MURDER AT MCDONALD'S
By Lorraine Anderson
Castle stood in front of the board, looking at each picture, studying each section.
Beckett nudged him. "Castle," she said, "you need to decide."
"Deductive reasoning," he pontificated, "cannot be hurried."
"What deductive reasoning?" she said, her voice exasperated, but a little smile belayed the voice. "You're trying to decide whether to buy a Quarter Pounder or a Big Mac."
"Oh," he said, holding up a finger. "That's where you're wrong. I'm trying to figure out what the murderer ordered."
Beckett rolled her eyes. "In your new novel," she said, then walked up to the counter and ordered a salad.
"Oh," Castle said. "That's no fun."
"Castle," she said, turning around. "We just got through with a case. For just a moment, I don't want to think about murder."
He sighed and went up to the counter. "Quarter-pounder," he sighed. "No fries," he added, looking at his waistline. He glanced at the coffee menu, and then ordered a bottle of water instead.
After getting his food, he followed Beckett to a booth. "You see," he started. "William Dennis was angry. If he ordered a Big Mac, that meant…"
"Castle," Beckett interrupted.
"Okay," he sighed. "No murder."
"No," she said, staring. "Just a second." She got up from the booth and moved to the back of the restaurant. Castle turned and looked at her. "Sir," she said, to a man sitting up at the back of the booth. "Sir, are you all right?"
The man was sitting up and staring straight ahead. After a second, Castle realized that he wasn't blinking, and then he realized that he wasn't breathing. "Sir?" Beckett repeated.
Gently, she took her two fingers and felt his throat. She looked at Castle and shook her head. Castle picked up their food and moved back to where she was standing.
"Make sure no-one comes back here. He's cold," she said. She looked down with her eyes at the man's chest. The man's button up shirt was slightly open, and, underneath the shirt, Castle could see a bullet hole, obviously cleaned up. He raised his eyebrows. This meant that the man was dead when he came in, which meant he didn't walk in, which meant he certainly hadn't ordered the sandwich and coffee placed in front of him. He had a wide-eyed, innocent look, with the brightest blue eyes Castle had ever seen. Actually, if he weren't already dead, he looked like he could be rather – jolly, Castle thought.
Beckett pulled out her phone, and Castle turned around and studied the other patrons. "Yeah. Esposito. I have a body in the McDonald's at 43rd and 6th. Bring Lani. I'll inform the manager." She then turned and studied the body.
"I'll get the manager," Castle said. He went back up to the counter. "Excuse me, can I see the manager?"
"Is there a problem, sir?" the bright faced girl said.
"Um, yes," Castle said. "We'll need to see the manager at the back of the restaurant. And do you have anything we can use to block off the area?"
The girl stared at him, then turned and yelled. "Joshua! We need you."
A youngish man, slightly older than the girl – at least to Castle's eye – came up to the counter. "Can I help you, sir?"
"What's your name, son?"
"We have a situation at the back of the restaurant," Castle said, hoping Beckett would forgive the "we". "Could you please follow me?"
The man's eyebrows rose, and he slipped out from behind the counter and followed Castle. Castle led him to Beckett.
"Detective Beckett," Castle said. "This is Joshua Feder,"
"Mr. Feder," Beckett said. "Joshua. I'm a homicide detective for the city of New York." She looked at the man in the booth. "And we seem to have a body here."
The young man's eyes went wide as he looked at the body, then his face went pale. Without a word, he collapsed. Castle blinked. "I guess dead bodies are out of his comfort zone," he said. He leaned down to try to revive the man, then looked up.
A woman walked up. "Lani," Beckett said. "You got here fast."
"I was returning from another crime scene," she said. She looked down at the body on the floor and the body in the booth. "Which one is the deceased?"
Castle pointed up to the booth. "The other man fainted." He knelt over the man on the ground, then watched as onlookers, including the girl he had first talked to, gather around. She saw what had happened, then quickly went to a storage closet and pulled out a "Caution: Water!" sign and place it in front of the back portion of the restaurant. Castle nodded at her gratefully.
"Ah." Lani stepped over the unconscious manager to the man in the booth. She looked at him up and down. Then she held her fingers on his neck.
"I did that already," Beckett said.
"I figured you did, but you're not a doctor." She held it another minute, then nodded. "He is, indeed, dead."
A few curious onlookers had come to the back of the restaurant. They gasped.
The man on the floor stirred. The employee stepped behind the queue line and threw a glass of ice water on his face. He sat up, sputtering. "What did you do that for?" he said to Castle.
"Sean," the girl said. "I did it."
She pointed at the man in the back booth. He followed her line of pointing and paled again. "Oh. Sorry."
"I understand," Castle said. "I was a little squeamish when I saw my first body, too."
Sean stared at him. "You've seen multiple bodies?"
"It's in my line of work."
"Right, Castle," Beckett said.
"Well, kind of."
Becky stared. "Oh. You're Richard Castle!"
Castle smiled. "Nice to meet you."
"Castle," Beckett said
"Under the circumstances," Castle said, looking back at the body.
Esposito and Ryan hustled up, followed by a couple of uniformed officers and a few other people. "What do we have?" Esposito said.
"Dead body," Beckett said. "Process the scene, then we can move the man and let Lani do her job."
"I can already tell you one thing," Lani said. "He wasn't shot."
Beckett turned around. "What do you mean? There's a bullet hole…"
Beckett leaned in and looked at the man's chest. "Oh."
"Oh?" Castle said.
"Look for yourself." Beckett said.
Castle leaned in and saw where the edge of the temporary tattoo was coming up. "It's a temporary tattoo."
"Which makes this more interesting, until I can look at him," Lani said.
"Do you suppose he put it on himself?" Castle said.
"Hard to say, unless we can get a fingerprint off of it," Beckett said. Ryan started taking pictures of the body, while the uniformed officer started putting tape around the scene. Beckett turned to the manager. "Do you have security video of this place?"
The manager shook his head, and Beckett stared at him. "I mean, yes, of course, we have security video for the whole restaurant. I'll need to call the owner…"
"Please do so."
Sean gulped. "Right away." He rapidly left the area.
Beckett turned to the girl. "Becky, right?"
"Rebecca Warner," she said. She looked with fascination at the dead body. "This is the closest I've been to a body since my Grandma died."
"Not pretty, is it," Castle said gently.
"Petechial haemorrhage and bruising around the neck. Although," Lanie looked closer, "The bruises look old. And the pupils are dilated, I don't think he was killed here, but – I'm not sure," Lani said, looking slightly puzzled at Beckett. "In fact, there are a number of old bruises."
"What's Petechial… ?" the girl said.
"Never mind. Lani is saying that this man wasn't murdered here, but obviously, he didn't walk in, sit down, and strangle himself. Did you notice anything?"
"No," she said. "But we've been busy. We get busy when the theater around the corner lets out. He could have come in then."
"Carried in?" Esposito looked up, doubtful.
She shrugged. "Sometimes people get helped in from the bars and friends buy them coffees." She pointed to the coffee in front of him. "I wouldn't have thought anything was unusual."
"But obviously it was."
Sean hurried back, but stopped short of the tape and looked anywhere but at the body. "The franchise owner is coming."
"All right. Thank you."
He turned away. Beckett grabbed his arm. "Did you see anything out of the ordinary?"
He was sweating. "No. We were awfully busy earlier."
"Has anybody bussed the tables?" Castle said.
"Not for a couple of hours, I think."
"You don't know?"
He hung his head. "I wasn't…"
"He wasn't watching," Becky said. He looked at her. She nodded. "You have to say."
"Can you keep this from the owner?"
Beckett winced. "I can't promise anything."
"My girlfriend is leaving tonight for two months abroad. I was saying… goodbye."
Becky chewed her lip. "I was covering for him. As were the rest of the employees. He's a great manager, but we were shorthanded, and he couldn't get the night off."
Beckett looked at Castle, and her eyes were amused. "We won't say a word unless we have to. We may need to talk to your girlfriend, though."
Sean nodded. "I'll give you her cell number."
After a few minutes, the owner hustled in. He was a large man, and sweat dripped off of his forehead. He looked at the body in the corner and paled. "Oh my God," he said, dropping into a booth. "Martin."
"You know the victim?" Castle said.
"Yeah," the man said. He looked up, tears in his eyes. "I'm Matt Thompson, the owner."
"And I'm Detective Beckett," Beckett interrupted, "the investigating officer." She stuck out her hand, and Matt took it. "I'm sorry for your loss."
"Who is he?" Castle said gently.
"He's my brother."
Beckett's mouth opened and closed. "I am sorry. Had I known, we would have met you in front of the store."
"How?" The man seemed to have himself under control again.
"We're not sure yet. We are positive that it wasn't natural."
Beckett laid a hand on his arm. "We are are going to have to have a copy of the security tapes."
"Oh," He pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at his forehead. "Of course. Let me pull them right now." He went to the back of the store and came out with a couple of tapes. "Here you are."
"In the meantime, we'll have to take the body for processing."
"I'm sorry," Beckett said. "But I have to ask. Where were you this evening?"
"Actually," Matt said. "I was at a restaurant, not very far from here." At the look he got, he said. "Well, much as I like McDonald's, I do like a steak every once in a while. Before that, I was here. My employees and the employees of the restaurant will vouch for me. Am I a suspect?"
"At this point," Beckett said. "We have to eliminate the closest people to the victim. Was he married?"
"Do you have any idea who would have a motive to murder your brother?"
"No. I don't know who would murder Martin," Matt said, sweating. He wiped his face again with his handkerchief.
"We have to ask," Esposito said. He led the man away. "What's the name of the restaurant?" As the man turned away, his employees came up to him. Rebecca Warner hugged him.
"Why," Castle said, looking at Matt and Esposito, "didn't the employees know it was his brother?"
Ryan shrugged. "Maybe they didn't know him. Would you know my brother if you met him?"
"Ryan," Beckett said, coming up to him. "You don't have a brother."
"Point taken." He pointed at Castle. "See?"
Castle inclined his head. Still he looked at the workers. Something didn't feel right.
Castle and Beckett came up behind Esposito. "So? What do the tapes tell you?"
Esposito sighed. "That the corpse walked in and sat down in the back booth." He turned the screen around. "See for yourself."
Castle positioned himself behind Beckett. Sure enough, Martin Thompson carried a tray to the back booth, ate a couple of bites, then sat still.
Beckett stood up. "That's impossible," she said baldly, looking closely at the time stamp. "Lani said that he had been dead for at least four hours." She looked at Esposito. "Any sign of tape tampering?"
"I'm having an expert look at it right now."
She studied the screen. "It has to be tampered." She looked at the hamburger. "Take a look at the burger."
The three men looked. Then they looked up at her. "So?" Ryan said.
"So," she said, "the sandwich in front of the body wasn't a hamburger. It was a Fish Filet."
Castle replayed the scene in his mind. "You're right. I remember thinking that if I were going to die, I'd rather have a Big Mac in front of me."
"So the question would be – did Matt pull the wrong tape? Was the tape doctored, and did he do it?" She looked at the two detectives. "I think the next step is to fingerprint the tapes and see who's handled them."
Esposito looked at the tapes doubtfully. "I don't think those cases will take a print too easily."
"Well," Beckett said. "We need to try." The two looked at each other, and left for the lab.
Castle looked at Beckett. "Isn't that grasping at straws?"
"Well," she sighed. "Unless we get a better lead, that's all we have right now. The booth is covered with prints from all of the employees. The brother has an alibi. Nobody saw the vic walk in, Lani claims he couldn't have walked in on his own and none of the employees noticed a body being dragged in. She did say that he had a bad heart, which could have killed him at any time."
"Okay," Castle said. "How about toxicology?"
"Not back yet."
"I keep going back to what Lani said. The pupils were dilated."
"Which," Beckett said, "can happen in strangulations."
"Was the hyoid bone fractured?"
"No." She sighed. "But it doesn't always fracture." She looked at him. "Are you thinking he was poisoned?"
Esposito walked back up. "Hey, I just got a phone call. Our vic tested positive for Belladonna. And Scopolomine, which is usually used for motion sickness." He looked at the pair. "So, he's not going to be nauseated while he's being strangled? Sounds like a bit of overkill to me."
"Hey," Castle said. "That was my line." The two gave high fives.
Beckett rolled her eyes. "And – the temporary tattoo?"
"I have a feeling I'm going to find this fascinating," Castle said.
"Check it out – it was a nicotine patch," Ryan said.
"Really?" Beckett said.
"Combine that with a bad ticker…" Castle said.
"And we come up with another potential death source."
"We fingerprinted the tattoo. The fingerprint came up to be the victims."
Beckett looked at the board. "It doesn't feel like a suicide. Would someone committing suicide have a nicotine patch?"
"But it would be possible for the victim to walk in and die of heart failure, with all of those drugs in his system," Castle said.
"Put that way, yeah," Esposito said.
"Did you do a DNA test on the filet-o-fish?" Castle asked.
"Test won't be back for a while. Backlogged," Eposito said.
Castle frowned. "Not exactly CSI: Los Vegas, huh?"
Beckett snorted. "Dream on, Castle. That only works in TV shows."
"So – our vic was strangled and poisoned at least two different ways," Castle said.
"Somebody really didn't like him."
Castle looked thoughtful. "Or something."
She sighed and looked at the board. "I haven't fully researched his background yet." She moved to the computer. "And I don't think I should ask his brother, do you?"
"I would guess not."
She typed the man's name in, then sat back. "I think we had better call Matt Thompson in."
"Have you found out who murdered Martin?" The large man leaned forward in his chair.
"As I remember," Beckett said. "You said you had no idea who would be mad at your brother."
He started to sweat again, and Castle looked, fascinated. Matt Thompson didn't lie very well.
"But," she said. "You didn't tell me he had a criminal history." She looked at the papers in front of her and shuffled them. "Let's see. Larceny. Grand theft auto. Sexual predator." She looked back up. "There are a few more. Should I go on?"
Matt closed his eyes. "No." She continued to stare at him, and after a moment, he opened up his eyes. "But he had reformed. After all, he hadn't committed any of those crimes in the last ten years. He had a job."
"Until two weeks ago, when he was downsized. At a convenience store."
"That's why I was letting him eat at the restaurant. The staff knew him, they knew to charge it to my account."
"As I remember," Castle said. "They claimed they didn't know him."
"I gave him my employee card," he said, sweating. "They probably didn't look."
"Mr. Thompson," Beckett said, her eyebrows knitting. "They either knew him or they didn't know him."
"I don't think he usually came at night."
"That's not what the tapes are telling us," Beckett said. "I saw him on various tapes in the evening at least seven different times." She leaned forward. "Or would you rather be charged with impeding a police investigation."
"No." He closed his eyes again. "Probably I should ask for a lawyer…"
She pulled her papers together. "That is your right."
He looked down at the desk. "But I'm not. You're right. He did come in at night. And I did instruct the employees that if anybody asked about him, they didn't know him."
Castle looked at him. "Why would you do that?"
"He's made some enemies. I didn't want him to be tracked." He sighed. "Even though he came every night."
"He gambles. He's had dealings with some bookies."
Castle remembered the wide-eyed, innocent look that the corpse had worn. He should know, glancing at Kate Beckett; looks were deceiving.
"Did he borrow money from you?"
Matt looked up and laughed. "You think I have any money?" He looked down again. "He did, a long time ago. Never again." He sighed. "I lost my wife because of him."
"Ah." Castle said.
"Mr. Thompson, that is motive," Kate said gently. "Did you murder your brother?"
Matt looked up, wide-eyed. "No. I couldn't. I loved my brother."
"Did anybody you know murder your brother?"
Matt flushed. "I don't think so." He sighed. "That's the best I can do."
Kate pressed her lips together thoughtfully. "You can go."
"Thank you." Matt got up quickly, relieved, and exited the room.
"You know," Castle said, "he's a poor liar."
"I noticed. I think we need to bring in the employees."
Becky Warner looked around the station innocently. "Are those tape recorders, like I see in TV shows?"
"Yes," Beckett said. "They are. And they are recording right now."
"Miss Warner, you lied to us."
Becky's face fell. "Am I in trouble?"
"Well," Beckett said. "You should be. But we'll take extenuating circumstances into consideration."
"Mr. Thompson told us to lie."
"But everything else is true. I didn't see him walk in." Her face had an innocent look, but Castle noticed her eyes shifting to the left.
"Becky," Castle said. "Did you see him carried in?"
She looked at him, startled. "Sort of. But he was breathing at the time. He was kind of moaning. I thought he was drunk."
"Did it ever occur to you that he might be sick?"
"No," Becky said. "Not really." She closed her eyes, opened them, and looked Beckett straight in the eye. "He's come in that way before. They set him in the back booth, we give him a sandwich and a coffee, he seems to sober up, then he walks out."
"Occasionally, he walks in?"
Castle raised his eyebrows, but didn't say anything. That would explain the tape. The manager had switched tapes. Matt was going quite a ways to protect his brother – or was he?
"Becky," Castle said. "Do you know if the Thompsons had any other family?"
"Castle?" Beckett said.
"Indulge me." Perhaps there was an ex-wife of Martin's, another brother?
"I don't know." Another shift to the left.
"Do you know who would want him dead?"
She looked at Castle straight on, which startled him a bit. "No."
Beckett glanced at Castle, then smiled at the girl. "Oh. We will need a DNA swab."
Becky looked a little startled.
"To eliminate you as a suspect."
"Okay." A swab was brought in, and Beckett took the sample from her mouth.
"Can I go now?"
"Sure," Beckett said.
The girl got up rapidly and left.
"You know," Castle said. "People leave these places like a cat out of a cage." He glanced at Beckett. "Why did you really take that swab?"
"I want to see if there's any familial DNA."
"Oh!" Castle said. "Oh."
"Isn't that what you were thinking?"
"No, actually. I was thinking that there was another sibling or something."
"I'm going to do the same to Joshua Feder."
"I'm not sure yet. But I am going to speed up that processing."
Joshua Feder sat in the room, sweating. His bright blue eyes darted back and forth between Castle and Beckett. "I'm not a suspect, am I?"
"Should you be?"
"Methinks he doth protest too much," Castle said, with a smile. Joshua whitened, and Castle smiled at him. "Joking. Sorry."
"So," Beckett said. "You were told to lie to us."
"No," Joshua said. "We were told to lie to anybody about whether we knew him."
"But you did know him. You knew he was the boss's brother?"
"Yeah. Mr. Thompson told us all that by protecting his identity would keep us from harm."
"Do you know if he had any other relatives?"
Joshua looked down and to the left. "No. I don't." His cheeks turned pink.
"I don't understand why you asked." He looked up.
Beckett frowned. "Sometimes murder occurs within the family."
Beckett and Castle looked at him, and didn't ask any questions. If they were trying to make him sweat, they were doing a good job.
"Can I go?"
"Oh!" Beckett shook her head. "Of course." He got up. "But," she said quickly. "I need a DNA sample."
"What for?" The blue eyes went wide.
"To eliminate you as a suspect."
"Oh." The boy sat back down. "Okay."
He held still for the DNA swab. Then Beckett motioned him out. He got up off the chair like a jackrabbit and was out the door.
"That boy could audition for the Flash," Castle mused.
"Never mind," Castle said. "Comic book reference." He leaned back in the chair and pointed at the DNA tube. "So. I'm still confused. You think that Joshua and Becky are related to the Thompsons?"
"I really don't want to speculate," Beckett said. But she smiled slightly.
Beckett called Castle in a couple of days later. "That was fast," Castle said, getting himself a cup of coffee. "What did you find out?"
Beckett pointed at the board, and Castle almost dropped his coffee. "They're Martin's children?" He set the coffee down. "I thought maybe Joshua was, but I didn't think that Becky…"
"Both of the pair was born to a single mother. Both birth certificates say that the father was unknown. Neither mother filed a police report."
"Oh. Serial rapist."
Beckett looked sour. "Yeah." She looked at her fingers. "I almost regret touching him."
"So, did they know they were Martin's children?" He looked at the board. "I think they did. No, the question is whether they knew about each other."
"Right. And did Matt know about them?"
"I think we need to call the three of them in."
Matt, Becky, and Joshua sat around the table. Beckett walked in, sat down, opened her folder, and sat staring at the three. "Mr. Thompson. Mr. Feder. Miss Warner." I wanted to tell you first about our findings." She looked at the folder. "We found three different poisons in Martin's body. Belladonna. Scopolomine. Nicotine." She put a picture of Martin's body in front of them. "In addition, he was strangled at some point."
The three looked at each other.
Matt looked at Beckett. "I gave him the nicotine patch. He wanted to quit smoking."
"Okay," Beckett said, making a note. "One down, two to go." She looked at the other two.
"What do you mean?" Joshua said.
"Our tests showed one more thing."
Becky blushed, and Joshua started sweating.
"You are both Martin's children."
The two young people started and stared at each other. "You're…" Becky started.
Joshua's mouth gaped open.
"But… we dated each other."
"I didn't know you were…" he swallowed. "… my sister. How could I?"
Matt paled. "They're relation? How did they…"
"It's easy to find out things on the internet these days," Joshua said.
"Once I found out where he lived," Becky said. "And his known associates…"
"I applied for a job at your McDonald's."
"I wanted to see what this man looked like – the man that hurt my mother," Becky said to the desk.
"I did, too," Joshua said.
"So," Castle said, raising his eyebrows. "Who tried to poison him?"
"I just wanted to make him sick," Becky said. "I didn't want to kill him." She looked up, her eyes brimming with tears. "Please believe me."
"I wanted to make him suffer, but I knew I couldn't hit him," Joshua said. He glanced at Becky. "I wanted to make him sick, too."
Matt chewed his lip. "Belladonna, Scopolomine, and a Nicotine patch. I suppose I'm somewhat to blame, too."
"What none of you knew was that he had a bad heart."
They stared at each other.
"The combination of the three, including the bruising I don't believe any of you inflicted, caused Martin to have a heart attack." She shrugged. "According to our coroner, any of the three taken alone may or may not have killed him."
Castle looked over Beckett's shoulder at the report. She looked up, annoyed. "Sorry. But what about the ligature mark?"
Becky sighed. "Mr. Thompson came in with that mark. I noticed it when I waited on him."
"How did he get the Scopolomine patch on him? And how did you think of Scopolomine?"
"I had an inner ear infection last year. Scopolomine helped me get through the dizziness. I brought one of the leftovers to work, saw he was a little unsteady on his feet, helped him take his food to the table, and put the patch on the back of his neck."
Beckett turned to Joshua. "And the belladonna?"
"My grandmother has a belladonna plant." The group stared at him. "What can I say? My grandma is weird." He shrugged. "I looked it up on the internet and squeezed about five berries into his coffee. Five shouldn't have been fatal."
"And scopolamine is an active agent in belladonna." Castle said. Beckett looked at him. He held up his hands. "Mystery writer."
She smiled slightly. "And the nicotine patch is an over-the-counter product."
"What's going to happen to us?"
"I'm going to suggest that the two of you be charged with a misdemeanor. Neither of you had the intent to kill your father." She glanced at Matt Thompson.
"And I'm certainly not going to sue the two of you." He looked at them. "When I woke up today, I didn't have any nieces or nephews. If you'll allow me, I'd like to make that up to you."
"And all I had was adopted brothers and sisters," Becky whispered.
"I was an only child," Joshua said.
"Can we leave?" Matt Thompson asked. "I'd like to take these two out to dinner." He smiled. "And not to McDonald's."
"We need them to stay in touch," Beckett said. "But I think you can go."
Castle watched the three leave. "Mystery on the Orient Express."
Beckett blinked. "What?
"Agatha Christie. You've never seen it?"
Beckett shook her head.
"You want spoilers?"
Beckett rolled her eyes. "Go ahead."
"Short version. Hercule Poirot takes the Orient Express, and ends up in a room next to Mr. Ratchett. Mr. Ratchett kidnapped and killed the child Daisy Armstrong. During the night he dies by being stabbed twelve times. Hercule deduces that all of the passengers in the compartment were connected to Daisy Armstrong, and that all of them had stabbed Mr. Ratchett, and none of the blows were fatal, but all of them together…" He smiled.
"Did he turn them in?"
Castle smiled. "I can't believe you never heard of the story." He sighed. "No, he went with his first theory – that a stranger boarded the train, murdered Ratchett for unknown reasons, then escaped. After all, Ratchett had murdered a small girl for money."
Beckett sighed. "I wish I could do that."
"No. But I can help them." She smiled at him. "I think they need a good pro bono lawyer, don't you?"
"Heck," Castle said. "I can hire…"
"No," Beckett said. "You had better stay out of this one." He looked puzzled. "It's one thing if you, as a private citizen, hire a lawyer. It's another if I find them one. Sends a message to the judge."
They got up.
"I can't believe you've never seen it," Castle said. "Want to come over and watch the David Suchet version? I'm partial to David Suchet."
"Who?" She exited the interrogation room.
"Honestly, Beckett, don't you ever watch TV?" He rushed after her, smiling.