Convalescence

Scars

“No, definitely not looking to do that,” Kate smiles faintly. “So, what do you say, back to bed?”

“I guess,” Alexis nods. They both stand and before Kate knows it Alexis has wrapped her in a vanilla-scented bear hug. “Thank you,” the teen whispers, releasing her after a few more seconds.

The door opens behind her and she turns to the sound of music and Castle standing bemused in the doorway. “Uh…your phone’s ringing,” he says, holding it out to her.

“Thanks, Castle,” she says, walking quickly over and taking it from him. She accepts the call and presses it to her ear, moving away from Castle and Alexis. “Beckett.”

“Sorry about the time,” Agent Shaw says, “But we caught a break on the Sandler case, and I thought you’d want to be here for it. We showed pictures of Sandler and his partner, Dubose, to the night guards at Labaque Inc. and one of them recognized them, said they had parked next to him in the garage and he noticed because he had never seen them before and they were acting oddly. He got a plate number, and it’s not the van we already pulled over. We’re running it now.”

“We’ll be right there,” Kate says, pulling her coat from the rack. “Thanks for the call.”

“No problem,” Shaw replies, hanging up.

“Castle, precinct,” she tells him, interrupting some sort of nonverbal communication between him and his daughter. Realizing how Alexis’s eyes had widened at the word ‘precinct,’ Kate says, “Just a lead on a car our perp might be using. Nothing dangerous, I promise.”

Alexis nods and turns to her dad. “See you tonight?”

“Yeah, pumpkin,” he kisses the top of her head.

“Love you,” says Alexis as he opens the door.

“I love you too,” Castle responds with a reassuring smile. “See you tonight.” He closes the door behind them. On any other day, Kate would have asked if he was sure he wanted to come with her. But he knew as well as she did that in this case, if he wasn’t going neither was she. She needed him.

“Did you get any sleep at all last night?” Castle asks once they’re on the road.

“No,” she answers honestly.

“Anything in particular keeping you up? Anything you wanna talk about?” His voice is gentle, and she has to stifle a yawn before she can respond.

“Not really. The case.”

“Sandler?”

“I’m okay, Castle. I’ve been in plenty of perp-holding-a-gun-to-a-bystander’s-head situations before.”

Even though he doesn’t say it, she can hear him thinking it. “Yeah, but never with PTSD. Never after you were shot and died.” She swallows. The him in her imagination has a point, a valid one, but dwelling on how she should be traumatized and scared and shaken right now isn’t going to help anything. All the real Castle says is, “Okay,” and she loves him just a little bit more for it.

In the elevator Kate mentally prepares herself for what she’s about to see, the hustle and bustle of the bullpen, but when they arrive it’s strangely quiet. A few uniforms wander around aimlessly, and the most sound definitely comes from the war room. Oh, right, she’s forgotten: it’s 4:10 A.M.

Agent Shaw greets her at the door, gesturing for her to come in and see what they’ve found. At Kate’s question, Shaw tells her that she sent Ryan and Esposito home for the night a couple hours ago. To Kate’s surprise, the new video tech is still there, slogging away at one of the fed’s computers.

“Did you manage to get some shut-eye?” Shaw asks her, approaching the smart boards.

“Yes,” Kate lies, and then decides against it, shaking her head. “No. What’ve you got?”

Shaw segues right into it without so much as a worried glance at Kate. That’s the beauty of a working relationship—Kate showed up, Shaw doesn’t waste any time worrying over something Kate obviously isn’t worried about. Unlike what Castle, Ryan, Esposito, and probably Lanie too would think, Kate can handle twenty-four or thirty-six hours without sleep. She’s done it before, for longer.

Although, granted, that was when she was still good friends with caffeine and wasn’t healing a bullet hole in her chest.

“We got a hit on the plates a few minutes ago—another stolen van. We’re searching traffic cams now both by hand and automatically and hoping to get lucky. If you’d like to talk to him, the security guard from Labaque, Clyde Monroe, is in the lounge down the hall.” Shaw hands her a manila folder and a pencil and Kate nods. It occurs to her that maybe this isn’t quite what Gates had in mind when she gave her permission to ‘consult only,’ but it’s not like she’s leaving the precinct to do it. And Gates told Ryan and Esposito to give their full cooperation to the FBI, and as she’s just following Shaw’s orders, it’s at least arguable. Kate’s itching to stretch her interrogation muscles, and talking to this guy is about as close as she’s gonna get.

With Castle trailing behind, she heads for the man in his early thirties who’s running her hand over his hair agitatedly. He looks up and stands when she opens the door. “Mr. Monroe, I’m Detective Kate Beckett,” she says with a handshake, “and this is my partner, Richard Castle. Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?”

“Sure, but I’m pretty sure I already told the FBI all I know,” the man replies hesitantly, glancing back in the direction of Agent Shaw and her team.

“Why don’t we just start from the beginning?” She opens the folder in her hands and withdraws mug shots of Sandler and Dubose. “Have you seen these two men before?”

“Yes,” the man replied. “Two days ago. I work the night shift at Labaque Inc. and was leaving after my shift was over. I was walking through the parking garage to my car and this van pulled into the spot next to me. I was in a section reserved for the guards, and I’ve met all of them, but I didn’t recognize these two. That one—” he pointed to Dubose, “—was driving. They were wearing earpieces, but all of the security guards use handheld radios. It seemed off to me, but I was done with my shift and just wanted to go home and sleep. I wrote down the plate number, radioed it in along with their descriptions, and left.”

“About what time was this?” Castle asks from where he’s leaning up against the wall behind her. She’s taking notes.

“My shift ends at around 5:00 A.M., so it was probably around five minutes after that?” the man guesses.

“Did anything odd happen at your company that day?” Kate asks. “Was anything stolen or sabotaged or did anyone not show up who was supposed to?”

“Not that I’m aware of, but you’d really have to ask Mr. Whitcomb. He runs the company; he would know.”

“Thank you, we will,” Kate says. “Do you remember anything else about the men or the van that would help us find them?”

The man thinks a minute. “No, I’m sorry. Once I got home I pretty much didn’t give them another thought until I heard those two detectives asking about them last night.”

Kate closes the folder. “Thank you for coming in; you’ve been very helpful. If you remember anything else, give us a call.”

The man nods, shaking her hand again. “I will.” She guides him to the elevator and sighs as soon as the doors close.

“Besides the plate, so not helpful,” Castle sums up her thoughts.

“Yeah.” She heads back to the war room with him trailing her just a step behind.

“Did you find anything else out from him?” Shaw asks, not even looking up from the smart board. “We ran with the plate as soon as we had it, and as it was the middle of the night we were a bit understaffed.” For a woman running on no sleep for the past twenty-four hours, Agent Shaw didn’t look at all tired, just determined. Determined to find this guy and end his kidnapping and torturing rampage. Kate briefly wonders if that’s the same look she herself gets when working on her mom’s case. When Castle has to drop food off at her desk to make sure she eats and forcibly close whatever she’s working on so that she gets some sleep. He’s been taking care of her a lot longer than she realized.

Kate hands the fed her notes and Shaw scans them quickly. She snaps her fingers at Agent Avery. “Get me Whitcomb, the head of Labaque, on the phone, now. I don’t care if he’s asleep or in a meeting, just get him on the line.”

Avery gives a hard, clipped nod and works with one of the techs to get a number. He holds the phone to his ear, presumably on hold, occasionally reminding the various people on the other end that he is a federal agent. He scribbles something down on a sheet of paper and then he hands it and the phone to Agent Shaw. “His personal cell,” Avery explains.

Shaw dials. “This is Special Agent Shaw from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” Pause. “We need some information about your company. Do you remember any security alerts from Wednesday, the 22nd? Yes, I will hold.” Agent Shaw exchanges a glance with Kate. “He’s contacting the head of security. Looks like we’re waking a lot of people up today.”

“They’ll live,” Kate replies drily.

“Yes, thank you,” Shaw returns her attention to the phone. “Two suspicious persons, white males, called in early in the morning. Were they ever apprehended by security?” She waits. “Just a few more questions, Mr. Whitcomb. Was anything reported missing from your offices that day?” Since Shaw has no reaction but a slight sigh to his answer, Kate can only presume a no. “And did any of your employees not show up for work that day?” Shaw frowns slightly. “Yes, I do realize it is a big company, Mr. Whitcomb. Yes, I will hold again.” After a longer interlude, Shaw listens intently to the man on the other end before saying, “Thank you for your time, Mr. Whitcomb,” and hanging up.

“He says four employees didn’t show up for work that day,” Shaw says, dictating their names to one of her agents. Kate and Castle watch as their names appear on the left smart board. “The first two are unlikely, as they both called in sick and returned to work yesterday. Number four was a consistent no-show, whom they only kept employed because he was one of their more brilliant scientists and they didn’t want him working for a rival company. That leaves number three. He was relatively new but working on one of their biggest projects, and has never missed a day of work before. He also didn’t go to work yesterday.”

“Sounds like he was taken,” Castle suggests.

“Exactly,” Shaw agrees. “Avery, we need to find this guy. Everything you have on him, on screen, especially home address.”

“Doing it,” Avery replies automatically, clicking away at one of the computers. “Sent the address to your phone, we are good to go. Everett, Rosenthal, Vale, Guo, let’s move out. Within seconds the feds are out the door into the elevator, leaving Ellis, Kate, and Castle alone with two leftover feds in the war room amid the whir of the many machines and the slight heat emitted by the smart boards and electronics.

“Hope they find him,” Kate says, wandering out of the stuffy room and back into the bullpen. She collapses absentmindedly into the chair at her desk, vaguely aware of Castle moving his customary seat back into position beside her.

“You okay?” he asks, eyeing her concernedly.

“Yeah, just tired,” she replies, propping up her elbow and resting her head in her hand to look at him.

“They don’t need us right now; we could go home and try to get more sleep,” he suggests.

“No, I wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway,” she sighs. “Not until this case is over.”

“Hopefully soon,” he assures her. “So, listen, Kate: what would you say to living at the loft for a while?”

She blinks, trying to decide what to say. Castle’s place is nicer than hers—bigger bed, too—but it’s not home. Still, after this case, after seeing Shaw again, maybe she doesn’t want to go home? Even after more than a year, the back of her mind still connects Shaw with apartment with explosion. Maybe this would be good for her own peace of mind. “What about Alexis? Wouldn’t she mind?”

“I talked with Alexis last night while we did the dishes. I think she’d actually prefer it this way. She gets to see me more often, and she does like having you around a lot.”

Kate pauses, considering. “Okay. For a little while.”

Castle smiles. “Good. You’ll like it there—I might even have to biggest private DVD collection this side of the United States.”

She laughs. “I doubt it, but I do like a good movie. When all of this is said and done…”

“Yeah,” Castle’s eyes sparkle at her. “I have a few in mind.”

“Oh, really? What—” Her cell phone rings, cutting her off. “Beckett.”

“Hey, it’s Shaw,” the federal agent says. “Just calling to tell you we’re moving in on Letder’s building. I’ll call you again once we’ve cleared the place.”

“Understood, good luck,” Kate replies. She and Castle sit in silence for the next few minutes.

“A watched pot never boils,” Castle mutters, forcing himself to look away from the phone. “Is it supposed to take this long?”

“Maybe they’ve found something.”

“Do you think they found him?”

“I hope so.”

“See this, the waiting? Now do you get why I never follow your orders and stay in the car?”

“Just relax, Castle. She’ll call when they’re done. Soon.”

“Are you relaxed?”

“No,” she admits.

“I think this is more stressful than going in with vest,” Castle tells her. The cell rings and she picks it up quickly.

“Beckett.”

“We couldn’t find Letder, but we did recover his phone,” Shaw informs her. “I’ve got tech working on it right now in the van. We’re headed back to you, but we think we know how this kidnapping was set up. Letder received a text from a number that wasn’t in his contacts two days ago saying it was his brother and that he was in trouble. It asked him to come alone and meet him in Crossgroves Park.”

Kate transcribes the number onto her notepad. “I’ll get Ellis to go through camera video from then; what time was it?” Kate asks, striding purposefully back towards the war room.

“The park is only fifteen minutes from his apartment, so have her comb from 6:00 A.M. to 6:30, and then expand the parameters if she doesn’t come up with anything.” Kate passes along the information to the NYPD video tech. “I’ve sent a team to the park to sweep for evidence and perhaps find some witnesses, but as it was two days ago I doubt they’ll find anything. What can you tell me about this brother?”

She approaches the smart board and examines the family relations section. “Ian Letder, younger brother and fraternal twin to their sister Leah. He’s got quite a colorful file—possession, possession with intent to distribute, B & E, possession of an illegal firearm…”

“So it’s plausible that Alexander actually thought his brother was in trouble,” Shaw states. “Call the sister—Leah, was it?—and see if she can shed any light on their relationship. Most likely the texts didn’t come from Ian, but can’t rule out Sandler and Ian having some connection. Have one of my agents look for it as well.”

“Got it,” Kate says. She brings Castle up to speed in a few short sentences and then contacts Leah Letder, asking her to come down to the station.

When the woman arrives, it’s with the air of someone who has done this many, many times before and is not at all eager to repeat the event. “Right this way, Miss Letder,” Kate directs her into the lounge.

“What is this about?” the woman asks, folding her arms across her lap after taking a seat.

“When was the last time you spoke to your brothers?” Kate asks, opening her notebook.

“Ian and Alexander? Well, for Ian it’s been years. He was in and out of rehab and jail so many times over the years, the family just finally cut contact with him.”

“And Alexander?”

“We were supposed to meet for lunch on Wednesday, but he never showed up. I called him and called him, but he never picked up. I talked to the police, but they said I had to wait forty-eight hours before I could file a missing persons report. Do you know where he is?”

“We’re trying to find that out, Miss Letder. Do you recognize this telephone number?” Kate shows it to her and the woman shakes her head.

“No, I’ve never seen it before.”

“Someone used this number to contact Alexander two days ago. They said they were Ian, and that they needed to meet him in Crossgroves Park. Is it possible for this to have been Ian?”

“Oh my God,” Miss Letder breathes. “It’s possible, yes. Though I and the rest of the family refused to have anything to do with him many years ago, Alexander harbored a soft spot for him. Kept trying to get him into rehab, posting bail—things like that.” There is a knock on the door, and Agent Shaw introduces herself.

“A transcript of the texts,” Shaw says, handing Kate a sheet of paper. Kate shows it to Leah.

(917) 652-8423 at 5:58 A.M.: Hey, Alex, it’s Ian. I’m in trouble. Can u meet me at Crossgroves Park?

(917) 828-6431 at 5:59 A.M.: Yeah, be there in 20

“That’s not Ian,” Leah says, looking up at the federal agent, the detective, and the writer clustered around her. “Ian always called Alexander ‘Lex’ since we were kids. Like ‘Lex Luthor.’ It was a…thing…between them.”

Agent Avery knocks. “We’ve got video, and a plate. Tracked it to a location in the Bronx; it’s still there on the current feed.”

“Let’s go,” Shaw replies, leaving Kate and Castle to explain the situation to Leah. The woman reacts with the appropriate worry and denial, and with assurances to inform her of any new developments Kate shows her to the break room to get something to eat or drink. Some kind person has dropped off donuts, and though she doesn’t really want one Castle forces it into her hand.

“You have to eat,” he says in an undertone. “Consider it breakfast.” She knows he wants her to regain her strength and some weight back, but during a case doesn’t seem like the best time to be thinking about it. She takes a bite to satisfy him and then walks back to the war room holding the remainder in her right hand at her side.

There’s nothing much to do as they wait for word from Shaw, and even that is long in coming. An hour slips by with nothing happening but Ryan and Esposito showing up within minutes of each other.

“Hey, Beckett,” Espo says. “Should’ve known you would be here so early.” She explains to him and then to Ryan where they are in the case, but after that there’s nothing much to do but sit and wait. And pick at her donut.

When Gates arrives, Kate can tell she’s surprised to find the war room so inactive. All the feds but one have left to participate in what may be the final capture. Esposito and Ryan brief her on their progress and she goes back to her office after orders to keep her in the loop. Castle excuses himself briefly to take a call from Gina and returns with the news that they will have to pick up a corrected-in-red paper copy of Heat Rises from his publisher on their way home.

Then, finally, Kate’s cell phone rings. “Beckett,” she says, hoping for the best but waiting for the worst.

“We got him.” Shaw’s voice is full of contented satisfaction. “He’s in booking at our field office, and with the help of Neme and Letder, we’ve got a multitude of charges that will stick. We’ve put Letder in a secure ward of St. John’s, so you can inform his sister of that. He’s not too bad off.”

“Good,” Kate says uncertainly, slightly put off. “Did you find out why Sandler and Dubose were kidnapping Labaque employees?”

“Sorry, Beckett,” Shaw says, not sounding all that apologetic. “Got word from my director—” The elevator doors open and Shaw walks through, pulling her cell away from her ear and continuing the conversation face to face without so much as a pause. “—we’re not allowed to disseminate any more information, even to the NYPD. But hey, we caught the guy. It’s a win.”

Kate nods, unconvinced, but has to let it go. Working with Shaw, she almost forgot they were FBI, but in the end, this—a slap-in-the-face reminder. Similarly disgruntled, Ryan and Esposito leave to inform Gates and Leah of the case’s closure. Gates returns within a few seconds to shake Shaw and Avery’s hands. Then she turns to Beckett, hawk-eyes set and unyielding. “Detective Beckett,” Gates addresses her. “Understand that if you set foot in my precinct again without passing evaluations, I will reject your badge once and for all.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you, Mr. Castle. If I see you in here again before Detective Beckett is back on active duty, I will have you charged with interference in a police investigation. Am I understood?”

“Yes.” Kate thinks Castle looks a little cowed, but knowing him he’ll bounce back as soon as they step outside.

Gates points one long, sinister finger at the elevator doors, her meaning unmistakable.

Kate nods, murmurs bye to Espo, and heads for the exit. “Detective Beckett, maybe you and I could have that chat?” Agent Shaw suggests. “I’ve got a few hours off after completing this one.”

“Sure,” she replies. The elevator doors close with just the three of them inside. “Castle, can you take the car home? You can stop at Black Pawn on the way. I’ll get a cab.”

His eyes ask ‘are you sure?’ but his mouth forms different words. “Okay, see you later.”

“Sharing a car,” Shaw comments in an odd, teasing voice once they’re out on the sidewalk. “I told you he cares about you, Kate. Is it still complicated?”

“Infinitely so,” Kate replies. They sit down in a nearby café and a young woman takes their order. Coffee for both of them.

“So, how’s it going?” Shaw asks her.

“It’s…okay.”

“The first three months are the hardest,” Shaw agrees. At Kate’s questioning look, she taps her left shoulder just below the bone. “Two rounds here. Had to get ‘em dug out in a hospital, two months of mandatory recuperation. Sound familiar?”

“All too much,” Kate says drily.

“The PTSD’s a bitch too,” Shaw says.

“Yeah.” The conversation pauses as the waitress returns with their coffees. Though decaffeinated, the acrid taste of hers helps rejuvenate Kate anyway. “How did you get over it? I mean, how did you get back to your job?” Talking with Dr. Burke is one thing, but talking with someone who’s lived through it, who has a job and problems just like her own has no substitute.

“I had a good support system,” Shaw replies. “For me, that was my husband and my little daughter. For you, unless I’m mistaken, that’s Castle. The thing that’s hardest to understand is that the scar is never going to go away. It’s a part of you. The trick is not letting it control you, and instead turning it into an asset.”

“What do you mean?” Kate asks. “How is PTSD anything but a hindrance to our jobs?”

“It is,” Shaw clarifies, “but with a good therapist, you can get past it. It’ll make you stronger. My dad used to tell me as a little girl that every experience I had was just that—an experience, and thus invaluable. Everything is an opportunity to learn. Experiences help connect people; people bond over them. You will have experienced the trauma that your witnesses have gone through. It’ll give you empathy for them, and they’ll trust you for it. Though it may not look like it currently, if you keep the right mindset, it’ll make you an even better cop than you are now. It was hard for me to go through, it was hard for my family to go through, but I came out a better agent for it.”

“I think…I understand,” Kate replies. “Any advice on getting there?”

Shaw gives her a half-smile, a knowing smile. “Don’t rush through it. Deal with each aspect one step at a time. There’ll be people in your life—your therapist, Castle, the rest of your team, I don’t know which—who’ll expect you to recover quickly and shake it off. There’ll be those who say you’re taking on too much, that you should slow down so as not to be overwhelmed. Listen to them, but listen to yourself more. To get through this, you really need to know who you are, why you do what you do. Know and trust in your own strength, but have no delusions about what you yet can’t handle.” Agent Shaw takes a sip of coffee. “I know your history, Kate. I do my research on every officer I have to work with, and you have proven the most resilient of them all. I have no doubt that you will get through this and come out the better for it.”

Kate smiles. “Thanks, Jordan.”


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