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Bam, said the lady! Behold, I present to you all my first Castle fic that is not Lanie/Esposito-centric (all though they WILL be IN it; I'm still me, after all). XD This fic is my attempt at writing an actual episode - and I mean it: I'm setting it up like an episode and everything. There'll be about six chapters, ish, and each chapter-break will be a "commercial break." Time-wise, the setting is whenever. I'm even going to start it with the real episode intro (unnecessary I know, but just to get your head in the game), and lyrics from a song after that, which would be playing if this were a real ep. It'll have all the main characters, a crime from beginning to end, and if I do it right, plenty of epicness. ^_^ So just sit back, relax, and tune in… Oh, and I do not own Castle.

And yes, I'm aware that the title of this story is reminiscent of Castle's novel At Dusk We Die. And the song in this chapter is "Rag And Bone" by The White Stripes.

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There are two kinds of folks who sit around thinking about how to kill people. Psychopaths, and mystery writers. I'm the kind that pays better. Who am I?

("I'm Rick Castle."

"Castle."

"Castle."

"I really am ruggedly handsome, aren't I?")

Every writer needs inspiration, and I've found mine.

("Detective Kate Beckett."

"Beckett."

"Beckett."

"Nikki Heat?"

"The character he's basing on you!")

And thanks to my friendship with the mayor, I get to be on her case.

("I'd be happy to let you spank me.")

And together we catch killers.

("We make a pretty good team you know. Like Starsky and Hutch. Turner and Hooch."

"You do remind me a little of Hooch…")

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Well I,

Hope you got something shoddy for me,

Everybody got a Christmas tree,

Can you part with a toilet seat?

Ah-jump up, ah-jump up, ah-jump up

C'mon and give it to me -

Almost sunset, a sidewalk near Seventh and West Fifty-Eighth. What seasoned New Yorkers have come to know as a 'sidewalk sale.' Some know it as 'trickle-down economics.'

Whichever name, there are scavengers.

"Over here?"

"C'mon."

"You sure none of this junk belongs to somebody?"

"Ha! If it did they ain't want it no more."

"Shut up."

"I'm sure, now hand me that and start grabbin.'"

"Better be. Last thing we need's to get killed for tickin' off the wrong guys, takin' their crap."

It was an ironic choice of words.

All it took was moving the cracked lamp a little to the right, lifting one dilapidated cardboard box. That was all the young couple had to do. Got to do.

A human arm fell like string from the furniture pile.

Then the whole body.

Blood trickled, red reflection on two ashen white faces, and four eyes saw horror in the two on the pavement - blank, clouded, and resting eternally within a broken skull.

- So take a last lick of your ice cream cone,

And lock up what you still wanna own,

But please be kind, And don't rewind,

All of your pretty, your pretty little

Rags and bones…

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"Femoral artery. Severance of." Whoosh.

"Garroting." Whoosh.

"H…uhhh, hired hit."

"Nice."

"Thanks." Whoosh.

"I.V. overdose." Whoosh.

Downtown. A Koosh ball flew across the bullpen of the twelfth precinct. It was just after eight p.m, and most of the detectives had gone home in the dwindling, purple-gold daylight that filtered in, leaving the Homicide floor empty enough for slacking. The ball traveled from the hand of Detective Javier Esposito at one desk, to the palm of Detective Kevin Ryan at another. And back again. And back again.

"Uhh…jugular. Slit." Whoosh.

"You're slippin', bro. Gotta think faster. Keel-hauled." Whoosh.

"Ligature. And shut up." Whoosh.

Neither of them noticed the NY and PD parting as the elevator doors slid open, but they were at least vaguely aware of Detective Kate Beckett walking out of them. "'Sup," Esposito said, while Ryan nodded in her direction. Esposito caught the Koosh.

She really should have counted herself more surprised than this. As it was, the female detective arched one sculpted auburn-brown eyebrow as she came to her intended stop at Ryan's desk. "I'll probably regret asking but…what are you two doing."

"Word game," Ryan answered.

"Ways to die." Esposito sailed the ball over to his partner.

Ryan one-handed it, lobbed it back. "Each corresponding to a letter of the alphabet. In order."

"You drop the Koosh, you lose."

"Flub a word, you lose too."

She could have figured it was something like that. Beckett crossed her arms. "Uh huh. And what does the winner get?"

"Pride. And the right to take on Castle."

Yep. She wasn't naïve enough to say 'now I've heard everything,' but if she had been, she'd be making that comment right now. "Much as I love the idea of Castle losing at his element, something tells me neither of you have seen pride or the odds in a very long time." Producing a cardboard shipping box from the desk behind her - one that the boys hadn't even seen her bring in - Beckett enjoyed watching their expressions shift as she dropped it by Ryan's nametag with a thud. "Since you guys are so into pulling overtime, Evidence needs some help sorting claimed items for pickup."

Esposito shook his head incredulously, chucking the ball back toward Ryan…but Beckett intercepted it.

"Hey!" Ryan made a face at the intercept.

"Now." She kept the ball in the hand she'd caught it with and tried not to smirk in triumph. It sounded so much more like an order that way.

Resigning to his fate, Ryan picked up a folder from the box. "You're getting way too much enjoyment out of this. Spoilsport."

"She's just jealous." A two-foot shove-off off his desk, and Esposito zoomed over on the wheels of his rolling chair. He braked beside the chair that Beckett had pulled up and took the gloves she handed him, but not the eyeroll. That he ignored.

"Keep talking, Esposito, and I'll make sure you're Captain's first-draft pick for Saturday night duty."

"Like hell you will."

Ryan's impish chuckle was half drowned out by the sudden bleating of Beckett's cell phone, but that didn't stop his partner from throwing a 'whatever' scowl over at him and shaking his head. Setting down the few small, labeled plastic baggies she'd pulled from the shipping box, the she-detective stood up, lifted the device to her ear and used a thumb to flick it open, taking a few strides toward the direction of the Captain's office. "Beckett."

In the background, Ryan whispered, "Saved by the bell?"

"Don't jinx it bro."

"Uh-huh…really." At this point, drowning out moronic jabber was as much a second nature as it was an art form, and Beckett's complete focus remained entirely on the caller on the other line. Her expression was all business, taking in the all the information she was hearing and immediately logging it in her brain for later. "Yeah. Okay. Thank you." Snapping her cell shut, she walked back to her team at Ryan's desk, pulling off her rubber gloves and grabbing her coat from the back of her chair. "That was Dispatch. We've got a body near the park."

"Washington Square?" came from Esposito. He was already standing and following suit.

"Nope, Central."

"Yesss," Ryan hissed under his breath, bolting to his feet, and couldn't help but smirk when his relief earned him a light pop upside the head from Beckett.

"So glad you're happy about this, Ryan," she teased dryly. "You want to tell the family or should I?"

"I'm just not gonna respond to that."

"Saved by the bell, bro," Esposito confirmed, the three of them piling into the elevator. "Saved by the bell."

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Richard Castle was staring at his watch. And not because he froze time.

"Hello?" he called. It had been five hours. Five. Hours. What had started as a simple suggestion to spend more time together as a family had very quickly degenerated into that which he feared most: shopping. That's right; his biggest terror wasn't being held at gunpoint, or getting punched in the face or shot at or kidnapped while shadowing Beckett and the Twelfth…it was the notion of spending hours upon slug-like, endless hours in department store after department store, dragged uselessly along as his mother and daughter gabbed animatedly in She-Talk about the clothing items that would soon be another notch on his credit card.

Not that he ever minded lavishing Alexis with whatever she wanted. But had he mentioned his mother?

"Hel-lo-o," he tried again, craning his neck toward the back area full of brightly-lit, mauve-striped fitting rooms that he didn't dare brave on his own.

A stall opened, and a curtain of strawberry hair poked out, messily framing a porcelain face. "Dad, what?"

"Nothing - I stopped hearing girl-chatter. I was just making sure you were still in there and hadn't found the rabbit hole to Wonderland." Thinking, he added, "Without me, anyway."

Alexis sent her doe-ish baby blues for a roll. "Dad, we haven't been that long. I'm almost done, I promise."

"And your grandmother?" he asked knowingly, raising an eyebrow.

"Will…probably get kicked out when the store closes."

"Mm-hm."

"But, if it's any consolation I swear this is the last one," the teen rushed.

Rick smiled. It was inevitable. "I'm kidding, sweetie, no hurry."

"Well of course there's no hurry: a woman can't develop her sense of style overnight," the second stall announced grandly. The door of it unlatched and swung out, revealing the incomparable Martha Rodgers in a low-backed, apple-green evening dress, with sleeves so voluminous they might as well have helped the pilgrims set sail. The grand dame walked out into the center of the wall-length tri-fold of mirrors, turned, twisted and pivoted to examine her look from every angle. "What do you think?"

Flicking an incredulous glance toward his daughter and back, Castle's raised eyebrow might as well have never left. "I think…nothing says 'I'm betraying my real age' like neon?"

"Oh, you," Martha scoffed, shooting a quick look at her son. "And it isn't neon, it's spring…what about you Alexis, what do you think."

The prodigal daughter studied the dress for a respectable number of seconds before lightly wrinkling her nose. "Sorry, Gram, it is a little bit too…"

"Showgirls?" Rick guessed.

"Vibrant," Alexis amended. "And, not…in a good way."

"All right, all right, I may see your point." With a fleeting 'watch it, buster' glance toward Richard, the diva smiled fondly on her granddaughter. "You see? There are ways to tell a woman when something just isn't right for her. Thank you dear. Richard, you ought to learn a thing or two from this girl."

"Oh, I do daily," the bestseller smiled again, watching as the Empress of Eccentricity whooshed back into her dressing room stall. His eyes moved back to Alexis just as a pink flush swept the young girl's cheeks.

"Thanks dad. And…for the record, if I ever did find the rabbit hole I wouldn't go without you."

"Ah, always good to be reminded. Anytime pumpkin." Alexis ducked back into her stall to finish swapping one something-or-other for one in a different color, and it was then that a tinny rendition of 'She's A Lady' began playing from Rick's jacket pocket - the latest in a long slew of ringtones that meant only one person: Detective Beckett. Grinning in anticipation, he pressed 'accept' and lifted the smartphone to his ear. "Well hel-lo, Detective, I'm assuming there's been a murder - either that or you heard my subliminal cries for help from the clutches of my shopaholic mother."

"Your cross to bear, Castle, at least your logic is intact. …Well. Somewhat."

The writer's expression went flat in surprise. "Ryan? You're not Beckett…"

Clearly. The detective's smirk could be heard through the phone - he chose amused confusion over insult. "Uhh, very good…?"

Rick was still incredulous. "But…it's Beckett's ringtone."

"Yeah, I called you on her phone. Mine ran outta battery and she's behind the wheel in the Crown. Which ringtone, 'I Fought The Law' still?"

"…Yeah, sure." Just nod along: so much easier than risking exposure. A friend, yes, but Ryan's loyalties lay with the boss who lay with the gun that'd make him lay with the fishes. The change of subject came swift and undeterrable. "So! Who, what, and where?"

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The 'where' was simple. West Fifty-Eighth Street near Seventh Avenue, half a minute's jaunt from the Essex Hotel. The flash of CSU cameras would have been blinding to the subject they were bombarding, if someone hadn't already permanently beaten them to it. Yellow tape crisscrossed the scene in excess, barring gawkers from getting in, evidence getting out, and all forms of designated law enforcement began to swarm to the junk pile like roaches. The snapshots didn't cease.

"Vic's name is Ayumi Walker." This was Esposito's brand of 'hello,' having walked up to meet author and muse as they arrived on the core of the commotion. He and Ryan had avoided the traffic on Broadway and beaten them by a good five minutes; a fact both knew better than to point out to Beckett. For all they knew, each longer route she took in the silence of her own car was just another excuse that she desperately needed to clear her head before the scene. As for Castle, the only issue he faced was catching a cab in New York. It was a miracle they'd even arrived together. "Twenty-six. Seems like somebody took 'er out with the trash." Having relayed all this to his colleague, he sent a greeting nod Castle's way. Distracted by the fracas, the writer returned it.

Detective Beckett's watchful eyes roved in a circuit around the perimeter before her long neck craned back, allowing her to take in the multiple stories of the building above her. So we won't rule out a fall, not without… In fact, she could amend that right now. Without moving her gaze, she asked Esposito, "Do we have a C.O.D?"

"Sure do. Lanie's got the rundown, but the jist is: B.F.T. to the back of the head."

Lanie's got the rundown. In her ever-expanding mental file cabinet, Beckett made a note to pick at the significance of that statement later on, his sheer unawareness of the subtext almost bringing a grin across her lips. Almost. Murder deserved respect, and colleague-ribbing had its own place too.

For those first few seconds she'd almost forgotten she had Castle in tow.

Clearly, that wasn't going to last. Contemplatively, the novelist's scruffy head turned in all directions from his place flanking Beckett, absorbing every little thing about the scene that could still fit in his imagination-filled head. The second he heard the cause of death, his face adopted an odd mix of confusion and disappointment, facing Esposito. "Blunt force trauma?" The male detective nodded to confirm the acronym. "Isn't that kind of - pardon the pun - done-to-death?"

Really, when had Beckett had a reason to roll her eyes before Castle came along? It was getting to the point where she didn't remember those days. "I don't think our killer's biggest concern was being unorthodox, Castle." Post-dry reprimand, she moved around the men, going closer to the pool of drying blood that so many would shy away from, crouching next to the layed-out body, and the white sheet and M.E. that came with it.

"Hey girl." Doctor Parish took a moment out of her steady work to shoot a little smile at her best friend.

"Hi Lanie." Kate's eyes were locked fast on the still face of the young woman, so it was only natural that the next words out of her mouth were: "What do we know about her?"

"We know she put up a hell of a fight," the M.E. said appreciatively, raising her eyebrows and raising the hem of Walker's tank top with her pen. A mottle of purple-black bruises covered her skin. "These are relatively fresh: I'd say within fifteen minutes pre-mortem."

"Fifteen…so the person who gave her this could be entirely different from our killer."

"Could be," Lanie agreed, "but I think before you start with any speculation, you might want to get a look at the murder weapon."

That sent Beckett's eyebrows northward. "They found the murder weapon?"

Lanie nodded. "Dumpster around the corner," a voice confirmed, but it wasn't hers. The fact that it was male and heading towards them was the first clue. Beckett looked up in time for Ryan, gloved and holding a dent-twisted metal rod, to appear beside her, and she stood to meet him, taking it carefully as her eyes went to his.

"What is it?"

"Hang on…" Castle had that tone again. Beckett knew that tone, and she'd decided since day one that it got on her last good nerve almost every time. The mystery writer had made it a habit to always carry a pair of evidence gloves in his pocket, and he pulled one on in a hurry, taking it from Beckett's hands almost as soon as it'd left Ryan's.

"Castle…" she warned.

"No, no, I know what this is."

"Like the time you 'knew' that the ex-wife killed her husband to open a patisserie in Nevada?" Ryan cracked.

"That doesn't count; my blood sugar was all screwy…" A rather quick comeback for being so distracted…he turned the crooked, bloody shaft over in his hands, studying the damaged handle of the object as if frantically looking for something.

It was frantically chiseling Beckett's patience. "What, Castle…"

"Ah!" Satisfied, he pointed to the end eighth-inch of the carved wood handle, where a rim of gold paint was still clearly visible. "See? I'm right."

"About what?"

"This. It's from Spencer & Rourke."

Ryan's face went processive. "Spencer & Rourke…the department store?"

For the record, he would be the one to know that. Castle let it go. "Thee department store. It's one of those…'there-for-your-convenience' top-hook-reacher thingies. They use this kind exclusively."

"How can you be sure?"

Writer-boy pulled an 'oh, come on' face. "I'm sorry: I live with two women, and the one who raised me practically funded at least three of Stella McCartney's gold-plated swimming pools by herself. You really want to bet that I don't know my way around Manhattan retailers?"

Point taken. Ryan raised his palms by way of a 'whatever you say,' then one of the CSU guys called his name, and he nodded, taking his leave from them. Almost immediately he was replaced by Esposito - they seemed to trade off - and Beckett turned, walking around the body, arms folded, 'examination face' on.

"So, get this," Esposito started. "One of the uniforms recognized the murder weapon, so I just got off a confirmation call. It's from - "

"Spencer & Rourke," Castle and Beckett said, almost in unison. Beckett hated that.

Esposito blinked, his eyebrows knitting a bit. "…Yeah…okay, so, you two. Psychic again. Awesome." Was so not even going to ask. He got a couple looks for his dryness there, but they'd have been dumb not to see it coming. Served them right for saying the same thing at the same time.

"Have them dust it for prints," Beckett ordered. "And I want a full list of all the S&R employees. If Ms. Walker was one of them there could have been a beef with a coworker."

"Whatever happened to 'love your neighbor?'" Castle deadpanned.

"Also, get some of the guys over here to dust the furniture…I know it's a long shot but someone had to have hidden her like this; they might have left something."

"No-go," Esposito announced, shaking his head once. "They already did. Nada. Said it was too public; there must be a hundred sets of prints on everything. Might as well try and find a needle in a haystack."

Castle raised his eyebrows. "Or a good parking spot in Soho," he supplied.

Glancing across the body at her medical friend, Beckett asked, "Lanie, can you pinpoint time of death yet?"

"Had to be somewhere between eleven last night and one this morning, if body temp doesn't lie. And if it does, lividity doesn't."

"So the store was closed," Beckett concluded. "She wasn't killed there, not with security locks like any respectable business has anymore."

"Not to mention the alarm timers. And closed-circuit cameras," Castle added.

"But why would someone just have one of these lyin' around?" Esposito noted, nodding at the hook in Castle's hands.

"Couldn't be that hard to steal one; they're not tagged like merchandise." As soon as the theory came from Lanie's lips, she remembered why she avoided chipping in pitches with the detectives, feeling the eyes burning a hole in her head that meant she's just woken the banter monster.

Contrary to that thought process, all Esposito sounded was amused. "Didn't peg you for a 'bourgeois retail' girl, Doc."

The petite doctor's eyes rolled full circle. "Then maybe you shouldn't peg me as anything. Now if you'll excuse me, this is my dead body? Step back, Denzel."

He took that as a behavioral reference. "I wasn't acting."

"I know, that was more of a physical description." Esposito grinned at that. Loudly. Without looking up or pausing, Lanie added, "And wipe the smug off your face before I hurt you."

Yep, that was as close as they were gonna get to flirting today.

Castle leaned in to Beckett, suffocating giddiness. He whispered discreetly. "Have we bet on them yet?"

But, as was only natural, ignoring all of this was Kate's Olympic sport. Only one person on this scene had held her full attention from the start.

The late Ayumi Walker. Unavenged.

Pivoting on the toe of her black heeled boot, she found Esposito. "Who reported this?"

The other detective nodded a ways down, at two shaken-looking ragamuffins wrapped in emergency blankets. "The two kids who found the body. Nick Bailey and CeeCee Ward. Said they were just tryin' to save a few bucks when our vic fell out."

Beckett's decision was made without hesitation. "Bring 'em in," she instructed, turning to go. "As witnesses, they're all we've got."

And if there are more out there, here's hoping we find them, she added silently.

It didn't take any prompting for Castle to follow on in the detective's cherry-scented wake. Like usual, he'd been noting her every move.

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"But it's much too strong to let it go now… We meet ev'ry day at the same café, six-thirty and no one knows she'll be there…"

She exhaled heavily. She let her eyes roll back and massaged her temples and tried to block it out. Still, Detective Beckett was one step away from jamming her head through the elevator wall.

"Holding hands, making all kinds of plans…while the jukebox plays our favorite song…"

Seriously. He had to be done now, right? He was going to get the hint and shut up? If she had to hear one more breathy, showtune-y second of…

Nope, he was taking a deep breath for the chorus, making his Vegas entertainer face. "Me and Mrs. Jo - "

That was it. "Castle!"

The man flinched. Actually flinched. It was kind of satisfying. When he looked at her, he looked kind of like she'd just pressed the button on his shock collar - something she often wished she actually had, by the way. "What?"

"Can you not. Sing. In the elevator. Thank you."

"…Where can I sing?"

"Nowhere."

"Fine." Castle faced straight forward, his hands folded in front of him, but he still had to get the last word. "But I wouldn't have to if you guys piped some elevator music in here."

"We like quiet," Beckett said brusquely.

"Yes." Just as the lift emitted its pinging noise and the doors began to grind open, he looked at her, waggling his eyebrows. "So I've noticed."

God. She wanted to strangle him. She really did.

Beckett power-strode out of the elevator and made a beeline for her desk, stacked heels clacking against the finished floor, hair swishing back slightly as she walked, not bothering to turn back and see if Castle was about to pop up beside her at any second. It wouldn't surprise her…but as it happened, he didn't have to. Halfway to her desk, another figure fell in step with her, and she barely had to glance to know who it was.

"What've you got for me, Detective?"

Keeping stride, Beckett handed over the folder she'd carried up, hot off the printer. "Ayumi Walker, twenty-six, found ditched in a poor man's sidewalk sale, B.F.T. to the head."

Captain Montgomery turned the folder over in his hands as he scanned it and gave a sympathetic cluck. "How cold can people be."

"Oh, pretty frigid, sir."

"Any leads?"

"Ryan and Esposito are bringing the two that found the body in for questioning; other than that, we're running down employee records to see who might've had the easiest access to the murder weapon."

The captain handed the pages back and nodded at his star detective before taking the next exit toward the offices. "See to it."

"Yes sir." No sooner did Montgomery depart her right peripheral than Castle re-inhabited her left, having tailed them the whole way. "Let me ask you something," she said seamlessly, "did it ever occur to you to not to stalk other people's conversations?"

"Novelist's habit," he quipped back, not missing a beat. "Besides, therein lies the definition of 'shadowing.' You're supposed to poke around people's mail, listen in on their phone calls…hey, haven't we had this conversation before?"

Now she whirled on him, unable to beat back the playful smirk from her face, stopping him in his tracks with a folder to the chest. "Why, Castle? Repeating yourself getting annoying?"

He grinned too; that big, crooked, oafish grin, like a thing you busted out for special occasions. "Oh, I see, I get it, that's supposed to be a hint, isn't it. You're funny, Detective."

"I thought so. And there's a point in there too." Beckett continued her walk, making deskside pit-stop only long enough to deposit the file and take a sip of the lukewarm coffee that had been sitting there for the past half hour.

"Um, ew."

She set the mug down, wiping her lip with a fingertip. "Beggars can't be choosers."

"Then we really need to get you to Caffeine Addicts Anonymous."

"I've got a better idea." Facing him for a moment, Beckett's eyes hinted across the bullpen. "How about we talk to our conveniently-placed couple and you stop inputting on my coffee habits."

Castle caught the amused - or maybe just amusing - undertone in the detective's voice, and his eyes followed her back as she walked toward the interrogation room, his feet copying her footsteps moments later. "Sounds like a plan. But no promises about the second part."

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"Mr. Bailey. Ms. Ward."

Given the circumstances, it was decided to question the twenty-four-year-old scavengers as a couple, and from where Detective Beckett was standing, they looked a lot more like a concern of the Narcotics floor than Homicide. Then again. She wasn't naïve enough to think the two couldn't be connected.

She could also be wrong. But that one was less frequent.

"I'm Detective Kate Beckett." Stepping past the heavy door, she made a point to get to her seat slowly, almost wandering. Studying. Thickening the air.

It worked. "Look, whatever you cops think we done, we ain't done it," Nick blurted, sitting forward in his chair as if propelled. The way he fidgeted only solidified Kate's guess.

"Wow. That's a little defensive," Castle noted, walking around her and taking his usual seat, hands folded. "Don't you think that's a little defensive, Detective?"

"Who is this guy?" Ward asked snottily, glaring at Castle.

"This is Richard Castle, he's a consultant." After all this time that was still the most convenient word to use. Besides. Beckett was determined to keep her cool. And, more importantly, to stay in control. She sat, giving a level look to the two across from her, and she let a beat of silence fall over them before she continued. "You know, you two have a pretty heavy rap sheet for so little time. Most of the charges were theft, two of them possession…"

"So?"

In her head, Beckett marked Nick Bailey as 'impatient.' They were going to have that in common today. "So, I'm having a little trouble believing that your involvement in this starts and ends with finding her body."

It was CeeCee who sat forward now, her raccoon-y, mascara-caked eyes as wide as saucers. "We didn't kill nobody! Are you serious?"

"Yeah, she pretty much always is," Castle threw in offhandedly.

Not always, Castle. Kate leaned across the table, folding her hands in front of her. Everything from her posture to her game face radiated 'don't screw with me.' Very clearly. "Then tell me what you know."

Across from her, arms folded. She received stares only, and radio silence.

It wouldn't stop her. "Look," she said evenly. "I'm a homicide cop. I don't care about your history of theft and if you're using, that's between you and your dealer. Right or wrong, I don't have the power to put you away for that. That's not what I'm here for, and that's not what you're here for. Right now, we're all here because I know you know more than you're saying about Ayumi Walker." The detective waited, watching as her witnesses absorbed that like misguided sponges. Then: "…Are you ready to talk?"

Somehow they got the feeling that there wasn't a second option. For the thousandth time, Castle was taking mental notes.

CeeCee was the first to speak, after sighing so heavily that the actor's studio would be pounding on her door, if she had one. "We didn't know 'er. Didn't even know 'er name or nothin' right? We just saw 'er sometimes back when - "

"Hypothetically…"

" - back when we used to…run the S&R once in a while."

"We didn't even know the chick was dead until we find all this free stuff and then bam, there's a prize inside."

"You two used to shoplift at Spencer & Rourke," Castle confirmed.

"Yeah, maybe, so what?"

Now Nick Bailey was in another category in Beckett's head: 'ignorant.' Still, as unlikely as it was, he'd just breathed life into her theory from half an hour ago. "Ms. Walker was an employee?"

"Whatever 'er name is, yeah."

"When was the last time you scored there?"

"Dunno. 'Bout…two weeks ago? Nothin' major, couple necklaces, crap like that, make a quick buck."

"And you definitely recognize Ayumi Walker."

"He just told you, she worked there." Come to think of it, CeeCee Ward was pretty high on the detective's 'impatient' list too.

Castle's silence in the last few seconds came to an end, and you could tell what came out of his mouth had something to do with a brand new theory, ridiculous or otherwise. "Did Ayumi ever catch you two? Press the little alarm button, turn you over to the manager…?"

Motive, thought Kate. He's looking for motive.

They wouldn't find any, not from these two. "No," Nick huffed immediately. "'Sides, manager there's one scary mutha. He's the kind'a guy you wouldn't wanna tick off on the wrong day."

Ignoring the fact that Castle and Beckett were both leaning forward now, eyes widened, CeeCee seemed all too ready to chime in. "Oh, yeah, the last time we went by, we go in and all we see's that chick just yelling at this tall skinny guy, but dangerous, y'know? And he's yellin' back, sayin' all this 'I should fire you right now' crap. Me and Nicky, we didn't even go in, we got outta there."

Castle looked at Beckett. Beckett looked at Castle.

Houston, we have a lead.

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"Eduardo Vidal."

Esposito came to a stop in Beckett's path, then turned and followed her on it once the freshly-faxed sheet had traded hands.

"What do we know?"

"Get this. The guy's a former illegal. Turned himself around in the nineties, did the corporate ladder, then got promoted to store manager at Spence & Ro a couple years ago."

"And this address is current?"

"Sure is."

Castle couldn't help but look giddy. This was always the exciting part.

"Grab Ryan and follow us there," Beckett instructed. "Time to chat with Mr. Vidal about his 'employee policy.'"

With a nod, Esposito was gone, and Castle reclaimed his place just as the elevator doors began to close. "If I had to guess," he commented, "I'd say it's pretty strictly enforced."

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And, cue the little "duh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh!" with the title and the nifty pen. XD I know it's not the most shocking pre-opening-credits bit, but the case epicness will come later: and TRUST me, I've got plenty of it planned. ;D Right now I just wanted to include some fun moments with all our favorite cast members, so I'm hoping that came through.

Every time I make promises about the post date of the next chapter, I end up failing miserably, so, I won't. But it shouldn't be long.

ALSO. I say this on every story, so here it is: if anyone 14 and over is interested in joining a Castle roleplaying forum, check out the bolded paragraph in my profile. Thank you. ^^

SO! This is a new way of doing this for me, so I hope you guys liked it - I LOVE knowing what you liked, specifically, so PLEASE take a minute and review; reviews make my day. ^^ Thanks everyone! Next chapter is in progress.

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