"Excellent work, Detective," Captain Montgomery told his finest Detective, Kate Beckett.
"Thank you, sir. You know I hope you say the same to Castle. Where is he by the way? I thought that they would be back by now."
"Maybe he and Ryan went out for a cold one," Montgomery guessed, referring to Castle and Beckett's colleague, Detective Kevin Ryan. 'After today that's what I'm doing. Care to join me?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'd love to."
"Let's hit it."
Minutes later, the Captain and Beckett were exiting the 12th precinct elevator and crossing the building lobby, satisfied and relaxed after putting behind bars one of the city's most dangerous residents.
"It's nice to be able to take five closer to 7, isn't it?" Montgomery joked.
"Sure is," Beckett answered.
Then, as if being struck by a bolt of lightning, she froze just before passing through the precinct's front doors. Her eyes flew open wide and every nerve in her body stood on end. Her heart rate immediately quickened as she realized the seriousness of what had happened. Or what didn't happen.
Not seven. Eight.
The numbers didn't add up to eight.
He should have said eight, but he didn't. He said seven.
It wasn't Gates.
"Kate?" Montgomery asked, growing concerned. "Holy cow, what's the matter?"
"Eight victims," she panted. "The Triple Killer killed eight women, but in Gates' confession he only mentioned seven: Linda Russo, Sarah Townsend, and 5 others. Why would he leave one out?"
"Holy crap," Montgomery responded, slowly coming to the realization that had already hit Beckett. "He couldn't have done it. If it was him, he would have been only too proud to list every one of his victims, meaning Gates is a patsy for someone else. Someone set him up to take the fall."
"It could only have been Jerry or Paul, nobody else would have such intimate details and knowledge of 3XK's M.O." Beckett spat out, her thoughts coming almost as fast as she could speak them.
Gates' cell mate.
Knows a lot about Gates.
Acted as Gates' partner once.
Foster brother of Gates.
Gates cares about him.
Sent him flowers after his surgery.
"Sir, didn't Castle say that Paul just had surgery that corrected a heart problem and that he had been in need of surgery for a long time, but couldn't afford it?"
"Yeah, he did," Montgomery said, desperately searching for the angle Beckett was getting at.
"Well, isn't it a coincidence that he gets it as soon as Jerry gets out of jail?" Beckett pressed, her eyes getting more intense and, something else she would never admit to in front of her colleagues: scared.
"Are you saying Jerry paid for the surgery? Why would he do that?"
"To pay Gates back for taking the fall for him. Gates was Paul's foster brother and based on the look on his face when I nailed him in interrogation and on the fact that he wouldn't confess unless Paul got immunity, Gates clearly gives a damn about Paul. He would never have let him commit one of the murders in case his heart gave out on him, so he let him be a stand-in so he could be off carrying out his and Jerry's plan. It was Jerry all along! Jerry has to be 3XK!"
"That son-of-bitch," Montgomery growled. "When they were cell mates they must have planned this whole thing just to get Jerry out of jail so he could keep killing."
"And Ryan and Castle were headed over to his motel room to spring him!" Beckett said breathlessly.
Montgomery quickly walked over to the officers on duty at the front doors and ordered them to get a SWAT Team ready and on stand-by while Beckett called Esposito.
"Get down here," she barked at her squad mate. "We've got a writer and your partner to save. I'll explain in the car." As soon as she hung up, her cell phone jumped to life again, indicating that she had an incoming call. Never had she wanted to hear Richard Castle's voice more.
"Castle?" She practically yelled.
"No, no Detective, it's his very worried and panicked mother," Martha Rodgers said, her voice clearly shaky and on edge. "Have you heard from Richard this evening?"
"No and I was just about to ask you the same question. What's going on?"
"Oh my god. I'm sorry, dear," she said and swallowed hard, trying to calm herself. "I spoke to him just about a minute ago. I had called to tell him that Alexis's secret admirer was really her boyfriend Ashley and that he needn't worry about her and when I told him 'All's well that ends well' there was this long, odd pause on the other end. I called his name and all he said was 'I love you' before the line went dead."
"I take it he doesn't say that too often," Beckett guessed.
"It's sad but true, he doesn't ,which leads me to believe that something is very wrong, that he's gotten in over his head somehow. Well, you must know what I mean," Martha pleaded. Beckett could hear the concern, frustration, and love she had for her son in her voice.
"Yes, I do know, Martha. And don't worry. I'm almost positive I know where he is and I'm headed there right now with the Captain and Esposito." Beckett hung up, burst through the front doors of the lobby and began running, Captain Montgomery trailing fast behind. They hadn't gotten far, when Esposito pulled up alongside them in Beckett's squad car.
"Move over and prepare yourself for anything," she ordered him. "I know where they are."
"I'll catch up to you with a couple uniforms," Montgomery said. "Get going."
Beckett explained everything to Esposito, who littered the air in the car with curses, then got quiet. Beckett was quiet too. She hated herself for not picking up on Gates' comment sooner and for letting herself be outsmarted.
We're supposed to be one step ahead of them, not the other way around, she thought. I'm supposed to be a step ahead of them. Now one of her squad and Castle were in danger, all because they missed something.
How will I tell Jenny if something happens?
How will Esposito take it?
He already lost one partner. Well, almost.
How will we replace Honeymilk?
He didn't sign up for this.
It's just research.
What about Nikki Heat.
Screw Nikki Heat.
How will I tell Martha?
How will I tell Alexis?
How will I go on without him?
The precinct won't be the same.
Like it was this summer.
I need his help.
I enjoy his help.
I enjoy his company.
I enjoy Josh's company.
But it's not the same.
God, I hope they're alright.
I hope he's alright.
The tires on the squad car squealed as she pulled into the motel parking lot. She slammed on the brakes and double parked the car just below the second-story room where God knows what scene awaited her. Captain Montgomery arrived right behind her. Geez, that man can drive, Beckett thought. Two more marked patrol cars followed them, all with sirens blaring.
Esposito hopped out of the car first and did a quick sweep of the bottom floor of the motel. Beckett followed after him, not bothering to sweep the lower floor herself, but rather focused on getting into unit 47. She took the stairs two at a time, and pulled her service revolver one she reached the top of the stairs. Using her left hand to swing around the corner, she held her gun out in front of her in her right. As she crept down the dark balcony towards where she was sure Ryan and Castle were being held, she pulled a Maglite flashlight from her coat pocket and turned it on.
She thought of her mother. She thought of Ryan's and Castle's faces possibly broken and bloody and unconscious on the other side of the door she was approaching. She also thought of Jerry, the maniacal demon who put all of them and 8 families through the hell she knew all too well. All these images flashed through her mind in the several seconds it took her to go from the top of the stairs to the front door of the unit that was her entire focus. Channeling all her feelings of hate, anger, and fear into energy, she lifted her leg and kicked in the door with all the force she could muster.
The first thing she saw was a man's body tied to a chair in the front area of the pitch black room. As her eyes adjusted to the lack of light and her flashlight hit him, she realized who it was.
"Castle!" She shouted, unable to mask the fear and worry and relief in her voice.