Rubber Match – Chapter 22
Castle couldn't help but smile at his good fortune. The most he could have hoped for today was to sit down and have lunch with Beckett—maybe work at scaling that wall of hers—but never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined going out with her on a case, even if it was just a post-case briefing with an interested third party… helped, too, that said interested third party was the Governor of New York.
Sitting in the back of the town-car with Beckett and Keener, Castle wracked his brain, trying to remember if he'd donated to or attended any of Governor Howard's fundraisers. He wasn't really that political himself, unless it came to Bob. He was tight with the Mayor, and since they were friends, Castle did like helping out when he could.
He glanced over at Beckett, watching as she flipped through her notepad, her lips moving silently as she reviewed her case notes. Castle could tell by the way her brow furrowed that she was nervous. After all, it wasn't everyday that a NYPD Detective got called in to brief the Governor of New York on a highly intricate and complicated case that involved one of the FBI's most wanted.
His lips pursed together as he allowed his eyes to flow over her, reading her as best he could. Despite the obvious nervous anxiety about meeting with the Governor, Beckett seemed quite calm and content. Castle leaned back against the soft leather cushions, pleased—and pleasantly surprised—when she had not objected to riding along with them. The Kate Beckett he knew would have balked at such luxury, but this Kate Beckett just took it all in stride and had ducked her head down, climbing into the high-end town car like it was no big deal.
Her eyes lifted up from the pages of her notepad and she glanced over at him with… was that a smile on her lips? He frowned, confused. She seemed different. There was no 'closed-off' vibe radiating out as she looked at him. She was generally happy that he was there… maybe even relieved. He shifted on soft cushions, suddenly uncomfortable.
Swallowing down his rising emotions, Castle tilted his head away, barely catching her bringing a hand up to flip back some of her hair, in a manner that was far too alluring to be legal, and focusing back on her notes. He watched as they weaved through the afternoon traffic, occasionally letting his attention wander to the lives of those outside…
A cabby was barking at a cyclist, who was blocking the way.
A little girl was tugging on her mother's jeans.
Two teenage boys were trying to be oh so subtle as they ogled the large billboards with barely clad supermodels.
And finally, an elderly couple were holding hands and lost in each others eyes, still very much in love after all their years together.
Castle couldn't help but lose himself in that image, and he cautiously turned his eyes back to Kate, wondering if that could be their future. God, I hope it is, he thought, gazing longingly at her as she adorably knitted her eyebrows together in concentration.
They stepped off the elevator on the penthouse floor, and were immediately confronted by security personnel. Castle held up his arms and parted his legs, submitting to the indignity of a quick pat down. The Secret Service were not taking any chances. Beckett looked just as enthusiastic about the security check, but she relented, tossing him a knowing look of shared humiliation. After Beckett's badge number was confirmed and they were both cleared, they followed Keener down the hall.
Castle scooted up next to Beckett. "If I had known I'd be groped at, I would have requested that female Secret Service agent who was feeling you up."
Beckett snorted out a short laugh. "It's protocol in this PC era," she said, glancing at him quickly. "She had to be the one to pat me down so they could avoid accusations of sexual harassment if a male agent's hands had lingered too long on certain… areas. If it was really important to you, Castle, we could have just swapped places. Besides, the guy patting you down was kind of cute." When she looked at him again, he noticed that her eyes had a gleam of a mischief nature to them.
He stopped in his tracks, mouth agape, unable to form a coherent comeback. Beckett pursed her lips in a tight smile, suppressing a laugh as she shook her head at him. She paused and turned back to stare at him, raising her eyebrows expectantly.
"You coming, Castle?"
An involuntary shiver ran up his spine as he conjured up other, more pleasant, scenarios in which Beckett would utter those words to him, with a wholly different meaning. Her lips quirked up in a devious little grin and he narrowed his eyes at her. Oh, she knew exactly what she was doing to him, didn't she?
Huffing out breath, Castle picked up the pace to catch up with her. Beckett waited for him. When he caught up, he gestured for her to continue down the hall. She nodded with a knowing smile, before walking over to the door to the penthouse suite that Keener was holding open.
"Great idea, Jimmy. You're lucky I'm on your side, otherwise I'd be tempted to warn your opponent."
A boisterous laugh filled the room as Castle ducked inside, following closely behind Beckett. So close, in fact, that he could smell the whiff of cherries in her wake. Keener led the way, and they rounded a corner, finding themselves in a luxuriously appointed lounge, with large windows providing gorgeous views of the city.
Two men were standing by the window, each with a glass of scotch in hand, smiling amicably. The older of the two turned and smile broadly. "Looks like Kenneth is returning with Nikki Heat," the man laughed, giving his friend a wink. It was hard not to recognized James "Jimmy" Howard. The man was a giant in New York politics and was a shoo-in for his party's nomination for presidency. Castle didn't know the man beside him, but he looked familiar.
Governor Howard put his glass of scotch down on a side table and stepped forward, extending his hand to Beckett. "I'm very pleased you could take time out of your hectic schedule to come and talk to me, Detective Beckett," he said, voice smooth and charming. Always the politician.
Beckett smiled and shook his hand, inclining her head. "No problem, Governor," she said.
Howard cocked his head and looked over her shoulder, spying Castle. "I was unaware that Richard Castle was still shadowing you," he said, and before Beckett could respond to correct him, he was stepping around her to grab a startled Castle's hand, giving him a firm handshake, his other hand gripping Castle's forearm. A politician's handshake. "I'm a big fan, Mr. Castle."
"Thank you, sir," he smiled, having trouble reconciling the fact that he was shaking hands with the man who was probably going to be the next President of the United Sates and was a fan of his books.
"Please, call me Jimmy," Howard enthused, clapping Castle's shoulder in a friendly manner before stepping back and gesturing for them to take a seat.
Castle looked to Beckett for direction, and followed as she sat down on the couch facing the windows. Howard dismissed Keener with a wave of his hand and then sat down on a leather armchair across from them. The other man stepped over and took a seat in the other armchair, swirling the scotch in his hand before taking a sip.
"This is my friend Bill," Howard introduced the middle-aged man. He was smartly dressed and Castle could sense the camaraderie between the two men. Greetings and pleasantries were exchanged before they got done to business.
Castle sat back and watched as Beckett gave the Governor the bullet points on the case. Peter Beynon, a real estate agent, had been found shot, execution style, in the back alley behind an erotica store. His murderer was a hitman who went by the codename 'The Fixer'. Beynon's business partner, Timothy Greene, had confessed to hiring the hitman to kill Beynon. Congressmen Henry Fenton had also been murdered, in a similar fashion… and the MO matched that of the 'Fixer'. The Secret Service was handling that case, but she was willing to tell the Governor all she knew about it. Howard inclined his head, and Beckett nodded before going on into what she knew about Fenton's case. Yes… all very interesting, Castle thought, knowing full well that Beckett was leaving out the really juicy stuff, the stuff that showed links between her mother's case and his shooting.
He relaxed his back and clasped his hands in his lap as he listened to the sweet reverberations of Beckett's voice as she continued to explain the case to the Governor. It was more the sound of her voice he was hearing than what she was saying. She'd already informed him on the details of the case, so he really didn't need to hear it again.
As he continued to savor the beautiful quality of her voice—because no matter what she was talking about her voice was always like a siren's call to him—Castle caught sight of the Governor's friend staring at him.
He fidgeted beside Beckett, casting a sidelong glance across at 'Bill'. The man looked oddly familiar. There had to be a reason for that. Castle prided himself on being able to read people, and deciphering who they were. Castle liked to sometimes envision himself as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary Sherlock Holmes. But with the man sitting across from him, he was having a very hard time doing that. Yet, at the same time, Castle was getting the distinct impression that he should know who this man was, but he couldn't place a name—other than the one the Governor had supplied—with the face. Throughout the early part of the briefing, 'Bill' had been staring at him with an intensity that was beyond mere curiosity of a closet fan. It was like 'Bill' was sizing him up, searching for weaknesses.
Something was wrong.
Castle was getting a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach, and it wasn't indigestion. He swallowed and licked his lips nervously, glancing back and forth between the Governor and 'Bill'. He noticed that Howard wasn't asking any questions. He just nodded with each fact that Beckett provided. It was like there was more to this meeting than Governor Howard wanting to be kept informed about a potential threat to his person. After all, everything Beckett was currently telling him was nothing that the Secret Service couldn't have handled. Castle was beginning to suspect that this briefing was someone else's idea, but whose, he couldn't say.
He turned his attention back to Howard's friend, watching as the man sipped from his glass of scotch, watching both of them with cool calculating eyes. He was far too calm to be disinterested in the conversation and he seemed to have an interest in Beckett. The man's eyes kept shifting over to her now and again with a strange glint to them. And it clearly wasn't that he found her attractive and was appreciating her natural beauty. There was something else at work here.
Being him, Castle started to come up with wildly insane theories. And being him, the first theory to pop into his head involved spies. Perhaps 'Bill' was with the CIA or some other governmental agency and had roped the Governor into some clandestine operation that Beckett's murder investigation had intersected with. After all, those files about the 'Fixer' she'd told him about were all redacted. Maybe Congressman Fenton had been leaking classified materials and was secretly silenced by America's covert agencies. And now they were working on a cover-up. So first thing they needed to do was find out how much the local LEOs knew.
But that was absurd… and just… crazy, even for him. If that theory had been the truth, then some men in black would have already swooped in and taken over the case long before Beckett and her team had been called to the scene.
Shaking his head, Castle leaned back and tried to focus on the conversation going on between his favorite detective and the Governor of New York. But his mind wouldn't remain silent. When he was intrigued, he just never gave up… his steadfast determination to following Kate Beckett around was testament to that stubborn tenancy. Cocking his head, ever so slightly, he stared across at 'Bill', watching as the man scrutinized Beckett with keen, critical eyes.
And then, out of the blue, it hit him. As the man leaned further back into his chair and finished off his scotch, Castle suddenly remembered where he'd seen this man before. It had been on TV and on leaflets and billboards all throughout New York. 'Bill' was a senator, up for reelection. That's why he looked so familiar. And, judging by the obvious friendship between the two men, Castle would wager good money that the two were in the same political party.
"Mr. Castle, could I trouble you for an autograph?"
Castle blinked, startled out of his thoughts, as he turned to look up across at Governor Howard. "Um… sure yes, no problem, Jimmy," he cracked a grin, falling easily into the public persona he'd spent years crafting and honing until it was like a second skin. Howard grinned and pulled himself out of his armchair, disappearing into a backroom. Castle let out a breath and flashed a quick polite smile at Senator 'Bill', before tilting his head to look at Beckett.
"You okay, Castle?" she asked softly, giving him a questioning look.
"I'll explain later," he whispered back.
The Governor returned with a brand new copy of Heat Rises. "If I hadn't been so busy with the campaign, I would have attended the launch party. But as things are, my time is very limited, so I had an aide run over to the closest bookstore to get a copy."
Castle chuckled. "It was quite the party, Jimmy," he said, still finding it strange that he was talking to the man most likely to be the next President of the United States in such a familiar manner. He picked up the book and reached inside his coat pocket for a pen when he remembered he didn't have one.
"Here," Beckett murmured, handing him her pen, a smirk on her lips.
Their fingers brushed as she passed him the pen, and it was like electricity had zapped through his skin. Clearly, by her wide eyes, she'd had a similar sensation. Castle bobbed his head in thanks, and turned to the book, opening the cover to the title page to write out a personalized autograph for the Governor. When he was done, he closed the book and handed it to a very happy James Howard.
The Governor opened the book and read the autograph, chuckling with a smile. "Thank you, Mr. Castle, this is a really treat," his eyes sparked with amusement, and Castle smiled in returned, pleased that the Governor found his witty joke funny.
Keener stepped in. "Governor Howard, we're running late for the Neccos Foundation fundraiser gala."
"Oh, right," Howard said, nodding his head, he stood up, everyone following suit. He looked toward Beckett and Castle. "Again, thank you for coming, Detective, Mr. Castle. It is much appreciated." He shook their hands and then was being ushered out of the room by another aide. Keener remained behind in order to help direct Castle and Beckett through the penthouse suite and to the door.
When they were back in the elevator, heading down for the lobby, Castle turned to Beckett. "Is it just me, or was there something off with that other guy?"
She tilted her head towards him with a questioning look, raising an eyebrow, slightly perplexed by his 'out of nowhere' query. "You mean the Governor's friend?"
"Yeah," he bobbed his head, feeling somewhat foolish now that he was voicing his thoughts. After all, the guy was probably just curious about what was going on. Maybe Castle just reading too much into things. His therapist did say that he often displayed a slightly paranoid personality at times, and that he always seemed to compulsively look for conspiracies where none existed.
"You wouldn't believe… no, correction, you would," Castle laughed, self-deprecatingly. "But, at first, when he just sat there staring at us, and I was still confused as to who he was and why he was there, I actually kind of thought he might be CIA—" Beckett let out an amused snort, but didn't interrupt. "—But he just looked so familiar. It kind of bugs me that I can't place his name… other than the run-of-the-mill name of 'Bill' that Governor Howard introduced him with."
Beckett inclined her head, giving him a bemused, but understanding look. "Of course he looks familiar, Castle," she said, chuckling lightly. "His face is plastered on over half the billboards in the city. Bill, as the Governor called him, is Senator William Bracken."
She found it highly amusing how Castle was still so stunned that he hadn't recognized the senator. She took the opportunity to tease him for a bit, before backing down. Reaching over, being very bold, she thought, Kate placed a hand on his arm, giving it a reassuring squeeze.
"Don't beat yourself up over it, Castle," she said, her voice soft and soothing. "You've been kind of out of the loop for a while, focusing on recovering from a major trauma. That is more important than knowing about the current state of national politics."
"But still… he's our senator, I think I might have even voted for him in the last election," Castle said, sounding disappointed in himself for not remembering.
Kate sighed, and shook her head. Though, she got what he was saying. Castle prided himself on being very knowledgeable about the people he came into contact with, even if he didn't know them personally. He liked to think he could read them, find out what made them tick. She was like that too, in a lot of ways. But, as of right now, Kate believed Castle was being too hard on himself.
"Hey," she turned back to him, catching him staring off to space, a frown forming on his brow. "It's nearly five, and seeing how there's just paperwork left at the precinct, I'm going to call it a day." He nodded his head in understanding. "So… um… since we missed out on going out for lunch, can I treat you to dinner?"
"Dinner?" his eyes lit up, and Kate had to try hard not to let her beaming smile spread out across her face at seeing his gleeful reaction.
"Yeah, nothing fancy mind you, just burgers and fries at Remy's," she interjected before he could get carried away.
"And shakes," he hummed in approval. "Strawberry shakes."
Kate let her smile out at that, and nodded bashfully, attempting to stifle the flutter in her chest at the fact he still remembered her favorite milkshake. Right now, having milkshakes with Castle sounded far more appealing than going to some bar to get drinks, which had been her original plan. "So? What do you say, Castle? You up for dinner?"
"Absolutely," he answered without hesitation.
Her smile bloomed, brightening up her entire demeanor. All the other worries that stormed around her just seemed to float away when he looked at her like that, eyes warm and tender, with a hint of lust behind it all. She ducked her head, shyly, biting down on her lower lip, and averted her gaze as she tried to stifle the blush that was forming on her cheeks. She was being very bold today. More so than she ever had been before.
But that's what she had decided last night, when she had been lying in her bed wide awake in the middle of the night, unable to really sleep after the amazing time she'd had with Castle and Alexis at the loft. The family dinner atmosphere they had was marvelous, warm and comforting. And she wanted to be a part of that, to finally start living her life… living it with the man she wanted to be with… a man who was most probably her 'one and done'.
"Itsadate!" she blurted out, so fast that even she couldn't comprehend what she'd just said.
"Just for the record," Kate breathed out slowly, lifting her eyes up to meet his, trying to slow down her rapidly beating heart. "This dinner… me and you… this isn't just two friends going out to eat and catching up."
Before he could answer, as it was part of her sudden plan to speak it all out loud, Kate rushed out with it, practically screaming "Itsadate!" all over again. She gritted her teeth, wrinkling her nose in frustration, and cursed her anxious nerves.
Taking a quick breath, she rolled her shoulders, loosening her muscles and willing herself to relax. She flirted her eyes up to his, drawing strength from the awesome power of sheer adoration radiating out from his blue orbs. "Me and you… tonight… It is a date," she finally managed to get out. She drew in a quick breath and waited for his response.
Castle stared at her, long and hard, his eyes filled with such utter awe and adoration that Kate felt like she'd melt right there. Her breath remained still as he formulated his answer. Slowly, a small crooked smile formed across his face as he regarded her with eyes that spoke so much more than words could. And she wasn't afraid. For the first time since she could remember… she wasn't afraid.
"Agreed," he said, his voice soft and warm, so full of feelings. "It's a date."