1,3,6 15

Murder Hits Home

By Lorraine Anderson

Richard Castle looked up from his computer. The last time he had talked to Detective Kate Beckett had been a week ago. He supposed that this was a good thing – that meant that no-one was being murdered. On the one hand, he was getting a lot of writing done. On the other hand, life wasn't nearly as interesting without a good murder to investigate.

He stared at the blank page in front of him – maddeningly blank after yesterday's burst of energy – but then, the steamy sex scenes that he wrote for Nikki Heat seem to write themselves these days. For some reason, he wrote better these days when there was a real mystery to solve – writing gave his subconscious time to work on the murder, and vice-versa. He just loved it when reality trumped anything he could make up, yet today it was the other – distraction – that he truly missed and truly gave him inspiration.

He wasn't sure that Kate missed him. He thought so, but every time they actually tried to talk – well, something happened.

He sighed and went for distraction number three – e-mail threads and Facebook. What was his Yahoo writing group up to? He logged on under his pseudonym. After the problem with his mentee, Alex Conrad, trying to steal his muse, he decided he needed to encourage new writers in a more subtle fashion. His real name was a deep dark secret on this group.

So – what were they up to? As usual, Bruce Whitfield was enthusing about his new idea, Chad Herman was pooh-poohing, thinking that every idea that wasn't his own was crap, and Vicki Peart was trying to organize a group project which was going to make them a million dollars and be nearly as famous as Harry Potter. Or Nikki Heat. Actually, it wasn't a half-bad idea, which was why he was staying strictly away from it.

Besides – stories by committee? Preposterous. Writing was a solitary occupation. Sometimes you'll have the occasional writing partner, but he couldn't imagine writing with a committee looking over his shoulder.

There were five or six other active members – they had just posted stories and story ideas. He looked forward to checking out the stories.

His agent would have a hairy cow if she knew what he was doing. He knew he was setting himself up for plagiarism lawsuits.

But it was fun. And, after all, what were lawyers for?

He sighed, then stared. In the very next message, Bruce Whitfield mentioned that he was going to go to New York for business, and that he was going to try to find Richard Castle and ask him for advice. He wondered whether Castle's alter ego – Nick Rosencrantz – had ever met Richard Castle, since they were both in New York.

Castle quickly typed back that no, he had never met Castle, that he understood that he was a nasty recluse who hated meeting strangers, but hid it well during autograph signings, and various other lurid falsehoods about himself. Not that he believed that this guy could actually find him, but Bruce had hinted in the past that he had made the acquaintance of somebody who knew where he lived.

He sent it and sighed. Hopefully, this would discourage him.

He doubted it, though. Bruce sounded a lot like him.

Well, at least he could go down to the precinct and hide out for a while. He got up with a sigh, stretched, grabbed his coat, opened his door -

- and tripped over a body.

He twisted as he fell so that he landed on one hip and looked around rapidly. All he saw was the body. He looked closer. It was a middle aged man and – and – all he could see was blood. How long had the man laid there? Castle lifted up his hand to grab his cell phone.

Eeuw.

The man had bled all over the place. His hand was covered with sticky stuff.

He speed-dialed Beckett. "Beckett," he said, hyperventilating a bit. "You'll never believe what I tripped over…" He winced at his own unintentional pun. "Literally… Yes, a body. Really." He looked around. "Um, can I get up?"

#

Castle stayed in the hall, staring at the body until Beckett and her tag team showed up. "Middle aged male," he said to Beckett. "Comfortable clothes - slightly wrinkled. Normally wears glasses. Just recently got off a plane or a train."

Beckett looked at him curiously. "Did you touch the body?"

Castle pointed. "Boarding pass in his pocket. Unusual these days."

"Castle. Dude," Esposito said, "you're covered in blood."

"Yeah. I landed right in the blood pool."

"You know what that means, right?"

"I get the pool winnings?" Beckett stared at him, and he looked away. "Yes, I know. Everything I'm wearing is evidence."

"Except," the medical examiner said, who leaned down to look at the blood pool, "this isn't blood." Lanie swiped her finger in the pool, smelled it on her finger, then licked it. Castle made a face. "I think it's corn syrup and dye."

Castle's eyebrows rose. "I knew something seemed wrong here. I didn't smell blood." He made a face. "I should have noticed that."

"You're excused," Beckett said. "You just tripped over a body." She turned to Lanie. "So what did kill him?"

"Well, certainly not having his throat slit. I think you need to look for blood splatter." She pulled up his shirt. "There's the killing blow right there." Underneath the red – whatever – on the man's chest, there was a small wound that looked like it could have angled upward into his heart.

"Oh," Castle said. He looked closer. "Does the wound look a little - circular?"

"Yeah," Lanie said. "I noticed that -"

The elevator opened. "Dad!" Alexis screamed.

"Richard! Are you all right?"

"Alexis! Mother! I'm fine! Stay away!"

"Castle," Beckett said, "you know I have to question them. They may be witnesses."

"But do they have to look at the body?" he said, desperately. His daughter was hugging his mother, but she was looking, fascinated, at the body. Martha was trying to look anywhere but at the body.

"No, but they may have to look at a picture," Beckett whispered back. "Ryan, take them around the corner. And you… I need to process you."

"Good thing I'm right outside my place."

"You know we'll have to investigate your place."

He paled. "Damn." He thought about that newly written steamy sex scene.

Beckett raised her eyebrows. "Do you have something in there that you don't want me to see?"

He looked at her. "No," he said, then realized what he had just implied. "No, no, I don't. It's just the inconvenience. You're probably going to want my computer."

Beckett stared at him. "Not until you said that."

Castle realized he was digging himself in deeper and deeper. "Do you really want to read the next Nikki Heat novel now?"

Beckett rolled her eyes. "No. But let's get you in your place and out of your clothes."

Castle grinned knowingly. "That's the best offer I've had all day."

"Dad!" Alexis said.

"Sorry. Not in front of the child."

"Dad!" Alexis grimaced. "I'm not a child." She tossed her red hair.

"It's not that," Beckett said. "Lanie needs room to work, and she can't work if you're undressing out here."

Lanie grinned. "That would be a bit of a distraction."

"Right." Castle still grinned at her.

"Esposito, go with him," Beckett said. "I'll talk to Martha and Alexis."

Esposito and Castle looked at each other. "Yeah, Castle, not fun for me, either," Esposito said. They tip-toed around the blood pool and into the apartment. Alexis and Martha tried to follow, but Beckett stopped them. Castle saw her lead them downstairs.

"Dude," Esposito said, as they reached the middle of the living room. "Stand here. Let me look at you."

"Why, Esposito," Castle said. "I didn't know you cared."

Esposito rolled his eyes.

Castle looked at himself. Apart from the stylish clothes – now ruined – he didn't see anything out of the… "Hair," he said.

"I see," Esposito said. He plucked the hair off the gunk on Castle's hip and placed it in an evidence bag. "Fairly short, brown – could be yours." He looked closer. "There's also a gray hair."

"Could be mine, too."

Esposito looked at him. "Don't see any grey hair, dude."

Castle smiled. "Well, then, it's probably his."

Castle stood and chewed his lip. "I'd like to find out who he was." Could it be…?

"Why? You think you know him?"

"I might. I'm not sure." He thought back to Bruce Whitfield. Was it him?

"That's mysterious."

"Well, I'd rather not say until I hear the name."

Esposito stood back and looked at him. "O-kay. I'll see if I can find out."

"Don't be too…"

"Hey, Lanie, you have a name yet?"

"… obvious," Castle finished.

"Yeah," she said. "Bruce Whitfield. From Michigan."

"Damn," Castle said.

"You know him?" Eposito said.

"Yes." Castle said, staring out into the hall. "No. Sort of."

"Really?"

"It's a long story."

"Well, let's get you processed, and you can tell us the story."

"Do we have to go downtown?" Now that he was settling down, he just wanted to sit down and think about what had happened.

"Well… the recording materials are up there. Are you going to incriminate yourself?"

Castle was taken aback. "I don't think so. I've been writing – or trying to write – ever since Mother and Alexis left to go to a movie."

"Which was when?"

"About three hours ago."

"So you were here by yourself."

"So," Castle sighed. "I was here by myself. With only my computer for company."

"So, you've admitted you knew the victim and you have nobody who can verify your whereabouts. Bro, you're a suspect."

"I know…" He thought a minute. "You can check with my security system people."
"You have security system people?"

"I've had cameras up for quite a while."

"Lanie," Esposito said. "Do you see any cameras?"

Lanie blinked at him from the hallway then looked around. "I see a couple of places where cameras should be."

"Should be? You have to be kidding!" Castle yelled. "Did somebody…"

Beckett tiptoed around the body. "Martha said that your security company closed yesterday and took your cameras. You were out when they took them, and she forgot to tell you."

"Oh." Castle looked contemplative. "Usually things like this happen just in fiction."

Beckett grinned.

"You can look at the time stamp on my computer." He looked at her face. "I know, I know, that can be faked."

"We could look for a camera outside," Esposito offered, "and see who's walked into or out of the building."

"I'm still a suspect," Castle argued. "Just because someone walked in the building doesn't mean I couldn't have stabbed the man."

"Why," Beckett said, "would you have poured corn syrup and red dye all over him?"

Castle shrugged. "Because it's something I wouldn't do. I would do it to put you off of my tracks."

"Dude," Ryan said, stepping in. "You do realize that you're trying to convince us that you could be a suspect."

Castle thought for a moment. "I'm playing the Devil's advocate," he said, acting like this was what he meant all along.

"Well," Ryan said, holding up a milk jug that still had something red on the bottom, "if your fingerprints aren't on this jug, then you couldn't have poured the red dye on him."

"But," Castle said, holding up a finger, "I still could have stabbed him."

"Then," Beckett said, looking amused, "we will need to investigate everything."

"Oh. Do you have to?"

"Do you want to remain a suspect?"

Castle grimaced. "I suppose not."

"Then let us do our job."

"Right." He thought a moment. "Can I watch?"

Beckett rolled her eyes. "You've seen a scene being processed."

"Yeah, but not my own house." He looked earnestly at her. "This should be great research for my book."

Beckett blinked. "You're writing a book where you murdered someone?"

"Huh?"

"Never mind."

#

Hours later, Beckett went into Castle's office. He raised a finger and kept typing, then finished with a flourish. "Yes?"

"No evidence that you ever touched Mr. Whitfield."

"Yes…?"

"But Esposito says that you know Mr. Whitfield."

"I sort of know Mr. Whitfield." He typed on his laptop, then turned the computer around to show her. "Here."

It was a list of people on a Yahoo group. There were fifty people. "They're all writers?"

"They're all unpublished or barely published murder writers."

"So what are you doing on that list?"

"Well," and he turned a little red, "after Alex Conrad, I didn't want to stick my name out in the public. But I still wanted to help other writers."

"So…"

"So I created a pseudonym and signed onto this group, hoping I could gently guide some other authors to publication."

"Another pseudonym?"

"Well, I couldn't use 'Castle' – or even my birth name."

"Richard Rodgers."

"Right."

"So you signed on as…"

"Nick Rosencrantz."

"As in the courtiers in Hamlet?"

He looked at her in admiration. "Right."

"Because you were spying on them." She smiled slightly.

"Well," Castle looked at the desk, "not precisely."

"It's not illegal."

"Anyway, Whitfield was in this group. He said he was coming to New York, and he wanted to know if Nick Rosencrantz knew Richard Castle." He sighed. "The message was a day old. I wrote immediately and said that Richard Castle was a recluse and grumpy and don't even bother to try." He pointed at the offending message on the computer. "When I wrote this, he was already dead on my front doorstep."

"Which doesn't prove anything."

"No."

"Well," Beckett said, "if it means anything, I believe you. I know that anyone can murder anybody, but this is not your style. You would murder with more panache."

"Ah," Castle said. "That's what you think, but I could be…"

"Castle," Beckett said sharply. He cocked his head. "Shut up. You're not helping."

"Right."

"We've exonerated your mother and Alexis; security cameras and witnesses place them where they say they were."

Castle's eyes became round. "God, I never even thought they could be suspects." He thought a moment. "But I can see a couple of motives."

"Castle!"

"Shutting up." He looked at Beckett.

"I'd like your list."

"Do you think someone on this list…?"

"I think I should look at everything. Is there anyone local besides you?" Beckett tried looking over his shoulder; Castle found himself protecting the screen. As much as he liked to think she read his books, he really didn't want her to look at the computer right now.

It felt like he was keeping a dirty little secret.

Well, he was. He was back on that sex scene. He brought himself back to the topic with an effort. "Hard to tell… Most members don't list a point of origin."

"Well, we'll find out where he was going to stay, contact his family."

"I don't think he had any family. He's a widower, an only child whose parents are deceased, no children, and no girlfriend. I also got the impression that all of his friends were online, so to speak." He looked contemplative. "Kind of a sad sack, come to think about it."

"Well, we'll look into it," Beckett said.

"I'll give you the list."

"In the meantime," Beckett said, "I think you should come out to your writing group and tell them what has happened."

Castle blinked. "What? Why?"

"For one thing, it's a little creepy to hide on a group like this."
"People do it all of the time! C'mon."

"For the second, you might draw somebody out."

"How?"

"By appealing to them as Richard Castle."

He looked at her. "Well, I can try. I don't know if anybody will believe me."

"Well," she said, "it might bring someone out of the woodwork." She looked contemplative. "We might just accidentally leak it to the press, too."
"Geez, Beckett. I'm going to feel like I have a target on my back."

"Wear your 'writer' vest."

"I do."

"I mean, under your shirt."

Castle blinked. "When I said that I was going to feel like a target, I meant figuratively."

"I didn't, really." He looked at her. She was dead serious. "You can't go out of town; I have to treat you as a suspect. But I'm not so sure you aren't a target, too."

"Of what?"

"Well, this could just be accidental, but you are a celebrity."

"Me? Really?" His voice died out.

"You're friends with the mayor, your poker club is the elite of the mystery world, and you go to Hollywood like the rest of us go to the grocery store. You're a celebrity." She sighed. "This makes you a target."

"You think I'm being stalked by a nutcase?"

"Possible. I'd feel better if you came over to my place tonight and sent Alexis and Martha out of town."

Castle felt a slow smile come over his face. "Why, Kate…"

"Don't get any ideas." But she smiled. "I'm also asking Esposito and Ryan – as a favor – to play guard." She sighed. "If you're a target, then I'm a target."

"Ooo, a foursome!"

"More like a slumber party, Dude." Ryan showed up at the door. He didn't look happy. "With guns."

"My favorite kind." He turned serious. "I'm sorry we're taking you away from your fiancée."

"What else are friends for?"

Beckett slapped his shoulder. Her eyes were amused. "Pack what you need."

#

The next day, Castle sat at Beckett's desk, writing on his laptop. "I'm surprised you can concentrate here," Beckett said, coming up to the desk.

"When I'm on, you can put a bomb next to me and I won't flinch." He sighed. "When I'm not on, everything distracts me." He closed his laptop, got up out of her chair, and plopped into his normal chair.

"Ryan says that you snore."

"Yeah, well, when he changed off with Esposito, he snored like a steam engine." He pointed to his eyes. "See the bags?"

"Right."

He looked at her intently. "You have some news."

"Your fingerprints weren't on the jug."

"I knew that." He leaned forward. "So?"

"What you didn't know is that Mr. Whitfield's fingerprints were on the jug. And – Lanie found some of the dyed corn syrup at the bottom of the wound."

Castle made a face. "How could she tell?"

"Whitfield used a powdered food dye, rather than a liquid. It hadn't all dissolved."

"Yuch." He looked at Beckett. "So he poured this stuff over himself?"

"Any idea why?"

"Well, I am a murder mystery writer. Maybe he was trying to impress me by recreating a scene on my front doorstep?"

Beckett played with a pencil. "As I said yesterday. Creepy." She looked at the computer. "So – did you tell your group?"

Castle smiled ruefully. "Yeah."

"And?"

"They don't believe me."

"They don't believe Whitfield was murdered?"

"No, they don't believe I'm Richard Castle." He sighed. "They think that either a) I've gone nuts, b)—I'm trying to be better than I am, or c) I'm a troll who's taken over my account. In fact, the moderator has threatened to close my account."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

"Is your account closed yet?"

"No, not yet. I stopped posting."

"You have the moderator's e-mail address?"

"Yeah."

"Let me e-mail this person, from my NYPD e-mail."

"You have an NYPD e-mail?"

Beckett gave him an amused look. "I'll threaten to subpoena the website unless the person comes forward."

"Can you do that?"

She shrugged. "Probably not. But it's worth a try."

#

A little while later, she came by with a bemused expression on her face. "No luck?" he asked.

"Oh, no, your moderator is coming in right about now. She's a New Yorker."

"Really?"

"She also sounds around 80."

"Really."

"I guess I had the feeling that most of your group was pre-pubescent males."

"Um," Castle smiled. "Agatha Christie? Elizabeth Peters? Shall I go on?" He smiled again. "Not all computer geeks are under 40." He looked down the hall. "I wonder…"

A policeman pointed at Beckett. The lady came briskly up. She was barely five feet tall, had iron gray hair, and wore a determined look. She was wearing a skirt, blouse, and comfortable shoes, and she carried a large purse that also contained two knitting needles and a skein of red yarn. "You're Kate Beckett?"
"Yes."

"My name is…" She turned to glance at him and gaped. "You are Richard Castle!"

"And you're Vicki Peart."

She smiled shamefacedly. "My real name is Victoria Cole. I just liked Vicki Peart." She held out her hand. "I'm sorry I didn't believe you, Nick."

"That's fine," he said, folding her small hand in his own. "I wouldn't have believed me, either."

She blushed, looked admiringly at him, then turned to Beckett. "What do you need from me?"

"In here." She led Victoria into the interrogation room. Victoria looked at the microphones. "Procedure. We record everything."

"Of course," she said, looking askance at Beckett. "What did you say you needed?"

"I need names and addresses of all local people in your group. We are following all leads, but we have reason to think that somebody in your writing group may be involved in a murder."

She smiled. "I can't give you names and addresses, dear."

Beckett looked at her.

"Because I don't have them. Part of the reason we have this group is for those of us who wish to remain anonymous." She smiled at Castle. "Like Nick, here." She looked around. "But I could have told you this over the phone." She looked shrewd. "Something's happened to one of our group."

Castle looked at Beckett. She nodded. "Bruce Whitfield is dead," he said gently.

She looked shocked. "No!"

"He was stabbed on my front doorstep. Literally. I tripped over the body."

"I can't believe it." She looked at the "mirror" beyond Castle. "Do you know why he was murdered?"

"No. It wasn't robbery; nothing was taken. In fact, I'm also a suspect."

She looked at Beckett. "Then why are you in here?"

Beckett smiled slightly. "Where better to keep a suspect than in a police station?"

"True."

Castle sat back. "Whitfield said that he wanted to see me when he was in New York."

"Yes, and Nick tried to dissuade him, as I remember." She looked ruefully at him. "I don't find you grumpy or a recluse."

"You haven't been around him too much," Beckett said. "Do you know anything about Mr. Whitfield?"

"No, dear, not really," she said. "Just what I've seen on the list."

"Do you know of any other New York group members?"

"Well, there's Nick, of course, and myself." She shook her head. "Zackery Deonte lives in Queens, I think. And Corey Bernhard lives in New Jersey." She looked at Beckett. "We have a ton of ladies on line, but none that live around here, I believe." She looked back at Castle. "I'm surprised you're starting with the locals on the internet group."

"Well, it seems more likely," Castle said, "that he was murdered by somebody local who knows him than by somebody who followed him from Michigan."

"But we are checking numerous leads," Beckett said.

Victoria smiled. "Of course you are."

Beckett looked down at her sheet. "And where were you yesterday afternoon?"

Victoria smiled. "Home alone. With my knitting. And a good book." She stared at Beckett intently. "In other words, I have no alibi."

Beckett stared back, then stood up. "I think that's all for now."

"Let me know what happens," Victoria said, grasping at Castle's arms.

Castle shivered at her cold hands, but smiled at her. "Of course. I'll let you know via the group."

She slipped him a business card. "Here's my number."

He slipped it into his pocket. "Thanks."

After she had left, Beckett turned to Castle. "Did you find that a bit creepy?"

"Actually," Castle sighed, "I'm a bit used to it, at least from ladies her age. Except for my mother, of course."

Beckett snorted. "Of course."

#

Zackery Deonte was a huge man. His muscular arms were covered with colorful tattoos. Castle couldn't help but stare at one of a beautiful woman who had a passing resemblance to Beckett. "Nikki Heat," Deonte said, following Castle's gaze.

"Ah," Castle said. For some reason, he never thought that somebody would make a tattoo of Nikki Heat. His attention kept drifting back to Deonte's arm.

Beckett looked amused. "We asked you to come in because one of your writing group members was murdered."

"Oh, no," Deonte said. He looked shocked.

"It's Bruce Whitfield," Castle said gently.

Deonte gasped. "Whitfield's dead?" Deonte said.

"Yes." Beckett moved around some paperwork on the desk.

Castle was startled to see shock in the man's eyes. "I know," he said. "I was shocked to find it was him, too." He looked closer. "You know him?"

"We were collaborating on a story," he said. "A cozy."

"A cozy?" Beckett said.

"A mystery story that basically doesn't involve guns or hard-boiled detectives," Castle said.

"Unlike Nikki Heat," Beckett muttered.

"Well, yeah," Castle said. "I like the hard-boiled type."

"So that's why you like me."

Deonte looked from one person to the other. His eyebrows came up. "So," he said, changing the subject. "You're Nick. And you're also Richard Castle."

Castle sat back. "I am."

"What are you doing slumming with punk writers like us?"

"I wanted to help."

"And you ended up getting Whitfield killed."

"Whoa!" Castle sat back. "I didn't make Whitfield come to New York. And nobody knew that I was Nick."

Deonte dropped his face in his hands, then looked up. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that. It's just that I liked Whitfield. He was a good writer and a great collaborator."

Beckett had looked between the two with concern. "Mr. Deonte, where were you when Mr. Whitfield was killed?"

Deonte took a breath. "I was out with my husband."

Castle's eyebrows went up, then back down.

"You'll understand if we can't take the word of a domestic partner – a husband or a wife," Beckett said smoothly.

"We were at an art show that afternoon. My husband had a couple of pieces in the show." He shrugged. "Probably at least a couple of dozen people saw us there, and the gallery has video security."

"We'll check it out," Beckett said.

"Please," Deonte said. "And check out the gallery while you're at it."

"Do you know anybody who could have killed him?" Castle said.

He shook his head. "I collaborated with him, but I didn't know him that well."

"Are you the person he was referring to when he said he knew somebody who knew where I lived?" Castle said.

"Hell, no." Deonte said. "And even if I did know where you lived, I wouldn't have told anybody, even him." He looked at the table. "He was my collaborator, not my husband."

Castle smiled.

"You can go," Beckett said. "But stay in town."

"Of course," Deonte said. He got up, and Castle was struck by how big he was. He offered a hand. "It was good to meet you, Mr. Castle."

He quickly got up and took his hand. "I'm happy to meet you, too. And I just wanted to say that everything I say on line is from my heart."

"I appreciate that – Nick."

"I'm sorry, but I'm just curious. What's your day job?"

Deonte smiled. "I'm a construction worker. Can't you tell?"

Rick smiled back. "Of course."

#

"Mr. Deonte checks out," Ryan said, walking up to Beckett's desk.

"Good," Castle said. "My gut feeling said that it wasn't him."

"Yes, but, dude," Esposito said, "that means that you still have the most motive to kill him."

"Why?" Castle said. "Because he was going to ask me for advice?" He shook his head. "Have you guys ever known me not to give out advice?"

The pair looked at each other and grinned.

"Enough said. You know that I was more likely to ask Whitfield in for a drink."

"Hey," Ryan said, "you know we'll be your character witnesses at your trial."

Beckett appeared at the desk. "What trial?"

"The trial I'm not going to have," Castle said.

Beckett blinked. "Okay." She looked at her desk. Castle looked at the desk, then realized that she wanted to sit down. He picked up his computer and moved to the other chair. "What now?"

"The police are bringing in Corey Bernhard, the other person Victoria mentioned."

Rick looked at her with surprise. "The police?"

"Turns out that he had an outstanding warrant for uttering and publishing."

"Bad check, huh?"

"And he wasn't terribly cooperative when the police asked him to come in."

Castle sighed. "That never goes over well."

"In fact," Esposito said, pointing, "that looks like your buddy now."

Castle turned around. A skinny man was being led in wearing handcuffs. "You have no right! It's not my fault."

"Yeah," Castle sighed. "That's what they all say." He looked at the man closely. Unlike Deonte, Corey was tiny, extremely pasty white, and stringy. Castle could tell from where he sat that his clothes were dirty, and the closer he got, that he was smelly. He had a wild look in his eyes.

"You!" Bernhard said, pointing at Castle.

"Moi?" Castle said mildly.

"You. You caused this."

Castle raised his eyebrows. "How did I cause this? – oh, well, I did tell them to look for you."

"The check was only one hundred bucks! I was going to make it good!"

"I have no doubt that you would."

Beckett appeared. "Him. Interrogation room. Now."

The policeman sat him down roughly in the chair. "Thanks, Roberts," Beckett said. Castle, as was normal, followed her into the room.

"What is he doing here?" Bernhard said.

Beckett looked at Castle and raised her eyebrows. "This is our civilian consultant, Richard Castle."

Bernhard sat back suddenly, then stared at him. "Oh." He blushed. Castle looked at him bemusedly. "Oh. I thought you were the owner of The Old Haunt."

"The bar? Yes, I am," Castle said. "So you wrote a bad check there?" Beckett looked at him. "I have a good manager; I don't look at the day-to-day business."

"But aren't you Richard Castle, the writer?"

Castle looked him straight in the eye. "I am. I'm also Nick Rosencrantz. Like I tried to tell everybody on-line."

Bernard blinked. "Um. I haven't been on-line in a week." He glared suspiciously at Castle. "What does this have to do with the bad check?"

Castle resolved to forgive him the bad check; but with a look at Beckett, he knew it would be bad form to bring it up now. "Not a thing. This is a two-for-one," Beckett said, leaning over the table to look at him. Castle wondered how she could stand the smell. "Where were you two days ago, around 2:00 P.M.?"

"I was at the The Old Haunt." He mumbled. "I skipped work to go there." He looked up. "I paid cash."

"I'll call the manager," Castle said. "I'm sure he'd remember. Besides, we do have security cameras." He thought of his home. "Well, I think we do."

Beckett sighed. "Then he has an alibi."

Bernhard looked suspiciously at the two. "For what?"

"Bruce Whitfield is dead. On my front doorstep," Castle said. "In fact, I literally tripped over him."

"Whitfield's dead?" Bernhard smiled. "Good."

"Really?" Castle said.

"He stole my idea."

"Which idea was that?" Beckett said.

"Oh, my story idea," Bernhard said, frowning. "I shared it with him off the group. The next thing I know, he's posted a story with that same plot."

"Oh!" Castle said. "The one with the acrobat and the lion tamer?"

"Yeah!" Bernhard said. "You read it, too?"

"I told you that I was Nick Rosencrantz."

"That's right, you did." Bernhard looked wonderingly at Castle. "Why were you on there?"

"Long story," Castle mumbled.

"Unfortunately," Bernhard said, "that only confirms that I have a motive to kill Whitfield."

"Right," Castle said. "You remember that I don't get involved with the group like you do. Has anybody else been frustrated with Whitfield?"

"I think Vicki has," Bernhard said. "She told me that Whitfield did the same thing to her and that she was going to get him, somehow." He shook his head. "I always had the impression that Vicki was a sweet, young, little blonde."

Castle snorted. "Maybe she was, at one time…"

Beckett nudged Castle, then stood up. "Well, we're still going to have to keep you for the outstanding warrant."

Bernhard slumped. "I understand."

"You're going to cooperate?"

"Well, now that I know that I stiffed Nick Rosencrantz rather than some fat cat bar owner, I'll take my punishment." The police led him away.

Beckett sat there for a second. "What was that all about?" she said to Castle.

"As long as I was anonymous, I was fair game," Castle said. "Once he knew who I was, he felt guilty."

"Makes sense – I guess."

Lanie showed up at the door. "I really hate to admit this, but I missed something."

Castle looked up. "Really?" He was incredulous. Lanie rarely missed anything.

"Yeah. The CSI guys downtown did an analysis of the red dye – it was food coloring, like I thought it was – but they also found little tiny flecks of blue."

"Such as blue paint?"

She nodded. "Aluminum blue."

"I saw…" Castle looked at Beckett.

"Yes."

"And if you put two of them together…"

Esposito popped around the door. "We enhanced the video of the ATM down your street. Guess who we saw walking around your building around that time?"

"Victoria Cole?" Castle and Beckett said together.

Esposito frowned. "How did you…?"

#

Victoria Cole sat calmly in the interrogation room, looking down at the table. "It was an accident," she said slowly, tears falling.

"That your knitting needles went into his heart?" Beckett scoffed.

She looked up and at Beckett. "I didn't expect you to believe me."

"How did you get in the building?" Castle said.

"You have trusting neighbors," she said, with a small smile.

"Which is probably how Whitfield got in," Beckett said.

"I knew where you lived," Victoria said. "I didn't think Whitfield did, but I'm retired – I staked out your building, watching for him." She shrugged. "I didn't have anything else to do."

"How did you know what he looked like?"

"I looked up his Twitter account," Victoria said. "When he went in the building with a jug of that red stuff, I figured he was going to do something stupid, so I followed him in." The tears started flowing again. "I found him in front of a door."

"Mine."

"He was pouring this goop all over himself and on the floor. He was preparing his very own crime scene. I confronted him. I told him he was being stupid and that Richard Castle was a perfectly nice man who would probably answer the doorbell if he rang it." She glanced at Castle. "I've seen you at book signings."

"I would have," Castle said.

Beckett nodded.

"He wouldn't believe me. He said you were too big, and that this would get your attention."

"It did."

"But how did…?" Beckett said.

"I argued; I saw that I wasn't getting through, then walked away, intending to call 911. He started yelling and coming after me. I turned around and set down my purse, just in case I needed to defend myself." She grinned ruefully. "I did have a black belt in Karate, although my arthritis and my age – " she held up her hands " – curtail my practice. I just don't have the strength or the will any more."

"Then how…?" Beckett said.

"He tripped in his own goop and fell on my purse. The needles must have been pushed into him by his own body weight." She drew a shaky breath. "I panicked. I pushed him back to his goop, ran from the building, pulled out my ID, and threw away the purse and the needles at my apartment." She sighed. "They're probably still there, if you want to search, and you can test my ID for his blood. You'll find it."

"So you're saying it was an accident," Castle said.

"I'm sorry I didn't admit it at first. But I panicked, and my generation just didn't always trust the police." She drew another breath. "So what happens now?"

Castle looked at Beckett. "We saw you run out of the building seven minutes after you went in. If you can tell us your route and the trash can, we'll ask for leniency in any charges you might face," the detective said.

"If any," Castle added. "I'll try to be a character witness – as much as I can be."

Victoria looked at Castle. "I love irony. Don't you?"

Castle snorted.

Beckett gestured for the uniformed officer to come in. Castle, on an impulse, took Victoria's hand. "For what it's worth, I loved your stories."

She brightened. "At least I can do some writing in prison."

"That you can, Vickie. That you can." He smiled at her, then they got up and left the room.

As soon as she was gone, Beckett looked at him and said, "Irony?"

Castle sighed. "Vickie's stories usually involve accidental murders and how the murderers panic and try to run away. They always get caught in the end." Castle sat back in his chair. "You know what?" he said, not expecting an answer. "I hate irony."

"At least," Beckett said, "until the next case comes along."

Castle inclined his head and smiled ruefully. "Do you think she'll get prison?" he mused.

"If she has a clean record," Beckett said, "probably just probation. But I'm not a lawyer."

He thought about that a moment. "You know what?" he said again suddenly.

"What?"

"For some reason, I have a hankering for Cherry Kool-aid." He smiled. "Suppose we could have some at our next group sleepover?"

Beckett groaned. "Castle, you're sick." But she smiled.