The first body turned up in the 12th precinct.
Castle’s phone pinged at breakfast—a text from Ryan that the lower floors of the building were being swept and they would be in touch with more details as soon as they had them. Beckett arrived at his doorstep an hour later with coffee and an irritated expression. She was used to working crime scenes but not work being the scene of the crime.
“What we know,” she said, “is that it’s a John Doe, discovered on a slab in the morgue—no signs of struggle, no immediate apparent cause of death, and get this: frozen.”
Castle cocked an eyebrow. “That makes it pretty hard to determine time of death,” he said. “It also reminds me, I’ve got some marinara in the freezer overdue to be thawed. Where exactly did the body come from?”
Beckett pursed her lips. “That’s the other thing—we don’t know yet. There’s no sign of a break-in, no one on duty last night recalls seeing anything suspicious.” Her phone pinged, and she thumbed to her messages. “Looks like we’re being corralled at another precinct until they settle the issue of jurisdiction.”
“Doesn’t the fact that it happened in our precinct make that obvious?” Castle asked.
Beckett sighed. “Wouldn’t be a murder investigation without a little bureaucratic red tape now, would it?” she asked. Castle held the door for her as they left the apartment, and Beckett led the way to the elevator, reading their orders from her phone as they walked. “Captain says we’re clear to come in for a briefing but the morgue’s still off-limits.”
Much of the rest of the day was spent waiting on reports from crime scene techs and negotiating the ins and outs of questioning people in the building during the 8 hour window the body could have been dumped in the precinct’s morgue.
OCME was still in the process of doing the post mortem when the second body turned up in the 11th in the early hours of the following morning. Beckett once again stopped by Castle’s apartment bearing coffee and orders. An investigative team would be convening in Brooklyn requiring representatives from both the 11th and 12th precincts.
Beckett and her author were left to stew in a briefing room while they waited for their liaisons to appear. Castle sat on one of the tables and folded his hands over his knee.
“So why, precisely, are we in Brooklyn?” he asked.
Beckett put her hands on her hips, elbowing Castle discreetly. “I explained this to you in the car on the way over. Multiple times.”
“Humor me,” he said. “I’m in Brooklyn.”
Beckett took the measure of the briefing room as she spoke, noting the bare walls and no-fuss furniture. Castle could see the judgments forming as she spoke: modern, sleek, boring. She was missing the familiar territory of the 12th. “We’re taking the investigation outside the developing pattern,” she said. She pointed over her shoulder in the direction of the bullpen. “Hoyt’s squad has certain reputation.”
“For terrible coffee?” Castle asked.
“For solving terrible crimes.”
Castle and Beckett turned towards the brash voice. Castle could feel Beckett bristle just slightly, her posture straightening and tensing at the sight of the younger cop leaning in the doorway. He was a type they’d seen before, one Castle could read at once: hothead, daddy issues, too good for his own good. There was a woman pushing past him, eager and smiling, polished and perfect in her casual business-wear. A type-A if he’d ever seen one.
“The coffee is pretty terrible,” the young woman said. She stepped forward into the briefing room, her hand extended. “Detective Beckett. Mr. Castle. I’m Detective Amy Santiago, welcome—”
“And I am Detective Jake Peralta, better known around these parts as the man with the best solve rate in… these parts,” the hothead interrupted.
Santiago rolled her eyes. “My partner,” she muttered. “I am very sorry about the coffee, Mr. Castle, but maybe we can—”
“What’s with the ‘mister’?” Peralta asked.
Castle felt himself puff up slightly before he could stop it happening. Santiago slid into a seat at one of the tables, leaning on her elbows and tenting her hands beneath her chin. The gleam in her eye was familiar: admiring, excited, slightly off-kilter. She was a fan, he decided.
“You’ll have to excuse Detective Peralta,” she said. She looked up at her partner. “If you’d read more than 15 books in your entire life, you might know that Mr. Castle is not only a best-selling author of crime fiction but also works with Detective Beckett solving murders.” She grinned. “They’re always in the news.”
Castle wanted to chuckle, but Beckett’s barely suppressed “uch” stopped him. He decided Santiago was sweet—and he liked it when cops got a little star-struck. It made it easier for him to ask for things he might not otherwise get. (Beckett being the known exception.)
“Wait, this guy isn’t even a detective?” Peralta asked. Castle squinted, already seeing Peralta’s fictional avatar in a possible Nikki Heat case—he’d describe him as a kid with a mouth a little too big for his face.
“This guy—” Castle began, but stopped at the touch of Beckett’s hand on his shoulder.
“I assure you, Detective Peralta, Mr. Castle and I don’t need to prove our credentials to you,” she said coolly. “We’re here to discuss a murder, however, not our resumes.”
“Two murders, I believe.”
For the second time, Castle turned in the direction of a new voice coming from the doorway. He knew, but could not help, that his face was as alight and starry-eyed as Amy Santiago’s. Holmes’s exploits had kept him entertained from across the pond; the consulting detective’s affiliation with Scotland Yard was well-documented on many of the crime blogs Castle regularly perused in the course of his writing. His work in New York had kept Castle intrigued and not a little envious—he and his colleague, Joan Watson, dealt not only in robberies and homicides but in matters of national security. The guy had Everyone on speed dial.
“Sherlock Holmes!” Castle cried. “At last we meet.”
“Yes, at last,” he said impatiently. “If you know who I am, I assume you know my associate, Joan Watson, as well. You are the Mr. Castle and Detective Beckett we’ve been told about?”
Beckett offered a cursory handshake and introduced their Brooklyn counterparts before taking a seat at one of the tables that dotted the briefing room. Holmes’s companion followed suit, shrugging out of an oversized sweater as she settled into her chair.
“It’s unfortunate we have to meet under these circumstances,” she said. “We’ve heard a great deal about you.”
Peralta strode to the podium at the front of the room and booted up a departmental laptop to put the case file on the overhead projector. As he waited for the data to load, he crossed his arms over his chest and rocked back on his heels. So, Castle thought, in addition to hothead, we’ve got know-it-all.
“So, are we the only precinct left in New York that doesn’t require non-professionals to solve their cases?” Peralta asked.
“Can it, Peralta,” Santiago said. “Detective Beckett is a professional, and these guys have a pretty good track record. We all want to solve this case. It’s clear whoever did this is establishing a pattern. We have to figure it out and break it before we have another frozen corpse on our hands.”
Watson took a seat at one of the tables closest to the front. “Precautions are being taken at the surrounding precincts?” she asked. “The 10th? The 13th? We’re not exactly neighbors, but it’s not unreasonable to question if he’s—or they’re— targeting specific neighborhoods or sections of the city.”
“Precincts from Midtown to the lower East Side are all on high alert, but it’s not like anyone has bodies to spare at this point,” Beckett said.
“Unlike our killer, apparently,” Castle added.
Peralta cocked a finger gun in his direction. “Good one.” Castle smiled noncommittally. He was yet to be impressed.
“Now that we have the requisite wordplay accounted for, perhaps we can proceed to the evidence,” Sherlock said.
Santiago pulled up the photos taken at the 12th. “At this point, we’re still waiting to see if we get a hit off the prints, and both bodies are partially frozen, so both cause and time of death aren’t known. And we still don’t know how this guy’s getting in, which is a problem to say the least.”
Watson leaned forward, peering intently at the post-mortem photographs. She asked a series of questions about the state of the bodies. Castle caught Beckett’s eye—even his hard-nosed detective was impressed with Watson’s attention to detail, her attempts to come at the problem from a different angle. Holmes asked several questions as well, and it became apparent they had a pattern. If one went macro, the other went micro. They bounced observations between themselves, Holmes often correcting an assumption of Watson’s before she moved onto the next question. Holmes was less interested in the bodies themselves than how they got to the morgue. Santiago brightly assured him that she was working on any possible deviation from the standard procedure.
As the morning wore into afternoon, the detectives and consultants pored over photographs of the bodies and crime scenes, traded copies of statements, and questioned every logistical possibility. Castle could see patterns in the give-and-take: Santiago asked questions, Peralta replied with a smart-ass remark he attempted to segue into a reasonable supposition. Holmes would hold forth for several minutes on a single idea, at which point Watson would summarize and move on. He and Beckett tried to draw connections between the two crime scenes, possible links between the victims, any similarity that might might spark. Each team operated as a discrete unit yet contributed to the overall understanding of the case. Castle felt comfortable with the energy in the room until possibilities were exhausted and the six investigators found themselves repeating the same observations and questions.
At midday, a small, fretful detective named Boyle delivered lunch and more terrible coffee, apologizing profusely for the quality of the pizza the 99 had to offer. He began to explain the concept of mouth feel to Holmes but withered at his impatient sigh and left reminding Peralta that he and Diaz were available should they need further assistance.
“Already too many detectives in the kitchen,” Peralta told him. “But thanks, Charles.”
Castle wiped sauce from his chin and leaned over Watson’s shoulder as she pored over photographs of the second body found. She’d applied herself to the evidence with admirable concentration since her arrival, and Castle envied her single-minded diligence.
“You know, you and I have a lot in common,” he said.
She looked up at him, amused. “Oh, do we?”
“You’re a consulting detective who works with the police and your brash, idiosyncratic partner to solve crime. I’m a best-selling author who works with the police, including my beautiful, yet brash partner with whom I also solve crime. I write books, you… probably could write books,” he finished lamely. Yes, he thought, I write words.
“The similarities are stunning,” Watson replied. She pointed at his cheek. “You missed a spot. Marinara, right—”
Watson murmured her excuses and joined Beckett at the podium to scan through several more of the photos. Santiago took a seat at an adjacent table, fanning papers out in front of her. Castle spun his pen on the table where he sat, a few feet away from Holmes, casting out in his mind for a plausible scenario that would land two frozen men in two different morgues in two precinct buildings close to but not exactly near each other in Lower Manhattan.
Peralta seemed listless as well, cracking his knuckles and pulling again at his tie. After a moment, he slumped into a chair beside Sherlock, who sat in stolid silence as he stared at the images on the projector screen. “So what’s the deal with you and Watson?” he asked.
Sherlock’s eyes remained fixed. “The deal?” he said. “I assume you mean the nature of our relationship?”
Peralta snorted. “Yeah, guy. The nature of your relationship.”
“We are partners in detection,” Sherlock said. “Roommates.”
“And you just… solve crime together?” Peralta asked. Castle wondered if he detected a hint of wonder in the young man’s voice, as though solving crime together might be the height of romantic aspiration. Which, he reflected, for the assembled company was entirely possible.
“If solving crime is something you just do,” Sherlock replied. He turned to Peralta. “Does Detective Santiago know how much you desire her?”
Castle cut a sidelong glance at Peralta, who sat, big mouth agape. He stared a moment before he began to laugh. “Yeah, I desire Amy. Get another day job, dude.”
“If it’s any comfort to you, she’s at least open to the possibility of a physical relationship with you,” Sherlock said. “You can tell by her hips.” Even as Peralta wordlessly scoffed, Castle saw his chin lift at the word hips, the way his eyes instinctively sought Santiago at the far end of the room.
Sherlock yawned. “I require more caffeine. Do you have coffee in this place?”
Peralta jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “In the bullpen.” Castle watched him a moment; Peralta’s ostentatiously casual demeanor shadowed by more serious, private thoughts. Visibly shaking himself, he stood and wandered over to where Santiago sat, tapping her pen against the tabletop and humming to herself. “So. Whattaya got?”
She looked up at him. “Besides an autographed copy of Naked Heat? A fat lot of nothing,” she said. “We’re seriously getting shown up by these guys.” She dropped her voice to a whisper that Castle only just caught, paying attention as he was. “And she’s only a consultant!”
Peralta got down on his elbows and put his face close to her report. They conferred a moment over the case, until Peralta let loose a frustrated grunt. Santiago placed a hand on his cheek and shoved her out of her personal space.
“Don’t be a baby,” she said. “Go call OCME, see where they are with the autopsies.”
Peralta slapped the table. “Your wish is my command. Is something I will never say to you again,” he said. “I’m on it.” He turned, but stopped abruptly. Castle caught his moment of indecision, chased away by a devious smirk. He pointed at Santiago and said, “Sherlock says your hips dig me.”
He didn’t wait for a reply.
Santiago’s mouth fell open and she sat stunned a moment, coloring noticeably. Castle smiled into his sleeve as Santiago collected herself.
“My hips do not dig you,” she called after him. Beckett and Watson, still at the podium, glanced at her, nonplussed. She crossed her arms over her chest and jutted her chin out defensively. “They don’t,” she said.
Castle decided to give her a moment to gather herself and rose to join her at her table, where he collected her scattered pages without the expectation of finding anything new. “Would a contracted technician have access—”
“Not sure, I guess it depends on the nature of the access,” Beckett shrugged. He looked up at her; he liked that she interrupted him. It meant they were thinking in the same direction. “Text Espo, see if he can cross-reference a list of technicians the city’s hired that would have access—”
“Already have the message open,” Castle said.
Another hour passed, and Boyle returned with a complicated order of lattes, cappuccinos, and a steaming Americano for Watson. The briefing room felt stuffy, staticky with pent up energy and the irritation of a problem unsolved.
Santiago yawned into her vanilla latte. “If nothing else comes of this day,” she sighed, “I will at least have committed the entire case file to memory.” She stared at the photo on the projector screen, a close up of John Doe A’s hand. “Sometimes being a detective is boring.”
Castle scrubbed a hand through his hair. “It’s like having all the pieces of the puzzle on the table and not being able to see the complete picture.” He paused. “Listen, I know it was ruled out by general consensus, but I really think we should reconsider the whole ninja theory.”
Beckett gave him a withering look and sat beside him. “I think even ninjas would have turned up on video surveillance, Castle.” She blew out a breath and looked around the room. “How come you guys don’t have a white board?” she asked.
Santiago buried her head in her arms and moaned. “This is pointless. No leads, no evidence, no IDs. This case is impossible.”
Beckett leaned into Castle just slightly, which Castle took as a sign that she felt the same. Even Holmes sat silent, slightly bug-eyed and shaggier than when he’d arrived. Peralta chewed on his lower lip, and Castle saw him look at them all in turn, taking in the energy of the room and deciding the moment had come To Lead.
“We have to to get out of this room,” Peralta declared. “Watson, Holmes, you head to the OCME, get your eyeballs on those bodies.” He paused. “Not literally, obviously. Santiago and I—”
Beckett slid off the table. “You take the 12th—start clean questioning people, see what you can dig up. Castle and I—”
“At the 11th,” Holmes said, “ask for Detective Bell. He is the only one there worth his salt.”
Peralta clapped his hands. “We meet back here first thing tomorrow and come at this with fresh eyeballs.”
Santiago wrinkled her nose. “Stop saying eyeballs, pineapples,” she said.
“Whatever, Hips Don’t Lie,” he shot back.
Castle followed Beckett out of the room. “I really don’t think we should dismiss ninjas out of hand at this point in the investigation.”
Beckett looped her arm through his, urging him to move faster. “You can tell me all about the ninja theory on the way back to Manhattan.”
At the 12th, Peralta and Santiago noticed the discrepancies in the video feed that hadn’t been apparent on the media files pushed electronically to Brooklyn.
At the 11th, Castle and Beckett discovered that the electronic key-card reader had been tampered with and the logs digitally altered after the fact.
At the OCME, Watson and Holmes found the puncture wounds beneath the victim’s fingernails that had been photoshopped from the photos they’d relied on all day.
“I genuinely don’t understand what they were trying to accomplish,” Santiago said. “Granted, they bought themselves some time, but there was no way the evidence wasn’t going to bear out what actually happened. They got themselves, what, a day?”
They were clustered around a table at the Old Haunt, exhausted, rumpled, and irritated. The John Does had been ID’d a short while ago as low-level enforcers for a local loosely-organized crime ring that had, in recent months, decided to turn its focus from loan-sharking to cybercrime. Thieves in the digital age, a pair of young hackers had slowly been closing ranks and attempting to dispose of their colleagues less able to hack it. So to speak, Castle thought. Though they boasted having amassed millions through identity theft and online-looting, the pair were inept murderers. Unable to dispose of actual evidence, they doctored what they could, hoping that altering the digital trail would stall the NYPD just long enough for them to dispose of the members of their organization who were slowing them down and threatening exposure. They’d posed as orderlies to get the bodies in and froze them in the morgue’s facilities overnight, erasing what evidence they could as they went.
“Just goes to show you that there’s no substitute for a good gumshoe,” Peralta mused. “Leather on the pavement. Walking the beat.”
Santiago pulled a face. “Okay, Columbo,” she said. “They were too smart for their own good. So smart they were actually dumb.” She looked at her partner in mock-sympathy. “I would say you have that in common, but you’re not that smart.”
Sherlock jiggled his legs under the table, restless. He’d wanted to forgo the celebratory debriefing at the bar—not, he said, because he worried for his sobriety as much as he did for his ability to put up with the inane chatter that would likely take place.
“The killers were trying to force a closed-room investigation, and rather than dump the bodies in less conspicuous places, they were trying to end-run the NYPD.” He raised his eyebrows, widening his eyes for emphasis. “Thinking you could not investigate yourselves, they attempted to make the crime impossible to solve remotely. Occam’s razor prevails.”
Peralta took a slug of beer. “In TV, they call it a bottle episode,” he said.
Watson smiled benignly. “I don’t know much about that,” she said, “but I’ve certainly had my fill of closed-room investigations. There’s not really a replacement for actual deduction.”
Castle leaned over the table, fighting a smile. “It’s interesting you say that, because in cases like these, it’s not deduction, per se, it’s actually inducti—”
Beckett was already half out of her chair. “Not that I don’t enjoy celebrating a hard-won solve, it’s just been a really long day.” She put a hand on Castle’s shoulder. “Shall we?”
Peralta began to shove away from the table as well, offering Santiago a hand as she shrugged into her suit jacket. Castle saw him eyeing Santiago’s hips surreptitiously, being a little too helpful in sliding the jacket up her arms.
“And shall we, partner of mine?” he asked, affecting solicitude.
Santiago waved her hand a little. “Very nice working with you all,” she said.
“Indeed,” Sherlock said. “An exceptional experience I hope never to repeat.”
Castle reached into his breast pocket and produced a card, offering it to Watson after she had donned her voluminous cardigan. “If you ever feel like comparing notes,” he said, “I’d love to hear about some of your work as a consultant.”
Her smile was enigmatic. “Or maybe I’ll write a book,” she said.
Castle and Beckett elected not to walk home, and hailed a cab from the corner near the Old Haunt. As he opened the car door for her, Castle told Beckett, “I think I’m going to put this in a book. Rogue detectives, cast from their comfortable surroundings into new and unfamiliar territory.”
She settled against his shoulder as the cab pulled away from the corner. “If you do, just make it a better mystery,” she said.