Somewhere a Clock is Ticking (Ch. 1 Pt. 2)
Chapter One: Sunrise (Pt. 2)
“Who is Scott Dunn?” Victoria Gates, Captain of the 12th Precinct, said.
Castle leaned against the wall, watching silently as Beckett handed Gates a file. Beckett was tense, angry, a whole world away from the woman he'd found on the couch and drawn back to bed this morning. He hadn't known what to make of her voice when she'd called him away from his daughter a half hour ago. His first, nightmarish thought was that something new had surfaced from her past in the scant hours they'd been apart, but when she'd told him what was going on, he wasn't quite sure this was any better (he was, in fact, pretty sure this wasn't any better).
“Dunn cut a swath through the city a few years ago,” Beckett said, slipping a hand into her pocket. “Ben Conrad, Alex Peterman, Michelle Lewis, Sandra Keller, Gloria Rodriguez, he killed those five in as many days. He then kidnapped a federal agent and attempted to kill her entire squad, and me.” It was amazing how casually she slipped that in there. He certainly didn't feel that casual about it. “Before New York, he was in Seattle. Killed five prostitutes and framed a local businessman named Keith Lewis for it before shooting him in the head. Lewis' death was ruled a suicide until our investigation.”
Gates stood. “I remember this case now,” she said. “You were the lead investigator. Wasn't he in contact with you several times over the course of his spree?”
“In a sense,” her tone was stone hard, but Castle could hear the old bitterness in it. “He called to report his murders. He dared me to stop him, sent me little messages. Carved them into the bullets he shot his victims with. Dumped one of their bodies on my doorstep. That was just before he blew up my apartment.” She paused, eyebrows pinching. “He left me homeless for months.”
The Captain stared at her for a beat. Castle didn't remember how much of this had made it into the news and around the cop grapevine, but he got the feeling if any of it had, Gates didn't recall it.
“Sir,” Beckett said, filling the silence, “Dunn didn't do it because he got spanked when he was six or because he hated his mother. He did it because he enjoyed it. He was diagnosed as a sociopath out West, did a stint at a psychiatric facility. This man is volatile and extremely dangerous, and he's been sitting in a box for three years.”
“And now he's not,” Gates sighed.
“I'm going up to Sing Sing,” she continued. “The cavalry will be here tomorrow, but we've got to get the ball rolling as soon as possible.”
“Detective,” Gates held up a hand. “Do you honestly think I can let you lead this investigation?”
“Yes,” a single hydrogen atom could fit in the space she'd left for compromise in her voice. “No one understands this guy like I do, and we don't have time to get someone else up to speed.”
Gates studied her for a long moment, weighing invisible, golden scales. It seemed to drag on forever. Finally, she said. “Alright, Detective.”
About three of the seven hundred muscles in Beckett's body relaxed, and then she left the room without another word.
Castle looked between Gates and Beckett's retreating form a few times, then got off the wall, pointed in the general direction of the door, and mumbled some sort of apology-goodbye before going through it.
“You guys ready?” Beckett asked without slowing.
“Yeah,” Ryan said. He and Esposito had been sitting on a desk. They joined Castle in following her to the elevator. No one said anything as they waited for the car to arrive, nor as they walked inside it. Castle was sure all of them were remembering what had happened the last time they'd dealt with Scott Dunn, and he wondered what scene was playing out in their heads.
The detectives split ways at the bottom of the precinct steps, and Castle followed Beckett to her car, which they entered silently. He watched her as she slipped on her seat belt and keyed the ignition. His own little memory byte was looping in his brain. It'd been looping since she'd called.
Several minutes passed. He just kept on watching her as she backed the car and put it in drive.
“What?” she said finally, as they bumped over the exit. “You got a problem with me working this case too?”
“I didn't say anything,” he couldn't stop the words, though he knew as he said them that they were gonna piss her off.
“You didn't have to, Castle.”
She wrenched the wheel violently to get between a van and a taxi, floating on the lane divide for a beat before passing another car. Someone honked.
He switched tacts when she stopped to obey a light. “I'm just worried, Kate.”
She glanced at him. Her face softened, though her eyes didn't. “Sorry,” she said, looking back out the windshield. “Didn't mean to snap.”
“Think he's halfway to Canada by now?” he asked.
“I don't know.” She didn't look at him.
“Yeah,” he said, leaning back in his seat. “I don't either.”
She didn't reply.
The silence came back as she made her way onto FDR, and there it settled, as heavy as the morning fog. Between it and the images running through his head, he could feel the air condensing to lead in his lungs. Finally, he cracked, “I just keep seeing it.”
Her gaze flicked to his. Went back to the road. “What?” she said.
“That moment when I was standing outside your building. When I watched it blow.”
“Did I ever tell you how scared I was?”
Her throat bobbed as she swallowed. “Castle, just...just don't, alright?”
“Okay,” he said.
The silence returned, and, this time, it would be here to stay. He directed his gaze out the window, feeling cold and hollow. He wished she'd let him touch her.
And then he was surprised to hear her voice again, low and dangerously human. “I keep seeing it too,” she said. “That moment when the world fell in around me, when I went deaf and blind from the blast. I think I blacked out for a minute, and when I woke up...that first second, I thought I was dead, and the next I realized I wasn't, but I'd lost my home, and half my world was burning.”
He looked at her, but whatever part of her soul had spoken had already retreated behind the armor, and she wasn't looking at him.
So he let it go.
And then the silence really did settle between them. Like fog, encased in drying concrete.
A guy in a Department of Corrections jacket met them at the gates. He introduced himself as Brian Dobbs, then led them into the facility. Esposito and Ryan fell in step just behind the group, allowing Beckett to have her space in the lead. Even Castle kept slightly behind her. She was angry. She was hiding it, but she was angry.
“What happened to Pollman?” she asked. Pollman was the former director of Sing Sing. He remembered her weekly calls to him, back when she'd been trying to crack Hal Lockwood. That seemed like a long time ago.
“He retired,” Dobbs said. “You knew each other?”
“Yeah,” she said. Her face revealed nothing of the history there. “So tell me what you know.”
He ushered them into a closet some janitor had obviously abandoned—his office, apparently—then reached for one of the folders on his desk. “At 6:23 this morning,” he said, “we carried out a transfer order from...” he flipped the folder open, “the Metropolitan Correctional Center for one of our inmates, Marshall Franco. A couple uniforms arrived, and we sent them and Franco on his merry way with one of my guards.”
“But it wasn't Franco,” Beckett said.
“No,” he shook his head. “Franco's currently chilling in Block D.”
“Was the transfer order legitimate?”
“Yes,” he handed her one of the papers in the folder, which she glanced at. “I signed it myself. Someone went in and switched Franco's ID info with Dunn's.”
Dunn's accomplice. He could almost hear the thought flashing through all their heads at once.
She took a moment to digest that. In her silence, Castle opened his mouth, “When did you notice the glitch?”
“I assume you tried raising the guard?” Beckett asked.
“Yeah. No reply.”
“Do you have the information from the officers who picked him up?”
“Yeah,” he said, then grabbed another paper from his folder, which he held out to her. He pointed at something on it. “Names and badge numbers, right here.”
“And the guard?”
“Right below that.”
“May I?” she took the page, then immediately turned. “Ryan?”
“On it,” he took it. He made brief eye contact with Esposito before moving past him and into the hallway, cell already out.
“Look, Detective,” Dobbs said. “I know this guard— David Sharp. He's good people.”
“I'm sorry, but we can't just take your word for it..” Beckett looked at him again, “Do we have GPS on the truck used to transport?”
He just looked at her. “I have no idea.”
“Well, find out,” she exhaled. “I'd like to talk to whoever signed him over.”
Dobbs nodded. He had that look on his face like he'd just spent several hours with her in the box. “That would be Officer Zehner,” at least he still sounded professional. “I'll call him in.”
“Okay,” she turned. “Esposito, track down that car. Castle and I will talk to Zehner.”
He nodded, “Done.”
“Okay,” she murmured that to herself, looked at Dobbs again. “Have Zehner meet us at your break room. Come on, Castle.” She swept out of the little broom closet then, looking for all intents and purposes like she needed some air. Castle followed her, looking worried but saying nothing. Esposito wondered how long that would last.
And then it was suddenly just the two of them standing there. “I'm going to buzz Zehner,” Dobbs said. “You just need the vehicle information?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Whatever you've got.”
Five minutes later, he was out in the hall, phone pressed to his ear, fresh print-out in hand, listening to a grainy-ass version of what sounded like “Good Morning Starshine” as he waited for the insurance people to pick up. He wondered if this song was appropriate for anyone who had to call insurance people, let alone him.
Gliddy glup gloopy nibby nabby noopy la la la...
Ryan was about a yard away, muttering “Uh huhs” into the phone as he scribbled down notes. Then he said his thanks, clicked off, and walked over. “Okay, so, Central can't raise either Officer Falk or Officer Reyes. They haven't been seen or heard from since they left to make the transfer. I had them run our guard—David Sharp—he's clean.”
Esposito looked at Ryan.
Tooby ooby walla...
“You thinking what I'm thinking, bro?”
“Yeah,” Ryan said. “I just hope we're wrong.”
The little strip mall parking lot had already been emptied out by the time they got there. Uniforms were parked at the entrances, four cars. It seemed like a lot of them. Beckett found herself wondering why so many had come as she rolled past them and parked in the middle of the lot. Esposito's car stopped next to hers, and they both got out at the same time. She stared straight ahead, at the unmarked van. GPS had led them here.
As she stood there, she thought about Scott Dunn, that cocky sonofabitch. They were barely ten minutes away from the prison, yet here they'd parked, in a strip mall parking lot four yards away from a Starbucks.
Everything was still in the freezing air, surreally so, like she was standing in a photograph somebody had taken of this moment. Suddenly, it occurred to her that everyone was watching her, waiting for her to do something. So she took a breath and strode forward, trying to push away thoughts of what she was about to find.
A uniform met her halfway to the van.
“You found it?” she asked, not stopping.
“Yeah,” he said. “Got your call, found the van, checked the plates.”
“You look inside?” she tightened her leather gloves around her fingers.
“No, ma' — Detective.” Any other day, his correction might have made her smile. “Heard your message loud and clear.”
“Thank you.” And then they were at the van. She knew no one was inside anymore, but her hand was hovering a few inches away from her gun, which was loose in its holster, just in case. She brushed eyes with Castle before looking through the passenger side door. She saw nothing. The windows were tinted black.
“Castle,” she said, gesturing for him to get behind her. He obeyed without protest and then she nodded at Esposito and Ryan, who had positioned themselves at the back of the van. They all drew at once, and then she opened the door.
“Oh jeez,” she muttered, looking away. It didn't make any difference; the scene had seared across her vision at first glance. Behind her, either Castle or the uniform made some sort of noise, but she didn't glance over to see which.
Instead, she looked again.
And the eye looked back, milky white and staring, suspended in its blood-drenched socket like a ping-pong ball. The other eye was gone, along with half the face. That was mashed into pulp and splattered all over the car interior. She could see little bits of brain matter on the dash. What looked like bone bits. Tufts of hair. His body was leaning back in the seat, one hand still resting on the wheel, fingers caught in it.
She swallowed. Remembered she was still holding her pistol. Holstered it.
He was wearing a uniform. Service belt, gun still in it. He hadn't had time to...
“Beckett?” Ryan said. Her thought shattered like glass.
“Yeah?” she looked over, jaw set.
Steeling herself, she walked to him. Looked in the van.
Again she saw the uniform, the brass buttons, the badge. Her gaze crawled up the bloody mess of his chest, up to his face. No holes. He hadn't been shot there. He'd been shot in the chest. And his eyes were staring right through her, at that same cold and terrifying Nothing she'd just seen in the driver's eye, that she'd seen in a hundred corpses, that she'd almost come to drown in herself.
She swallowed again, feeling her heart pound, feeling it ache with each beat, suddenly hot despite the cold. Trying to force herself back into control, she refocused on his face, but despite herself her gaze slid down, to stop on the ragged little holes in his uniform. She studied them with morbid fascination, a thousand horrible little nightmares squirming around her guts. It was a full twenty seconds before she noticed his gun wasn't in his holster.
And then those internal monsters drowned in a flood of rage and magma.
“Call Lanie,” she said, to whoever was behind her. “Get her down here. They shouldn't be out here like this.”
She could feel her detectives' eyes on her back. If they thought about saying anything, they didn't, and she heard one of them break away to do her bidding.
“How many up front?” Esposito asked.
“Just one,” she said. “The other cop.” Her voice was tempered steel as she stared at the body in front of her. He was just a kid.
“Beckett,” Castle's voice was in her ear. She could hear the concern in it, over the roar of her blood, but that was the last thing in the world she wanted from him.
“I'm fine,” she murmured the usual line, then turned away to look at Esposito. “Espo, we've gotta set up a canvas. Talk to everyone who started their shift around the time this van was parked. I'll be there to help in a minute.” She turned back to the body then, and a name popped into her head, like she was glancing into an old yearbook. The photo on Ryan's phone. “Brad Falk,” she said.
Castle stared at her as if she'd said it in Russian. “What?”
“That's his name,” she clarified. “This is Officer Brad Falk. And the man in the driver's seat is Officer Mathew Reyes.” Beckett glanced down at Falk again, at his wide, staring, dead eyes, and was spooked suddenly, like someone had grabbed her back with a chilly hand. She quickly stepped away, kept walking until she could no longer see into the van, and Castle followed her. Then she stopped and watched Ryan talk on his phone, not really seeing him. Something was wrong with this picture. “Where's the guard?” she wondered aloud.
Castle blinked, catching her meaning without her having said it. “You thinking he's the accomplice?”
She met his gaze. “I think I want to know where he is.”
The low-rise slouched sullenly against the charcoal clouds, swathed by cracked concrete and a few wispy trees. It glared down at them as Beckett rolled to a stop at the curb and killed the engine, and she glared back, the apartment number repeating like some long, generic kick loop in her head. The building David Sharp had listed as his address had probably been cheap when it'd been new in the 70s, as cheap as it was now, and she knew before she led Castle and the uniforms up to and through the doors that cam footage wouldn't be a possibility for this place. There was no door man.
The complex smelled vaguely like pine sol and musk as they made their way toward the stairs. Beckett kept seeing the cops in the van. Kept seeing the blood doused seats. Kept seeing Dunn, and wondering which one he'd killed, and if he'd smiled when he'd done it, the way he'd smiled at her when she'd testified against him, like this was all some private joke with a punchline only he was privy to.
She fell back into reality as she opened the second floor door, scanning the hallway for number 20. Finding 29, she strode forward, knowing her mark was around the corner, at the end of the hall.
She'd made it most of the way there before she noticed the splintered frame, and all at once she realized what she was about to find. For no reason, Castle's words on the drive up to Ossining suddenly popped into her head, even as she gestured Officers Blake and Slocum into position around the door.
Dunn wasn't halfway to Canada.
She counted down with her fingers. Nodded at Blake.
He was still in New York, and he was only just getting started.
She gritted her teeth. Burst through the door.