Précis: When a murder is committed in Sheriff Beckett's town, an investigation leads directly to the famous author, Richard Castle, recently arrived on a speaking tour. AU. Very AU.
Note to readers: No one would use pejorative words like "injun" or "squaw" today. But this is a story set in the 1800's, and some of the villains herein include racism among their many shortcomings.
The woman who entered the Sheriff's office was wild-eyed, drenched, and shivering. Deputy Esposito directed her to a chair and wrapped her in a blanket he fetched from the back room.
"Bad night to be outside," Esposito said. "It's teaming out there. You warm yourself up a bit then let me know how I can help." He went to the desk and poured brandy into a glass. "Here, drink this down."
The woman gulped down the drink then passed the glass back to the deputy. When her shivering subsided, she ran her hand through her stringy, wet hair, pushing it out of her face, and said, "The sheriff. I need to see the sheriff."
"That won't be possible, ma'am," the deputy said. "She's out of town, not due back until after midnight. She can see you tomorrow. Is there anything I can do?"
"No! No." She stood up, letting the blanket fall onto the chair. "I'll see her tomorrow, then. In the morning. It's extremely urgent. I'm staying at the inn. Maria Holsten is my name." And with that, she left.
Sitting down and setting his feet up on the desk, the deputy muttered, "Well, don't that beat all."
It was one AM when the coach finally pulled into Whitefall. Sheriff Beckett was exhausted, but gathered her strength so she could step lightly to the ground and walk briskly to her rooms. It wouldn't do for the sheriff, especially a female sheriff, to show weakness.
Glancing down the street, dark and quiet this time of night, Beckett shook her head at how the town had changed over the past eighteen months. With the mines that had opened up, and the construction of a railway line underway, the population had burgeoned from a few hundred to well over a thousand. That had brought new wealth into town. A second feed store had opened; a new general store was under construction at the opposite end of town to Fran's; and the inn was most often full to bursting. Jake was talking of adding a new floor or building an entirely new hotel to accommodate the increasing number of visitors.
The rain had finally let up and was now just a light drizzle. Still, the road was soft from the recent downpour, and her shoes were sinking into the mud. She crossed over to the boardwalk, closing her eyes as she walked, letting the rain refresh her.
Despite the hour, she stopped into the office. Esposito was there, snoring lightly at the desk, his hat tipped over his eyes. She considered waking him, but just for tonight decided to give him a break. After all, he and Ryan had pulled several double shifts lately. She lightly closed the door behind her and continued walking. Her rooms were in the poorer part of town, but that was deliberate. Her presence helped curb some of the boisterous behaviour that might otherwise take place.
When she reached her rooms, Beckett closed the door behind her and leant against it for a moment, closing her eyes. A long trip but worth it. Her testimony had helped convict a man guilty of three murders.
On second thought, almost worth it. Was anything worth having to wear a dress and behave contritely for the benefit of a jury? After taking the witness stand, the defence lawyer had strutted over to her and asked, his voice thick with amusement, if a little woman like her was really qualified to be sheriff. She'd answered matter of factly.
"Have you heard of Butcher Bill Clemens?" she'd asked him back.
He hadn't expected her response. "Sure," he said, uncertainly.
"He killed nine people, including lawmen from three other towns. I captured him singled handedly. So yes, I think I'm qualified." She followed that up by batting her eyes and smiling sweetly.
That had shut him up.
Smiling at that memory, she unbuckled her holster, undressed, and climbed into bed.
She was walking down a dark lane with her mother, holding her hand. A man stepped out of the darkness and blocked their way. "Well, what have we got ourselves here?" he said. "An injun lady and her little squaw."
There wasn't much light, but Kate could see that the man was large, much larger than her mother. Her mother pushed Kate behind. Clutching her mother's skirt, she could only hear what happened next. "We have no business with you," her mother said. "Let us pass."
"Oh, I think we have some business. Some pretty business indeed."
Her mother moved back a step and pulled a knife out of her bag.
The man chuckled. Then Kate heard an explosion and watched in horror as her mother collapsed in front of her. "Momma!" Kate knelt over her mother, turning her over. She was bleeding from the chest. so much blood, and now Kate was covered in blood as well. She looked up to see the man, gun in hand approaching her.
Kate stood and backed up, frozen in fear.
"For what it's worth, child," the man said, "it pains me to do this."
"Me too," another voice said. And suddenly there was a boy, a teenager, plunging her mother's knife into the man's leg. He howled, dropping the gun as he pulled the knife out. The boy scooped up the gun and, with trembling hands, aimed it at the man. With a look of hate, the man turned and dashed down the lane, limping and cursing.
The boy turned to Kate. "Run," he said.
Kate was still frozen.
Beckett's eyes sprang open and, fast as lightning, she grabbed the pistol from under the pillow. Was that a shot she'd heard? No, it was the door.
"Who is it?" she called.
"Ryan," her deputy answered from the hallway. "Sorry, Sheriff, but it looks like there's been a murder."
"I'll be right there," Beckett answered, now fully alert.
She dressed quickly. The sight of a woman in what were traditionally men's raiments had at first raised eyebrows in the town. But now they were used to her, and folks didn't but nod as she passed by on the street. She started with a mauve shirt and beige trousers. Next she pulled on her nearly knee-high leather boots. They were sturdy but comfortable. And the knife sequestered in the left boot came in handy from time to time.
After buckling her holster and tying the string to her right thigh, she considered how it and the weight of her revolver were like part of her; she felt naked without them. Finally, the coat she loved: lightweight leather, brown tanned, knee-length, with plenty of pockets, and not so awkward as to get in the way if she got caught up in a fistfight. She was in a hurry, but still needed to look the part of sheriff. After pulling her hair into a tight ponytail, she was ready.
"No one gets away with murder in my town," she said to herself. "Not on my watch."
Deputy Ryan led the way into the inn. Beckett nodded at Caroline who was on duty at the desk. Glancing to the right, she saw the doors to the saloon were open and all the chairs resting on tables. Caroline's boy was mopping the floor. The corridor straight ahead led to the two ground floor rooms. Ryan led her up the staircase to the second floor and along the corridor to the right.
Beckett stopped short when she saw the victim.
"Something, isn't it?" Esposito commented.
She was lying on the bed. Her torso, apparently naked, was covered in rose petals. Sunflowers had been placed over her eyes.
"First time for everything," Beckett said. "Do we know who she is?"
The deputies were silent for a moment. Beckett noticed Ryan staring pointedly at Esposito.
"What?" she said.
"Her name's Maria Holsten," Esposito said. "She came into the office last night, around ten, said she wanted to speak to you. When I told her it would have to wait until morning, she told me her name, said she was staying at the inn, then left."
"Shouldn't have scared her off," Ryan said.
"I was nice to her," said Esposito. "Gave her a blanket and shot of brandy to warm her up. If it'd been you on duty, one look at your ugly mug through the window and she wouldn't have said that much."
Dammit. "Well, it can't be helped now," Beckett said. She stepped up to the bed and moved some of the petals. Looks like she was stabbed in the chest," she said. "I don't see any marks on her hands or face. Doesn't look like she put up a fight."
"Well, she's not a local," Ryan said.
The others looked at him.
"Obviously," Ryan continued. "I'll see if anyone else knows her or how she came into town."
"There's something familiar about this," Beckett said.
Ryan smiled. "I was wondering if you'd pick up on that. Guess who was in town last night, reading from his latest book?"
Ryan handed Beckett a copy of Flowers for Your Grave by Richard Castle. Beckett's eyes widened. "Of course," she said. "The victim in this book was laid out the same way."
"I was at his reading last night," Ryan said. "Bought the book there. He autographed it for me, look."
Beckett flipped open the cover and read the inscription. "For lawman Kevin Ryan. May you always get your man. Best regards, Richard Castle."
"Let's bring Mr. Castle here," said Beckett, "and see what he has to say for himself."
"You think he did it?" Esposito asked.
"That'd be kind of obvious, wouldn't it?" Ryan said.
"Perhaps. But we're certainly not going to rule him out. Besides, where did the killer get so many rose petals? He's from out of town. He brought the flowers with him, which means this murder's premeditated. He followed Miss Holsten here, then killed her. Possibly to prevent her from speaking to me.
"Ryan, go fetch Mr. Castle. Esposito, get the sawbones. I'll stay here and go through Miss Holsten's belongings."
Ryan was the first back with a bleary-eyed, bedraggled man with unkempt hair wearing a jacket, vest, hastily tied cravat, and a satchel slung over his shoulder.
"Richard Castle?" Beckett said.
"Yes, what's this…" Castle spotted the body, "about." He glanced from the body to Beckett, back to the body, and to Beckett again.
"You're the sheriff in these parts?" Castle asked.
Beckett nodded. "Sheriff Beckett. You've met Deputy Ryan."
"A female sheriff. I love that!" Castle beamed. "And that coat. You must have a great story to tell."
"I'm more interested in this woman's story, Mr. Castle," Beckett said, beckoning to the dead woman.
"Flowers for Your Grave," Castle said. "Someone read my book and copied this scene."
"Perhaps," said Beckett. "Or perhaps it was the author. Bringing his work to life, so to speak."
"Me?" Castle said. "I only commit my murders on paper. Don't actually do them. A lot more lucrative, a lot less rope."
Just then the door opened and Esposito entered with the local sawbones.
"Lanie," Beckett said.
"Sheriff," Doctor Lanie Parish acknowledged. "And who do we have here?"
"Richard Castle," the author said, shaking the doctor's hand. "A female sheriff and doctor. I love this town!"
"The Richard Castle?" Lanie asked. She saw Beckett's nod, then noted the body. "Ah. Flowers for Your Grave. I see why you're here. I love your books, Mr. Castle. You have a real gift for the details of death."
Beckett cut off Castle's reply. "For now, Lanie, can you have a look at the victim and tell me your impressions? And as for you, Mr. Castle, where were you last night after 10 o'clock?"
"Where was I? I was here. Well not here in this room, but here in the inn. I did some writing after the talk then went to bed. Next thing I knew your deputy was breaking down my door."
"Too bad you don't have an alibi. I'm going to ask you not to leave town until further notice."
"Leave? Are you kidding? I wouldn't miss this. Maybe I can help."
Beckett smiled. "This isn't one of your books, Mr. Castle. Don't leave town, but I don't want you underfoot either."
Beckett turned her attention to the doctor. "Lanie, what do you have?"
"Same as you, I expect," the doctor said. "Two stab wounds, no other apparent marks on the body. From the amount of blood, I'd say she was killed right here. I'll have her brought back to my office so I can examine the body in more detail."
"Thanks," Beckett said, as Lanie took her leave. Turning around, she saw that Castle was still in the room, examining the writing desk. The sheriff sighed. "I thought I asked you to leave," she said.
"Something was written on this pad of paper," said Castle.
"Maybe so, but it's gone now. There's no way to know what it said."
"Ah," said Castle. "Watch and learn."
Withdrawing a pencil from his satchel, Castle lightly sketched over the paper. Beckett moved beside him.
"You see?" Castle said, tearing off the page. "Now we can make out what was written on the page above."
Beckett nodded. "Clever, I'll give you that. What does it say?"
Castle squinted. "Jonas Smith. General store. Mean anything to you?"
"That's Frank's boy, isn't it?" Esposito said. For Castle's benefit he added, "Frank owns the store."
"I'll go pay the Smith's a visit. Meanwhile, see if you can find out who else is new in town."
Beckett regarded the author. He was clearly intelligent underneath the boyish charm, and equally clearly, he was eager to be part of the investigation. However, that might be because he was guilty. Keeping a close eye on him wouldn't hurt, either way. "Mr. Castle, care to tag along?"
Castle grinned. "It'd be a pleasure, Sheriff."
On the way, Castle said to Beckett, "Sheriff, I think I may have found my new muse."
"Really," said Beckett. "And what's the matter with your old one?"
"Um, he's dead. The inspiration for Sheriff Storm."
"Sorry, to hear that," Beckett said. "A good man?"
Castle nodded. "A Texas Ranger, actually. Killed in an ambush some time back."
"Mr. Castle, are you saying you want to write a book about me?"
"About you? No. Inspired by you? Definitely."
Beckett sighed. "As far as I'm concerned, you're still a suspect for this murder. Let's focus on that for now, shall we?"
"Right," said Castle.
A moment later, Castle said, "You're part Indian, aren't you?"
Beckett glanced at him. Few who didn't know her could tell. "My mother was Apache. What of it?"
"Just makes you all the more fascinating is all," Castle said with a smile. Then he stopped.
"What?" Beckett said.
"You said was. Your mother was murdered, wasn't she?"
Beckett said nothing.
"And the killer was never brought to justice." Castle paused, then looked up again at Beckett. "That's why you became a sheriff."
Beckett regarded Castle levelly. "Don't presume to know me… Castle. Let's get going."
As they entered the store, they were nearly bowled over by a beefy, middle-aged man, dressed all in white with a long, dirty white apron.
"Sheriff? I was just coming to find you," Frank Smith said.
"What is it?" Beckett asked.
"Our boy is missing, and there's a mess down here. Look at it. We're afraid something happened to him."
Beckett glanced at the store. Cartons, bottles, all manor of merchandise had been upset. Clearly, there'd been a struggle.
"When was the last time you saw him?" Castle asked.
"Last night. He finished his chores and went to bed. That's the last we saw of him."
"Did anyone come by the store yesterday that you don't know?" asked Beckett.
Smith shook his head slowly, then looked up at his wife who'd been standing behind the counter. She blew her nose then likewise shook her head.
"OK," said Beckett slowly. "We'll do everything we can to find your boy. Meanwhile, the best thing you can do is stay here in case he comes back."
As they exited the store, Castle said, "This has to be related."
"Agreed," Beckett said. "The question is how. What does the connection between Jonas Smith and Maria Holsten?"
Castle shook his head. "Sounds like this would be a good time not to be underfoot. I'll let you get back to what you do. I feel some creative inspiration coming on. I'm going to get some breakfast and do some writing."
Beckett, lost in thought, barely noticed Castle as he headed back to the inn. Making a decision, she headed to the doctor's office to see what Lanie had uncovered.
Later in the afternoon, Castle entered the sheriff's office. Beckett and Ryan looked up.
"Can we help you, Mr. Castle?" Beckett asked.
"Was just wondering if there were any developments."
"The case is ongoing," said Beckett. "And yes, you're still a suspect. Why don't you…"
But Beckett was interrupted as Esposito burst into the office. "Sheriff!" he said breathlessly. "The boy's back. Jonas Smith."
"He's alright?" Beckett asked.
Esposito nodded. "He's with his folks."
Beckett and Castle looked at each other, then they all scrambled out of the office and raced to the store.
Dorothy Smith was weeping again, but this time with her boy in her arms. His father was grinning broadly, pipe in hand.
Nodding to Beckett, Frank turned to his son and said, "Jonas, boy, here's the sheriff come to speak to you. Dorothy, let the poor boy get some air. He's not going anywhere now."
Beckett sat down on a stool near the boy. He was ten, with long tousled hair and dirt-smeared face. "Jonas, can you tell me what happened last night?"
Jonas sniffed. "Heard a noise down here, came down to see. Next thing, a man puts a bag on my head, he covers my mouth and carries me like a sack of potatoes outside and onto his horse. We rode, then set down somewhere. I was tied up, real tight. There were others, I heard them talking quiet-like, couldn't make out the words. I woke up when there was shoutin'. I heard a couple of guns firing. I stayed low, quiet. Then someone cuts the ropes off me and pulls off the bag. It was a man, he wore a mask, said I was safe and he'd take me back. He set me on his horse and let me off at the edge of town, over by the creek."
"Was he one of them do you think?" Castle asked.
"No, I don't think so," the boy said. "He was nice. Gentle with me. The other men were rough. Cursed a lot. This one hardly said nothin'."
The boy looked down. "Is there anything else?" Beckett asked. "Anything more you can tell me?"
"Show them, Jonas," his father said.
The boy sighed, then withdrew something from his pocket. He held out his clenched hand, then slowly opened it. "He gave me this," he said.
It was a silver bullet.
Beckett's eyes widened. Castle backed away from the boy, shock written on his face, and whispered, "You were rescued by the Lone Ranger."
Then his face split into an ear-to-ear grin. "This just became the best case ever," Castle said.
Thanks to Twisha for her invaluable comments and suggestions.
And, in advance, to my readers, for allowing me to take privileges with Castle and certain legends of the old west in this alternate universe story.