“She’s not at her apartment. I only left for an hour, I didn’t—”

“Castle, you lost her? She’s badly injured, how do you lose someone like that?”

Castle is beating himself up over this, and Esposito’s piling on doesn’t make much of a difference. All he cares about is finding her. “Lanie said you could check traffic cams outside her building.”

“Yeah, I’m on it,” Esposito says. “Get down here as soon as possible.”

“Okay,” Castle says, and hangs up. He scribbles a note to Kate—CALL ME, underlined a few times for good measure—and sticks it to her pill bottle. Then he sprints outside and hails a taxi, telling the driver to take him to the Twelfth as fast as possible, traffic lights be damned. The whole ride he’s searching his mind for possible locations she could have fled to, where she could have gone. By the time he arrives, Lanie and Esposito are already assembled, both looking positively worried. “Where’s Ryan?” Castle asks.

“He’s coming,” Esposito answers quickly. “He had taken the day off and was spending it planning the wedding with Jenny.”

Castle nods. “Do you have the footage?”

“Yeah," Esposito pulls it up on his computer. “We’ve been watching it in 4x for a couple minutes now, but nothing yet.” The three of them huddle around the monitor. People speed walk in and out of sight on the sidewalk and a bald man enters Kate’s building, but still no one comes out. The door opens again from the inside and a woman with long hair steps onto the sidewalk, moving slowly as if each step is painful. “That’s her,” Castle exclaims.

“What the hell are you doing, Beckett?” Esposito mutters. “Look, she’s getting into that taxi.”

“Can you track it using the cameras?”

“Yeah, based on the plate and its direction of travel...” Esposito pulls up another three screens of footage, playing them one after the other. Castle’s heart pounds with anticipation. Their eyes are glued to the cab, following its movements from window to window. All of a sudden it’s gone.

“Where did it go?” Castle asks, but neither Esposito not Lanie has an answer for him. Esposito rewinds the final frames and they spot the taxi turn into an underground parking garage. It never comes back out, but another few cars do.

“Bro, why would she go there?” Esposito asks.

“Or why would she switch taxis?” Lanie says.

Ryan runs up to them. “I got here as fast as I could. Any news?” Jenny trails along behind him, looking just as worried as he does. With all of their faces, one would think somebody had died. The thought is not comforting to Castle.

“No,” he says. “When I went back to the apartment, she was just gone. Then I came straight here.”

“Did you check the closets?” Ryan asks. “When I was a kid that was always the first place I would hide.”

“Yes, of course I did,” Castle replies impatiently. “But we know she definitely left the apartment, we see her on the traffic cam. Her cab enters a parking garage and never comes back out again.”

“Javi, can you track the other cab?” Lanie asks.

“No, the camera on the exit isn’t good enough for me to make out the plates,” Esposito answers. “We have no idea where she went.”

“Okay,” Castle says, breathing heavily. “Okay. Jenny, can you check your and Ryan’s apartment?”

“Of course,” she nods.

Castle doesn’t even pause, mind racing a mile a minute. “Ryan, you check that parking garage and then Jim’s place, in case she went back there. If she was at his job, Jim would have called. Esposito, stay here in case she comes to the precinct. It’s familiar; she might be running to here. Lanie, check your apartment and then go back to the morgue in case she was seeking you out. Alexis is at mine right now, so I’ll check the coffee place and dial up a few of her friends. What was her name? Madison, Madison Queller. I’ll start with her and then try some of the other recently used contacts on her phone.”

“Don’t you think we should tell Gates?” Ryan looks uncertain.

“Do what you have to do,” Castle replies, practically sprinting out of the precinct. He hails a cab and directs the driver to their favorite coffee place.

The proprietor greets him with a handshake, saying, “Great to see you, Rick! Kind of late for your usual order, though, isn’t it? Plus you already came in here once today. Are you coming off another all-night writing session and need a caffeine boost?”

“Sorry, Marty, I’m not here to buy this time,” Castle answers, pulling out his phone. “I’m looking for a friend of mine. Have you seen her?” He holds out a picture of Kate on his phone and the shop owner scratches his head. “No, sorry, Rick, I can’t say that I have. But I only got here a few minutes ago. Allen?” He calls to the man behind the counter. “Allen, have you seen this woman come in here today?” Castle shows him the phone.

“Nope,” says Allen after studying it for a few seconds. “I’ve seen her in here before though, although not in a long while. Seemed nice. Is something wrong?”

“No, I’m sure she’ll turn up,” Castle says, not believing his own words. “Thanks Marty. Give me a call if you see her.”

“Will do,” Marty smiles. Castle exits the cafe and returns to the taxi he left waiting out front.

When he arrives back at Kate’s apartment, it’s exactly like he left it before. As he enters, he calls out in vain, “Kate? Are you there?” but again there’s no answer. He scoops up her phone from her bedroom and slides to unlock. It wants a password.

“Lanie, have you made any progress?” he calls her from his own cell phone.

“Sorry, Castle, she’s not at my place.”

“Well, in order to get into her phone, I need her passcode. Would you know it?”

“You spent three years observing her work and you don’t know her passcode? I thought personal boundaries weren’t much of thing with you.”

“Lanie!”

“Right, sorry. One-nine-nine-nine.”

“The year of her mother’s murder,” Castle says as he types it in. Icons flow onto the screen of Kate’s phone. “Thanks, Lanie.”

“Good luck,” she hangs up. Castle begins to sift through Kate’s contacts and calls a few of them that look promising, but none have seen her. When he reaches Madison, he calls from his own phone.

“Hey, Madison, it’s Rick Castle.”

There’s a giggle on the other end. “Hey, Rick! I haven’t heard from you in a while!”

“Yeah, but I uh, I’m calling about Beckett.”

“KBecks? Is she okay?”

“Well, not exactly. She’s missing. Have you seen her? Has she come by your apartment or—or the restaurant?”

“Oh my God! No, I haven’t seen her in a couple weeks. Q3 isn’t even open today; she’s not here. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Just stay on the lookout,” Castle hangs up. Fear and panic are rising in him again; he has exhausted all his avenues. She’s been missing at least two hours, more than enough time to get her in a heap of trouble as a cop without a gun. She could be lost. She could be collapsed on the sidewalk. She could be gunned down by a vindictive crime boss freshly out of prison. All of these stories and more he has seen coating the murder boards in the precinct, and it is unthinkable that she could join their number. But he can’t dwell on that. He promises himself he’ll never stop searching for her. When he calls them, neither Ryan nor Esposito have anything but ashen voices for him.

“She definitely switched taxis in that parking garage,” Ryan tells him. It does nothing to comfort him, just keeps their search expanded to all of New York City. She could be anywhere, lost, hurt, frightened, confused… Disoriented would be an accurate frame of mind for her right now, he thinks. She must have been really out of it to leave like that.

Although…changing taxis in an old parking garage required a definite presence of mind. The only reason for her to do that is…to escape someone? To not be followed? Who is she trying to keep off her trail?

The man on the phone said she’d be safe. But Kate doesn’t know that. It’s the deadly secret Castle, Esposito, and Ryan swore to keep from her.

Castle swallows hard. He has to do it. He has to call Jim. The father’s wrath will be terrible, or maybe it will just be a quiet, disappointed rage. Either way, it will be unbearable. Castle slowly searches down the list of contacts in his phone, adrenaline surging through his muscles in anticipation. All of a sudden, a call replaces his contact list, the green “Answer” button glowing invitingly. Castle does. “Castle.”

“Mr. Castle, this is Joel from the Old Haunt. I think we may have had a break-in.”

A break-in? That can’t be right. “What’s missing?”

“Well, we’re not sure. All the cash in the register is still there, but someone’s been moving stuff down in the basement. We’d like you to come down and assess.”

Kate. It has to be her. “I’m on my way,” Castle says, leaping for the door. “Don’t go down there; leave everything the way it is until I arrive.” If it’s truly a robbery, then he hasn’t spent three years working with the NYPD to let his own employees mess with a crime scene. If it’s Kate, then he doesn’t want any unfamiliar faces to spook her. He still doesn’t know what made her run in the first place.

“Got it.”

Castle stuffs his phone back in his pocket. When he arrives at the Old Haunt, he sprints up the steps and bursts in the door. There are a few customers seated in the booths, but in the middle of afternoon the bar is mostly empty. Soft music emanates from the piano, manned in the daytime by a balding man with graceful fingers.

Joel spots him immediately. “Mr. Castle, good, you’re here.” He leads him to the bar, where another man is wiping it down with a rag, looking haggard. Castle recognizes him as a new hire that he approved sometime last month. “This is Damien Sanders, the bartender on duty. He’s the one that reported it.”

“What did you see?” Castle asks. His years at Beckett’s side and in the interrogation room with her have given him edge in this. He is an expert at getting precise information. He learned from the best.

“I went down to log some paperwork,” the man says, stuffing the rag under the counter. “When I went down, it was loud because the dishwasher was still running above so I didn’t hear anything. But then I noticed the bookshelf was shifted slightly, like someone had tried to get behind it and not put it back properly. We don’t know what’s back there, but we’re assuming it’s some kind of safe.”

“Okay, stay here,” Castle orders. “I’m going to go check it out.”

Joel looks uncomfortable. “Shouldn’t we call the police or something?” Castle ignores the question. He’s hoping so hard she’s down there that his head might explode from the strain.

Castle walks expertly to the corner of the bar and pulls out the secret lever, twisting it until there’s a faint click and the trap door opens upward. His first step into the basement is hesitant, as are all the ones that follow. To come here…he can’t imagine what state of mind she must be in right now. He doesn’t want to startle her, although his heart is pounding louder than the noise of any step he could take. “Kate?” he whispers her name. There’s no answer, and he didn’t expect one.

It takes Castle a minute to see what Sanders had meant about the bookshelf, which in reality only holds a few books and numerous metalworks. There’s a large crack between the wall and the edge of the shelves. “How did she…?” he murmurs. He strains against the bookshelf, shunting it sideways until the space is just wide enough to let him through. He takes out his phone and uses it as a flashlight, illuminating the secret Prohibition-era passageway and the cobwebs that hang above it. As always, the corridor has a dank, wet wood smell and clogs his nostrils with dust.

He swings open the next door with one hand, stepping gingerly by as to not touch the antique weapon pinned to the other side. He reminisces as he continues on that she had once described this place as damp, cramped, dark, and full of rat pee—she must really be running from something to take refuge down here. Finally he reaches the pile of red bricks that marks the end of the tunnel as they’ve explored it and flicks on the lights. The cavern flares to life amid the drip, drip of unseen water, a burst of color his eyes were unprepared for.

And there, right past the webbed chandelier—Kate. His mind floods with relief at the same time his heart overflows with love. She looks so peaceful there, curled up in a pile of burlap sacks. He kneels next to her, paying no heed to the layer of dirt caking onto his pants. Her eyes are closed and she’s breathing softly, peacefully, wearing an almost contented expression in her sleep. She must have been exhausted when she arrived, created herself a cocoon of cloth, and fallen asleep. Seeing her now, like this, suddenly makes perfect sense in Castle’s head. He’s found the story.

It wasn’t him she was running from after all. She never would have come here—to an establishment he owned—if trying to escape him. She fled to it because it was familiar, and…and secret. Another bout of realization washes over him. That’s why the curtains were drawn in the apartment. That’s why she left her phone, why she switched taxis where no cameras could track her. Her strength, even in her condition, amazes him: even sliding that bookshelf a few inches was incredibly taxing. She must have been in a true adrenaline-fueled panic.

She thought she was in danger. She thought the shooter was coming back to get her, and didn’t feel safe in her own home. So Kate used all of her cop knowledge to avoid detection. This morning, when she had said she was fine…she had lied to his face. But that doesn’t matter now. She’s here; she’s safe. And that’s enough.

He tucks a stray lock of hair behind her ear, careful not to disturb her. But he cannot keep from stroking it softly, waiting for her to wake up. Waiting for them to go home, together.


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