Somewhere a Clock is Ticking (Ch. 2 Pt. 2)
Chapter Two: 1756, 48th Avenue, the Bronx (Pt. 2)
Ryan and Esposito bowed away from Tim and Patricia Reyes with as much grace and speed as they could manage. The Reyes' hadn't been close, but it was only a few weeks past New Year's, and apparently they'd begun to smooth over their emotional canyons over the holidays. Their questions and sobs followed Ryan from the apartment to the street, even as his pulse tapped a steady beat in his ears. Why him? Why now?
“Tell me again what she said,” he said as he slipped into the driver's seat.
Esposito slammed his door. “She said Dunn called her,” he said. “She said to get to the Bronx, now. 1756, 48th Avenue, third floor. She said to use the lights.”
Ryan turned over the engine. His partner hit the sirens, and they peeled away.
From here, the drive would be a good twenty minutes, but Ryan rode the gas, determined to make it fifteen.
“What do you think they found?” he asked, swerving around a BMU.
“I almost don't want to know, bro,” Esposito said.
“Yeah,” he said, “me either.”
That was the last they said to each other for the next sixteen minutes, until Ryan found the street they were looking for. He found Beckett's car parked half on the sidewalk, and he pulled in behind it. Both of them got out at the same time.
“That doesn't bode well,” Esposito said the obvious, nodding at her car. The trunk was open wide.
“I don't see any uniforms,” Ryan said, glancing around. “She come alone?”
“Well, you know Beckett,” he said and shut his door.
“Yeah,” he muttered to himself.
They made eye contact for a second, then hustled to the entrance, guns drawn. Suddenly, Ryan wasn't sure what exactly they were walking into. Tigers and freezers ran through his head as they took the stairs two at a time, but before he'd had time to really process those thoughts, they had reached the third floor. There they paused, as if both unsure they really wanted to enter. Then Ryan opened the door and poked his head in.
What he saw first was all the shadows and the boxes. The place was dark as hell, with any number of places a bad guy could hide, and the only thing that made him feel better about it was the service pistol in his hands.
“Beckett?” he called softly.
Esposito stepped in after him. “Beckett?” he tried, louder.
“Here,” they heard her voice and turned toward it as one. There weren't enough syllables in her response to make any sort of reading, but he felt dread flood chest anyway. They walked forward, but stopped again when they found her.
She was just standing in the center of the room, her back to them, staring down at a heap at her feet. Ryan glanced around as he holstered his pistol, looking for and quickly spotting Castle, whose face was stony. They made eye contact for a moment, and Castle clenched his jaw, then went back to staring at Beckett.
“He called me,” Beckett said, voice sounding strangely calm and disconnected. “He called my cell. Right as I was leaving Falk's wife. He all but told me where I needed to go. But we didn't figure it out in time. I was too late.”
“Beckett,” Esposito said, walking forward. Ryan went with him, and he felt his blood go cold when he recognized the lump at her feet as a person. A woman.
“We tried. She begged me to help, but it was...” she trailed off. “We tried.”
The two detectives joined her at either shoulder. She wasn't crying, but she looked like she had been, at some point. There was grime and blood on her khaki jacket. Not hers. The woman's. She was still staring down at her, arms hugging her chest.
Ryan looked down too.
She looked asleep. Except for her bloodied fingers, she looked asleep. Peaceful. But that was wrong. She couldn't be peaceful. She was missing a fingernail.
Then he noticed the ice chest right in front of him. The lid was thrown back, and he saw a cut padlock on the floor, right beside a pair of bolt cutters. Along the lid were bloody scratches, red on snow white ice. And her fingernail.
“Beckett,” Castle said, suddenly beside them. “Kate, come on.”
Ryan and Esposito brushed eyes and stepped back, silently agreeing to give the two their space. They watched as Castle slowly worked to coax Beckett away from the dead woman. It was becoming increasingly obvious that she hadn't moved from where she stood since...what? She'd pulled her out of the box? Finally, she allowed him to turn her away. The detectives and the writer moved in a little clump toward the window, where she separated from them again to lean against the wall near a window.
They stood there for a moment, listening to the sound of distant sirens. They weren't heading in this direction. Life went on. Ryan kicked a spent cigarette off his shoe.
“So, start over,” Esposito said eventually. “What happened?”
“Dunn called,” Beckett said. She was barely visible in the shadows. “Mentioned our unfinished business. Gave me the chance to find her and to save her. We realized when we couldn't trace his call that he must have meant us to return to a past crime scene.”
“Or an almost crime scene,” Castle added.
Ryan and Esposito looked between the two of them, neither knowing what they were talking about.
“This is where he held Agent Shaw,” Beckett supplied after a beat. “Where he tried to shoot me. And there,” she gestured across the street, at another building, “is where he tried to blow up Agent Shaw's entire unit.”
Ryan swallowed as recognition hit. He'd never been here. He'd only gotten the cliff notes from Beckett after-the-fact, and at the trial. He vaguely remembered the photographs. He wondered if they'd been taken where he was standing.
“So we came here,” she continued. “Found the ice chest. Found his message.”
“Message?” Ryan asked.
“ 'Kate,' ” she said her name as if it wasn't her own.
They all thought the same thing. Castle said it, finally, “Last time it was Nikki. 'Nikki will burn.' ”
She said nothing, looked out the window at her back.
“He's coming after you now,” Esposito said.
“He was coming after me before,” she said, never turning.
“But now it's your name,” Ryan said.
She started to say something, then blew the breath away in a long, grey stream. Her profile was a hard line of dull yellow and shadow. Castle spoke in her silence, “We just had this conversation.” From his tone, it had gone nowhere.
Ryan decided to drop it. “What happened next?” he asked.
“We found the message,” Castle said when Beckett didn't reply. “We saw the padlock on the chest. We heard...” he paused, “We heard her, calling out. Beckett told me to get the bolt cutters from the car. I got them, we cut the lock, opened it up—”
“She was dead when I pulled her out,” Beckett cut in quietly. “I tried to bring her back. Paramedics got here and they tried, but it was too late. I was standing here when she died. I couldn't hear what she was saying to me, but I told her everything was going to be okay.”
Ryan felt like someone had taken a massive vacuum to the building and sucked all the air out of it. He'd stood in hundreds of rooms where awful things had occurred, cracked jokes while standing over the scenes of terrible tragedy, but this felt...worse. Personal.
“Do we know who she is?” he asked.
Beckett looked at him, “No. She didn't have any ID.”
“You call Lanie?”
“Yeah,” she nodded, smiled humorlessly. “She only just got back from Ossining.” She turned from them to look out the window again, this time to be lost almost entirely to the shadows. “Dunn doesn't waste any time.”
Watching her, Ryan felt both helpless and useless. So after a moment he left them to look at the body again. Esposito followed. Castle didn't.
“We've gotta stop this asshole,” Esposito murmured, quietly enough that only they could hear it.
“How many crime scenes does this make today?” Ryan said, equally as hushed. “Three? Four bodies?”
“I don't want to find anymore,” he replied. “We've gotta get an ID on her. Gotta find her connection to Dunn.”
He stared down at her. She was wearing a pant suit and flats. “She looks like she was taken after work,” he said.
He blew out a breath. It was cold enough that he could see it. “Poor girl.”
At least two minutes passed before it occurred to him that he was standing in the exact spot Beckett had stood before, and he nervously moved away, pulling out his phone.
“I'm going to call Lanie,” he said. “See how far away she is.”
“She probably wo—” Esposito started to say, then stopped. “Yeah, okay,” he said.
Ryan walked away then, knowing his phone call would accomplish nothing, but not caring. He couldn't stand there and stare at her face anymore. He could barely stand to stay in the building.
By the time he'd made it to the door, the medical examiner had already arrived.
“Cause of death: asphyxiation.”
Her words bounced off the plastic, the chrome, the tile, and the steel. Everything was bright under the fluorescence; all light and no shadow. Here, time lost its context. The only real indicator of the hour was how many people were in the building. She knew it was late, because they were the only two here.
Beckett shifted her weight, gaze focused in front of her. Lanie was closing. She didn't know how long she'd been standing there, but when she moved the soles of her feet ached from standing on her heels so long. She pushed the feeling away., opting to remain on her feet. If Castle was here, he might have told her that she was inventing some form of punishment for herself, but he wasn't, even if she could all but hear his voice in her ear.
She watched as Lanie sewed Jane Doe up, and as she pulled the sheet up over her body and her face. As she smoothed it over, she wondered at the use of the white sheet, at how clean it always looked despite what it covered. The thought slipped away as Lanie peeled off her gloves and tossed them, then turned to face her.
“Thank you,” she said again, before the ME could speak.
Beckett had asked her to do the autopsy tonight, despite the hour and despite the other bodies they'd recovered today. She could've said no — she had probably wanted to — but she'd agreed. Beckett had stayed at the scene through to the recovery, then left the boys at the precinct while she went down to the morgue to meet Lanie and their Jane Doe. She'd walked in and stopped, and there she'd stayed: numb, unable to bring herself to move or look away. That was where she stood now. She hadn't changed her coat.
“You heard everything I said?” Lanie asked, and she nodded. “Any questions about my findings?”
“No,” she said.
They stood there for a moment. Lanie was studying her, and Beckett met her eyes, unwilling to look away. All she'd gotten today were people asking how she was, and she knew it was coming from her friend now. She could practically see the numbers counting down.
“If I asked how you were feeling, would you tell me?”
“No,” she said.
She nodded, “That's what I thought.”
Beckett worked her molars for a moment, opened her mouth, “I'm going to go back,” she said. “I really appreciate you doing this for me, Lanie.”
“Like I said, it's no problem.”
Beckett glanced at the gurney again, at the sheet, then said good night as she turned and left. She barely heard the ME's reply as the doors swung shut behind her.
As she headed back to the precinct, she replayed the autopsy in her mind, pulling out the pertinents. Jane Doe was somewhere in her late 20s, bottle-blonde, green eyes, 5'4”, 143 pounds, healthy, no BAC, no past fractures or medical devices, Tweetie tattoo on her left ankle. From her clothing and her damp hair, she'd probably been taken on her way back from work. If she'd been carrying ID, Dunn had taken it from her before putting her in the box. They had nothing to identify her with.
She wondered if they'd ever know her name. She wondered if Dunn knew it.
She took the stairs up to the 12th, despite the ache in her feet (more guilt assuagement, Kate?), and when she opened the door, the first thing that struck her was that it was so quiet, and the second was that it was so empty. She walked to her desk and was about to fall into her chair when she noticed movement in one of the meeting rooms. Maybe the precinct wasn't as empty as she thought. Ignoring the protests of her feet, she headed there instead.
And there she found her faithful little team, grouped around the table and surrounded by papers, soda cans, a pizza box, and what looked like mug books. The TV was on, and she recognized the van from Ossining on it. Security footage from the parking lot.
Castle was the first to notice her. “Beckett,” he said. Everyone looked up as he stood.
“Hey,” she said, then glanced at her two detectives. “Anything?”
They shook their heads. “No,” Ryan said.
“Not yet,” Esposito modified.
Whatever hope she might've felt died in her chest. Nodding, she pulled out one of the chairs across from them, finally allowing herself to sit. Castle sat too. “What're you doing?” she asked.
“That sketch from Zehner came in,” Ryan said. He grabbed a paper off the table and held it out. She took it. “We've just been looking through our mug books, trying to see if maybe we can find him in here.”
It was then that she knew they had nothing.
“What about the security footage?” she asked.
“They're just blobs,” Castle said. “Albeit, vaguely human-shaped.”
“Did you see the car they switched to?”
“Not much. It's a sedan.”
“Light-colored,” Esposito added.
She stared at their exhausted expressions. They were waiting for her reply, maybe hoping she had come with some glowing insight from the morgue. “Then we have nothing,” she said, running her fingers through her hair.
“What about the autopsy?” Castle asked.
She looked at him. Dropped her hands. “No ID, no trace.”
No one said anything. Beckett looked down at the table and the mug books. It felt like such a shot in the dark, one made blind-folded and with an 18th century flintlock, but she reached for a book and pulled it toward her anyway. “You got an extra copy of this?” she asked, holding up the sketch Ryan had handed her.
He hesitated, then nodded.
“Got a list of possibles?”
“I've got it,” Castle said. He lifted up and waggled a yellow legal pad, then held it out.
She took it. Looked at the long list of scrawl in all their handwriting. Placed it back on the table.
Then she cracked open the mug book and started scanning pictures.
Here, at least, time had some semblance of meaning. It was dark through the windows, and it was dark in most of the precinct. She at least knew it was night. A glance at her watch between pages told her it was well after midnight.
This morning seemed like a long time ago.
She added her first name to the list. She was in the process of adding a third when somebody's phone went off. She jumped, and the “g” for “Grange” shot up through “Byrd” and “Reinso.”
It was a full second before she realized it was Ryan's phone and not her own.
He answered it, then jumped to his feet. “Jenny,” he said, quickly making his way out of the room. “No, I—I'm sorry, I didn't realize it was so late...” his voice receded as he walked away, and Beckett looked back down at the mug book, smoothing the page with a hand she didn't realize was shaking.
She balled it into a fist and moved it to her lap, willing no one to have noticed.
No one had.
Four photographs later, Ryan walked back in the room. He looked at Beckett, apologetically, almost a little guiltily. “I'm sorry,” he said. “That was Jenny. She wants me to come home.”
She glanced at her watch. 1:39. “Jeez,” she muttered. “No, go home. You've more than done your part.” She stood. Pain shot through her heels, but she ignored it. “Espo, you too. We're just treading water anyway.”
Esposito looked at her. “You're sure?”
“Yeah,” she said. “This can wait until the morning.”
He didn't argue with her. He almost looked relieved as he got to his feet. Ryan walked around him and grabbed his jacket, then put it on. They headed to the door together. “You coming?” Esposito asked, stopping.
“Yeah, eventually,” she lied. “I want to finish up here first.”
She didn't know if he believed her, but they said their goodbyes, and then they left. She fell back into her chair, then went back to the books. Several moments passed before she realized Castle hadn't done the same.
“Something on your mind?” she asked when she got sick of him staring at her.
“Why do I get the feeling you're not going home?” he said.
She looked at him. She hated the worry she saw there. Hated that look on his face like he just wanted to fix her, to save her from herself (because you don't want to be saved). Because that wasn't something he was capable of doing, wasn't his responsibility, wasn't his right (it's just because he cares.)
God, she was tired.
“I'll go home,” she said. “I just need some more time, alright?” She looked back at the page. She wanted him to drop it.
He didn't. “You said it yourself. We're just treading water.”
“Well, sometimes that's just what we do, and we hope that eventually we'll find a little spit of beach.” Please, drop it.
“You don't believe you'll find that here anymore than I do.”
Something inside her snapped. She looked up. “Well, you know what, Castle? There's no one saying you need to be here. You're free to go, anytime.” All the rage and the grief and the guilt ran hot and giggling through her veins, like a dam had cracked. Suddenly, she felt like the one who was suffocating.
He looked like she'd slapped him.
Her stomach clenched up, through the turbulence and the roar of her blood. “I'm sorry,” she said, rubbing her eyes. Inhaled. “It's just...it's just been a long day.”
He got up, and she felt him lean against the table beside her. “Not just for you. I was in that warehouse too, in case you've forgotten,” he stopped. She met his eyes again, feeling a fresh pang of guilt. His face softened, “Come on, Kate, just come home with me. Like you said, this can wait until the morning.”
She swallowed. “I just need to be here right now, okay? I just need a little more time.”
“Then I'll stay with you.” He said it with such conviction. She felt her heart constrict.
“Castle, I...” she started to say, broke off. She could read the hurt all over his face, even as a hundred billion little neurons in her brain started begging for him to just get away. (Can't breathe. Where had all the air gone?)
“Okay,” he said and smiled. It was sad and small, and it didn't reach his eyes. “I hear you, Beckett. I'll go.”
Sharp little blades cut at her heart as he rose and grabbed his coat. Someone else —a better, smarter person — might have stopped him then, but she just watched as he put it on.
“I'll see you tomorrow,” he said. “You'll get some sleep?”
“Yeah,” she said, nodding.
He kissed her then, not deeply or passionately, maybe just to convey all the things he couldn't say, that she wouldn't want to hear if he tried, and then he was gone.
She sat there, staring at the empty, open doorway, listening to his footsteps get farther and farther away. She thought about stopping him, saw herself closing the book and chasing after him, catching him just as the elevator doors opened, going home with him and accepting his safety and his concerns, falling asleep in the warmth and the quiet and the peace, drowning all thought—for just a couple hours—of Jane Doe trapped in that ice box, calling out for her, forgetting her name carved on the lid, as if her death was both a gift and a promise.
But instead she looked down and flipped the page. Continued to listen to the screams echo in her head.
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