Rubber Match – Chapter 19

It was a nice mid-morning, the sun was shining and there was hardly a cloud in the sky, making it a good day for a stroll in the park. As Andre walked down the path in Central Park, he enjoyed a cup of coffee, taking slow lingering sips as he waited for the call. Spotting an empty bench, he stepped over and sat down, leaning back and taking a long slow breath through his nostrils. He absently watched as a young couple walked past him, their hands laced together, shoulders bumping as they both stared at the other, smiling stupidly.

Andre scoffed and turned away, raising the cardboard cup to his lips to take another sip of his coffee.

The shrill sound of his cell phone rang out across the silence. Ducking his hand into his jacket, he pulled his cell out and hit the receive button, holding it up to his ear.

"Is it done?" he immediately asked, not even bothering with pleasantries, knowing exactly who it was that was calling him.

"It is," came the cold voice of his colleague.

"Good, hopefully with his confession she'll stop digging into the superfluous details," he speculated hopefully.

"I doubt it," his colleague answered.

"How so?"

"She's already found a tenuous link between the realtor's death and the shooting in May."

Andre was silent, his brow lowering as he pondered the implications of this.

"You were sloppy, my friend," the other man spoke. "You should have ditched the SUV during the summer."

Andre's jaw clenched as he held back a sharp retort. "What of the congressman?" he asked. "You were told to make it clean."

"It was."

"No, it wasn't," Andre snapped back, raising his voice. "The Secret Service is involved now. It…," he caught people looking his way and ground his teeth in frustration before continuing, at a much lower volume, "It complicates matters."

"I can handle it," his colleague asserted, short and confident.

Andre scrubbed his hand down his face, and sighed. "I have no doubts about that," he replied.

There was a gap in the conversation, and Andre could barely make out the faint sounds of murmured conversations and ringing phones.

"You there right now?" he asked.

"For the moment, yes."

"I think it's getting too dangerous, you should pull out," Andre said, at length, having thought about this the previous night.

The abrupt termination of Congressman Henry Fenton had not been his idea. The man had been their asset within Congress. It was fear that had held him in check. Fear that his multiple affairs would come to light if he didn't obey the orders given. But he'd grown anxious recently, having received a warning from a mysterious figure, who had called Fenton's congressional offices in D.C. with an offer… and a threat of exposure.

It had been blackmail, plain and simple. Normally they would have dealt with it easily, but not so in this instance. The anonymous blackmailer held all the cards. It appeared that somehow he had gotten his hands on certain files that would expose the whole organization. And those files could not go public. Andre's employer made that very clear.

To further exacerbate the problem, Fenton had then turned nervous rather quickly. The fool had wanted to call the Justice Department and confess his complicity in certain illegal activities. In the end, the boss had decided they needed to silence him in order to protect ongoing business ventures.

So, it had been left to Andre to see to things. He called an old friend, who had already been planted within the entire complicated mess, to fix the situation. Besides, that was one of his aliases: The Fixer. And despite Fenton's loss, they could always easily recruit another congressman to replace him. They were a dime a dozen, after all.

"No, such a course at this juncture is premature," the Fixer replied over the phone, sounding irritated with Andre's attitude. "I'm in a prime position to monitor the situation. Despite her thickness on certain matters, Beckett is still a highly intelligent and capable investigator, and is not pleased with the Feds taking over the Fenton case."

"More reason to abort the surveillance and pull out," Andre argued. "You're too close to influence the case in a beneficial direction without notice."

"It is not your decision," the Fixer said after a pause. "He trusts my discretion. So should you."

Andre raked his fingers through his hair, sighing in frustration. "Alright," he relented. "We'll keep you there for now." He glanced at his watch. It was approaching noon. "See about speaking with your contact soon. The boss wants a more detailed report on the situation."

"Fine," he hissed.

And then the line was disconnected. Andre pulled his phone back and stared at the screen. This was a dangerous game they were playing. He had been cautious when he planted someone in the precinct, but the boss wanted someone close to the detective. Andre chose the best. He'd worked for them before, but he was a lone wolf, who didn't like working with the rest of the pack.

Pocketing his cell, Andre took another sip from his coffee, his eyes skidding across the open field where families and young couples sat out on the green, obliviously unaware of everything else going on in the world.

XXX

"I can't believe this… the guy confessed?" Esposito asked incredulously, his eyebrows knitting together. He arched his neck to peer towards interrogation room two, where Greene and his lawyer, Gary Quinn, were still working on the written confession.

Beckett sighed and gave a nod. "Yeah," she groused, squinting her eyes, feeling the hints of a headache forming. She brought her fingers up and rubbed her temple as a preventive countermeasure. This case just seemed to be one major headache. Even with a confession there were still too many loose ends for her liking. "Just doesn't sit right with me, you know?"

Esposito inclined his head in agreement. "Seems odd that he's changing his tune now."

"I think it's the lawyer," Beckett admitted, still glaring at the door to the interrogation room. "I mean… Greene seemed scared of the guy."

Ryan popped up from his chair, causing Beckett and Esposito to turn around to face him as he came dashing over to them, a slight grin brightening his youthful features. "So I did some digging," Ryan informed them, holding up a printout. "Turns out Greene's telling the truth about 'The Fixer'. I got a buddy down in Major Crimes, confirmed the alias for an infamous hired gun. And this," he held out the single page printout, "is all they've got on him."

"One page?" Esposito raised his eyebrows. He let out a low whistle.

"I know, bro, the guy's a ghost," Ryan said, flipping the page over to hand it to Beckett.

She took it and glanced over the summary. She frowned when she noticed that portions of the file had been blacked out. "Most of this has been redacted," she complained.

"FBI's doing," Ryan said. "Apparently the Feds aren't keen on sharing that much when it comes to 'The Fixer'."

"You think he works for one of the families?" Esposito asked.

"Wouldn't surprise me," Ryan shrugged. "Though, he more likely works freelance. My buddy in Major Crimes says that his alias is linked to numerous hits from all the major mob families and cartels, and not just here in the States, but overseas as well. Seems that the Russian Mafia is particular fond of his services."

"Damn," Esposito was impressed.

"Well, I don't see much here," grumbled Beckett as she put the redacted file down, adding it to the growing number of reports and papers on her desk. "All I can tell from this is his MO."

"Which… just so happens to fit the two that we have," Ryan said, turning to look at the murder board, even though there was only one case on display, a case that they'd soon be closing, since Greene was in the middle of working out his confession with his lawyer.

"Easy there, Ryan. In case you've forgotten, the Fenton case isn't ours," Beckett reminded him, much to her vexation. She pushed off from her desk and stood before the white board, giving the crime scene photos a sidelong glance. "He's the Feds, remember?" She sighed and rubbed the back of her neck. "Though, we should still probably check out Greene's story."

"Huh?"

She glanced at the boys, suddenly remembering that only Hank had been in the observation room while she'd interrogated Greene. She quickly filled them in on how Greene told her that 'The Fixer' had him buy the gun and drop it for pick up behind a trashcan in the alley running alongside his apartment building.

"You want us to check it out?" Ryan asked, catching on quickly. "See if we can find any fingerprints?"

"Yeah," Beckett nodded, raising her wrist to quickly glance at her watch. She bit her lower lip when she noticed the time. She should probably call Castle and cancel their lunch date. She hated to do it, but the case was really starting to pick up some speed, and she really wanted to find out more about this 'Fixer' guy.

"You got somewhere to be, Beckett?" Esposito asked, giving her a knowing look.

"No," she lied with a shake of her head, not convincing enough, even to herself. "But we are on a deadline here. Hank's working on the paperwork right now, I'll tell him to go as slow as possible… but it won't be long until the DA's office files charges and the captain shuts us down."

Ryan nodded, eager and ready. He was already rushing back to his desk to snatch up his keys. Esposito hesitated, looking at her with uncertainty, as if he could tell she was holding more back. She met his gaze, almost challenging him to say something. It wasn't until he blinked that she knew he wasn't going to push.

"Okay," was all he said in recognition of their little stare off. "Yo, bro! Wait up! He hollered after Ryan as the other detective stepped into the open elevator.

Beckett watched them go, wanting to go with them. It wasn't that she didn't trust them to do their jobs. It was just that this particular case was important—more so for her, as it was somehow inexplicably linked to her mother's murder and the shooting in May—and for those reasons, she didn't want to leave any stone unturned. Sighing, she reached up and brushed back some of her hair before dropping down into her chair and grabbing her cell phone.

She held it in her hand for a long interval, staring at the illuminated screen as it displayed her contact list. Her thumb hovered over his number as she chewed on her lower lip, having an internal debate. She wanted to see him, almost desperately so. Beckett felt pathetic with her need, but she couldn't really help it anymore if he was her one weakness.

"Stop stalling," she hissed out, annoyed at herself. "Just make the damn call."

Gritting her teeth and furrowing her brow in worried anticipation, Beckett let the pad of her thumb brush against the screen, activating the phone. She heaved in a breath for courage and brought her cell up to her ear, listening to the ringing. Beckett drummed her fingers along the desktop as she waited, feeling her heart rate pick up as a odd nervous energy entered her chest, enveloping her with no resistance on her part.

Four rings. Nothing. He wasn't picking up. She pursed her lips and told herself not to worry. He could be in the shower, or absorbed in his writing. Beckett was quite aware of how the rest of the world would fade from his attention when he was working on a story.

Two more rings and she'd hang up. She was not going to leave a message on his voicemail. Not with this call. It felt wrong to do so.

One ring. Two rings.

She sighed, ducking her head. It was time to hang up before she became even more pitiful than she already was. Beckett began to pull the cell phone away from her ear, readying to hang up, when the third ring was interrupted halfway through.

"Rick Castle," came his voice, he sounded out of breath, like he'd been running or in the middle of his physical therapy.

"It's me, Kate," she said, immediately feeling ridiculous. Of course he knows it's you. Grounding her teeth at her own ineptitude when it came to doing anything that was remotely close to dealing with an actual relationship, she ducked her head down, resting her forehead in her palm.

"Kate?" his voice came out in a surprised gasp. Just the sound of her name on his lips was a balm to her soul.

"Am… Am I interrupting something? I… I could call back."

"No… no, not at all," Castle hastily assured her. "Gitmo Joe says we're done."

"Gitmo Joe?" Beckett frowned.

"My physical therapist… sorry, personal trainer, apparently being called a therapist insults his manhood," Castle explained, rambling slightly.

"Is he giving you the evil eye?" Kate smirked, couldn't help it. Trust Castle to always bring a smile to her lips.

"Uh… yeah, he is," he replied, playing at being affronted by such things.

Kate heard something that sounded like a laugh, and some shuffling, followed by the muffled sound of a door closing. She could just imagine Castle pressing his phone against his chest and rushing away from his personal trainer to avoid receiving any amused looks from what the man could hear of Castle's side of their conversation.

"There… finally some privacy! You know, I think my metrosexuality scares him," Castle's happy voice came back, all carefree and humorous. She could practically see the enormous grin on his face.

Kate laughed lightly, freely. The smile broke across her face without restraint or hesitation, and Beckett knew she had him to thank for that. Castle was the only one who could brighten her day so quickly, with just a word, look, or smile… someday she hoped she could add 'a touch' to that list, possibly even 'a kiss'—yeah, she longed for that last one the most.

"You sure you aren't hiding from him because your gushing like a schoolgirl?" she asked, chuckling softly.

Castle laughed in return, so bright and happy, it eased her heart to hear him do so. He was made to laugh and be free of sorrow. His capacity to see the light in the dark was one of the things she loved about him. It startled her a bit that she could finally admit that to herself, if not yet to him. Kate knew that she needed to repair some things first, before she could be that open with him, and tell him just how much he affected her… but then again, Castle knowing just how much of an affect he had on her might not be a good thing.

"Calling about lunch?" he asked, pulling her out of her thoughts. "'Cause, now that I'm done here with Gitmo Joe, I'm starving."

Kate bit her lower lip, now feeling guilty about canceling. But she needed to focus on this case. She dropped her hand and fiddled with the edge of one of the numerous papers on her desk. "Yeah, about that? Can I get a rain check on lunch?"

The other end of the line went silent, saved for his labored breathing, a result of whatever exercise routine he'd been doing before she called. The only acknowledgment she got that he'd heard her was a long sigh of disappointment. Kate lowered her head, ashamed, as she ran her fingers through her hair.

"Stuck on a case, huh?"

She was nodding before she remembered that he couldn't see her. But he didn't seem to need to see her to know she was confirming his question.

"Okay," he continued, his voice soft and forgiving. "I understand. I… damn… I was really looking forward to it."

God… she didn't deserve this man. He was far too willing to let things slide when it came to her. But Kate was not above looking a gift horse in the mouth. She was beyond grateful for his understanding, and she wanted him to know just how much she appreciated it and reciprocated his eagerness to finally start something up between them. It wasn't going to be much, just a lunch date at Remy's—they'd done that plenty of times, but this time was going to mean something more than just two colleagues grabbing a bite to eat.

"I know, me too… and I feel terrible, but this case… we broke some leads that I want to follow up on, and I just don't think I'd be able to actually get away for lunch," she rushed out her explanation, not trusting her voice to not crack. It was eating her up inside to cancel on him. "I was really looking forward to it, though. Really." She sighed, feeling her cheeks flush as she let more slip. "God, Castle, I really wanted to see you today."

He was silent as he absorbed that admission. Kate blushed with embarrassment, having not intended to say that much.

"Kate, it's okay," Castle assured her. She could hear the tender understanding in his voice, the empathy. Oh, she so did not deserve him. But she wasn't letting go. She was shameless with her want for him.

"Thanks, Castle, I… I really appreciate it, and I do want to have that date… I really do," she asserted, wanting him to know that she was in this; that she really did want to try at a relationship outside of their working partnership. A real relationship. A relationship where she did not have one foot out the door, just waiting for it to fail. She wanted it with him. She wanted it like she had never wanted anything before. And she desperately hoped it would lead to something amazing and wonderful… dare she say… magical.

"Hey," oh, she recognized that tone of voice—an idea had struck him, and he was barely containing his excitement. "If you can't come to lunch, how about I bring lunch to you?"

She paused, staring off into space. That… she hadn't thought of that possibility. It had been so long since anyone came to visit her at the precinct. A few friends dropped by now and then, and, in the past, the occasional boyfriend would show up to pick her up after work to take her out or back to his place… or hers, but she'd never had someone—that is, outside the job—stop by just to bring her lunch.

Kate dragged her lower lip under her teeth and contemplated his suggestion. She wanted to see him, desperately so. And if she was honest with herself, truly honest, she couldn't care less if anyone noticed how much she wanted him. It was almost time for her lunch break anyways. So there shouldn't be any harm in allowing him to stop by.

Upon hearing the familiar ding of the elevator, she glanced up, spotting Hank meeting a pretty blonde woman. As she stepped through the sliding metal doors and approached him, he leaned forward and lightly brushed his lips against hers, almost shyly. Witnessing her partner greeting his wife for lunch strengthened her fledgling resolve.

If other detectives could have spouses stop by for lunch, then why couldn't she do the same? It wasn't like Castle would be shadowing her again. He wouldn't be coming in to consult. He'd just be stopping by for lunch. The captain couldn't boot him out for that.

"Yeah, Castle, I'd like that," she breathed out, smiling, feeling lighter, like a weight had been lifted off her chest. She probably looked like a grinning fool, but she couldn't care less, especially when it was him making her smile. Kate hadn't been aware of just how much she wanted—no, needed—to see him, but she did. What did that say about her? She didn't know. But right now, she didn't care. She just wanted to see him.

"Great!" Castle enthused. "Let me just hop in the shower, and I'll be there in thirty."

Oh, awesome… now she was having visions of him naked and wet, droplets of water cascading done his back, over the contours of his muscles towards his… Kate flushed hot with an embarrassing amount of sudden arousal, right there, in the middle of the precinct. She needed to get this conversation over with before she embarrassed herself anymore.

"Right, okay," her voice was way too breathy than it should have been. "I'll… I'll see you then, Castle."

"See you soon, Detective."

And then he hung up. God… the way he said her job title was just too damn sexy. She wanted to hear him say that like the again, in that same seductive tone as he kissed his way down her body, making promises of deliciously naughty things. Kate swallowed, and closed her eyes, scrubbing her face with her hands, trying to calm down, cursing her body for reacting to him like it did. He wasn't even there, and her body still responded. Since when did she become such a horny teenager?

Since the day he walked into your life, that's when, a voice in her head supplied.

Letting out a long sigh, Kate rubbed the back of her neck and glanced up at the digital clock on her computer. Okay, thirty minutes. She could last thirty minutes. She just needed to distract herself. Looking down at her desk, she noted the redacted file. Yeah… that should do it. Picking it back up, Beckett knitted her eyebrows together and read it again, this time paying special attention to every little detail.

XXX

He left a disgruntled—nothing new there—Gitmo Joe to pack up the blue workout mats as he rushed out of the living room, through his office and bedroom, until he was situated in the attached ensuite bathroom. He cranked the knob to high and literally jumped into the shower. After hanging up the phone, Castle could hardly contain himself. He was a little disappointed that they couldn't have their date, but he was still going to see her, and that was the important part.

The water was freezing and he startled back, ashamed of the girly yelp he let out when the chilly spray hit his skin. Goosebumps immediately materialized along his arms and he shivered, instinctively wrapping his arms around himself for warmth. He turned his back to the showerhead, figuring his back would be able to handle the cold better than his front, which held certain regions that weren't too fond of the cold.

Castle took a deep breath, trying to soothe his rapidly beating heart. He felt kind of lightheaded, and it wasn't from the extensive torture—exercise—that his taskmaster—personal trainer—had put him through. No. Not at all. He felt like a schoolboy with his first crush, which was insane, right? He frowned, utterly baffled and confused. He was Richard Castle, playboy extraordinaire. He'd had countless rendezvous with any number of women, yet now… now of all times he was feeling anxious and nervous.

If he knew anything at all, it was because this time it was different. It was important… far more than important! Kate Beckett was not just some ordinary woman. She was the woman. The one that had changed his life, made him believe in more than just himself. She opened his eyes to a world of possibilities, a world he had long ago written off. But now he was there, standing on the precipice of something amazing… beyond infinitely amazing.

Kate Beckett was the one. He'd never been a romantic, never truly believed in such a thing as soulmates, but that had changed when he met Detective Katherine Beckett. She was extraordinary. The singular most brilliant woman he'd ever met. Since the day he first met her, he couldn't take his mind off her. She was always there, lurking in the background, waiting to pounce. His creative side manifested her in Nikki Heat—a release valve for the passion shimmering beneath the surface. At the time, he had had no idea just how much it would take him over.

There had been a few instances over the years, especially the times he'd felt the terrible pang of heartbreak, when he hated himself for loving her. Yet, despite all the times he'd tried hiding in distractions and unfortunate mistakes, Castle could never get away from it… from the truth of the matter, which was he was in love with Kate Beckett.

Love.

It was an emotion that filled him to the brim, almost suffocating. And it just wasn't an infatuation. He'd had those before—Sophia Turner, to name a few. Even, to his eternal shame, neither of the two women he'd married could fit into that sadly small category of women he'd loved. Besides his mother and daughter, the only woman he'd truly loved had been Kyra Blaine. When she left him, he'd felt crushed and abandoned, like his whole world had been snatched away and there was no possibility of ever seeing the light again.

And he'd given up on love.

But then he met Kate Beckett, and his world changed.

It had been a long and hard road, Castle mused as the water finally began to heat up. Watching from the sidelines as she dated another man had been difficult. To be honest, it had been more of a struggle than he had originally believed. He had been trying to be the better man. To be happy in her happiness, even if that happiness was not with him. But now things had changed. And finally for the better. He was feeling optimistic that there was actually a light at the end of the tunnel, a true chance of a happy ending, a thing he'd long since given up on as being nothing but a fairy tale cliché.