Just Along for the Ride

Rating: T (references to disturbing crimes)

Timeline: Sometime in Season 4

Summary: What happens when Castle takes the lead on a stalled investigation.

Disclaimer: I do not own Castle or the characters used in this story.

A/N: I toyed with the idea of setting this story in the Castle PI window, but opted to nestle it in the pre-Caskett period in Season 4. Maiden voyage, please be gentle.

"Well, look who decided to show up," says Esposito, as Castle enters the condo, the site of the double homicide that Beckett's team caught to start their week.

"Must've taken a little extra time to pick out that outfit, right?" This from Ryan; Castle would've fired off a retort, except that the others in the room – including Lanie and the uniforms as well as Espo and Beckett – shoot Ryan odd glances for commenting on someone else's sartorial choices.

"Sorry, got caught in an early morning meeting," Castle instead responds, while circling the two bodies laid out in the main room of the open-plan condo. The first was laid out next to a dining table, his torso soaked in blood but seemingly otherwise unmarked. The other body is prone on the floor, face down, halfway into the next room. The ragged hole between his shoulder blades makes Castle suspect that the Lanie will prompt a gruesome sight when she requests that the uniforms roll the body over.

Beckett shoots him a sidelong glance, taking in his attire. A full suit this morning – no slacks and blazer – and a tie that would probably cover Espo's rent for at least a month. "Nice of you to join us, Castle. We were starting to wonder if you were going to grace us with your presence this morning." She ponders the suit, and that he hadn't mentioned any meetings on the agenda. His choice to ignore the comments on his appearance seems odd, as he's usually prompt to preen.

"And that's my cue to hand this over," says Castle, delivering a tall takeout cup of coffee to Beckett before passing the cardboard drink holder to Esposito for him and Ryan to each take a cup, too.

"Hey! Only his fourth year and he starts bringing us drinks, too. I guess he can stay and look around." Esposito's all heart this morning.

"Looking sharp, Castle," says Lanie. "I was about to share some info about our vics, here, but I find that the lack of caffeine is impeding my thought process. No, no, just teasing," she says as Castle offers her the cup that he had kept back for himself. "Though you can make it up to me next time we're at the Haunt. Anyway, two DB's to start the day. No ID on either body. This one," she leads, pointing to the body next to the table, "was slumped in a chair at the table when we arrived. Preliminary COD is internal bleeding, from a single stab wound on the right side of his sternum. I'll have to take a look back at the lab, but it looks like a funny angle of entry. My best guess now, and don't hold me to this, is that he was sitting in the chair playing solitaire," a quick glance confirms the stacks of playing cards on the table, "when somebody – probably his buddy there – walked up behind him and stabbed him from above while standing behind him. I'll check this out at the lab. Preliminary time of death is sometime from 9 to midnight last night."

The detectives shift position to look at the second victim, while Castle imagines the stabbing victim in place, playing solitaire at the table with his back to the kitchen. Flipping cards while someone else ranges around the condo, familiar enough to not focus on the presence, but sufficiently unfamiliar to have not expected a sudden attack. Castle looks again at the victim. Caucasian, maybe a little shorter than average but solidly built. Inexpensive clothes and a shaggy mop of dark hair in need of a cut. "No wallet, or no ID in the wallet?"

"He had a roll of bills in his pocket – probably about $200. Otherwise, no wallet or anything else in his pockets," Ryan replied. "And, of course, he had the .38 that was on the floor next to him."

"Nothing in the condo with identification? No bills, subscriptions, prescriptions?" Beckett follows up. Esposito ranges over to a uniform to task him with rooting around the place in search of a name, any name. Meanwhile, Ryan jumps in: "The condo itself is owned by Meridien Ventures Limited. A corporate holding, obviously, but it's registered in the Caymans and it'll take us some time to track down an account manager or owner. We've got calls into the local property management service, but no response yet."

When Castle and Espo step toward the second body, joining Ryan and Beckett, Lanie resumes her rundown. "Vic number two. Given that there was a knife next to his hand when we arrived, he may also be your guy for taking out vic number one. Preliminary COD on this one is easy – single GSW to the back, between the spine and left scapula. Let's roll him," she says to the techs who have lined up a body bag next to the prone victim. As the body is turned over, Castle's earlier thoughts prove accurate: where there should be a solid chest, there is instead a ragged, blood mess. "Through and through. I'll leave you folks to find the bullet, but I suspect it'll match the weapon found next to the other vic. TOD is the same as the other – 9 to midnight."

Excepting the exit wound, Castle notes that this vic looks similar to the first. A little taller, a little more muscled, and sandy brown hair. Rough stubble from two or three days away from a razor, but generally unremarkable.

"So, Number Two here walks up behind Number One while he's playing cards. He comes over the top with his knife," Esposito acts out while speaking, "then starts walking into the next room. But Number One isn't dead yet – hurting bad, bleeding out, but strong enough to pull a gun. From where? He's got the strength to get off at least one shot," he mimics the action with his right hand, "drops Number Two, but then he's gone himself. Does that work?"

"I've got oil on his abdomen – looks like he had the piece tucked into his waistband, covered by his shirt and jacket," Lanie responds.

"Anything in Number Two's pockets?" Castle inquires. A quick check reveals another pocket of cash – crumpled bills this time, but nothing else. Castle nods, hums, and taps his chin with his finger. "Has the condo been cleared?"

"Bro, of course the condo is clear. The ME can't be here, you aren't supposed to be here, until it's clear." Esposito scoffs, while Ryan gives a confirming nod in the background, slightly offended by the question.

"What are you thinking?" asks Beckett, still circling the bodies and running Esposito's scenario through her mind.

"Someone else is still here. Can't you feel it?" Castle responds, before striding across the room. Ryan follows, while Esposito rolls his eyes and checks in with the uniforms looking for any ID in the place while the techs start to load the bodies onto gurneys, the photos and in-place assessments having been completed.

After a few minutes, Ryan returns alone. "Clear. Again." He confirms. Meanwhile, Beckett's head pops up and to the side, as she notes Castle's absence and the lack of noise from elsewhere in the condo. Like a parent who knows that silence presages the worst kind of trouble, she seeks out Castle, finding him one room over, standing in place and staring at a bookcase.

"Castle, now's not really the time to be checking out the literary holdings," she chides. Surprisingly, this elicits no response. Instead, it's Lanie's voice that chimes in. "Kate, we're heading back to the morgue," she says as the gurneys are jostled and pointed toward the door.

Before she can respond, Castle's strong "No" rings out. All eyes turning toward him, Castle continues staring resolutely at the bookcase. Just as Beckett is about to ask what's going on, he speaks again. "Ryan, close the door to the condo and don't let anybody leave yet. We're missing something important."

"Castle, we've got to release the scene. The condo has been cleared – twice. We've got two bodies, two weapons. We can stick around, but we've got to let Lanie get going on the bodies," Beckett responds, not unkindly. There are certainly some loose ends to tie up, some things that don't make sense yet, but she's hopeful that this will end up being an uncomplicated case where the two victims are also the killers.

Still staring at the bookcase, Castle is slow to respond. "No, this doesn't make sense. We're in an expensive condo in a nice building, but neither vic had the keys to get into this place." Ryan and Esposito shoot a look at each other with eyebrows raised, and start to look around for keys or discarded clothes in which they might be found. "There is no sign of struggle. Instead, it looks like One was ignoring Two, sitting at the table playing cards. Two kills him, or thinks he does, without a fight and perhaps without realizing that One is packing. But Two doesn't leave. He heads this way, away from the restroom. While undoing his belt."

Several heads swivel towards the gurney. Lanie draws down the zipper, slowly revealing Number Two from head to knees, and gives a curt nod confirming Castle's observation regarding the belt. Heads turn back to Castle, who continues to assess the bookshelf.

"And, finally, the floor plan here doesn't make sense. Walk around – there's square footage unaccounted for. I don't suppose we have blueprints?" Castle concludes before lapsing back into silence.

Just as Beckett is about to interrupt the quiet, Castle steps decisively to the shelf, where he pulls down a book. A look of consternation flits onto his face, brows scrunched and lips puckered.

"Come on, Sherlock Mansions," chides Esposito, "what's with the bookshelf? Were you really expecting a secret passage or something?" He looks to Ryan to get some attention for the new nickname he's coined while the two uniforms chuckle.

Castle remains intent on the bookshelf and again reaches out, more tentatively this time. Rather than coming free of the shelf, the book tips while a discernable metallic click sounds out. Placing his hand on the side of the bookshelf, Castle pulls, and the shelf pivots away from the wall, revealing a plywood door, roughly four feet tall and wide, padlocked shut.

"What the hell?" mumbles a uniform, looking at a chagrined Esposito. Ryan looks to Castle, who is now crouched next to the door with an ear cocked. "Castle?" Beckett calls out in a low voice, her hand already on her sidearm.

With a finger to his lips to encourage silence, Castle points back to the kitchen. As the team assembles there, Castle whispers. "I didn't hear anything, but I think we need to check. Do we need a warrant or can we go in?"

All eyes turn to Beckett, the senior officer in the room. "If we suspect someone is in duress, exigent circumstances allow entry. The door is locked from the outside and Number Two was undoing his pants, walking towards the bookshelf and away from the nearest restroom. I think we can make a case for cutting the lock and checking it out," she replies, not entirely comfortable with the implications of the scenario but clearly willing to make the call.

"We shouldn't cut the lock," Castle responds. He continues, cutting Ryan off as he begins to speak. "We've got two guys here – neither with keys to the condo or to this lock. They're sitting here, and at least one of them is bored. Sound like guard duty? But not trusted with access, and with good reason," he says as he uses his thumb to point over his shoulder to the gurney holding Number Two.

"That means that there is at least one more player here, someone senior to these guys who has the keys. We pop the lock, check it out, then clear out and leave someone behind. The big boss won't know if we've found the room or gotten inside until he can get someone inside to check. We just sit back and wait. But he might be watching now, so we should have Lanie hold tight on leaving until we know what's going on."

Beckett nods and turns to Ryan. "You have a lock rake with you?" she inquires, referring to a tool that would allow them to open the padlock and allow it to be reused. He shakes his head and Castle cuts in: "I can get the padlock, and I don't have a weapon. I'll take care of the lock and open the door from the side. You can all cover the door."

"I'd wonder about your uncharacteristic display of good sense and caution, but I still remember the tiger, too," Beckett replies, with a ghost of a smile. It blooms into a full smile when she sees Castle's eyes drift to her handcuffs.

"No kibble today," he replies with a grin of his own.

Some poker player, Beckett thinks. He probably doesn't even notice that he's rubbing his wrist. Getting serious, Castle continues: "I'll stand where I can get the door shut again quickly if I have to, since we don't have any convenient freezers to climb in an emergency. Still, we should have Lanie and the techs back near the kitchen when this goes down."

Lanie's crew backs into the other room, near the exit to the condo. Castle snaps on the gloves that will prevent his fingerprints from contaminating the lock (a little late, considering his pawing at the bookcase) and slowly approaches the plywood door while the detectives and uniforms array themselves in an arc focused on the door.

Beckett covers her eyes and grumbles as Castle withdraws two picks from his wallet, thinking of the paperwork she'll need to complete and already coming up with semi-plausible explanations about why their civilian consultant carries B&E tools on his person.

Castle's already been at work during this mental assessment of the administrative work to come, and she's surprised to hear the lock click open so quickly. Apparently, Castle is much more proficient with picks than with combination locks. She looks at him to see him looking back, a gleam in his eye either showing his pride at the quick entry or that he knows what she's thinking. Probably both.

Guns are drawn as Castle carefully and quietly pulls the lock from the hasp and sets it on the floor. He places himself against the wall directly next to the door, and slowly, slowly pulls it slightly ajar while peeking inside.

Then, to Beckett's shock and dismay, he pulls the door open and darts inside, earlier thoughts of good sense and caution long forgotten.