(I’m trying something different here. This is a Castle fanfiction piece I published in 2013. It won an award from the Castle Fanfiction Writers’ Guild fan group for Favorite Murder of the Week. For those of you who watch the show, the story is set in early season 5. All of my fanfiction writing can be found on my author page at http://www.fanfiction.net/u/1859333. Please let me know if you like this and want to see more!)
Richard Castle, best-selling mystery novelist, was asleep at his computer.
Standing in the doorway of his office, Kate Beckett took in the scene before her. She’d awakened not too long before when she rolled over in bed and encountered only empty space where his body should have been. At 5 AM, it didn’t take a trained detective to figure out where the author had disappeared to. She’d expected to find Rick typing the next chapter of his latest Nikki Heat tale, and in fact his feet were propped up on the corner of his desk, fingers curled over the keyboard of the computer resting on his thighs. The image of hard-working author was ruined, however, by the fact that his chin slumped down to touch his t-shirt covered chest and a soft snore emanated from his mouth every third or fourth breath.
Smiling, Kate walked around the desk, gently removed the computer from Rick’s lap, and leaned over him to place it on the desk. She then straddled his thighs as Rick started to shift in his seat. His arms wrapped around her waist, and he lifted his head, displaying a dreamy smile. “Mmmm,” he hummed, pulling her closer and nuzzling her neck. “Not the laptop I was expecting.”
Kate shivered at the feel of his breath on her neck and chuckled at his comment. “Disappointed?” she asked, wrapping her arms around his neck.
Rick pulled away slightly to meet her gaze. “Never,” he assured her. Still hanging on to her waist, he slowly dropped his feet from the corner of the desk. “What are you doing up so early?” he inquired, planting a kiss on her neck.
Kate shivered again. “Came to see where you were,” she replied. “Did you get any sleep?”
“Some,” he stated. Kate resisted the urge to ask how much; she could easily guess. After a long day of paper work the previous day, they’d gone to the Old Haunt for a late dinner and drinks. To Kate’s mild embarrassment, this had been followed by a rather heated make out session in the nearly private booth they occupied, which stopped only when their waiter informed them the bar would be closing in fifteen minutes. At that point, the party moved back to the loft, and it had been almost three in the morning before a sated Kate had dropped off to sleep cradled in Rick’s arms. “Okay,” the author interrupted her thoughts, “only about an hour or so.” He smiled at Kate’s raised eyebrow. “You were ‘not asking’ quite loudly.”
Kate laughed at their private joke. “Did you at least get some writing done?”
“Two chapters,” he replied proudly, and hummed again when Kate leaned in to kiss him full on the lips. Between her memories of last night and his actions this morning, Kate felt a little frisky. From her position on his lap, she could tell that Castle was also (ahem) up for a little action. She began running her fingers through his hair as she deepened the kiss. In response, he began rubbing her bare thighs, pushing the hem of the oversize t-shirt she wore higher and higher. Kate was just beginning to toy with the hem of Rick’s t-shirt when her phone started blaring from the living room.
Damn it! Kate was tempted to ignore the call and stay put, but as the phone rang again her sense of duty won out. Rick moaned as she pulled away and got up from his lap. Kate bent over to kiss him in apology and barely made it to the phone before it went to voicemail. “Beckett.”
“Hey boss,” Esposito’s voice greeted her. “We got a fresh one. I just texted you the address.”
Kate pulled the phone away briefly to check that she’d received the message. “Got it. I’ll be there in twenty.”
“Want me to call Castle?”
Kate felt a slight twinge of guilt at the question; at her insistence, she and Castle had yet to tell anyone other than his family that they were together. “No, I’ll pick him up,” Kate told her fellow detective now. “We’ll see you soon.”
“See you soon.” As the line died, Rick’s arms encircled her waist from behind. Kate leaned back against his chest.
“New case?” he asked.
“Yep. I told Espo we’d meet them there.”
“So much for good morning sex.”
Kate huffed out a laugh as she turned to face him. “You’ll survive,” she assured him, planting a quick kiss on his lips. “C’mon; I promised we’d be there in twenty.”
An amiable silence enveloped them as Kate drove them to the crime scene, and Rick couldn’t resist resting a hand on her thigh. Amazingly, she let it stay there until she pulled up behind a blue-and-white and turned off the engine. “Ready?” she asked him.
“Ready,” he assured her, pulling back his hand and opening the car door. Rick blinked a little in the early morning sunlight, then blinked again as he took in the building they’d parked in front of. “Wow.” Once upon a time, this building had been a home for one very wealthy family. Now, its interior had been renovated and split into eight mid-scale apartments. The body had apparently been found in one of the first-floor units, and the hallway was a bustle of CSU personnel. As they entered the apartment, Rick spotted Ryan and Esposito sitting in the living room talking with a young man, maybe a roommate of the victim. Rick watched as Kate and Espo conducted a silent conversation while Ryan continued to question the third man. “This way, Castle,” Kate told him in a low voice.
Further down the hall, the duo turned left into the bedroom of the victim. A couple of CSU guys were in there, photographing the shelves which lined three of the four walls. One of the CSU officers paused to pass Kate and Rick each a pair of gloves; Kate nodded her thanks as she headed to where Lanie stood over the body on the far side of the room. Rick also silently thanked the officer, and began pulling on his gloves as he followed Kate.
The body lay sprawled on the low bed, which was pushed under the room’s only window. “What’ve you got, Lanie?” Kate asked as they approached.
“Single GSW to the chest,” the coroner said, standing up. Rick nodded a good morning to Lanie as he took in the details: Young man, mid- to late twenties, wearing only red plaid pajama pants. He was lying in a small pool of blood with his legs hanging over the side of the bed and his arms splayed out, leading Rick to theorize that the force of the gunshot had sent the kid sprawling. He was muscular but not bulky, and aside from the bullet hole he appeared to be in perfect health. His eyes were still open, revealing irises the color of milk chocolate. His brown hair was cropped short, and he had a two-day beard. In other words, a perfectly ordinary looking young man. So far, not one of their more interesting cases. Rick listened with half an ear as the two women discussed exit wounds and possible defensive wounds, turning most of his attention instead to the room at large.
If the body was rather tame, the room Rick found himself in almost made up for it. Books and assorted knickknacks filled most of the shelves that CSU was photographing, although the corner near the door was set up with an electric keyboard and music stand. Rick’s feet carried him over to inspect the piles of paper and books in that corner, which turned out to be sheet music for a variety of songs. Knowing that there would be time to inspect things in more detail later, Rick turned away and nearly tripped over a low tripod set next to the keyboard. Puzzled, Rick spent several seconds trying to figure out the tripod was for. Unsuccessful, he mentally shrugged and moved on to inspect the other shelves.
Jackpot. The shelves contained books, hundreds of them. As he looked, Rick noticed that each shelf or grouping of shelves held either similar books or an entire series’ worth of novels. Rick saw historical fiction, science, fantasy, and biography, but most of the works fit solidly in the category of science fiction. It was only when his eyes lighted on the shelves of Star Wars tales that Rick took closer notice of the knickknacks that shared space with the books. On these particular shelves, an assortment of action figures was displayed alongside the novels. Closer inspection, however, revealed that not all of the figures were store bought. In fact, Rick thought, looking closely at several of them, they were not action figures at all, but rather clay models, molded and painted in intricate detail. I wonder… Rick shifted his attention to another shelf, smiling at the sight of the entire set of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars novels. That smile only grew wider as Rick noted the presence of more sculptures: John Carter, a calot, Tars Tarkas, Dejah Thorris, and several others. “Wow!”
“What did you find Castle?” Kate’s voice called from the bed.
“Come see!” Rick motioned for her to join him. When she did, he pointed excitedly at the tiny statues. “This guy is an artist!”
“Musician, actually,” Esposito’s voice cut in. Rick and Kate turned around to see the other two detectives striding over. “According to his roommate, Mr. Tom Jamison, the sculpting was a hobby.”
“Do you have an ID?” Kate queried.
Ryan nodded as he came to a halt. “Rod Heinlein Stonebender, age 28. Professional trombone player and leader of the band Rocketship Jazz.”
“Seriously?” Rick asked. “What a sci-fi geek! I mean, he’d have to be with a name like Stonebender, but the name of the band! It’s got to be homage to Heinlein’s Rocketship Galileo–”
“Slow down there, Nerd Boy,” Kate interrupted the writer. Rick shot her a wounded look, but she had already turned back to the other detectives. “So Jamison called it in?”
“Yeah, he found the body when he got home from work around five this morning.”
“Okay. I want to talk him myself. You and Ryan start trying to track down next of kin. Go ahead and pull phone records and financials as well; see if you can find anything out of the ordinary.”
“You got it,” Esposito responded.
As the other two detectives left the room again, Kate turned around and ran directly into Castle’s chest. “Jeez, Castle, personal space,” she muttered, gently pushing him aside.
“Sorry Detective,” he murmured. He tried, and almost succeeded, in suppressing a grin at the flush his words elicited from her, and how she couldn’t quite meet Lanie’s eyes as the pair discussed some last minute detail or other. When they finally exited the room, Rick wasn’t too surprised at the poke Kate directed at his ribs. “Oops,” he said, completely unapologetic. Kate glared at him, but offered him a small smile just before they returned to the living room.
“Mr. Jamison?” Kate greeted the young man seated on the couch. “I’m Detective Beckett. I’d like to ask you a few questions about your roommate.”
There were days when Dr. Lanie Parrish hated her job.
Granted, the life of a medical examiner was never going to be one of fun and games. Well, unless you enjoyed seeing what literally made a person or in playing such games as Musical Corpses. Usually, Lanie delighted in solving the puzzle that was the victim’s final hours and helping Kate and other detectives to bring justice to those who deserved it. It gave her a sense of purpose, and a feeling of pride to know that she was helping in some small way to make the world a little safer.
Every once in a while however, something about a victim would catch her attention in a different way, and she would have to work hard to not break down at the scene. Such was the case today. While the victim looked nothing like him, the crime scene reminded Lanie strongly of Joey, a cousin who she had been very close to when they were small. From an early age, Joey had had two passions: music and the written word. He now worked out on the west coast, writing songs for several big music stars. Lanie hadn’t spoken to him in a couple of years, but the mix of music equipment and books in the victim’s room had forcefully reminded her of him. Now, in the back of the Morgue-Mobile, she could allow herself a few quiet tears and to be grateful that it wasn’t her relative in the body bag.
The jolt of the breaks alerted her to their arrival at the morgue. A quick dab at her eyes before the rear doors opened, and then it was time to follow the tech as he pushed the gurney down to her work area. “Thanks, Isaac,” she told him, setting down her clipboard and unzipping the bag.
“No problem Dr. Parrish,” Isaac replied, taking the now-empty body bag and exiting.
Pulling on a pair of gloves, Lanie started the audio recorder and began. “Victim is Rod Heinlein Stonebender. White male, age 28 years old. Single GSW to left pectoral region, above the heart.” Lanie lifted the man’s left arm and tried to flex the elbow, wrist, and fingers. “Rigor mortis is increasing, suggesting the victim died less than twelve hours ago.” Laying the limb back down, Lanie proceeded to strip off the plaid pajama pants covering the lower half of the body, revealing a pair of white briefs. “Lower limbs are equally rigid. No wounds or…” Lanie trailed off as she noticed something odd. All of the muscles in the body were stiff except for one: the penis. Without hesitation, Lanie pulled off the victim’s underwear and examined his genitals. She reached out and lifted the organ, planning to take a tissue sample for examination under the microscope. She was completely unprepared for it to detach from the body.
“Jesus!” Lanie swore, dropping the penis on the ground and jumping back as if it would bite. She waited a moment for her heart to slow down before crouching down to examine it. As she did so, she reached into her pocket for her cell phone and dialed the number automatically.
“Kate,” Lanie stated as soon as her friend picked up. “You need to get down here right now.”
They had just exited the apartment building when Lanie called Kate. “Okay, we’ll be right there.” She hung up. “Lanie’s got something,” she informed Castle as they climbed in to the car. “Call Espo and let him know we’ll be a while yet.” Less than fifteen minutes later the pair walked into the morgue. “What’s up Lanie?” Kate asked as they entered. Before the other woman could reply, Castle made a choking noise from behind her.
“Uh… is, is that what I…?” Kate turned around, surprised at how inarticulate the author had become. She followed his gaze to a tray lying on a table near the body, and suddenly understood his confusion.
“Lanie?” the detective asked, quickly looking back at her friend.
“It’s an artificial penis,” Lanie confirmed as she beckoned the pair over to the table with the body.
Silence reigned for several moments. “Why did our victim have a… that?” Kate threw a surprised look at Rick; she’d never known him to deliberately avoid words before.
“Because your victim is transsexual,” Lanie replied, stopping by the body. “Look,” she continued, “if I lift up the one of the pectoral muscles, you can just see the scar from the mastectomy.” Sure enough, her finger traced a faint white line that was neatly hidden by the muscle above it. “And he had testicular implants to go with the prosthesis.” She began to pull back the sheet that lay over the body’s lower half.
“We’ll take your word for it, Lanie,” Kate assured the other woman.
Lanie shot Kate a look. “I wanted you to see this.” With that, the M.E. pulled the sheet away from the body’s left leg and pointed at the thigh.
Kate had to lean in for a closer look. “A needle stick?” she asked, looking at the red dot.
“I did some digging,” Lanie said as the detective straightened up, “and I’m guessing that your boy here was receiving testosterone injections.”
“Thank you Internet,” Rick commented.
Lanie nodded agreement, but her eyes said that she was lost in thought. “What is it, Lanie?” Kate asked.
For a long moment, Lanie didn’t speak. “Kate,” she finally said, “you know that I would never tell you how to do your job, right?” The detective nodded. “Well, one of the web sites that I found listed some rather disturbing statistics.”
“Like?” Kate prompted.
“Like the fact that in the last twelve months almost three hundred transgender people were murdered in hate crimes.”
Silence reigned in the morgue for several long moments. “It’s definitely a possible motive,” Kate finally said. “What about cause of death?” She could feel Castle’s incredulous look, but he wisely kept his mouth shut.
As she’d hoped, the question jolted Lanie out of her reverie. “There’s gunshot residue on his chest, so he was shot at close range. I haven’t opened him up yet, but given the amount of blood we found I’m willing to bet that the bullet pierced his aorta. I know from the size of the hole that it was a small caliber gun, but CSU hadn’t found the bullet before I left.” Lanie lifted a questioning eyebrow at Kate.
“I haven’t heard anything,” Kate told her.
“Well, I’ll call you if I find anything else,” Lanie stated.
“Thanks,” Kate told her friend. As she exited the morgue, Kate looked around at Castle. “You’re awfully quiet,” she observed.
“Just thinking,” he assured her.
“Got any theories you’d like to share with the class?”
“What if the people in Rod’s life didn’t know that he was a transsexual? Then someone finds out, feels betrayed, and–” He mimed shooting a gun.
Kate couldn’t help but nod in agreement as they climbed back into the car. “It’s a theory. Let’s see what Ryan and Espo have found.”
On returning to the Twelfth, Kevin Ryan printed both financials and phone records for Stonebender, passed the latter off to Javier, and skimmed the former. He was just finishing his notes when Beckett and Castle returned. “So what did Lanie have?” he asked, trailing after the pair to the murder board.
“Our victim is transsexual,” Beckett replied, uncapping a marker and adding the information to the board. “Did Jamison mention anything about that in your interview?”
Kevin quickly thought back to his own conversation with Stonebender’s roommate, and exchanged a surprised glance with Javi. “Um, no,” he informed Beckett as she turned back to the group. “I take it he didn’t say anything to you either.”
Beckett shook her head. “I’ll be speaking with him again. What have you two found?”
“I’ve been going over Stonebender’s financials,” Kevin stated, holding up the printouts. “Nothing too out of the ordinary. Withdrawals every month match what Jamison told us was the vic’s portion of the rent and utilities. Then there are routine deposits that must be payment for the private lessons the vic gave.”
“Private lessons?” Beckett asked.
“Yeah, apparently Stonebender helped make ends meet by giving private trombone lessons to local high school and college students,” Kevin explained. “There are also routine withdrawals for things like groceries. But what I can’t figure out are these random cash withdrawals.” He passed the printout over to Beckett and motioned to the highlighted areas. “The amounts are usually small, no more than forty or so–”
“A lot of people carry about that much in cash,” Castle interrupted.
“Yeah, but then two days ago, he withdrew two thousand.”
“No one carries that much cash with them,” Beckett stated, “unless they’re involved in something illegal.” She got up from the desk and headed for the murder board, where Javi had already posted a photo of the body, a headshot supplied by the roommate, and had started a timeline. Picking up the marker, Beckett carefully noted the large withdrawal two days prior to the murder. “Good work Ryan,” she commented as she turned back to the group. “What about you, Espo? Anything in the phone records?”
“Not much. He made frequent calls to several cell phones and one out-of-state number; other than that he mostly texted the band to arrange practices and gigs.”
“Do you have names to go with those numbers?”
“Not yet. But Jamison said that the band is supposed to get together to practice this morning at the club.”
“Any luck tracking down the next of kin?”
Javi nodded. “Yeah. Father lives in Pittsburgh, but the younger brother and sister are here in town. They’re on their way in.”
“Okay, you and Ryan go talk to the band. Castle and I will wait here—”
“Detective Beckett?” Kevin looked over his shoulder to see Officer Jennings. “Your victim’s family is here.” The officer motioned to where a young man and woman stood near the door of the lounge.
“Thanks Jennings,” Beckett replied. “Get going, you two,” she murmured to Kevin and Javi as she headed towards the pair.
Kevin kept his voice equally low. “You got it Boss,” he told her back.
“Mister and Miss Dunne, I’m Detective Beckett and this is Mr. Castle. We’re very sorry for your loss.”
The young man seated on the couch nodded, too shocked to speak, if Rick had to guess. The young woman, however, was not. “Please call me Ellie. Do you have any idea yet who did this?”
“Not yet. When was the last time you heard from your brother?”
“He stopped by my office at Columbia yesterday to say hi.” She looked over at her brother. “Josh?”
“I talked with him on the phone a couple of nights ago.”
“About what?” Kate asked.
Josh blushed. “Um, I asked his advice about asking a girl out,” he admitted, looking at his shoes.
Rick couldn’t help smiling slightly at the younger man’s reaction. “Did he have any good advice?”
Josh avoided meeting Rick’s gaze, but he did nod. Rick glanced at Ellie, and shared an amused look with her over her brother’s behavior.
Kate cleared her throat, bringing everyone’s attention back to herself. “Do either of you know where your brother was last night?”
“We had a two hour rehearsal here at the club,” John Stevens, alto saxophonist for the Rocketship Jazz, responded to Javier Esposito’s question.
“Was that normal?” Javi asked.
John offered a half shrug and a smile. “I guess. Look man, all of us,” he motioned to take in the other three musicians where they sat or stood on the stage, “love music. We love making music. We especially love making music together.”
“How long have you guys been together?” Ryan piped up from where he stood next to Javi.
“Six years,” the young woman named Sydney Collins replied. She sat on a tall stool, her trumpet laid on her lap. “We met in college.”
“Well, all except the drummer, Cat,” Ellie told Rick and Kate. “She joined the band about five years ago.”
“What happened to the original drummer?” Rick couldn’t help asking.
“Amos left to focus on a teaching degree,” Josh replied. “He was the one who recommended Cat to replace him.”
“So not all of the band members make their living as musicians?” Kate asked.
“We should all be so lucky,” John told Javi. “No, we all have day jobs. Rod taught trombone, I work at a bookstore, Syd’s an office drudge, Fox,” he motioned to the tenor sax player, “is a professor of music at NYU, and Cat,” he waved at the drummer, “ is part of the daytime cleaning crew here at Ace’s.”
“How often do you guys rehearse?”
“Five days a week,” Fox replied. “We’d play here three or four nights a week, and usually had three or four other gigs besides.”
“Sounds busy,” Ryan commented.
“Yeah, Rod often said that he needed more hours in the day,” Ellie stated. “But he was doing what he loved.”
Kate nodded, and Rick could sense her steeling herself for the next part of the conversation. “Ellie, is there any reason that you can think of that someone would want to hurt your brother?”
The twins glanced at one another. “No,” Ellie replied. “Everyone loved Rod.”
“Ellie,” Kate said patiently, “we know that Rod was a transsexual. Is there anyone you know of that might want to hurt him because of that?”
“No,” Ellie shook her head adamantly.
“Are you sure? Because if someone didn’t know and found out—”
“Look Detective,” John interrupted Ryan. “Rod’s past wasn’t some big secret or anything. Everyone he knew knew what he’d gone through.”
“And people were cool with that?” Javi asked.
“How could we not be?” Cat asked.
“Rod was smart about it,” Sydney chimed in. “He didn’t go shouting it from the rooftops, but he didn’t hide it either. Usually, once he’d known someone for about a month he told them.”
Javi nodded. “Back to last night’s rehearsal: You guys just rehearsed? No performance?”
John shook his head. “Nah, some group had booked the place for an event and was providing their own entertainment.”
“Did any of you,” Ryan spoke up, “notice anything odd about Rod’s behavior yesterday?”
“He seemed perfectly fine when he stopped by,” Ellie said. “In fact, he mentioned possibly having dinner with Josh and me this weekend so that we could finally meet Nina.”
“And Nina is….?”
“His girlfriend?” Javi repeated Fox’s words. Although he tried to keep his voice steady, he knew that some of his puzzlement shone through. Why had no one mentioned this before? “How long were they together?”
“About six months?” Sydney looked at her band mates for confirmation.
“You don’t sound sure of that,” Ryan noted.
“Yeah, well, we didn’t meet her until about a month ago,” John said.
“Why was that?” Javi asked. “He worried you’d try to steal her or something?”
John smirked. “No, no worries there. But Rod’s had his heart broken several times, and I think that he was being extra cautious this time around.”
“Unfortunately, each of my brother’s last three girlfriends left him because he was trans,” Ellie explained. “Tanya and he dated for over three years, but she left when he informed her that he would be starting hormones. Allison and Stephanie each stuck around for over a year, but in the end they couldn’t reconcile their own identities and also left.”
“I think that Rod decided to play it safe this time,” Josh stated. “Maybe go out with Nina for a little before he told her.”
“That doesn’t sound like your brother,” Rick noted. “It sounds like he thrived on being open about his experiences.”
“True, but Rod also was well aware that not everyone was as comfortable with him as he might wish. I know that there were several occasions where he went stealth until people got to know him better.”
“Sorry,” Kate said, “‘went stealth’?”
“It means living as a so-called normal person, not drawing attention to the fact that you were raised as the opposite gender.”
“Ah. So Rod mentioned seeing Nina this weekend?”
“Yeah, he actually mentioned going to dinner with her after rehearsal last night,” Fox said.
“What time was that?”
“Well, we wrapped around six-thirty,” Sydney informed them.
“I think,” Cat piped up from the rear, “he mentioned reservations for seven.”
“Anyone know Nina’s last name and how we can find her?”
Minutes later, Javi dialed Beckett as he and Ryan exited the club. “Hey boss,” he greeted her. “Guess what we found out?”
As she hung up the phone, Kate realized that Castle had disappeared. Swiveling around in her desk chair, she quickly located him standing by the espresso machine in the lounge. He must have been watching her, because their eyes quickly met and he smiled. Kate felt her own smile starting when the view was blocked by a dark grey pantsuit. “Good morning Detective.”
“Good morning sir,” Kate replied, wiping the smile off of her face as she looked up into the Captain’s eyes.
Even though she stood four inches shorter than her detective, Captain Victoria Gates still managed to tower over those around her. In the year “Iron” Gates had been at the 12th, Kate had learned NEVER to underestimate her in any sense of the word. For example: the Captain had been away on vacation for the last week, and Kate knew for a fact that she had not returned to New York until the wee hours of the morning. Yet here she stood, looking none the worse for the wear, and ready to get involved in the latest case. “What do you have on this murdered transsexual?”
Kate gave her a quick rundown of all she and her team had come up with so far, making sure to note that Esposito and Ryan would be bringing in the victim’s girlfriend. When she’d finished, the Captain nodded. “Do you have any theories about the killer’s motive?”
“I hate to say it sir, but Castle’s theory about a hate crime is the best we have at this point.”
“What about that mystery withdrawal?”
Kate shook her head. “Nothing so far.”
“Be sure to keep me updated. If this is a hate crime we need to report it to the appropriate organizations,” Gates informed her as she moved away.
“Yes sir.” Kate turned back to the computer. She’d barely begun pulling up files on the vic’s girlfriend when a coffee mug appeared in the corner of her vision. “Thanks, Rick,” Kate smiled up at him. He smiled in return then spun to lean against her desk and take in the murder board.
“Maybe she’s a mail order bride,” he stated.
“The girlfriend. I mean, no one met her before a month ago, right? Maybe Rod bought her online. Then, he’s late with his payment, so the company hit man offs him.” He looked at Kate.
“So what was the two grand?”
“His attempt to make amends. It wasn’t enough, though.”
Kate decided to humor him. After all, sometimes his wild theories weren’t too far off the mark. “But why only two grand? That seems a little low.”
“Maybe she’s really homely. Ow!” he exclaimed as Kate reached over and pinched his leg.
With perfect timing, Esposito walked up. “You okay Castle?”
“Yeah, I got a… paper cut,” the author replied, ignoring Esposito’s skeptical look.
“Did you want something Espo?” Kate asked.
“The girlfriend is in the interrogation room. I thought you’d like to be the one to interview her.”
Kate nodded and stood up. “That I would.”
“How are you going to handle this?” Rick asked Kate. The pair stood behind the false mirror, looking at the young woman seated in the interrogation room. “I was only kidding about the mail-order bride thing.”
“I know, Castle,” Kate replied.
“I mean,” Rick continued, “she looks like she might not be from around here, but–”
“Rick,” Kate cut him off. “Why don’t you wait here?”
“Why?” Rick asked, hurt.
“Just because,” Kate answered. “Please.” It wasn’t quite a question, nor was it exactly a command.
“Okay,” he agreed. Kate usually had a reason for not letting him participate, even if it didn’t make sense or wasn’t apparent. After four years of working with her, he’d learned to trust her.
Kate smiled at him, squeezing his arm as she passed by. Rick turned back to the window, studying the… was she a suspect? They hadn’t figured out yet if she had known Rod’s history, so it was possible that she had murdered him out of spite or a sense of betrayal. On the other hand, Nina Edwards had a touch of the exotic about her, just enough that Rick wondered if there wasn’t some credence to his joke about a mail-order bride.
“Miss Edwards,” Kate greeted the young woman she entered the interrogation room. “I’m Detective Beckett.” Kate slid in to a chair with her back to the mirror.
“What’s going on, Detective?” Well, scratch the mail-order bride theory; while there was a touch of an accent, for the most part her voice sounded like someone from one of the mid-Atlantic states.
“Do you know a Rod Stonebender?”
The younger woman’s eyes, striking green, widened in concern. “He’s my boyfriend. Why? What’s happened?”
“He was murdered this morning.”
Nina raised her hands to cover her mouth. It was several moments before she spoke; when she did, Rick could tell that she was trying her best not to cry. “What… how?”
“He was shot.” Kate fiddled with the edge of the folder that lay on the table in front of her. Rick knew from experience that the folder likely contained a photo of the body exactly as it had been found; if necessary, Kate would show it to a suspect to get a reaction. In this case, though, she didn’t need to. “His roommate found the body.”
“Oh God,” Nina half-sobbed.
“Miss Edwards, I have to ask: Were you aware that Rod was transsexual?”
Nina took a deep breath. When she spoke, her voice had steadied somewhat. “Of course. He told me on our second date.” Her look changed to one of suspicion. “Are you saying that someone murdered him because he was trans?”
“We need to explore all of the possibilities. Now I understand that you met Rod for dinner last night?”
Nina nodded. “It was our six month anniversary, and my birthday’s in two days.”
“Where did you go?”
“Antonio’s. It’s one of our favorite restaurants.”
“We went back to Rod’s place.”
Rick could hear the sudden tension in Kate’s voice. “When was that?”
Nina shrugged. “Around eight? Eight-fifteen? I just know that,” Nina paused, swallowed, “I left around nine.” Tears began to fall again.
“We got into a fight.” Nina was crying harder now, but Rick could still make out her words.
One of the things that Rick loved about Kate was her ability to sound sympathetic in situations like this. “Over what?” Nina didn’t answer right away, so Kate tried again. “Nina? What did you and Rod fight about?”
At first, Rick thought that Nina’s face was flushed because of the crying. Then he realized that she was blushing. Suddenly, he felt grateful that Kate had insisted he not be in the room; whatever Nina was about to reveal, he doubted that she would have done so if he’d been present.
“Our sex life,” the girl finally answered, looking down at the table. “I’ve been trying to persuade Rod to make love to me without his prosthetic, but he refuses… refused to consider the idea.”
Silence reigned in the interrogation room for several long moments. Rick could almost hear Kate’s mind racing, and knew exactly how she felt. As soon as Nina had spoken, several trains of thought had left the station of his own mind, things like: Why would Nina try to persuade Rod to do that? What would the appeal be for her? What would that type of sex be like? Why didn’t Rod like the idea?
“Forgive me, Nina,” Kate finally spoke, pulling Rick out of his own thoughts, “but why would you try to persuade Rod to do that?”
“I wanted to show Rod that I loved him. All of him.” Nina finally looked up again. “I didn’t mean to hurt him; I thought that maybe I could help him to be more comfortable with his body.”
“He clearly didn’t like the idea,” Kate noted.
Nina nodded. “I meant to call him today, to apologize. It was a stupid thing for me to suggest.”
“It sounds like you meant well.” Rick smiled; that was exactly what he would have said had he been in the room. Clearly, he’d rubbed off on Kate. “Where did you go once you left Rod’s place?”
“I went straight home.”
“Can anyone verify that?”
“Yeah, I ran into my neighbor in the hallway.”
“Can you give me their name?” Nina did so, and Kate jotted the information down. “Just one more question, Nina,” Kate informed her. “Do you have any idea why Rod would withdraw two thousand dollars in cash from his bank account?” Rick could tell from Kate’s tone of voice that she felt the question was a longshot, and he agreed. So far, no one in the victim’s life had had a clue about the two grand; why should this be any different?
“He what?” Nina asked. Something in the tone of her voice made Rick scrutinize her face; sure enough, she looked hopeful.
“Nina?” Kate prompted. “What do you know?”
“I had some money trouble about four months ago. I pawned a bunch of stuff to get the cash that I needed. One of the things that I had to give up was a bracelet that belonged to my great-grandmother. I’ve been trying to get it back for a while now, but couldn’t scrape together the cash the guy wanted.”
“How much did he want?” Kate asked, sounding as if she already knew the answer.
“Two thousand dollars,” Nina stated, confirming Rick’s suspicion.
“Can you tell me where this pawn shop is?”
Hours later, Kate had just hung up the phone when Rick reached over and laid his hand on hers. “C’mon; time to go home.”
Even though he pitched his voice low, Kate couldn’t help glancing around to see who might be watching. Thankfully, Gates was ensconced in her office, and Ryan and Esposito were out. No one else was anywhere nearby. Reassured, Kate flipped her hand over and squeezed Rick’s. “Not yet.”
“Kate.” Rick tilted his head knowingly at her. “We’ve done all we can for today. You need to take care of you, too.”
Kate attempted to glare at him, but was too tired and hungry to put much effort into it. “Okay Castle, you win.”
He smiled at her, and she couldn’t help returning the grin. It didn’t take long for them to gather up their things and head for the car. As she drove, Kate filled Rick in on the phone conversation she’d had with Esposito. “He and Ryan talked to the pawn shop owner, who confirmed that Rod bought back the bracelet yesterday afternoon. They were headed over to the crime scene to look for it.”
“Well then,” Rick clapped his hands as they pulled in to the garage at his building, “sounds to me like you are off-duty for the rest of the evening. So what do you want for dinner? I found this great new recipe I want to try….”
Kate stopped paying attention to what Castle was saying; instead, she let the mere sound of his voice wash over her, refreshing her. It was a nice feeling to know that, after a day like this one, she had him to go home with, to laugh with, to be with. In some ways, she knew exactly why Rod Stonebender had not wanted to share his relationship with the world; it was something precious, something to be protected. There had been a special magic about the whole thing, back before anyone else knew. In some ways, it was a miracle that they’d kept it from his family as long as they had. She did feel a little guilty about not telling the guys and Lanie, but she didn’t see how long the relationship could be kept from Captain Gates once other people at the precinct knew. Regardless, she suspected that that magical feeling of a new relationship was one that Rod Stonebender had been trying to preserve—“Kate?”
Rick’s voice pulled Kate out of her thoughts. She blinked, surprised to see that she’d driven to Castle’s place, pulled into the garage, and parked the car, all on autopilot. Rick had clambered out and now stood bent over, looking at her through the still-open passenger door. “You coming?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she replied. She hastily pulled the key out of the ignition and climbed out of the vehicle.
“You okay?” Rick asked as he hit the call button for the elevator. “You didn’t laugh at my joke.”
“Do I ever?”
“You wound me, Detective,” Rick complained, pouting. The elevator finally arrived. As the pair entered, Kate leaned over and planted a quick kiss on Rick’s cheek. The author smiled and took her hand again. “Seriously: Are you okay?” he queried as the elevator rose.
“I was just thinking about our victim,” Kate admitted. The doors opened, and she led the way to the loft.
“What about him?” Castle asked, opening the door of the apartment. He stepped aside so Kate could enter first.
“Just that… Hi Alexis!” Kate greeted the young lady in the kitchen area.
“Hi Kate. Hi Dad,” the redhead returned the greeting. “I hope you don’t mind: I made chicken parmesan for the three of us.”
“Why would we mind?” Rick asked, heading over to hug his daughter. “Is everything okay? I thought you had class tonight.”
“It was canceled.” Alexis motioned to the countertop. “Why don’t you two just have a seat? Dinner’s almost ready.”
“Smells good,” Kate informed her, doing as she suggested. Alexis had already set places for the three of them at the large counter. Kate smiled as she watched Rick help Alexis finish up, and laughed when Alexis smacked his hands with a large spoon for trying to taste something. “So, how’s school?” Kate asked as the pair served the food.
Dinner passed in a happy haze of conversation. Alexis filled them in on classes at Columbia, Rick reported progress on his latest novel, and Kate related some of the funnier moments from the precinct. Father and daughter took care of clearing the dishes and cleaning up. A smile settled on Kate’s face as she watched the pair of them work together. How had she gotten so lucky?
Later that night, long after Alexis had left, Kate lay curled up around Rick in their bed. “You know,” Rick commented, running his hand through her hair, “you never did answer my question earlier.”
“What were you thinking about on the drive home?”
Kate sighed. “I was thinking about why Rod would keep his relationship with Nina secret from everyone else in his life, and I realized that we are doing pretty much the same thing.”
“Huh. I hadn’t even thought about it that way. What did you come up with?”
Kate explained her insight about preserving the magical feeling of new love.
“Wait, are you saying that our relationship isn’t magical anymore?” Rick asked, twinkle in his eye.
“The point is,” Kate continued, ignoring him, “I think that the theory about Rod isolating Nina so that she didn’t find out he was transsexual is wrong.”
“Clearly,” Rick agreed. “I wonder, though.”
“Maybe we’ve been going about this all wrong. Maybe the fact that Rod was transsexual had nothing to do with his murder.”
“We already thought that, Rick,” Kate reminded him, “but the evidence so far doesn’t support any other theory.” Silence reigned for long moments, each person lost in their own thoughts.
“What if,” Rick spoke up, “Rod was keeping the relationship secret because he was worried about what would happen when other people found out? Think about it: Maybe there was someone in his life who wouldn’t approve.”
“Like whom?” Kate asked, avoiding all mention of the parallels with their own relationship.
“His dad? Maybe someone in the band?”
“It’s a thought,” Kate admitted. “We can check into it in the morning.” She shifted position and kissed Rick, intending for it to be a quick peck. Instead, Rick prolonged the kiss, setting Kate’s heart racing.
“You know,” Rick panted when they finally broke apart, “we never did finish what we started this morning.”
Kate grinned. “I think we can fix that.”
“Let’s review what we’ve got so far,” Kate told the group gathered around the murder board.
“I spoke with the victim’s sister,” Lanie said, “and I found out a little more of his medical history. Rod was on testosterone for the last ten years. He had a mastectomy seven years ago, and got the testicular implants about three years after that. When I opened the body up, I discovered that the uterus had also been removed; Miss Dunne said that occurred about a year before the implants.”
“That’s a lot of surgery,” Ryan commented.
Lanie nodded. “I also confirmed my earlier theory: The bullet pierced the aorta. Rod bled out in a matter of minutes.”
“CSU finally found the bullet,” Esposito chimed in. “Nine-mil.”
“Now we just need to find the gun,” Rick noted.
“Did you manage to find the bracelet?” Kate asked the other two detectives.
“Sorry,” Ryan replied, shaking his head. “We went over the apartment with a fine-tooth comb. No luck.”
“But the pawnshop owner definitely sold it to our vic,” Esposito noted. “Had a signed receipt and everything.”
“Okay,” Kate sighed, running her hand through her hair. “Let’s review: The morning before he was murdered, Rod stopped by his sister’s office at Columbia.”
“According to the pawnshop owner, Rod stopped in around two o’ clock that afternoon and paid for the bracelet.” Ryan motioned to the notation he’d made on the murder board.
“But you didn’t find the bracelet at his apartment,” Rick commented. “Is it possible he took it somewhere else?”
Ryan shook his head. “We talked to Jamison again; he was home when Rod got back from the pawnshop and remembers seeing Rod with a small package. The pair left together for Ace’s around four in the afternoon.”
“And Rod was in rehearsal until six thirty,” Kate completed. “At which point he left and went to dinner with Nina.”
“Dinner lasted from seven until around eight,” Esposito continued, “when they headed back to Stonebender’s place.”
“Things got hot and heavy,” Rick picked up the narrative, “but the couple fought, and Nina left around nine.”
“Based on liver temp and rigor mortis, I place time of death somewhere between nine-thirty and ten-thirty,” Lanie supplied.
“So someone else had to have visited Rod after Nina left,” Kate commented.
“Well, we know it wasn’t Jamison,” Esposito noted. “Witnesses placed him at the bar until closing.”
“And Nina’s neighbor confirms that she arrived in their building around nine-thirty,” Ryan supplied.
“Could she have doubled back?” Lanie asked.
“I can’t see her doing that,” Rick stated. “She was pretty upset about the fight.”
Kate stared at the group shot of the band that was taped to the murder board. “What about the rest of the band? Do they have alibis for the time of death?”
Esposito consulted his notes. “Let’s see. Stevens was at a cousin’s birthday party until midnight; Collins went to the theatre with her girlfriend; Jones was grading papers in his office at NYU; and Johnson was working at the bar.”
“Wait a minute,” Ryan spoke up, “I thought that we decided Rod was killed by someone who didn’t know that he was transsexual.”
“Which unfortunately eliminates every possible suspect that we’ve come up with so far,” Kate pointed out. “What if Rod’s past didn’t have anything to do with the murder? What other possible motive could our killer have?” Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Castle’s nod, acknowledging the theory he’d proposed the previous night.
“We’ve accounted for the two thousand dollars,” Esposito reminded her.
“What if someone in Nina’s life didn’t like the idea of her dating Rod?” Lanie asked.
The other four exchanged a look. “Espo?” Kate asked.
“On it,” the other detective promised.
“What if someone in Rod’s life didn’t approve of Nina?” Rick piped up.
“I feel like we would have found Nina’s body if that was the case,” Ryan noted.
Rick shrugged. “Maybe the person in question decided to try to convince Rod that the relationship was a bad idea.”
“With a gun?” Skepticism laced Esposito’s voice. Rick shrugged again.
“Castle and I will double-check the band’s alibis,” Kate declared. “Let’s go guys. Lanie,” she turned to her friend as the group dispersed, “did you find anything else that may help us?”
“Gunshot residue on the chest indicates he was shot at close range,” the M.E. stated as she passed over a folder. “I also suspect that your shooter is not the world’s best shot.”
“What makes you say that?” Rick asked.
“To miss the heart at such close range?” Kate noted. “C’mon Castle, even you couldn’t miss that.”
“Hey!” the author yelped, causing the two women to share a smirk.
“No problem Kate.” With that, Lanie headed for the elevator.
“You know,” Rick said, lowering his voice, “I didn’t miss the heart when it counted.”
Kate smiled in understanding. “No, you didn’t,” she agreed, sitting at her desk and opening a folder. She passed a stack of papers over to the author. “Back to work, Rick. We’ve got a murder to solve.”
“I can’t do it Kate,” Rick stated an hour and a half later.
“Hmm?” Kate blinked and looked up from the report in front of her. “Do what, Castle?”
Rick motioned to the folder he held. “I can’t find a story that makes all of this make sense. I mean,” he pointed to one page, “Stevens’ alibi is air tight, and so is Collins’s. Have you had any luck?”
Before Kate could reply, she noticed Ryan headed their way. “Did you find anything?” she asked, causing Rick to turn and look at the other detective.
“Well, Nina doesn’t have any family in the area,” Ryan stated. “We talked to her coworkers in the lab; none of them were aware that her new boyfriend was transsexual.”
“Another dead end,” Rick couldn’t help saying.
“Not quite,” Ryan said, smugly. “Several of her coworkers reported seeing someone hanging around the lab entrance at lunchtime the last month or so. Last week, this person confronted Nina as she left the building on the way to a lunch meeting.”
“Did you get—” Kate’s voice cut off as Ryan passed over what was obviously a still from a security camera.
“Oh my,” Rick stated, looking over Kate’s shoulder then over at the murder board.
Kate didn’t need to check the photo pinned to the board; she knew exactly who she was looking at. “Where is she now?”
“Funny you should ask,” Ryan said, motioning behind him.
Kate looked up from the photo in time to see Esposito escorting Cat Johnson, drummer for the Rocketship Jazz, into the interrogation room.
“Miss Johnson, I’m Detective Beckett, this is Mister Castle,” Kate informed the young woman as the pair entered the interrogation room. “We just have a couple more questions for you.”
“Okay,” Cat replied, her eyes moving restlessly over them.
“How long have you known Rod?”
“About five years.”
“And you met through the band?”
Cat folded her hands on the table. “Yeah, Amos put in a good word for me when he left, so Rod gave me a chance.”
Kate nodded. “How would you describe your relationship with the other members of the band?”
“Really close. I mean, we spend so much time together we’re practically a family.”
“Complete with sibling rivalry?” Rick asked.
“Never mind,” the author said.
“Miss Johnson, we understand that you and the rest of the band were aware of the fact that Rod was transsexual.”
Cat nodded. “He never made a big secret out of it,” she explained, unfolding her hands and proceeding to drum on the table. “Like I said: we are a family.”
Kate nodded agreement, but couldn’t help noting how Cat suddenly refused to look anywhere but at her own hands as they tapped out a rhythm. “That must have been a good feeling for Rod, to know that you all supported him.”
“I guess so.”
“After all,” Kate continued, playing a hunch, “you four were there for him when his previous relationships fell apart.”
“That’s what families are for, right?”
“But you wanted to be more than ‘family,’ didn’t you?” Rick asked her. Cat didn’t reply, but the drumming became more erratic. “I think,” Rick continued, looking at Kate, “someone had a crush on Rod.”
“Is that true, Cat?” Kate asked the young woman. The drumming increased in tempo. “It must have hurt when Rod introduced you to Nina.”
“She wasn’t good enough for him.” Tension filled Cat’s voice. “She didn’t appreciate him.”
“Is that why you’ve been following her for the last month?” Kate produced the security camera still and placed it in the other woman’s view. “Is that why you confronted her at her job last week?”
“She needed to stay away from him!” Cat exploded. Her hands clenched into fists and pounded the table, causing Kate and Rick to jump. “Ever since she came to the bar, I knew she was bad for him. She would break his heart, just like the others had.”
“So you confronted Nina,” Kate prompted.
“I just wanted to convince her to stop seeing him,” Cat explained, all of the energy disappearing from her voice and posture. She slumped in her chair again and resumed drumming on the table.
“But she didn’t listen,” Rick noted. “So you decided to talk to Rod instead.”
“What happened, Cat?” Kate asked. “Did you talk to Rod at practice? Or did you follow him and Nina on their date two nights ago?”
The drumming picked up speed again. “I already told the other detective: I was at the bar until closing.”
“Are you sure about that?” Kate asked. “Because oddly enough, no one remembers seeing you at the bar between nine and ten that night.” She waited a moment, but the only sound in the room was the increasingly erratic drumming. “You know what I think happened?” Kate continued. “I think that you decided to go to Rod’s place that night. I don’t know if you meant to scare him with the gun, embarrass him and Nina—”
“I just wanted to talk to him.” Cat stopped drumming and clenched the edge of the table in her hands. “She wasn’t there, so I thought I could make him listen to me.”
“I loved him!” Cat shouted. Her outburst startled Rick, but this time Kate kept her seat. “I loved him, but he was with her. Do you have any idea how much it hurt, to see the two of them together? Well? Do you?”
Kate carefully avoided Rick’s eye. “I have some idea,” she allowed. “But why the gun, Cat? Why did you take the gun with you?”
“Because he was wrong!”
“Rod?” Kate asked, striving to keep her own voice level as Cat became more and more agitated. “What was he wrong about?”
“He was wrong! He shouldn’t have existed!”
“What do you…” Kate trailed off as she realized what Cat meant. “You mean that Rod shouldn’t have been a man.”
“He was an abomination!”
“But you said that you—”
Cat cut Rick off. “I loved him!” Tears started coursing down her cheeks. “I loved him, but he couldn’t exist!”
Horror welled up inside Kate, but she worked to keep her voice even. “What happened at the apartment, Cat?”
“He buzzed me in. I found him in his bedroom. I…” she choked off, swallowed. “I told him that Nina was wrong for him, that I loved him, that he was wrong… I had the gun pointed at him the whole time, but he still stood up, talked to me, tried to convince me that everything was going to be all right.” Cat looked Kate straight in the eyes. “It almost worked. He almost made me believe that things could get better.”
“What happened?” Kate asked, keeping her voice low.
“He reached for the gun,” Cat explained, raising her arm to demonstrate, “and as I watched him, everything, all of the feelings, all of the pain came crashing down on me, and I just wanted it to end, to make it stop, and…” Her raised hand closed in the classic gun position and she mouthed “bang”.
Later that night, Rick lay in Kate’s bed, his arms wrapped around her. “You okay?” he asked.
“Just thinking,” she replied, her voice somewhat muffled by his chest.
“I know. I can hear you all the way over here. Hey!” He grabbed at the hand that had poked him. “Seriously, Kate, what’s up? Are you still thinking about the case?”
The answer to that question was ‘yes’, but Rick didn’t say it. He already felt that Kate was seeing too many non-existent parallels between their relationship and that of the victim, and he didn’t want to add fuel to that fire. “Well, it definitely was one of the bigger twists,” he admitted. “Somehow I don’t think Cat’s lawyer will have any trouble selling an insanity plea to the jury.”
“Probably not,” Kate replied.
Concerned, Rick looked down at her. “Hey,” he said, tilting her head up so that their gazes met, “just because one person’s relationship didn’t work out doesn’t mean ours won’t. Remember what I told you?”
“Always,” Kate replied, a smile tugging at her lips.
“Always,” Rick confirmed, stretching to capture her mouth in a kiss. As the kiss deepened, Rick’s mind began working at light speed. Most of his thoughts focused on how Kate was busy running her hands over his chest and toying with the hem of his shirt. A small part of his mind, however, was busy trying to think of a way to get Kate away from the city and the stress of the precinct for a little while. Maybe she’d finally agree to go to the Hamptons with him….