Kate claps a hand over her mouth. “Did I just say that out loud?”
Lanie appears amused. “And it’s about time. Go on; tell the man how you feel!”
Her face falls. “Lanie, I can’t. It’s just…it’s just not the right time.”
“No time like the present.” The M.E. sighs and gestures to the wall of body storage lockers behind her. “Ten years I’ve been keeping them company while they spend a night or two here on their way to where we’re all goin’. They all had plans, Kate. Things they were gonna do when they got around to it: go on a cruise, lose ten pounds, fall in love. They thought they had all the time in the world, but nobody does.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Kate asks in a hushed voice, glancing furtively around the morgue for Lanie’s colleagues. No one is in the room with them, but there are voices in the hallway and she can see Perlmutter through the glass separating their two stations. “I died a few weeks ago, Lanie. I felt my heart stop beating in my chest.”
“Then why are you still waitin’ around?” Kate frowns. Lanie pulls up a couple stools for the two of them and leans in closer. “Girl, look, do you remember when we first met? Start of spring semester of the third year? You had just transferred schools and switched majors, pre-law to criminal justice and you were worried you wouldn’t be accepted into the police academy or that you wouldn’t learn to shoot a gun well enough to pass the examinations because you’d never done anything like that before. You basically turned your life around overnight, headed in an entirely new direction. It was a turning point, Kate. And so is this.”
“This is nothing like that,” Kate protests.
“You must have had the same types of fears then as you do now. Back then it was…what if you were no good at criminal justice, or…what if you hated being a cop. What did you tell yourself to get over them?”
“That it would all be worth it in the end,” Kate mumbles.
“You might have found true love, Kate. If this isn’t it, then I don’t know what is. Isn’t that worth it in the end as well? Isn’t the possibility of true love worth the uncertainty of just diving in?”
Castle parks the car outside Black Pawn, nodding to the security guard out front named Ricky. Ricky gives a friendly wave back. Everyone here knows who he is, evidenced by the smattering of interns leaning out office doors to get a glimpse of him walking down the hall after he exits the elevator. He winks at a particularly hot one out of habit, and then immediately feels marginally guilty towards Kate. It was just a wink, he reminds himself.
He doesn’t bother to knock on Gina’s door—their tolerate-hate relationship throws most social niceties out the window—but instead drops his bin of papers on her desk over the document she’d been poring over. The papers are still slightly warm; he’s just picked them up from the printing place he’d sent them off to a few minutes ago. “Impressive,” Gina’s blood red lips curve into a mocking smile. “I wasn’t sure you would get it here on time. Your track record leaves something to be desired on this sort of thing.”
“Could we just skip the sly insults and get this over with?” Castle asks.
“Somewhere you have to be?” Gina prompts. She taps the bin with her signature red gel pen. “Sit.” Rolling his eyes and clenching his jaw, Castle obeys. “So, I hear you had a run in with page six a couple of weeks ago. A bit early to be gathering attention for the book, but I’ve always said you have a thing for the spotlight.”
“That’s not what it was about, Gina,” Castle says through gritted teeth.
“Oh, no, that’s right—it’s about that Detective, the one who was shot. Katherine Beckett, right? How is she, by the way?”
“She’s recovering,” Castle growls.
“You see much of her lately? Rumor has it your daughter’s been traveling for the last week…maybe you’ve been using your free time to chase after the inspiration for Nikki Heat?”
“I don’t have to chase after her. She invited me to stay with her.”
“Well then, things are moving along quite nicely then for you. But as your publisher, I have to ask,” Gina leans in close, “if things don’t work out between you and her, are you going to kill off yet another golden goose? Heat’s doing as well as Storm ever did—some would say better, seeing as they’re making a movie—and I don’t like the idea of yet another main character of yours getting killed off over something petty.”
“Petty?” Castle growls. “Are you sure you’re talking as my publisher? Because you sound an awful lot like my bloodsucking ex-wife.”
“Hilarious as ever, Rick. But I’m expecting many, many more Nikki Heats before you and I are done.”
“Ooh, can we end it now?”
“Still funny. Sign here.” She shoves a piece of paper at him and drops a ballpoint pen on top of it.
“Wait, for real? You’re negating my contract?”
“You wish. No, this is to certify that you allow me to edit and Black Pawn to publish Heat Rises, and of course that this work is entirely your own.” Her voice neared monotone at the close of that statement.
“Oh.” Castle scribbles his signature on the line. “There. May I go now?”
“You may.” Gina lifts the lid off his bin and removes the stack of papers, setting them down in front of her with a thump. “I’ll see you back here in a week to go over changes.” No requests. No calendar-checking. Just, “see you back here.” That’s Gina, all right.
Castle exits the office as quickly as he can, glad to be out of that stuffy room with that aggravating blonde and to be done staring at the evil red fountain pen—the first of what he’s sure will be many to obliterate his beautiful work and replace it with, well, sentences that “move the plot along” and “develop the characters more quickly.” Although he has to admit, her critiques do help. As the author oftentimes he’s too close to the story to see the bigger picture, but Gina’s just right—adept command of the English language, knows his style, and has extensive knowledge of all the history and back story of Nikki Heat and the rest of his characters.
He flashes a winning smile at that same intern, feeling a bit flattered as she blushes slightly red and ducks back inside. Good to know he’s still ruggedly handsome and that his undeniable charm is intact.
Outside, Ricky keeps watch for lurking paparazzi as Castle enters his car. Before he starts it, he pats his pocket to check that the flash drive is still there. It is. He waves a thank-you and goodbye to Ricky as he drives away.
He moves smoothly through lanes of traffic to a small coffee shop that is both obscure and expensive, just the way the Fox likes it. He recognizes him immediately upon entering the establishment but waits to make eye contact before taking a chair across from him.
“So, I heard you needed my help again, Castle. Another book? I give you any more trade secrets as ‘research,’ you’re going to put me out of business.”
“No, not this time, Fox.” Castle slips the drive out of his pocket and sets it on the table. Then he pushes it across to the man, who looks to be in his mid-forties with graying hair and piercing blue eyes.
“It contains a virus that was put on my friend’s laptop,” Castle explains. “I need to know exactly what it’s doing and where it’s sending the information.”
“Depending on the skill of the programmer and how common the code, this could take some time.”
“That’s fine,” Castle says automatically. “Just as soon as you can get back to me. It’s important.”
The Fox squints at Castle. “Just how important, exactly? If we put a price on it?”
“Forty thousand,” Castle throws out. The Fox shakes his head slightly, and Castle fears he’s going to ask for more. Castle’s rich, but he did promise all the profit of Heat Rises to charity. Another couple transactions like these and his next book—the one without even a title yet—might have to be written without his normal amount of procrastination. Still, the Fox is very good at what he does. Castle knows he’s been hired by men much wealthier than him. “Fifty.”
The Fox laughs, a booming sound that instills both unease and relief. “No, no, I don’t want your money.”
“A character, in your next book.”
Castle cuts in again before he can finish, surprised and relieved. “Based on you? I thought you enjoyed your anonymity.”
“I do. However, I have a potential client with deep pockets that will only hire me if I can prove how wide my network is. He implied that a character in one of your books would suffice as evidence as to my connection with the fiction world.”
“Deal,” Castle says. “Tell me about this character.”
“A man, named Clark Mathis. He doesn’t have to be prominent, just a suspect interview or an interrogation will satisfy the requirements. He should be wearing a blue striped tie and a gold watch. Also a red-and-blue campaign pin with the letters FF on his right side of his suit.”
Castle scribbles down the information on a scrap of paper. “Can I have any information on your client? Maybe I can put in something in the acknowledgements that he’ll recognize as well—”
“No, that won’t be necessary,” the Fox cuts him off. “The client is, say…a politician that likes to stay both in and out of the public eye.”
“Remind me not to vote for this guy,” Castle mutters. He tucks the scrap of paper into his pocket. “Thank you so much.” He stands to leave.
“Don’t thank me,” warns the Fox. “This is a business transaction, nothing more. I shall examine your virus and get back to you within a week, Mr. Castle. And I’m sure you remember that if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain, there’s nowhere in the world you can hide from me.”
“There he is,” Kate says upon the buzzing of her cell phone. “He’d come in, but he’s technically not allowed without a cop if he’s not here to ID a victim.”
“Since when does he follow the rules?” the M.E. asks, rolling her eyes.
Kate shrugs and immediately regrets the movement, wincing. She glances down at the phone again. “Ah, there we are. ‘I might be parked illegally as well.’” She drops her phone back in her pocket and smiles at Lanie. “Thanks for lunch.”
“Get going, skedaddle,” Lanie nods, pulling on her blue exam gloves with a definitive snap. “Ryan’s gonna be here soon anyway—I found some interesting details about the bullets in the victim for his latest case.”
She pauses by the door. “What kind of details?”
“Leaving,” Kate agrees with a sigh. “Can’t wait until I get my badge back.”
“Remember what I said earlier!” Lanie calls after her.
In the short length of the hallway, Kate resolves to do it. Before she can back out, she hurries down the steps as fast as she can manage to where Castle waits at the bottom. She meets his eyes for just a second before she collides with him, pressing her lips to his in a soft, full kiss. It's just a moment before they break apart, but in those moments the air coalesces around them and everything in the world ceases to matter save the arm he has looped around her waist and the look of surprise and adoration in his eyes. His love is mirrored in the look she gives him, but she says nothing. On unspoken consent, her hand snakes its way into his. As they walk to the car together, Kate glances back at the morgue building, wanting to thank Lanie for her advice. The M.E. isn't visible, but no matter. Her best friend is always a phone call away.
For right now, Kate just wants this moment to never end.
But, of course, it does: their fingers separate unwillingly as Castle goes around the car to get into the drivers’ seat. That glorious feeling, however, doesn’t dissipate and is renewed with every beat of her heart.