THE ULTIMATE WINTERFEST SURPRISE
BY KATHY DE
Joe took Kate to her home and she nervously glanced around the apartment.
Joe saw her nervousness and rushed to ease it. “We swept the whole apartment, it’s clean…not bugged or wired.”
Kate relaxed and smiled. “Thanks.”
“Don’t thank me too quickly…you start back at work tomorrow.”
“You’ve got to get back on the horse, Kate, you’re ready…report to your new captain tomorrow.”
Kate frowned as she thought about Montgomery. “It’ll be so different.”
She had walked through her apartment and noticed the wall where she had the board of information on her mother’s death was missing. She turned to face Joe and he guessed correctly what was bothering her.
“Castle took me to the side one day and said he needed help getting in here. He said you had some personal things that might prove damning if they were found. He has the board; he got it out of here before the team swept through searching for bugs.”
Kate sighed with relief. “Great…I’ll have to thank him.”
Joe nodded as he reached for her door. “Call me if you need anything…”
Kate locked up after he left and walked slowly around her apartment getting reacquainted with everything.
The next few weeks were the hardest Kate had experienced since she was a rookie. Not only was the new Captain an impossible woman to get along with, she was still facing the demons that lingered from the shooting.
She took some pot shots from Ryan and Esposito about how poorly she had treated Castle. So she sought him out at a book signing and apologized for keeping him at a distance.
He forgave her then pulled strings with the mayor and got himself reinstated and was able to ride along and work with the team again. As much as Kate hated to admit, he played an integral part in her recovery and was by her side every step of the way helping her through her first few cases.
Weeks turned into months and the three officers met secretly in the basement of Joe’s house to work on the case. They had a huge board that covered Joe’s entire basement wall and had carefully recreated a timeline from the past 20 years. The group logged in hour after hour piecing together evidence that linked all the cases.
Another attempt was made on Kate’s life. She confronted the man who shot her and in an attempt to subdue him, she was thrown over the side of a building. At the last second, she grabbed onto a ledge and dangled precariously from its side. Her life flashed before her eyes as she felt her grip slipping.
If it wasn’t for the quick thinking of Ryan who had called for back up, Kate would be dead. At the last second, the team grabbed her hands and hauled her to safety.
Kate spent some time alone that night and after much sole searching, finally gave up on the search to find her mother’s killer. She realized that her relationship with Castle meant more to her than any thing.
The two became lovers and were only able to hide their relationship from their friends for a short while before they were discovered.
Ryan and Esposito swore to keep it a secret, as they knew if Captain Gates found out about it Castle would immediately be barred from the precinct, as well as Kate possibly being fired.
A few months had passed, and Kate watched as her partners headed out together one night.
“You guys heading out for a beer? Wait up, I’ll get one with you…”
Ryan and Esposito exchanged looks and Ryan finally shrugged. “Um…we’re…a…not grabbing a beer…we’re heading over to Maxwell’s house.”
Kate blinked in surprise. “You’re still working on that?”
Kate sat in her chair as she thought about the case. “I…uh…look…Castle’s out of town for the night…maybe I could head over there with you.”
Esposito shrugged. “I thought you told Castle you were done.”
Kate blushed guiltily. “I am…just lending a helping hand. You won’t tell him will you?”
Her partners shrugged and led the way to Joe’s house.
Joe greeted her warmly when she entered his basement. “Beckett, glad to see you back on board.”
“Oh…well…I just came to see how you’ve been doing.”
“Almost done.” Joe sighed as he recorded Moreno’s death in the timeline.
Beckett gasped when a few files later she came upon Catherine Chandler’s file. Esposito took it from her and looked at her curiously as he recorded her information on the wall as well.
Ryan blew out a long breath. “Few more and we’re done…”
Esposito nodded to another box. “What about them?”
Joe frowned. “Too long ago, we could never verify any of the info anyway so we’ll go back as far as 1985…if we have to we can include those later.”
Ryan nodded towards the board. “Now we’re down to recreating the scenarios. I wish Castle were here to add his spin on this.”
Esposito laughed. “He sure can come up with them!”
Joe frowned at the men. “He’s a writer…that’s his job.”
They all felt bad that Castle wasn’t included but they also knew that when it came down to it, he was a civilian and needed to be protected.
Kate looked away guiltily. She had promised him she would stop investigating her mother’s death after he told her he had been told she would be killed if she didn’t stop.
Her attention went back to Joe who started to link cases and everyone took turns coming up with scenarios. During the day, one or all of them tried to investigate clues on some of the newer cases. New evidence was brought down daily and in the spring they finally got a break.
Unknown to everyone in the group, when Castle had received the phone calls warning him to keep Beckett away from investigating the murders of her mother and Captain Montgomery he tried to keep her safe by doing his own investigating.
His contacts were extensive and an old girlfriend in the CIA had passed to him top secret information right before she was killed.
Castle started to dig into the information and soon realized he was dangerously in over his head. He discovered how far in over his head he was when one night that he came to the conclusion that he was being followed.
He got especially worried about his safety and ditched his car in a casino parking lot in Atlantic City then hopped in a taxi back to New York. He got dropped off at a popular night club and slipped out the back door and headed for Joe Maxwell’s house.
Fidgeting on the back steps, he glanced around suspiciously as he waited for the door to open.
Debbie’s mouth flew open in shock when she answered the door. “Oh my God!”
Castle smiled indulgently. “No…I’m not God…my name’s…”
“Richard Castle!” Kelly screeched from behind her sister. “You’re Richard Castle!”
Brittany looked at him and nodded nonchalantly. “My sisters are in love with you but I’m sure they’re not the reason you’re here.”
Castle laughed. “As much as I like to meet fans, I am here to see your father…is he home?”
Debbie blushed and pushed Brittany out of the way. “Yes, please come in Mr. Castle.”
Castle glanced nervously around outside then sighed with relief when the door shut behind him.
Brittany called out over her shoulder as they entered the kitchen. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you down to everyone else.”
Castle stopped mid step. “Everyone else?”
Kelly beamed. “Yes, Nikki Heat…I mean…Detective Beckett is here along with Detectives Ryan and Esposito.”
Castle was floored by the announcement and backed up towards the door to leave when he heard Brittany shout out.
“Dad! Richard Castle is here to see you!”
At that second, Joe opened the basement door and frowned at his daughter. “I heard…so did the neighbors.”
“I thought you were downstairs!” Brittany defended herself.
“I was on my way up.”
“Well how was I supposed to know that?”
Joe smiled tiredly at Castle. “Hey!”
Debbie and Kelly stood there shyly staring at their idol while Brittany grabbed a can of pop.
Joe rolled his eyes. “Out!”
The girls blushed and headed out of the kitchen while Joe grabbed a couple of beers. He handed one to Castle. “What can I do for you, Castle?”
Castle shook his head then thought better of it. “I need your help…”
“With what?” Joe wondered aloud.
“I think I’m being followed.”
Joe believed him immediately and sighed then pointed towards the basement stairs. “Go down…everyone else is already there.”
“I was told.”
Joe nodded guiltily. “I just came up to grab a few beers. I’ll be right there.”
Castle walked down and sheepishly made his way towards the others. His friends had the grace to blush when he entered the room.
“Hey Castle!” Ryan greeted.
“Castle…” Esposito offered.
“Gentlemen…” Castle answered respectfully.
Beckett stood and looked at him angrily. “What are you doing here, Castle?”
Castle balked at her wrath and held his hands up at his sides in surrender. “I had nowhere else to go.”
Joe walked in and handed everyone a beer. “He just told me he thinks he’s being followed.”
Beckett gasped and whirled back to face Castle as she grabbed his hand with concern. “Rick, are you sure?!”
“How long?” Ryan asked.
“At least the past two days…maybe longer.”
Esposito frowned. “You should’ve come to us sooner!”
“He didn’t come to us…he didn’t know we were here…” Beckett frowned as she turned away to hide the hurt she was feeling. “He came to see Joe…didn’t you?”
Castle shrugged. “You guys have been a little…um…secretive lately.”
His friends hung their heads in shame as Joe interrupted. “That’s my doing. I reminded them that you’re a civilian and threatened their badges if they disclosed any information to you.” The three friends looked up hopefully as they watched Castle accept the explanation. “Now, you told me you were in over your head…start at the beginning…”
Castle sat down and nodded. “While Beckett was in the hospital I got a phone call. It was from a guy warning me to get her off of the investigation of her mother’s death.”
“It ended up being Michael Smith.” Beckett snapped angrily.
Castle continued after he nodded. “He said I had the power to keep her alive if I could stop her from digging any further. After she came back to work, he called me again and said it was crucial I get her to stop her investigation of the Montgomery murder as well.”
Beckett frowned at the announcement. “That’s why you said all those things to me at my apartment…You wanted to try to get me to stop?”
He wouldn’t look at her but he did answer her question. “Yeah, I…um…decided to do some investigating on my own. I had a couple of new leads and asked an old girlfriend in the CIA to help me out. She gave me some information right before she was killed. Now, I don’t know if she was killed because of that or if it was really just a random act from a rogue worker....”
“You never told me?!” Beckett gasped.
Esposito jumped into the heated exchange. “So why do you think you’re being followed?”
“I think the info she gave me hit too close to home. A black Dodge Charger has been behind me all day, everyday for at least 2 days now.”
Ryan nodded. “Where’s this file she gave you?”
“At my house…”
“On your desk?” Joe wondered.
Castle smirked. “No, inside the top of Alexis’ Hello Kitty lunchbox.”
Joe frowned. “So now what?”
“We can’t let him leave here…if he’s being followed he’s also being targeted.” Beckett stepped forward worriedly. “Where are Martha and Alexis?”
“Shopping in Chicago.”
“How long are they gone for?” Ryan wondered.
“A week at least…depends on how many shows my mother can talk Alexis into seeing.”
“Well, that’s something…” Beckett said as she paced. “Castle can stay here and I’ll go over and get that file…”
“Alone? No way, Beckett!” Joe growled.
“Sir, I’ll be fine. I know where the spare key is hidden and I’ll be in and out of there in less than 10 minutes.”
Esposito stood on the side of her. “Ryan and I will go with you. We’ll grab a pizza and a case of beer. It’ll look like we we’re stopping by to have a party…”
Joe sat silent then finally nodded. “Ok...keep your eyes and ears open for anything unusual.”
Ryan and Esposito walked to the bottom of the stairs while Beckett turned to a strangely silent Castle and smiled. “Hello Kitty lunch box? Let me guess…Bedroom…book shelves on that back wall?”
“Yes.” Castle nodded.
Beckett frowned at his mood and tried to get him to smile. “Should I grab you a change of clothes? I’m sure I can find your favorite Batman pjs.”
Castle looked at her with a hurt expression and shook his head. “Despite what you think, I am a man and in case you’re wondering…I always sleep in the buff whether you’re there or not…but thanks for your offer.”
Beckett blushed from his reprimand. “I’m sorry, Castle. I was only trying to lighten the mood.”
“At my expense…”
She sighed and followed Ryan and Esposito up the steps.
Castle turned to Joe and frowned. “Where am I supposed to stay if I can’t go home?”
Joe shrugged. “You can stay here…I’ll move some kids around…it’ll only be for a few days.”
Castle realized it was his best option and nodded, “Thanks.”
Beckett, Esposito and Ryan joked loudly as they made their way up to Castle’s house. Beckett grabbed the key and let them inside as they walked around loudly calling Castle’s name.
“Dude! He ain’t here!” Esposito said.
Ryan smiled widely at a huge bouquet of flowers. “Alexis has a secret admirer…To Alexis…the prettiest girl in school.”
“Ha! I wonder what Castle had to say about that!” Esposito added.
Beckett pointed at the huge flower delivery that was sitting on the living room table. She put her finger up to her lips to silence them as she walked closer to it. “He’ll be back soon we’ll find out then. Let’s put on the game.” She grabbed the remote and turned on ESPN certain there would be some kind of game on. She wasn’t disappointed and turned up the volume.
Ryan nodded as he carefully moved aside some of the flowers and showed them that a bug was planted inside the leaves. He popped open a beer and called out to the others. “Will one of you grab some paper towels...”
Beckett looked around anxiously then nodded towards the upstairs. “You’re on you own…I’m going pee! I’ve been holding it forever.”
Esposito laughed. “I’ll get them…I was gonna raid the liquor cabinet. I wonder if Castle has any of that good scotch left.”
“Ooh…” Beckett said on her way upstairs. “I want some too.”
Beckett lightly walked into Alexis’ room and spotted the lunch box immediately. She opened it quietly and took the file out of the lid before she placed it back on the shelf. Heading past the bathroom she went inside and turned on the fan then sat for a second before she flushed the toilet and ran the water in the sink. She paused at Castle’s bedroom door and looked at the king sized bed neatly made. For a second, she allowed herself the indulgence of dreaming of being in it…with him…before she shook her head to clear the image.
She headed for the kitchen by Esposito and quickly grabbed paper towels to wrap the file in.
“Found the scotch!” Esposito said loudly.
The two walked out by Ryan. Kate bent over and shifted the pizza around so she could set the file under the cardboard round the pizza came on while Esposito loudly set the glass on the table.
“Either of you notice the calendar in the kitchen? Castle’s in Atlantic City for the week doing some book signing stuff…”
“Damn!” Ryan said as he pointed to the window overlooking the street out front. “We missed him.”
All three detectives quickly picked up on the black charger that Castle had mentioned sitting about a half a block away.”
Esposito frowned and walked closer to the flowers. “Let’s go then…if he can’t gripe about us drinking his scotch there’s no point in being here. Let’s go to O’Malley’s.”
Beckett smiled at the reference to the bar most popular with police officers. “O’Malley’s it is!”
The three left and Beckett made sure she locked up behind her.
Once in the car, she looked at her partners. “Damn place is bugged.”
Ryan nodded. “Good catch on your part!”
“How’d you know?” Esposito wondered.
“Both Alexis and Martha would have told everyone they were going to be away so the flowers couldn’t have been for either of them.”
“Castle was right,” Esposito observed.
The three drove around for awhile hoping to throw off anyone following them before they headed back to Joe’s.
Joe and Castle were sitting in the basement talking sports when the three detectives walked in.
“What did you find?” Joe asked.
“Castle is being followed, Sir. He had a bug in his apartment as well,” Ryan related.
“Did you get the file?”
Beckett pulled it out from under the pizza round.
Joe took it and opened it up started to read the contents. “Holy Shit!”
Esposito laughed. “I take it the file contains pertinent information regarding these cases.”
Joe sat down heavily. “Castle, who the hell is your girlfriend?”
Beckett had been standing by Joe and reading over his shoulder. She gasped aloud at the contents and interrupted him. “Castle, did you read this file?”
Beckett turned to Ryan and Joe. “We can’t let him go out there again…not until this is settled.”
Ryan laughed aloud. “Beckett this has been going on over 20 years. You plan on solving the case this weekend?”
“Sir…we have to get Rick and his family to a safe place.”
Joe nodded his head. “You’re in just as much danger, Detective...your father needs to be included in this as well.”
Beckett shook her head angrily. “I’ll be fine! But…if something happens to Castle or his family or my father because of something I’ve done…”
Esposito hit her lightly in the arm. “Stand down, Kate. You didn’t create this mess.”
“No, but I let Castle get involved.”
“If any of you care to remember, I am standing here.” Castle said loudly. “Now, I’ll take you up on your safety plan for my mother and daughter but as far as I go…I already read that file front to back and I want to help.”
Joe nodded. “I have a friend on the force in Chicago. Where are your mom and Alexis staying?”
“Since I’m paying, my mother chose The Ritz Carlton.”
Joe laughed. “Of course, where else is there to stay?”
“At least they’ll be safe there.” Esposito added.
“I’ll call my dad and tell him to visit my aunt in Michigan.”
“He’ll go?” Castle asked.
“I think so, he’s been trying to get there since before I got shot.”
“All right, that leaves Castle.” Ryan stated.
Joe shrugged. “He can stay here indefinitely.”
Castle smiled endearingly. “With my adoring fans…”
Joe opened the file and for the next 6 hours they poured over every detail contained inside.
At three in the morning, Beckett yawned loudly. “So we have to find the missing link that ties this all together…find out who this Ares guy is…what’s our next step?”
“I say we go after Senator Bracken,” Kate said.
“Which is exactly what Montgomery said you’d do,” Castle countered. “They’ll expect that.”
“FBI?” Ryan asked.
Esposito frowned. “How many of them are paid for?”
Beckett stretched her tired muscles. “Look, this guy owns his own island in the Caribbean…we can’t exactly drive our cruisers there…”
Joe sighed. “This information doesn’t leave this room. Give me a day or two to check around.”
The next day at work, Joe sat at his desk staring out the window, his mind racing with ideas. Distractedly, he answered his phone when it rang. “Maxwell.”
“District Attorney Maxwell, its Senator Gillibrand.”
Joe immediately sat up straighter in his seat. “Yes, Ma’am.”
“I was wondering if you could stop by my office, I have some things I would like to discuss with you.”
Joe’s jaw dropped open with surprise. “Um…yes…of course. When would you like me to be there?”
“As soon as you can, when you get here let my secretary know, she’ll escort you in immediately.”
Joe glanced at the mirror and straightened his tie then ran a hand through his hair. “I’ll leave right now, Ma’am.”
“Thank you and…could you please use the utmost discretion?”
“Of course, Senator.”
“Good…I’ll see you when you get here then.”
Joe grabbed his coat and headed to the streets to grab a taxi. Within a half hour, he was on the elevator riding up to her office.
He handed his card to the receptionist who stood immediately. “Follow me, please.”
Joe shook his head at the expediency with which he was being shown in, and his stomach fluttered as he wondered what could possibly be this important.
The receptionist knocked lightly then held the door open to an office. “Senator, District Attorney Maxwell is here to see you.”
The Senator looked up with a smile. “Thank you, Carla. Hold all my calls please.”
Carla left and the Senator walked over and extended her hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“The same here, Senator.”
“Kirsten, please,” she said as she motioned for Joe to take a seat. “Can I get you something to drink, Mr. Maxwell?”
Joe sat down and looked at her with a smile as he shook his head. “No, thanks, and you can call me Joe.”
Kirsten sat down behind her desk then swallowed hard and blew out a long breath. “I bet you’re wondering why I called you here…”
Joe nodded. “The thought has crossed my mind.”
Kirsten stood and began to pace. “I’m not sure where to start, so I guess I’ll start at the beginning. My father was the owner of a corner dime store on the lower east side back when in it was in its heyday.”
“I heard it was a great neighborhood to grow up in back in the 60’s.”
“Yeah, it was. Then it started to change in the late 70’s into the early 80’s. His store kept getting broken into and we worried about him being there late at night. My three brothers and two sisters and I tried to get him to move, but my mom had just passed, and he said it was all he had left of her.” Kirsten sat down and folded her hands in front of her on the desk. “One day he told me that some business men had been coming into his store. They wanted to buy him out. He refused and they came back every week with a bigger and better offer. He started to get worried because even though they had been friendly, they were starting to get angrier…threats were being carelessly tossed out then chuckled about. He asked them to stop coming into the store…he told them that no amount of money was going to get him to sell. That weekend he was murdered in the back of the store.”
Joe nodded and looked at her sadly. “I’m sorry…I know how hard it is to lose a parent.”
“Your dad was murdered too…”
“Yes, how’d you know?”
Kirsten handed him a file. “I had you investigated.”
Joe took it and glanced inside. Most of the information was on Jenny and the kids and his service record as District Attorney. He glanced up at her warily and fought to keep his composure. “Did you find out what you wanted to know?”
Kirsten smiled. “Yes…your record is impeccable. I’ve been following your career since you stepped into the DA’s position back in the 80’s.”
“Why?” Joe wondered.
“My father was killed in 1982. John Moreno was the Assistant DA at the time. I felt like he turned a blinds eye to my father’s murder. I investigated it as much as I could and I thought I had evidence that Moreno had been bought and paid for by someone very important. Then he became the District Attorney and had all that power at his fingertips. I vowed from that day forward that I would do everything I could to stop the corruption in government and here I sit….almost 20 years later, all the power and contacts at my fingertips and I still have no answers about my father’s death.”
Joe shifted in his seat. “You still haven’t told me what this has to do with me…”
“You’re investigating 20 some odd years of corruption in the police force and I want to try to help you.”
Joe tried to hide his surprise and he worriedly thought about Jenny and the kids and his mind raced to remember where they were all going today. “Look, Senator, I don’t know who told you…”
Kirsten tried to put him at ease as she held up a hand. “Joe…I know because I’m the one who gave the information to Sophia Turner…the agent that forwarded it to Rick Castle. She was my roommate at college, she asked me for help and I gave it to her. ”
Joe sat quietly not admitting one way or another to having the folder.
“I’m guessing that with the help of Beckett’s team you’ve been able to link a lot of these “accidents” together. I’m also going to go out on a limb and say that you have no idea how to proceed with the information you’ve gathered, you have no idea who to trust.” Joe looked away to hide his reaction but Kirsten caught it and continued. “I did a lot of soul searching to decide whether you could be trusted or not…I thought I’d take the chance on you.” She handed Joe a card with her name and a variety of personal phone numbers on it. “Think about it…take it to Beckett and her team…talk to them. When you’re ready for some help call me…day or night…”
Joe stood and nodded. “We done here?”
Kirsten stood and walked him to the door. “I wish I could say the words you need to hear to trust me, Joe; but after Moreno burned you, I can understand why you’re cautious. My father’s name was Steven Cooper…he’s one of your unsolved cases…I hope that once you reread his file you’ll call…”
Joe stared at her for what seemed like hours then blew out a long breath. “I’ll keep your numbers.”
Both Kirsten and Joe felt a measure of relief when he walked out of her office.
That night Joe sat in the basement and had everyone’s undivided attention as he told them word for word what the Senator had said.
Beckett sighed loudly. “So the question is if the good Senator can be trusted…”
“She could be in cahoots with Senator Bracken.” Esposito said suspiciously.
Joe shrugged. “For what it’s worth, I trusted her.”
Castle looked around at the group. “I remember that Senator Gillibrand was at a private party that Sophia took me, she said they used to be good friends in college.”
Ryan shrugged. “Well, that’s easy enough to check into so let’s assume it’s the truth.”
Esposito grabbed an old file and thumbed through it. “Her maiden name was Cooper and the details she gave you on this murder were spot on.”
Joe held up his hand. “Honest show of hands…who wants to trust her?”
Hands slowly went up but when Beckett still hadn’t raised hers they all turned to face her.
She rolled her eyes and raised her hand. “I don’t want to but we’ve got no where else to turn…”
Joe grabbed a disposable phone and dialed Kirsten’s cell phone.
“Joe…please call me Kirsten.”
“Okay…Kirsten…we decided to trust you.”
“I’m glad!” Kirsten said happily. “Look…I was praying you would call, I even set up an initial contact meeting with some agents who are just waiting for the date and time.”
“Okay…when and where?”
Kirsten rattled off the date, location and time then Joe hung up and relayed the information to everyone else.
Ryan frowned. “So should we all get there on our own…stay apart as much as we can?”
Beckett stood up. “No, I say we keep it low key for a few days then we meet here and go to the place together.”
Everyone agreed and headed up the stairs to leave for the night. They were standing in the kitchen when gun fire exploded around them. Beckett knocked Castle to the floor as everyone else followed suit. They covered their heads in horror as the front of the house was shot at. Bullets shattered the front windows and glass from every which way rained down on them. Beckett immediately looked around to make sure Castle was safe and was surprised he was not at her side.
She sighed with relief when she saw him by Joe who was belly crawling towards the steps to get upstairs to his family.
Castle was right behind him and glanced at Beckett who nodded her approval as she grabbed for her weapon once the gunfire stopped. Ryan also had drawn his weapon as he reached for his cell and dialed the precinct for help.
Esposito and Beckett got to their feet and headed out the back door followed a few steps behind by Ryan. They made their way around to the front of the house and saw a car’s tail lights turn left at the end of the block.
Joe’s heart was racing as morbid thoughts kept popping into his head as he thought about how deadly quiet it was upstairs. He felt someone pull on his leg before he slid back a few steps. Castle got up and raced past him.
“Let me go first, Joe.”
By the time Joe got to his feet, Castle was opening the first closed door.
“It’s Daddy!” Joe bellowed loudly from behind him. “Jen, c’mon kids, someone answer!”
“Dad!” Debbie and Kelly called out in unison as Castle watched them crawl out from under their beds.
Castle turned to Joe who was running up behind him. “They’re safe, I’ve got them!”
Joe kept running down the hall and stopped when Brittany opened up the bathroom door.
Joe grabbed her shoulders tightly and looked down her body checking for any injuries. “You okay, honey?!”
“Yeah, I’m fine! Was that gunshots?”
“Yeah, Britt it was…” He kissed her forehead and continued down the hallway. “Jenny?!” He screamed out again.
“Joe! We’re in here!”
He let out the breath he’d been holding and raced in his bedroom. Jenny was backed into the far corner with Joey under one arm and Maria under the other. Amy sat by her legs clutching her favorite stuffed animal from childhood.
Joe ran to his family and quickly looked each one of them over. He grabbed Amy and lifted her to her feet. “You okay?”
“Maria?” Joe asked as he helped her to her feet.
“I’m okay, Daddy.”
“Good girl. How about you big guy?” Joe asked as he ruffled Joey’s hair.
“I had to protect Mommy and the girls but I’m okay.”
“I’m okay, Joe.”
Castle walked in the door with Debbie and Kelly huddled protectively under each of his arms.
Debbie gasped as she pointed. “No, she’s not Dad…her feet are bleeding!”
Joe glanced down and fell to his knees to see the damage.
“I’m okay…I just I stepped on glass when I got out of bed.”
For the first time, Joe noticed his bedroom window had been shot out and his stomach turned when he thought about how close someone had come to being killed.
“Castle!” Beckett’s voice could be heard calling out from downstairs.
Castle’s parenting skills kicked in and he put on his acting hat and clasped his hands together delightedly. “C’mon everyone, the police are gonna be here any minute. Let’s go make some microwave popcorn, sit on the couch and watch the action.”
Joey smiled and raced past everyone excitedly. “Cool!”
Maria looked uncertain then decided to follow Joey and ran out of the room. Amy rolled her eyes in disgust. “They’re such children…” she announced as she left the room.
Joe smirked at her grown up attitude as Brittany looked at both her parents. “I’ll go make sure they don’t burn down the kitchen.” She left, and Castle nodded to a grateful Joe and Jenny then followed her downstairs.
“Dad, if you help Mom to the bathroom, Kelly and I will take care of her feet,” Debbie said as she and Kelly left to go for supplies.
Joe looked at Jenny for confirmation. “You better get down and handle the kids or Joey will have them calling the National Guard for reinforcements.”
Joe picked her up and carried her to the bathroom and set her on the counter between the two wash basins. Tears were in her eyes and she sighed as he pulled her into his arms. They trembled as they took a moment of comfort in each others arms. Joe pulled back slightly and cupped her cheek as he kissed her deeply.
“Ack!” Debbie said as she walked into the room. “Really, Dad?!”
Kelly rolled her eyes in disgust. “Mom’s bleeding to death and you’re molesting her.”
“I am not bleeding to death!” Jenny announced at the same time Joe said. “I am not molesting her!”
The girls grinned as they stood their holding antiseptic and bandages as well as tweezers and some clean towels.
Joe sighed and touched each of his girls on the shoulder then kissed their foreheads as he started to walk from the room. “Take care of my bride.”
“We will, Dad,” they said in unison.
Joe walked downstairs and blinked when he saw the large number of officers walking around his house. “One big party at the Maxwell house,” he announced to the room.
Beckett walked over to him. “My precinct’s pretty tight and when one of us is in trouble…we all come running…”
“All? Is anyone trying to find the jerks that shot up my house?”
Esposito walked up. “We saw the tail lights down the street but not much else.”
A uniformed officer walked up and looked at his notes. “Detectives Beckett and Esposito reported seeing a late model car possibly a Monte Carlo heading north then east on Elm. We have squads canvassing a 12 block radius as well as choppers looking on the highways and officers reviewing police cameras at the surrounding intersections.”
“Thank you.” Joe smiled at the rookie who turned and left.
Ryan stepped up beside him and dropped his voice low. “Let’s just assume this is about the case.”
Joe nodded and looked at his family. “I’m gonna announce that I’m sending my family to their uncle’s house in Jersey but I’m taking them Below.”
Beckett nodded in understanding but Esposito wondered aloud. “Below what?”
“Dad…Mom’s ready to come down but we think you should look at it first,” Debbie announced from the top landing.
Joe looked up and nodded then glanced back at Ryan. “Tell them where we’re going…”
As Joe headed up the steps, Ryan grabbed his partner’s elbow. “You’re gonna love this...”
Joe got to the top of the steps and looked gratefully at his two oldest. “Thanks, girls. Do me one more favor…grab some duffel bags for everyone and a few changes of clothes…we’re heading Below for a few days and I’m not taking the time to argue with six kids about fashion choices.”
“Got it, Dad,” Debbie said as she and Kelly turned around to start packing for their brother and sisters.
Joe walked into the bathroom and looked at his tired looking wife. “Hi, babe…how ya doing?”
Jenny smiled weekly. “Fine, Debbie got out all the glass I think,” she said as she nodded towards a bowl with about a dozen pieces of glass of various sizes. “How are the kids?”
“They’re fine…Castle is entertaining them and keeping it light…I don’t think they’re scared anymore.” Joe cringed and kissed her on top of her forehead then sat down on the toilet and put his head in her lap. “I am so sorry this happened…”
“Joe Maxwell! This is not your fault!”
“I brought this here…”
Knowing what she was going to say, he stood up and wiped the tears from his eyes. “I’m taking you and the kids Below for a few days. You should be safe there.”
“Where are you going to be?” Jenny asked suspiciously. Joe looked away and shrugged and she knew he was going to do something dangerous. “Please be careful.”
Joe held her against his chest and kissed her head. “I will…”
“Are you sure you have to go? You’re the DA not a cop…”
“I know but…this case has special meaning to me.”
“Why? Why is this case so much more important than any other case?”
Joe sighed and pulled away then lifted her chin so she could look at him. “Cause this reign of terror dates back 20 some odd years…and Cathy’s case is linked with them.”
Jenny took a deep breath. “Then I wish I could go…” When he made to protest she held up her hand to stop him. “But…I know I’ll be of more use staying safely Below and taking care of the kids.”
He smiled at her strength. “That’s my girl…let me look at what my little nurses did…” Joe bent over and studied Jenny’s feet. She had deep cuts on them but it looked like all of the glass had been removed. He quickly bandaged them up and put socks on her feet. “Do you think you can walk?”
“I’ll try.” Jenny got to her feet and chewed on her lip so she wouldn’t show her pain.
“So? How bad is it?”
She took a few tentative steps and blew out a breath. “It’s tender but I’ll tough it out.”
Joe put his arm around her and guided her down the steps. Thankfully the chaos was over and most of the police were gone. He led her towards the couch and settled her down by the kids. Joey was sleeping against the arm of the chair and Maria, who was settled back against the arm of the other, came and cuddled up next to Jenny. Amy had her face buried in the first Richard Castle book written and was diligently reading.
“Where’s Britt?” Joe wondered aloud.
“She’s cleaning up all the dishes,” Esposito offered.
“Dishes…dinner dishes were cleaned hours ago,” Jenny stated with confusion.
Castle looked away guiltily while Beckett smiled at Joe and cocked her head towards Castle. “Someone fed your kids ice cream and popcorn…”
Jenny grinned. “Thank you, Mr. Castle they needed some fun tonight.”
“Call me Rick, please.”
A uniformed officer entered the room. “Excuse me…”
“Whatcha got, O’Reilly?” Beckett asked.
“Nothing, everything’s clean…no prints anywhere. It must’ve been a drive by.”
“Thanks,” Joe said as he nodded.
“You’re welcome, sir. My team and I are done here…we’re heading out.”
“O’Reilly, leave a copy of the report on my desk?” Beckett asked.
“You got it,” he said as he left.
“So, what do we do now?” Esposito wondered. “We all gonna camp out here together until the meeting?”
Joe shot a look at Ryan. “You didn’t tell them?”
Ryan laughed. “We had 27 police officers here less than 10 minutes ago…when should I have disclosed all of it?”
A phone rang and the room silenced. Joe reached for the disposable phone he was given and picked it up tentatively. “Hello.”
“Joe, its Kirsten. Is everyone okay?”
“Yeah…we’re all good.”
“I’m glad. Look, they are obviously aware of what’s going on. We’ve got to act fast. I moved the meeting up to tomorrow. Can you get your family to a safe place tonight?”
“Yeah…got it covered.”
“Good, I’ll send three black vans to your house tomorrow morning at 10:00 am. Get your team in van 2 and be ready for anything.”
“Good luck…see you soon.”
Joe hung up and set the phone on the table. “Meeting’s moved to tomorrow.”
Beckett, Esposito and Ryan all nodded, and Castle looked at each of them. “Where we going?”
Ryan and Esposito looked at Beckett who shook her head. “WE aren’t going anywhere…this mission is just too dangerous”
“Danger is my middle name,” Castle grinned mischievously.
“Not this time, Castle,” Joe stated.
Castle was offended and stood. “Fine…I guess I’ll head home then.”
Esposito shook his head. “You can’t do that, Castle.”
Ryan clasped him on the shoulder. “We need to get you to a safe place.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“It’s too dangerous for you to go back to your place.” Joe said quietly.
Castle looked at them disgustedly. “Amazingly enough I was able to take care of myself and raise a daughter long before I met any of you people.”
“Castle, for once can you listen to the people who know what’s best for you? You’re a writer, damn it…we’re cops…it’s our job to protect you…” Beckett pleaded.
“Yeah…I know…it’s been ten minutes since you last reminded me!”
Debbie and Kelly came down loaded with duffel bags.
“We’re ready, Dad.” Kelly announced.
Joe stood up and looked at everyone. “Can I ask everyone to please put aside their feelings for a moment and help me get my wife and kids to safety?”
Beckett and Ryan knew where they were heading but Esposito and Castle were still in the dark.
Ryan grabbed a couple of duffel bags and looked at Esposito and Castle. “Let’s go guys, I’ll explain on the way.”
He headed towards the kitchen and both of the men grabbed the rest of the bags and followed behind him.
Esposito frowned when Ryan stood at the basement steps instead of by the back door. “Dude, where ya heading?”
“Down,” was Ryan’s answer.
A curious Castle fell in behind him followed by Esposito.
Debbie led a very tired Joey while Kelly held the hand of Maria. Brittany and Amy followed them as Joe helped Jenny and Beckett took up the rear.
Ryan waited until they were all in the basement to activate a mechanism.
Castle gasped when a false wall slid open. “No way!”
“Way,” Ryan grinned.
“Dad, can we go ahead?’ Brittany asked tiredly.
“Yeah, tell Vincent what’s going on, and we’ll be there as soon as I can get your mom there.”
“Okay,” Debbie said as they headed down the hidden staircase.
Castle and Esposito were surprised that the kids fearlessly headed down into the dark entrance.
Esposito looked at his partner nervously. “Lead the way.”
Ryan waited until they were in the tunnel way to start to explain the strange new world they had entered. Both men stayed silent as they walked slowly through the tunnels.
Jenny walked close to three blocks before she struggled to keep going.
Joe carried her for a block or two but couldn’t do it anymore and called ahead. “Ryan, I’m struggling here, we might have to call for a stretcher.”
“Got it,” Ryan said as he picked up a rock and tapped it against a nearby pipe.
“Don’t tell me it’s a secret code?” Castle asked delightedly.
Ryan shrugged. “Okay I won’t tell you, but I will tell you that the reason this world has to be kept a secret is probably on his way right now to help us out. When you meet him, you’ll understand, but try not to be shocked by his appearance.”
“What…is he a subterranean monster of some sort?” Esposito smirked.
Beckett walked up at that moment. “Vincent’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. He has an amazing intelligence and he helped me heal both physically and mentally these past few months.”
Castle looked away to hide his jealousy and Esposito looked contrite. “I’m sorry…”
“No need to apologize…” a voice whispered in the dark. “It’s an unfortunate circumstance that brings us together but…it’s also a chance to make new friends.”
Esposito blinked in surprise when Vincent stepped from the shadows and Castle’s jaw dropped open until Beckett elbowed him hard in the ribs.
“Oww…..” he grunted as he looked at her.
Esposito cleared his throat and stepped forward with a hand extended. “Esposito.” He swallowed hard when he got a good look as Vincent extended his hand, but he shook hands with him anyway. “Nice to meet you.”
Vincent cocked his head to the side. “It’s nice to meet you too, Javier. Kevin’s spoken of you often.” He looked over at Castle who was still rubbing his ribs. “You must be Richard Castle.”
Castle smiled and extended his hand. “Yeah, nice to meet you.”
“You have a whole community of fans here who will be anxious to meet such a well known author.”
“I would be honored to spend time with them.”
Vincent looked at Joe and Jenny and immediately saw the pain she was in. “Kevin, go ahead and show our guests to their temporary homes.”
“No problem, Vincent.”
He turned to Jenny with concern in his eyes. “Jenny, are you all right?”
She smiled weakly. “I will be when I finally get Below and rest for a few days.”
He smiled as he walked to her side. “Perhaps I can make your journey easier…” Jenny smiled gratefully as he scooped her up and carried her through the tunnels. “I’ll take you to the hospital chamber, Eric is waiting to check your wounds.”
“Debbie and Amy did a pretty good job patching me up,” Jenny offered.
“Perhaps, but Eric will change the bandages anyway. Your walk has made your cuts start bleeding again.”
Joe glanced at her feet and noticed the blood soaking through the bandages. “Damn! I should never have let you walk.”
“Joe, you carried me three blocks…your back will already be hurting tomorrow.”
“Hey, I exercise…I could have handled it.”
“Wrestling with your son in the backyard and pick up basketball games once a week with your high school buddies is not exercise.”
Vincent chuckled at their teasing. “I do physical labor everyday, Joe but over the years even I’m starting to find this a struggle.”
Jenny looked at him indignantly. “Are you calling me fat?”
Vincent looked horrified and shook his head. “No! I would never…”
Joe knew she was teasing and clasped his shoulder as he teased further. “He’s calling all of us old!”
Jacob jogged up the tunnel way towards them. “You are all old!” He said as he slammed to a stop in front of them. “Hey, Aunt Jenny.”
“Mind if I take over for my old man for awhile?”
“Sure, but I feel like a sack of potatoes.”
Jacob took her from his father’s arms and pretended to groan at the weight. “Ohhhh…maybe a sack of bowling balls!”
“Hey!” she said as she playfully slapped at him.
“Just kidding, you’re as light as a feather.”
“Good cover, kid,” Jenny laughed, “but after six kids I’ve put on a few pounds.”
Jacob turned and quickly walked with her towards the hospital chamber.
As promised, Eric was waiting and efficiently cleaned and rebandaged her feet.
“The girls did a great job, they only missed a few slivers of glass, even I wouldn’t have seen them if I didn’t have this magnifying glass.”
“No problem, Jenny. Joe, why don’t you take our patient to a guest chamber. I think Mary has the one right around the corner ready for you.”
“Great, I’ll get her settled in then check on the kids.”
Jacob walked in and overheard his comment. “Don’t bother, Uncle Joe. Joey’s sound asleep on his old Batman sheets in the boy’s dorm, Amy and Maria are in the same bed in the girl’s dorm and when I left, Brittany, Kelly and Debbie were climbing the ladder to get to the upper dorm.”
“Thanks, I hope they get some sleep.”
“I’ll announce at breakfast that they should be left alone. Why don’t you try to get some sleep as well?”
Joe turned to see Beckett standing in the doorway flanked by Esposito and Ryan, Castle stood behind her.
“We’ve been talking and we feel the best plan is to head back to your place. If anything happens and there’s not people around…someone’s going to start asking questions…”
Esposito nodded. “We can crash on your couch…”
Ryan looked at his watch and sighed. “Four hours…we get four hours to sleep.”
Jenny knew he wanted to stay with her because she was hurt and as much as she wanted him by her side, she put on a false smile. “Thank God! When he’s this tired he snores like a chain saw. Go ahead honey, I’ll be fine.”
“Let me at least carry you to the guest chamber…”
“Rick will do it for me, won’t you Rick?”
Rick smiled as he stepped forward. “If you think I’m man enough to handle it, I’m up for the challenge.”
Jenny glowed as he bent over to pick her up easily. She pretended to squeeze his biceps and giggle. “I think you’re more than man enough to take me to my bed…”
He shot Beckett an angry look. “I’m glad some women still notice.”
Joe rolled his eyes and stepped forward. “Forget it, Castle…give me my wife back. I’ll see her to her bed myself.”
Joe grabbed Jenny from his arms. “Oohhh, they’re fighting over me…I love it!”
“I’ll be right back,” Joe said to the room in general as he carried Jenny out.
The guest chamber was a short walk and Joe had Jenny settled in her bed within minutes.
“Be careful, Joe.”
“You don’t have to do this, honey…Cathy’s been gone a long time and taking down the men who hurt her will never bring her back.”
“But…you still feel like you owe it to her…Joe, you owe her nothing. You brought Vincent her son and you helped raise him. You befriended everyone in this world and have done everything possible to be the best helper you can be…”
“I love you, Joe.”
“I love you, too.” He kissed her slowly and leaned his forehead against hers. “I’ll be back soon.”
“Think you’ll make it back for Winterfest?”
“Aw jeez…I forgot…” Joe sighed as he counted the days. “I don’t know, honey…maybe…I’d hate to promise.”
“I know. It’s okay if you don’t…”
“No it’s not…just one more time my job will take me away from being with the people I love.”
He left and headed back towards the others.
Meanwhile, Ryan and Esposito left Beckett and Castle alone to talk.
Beckett had walked over to Castle and sadly looked up at him. “I’m sorry you can’t go.”
“Yeah, you make a great partner,” she smirked.
“A partner is someone you consider an equal.”
“True, a partner is also someone who has achieved the same level of training and education as you.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
She stepped forward and leaned in closer to him. “Now a friend is someone who always has your back…someone you can always turn to when things go bad…someone you…um…”
Castle looked at her curiously as he smiled waiting for her to say she loved him. “Um…what?”
“You guys ready?” Esposito asked.
Beckett shook her head at the distraction and sighed aloud. “Can we talk about this when I get back?”
She kissed him lovingly then looked back at him as she followed Ryan and Esposito out the door.
Vincent walked up to Castle. “Rick, if you’d like I can show you to a chamber…”
“Yeah, thanks…I would like to get some shut eye.”
Vincent led the way to a guest chamber not too far from his. “I’m just down the hall if you need anything.”
Castle shrugged. “No, I should be okay, goodnight.”
Eight hours later, Castle slowly woke and blinked in the still dark room. One candle had been left burning and he quickly got his bearings. His thoughts flew to Beckett and the dangerous mission she was going on. He grumbled and got out of bed then jammed his feet into his shoes.
“I wonder where they pee around here,” he said aloud to the empty room.
He ventured out into the tunnel way and smiled at some kids walking past. “Hey, can one of you show me to a bathroom?”
The biggest of the boys smirked at him. “Gotta piss like a racehorse?”
Castle grinned at the kid, knowing he was trying to impress his friends. “Good one, and yeah, I do.”
“You’re a pig, Dustin. Come on Mister, I’ll show you. It’s right around the next two corners.”
Castle followed the kids and went into the chamber door they indicated. He closed the curtain and looked around and found the only thing that could have possibly been a toilet. He looked down at the hole and grinned. He could see running water was constantly flowing through it and he realized it was perfect for sanitation.
He walked into the hallway and stood hoping to figure out where to go next. He heard voices carrying through the tunnels and he followed them and peeked into a huge room. The smells coming from a banquet table set with covered dishes heating over sternos had his mouth watering.
He gasped when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Good morning.”
“Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah, I did...”
“Good. You know you’re welcome to go in to get something to eat.”
“I didn’t want to presume.”
Vincent smiled warmly. “This is your home for the next few days, please make yourself comfortable.”
Vincent guided him through the buffet line then led him to his usual table. The two men talked amicably while they ate.
Jacob came in and cleared his throat loudly. “Thanks, everyone. I have a few announcements. The Maxwell’s came down late last night. The kids are sleeping and I don’t want them disturbed and Aunt Jenny is recovering from some injuries to her feet. Now, you certainly noticed the stranger in our midst this morning. Mr. Richard Castle, the author, will also be staying with us a few days. Please remember he is a guest and not here for adoring fans.”
Gasps could be heard as Castle stood and waved. “Hello everyone, thank you for your hospitality.”
He sat and Vincent leaned in towards him. “I apologize for Jacob’s exuberance. I should have spoken to him about giving you some time to settle in before he announced who you were.”
“Its okay, Vincent.”
The two men looked up to see several people making their way towards their table.
“Here they come…” Castle said.
He sat for four hours meeting with everyone Below. Vincent was surprised at how kind and gracious he was to each person he spoke with. He listened to each person’s story and kept them engaged and each person walked away from the encounter feeling special.
His fans finally left and Castle stood and headed out the door. He popped into the bathroom and when he came out he saw Brittany walking in the tunnel way.
“Hey, Mr. Castle.”
“Rick, please. Britt, is there anywhere that I can go to be by myself for awhile? Think a little bit…”
Brittany thought for a moment then brightened. “Most of the adults head to the Chamber of the Falls.”
“Chamber of the Falls?”
“Yeah, they go there to read…the older kids go there to make out but they’re always caught.”
Castle smirked. “I won’t be making out with anyone, so I should be safe. Can you take me?”
He followed Brittany to a huge chamber with a waterfall. It was peaceful, and Castle was thankful no one else was around.
“Thanks for bringing me here.”
“No problem. Can I go now? I’m supposed to meet Amber…”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine on my own.”
Brittany left and Castle settled down with his back against a rock. He stared at the waterfall and became lost in his thoughts about Kate and their relationship.
It seemed like only minutes before he looked up and saw Vincent standing there.
“Hey, Vincent. I just came here to sit and think for awhile.”
“You’ve been thinking for over 4 hours.”
Rick frowned and glanced at his watch. “I…had no idea.”
“This place is magical…it can easily let you get lost in your thoughts. If you’d like to talk about it…I’ve been told I’m a good listener.” When no response came from Rick, Vincent continued. “Kate and I spent many afternoons here while she recovered.”
Castle immediately thought of Brittany and her reference to this being the favorite make out location. “Oh, yeah…” he said as he tried to hide his anger and hurt.
“She spoke of you often.”
Castle looked at him with curiosity. “Really? What’d she say?”
“Only that she was confused about your relationship.”
“She loves you, Rick.”
“Maybe,” he shrugged.
“For an author you are a man of few words.” Vincent grinned and cocked his head sideways, trying to connect with the solemn man.
Castle chuckled at him. “I’m not usually rendered speechless by half truths.”
“You don’t believe she loves you?”
Castle sighed. “Sometimes I think we are so…connected and other times…we can seem so distant, and I don’t think we’ll find our way back.”
Vincent looked down at the ground. “I understand.”
“You had the same problem?”
“It was many years ago…but yes…Jacob’s mother…Catherine and I shared a deep love…we had…a bond that kept us together…still there were times when I felt so far removed from her and her world.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. I love Kate, she’s a wonderful woman but she’s driven by this need to settle a tragedy that occurred in her past.”
“The death of her mother.”
“Yeah, I’m worried it will be the death of her.”
“Because she desires to find the people responsible for the murder prosecuted?”
“Not desires, Vincent...its way beyond that…Kate is driven by the need to solve the case.”
“Maybe she feels she is unable to commit to the future when she still doesn’t have closure in the past…”
Vincent saw that Rick still struggled with the concept. “Dinner is being served…you must be getting hungry by now…”
Castle nodded and stood. “Yeah…sounds good.”
The two men made their way to the dining chamber and sat with Father and Mary. They had a leisurely dinner and Castle was in his glory speaking to Father about every form of literature known to man.
Vincent finally interrupted them. “Rick, perhaps you would like to sit in on our reading tonight.”
“Yes, yes…of course he would…” Father readily agreed.
“What kind of reading?” Castle asked.
Vincent touched his arm. “Every Saturday the older children reenact one of Shakespeare’s plays to whoever would like to attend the performance.”
Mary smiled. “It’s like our own movie theater…the children all work so hard to get their lines right. But Father and Vincent have forgotten that the children are skipping tonight because they’re practicing for Winterfest.”
Vincent rushed to explain. “It’s our world’s special holiday. Once a year, our helpers gather for a celebration…it’s our way of thanking them for all they do for us throughout the year.”
“Yes, and the children usually give a small performance.” Father added.
“Sounds nice,” Castle said.
“It’s wonderful, Mr. Castle!” Mary gushed. “But right now is our busiest time of the year.”
“Well…as long as I’m here I’d like to help in any way I can.”
“Your help would be most welcome,” Vincent stated.