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13 September 2010 @ 10:14 pm
Castleland Challenge: Write With Me  
A fic lar_laughs  and I co-wrote for a challenge at castleland. :)

Words: 3,559
Summary: A strange case in an up and coming restaurant proves challenging for the detectives of the 12th
No spoilers or anything explicit. 


The sign above the door said it all: Maximum occupancy: 100 people. From what Detective Ryan could see through the window, there seemed to be a lot more than 100 people wandering around.

This crime scene was at one of the hundreds of trendy restaurants that squeezed into tiny storefronts that didn’t seem big enough to handle all the resulting customers. Not six month before, he’d come here with Jenny for the tiniest pizzas he’d ever seen. It had been so up and coming that it had up and left within three months of opening its doors. He’d certainly paid enough for the food to help them with their rent.

“This is the most crowded crime scene we’ve ever had,” Esposito commented as he opened the vibrantly orange door. “Also the most orange. It look like a dying sun collapsed in this two thousand square foot area.”

“Beats the grime of a dumpster.” Ryan took a look around, getting a feel for the situation and memorizing the layout of the room. “It’s hard to believe that anyone could get away with murder in a place as bright as this. My eyes hurt from all this light.”

“Slip your sunglasses on because we’ve got work to do.” Esposito nodded to the uniformed cop that walked toward them. “Hey, Michaels. What’ve you got for us today?”

In five minutes, the experienced beat cop walked them through the specifics of the case as he knew them. Walter Fischman, age 57, had come to the restaurant with a woman who was claiming to be his niece but she was pushing 50 herself. He ordered the daily special, salmon with linguine in a caper-lemon sauce. He had taken a bite of the salmon when he suddenly face-planted into his meal. The waiters, assuming he had choked on something and would hold them liable, started to give his CPR. It was only when the blood began to pool underneath him that they realized the cause of death wasn’t because of the food.

“Did anyone see anything suspicious before he started choking?” Esposito asked, writing down the specifics.

“No. That’s all I’ve got for you,” Michaels said as he walked away.

“Typical,” Ryan commented as he saw Lanie enter the crowded restaurant, picking her way through clusters of people.

“Hey,” she greeted the detectives as she prepared to examine the body. “Get a load of this place, huh?”

“Tell me about it,” Esposito agreed. “We’re going to have to keep everyone here to question them. There’s going to be a lot of unhappy customers by the time we’re done.”

“… just this once?”

“No.”

The detectives and the medical examiner heard the two familiar voices become recognizable among the buzzing hum of the restaurant. Beckett was coming towards them, with Castle right on her tail. She had asked Michaels to prevent anyone else from entering the restaurant, and the owner was right behind Castle, rightly looking anxious and unhappy.

“Hey guys,” she said, greeting her coworkers. “Michaels and his guys are keeping people out, so we can start questioning everyone here.”

“Can’t wait,” Esposito said with fake enthusiasm.

“Isn’t that a waste of time anyway?” Castle commented. The three detectives stared at him blankly. “I mean, whoever did it is long gone by now. Most of the people here probably didn’t see anything. Maybe the people at the tables next to him or the ones by door.”
Ryan and Esposito shrugged and exchanged a look before meeting Beckett’s narrow-eyed gaze, one that failed to hide her annoyance; no one really liked giving Castle a vitamin shot to his ego and admitting he was right, especially Beckett.

“And then ask everyone one else to come forward if they have anything,” Ryan said after a moment of strained silence.

“Exactly,” Castle responded.

Everyone looked to Beckett, who sighed and uncrossed her arms. “Fine. Yes, Castle, I’m admitting you’re right, so wipe that grin off your face.” Castle obliged, but the impish smile instantly returned as she turned her back. “You and I will take the people who were on his right. You guys can get the others,” she said, nodding to Esposito and Ryan. They walked towards the table to the left of the body, while Beckett lingered to talk to Lanie.

“Cause of death?” she asked her friend, taking in the vivid coloring of the restaurant as she looked around. Castle sniffed Fischman’s meal that Lanie had pushed aside, and Beckett shot him a warning look.

“He was stabbed,” Lanie informed Kate, pulling Fischman’s already unbuttoned coat off his shoulders, revealing a blood-stained shirt underneath. “The killer took the weapon with him, but I’m assuming it was a knife, based on the shape and size of the wound.”

“How do you stab someone in a place like this and just walk out unnoticed?” Beckett mused aloud.

“Easy,” Castle said, “you make it look like he’s choking.”

There was a moment of silence while Beckett and Lanie each raised an eyebrow. "You want to take this one?" Beckett offered.

"Yes, I think I do." Lanie turned to look fully at Castle. "There's nothing in his windpipe. It was the first place I checked. So how do you make someone look like their choking without actually having them choke?"

Castle looked at the body, back at Lanie and over at Beckett. "Well..."

"That's what I thought. Okay, Castle, let's leave Lanie to finish up here. We've got a lot of people to question."

The writer looked around the room, assessing the people who were milling around with various levels of irritation. He was interested to see the variety of people here in this upscale restaurant. After getting a glimpse of a menu on the way in, he'd figured there would only be a certain clientele.

"This is interesting."

Beckett tried to hide a smile as she watched Castle doing a thorough sweep of the room. She was interested to see if his observations were the same as hers, although she was never going to admit that to him. "Every time you say Interesting, I know that the only thing I'm going to hear is twenty minutes of you trying to explain yourself."

Later, Beckett stared intensely at the white board, as if she could intimidate facts out of it with her piercing gaze. Castle's "interesting" observations had presented nothing useful to the investigation, though he had informed her Fischman's meal was easily a four-star (he'd ordered the same for himself while she was questioning people, to "test" it for potential hazards).

Esposito broke Beckett out of her trance as he called to her from around the corner. "Hey, Beckett, come over here."

She complied and walked over to the desk Ryan and Esposito were working at, starting at a computer monitor. "So check this out," Ryan began.

"What?"

"We got the security footage from the owner. We've been going through it and Fischman wasn't dining alone," Esposito informed her.

"He was with his niece, we know that." Beckett gave him a classic "duh" look.

"No, this guy joined them halfway through their meal," And conveniently left before things got ugly."

"Got a name?"

"A Mr. Samuel Collins."

"Good work, guys. Get me an address and I'll bring him in," she said, turning to walk away.

"Hey, where's Castle? Aren't you going to wait for him?"

"This is a homicide investigation. I'm not going to put it on hold for Castle while he gallivants around on a whim."

"A whim?" Ryan repeated, raising an eyebrow.

"He's still convinced some staged the choking. Last time I checked he was Googling substances that can do that."

Ryan and Esposito laughed and Beckett offered a matching smirk before walking to the elevator. Castle's head was down and focused on his iPhone as the doors opened, and the open box of powdered donuts in his other hand flew dramatically into Beckett's black shirt, causing little tufts of sugar powder to linger in the air.

"Impeccable timing, as always. Get in the car. I'll be down after I change my shirt," Beckett said through gritted teeth.

Her jaw hurt by the time she got to her desk. These days, her jaw hurt a lot and she blamed it all on the mystery writer that was the bane of her existence. If he wasn't coming up with hare-brained ideas about perfectly normal murders, he was disrupting their work days with other nonsense. Like doughnuts. With powdered sugar.

She grabbed for the neatly folded shirt in her bottom drawer, trying not to be irritated further by the fact that she was wearing a dark blue shirt, a color that went well with her skin tone, and her extra shirt was a light shade of peach that did nothing for her. That was why it was her extra shirt. It wasn't meant to be worn.

"It'll be fine," she muttered to herself as she started for the restrooms. "I don't need to have my shirt coordinate with my necklace. How silly. How utterly-"

Out of the corner of her eye, something on the white board caught her eye. Something she hadn't seen before. "Esposito. Ryan. Get over here. I think I've figured this case out."

"What's up?" Ryan asked, coming to stare at the white board along with her.

"The man who joined them for dinner wasn't the only person who was at the table. Take a look at this waitress. Her shirt's the wrong color. Everyone else is wearing white shirts and black pants. It's the uniform at just about every restaurant in this city. White shirt, black pants, black tie. She's wearing light pink."

She heard Esposito trying to contain his laughter but still she didn't take her eyes off the board. Ryan leaned closer as he tried to see what she was seeing. It had been there all along but she might never have noticed if she hadn't been irritated by having to change her shirt.

"It's pink. Not the kind of pink because she did the wash wrong and didn't have enough money to get a new one. It's really pink." He turned to look at Beckett just as she turned to look at him. Both had a huge smile on their faces. "I'll call the restaurant and see if anyone recognizes her."

Beckett wedged the Crown Victoria into a spot behind a delivery truck outside Pink Shirt's apartment building. No one from the restaurant knew her- apparently she had shown up that morning claiming that it was her first day on the job. The manager hadn't been yet and the other employees had been too swarmed with customers to really question her. All in all, it wasn't looking good for her. Beckett felt a slight buzz flowing through her veins, a feeling she always got when she was close to solving a case.

She turned to Castle as she opened her door. "Since you obviously won't wait in the car even if I order you to, stay out of the way and don't do anything stupid."

Castle feigned surprise, blinking innocently. "Me? Stupid? Never."

She rolled her eyes and nodded to Esposito and Ryan, who were just arriving. The three detectives and lone novelist entered the building together, and one tense, awkward elevator ride later, they were outside of apartment forty-four. Castle stood by the other side of the door. Beckett pushed him out of the way, not taking any chances. She didn't need him getting shot.

"Wait," Castle whispered as Esposito raised his knuckles to bang on the door.

"What?" Beckett asked, exasperated.

"Can I say it?"

"Say what?!"

"'NYPD, open up!"

Beckett shot him a death glare and nodded to Esposito. He banged on the door, using the line Castle was dying to try out. No one answered and he kicked the door in, leaving it swinging dejectedly by its hinges. Beckett entered the apartment first, holding her gun. Ryan and Esposito followed suit, Castle right on their heels.

"Oh my God," Beckett breathed as she looked at the wall of Pink Shirt's living room.

A detailed collage of candid photographs of Fischman, Post-It notes with scribbled dates on them, and a map of lower Manhattan served as the wall decor.

Castle made a bee-line for the Post-It notes. As he gave them a thorough going-over, the detectives began searching for more evidence to pin this murder on their newest suspect.

"For a girl, this place is a mess," Ryan complained as he nudged at a pile of clothing with his foot. "Usually their clothes are hanging in the closet, all crisp and fresh."

Esposito rolled his eyes. "Jenny's ruined you for all other women, hasn't she?" He was thumbing through the magazines that threatened to overflow a brown packing box they'd been thrown into. "This lady looks like she's trying to get on the good side of Ed McMahon, ordering one of everything for a better chance at that Publisher's Clearinghouse check."

"Any chance at a name from the address label?" Beckett called from the other room where she'd gone to look under the bed.

"Yeah, about fifty. There's a different last name on every single one. Same address, though." He stared at the two in his hands. "This isn't the apartment address. Isn't there one of those postal box stores just around the corner?"

"She didn't strike me as a dumpster diver," Beckett mused, her search revealing a pair of mismatched sandals and half a cookie.

"She probably works there. When someone doesn't leave the right forwarding information, magazines are fair game." Castle tapped one of the Post-It notes with his lucky pen. "Odds are, she's eaten at Chargers quite a bit lately. It seems that Mr. Fischman owns the chain. She's got the list of addresses here and a couple are underlined."

Beckett came to stand behind him, suddenly very interested in the notes. "Chargers? Wasn't that the place that had a bunch of their locations close because of health code violations?"

Esposito nodded. "Good burgers, though."

Ryan and Esposito looked on through the one-way mirror as Beckett and Castle questioned the Chargers girl.

"So you're saying you've never eaten at the restaurant in your life," Beckett said.

"Despite all the paraphernalia decorating your apartment," Castle added. "Not that it's not a great decor," he threw in sarcastically. Beckett shot him a look that clearly meant "shut up".

"I haven't."

"Look, I'm a trained detective. Which means I know when someone is holding out on me."

"A couple of months ago, my dad had one of their burgers. He got salmonella poisoning. Harmless, right? Sucks, but it passes. Wrong. He'd just had a liver transplant. His immune system wasn't strong enough to fight it off." Castle shot a "told you so" look to Esposito through the glass.

"So he passed away," Castle concluded softly.

The girl nodded stiffly, determined not to let her facade break.

"And that made you pretty mad. So you decided to get revenge. You stalked Mr. Fischman and decided to give him a piece of your mind."

"I didn't kill him."

Castle leaned back and placed his arms behind his head. "Such a classic line."

"I was stalking him, okay, yes. But I didn't want to kill him. I just wanted to get enough evidence to get his chain shut down."

"We'll see about that," Beckett huffed, standing up and exiting the room.

"You have to let me see her. You have to let me see Gina." There was enough desperation in the man's voice to make her pause. She'd heard pleas like that before. They made her blood run cold.

She looked at Castle over her shoulder when he nearly ran into her as she stood still in the middle of the hallway. "Was there any sign of a boyfriend at the apartment? I don't remember seeing anything that made me think she had one and that he spent any time there."

"No. There was nothing there but girl stuff."

His choice of words made her wince so she threw a glare at him. "A girl in love with a boy would at least clean her apartment now and then. I think I'll go have a chat with our newest visitor. Stay here and keep our suspect company. Get her some coffee or something."

Fifteen minutes later, she was back. "Gina, who is Kevin Farnsworth?"

The girl's sullen expression changed into the kind of blank look a girl gets when given the name of a boy on the uttermost edges of her world. "He's just a guy that comes into the store now and then. Usually he's shipping something difficult to find a box for. Sometimes he needs special insurance. Why?"

"Ah, a nerd," Castle replied, his hands behind the back of his head as he leaned back in the chair, a man at his leisure. "I know the kind. Always sending out comic books and collectible figurines. Probably lives with his mother."

"No. He's nice looking." Gina looked troubled as she started to remember. "I think he said he collects antique weapons which are always a pain to ship. I don't think he's ever had me help him, though. He usually asks for Doreen."

Castle was clearly confused, something Beckett was enjoying watching. "Is she cuter than you?"

"She's older. Maybe in her forties. She's really nice. It was her idea for me to try the waitress bit. As a matter of fact, I think Kevin was there when we were talking about it. I don't think he said anything to me at the time but he was standing over by the packing supplies."

There was a knock on the door before Esposito stuck his head through. "Lanie needs to talk to you. You'll want to hear this."

It only took a few moments to get down to the coroner's lab but it felt like an eternity for Beckett. She could feel the answers right on the tip of her consciousness but they weren't coming forward where she could see them well enough to have the answers they needed. Kevin hadn't said much but his name and a string of numbers that could have been his military ID, a social security number or a laundry ticket. While she figured this out, he was in one of the holding cells and a police guard. Now that she had him, she wasn't letting him go.

"You'll never guess what I found on further exploration of Mr. Fischman's body. I thought the device that made the cut in his back was missing but turns out," she held out a metal bowl with a tiny, slender object, "it was still there all along. From the size of the initial entry wound compared to the part where I found this little guy, I'd say that it was thrown at him, forcing him forward." She showed what she meant, jerking forward as if she had been hit with something... or was choking. "But then it was forced in further. I'd say that was when the over-anxious wait staff tried to help out what they assumed was a choking man."

"So what killed him?" Castle asked before Beckett could get out the question. That irritated her because it was exactly what she was going to ask.

"Cause of death was because the blade nicked his heart and he bled out."

Beckett shook her head, trying to move the information around so that she could get to it better. "So the people trying to help him actually killed him?"

Beckett, Ryan, and Esposito sat in the restaurant that had been their crime scene the day before. After closing the case, the four had decided to go out to get something to eat before going home to catch a few hours of sleep. They'd worked right into the next day, almost. It had been one of those thought-provoking cases, and arresting Farnsworth for the murder had actually produced a very, very tiny twinge of sympathy from Beckett. The guy had only been trying to help out the girl he liked. He's still a killer, Beckett thought, shaking the feeling off.

"Where's Castle?" Ryan asked, drawing her out of her thoughts as they waited for their food to arrive.

"Don't know," Esposito shrugged. "Said he had to pick something up before meeting us."

"Probably wussed out on us and went home to sleep," Beckett said. Marking her words, he burst dramatically through the door and looked around for them. Spotting the three detectives, he slid into the booth next to Beckett, neatly depositing a folded piece of paper in front of her.

"What the hell is this?"

"Read it," he said, that impish look spreading over his face.

"...upon injection into the bloodstream, this chemical has been known to cause constriction of the airway, Beckett read aloud. "You're kidding. You actually found it."

"See? Told you it existed."

"But that didn't kill Fischman," Ryan pointed out.

"It still exists," Castle said defensively.

"Doesn't count dude. Didn't follow through," Esposito threw in as the waitress placed three plates on the table.

"I still proved my point." Beckett whacked his hand away as he tried to steal a bite off her plate. The witty banter bounced back as the three colleagues and the writer let the lively buzz of the bright restaurant unwind them.
 
 
Mood: okayokay