The usual disclaimers apply: I'm not making any money off of this, Castle belongs to ABC and Andrew Marlowe, and any similarities to real people or places are strictly a coincidence.
Author's notes are at the bottom. Please enjoy!
The Spellbound Affair
Detective Kate Beckett hated homicides. Her job was only tolerable in that she more often than not was able to find the killer and bring him or her to justice. It didn't change the fact that every time she walked up to a new crime scene she found it difficult to swallow and her heart beat a little faster. Finding a woman sprawled out, stained by the red goo that almost always came from the victim, caused brief and personal flashes of memory to distract her for a second, especially if said woman had curled brown hair and a matronly air about herself. The next worst victims were the young ones - teenagers or young adults with their lives brutally cut short - often caught in the crosshairs of a conflict not fully their own.
But worst of all, more than the murders that made her think of her mother or the lost potential of a Millennial, were the children.
She hadn't even made it to the crime scene yet, but she already knew what she would see when she arrived. The medical examiner at the scene had informed her on the phone that their victim was a girl, elementary-school aged. Beckett paused at the line of yellow tape and took a quick, subtle breath before lifting it up so she could duck beneath more easily.
The girl had onyx colored hair and a dark tan complexion, though her face was ashen in death. The assumingly large caliber bullet had torn her little chest apart and her previously yellow sundress was now black with drying blood. A few feet away was a Hello Kitty backpack, carelessly abandoned by whoever had committed the appalling murder.
Beckett swallowed to clear her throat before addressing the ME who was kneeling beside the body. "What can you tell me?"
"Young girl, maybe about eight or nine. I'm 99.9% sure that CD is the GSW to the chest. CSI hasn't found any shell casing yet, but it looks like only one shot was fired."
"Time of death?"
"The 911 call came in about an hour ago. According to the rather frantic caller, the murder had just occurred."
"Not so far," said the ME.
"Thanks." Beckett forced herself to examine the body more closely herself and then the immediate vicinity. Just as she was about to stand up and move away, a glint of light caught her eye. The reflection had bounced off of the stud earring peeking out from between a couple matted locks of hair. Beckett pulled a pen out of her jacket and carefully brushed aside the hair. Her breath caught in her throat. She had received enough fine jewelry in her life - most of it recently and from one Richard Castle - to recognize a real, many karat diamond. What was a little girl doing wearing jewelry like that? Even the most well-to-do and haughty citizen of their city did not flaunt their wealth that extravagantly.
Besides the earrings, nothing else seemed overtly abnormal. She pushed herself upright and absently brushed imaginary dirt from the front of her slacks. She glanced about herself, looking for her next course of action. She didn't see any hysterical parents screaming at the unis to let them through the yellow tape barrier, so she set her sights on her two junior partners and started towards them.
"Beckett." Detective Javier Esposito followed his acknowledgement with a brief dip of his chin in greeting. Detective Kevin Ryan silently mimicked the gesture. "What, no Castle today?"
"He was at Columbia, visiting Alexis," said Beckett. "He'll be back in town this afternoon. What have you got for me?"
"Nobody actually witnessed the shot being fired," said Esposito. "The 911 caller was sitting outside at the café around the corner when he heard the shot fired. By the time he turned the corner and stumbled over the body, the perp was gone."
"Someone actually ran towards a gun shot?" asked Beckett. "Tourist?"
"Worse," said Esposito. "Newly minted LAPD tourist."
"I thought the 911 called was frantic on the phone," said Beckett. "And why is he in New York?"
"Newly minted," repeated Esposito. "As in, been on the force for about two weeks. He claims he's in town for a cousin's wedding, which is how he managed a vacation so soon after getting his badge. It seemed like a great time to be a hero until he actually saw the body."
"I remember the first time I saw a real dead body," said Ryan. "Handled it probably about as well. This has got to be the worst kind of initiation though." He gestured vaguely in the direction of the body. Beckett knew that both detectives, while single themselves, came from large families and were already blessed with multiple nieces and nephews. In fact, Beckett was probably the only one on their team without extensive experience with children. She frowned, wondering if the little girl behind them resembled any of Esposito's young relations.
"No one else saw anything?"
"A number of the diners at the café saw the little girl walking down the street. She crossed in front of the restaurant on her way to 16th. I'm guessing she was headed for Radiant Pines Primary School, which is just a couple blocks north of here," said Ryan.
"She was alone?"
"As far as we can tell," said Esposito. "No parents, no nanny, nobody. I wouldn't let my kid walk to school without an adult, for obvious reasons."
"Did anyone see the killer leaving the scene?"
"A resident on the second floor of that building," Ryan pointed towards one of the stately apartment buildings on the corner, "heard the chain-link fence at the back of the adjacent alley rattle pretty loudly, as if someone was trying to scale it. Unis are following the trail, but we haven't heard back yet."
"Alright, I'm going to look around for a few more minutes, and then I'll meet you back at the precinct."
"Sure," said Esposito. He and Ryan started for the Cuban detective's red Challenger while Beckett stayed where she was, mentally filing all of the new information in her memory. After a quick stroll around the perimeter of the crime scene, she determined that she had gleaned all she could from the area and decided to return to the precinct.
The three detectives and the writer were huddled around Ryan's desk, going over the ten seconds of footage that the youngest detective had managed to lift from a security camera. It showed a man, of average height, weight, and coloring, sprinting by. He was wearing a baseball cap and a large sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head. While it was a little hot for the ensemble, it did a good job obscuring his face or any other unique traits that would allow the detectives to positively ID him.
Annoyed at the complete lack of information so far on the case, Beckett instructed Ryan to play the clip again, three times slower than real time. She raised an eyebrow when he looked at her with his most pitiful expression. His expression transformed into a mixture of resignation and irritation. He keyed in the new parameters to the video and they all watched the clip for the fiftieth time, now thirty seconds long instead of ten. Beckett muttered angrily under her breath when nothing new was revealed at the slower speed and ignored Ryan's mumbled "I told you so."
"For all intents and purposes, this looks like a successful hit," said Esposito.
"Who hires a hit on a little girl?"
"Well, there was that case with the dignitary in China whose daughter's death would have been the catalyst for World War Three and the end of the United States as we know it," said Castle.
"Except that so far, our Jane Doe Junior does not appear to be related to anyone, let alone someone with enough political muscle to bring down the country," said Esposito. "Sick bastard." He had his arms crossed over his chest as he leaned his hip against the edge of Ryan's desk, alternating between scowling at the useless video and the universe at large. Beckett understood the feeling.
The opening double doors of the elevator at the opposite end of the bull pen drew the attention of the team. Lanie Parish, their favorite medical examiner, stepped off. She was wearing her lab coat and was armed with a manila envelope and a determined expression. She strode purposefully towards Ryan's desk.
"Lanie," greeted Beckett.
"Kate." The ME let a small smile twist its way onto her lips. "Boys." She pressed a chaste kiss to Esposito's cheek as she handed the folder to Beckett. "I have ID'd our vic," she said.
Beckett flipped open the folder, expecting to see the smiling face of a little girl, probably with slightly bucked teeth that were still too young for braces, staring up at her from the glossy print paper-clipped to the front of the folder. She did a double take when her brain finished processing that she was looking at an adult woman with stringy black hair and equally dark shadows under her eyes.
"Did you grab the wrong folder, Lanie?" Beckett asked, pulling out the picture and holding it up for the ME to see.
"Nope. That is Serafina Valduerez, age forty-eight and with a rap sheet that's long enough to prove her age."
"Are we talking about the same case?" asked Castle. He took the picture from Beckett and eyed it critically. "I thought we were talking about the little girl murdered a few blocks from her school."
"We are," said Lanie. Her usual cool persona slipped and she teased her lower lip with her teeth briefly. "I ran the tests three times each. Valduerez is an exact match for fingerprints and DNA. Even the dental records match. That little girl downstairs is Valduerez."
"I've seen her before," said Ryan. "She's been busted for possession and intent to distribute multiple times. She's very much an adult, and there was never a kid with her."
"I don't know why or how, just that the tests confirm it," said Lanie.
"So what you're telling us is that… Serafina Valduerez… is a forty-eight year old drug dealer who somehow managed to de-age and is now a little girl?" Castle tried to smother his grin, but was unsuccessful. "Lanie, could this be a Benjamin Button case?"
"No," said Lanie. She sighed. "I wondered the same thing initially, but first of all, it couldn't have happened that quickly. She wouldn't have been able to shed forty years since Kev last saw her using narcotics, and secondly, I checked for that particular disorder and she doesn't have it."
"Is there any way this is a mistake?" Beckett asked. She very much wanted this to be a mistake. How could she even begin to investigate a case involving a woman mysteriously changing into a little girl and being murdered because of it?
"I'm sorry, Becks," said Lanie. "I ran tests on her tissues and even though she has the appearance of a child, even her body claims to be nearly fifty."
"This is so awesome," said Castle. "What do you think, Espo… Voodo, witchcraft, an ancient curse?"
"I think you're crazy, bro. There has to be some logical explanation for this."
"I can't wait to hear it," said Lanie. "All I have are the medical facts and they're not making any sense to me. I need to get back downstairs. Let me know if you need anything else."
"Thank you." Beckett slipped the picture back into the folder and snapped it shut.
"What's next?" asked Castle eagerly. He clapped a hand down on each of Ryan's and Esposito's shoulders. "I have a few sources who can lead us to the dark underbelly of magic users. In fact, I might even know a real witch! Shall I start calling in favors?"
"No, don't be ridiculous, Castle," said Beckett. "There is no such thing as witchcraft, and certainly not something that could cause a grown woman to turn into a child. What we're going to do is track down Serafina Valduerez and confirm that she is in fact not our vic. Roach, track down her whereabouts. Castle, wipe that stupid grin off your face. We have real work to do, like tracking down where those expensive diamond earrings came from." She held out the manila folder to Esposito. When he didn't take it from her, she looked up questioningly.
Her two partners were staring at her. Esposito looked peeved and Ryan more surprised than anything. "What?"
"Did you just call us… Roach?" Esposito motioned to his partner and himself. "I do not respond to that derivative."
"Hey," protested Castle. Esposito gave the writer a look that effectively shut him up and sent him scurrying towards Beckett's end of the bull pen.
Beckett rolled her eyes. "Sorry. It's just more expedient than Ryan and Esposito."
"Never again," said Esposito. "Or I will burn all of your Nikki Heat books."
"Then I'll just borrow Kevin's." She smirked as she reached over to pat the younger detective on the cheek. Ryan leaned out of her range after the first pat and just shook his head slowly. "Okay, work now." Beckett dropped the folder on top of Ryan's keyboard. She turned and walked towards her own desk, struggling to stifle the grin resulting from her slip. Maybe the frustration with this case was making her silly, but she thought Esposito's reaction to the name was amusing and cute.
"Okay, Castle, we need to think of some real theories about how the little girl ended up dead on the street, while appearing to be someone completely different."
"I'm quite satisfied with my theory that a witch cast a spell on her."
"I'm not. Come on, Castle. A little girl is dead. What if Alexis had been brutally murdered as a kid? Wouldn't you want the detective investigating her case to be serious about finding her murderer?"
"Of course." The writer looked mildly angry as he imagined a little girl with strawberry blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes sprawled on the sidewalk, her favorite My Little Pony t-shirt ruined with blood. "For the record, I am being serious. But, how about this - from what organ did Lanie test the tissue? Maybe she had an organ transplant?"
"I don't think they use organs from dedicated drug users," said Beckett. She stuck the end of her pen between her teeth and rolled the idea around in her head. "Espo, let Ryan handle tracking down Valduerez. Figure out which organ Lanie used to determine the victim's age and see if any of the local hospitals have record of an organ transplant receiver matching our vic's description." The Cuban detective nodded and picked up his phone to call down to the morgue.
"That still doesn't explain the fingerprints and the DNA," said Castle.
"Evidence can be planted," said Beckett. "You should know - it's been done to you."
"Yes, but I saw the date on the prints in Valduerez's folder. There's no way that those prints could have been stolen from the girl. They're over fifteen years old and much too big to have come from a child."
"There is some logical explanation out there, we just have to find it."
"Good luck with that," said Ryan as he walked up to Beckett's desk. "In the meantime, I tried the phone number listed for Valduerez's mother. It actually worked and I spoke with her."
"What did she say? When had she last seen her daughter?"
"About eight months ago," said Ryan. "When they buried her."
"According to Mrs. Valduerez, her daughter had been living with her for nearly a year when she OD'd and died. Valduerez's nephew works at the family cemetery and managed to sneak his cousin into the ground without alerting any authorities. Apparently, Serafina was receiving benefit checks from the government and her family didn't want to lose the free income."
"Why admit to that now?" asked Castle. "Surely she must know that the checks will stop and they'll be liable for fraud."
"Guilt, maybe," said Ryan. "She sounded tired on the phone, like she was sick of maintaining a pretense."
"I think we should talk to Mrs. Valduerez in person," said Beckett. "You in, Castle?"
"This is actually a two-fer," said Ryan. "Serafina's ex-husband's mother lives three doors down and according to Mrs. Valduerez, she is a strange woman. Javi and I can interview her while you're speaking with the Valduerez family. They live about an hour north of the city, so we can save on gas."
"Sounds good," said Beckett. "Let's go."
to be continued…
Thank you for reading this far. I hope you're enjoying yourself. Please let me know how you like the story. I write for fun but I always want to improve, so constructive criticism is always welcome. All mistakes are my own.
This story isn't really set at any particular time in the series, though I make plenty of references to episodes late in Season Five. It does, however, take place before the events of 'The Human Factor' and 'Watershed.' In this AU, Jenny O'Malley-Ryan doesn't exist, mostly because I like her too much to do something tragic to her, but she doesn't fit in the story.