Brothers in Arms
Season 9, Episode 8
Written by InkyCoffee and whatifellinlove
This is a work of fiction by writers with no professional connection to ABC network's Castle. Recognizable characters are the property of Andrew Marlowe and ABC. Names, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Marcus wheezed a little as he followed Mrs. Sanchez up the third flight of wooden stairs, trying to tune out her grumbling as she fluctuated between English and Spanish. He already regretted drawing the short straw, but in a business as small as theirs, someone had to do this kind of thing.
He just hoped he wasn't causing everyone a pile of embarrassment.
But no, Andy knew how important this week was to the firm. It wasn't like him to just not show up to work without any explanation. The guy was too responsible for that.
Mrs. Sanchez paused before 3C and thumped on the door, glowering as the seconds passed and there was no response. "Andy? Andy, open up! It's Mrs. Sanchez from downstairs!"
She thumped the door again, causing a rattle that made Marcus wince. She was loud enough to wake the dead. A baby started crying from another apartment further down the corridor.
"Andy, I'm coming in!" Her voice was just a little shrill, and it took her several moments of fussing about to find the right key. "This better be worth me missing Santos Desesperadas."
The door creaked open, and Marcus was hit by an unpleasant stench, as if there was backed up sewage… and maybe burnt almonds?
"Andy? It's Mrs. Sanchez. Your work friend is here! Are you home?" Mrs. Sanchez apparently hadn't noticed the smell and bustled inside. Marcus kept his distance. He could hear the TV playing infomercials, volume down low, and as he followed the landlady through the small kitchen, the smell only grew.
Mrs. Sanchez stopped where the kitchen opened out into the main living area. A figure was sitting in an armchair in the darkest corner of the room, facing away from them. "Andy, there you are! Why didn't you open the door?"
Marcus approached Andy slowly, the smell becoming more apparent with every step. His stomach dropped as his colleague did not acknowledge them. "Andy?"
Finally close enough to see, Marcus gasped as he took in the contorted expression, the lifeless eyes, and glassy skin.
"Mrs. Sanchez, call 911," he said, hoping to spare her the sight.
"Why? Is he sick?" she asked, bustling over.
Then she screamed.
Castle turned at the sound of his wife entering, and paused only to give the sauce a final stir and turn the heat down low before rounding the kitchen counter to wrap her in his arms, her now obvious bump resting between them.
"Hey. You're home early." He brushed his lips against her temple and gave her another squeeze, trailing one hand across her bump in greeting to that little one, too. Releasing her, he nudged her toward one of the bar stools.
"I was stuck at 1PP all afternoon, so I just came straight home instead of going back to the 12th like I planned," she grinned at him, the little dimple in her cheek showing how not sorry she was to have cut out of work.
He couldn't stop the smile spreading across his own face as he crossed to the fridge, pulling out some juice and waving it at her in question. "Were all your meetings dreadfully boring? I could have kept you entertained via text, you know."
"Yes, please," she said in answer to the juice, waiting for him to pull out two glasses before continuing. "Not too bad. Edmunds over at the 18th is retiring, and it looks like Snaith is going to be promoted to take his place, which means I'll be able to promote Esposito to Sergeant by the end of the month."
Castle paused with the glass halfway to his mouth. "That'll be different. What'll happen to Ryan?"
She drained half her glass. "I'll probably reshuffle a few people, put him in charge of his own team. Espo won't have as much time for field work anymore. Ryan'll be ok. I can think of several detectives who could learn a lot from him."
He couldn't stop the slightly wistful twist to his lips. "It all changes, doesn't it?"
Kate stood, rounding the island so she could slide her arms around his waist. "Just because things will be different doesn't mean they will be bad, babe."
He hummed in contentment as she nuzzled into him, and was just stooping to kiss her when–
The chirping ring of her phone sounded through the quiet.
"Of course, some things never change," he muttered as she fished the device out of her pocket.
"Beckett," she barked. "Whoa... Ryan, slow down... Uh huh... Yeah... No, you did the right thing. Text me the address? We'll come on down. Take care of him."
His grip on her tightened as the words spilled out, and he looked down at her in consternation.
"There's been a murder," she said.
Castle nodded to Officer Hernandez as he followed Kate into the apartment, the lingering odor of death so familiar now that he barely noticed it greeting him at the door, only to stop short and brace himself against his wife's hips to keep from walking into her in the narrow space. She shot an annoyed look over her shoulder at him for breaking the "no touching at work" rule (which he promptly disregarded, sliding his hands between them to gently massage the small of her back) and turned her attention to Ryan, whose hair and tie were both uncharacteristically askew.
"Thanks for coming, Captain. I didn't know what to do," Ryan greeted them quietly.
"You did the right thing, Kevin. Where is he?" Kate asked.
"In the bedroom, talking to the colleague who found the body. Officer Aragon is in there, too. I told her to keep an eye on him, given the situation."
Kate turned just enough to exchange a glance with Castle, easing away so he dropped his hands before stepping forward, leading both men into the living room where Lanie and CSU were busy securing the scene. "Speaking of, why don't you give us a rundown of the situation?"
Ryan began speaking as they wove their way carefully across the room. "Meet Andy McLaughlin, 36 years old, former Special Forces and current employee of Willis Security. Body was found when one of his colleagues, Marcus Garner, asked the super, Theresa Sanchez, to help check on him after he was a no-show at work today and didn't answer any of his calls."
Lanie glanced up as they approached, relief at her friend's presence obvious on her face. "He's been dead for a couple of days. My best guess right now is Friday night some time, but I can't be more specific till I get him back to the morgue. Judging from his facial contortion which suggests sudden loss of oxygen..."
The thrill of knowledge burned through Castle as he took in the almost-full tequila bottle on the coffee table and the shot glass lying on the carpet at the victim's feet, and he interrupted her. "He was poisoned!"
Lanie shot him a glare, but nodded all the same. "I don't know yet for sure, obviously, but at this point, that's what it looks like."
Kate nodded. "The question is, then, was this a murder or did he O.D. on purpose?"
Castle nudged her. "There's another shot glass on the table, so he probably wasn't drinking alone."
Kate glanced at the table in question and nodded again. "I'm going to talk to Esposito."
Kate paused at the door of the tiny bedroom, watching as Esposito finished up with his final questions. Catching Officer Aragon's eye, she gave a half smile and a jerk of her head. Marissa nodded in understanding, casting Esposito a long look before escorting Marcus out of the room and away from the crime scene.
Esposito scowled at the sight of his Captain.
"I'm fine, Beckett."
"No, Javi, you're not," she replied simply, and she watched as his jaw worked, biting back his response. "I would be worried if you were."
The fire of rebellion in his eyes died to simmering embers, and he lowered his head. "No matter how many times you cross that tape, nothing prepares you for seeing a friend..." his voice broke.
Kate walked to the tiny window, giving him a moment to regroup. "Tell me about him?"
"Andy was in my unit when I was in the Special Forces. He and Miguel Santiago were my two closest friends. We've always been tight – maybe not so much lately, with things happening at the precinct, I hadn't seen him in a few months. But look, Beckett. I know what you're going to say. He was my friend. I'm too close. I can't be on the case. I get it. I'd be saying that to me, too. But Kate, he was my friend. I need to do this. Please."
All the times Esposito had stood by her side flashed through her mind. All her own history of being "too close," and how that very connection had so often been the extra push needed to find justice. Her responsibilities as Captain, her training and knowledge of exactly what could go wrong if she granted his request.
Shaking her head, she sighed. "Ryan takes lead on this one."
"Captain-" he started to object.
Steel in her voice, she stared him down. "It's my final order, Detective."
"Yes, ma'am." The fire in his eyes did not abate, and Kate arched an eyebrow, working her tongue into her cheek to refrain from further comment. Had it been anyone else, she might have called them out for insubordination, but she knew her friend, and she understood his hurt, his driving need to solve this - possibly better than anyone.
A knock sounded behind them, and they turned to find Ryan hovering, concern for his partner etched on his features. "Captain, we found something."
Castle slapped a photograph onto the murder board, the paper gleaming with an image of the rather ornate women's bracelet that had been found at the crime scene, and turned to his friends with triumph. "His girlfriend did it! Boring, but in this case, I think we're all hoping for an easy solve?"
Beckett and Ryan were both nodding, but Esposito stood staunch, his arms crossed.
"He didn't have a girlfriend, bro."
"Wh- he didn't?" Castle floundered.
"Espo, you said you hadn't seen him in six months?" Beckett added.
"He joined the armed forces after his wife and kid were killed in a car accident. He was raised in the system, so they were the only family he ever had. He always said she was his soulmate, that there would never be anyone else. And I don't remember him ever even looking at another woman. I may not have seen him lately, but I just can't see that changing." The creases in his forehead were the only indication of how hard it was for him to speak about his friend this way.
"So he has no family?"
Esposito shook his head. "He and Miguel shared a place over in Queens until Miguel got married in May. That's the last time I saw either of them. He was quiet, you know? A thinker. Didn't make a lot of friends."
"If Miguel is the guy who knew him best, we need to talk to him."
"I'll give him a call, have him come in."
"Hey, man, it's good to see you! What's up, Kev?" Miguel Santiago wasn't much taller than Esposito, handsome, with a stocky build and piercing, dark eyes. The men exchanged back slaps in greeting.
"Thanks for coming in. Let's go into the break room where it's a little quieter," Esposito replied, leading Ryan and Miguel away from the bustle of the bullpen.
"Is everything okay?" Miguel asked as he settled himself on one of the lumpy couches.
"There's no easy way to say this, but Andy was found dead in his apartment this evening," Espo said, his voice soft.
Miguel swore under his breath, covering his face with his hands. He stayed that way for several long moments, before swiping at his eyes as he lifted his head once more. "Are you serious? No way."
"Sorry, bro. I know you two were tight."
He sank back against the cushions. "I just can't believe it. What happened?"
Esposito sighed. "We're still trying to figure that out. It looks like he might have been poisoned."
Miguel swore again.
Ryan broke into the conversation, his blue eyes wide with sympathy. "Listen, you were his best friend. Did he have any enemies? Anyone who wanted to hurt him?"
Miguel shook his head. "No way. Espo can tell you - Andy didn't make friends easily. He's - he was - a gentle giant."
"No girlfriend? No one new in his life?"
"Actually… actually, yeah, just recently I think he started seeing someone."
"Wait, what? Are you telling me Andy had a girlfriend?" Espo raised his eyebrows.
"I'm not sure. It was right around the time that Chrissie left me, so I was a mess, man. Andy stopped coming around like he used to, and I think there was a woman involved. He never said anything, though, so I never knew for sure."
"Chrissie left you? After just a few months?" Esposito blew out a deep breath as guilt crept over him for not paying attention to his old friends. "I can't believe Andy would keep something like that from you."
"Yeah, sorry man. I should've kept you in the loop. And yeah, Andy was spending a lot of time and money on the broad, but he never let me meet her – I got the feeling that maybe she was bad news, you know?"
"No way, man. Andy was smart, he wouldn't have gone for someone who was trouble."
Ryan shuffled in his seat awkwardly. "Hey, I know this is hard, but I have to ask - where were you on Friday night?"
Miguel shrugged. "I was at work till late, then I stopped by Artie's bar on the way home, like I do most Fridays. I hadn't seen Andy for a few weeks, just with life happening. Listen, would it be cool for me to stick around for a bit, see how this plays out?"
A knock sounded at the break room door, and Vikram popped his head in. "Uh, guys? You know how you asked me to look into Andy's financials? His credit card was active twenty minutes ago."
"The card was used at the country club in the Oakfield Ridge gated community in Greenwich, Connecticut."
The group, minus Castle, was gathered around the murder board: Ryan and Esposito giving Vikram their full attention, Miguel hovering in the background as if he was unsure he was allowed to be there but desperate for any information they had. Kate already had a whiteboard marker in hand and scrawled the information as Vikram spoke.
"A country club in Connecticut?" Ryan echoed.
"Why does that name sound familiar?" Kate mumbled to herself, tapping the whiteboard marker on her chin.
"I can't see Andy being the country-club type." Esposito was squinting at the words as if they were written in a foreign language.
"No, but his mystery woman might well be. We don't know anything about her," Kate replied.
Esposito frowned. "So how do we do this? Want Ryan and me to head up there and start asking questions? Would they even let us past the gate?"
Ryan looked at Kate. "Can we get a warrant? Without one, we probably can't find out who used the card."
Kate pursed her lips. "Even with a warrant, there's not a high chance. That kind of club prides itself on discretion. There's unlikely to be cameras at the bar, and the staff are paid to not remember those kinds of details."
Vikram lifted a finger as he spoke, as if raising his hand in class to get attention. "Going by what I've been able to find so far, the country club is exclusive to members of the community."
"So that narrows our pool of suspects down to – what, about a hundred and fifty people?" Espo fixed him with a solid glare.
Vikram shifted his weight. "Roughly."
Ryan sighed. "And without an invite from a resident or a warrant we won't even get past the gate."
From behind them, Miguel spoke up "You guys are cops! Can't you… I don't know, go undercover or something?"
Before Beckett could ask why Miguel was listening in, Esposito nodded, brightening. "Hey, yeah, why not? Whaddaya say, Ryan? Think I could pull off the country club look?" He shoved Ryan in the shoulder when the others started to chuckle, and rounded on his partner for joining in. "Why are you laughing, man? I can totally be country club."
Miguel was the first to recover from his amusement. "You, bro? That place is full of rich white people. Only way they'd let you in is if they thought you were the gardener."
"And even then, they'd look through you, not talk to you," Vikram added.
"No, man, you need someone who would fit in with them, someone who reeks of money, not of cop. Someone like…"
He was interrupted by the elevator doors opening and Castle's jovial voice ringing through the bullpen. "Here you go, Captain, one peppermint white chocolate, just as the little one ordered- Ooooh, Oakfield Ridge, Connecticut? You didn't tell me you got a new lead! Didn't Bob Weldon say at my book party that he had just come from a function there, hosted by the Police Commissioner's sister? Remember, Kate? He said she was a fan, and that we should head up there some time to meet her."
Kate accepted the drink and gave him her patented 'I'm in love with a goofball' look as she sipped, while everyone else stared at Castle, open-mouthed.
"...Someone like them," Miguel finished.