The Good, the Bad, and the Human
“Yes, yes, I know, Gina, I’ll…” Castle says into his phone as he and Kate ride the elevator up to her apartment. She’s hugging her laptop to her chest. It’s their ticket to contact Smith.
“No excuses this time, Rick,” his publisher growls. “Last time you told me I could schedule the extra signings in the Midwest myself you ended up only going to half of them and yelling at me that I overbooked you during Alexis’s finals. So yes, you must come in.”
“Can’t it wait until the weekend? Sometime else? I’m with Kate today.”
“Well, I’m sorry I’m interrupting quality time with your girlfriend, but the hotels and book stores have to be booked by the end of the day. It’ll only take an hour, and you can look over the promotional posters we’ve designed while you’re here. Two birds with one stone.”
“Non-negotiable.” The phone clicks dead in his hand.
“You have to go in?” Kate asks hollowly, trying her best to look nonchalant.
“Gina,” Castle shakes his head. “It’ll only be an hour, Kate. Or I can blow it off. For you, I will. Your mom’s murder is more important than any book tour.”
“No, go. Bracken’ll still be here in an hour.”
He kisses her quickly. “Faster I get going, the sooner I can get back. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
He leaves, getting back into his car and breaking no fewer than three traffic laws in his hurry to get to Black Pawn. His ex-wife greets him with her usual drawl, ushering him into a large meeting with herself, his agent Paula, and a room full of Black Pawn executives all itching to know how many publicity interviews they can wheedle out of him and where he sees the next Nikki Heat book going. All in all, the meeting lasts over two hours before he manages to extricate himself from the mess, citing having to pick up his daughter as the reason for his disappearance—after finding that a date with Kate, attending a show of his mother’s, and police work aren’t satisfactory excuses for the vultures in suits to release him. He strongly suspects at least a little guilt-driven mercy on Gina’s part in letting him go, confirmed by her walking him to the elevator and muttering, “I know your daughter’s in California,” before letting him leave.
When he arrives back at Kate’s apartment, he knocks on the door lightly. There’s no immediate response, so he pulls out the spare key she’d given him and unlocks it himself, stepping inside. The first thing he notices is the note sitting on the table. It’s her handwriting, without a doubt.
Gone to the cemetery. Needed some clarity. Sorry I couldn’t wait. -KB
He can’t blame her for going; he’d been gone much longer than he’d meant to be. He pulls out his phone and sends her a quick text, not expecting a reply until she is ready to leave. He knows she often turns her phone off when visiting her mother, as a sort of ritualistic sign of respect.
He looks around for something to do, eventually deciding on the TV while he waits for her return. It takes him a minute to locate the remote. He hits the on button and it flares to life before him, some news station. “Breaking news, this just in,” the female anchor announces. He’s only half-listening. “New York Senator William Bracken has been shot and taken St. John’s Hospital in critical condition.” All of Castle’s senses go on full alert and he leans closer to the television without even realizing. “The Senator was shot by an unknown gunman while giving a speech for his upcoming Senatorial campaign. At this time the hospital personnel have been able to confirm nothing about his condition except that he is in surgery. Police at the scene have refused to comment so far, saying they are working to find and apprehend the shooter.”
Kate, he thinks, reaching for his phone again. He calls her once, twice, still staring in shock and horror at the TV screen. A set of keys jingles in the lock and Castle hurriedly hits mute on the television, getting up swiftly to face her. “Kate, where were you?” he demands before she’s even stepped in the door.
“The cemetery, Castle, didn’t you see my note?” she asks, frowning.
“So you weren’t at his speech? You aren’t...you aren’t the shooter?”
“Castle, what are you...?” Kate trails off, staring at the TV set behind him. “Give me the remote, Castle, give it to me!” He proffers it weakly and she snatches it from his hand.
“—again, for those of you just joining us. Bracken’s campaign manager, Griffith Morgan, has agreed to talk with us. Cindy?”
“Thank you, Robin,” a blonde standing outside a room swarming with uniforms says. “I’m here with Griffith Morgan at the scene of the senator’s speech. Just minutes ago he was transported away via an ambulance to the hospital after being shot by an unknown gunman in the audience. Mr. Morgan, do you have any news for us on the Senator’s condition?” Kate stands stock still, as if frozen in ice.
“He is at this point still alive and still in surgery at St. John’s Hospital. He is currently being treated by the best doctors in the state, and I know they will do everything humanly possible to preserve his life.”
“Mr. Morgan, should Senator Bracken survive this ordeal, what does this mean for his possible re-election in 2012?”
“Obviously at this point we are just hoping he survives. Whether he will choose to continue his campaign after his recovery only he can answer, but if he does I would ask the citizens of New York to stand by him against this attack on what he stands for, compromise, Constitutional rights, and lowered taxes for all.”
“Mr. Morgan, are you saying that you believe this attack to be related to politics?”
“I think that that is the NYPD’s call, not mine,” Morgan answers. “Excuse me, I have to—” The screen returned to the anchor.
“We’ll keep you informed on any new developments on this topic in the upcoming hour,” the anchor says, looking directly at the camera. “Stay tuned, New York.” The program lapsed into commercials.
“Kate?” Castle asks.
“He’s been shot,” she breathes. “He’s been shot, and I was gone, and you...you believed I did this?”
“No, Kate, that’s not what I meant—”
She mutes the TV, throwing the remote onto the couch with a vengeance. “Castle, how can you think I would do something like that? Maybe you don’t know me at all.” Balls of fire could accompany the words she’s spitting at him, but above her mouth her eyes are wide and scared and still very much in shock.
“I’m sorry, Kate, but I don’t know you when it comes to your mom’s murder. That’s a part of you I can’t seem to touch,” he pleads honestly. “But I do know that if anything ever happened to you or Alexis or mother, you would be surprised by the side of me that emerges. It was all so sudden; I momentarily leapt to the worst possible conclusion. I’m sorry.”
“No,” she shook her head, sighing and sinking into the couch. “No, that’s fair. I’m sorry I snapped at you. It’s just...” She gestured to the TV set, the world in general. “We were going to contact Smith today, we were going to get evidence that he was behind it all, I promised my mother that we were so close to justice, and now...now the entire state is concerned over his health. His safety. Castle, does it make me a bad person if I’m hoping he dies during surgery? Does it?”
“No, Kate, it makes you human,” he assures her, sitting down and taking her hands in his own. “And being human, as opposed to, you know, alien, is good.” She smiles in spite of herself and a warm glow kindles in his chest.
“What do we do now?” she asks, looking him directly in the eyes. There are no traces of tears in hers, just confusion and uncertainty and a miniscule amount of triumph.
“What we do best. Put killers behind bars. Or, if he dies, find the evidence necessary to besmirch his name and then toast to a job well done with Lanie and the boys.” He pauses. “Actually, on second thought, we can do the toast thing either way.”
“Part of me wants him to die today just so it’s all finally over and he’s definitely paying his dues, but another part wants to see him rot in jail for the rest of his life,” she confesses. “For my mom I would choose jail, because she was a lawyer and it seems fitting and all that, but for me...I just want to know that he has his hands off the puppet strings once and for all, you know? Even jail isn’t inescapable...even if he’s convicted with three consecutive life sentences like he should be, he might have friends that can break him out, or...”
“Or there’ll be some nice criminal acquaintances of ours in there that will beat him up once they learn he was the one responsible for you becoming a cop,” Castle points out, half-kidding. “We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, Kate. But we’ll have a lot of people on our side. We’re not going to let him slip through the cracks. Not you, not me, not Gates or the boys or the mayor or even Agent Shaw should we call her up again. It’s going to be over soon—” The television caught his eye again and he unmuted it in time to hear the anchor’s update on the Bracken story.
“Senator Bracken is currently out of surgery but according to the hospital in critical condition in the ICU. We have confirmed that he was shot twice in the stomach about a half an hour ago, and police are still searching for the elusive shooter.”
“He survived the surgery,” Kate murmurs.
“Doesn’t mean he’ll survive the night,” Castle reminds her.
“I did.” Her cell phone rings before he can respond and she answers it, putting it on speakerphone. “Espo, this isn’t really a good time right now. Besides, I’m not on duty until tomorrow.”
“Beckett, you need to come to the precinct,” Esposito says.
“Castle with you? Bring him too, and don’t tell anyone else where you’re going. Trust me, Kate; you’re going to want to be here.”
“Okay, we’re coming. Be there in fifteen,” she ends the call.
“What was that about?” Castle asks though he knows neither of them knows the answer. He clicks the TV off and follows her to the door, out of the apartment, and to the car. Kate’s stiff and white-knuckled as she drives to the precinct, but he knows better than to suggest he drive. And with the number of traffic violations he’s already committed today, it’s probably not the best of ideas either.
Kate doesn’t bother to wait for the elevator and instead launches herself up the stairs, by the end effectively proving herself to be in much better shape than he is—she’s not even breathing rapidly when they arrive at Ryan and Esposito’s desks. They’re not there.
“Beckett!” Ryan calls from behind them. His head is sticking out the doorway of a conference room. “In here.”
“What’s going on?” Kate asks in lieu of a greeting. She stops in her tracks just past the threshold in surprise. “Evelyn, it’s...it’s nice to see you.”
“You too, Kate,” the woman replies uncertainly. Castle repeats her greeting to Captain Montgomery’s wife. He hasn’t seen her since his funeral, where they first met. He wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t remember him, not from such a horrific event. Although maybe Montgomery had talked about Beckett’s nosy and obnoxious ride-along at home. Complained about, more like.
“Beckett, thanks for coming,” Ryan says. “There’s been a lead. A big one. On your mother’s case.”
“On my mom’s...” Kate repeats, staring at him. “What is it? Where did it come from?”
“From me,” Evelyn speaks up. “Well, from Roy. I was cleaning out one of his old desk drawers today and I found an envelope addressed to you. But it was empty.” Kate frowns, confused. “Then at the bottom of the drawer there was this cassette tape I didn’t recognize. I had to dig out the player to play it, but when I did it wasn’t any of Roy’s old music. There was a man talking, and I knew I’d heard his voice before—today, on TV. The Senator who got shot, the one whose speeches Channel 2’s been playing for the last hour. Senator Bracken, I think.”
“What did he say?” Kate demands. Esposito presses play on the cassette player on the table and a low scritching sound fills the room. Right when he begins to fear it’s blank there’s the sound of footsteps, a chair being pulled out, and then Bracken begins to speak.
“Raglan, shut the door. You’ve got a lot of balls coming in here.”
“I recognized his voice,” Evelyn murmurs. “That’s Bracken.”
“Look, we just want to make sure we’re all on the same page,” says someone familiar. Castle’s heart clenches in his chest.
“Montgomery,” Kate breathes. Ryan and Esposito shift uncomfortably on their feet, and Evelyn’s hands are clasped tightly together over her stomach.
“You took us for a lot of money, Bracken,” Montgomery says. “We want assurances.”
“Hey, be happy I haven’t busted the three of you for your little mafia extortion ring,” Bracken growls.
“Whoa, relax,” Montgomery backs off a little.
“No, no. You want assurances?” Bracken asks. Castle can’t imagine he could possibly sound any more evil. “Here you go. I assure you that as easily as I pinned Bob Armen’s murder on Pulgatti I can just as easily pin it on the cops that actually did the deed.”
“Pulgatti knows he’s been framed,” Montgomery replies. “What if someone gets on to this?”
“Then I’ll handle them.”
“I know people, Roy,” Bracken says. “Dangerous people. Anyone gets too close, like that bitch lawyer Johanna Beckett who’s been poking around, I’ll have them killed. I’ve had people killed before.” Kate’s white in the face when the tape clicks finished, but the look she gives him when he steps forward causes him to retreat to his former position.
“I think he meant to give that to you someday,” Evelyn tells her softly. “I think that’s what was in the envelope, and it fell out when I pulled out the drawer.”
“Thank you,” Kate says seriously, still dazed. “I know it can’t have been easy, Evelyn, to hear that about Montgomery...”
“I think I’d known for a while now,” his wife admits. “His troubled past...he wasn’t proud of it. It’s what drove him to be the best cop, the best captain he could be. I know he meant to send this to you. Maybe there just wasn’t enough evidence at the time. This cassette...it’s not enough to stick, is it?”
“No,” Esposito shakes his head. “Not with someone with as much pull as Bracken. We’ll have to find more somewhere. But it’s enough to reopen the investigation.”
“It will be,” Kate says. “Castle and I know where we can find more. Now that we have this...” There is a knock on the door.
Gates steps through. “All of my finest detectives holed up in one room, and Mr. Castle? What are you all up to? And Mrs. Montgomery, hello. I’m Victoria Gates.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Evelyn replies.
“Nothing, sir,” Kate responds automatically to Gates’s question.
“Well, there’s someone out here who wants to talk to you and Mr. Castle,” she informs them.
“Okay,” Kate says. “Who?”
“Didn’t give a name,” Gates answers. “He says he’ll talk only to you and Mr. Castle—said it was important for a cold case you were both working on. Detective Beckett, I wasn’t aware you had opened any cold cases?”
“No, sir,” Kate avoids her captain’s eyes. “We’d better go see what that’s about, sir.” She goes out the door, motioning for Castle to follow her. Esposito and Ryan slip out not-so-covertly as well.
A white-haired man in his his sixties is waiting by Beckett’s desk, wearing a casual brown suit. He, Castle notices, has creases above his eyes, as if used to frowning often. He holds out his hand as Kate approaches. “Detective Beckett, I’m Michael Smith.” Kate freezes with her hand still in his firm handshake. “I see Mr. Castle, my...correspondent...in all of this has told you about me. Good, that will make this easier.” He adjusts his jacket, smoothing down the front of it. “Hear me well, Detective. This was never supposed to happen. Bracken was supposed to stay away from you and focus on his ill-gotten political career, and you were supposed to stop investigating and let it rest. Circumstances, however, have allowed for a narrow window for another course of action.” He removes a manila envelope from the inside of his jacket, and Kate’s eyes fall to it.
“Detective, the man who ordered the death of your mother was a man named—”
“Senator William Bracken,” Castle breaks in before he can stop himself.
“How do you know that?”
“His initials are in my mother’s notes,” Kate takes the reins again. “And we found a cassette tape where he admits to blackmail and murder, including my mother’s.”
“You found the recording? Then this will be even easier than I thought. All of the pieces are coming together at just the right time,” Smith nods, satisfaction in his eyes. “But first, you need to know the full story. Years ago, organized crime owned the New York justice system, and the NYPD sometimes had to resort to vigilantism to keep everything under control. As part of this, a trio of cops formed a band that kidnapped mobsters for ransom: Raglan, McCallister, and Roy Montgomery, all of whom you’ve met so far. During that time, Assistant District Attorney William Bracken figured out their scheme and blackmailed his way in. It went on for a while, until one day they were attempting to kidnap a mobster names Joe Pulgatti, and a fellow mobster named Bob Armen appeared and went for Roy’s gun. It accidentally went off, killing Armen, who was actually an undercover FBI Special Agent. Raglan and McCallister framed Pulgatti for the murder, and he went to prison for life. From there, Pulgatti continued to maintain that he was innocent, although as a mobster no one believed him. No one until your mother came along, that is.
“Pulgatti realized that the only people who knew he was with Bob Armen when he died were the kidnappers themselves, and they must therefore be with the NYPD. Upon hearing this, your mother began investigating the case herself, but it attracted the attention of Bracken, who had financed his first Congressional campaign with the blackmail money and who stood to lose everything if she discovered the truth. He hired Dick Coonan to kill her, and Raglan, the investigating detective for her murder, covered up all of them on Bracken’s orders and to conceal his own role in Armen’s death. He passed the crimes off as random gang violence to close their cases and stop any further investigation.
“Roy knew about all of this all along, of course. But he couldn’t bring your mother back or undo what he’d done, so he took you under his wing in the 12th’s homicide division and reasoned that the best way to atone for his crimes was to be the great policeman he knew he could be, not fess up to his crimes. When you started being targeted after killing Dick Coonan, he made a deal with Bracken—his silence and a stop to the investigation for your safety. After Lockwood broke out of prison, he visited Roy and said that you’d broken the deal and would have to be taken out. As you know, Roy ambushed them instead, and before his death sent this package of evidence to me so that I could continue the deal for your protection. I only received them after you had been shot by Cole Maddox, another of Bracken’s men, however, and for that I am sorry.”
“But why was he shot today?” Kate presses.
“My intel says it was a power coup,” Smith answers. “By now the blackmail money has definitely run out, and he was forced to other sources of income to finance his political career. He made a deal with a vicious drug lord originally from Washington Heights named Vulcan Simmons, made him the head of a huge money laundering operation. Bracken made millions under the radar, enough to finance a political war chest that would allow him to be truly uncompromising on his way to the White House.”
“White House,” Castle interrupts. “Isn’t he just a Senator?”
“Bracken is power-hungry and insatiable,” Smith says. “After this Congressional term, he had plans to run for president of the United States. My best guess is that Vulcan Simmons became unhappy with the cut he was receiving from Bracken when he was the one sticking his neck out on it and performing all of the illegal operations, and arranged to have him killed in order to take it over. It remains to be seen whether he succeeded or not, but we should be thankful that he exists. He’s the reason I am here today, the reason for this opening. The men loyal to Bracken will be busy dealing with him, leaving us a small window in which to formulate a full case against him without them noticing. What’s in this envelope isn’t enough to convict someone with as many connections as Bracken, but now that you’ve found the recording…” He hands Kate the package and she holds it reverently for a moment before turning to Ryan and Esposito, who have been trying their best to look inconspicuous as they “work” at their desks.
“You heard all that?” she asks.
“Then go get the cassette.” She opens up the package and pulls out a stack of papers. “The two of you give it and this stack to Tory, tell her to copy it all, email it to all of us, and back it up on the securest servers she can find. I am not letting this evidence slip out of my grasp.”
“You got it,” Esposito says.
She turns back to Mr. Smith. “Thank you for coming to me with this. I wish it hadn’t taken this long, but…”
“It was necessary,” he says, a light reprimand. “Now, it’s time for me to disappear.” He begins to walk towards the elevator.
“Wait,” Kate says, “what if we need you to testify?”
“Don’t,” Smith calls out from the elevator. The doors close, obscuring him from view.
Kate stares after him a moment and
then turns back to her desk, pulling the rest of the papers out of the file and
setting them down. “Come on, Castle. Let’s get started.”
Michael Smith enters his large residence with the gait of an old man. He has the mind of one, too, the mind of one who’s fulfilled his duty, finally, after years of waiting. He prepares himself dinner, turning on the TV as he cuts vegetables at the counter. It’s the news station, and he catches it just in time to hear the perky news anchor Robin say, “Next, the latest on Senator William Bracken’s condition and the new evidence that has some saying he got what he deserves, right after this.” He smiles to himself. He waits patiently for the commercial break to be over, turning on the stove for soup. Setting a pot of chicken broth on it, he finishes cutting the carrots and moves on to the celery.
“The biggest story of today, the shooting of New York Senator William Bracken,” the anchor returns. “Mr. Morgan, his campaign manager, has released a statement saying that Senator Bracken is expected to live, although he will be confined to a wheelchair due to one of the bullets lodging itself in his lower spine. In the official statement to the press, Mr. Morgan stated, ‘This is a difficult time for us all. However, Mr. Bracken wants the public to know that though he will be paralyzed from the waist down, he by no means is giving up his ideals of free democracy and compromise in Washington. His family asks for your prayers and that you leave them alone in this time of healing.’ Now, some shocking allegations have come to light against the Senator—”
Michael Smith smiles to himself again, switches off the TV, and hums a little tune to himself as his broth comes to a boil.