“We should call Castle.”
Beckett pointed a finger at Esposito. “No.”
“But look at it!” Ryan exclaimed. ‘It’ was the body of a young brunette woman which had been dragged from the river and laid out on the bank. There wasn’t anything particularly special about her, except for the two punctures in her neck. “You know what he’ll say.”
“I know exactly what he’ll say,” Beckett replied. “Which is why we’re not…”
“Sweet! A vampire!”
Beckett rolled her eyes skywards, then turned. “What are you doing here, Castle?”
Castle beamed at her. “Lanie called me and told me to be at the river if I wanted to see something creepy.” He crouched down beside the corpse. “And look at that! Perfectly spaced for canines.” He looked up at her, wearing the bright-eyed expression that made her think of her first puppy. “It has to be a vampire, right?”
“Maybe she fell on a barbecue fork?” Ryan offered. Beckett shot him a look. “What? It could happen. I heard this story...”
“A friend of a friend, right?” Esposito snorted.
“It has to be a vampire,” Castle said. “Look how pale she is. Something drained the blood right out of her body. It leaves them looking like that, you know: like they were carved from a single perfect piece of marble, still and peaceful and...”
“And we know she was stabbed elsewhere and bled out while she was in the river,” Beckett said, grabbing him by the collar and pulling him upright.
“You have no imagination, Beckett,” Castle complained, then yelped as she marched him over to the car. “What’s bitten you?” he demanded, trying to look wounded rather than pleased about his choice of words.
“This is a murder, Castle,” she replied. “Not a vampire. Not an alien. Not a time machine.”
“Maybe it’s all of those things!” Castle exclaimed. “A time travelling vampire-alien!”
She gave him a look. “You had the double-espresso, didn’t you?”
He shrugged, his grin returning. “I was in a hurry and needed a pick-me-up.”
“God!” She turned and stalked back towards the body. Lanie had arrived with the van, and shot her an amused grin.
Beckett jabbed a finger at her. “You called him, so you can keep him for the day, okay?”
“To do what?” Lanie asked, squatting down beside the body and looking it over.
“I don’t know,” Beckett said, hands on her hips. “Watch the corpse, in case it rises from the grave to take its bloody vengeance upon the NYPD?”
“Ooh! I’ve seen that one!” Castle was right by her shoulder again. He nudged her. “Did you see it? There’s this amazing scene where the chief vampire rips off the lead detective’s clothes and she stakes him with her...”
“Nightstick, Castle?” Beckett suggested. “Long, hard, used for hitting troublemakers?”
He winced as if she had hit him with the very thing. “My mother tends to used the rolled-up newspaper.”
“Good for Martha,” she said, then looked down at Lanie. “COD?”
“Exsanguination,” Lanie replied, touching the wounds. “Penetration isn’t deep. Maybe half an inch. Enough to rupture the carotid. She would have bled out pretty quickly anyway, but she was dumped after the blood was drained.”
“What?” Beckett crouched down beside her. “How can you tell?”
Lanie pointed to dried blood on the skin around the wounds. “Wouldn’t be there if she was dumped in the river when she was still bleeding,” she said. “She’s been in the water about five hours, but at best guess, I’d say died maybe an hour or two before. Drained and dumped.”
Castle’s shoulder nudged Beckett’s. “Vampire,” he mouthed, making what she assumed was meant to be a vampire-teeth gesture with his fingers.
Beckett used his shoulder to lever herself upright. “There’s no such thing as vampires, Castle,” she said. “Lanie, get her back to the morgue and see if you can find any sign of the murder weapon.”
“We’ll be trying the graveyards,” Castle added eagerly. “Maybe there’s one with disturbed ground nearby.”
“We’ll be in the office,” Beckett corrected. “We have our victim’s next of kin to contact, and we have to find out where she started before she ended up in the river.”
Castle made a face. “Boring.”
“No, Castle,” she said. “Policework.”
The victim was a Lily Devine, a college student from uptown.
The name was enough to send Castle into fits of ecstasy.
“But that is the more perfect name for a vampire!” he exclaimed, as Beckett wrote up the murder board. “What more could you ask for?” His accent lapsed into a vampire that sounded more Sesame Street than Romanian. “Good day, I am Lily Devine, Mistress of Darkness!”
“Are you a trashy horror writer now?” she challenged, her pen squeaking on the board.
He made a face. “I’m just saying,” he said, “Lanie said there’s no sign of any weapon, and that there was saliva in the wounds. Weird saliva.”
“Weird. When the body was found floating in a river not known for its clean and sterile water.” She put the pen down and turned around. “If you can find me one shred of evidence that this could have been a vampire, then maybe, maybe, I would consider your theory, but gunked-up spit and two holes in her neck aren’t...”
“And the whole drained-blood... thing...” he trailed off at the look on her face. “Look, I’m just saying keep an open mind!”
“You remember the last vampire we dealt with?” she pointed out. “He had the teeth, he had the stake through his heart, he had the bites, and he was just a kid playing a part. Maybe this will be the same thing.”
He leaned forward on the chair. “But maybe,” he said significantly, “it won’t.”
“You’re not going to let this go, are you?”
He shook his head, smiling like the cat with the cream. “Give me evidence that it wasn’t a vampire,” he said, “and maybe, maybe, I’ll consider your theory.”
“Hey.” Ryan walked into the office, heading towards them.
“Any luck tracking her last movements? Like a fake-vampire nightclub?” Beckett asked with an unnecessarily stern look at Castle.
Ryan held up a tape. “We got some footage of her in a bar,” he said, though he hesitated.
“There’s something weird about it,” he admitted.
Castle scooted his seat forward, all attentiveness, eyes wide. “Weird how?”
“We spoke to the bartender,” Ryan explained. “He recognised her from a picture we showed him, and he said she’d been there most of the evening with an older guy. Nick Benitez, the bartender, says he thinks the guy was from Europe. He had a kinda...” He shot a look at Castle, then sheepishly said to Beckett, “Vampirey-accent.”
“Vampirey accent?” Beckett echoed sceptically.
“Vampirey accent!” Castle echoed, tilting his head to look up at her. Beckett deliberately ignored him.
Ryan held up his hands. “Don’t blame me,” he said. “That’s how Mister Benitez described it. Said the guy was in his late-thirties, dark hair, pale...”
“Pale,” Castle burbled happily to himself. “Vampirey! Oh, it doesn’t get better than this!”
“And the tape is from the bar?” Beckett asked, holding out her hand.
“Um.” Ryan gave her the tape. “But that’s where it gets weirder.”
Castle came back to reality with a jolt. “What? Weirder?” He reached for the tape, but Beckett held it above her head. “Is there something weird on the tape? What’s weird on the tape?” He scrambled to his feet, reaching for it. “Let me see the weird thing!”
Beckett grabbed him by his shirt-front. “Castle,” she said calmly. “I have the tape. I have no intention of giving you the tape. If you actually want to see what’s going on, sit down quietly for five minutes and I might put it in the machine.”
“Okay,” he mouthed, sitting down very carefully and quietly and clasping his hands together in his lap.
Beckett waited for a moment, and when it appeared he was going to behave, she turned her attention back to Ryan. “So what’s the deal with what’s on the tape?”
“It’s not what’s on the tape,” Ryan said carefully. “It’s what’s not on the tape.”
She frowned. “Excuse me?”
“The girl’s there, right where Mister Benitez said, and she’s talking and laughing, but...”
Ryan shot a glance at Castle, who was tapping his feet eagerly, nodding. “But there was no one at the table with her.”
Castle made a sound that was so high in pitch, dogs would have struggled to hear it.
Beckett looked at the tape. “A glitch?”
“Vampire!” Castle squeaked, bouncing in his seat. “Don’t show up in mirrors or film!”
“Castle,” Beckett snapped. She pressed her fingertips to her forehead. “This Nick Benitez, does he come across as a liar?”
Ryan shook his head. “Esposito was sticking around to check the bar tab and scouting for other witnesses, but it does look like she’s talking to someone in the bar. There were two glasses on the table, and she looked like she was enjoying herself.”
Beckett looked at the tape as if it might bite her. “Castle, if I put this tape on,” she said slowly, “and you utter the word ‘vampire’ once, I swear I will lock you in the cell with the biggest, friendliest prisoner we have.”
He clapped both hands over his mouth and nodded eagerly.
The tape was as inconclusive as Ryan had said. The girl was sitting at a private table, and was talking animatedly, but aside from a blur of static on the tape, there was no sign of anyone with her. The second glass she brought from the bar remained on the table, untouched.
“She could be talking on her cell,” Beckett said doubtfully. “Maybe using one of those headsets?”
“Nuh-uh,” Castle said sagely. “No woman would lean at that angle to show off her...” He caught himself on Beckett’s look. “Tracts of land. She really wants someone to notice them, and you don’t do that if you’re just talking on a cellphone.”
They watched the rest of the tape until the girl got up and arranged her arm as if she had taken someone else’s arm. She walked out of sight and the table was cleared before being taken by another pair.
Beckett stopped the tape. “So unless she spent two hours talking to herself, we have an anonymous man who somehow avoided security footage, despite witnesses seeing him, and now the girl’s dead,” she said. She sighed. “We better hope Esposito found someone who saw where they went when they left the bar.”
Several hours of trawling later, they had an address.
Esposito returned to pass on the details, as well as the description of the man in question, just as Castle returned from the third coffee run of the day.
“Do we get to go on a stakeout?” he asked eagerly, setting down the tray of coffee. “You know, a stakeout?”
Beckett snatched her cup without so much as a glimmer of a smile. “This is Esposito’s call,” she said firmly. “If he wants to take it, you can sit it out.”
Castle looked as if someone had stolen his candy.
“I dunno, boss,” Esposito said, trying his best to keep a straight face, “If the guy is really a vampire, Castle knows everything about how to beat them.”
“He’s right,” Castle agreed. He tapped the breast of his jacket. “Even carry my own garlic and everything.”
“What makes you think I wouldn’t just let a vampire eat you?” Beckett demanded, getting up from her desk.
Esposito laughed. “C’mon, Beckett,” he said. “Don’t you want to be there and see his little heart break when he realises the guy is just some guy and not a vampire?”
“Hey!” Castle protested at the thoughtful look on Beckett’s face.
“Sad truth, bro,” Esposito said, shaking his head mournfully. “The lady wants to make you hurt.”
Castle practically pouted, but chased after Beckett anyway.
“A couple of rules, Castle,” she said, as they parked outside the building. “One: you do not ask this man if he is a habitual drinker of blood, female or otherwise. Two: you don’t say anything. Three: don’t break rule one or two.”
“But what if...”
“Castle. Rules. Don’t break them.”
He rolled his eyes, then climbed out of the car. “How far up are we?” he asked, looking up at the block towering above them.
“All the way,” she replied, striding forwards.
The building was an exclusive one and the security doorman checked her badge with deep suspicion, before waving her through. The elevator doors were decorated with ornate designs, and even the lobby had a feeling of wealth and grandeur.
Castle managed to restrain himself until they got into the elevator. “Look at this place!” he exclaimed in a breath. “I bet you’d have to have references from the President and the Pope to get an apartment here!”
“That’s you out, then,” Beckett said, as the elevator slid smoothly to a halt on the twenty-third floor. She shot a look at him. “Unless you know them too and you’re holding back on me.”
He shook his head as they emerged into an opulent square hallway. There was a single door in each corner, every one of them looking brand new, as if they had only been installed that day. Even the patterned tile floor was pristine.
“This one,” Beckett said, striding over to the one marked IV. She lifted her hand to knock and the door swung silently open.
Castle made a sound uncannily like a squeal. “That was awesome!”
“That was probably a remote control,” Beckett countered, pushing the door wider revealing an elegant hallway furnished in in clean, sharp shapes and colours. “Hello? This is Kate Beckett, NYPD.”
“The famous Miss Beckett.” A man appeared in the doorway on the far side of the hall. Like the hall, he was sharp and polished. His shirt was elegant and clearly tailored, and his pants were perfectly cut. He looked like a Playboy broker, were it not for the thick sideburns that came to a sharp point beneath his cheekbones and the dark ponytail that hung over one shoulder. He spoke English well, in a deep melodious voice, but the accent was strong. “I am given notice that you are here.” He smiled slightly. “I am seeing you in newspapers. It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Beckett.”
“Detective Beckett,” Beckett corrected, holding up her badge. “This is Rick Castle. You’re Mr Cristea?”
He walked forward and inclined his head. “I am. How is that I can help you?” His eyes flicked to Castle, who was staring at him. Castle raised a hand in sheepish greeting. “And your... friend?”
“Colleague,” Beckett said briskly. “Is there somewhere we can talk, Sir?”
Cristea curled his fingers in an elegant beckoning gesture, leading them deeper into the bright, modern apartment. He walked gracefully, like a dancer, to a music only he could hear, every step light and careful. He moved like a shadow through his own home.
If Castle had been expecting a vampire’s lair, beige and white would not have featured prominently in the design. Everything spoke of an austere luxury only affordable to the extremely wealthy, with a sterile neatness that suggested that there was a very well-paid home help.
They entered a study, one wall of which was lined entirely with books, most of which looked old and smelled old, which probably translated very expensive. Cristea sat down behind the wide oak desk on an upholstered chair, which seemed oddly out of place compared to the modern décor of the rest of the flat.
“Please will you be sitting,” he said, indicating to the chairs opposite him.
Castle looked around as he sat down. “Northern exposure,” he muttered to Beckett. “Less sunlight.”
Beckett shot him a warning look.
Cristea inclined his head, looking at them with polite interest. By the muted daylight, he looked as if he was around his mid-thirties, with only a couple of strands of silver visible at his temples. His eyes were dark, and as described, his skin was pale. He propped his elbow on the arm of his chair, resting his chin lightly on his knuckles.
Despite himself, Castle found himself staring at the manicured hands.
“How is it I can be helping you?” Cristea asked, ignoring Castle to study Beckett.
“We’re here about a Lily Devine,” Beckett said, withdrawing a photograph of the victim from her file. “She was last seen entering this building with a man fitting your description.”
Cristea lowered his hand and leaned forward slowly. A fingertip drew the photograph across the desk, and his mouth turned up in a closed-lipped smile. “Ah, Lily,” he said, sliding the photograph back. “We have an acquaintance. She is a... friendly girl. She is to come to me again in some days.”
“I’m afraid she’s dead, Mr Cristea,” Beckett said quietly. “She was found in the east river in the early hours of this morning.”
Cristea’s eyebrows rose minutely. “Dead? That can not be correct.”
Beckett put the photo back into the file. “Unfortunately, it’s true,” she said. “And as you were the last person to see her alive, that we know of, we were wondering if you could tell us what happened after she came here with you.”
Cristea’s fingertips tapped on the desk. “As I say, she is very friendly. We meet in the bar, we talk about many things. She is very beautiful. I am very rich. It is good for both of us.” His mouth turned up in that toothless smile. “She is coming to my bed. We...” His broad shoulders shifted in a smooth shrug. “You are grown woman, detective. You do not need for me to tell you what a man and a woman will do.”
Beckett nodded curtly. “Then what happened?”
“When we are done, she leaves,” Cristea replied, with an elegant gesture of one hand, which Castle watched raptly. “She says to find her once more in the same place in three nights. I say yes. She walks out the door, and I do not see her again until you bring this photograph and tell me she is dead.”
“Approximately what time was that?” Beckett asked.
Cristea laughed. Like his voice, it was a low, throaty sound. “I am distracted,” he said without a trace of shame. “I have had beautiful girl in my bed. I do not look at clock to see how long it is taking.” He motioned to the door of the room. “In lobby, there are cameras for security. You will see her leave on them. It will show you the time.”
Beckett nodded. “We may have some more questions for you later, Mr. Cristea.”
The man rose smoothly, hands upon the ornate arms of the chair. “I expect it is so,” he agreed. He led them back through the apartment to the front door. “I will see you again soon, detective.”
Beckett nodded again, then stepped out into the hall.
“A moment, Mr Castle,” Cristea murmured, putting out his arm to prevent Castle’s exit. “I will speak with you.”
“Be right there, Beckett!” Castle called, then looked up at the man. He was a lot taller up close, and his eyes were dark and cold. Castle leaned back from him involuntarily. “Is there something I can help you with?”
Cristea inclined his head in an unsettlingly reptilian fashion. “If you come into my home again, Mr Castle,” he murmured, “I would consider it respectful if you did not bring this with you.” He tapped the breast pocket of Castle’s jacket with a single finger. He smiled, this time showing very white, very even, very sharp teeth. “Do you understand?”
Castle stared at him, then nodded. “Um. Yeah.” He squeezed around Cristea. “Um. I’ll just be...going. Now. With her.” He all but ran to Beckett’s side, turning to keep his back against the elevator wall, and watching Cristea warily.
“You okay, Castle?” Beckett asked, as they stepped into the elevator.
Castle nodded, holding his breath and watching the doors close way too slowly for his liking. As soon as they were closed, his breath exploded out in a gasp. “He was lying,” he said. “He killed her, he enjoyed it, and he’s mocking us.”
“Obviously,” Beckett said mildly, frowning. “You okay, Castle? Really? You don’t look good.”
Castle looked at her warily. “I think he might really be a vampire.”
Beckett sighed impatiently. “Castle, be serious.”
“I am,” he said, stepping closer to her and keeping his voice low. “Completely. Didn’t you notice that there wasn’t a single mirror in his apartment? If I looked like that, I’d want to see me every time I turned around.”
“Just because he’s not a vain peacock like...”
“And his hands,” Castle continued urgently. “How old would you say he was?”
“Thirty-five,” Beckett guessed. “Maybe forty. What does that have to do with his hands?”
“They looked like they belonged to someone older. A lot older.” Castle shivered. “The skin was like old-people skin, so thin you could see all the veins through it, and bony as well. How did you not notice?”
Beckett gave him a half-exasperated, half-pitying look. “When I talk to someone, I look them in the face. I don’t stare at their hands.”
Castle waved dismissively. “That’s not the point,” he said. “He knew I had garlic in my pocket. How did he know that unless he could sense it?”
“With his mighty sense of smell?” Beckett said. “It’s not as if it has no scent.”
“And he could smell it well enough to know which pocket I was keeping it in?” Castle said, shaking his head. “And his teeth.”
“God, Castle,” Beckett groaned, as the elevator doors opened. “Yes, he’s creepy and guilty as hell, but that doesn’t make him a vampire.”
Castle touched the pocket of his jacket doubtfully.
“Come on, fraidy cat,” she said stepping out into the lobby. “We have a security tape to collect.”
“Dad! Dad, stop it!”
Castle caught his daughter around the middle and sprinkled the water over her head. “Hold still, honey! This is for your own protection!”
“Dad!” Alexis squirmed free and fled behind the kitchen counter. “We agreed that as soon as I hit eight, you stopped washing my hair.” She edged sideways as he advanced on her. “Are you at least going to tell me why you’re doing it?”
“I thought you’d like it better than garlic,” he replied. He held out the bottle. “Splash this on yourself, and make sure not to miss your neck.”
She looked at the bottle, then back at him. “Holy water?”
“Beckett might think it’s my imagination,” her father said, “But I think it’s better to be safe than sorry.” He reached into the box on the counter and pulled out an oversized crucifix. “Do you want this over your bed or on the door?”
Alexis carefully put the bottle down. “Dad,” she said calmly, “you remember you told me that one day, there would be a day when the writing got too much, and your brain melted out your ears, and you would start acting crazy?”
“Uh-huh, sweetie.” He held up a string of garlic.
She edged around the counter and gently touched his wrist. “Daddy,” she said softly, “I think you’ve reached that day.”
He looked at her, puzzled, then at the box. “Oh! Oh, right. No,” he said. “This isn’t crazy, honestly. I mean, I can see how it might... look… uh...” He put down the stake he was holding and smiled gingerly. “I think vampires are real.”
“I know that,” she said, putting her arms around his middle. “And the tooth fairy.”
“No,” he said seriously, looking down at her. “I mean I think I met one.”
Alexis stared up at him, worried. “Are you sick? Did you get hit on the head again?”
He gently guided her to sit down on one of the stools. “Sweetie, you know I get real excited that these things might actually be real,” he said. “But I saw a girl drained dry of her blood, and I met the guy who did it, and I don’t want to believe in those things anymore.”
“They’re from stories, dad,” she said quietly.
“From myths,” he corrected just as quietly. “That’s a whole different thing. Myths have to come from somewhere. Stories are just made up.”
She stood up and hugged him suddenly. “Someone scared you, huh?”
He only hesitated for a moment before hugging her back, almost lifting her off her feet. “I think so,” he admitted in a whisper. “Sweetie, I know it sounds crazy, but indulge me? Just this once, do as I ask?”
She nodded against his shoulder, hugging him all the tighter. “Which version?” she asked, barely loud enough to hear.
“Old-school,” he said, gently setting her back down. “None of this sparkling stuff. Old-fashioned, creepy, blood-drinking, garlic-hating.” He patted the box. “I have crucifixes, Holy water, garlic and enough stakes to make a fence.”
“No inviting in strangers?” she guessed.
“Alexis, we live in New York City,” he reminded her with a brief smile. “If you invited in strangers any other time, I’d disown you.”
She reached into the box and picked out a small crucifix. “You going to be okay?”
“Once we get this guy, I will be,” he assured her, stroking her cheek. “You’ll stay in tonight?”
“Until you tell me it’s safe,” she assured him.
His phone buzzed in his pocket, making him jump. He pulled it out to check the screen. “That’s Beckett,” he said apologetically.
“Go, beat the bad guys,” Alexis said with a small smile. “I’ll hang the garlic and figure out something to tell Gram.”
“Tell her it’s for a play?” Castle suggested. “She’ll let you do anything if it’s for a play.”
Alexis nodded. “Go,” she said.
Despite knowing nothing could get to her, he still double-locked the door before he headed down to the parking lot. He kept his cell close at hand for the whole journey, and even as he ran up the stairs to the homicide department, he called to make sure she was okay.
“I’ll try to be home before dawn,” he assured her. “Love you, sweetie.” He closed the phone. “Hey.”
Beckett turned around from the murder board as he approached. “Hey.”
“Anything?” Castle asked.
“Nothing,” Esposito replied.
Castle swore under his breath. “How can there be nothing?”
“Because he was right,” Beckett said, gesturing to a picture on the board. There was a frozen image from the security video of Lily Devine standing in the lobby of Cristea’s apartment, waiting for the elevator. The time-stamp confirmed she left the building at three-thirty in the morning. “She walked out of the apartment.”
Beckett nodded. “What about it?”
Castle scanned the murder board. “Did Lanie ever confirm the T.O.D?” he demanded. “We were by the river at what? Nine? Lanie said she’d been in the water around five hours…”
“But that she’d been dead an hour or more before that!” Beckett exclaimed, grabbing the coroner’s report and flicking through it. Her eyes skimmed down across the pages and she jabbed at it triumphantly. “T.O.D approximately two o’clock in the morning.”
Ryan eyed the image on the board. “So how does a woman who has been dead for an hour and a half get up and walk out of her killer’s apartment?” he asked. “Unless she’s being controlled like a puppet.”
Beckett and Castle whirled and pointed at each other.
“He knew we would look at the footage,” she said.
“Like the footage from the bar!” Castle agreed. “We couldn’t see him in that, so how are we meant to see him in this?”
“He knows he can’t be seen on camera...” Beckett continued.
“So he kills her, dresses her up, and carries her out like a doll, making it look like she’s walking, when he’s right there!”
“Say what now?” Esposito inquired.
“He’s a vampire,” Ryan muttered, leaning sideways towards his partner. “Can’t be seen on film. It’s a whole big deal.”
Esposito looked from Castle to Beckett, then back again. “I think I’ll leave you guys in the crazy corner.”
“He’s not a vampire,” Beckett said impatiently. “He’s a murder suspect with some kind of video-disrupting technology.”
“How do we prove it?” Castle asked. “It’s not like we have evidence of him dragging her corpse around.”
“You could film him,” Ryan said.
Beckett shook her head. “We’ve been over this,” she said. “He doesn’t show... oh...”
“We could film him not showing up,” Castle said, nodding. “Ryan, you’re a genius.”
Both Beckett and Castle headed for the door, deep in discussion about where would be the best place to catch their suspect on film, leaving Esposito and Ryan staring after them.
“You’re wishing you’d asked him to record that as a voicemail, aren’t you?” Esposito said.
Ryan nodded ruefully. “Kinda, yeah.”
“But he was here!” Castle said, turning around in the middle of the apartment. “You can’t move everything out of an apartment within ten hours in New York with no one noticing you’re doing it!”
They had been forced to wait until morning before the search warrant came through, and the morning light was illuminating the study they had visited the day before. The only sign that anyone had ever occupied the place were the faint scrapes on the bare floor where chairs had been moved.
“He’s a rich guy,” Beckett said bitterly. “They get away with a lot more than the average man on the street.”
“But a whole apartment?” Castle said. He pointed at the wall which had been lined with books the day before. “Those couldn’t be moved quickly. You don’t just throw antique books into a box and run for the door.” He hurried out into the hall and started looking in through each door. “Whoa...”
“Anything?” Beckett demanded, following.
“Look at the size of this place!” Castle exclaimed. The room which would probably have been a living room, with wooden flooring and views over Central Park, could have fitted half a basketball court easily. “Don’t tell me that even a really rich guy could have cleared a room this big in ten hours with short notice! Unless…” He walked into the room, looking around.
“Unless what, Castle?”
“Unless he only had parts of the apartment decorated,” Castle said, running his fingertips along the skirting board at the edge of the wall. “This place hasn’t been cleaned properly in a while, but you saw the hall and the study.”
“Polished and shining,” Beckett agreed. She pressed her hand against his shoulder. “I’m going to find the bedroom. If it was a crime of passion, that’s where I’d put my bets. See what you can find in here.”
He nodded, walking across to the window to look out at the view over the park. “Nice,” he murmured to himself, leaning against the frame. His breath caught on the cold glass and he froze. “Beckett!”
She raced into the room, gun drawn. “What is it?”
He pointed at the glass. “I think I found our crime scene,” he said.
She tilted her head. “Where?”
He breathed out to mist the glass again, showing a dragging hand-print running from about shoulder-height. “There,” he said softly. “Fingertips. That’s someone trying to get a grip on a smooth surface. Desperately.”
Beckett pulled out her phone. “I’ll call CSU,” she said. “You call Ryan and Esposito, let them know what’s going on. We need to find out who this guy is and where he might have gone.”
By the time they eventually returned to the office, information was filtering in from the CSU team they had left behind.
“Got good news and bad news, boss,” Esposito said, holding up a file.
Beckett pinched the bridge of her nose. “Okay,” she said, shedding her coat. “Bad first?”
“The fingerprints on the window weren’t our girl’s,” he said. He held up his hand. “But they are in the system.”
“That’s a break, at least,” Beckett said with a sigh. “Who is she?”
“A Jane Doe, unfortunately,” Esposito said. “But here’s the thing: she was found over four years ago in a dumpster in Queens.”
“He’s killed two?” Castle said.
“Could be,” Esposito said with a nod. He held out a picture to Beckett. “Similar injuries, but they were blamed on the fact she was in a dumpster full of sharp, broken car parts. They didn’t bother trying to explain away the lack of blood at the scene.”
“No trace,” Beckett murmured. “Except…” She pulled over the file for Lily Devine. “The same observation about the saliva at the wounds. They said our Jane Doe must have had rats or something nibbling on her.”
“Or a two-metre tall rat in a suit,” Castle said grimly. “He likes biting them and drinking their blood, Beckett.”
“That just means he’s sick,” Beckett said evenly.
“No,” Castle replied. “If he drank that much blood, he would be sick. The human body isn’t designed to digest human blood. He would have been throwing up within the hour of drinking that much blood, and unless CSU can show up something, there’s no sign of blood anywhere in that apartment.”
“Castle,” Beckett said quietly, sitting down with the Jane Doe file. She looked tired. “We are not having this discussion. We have a potential serial killer. I am not in any mood to play with your theories, okay?”
“I’m just saying look into the lack of blood,” Castle replied just as quietly.
She nodded. “Esposito, can you look into any other deaths matching this M.O?” she asked.
“How far back?” he asked, getting up.
“As far as it goes,” she replied, opening the two files side by side. “Ryan, you dig into Cristea and his background. He must have been in that apartment for a while. Find out as much as you can about him.”
“Castle, I don’t know what else you can do.”
He was standing by her desk, tapping on the edge with one finger. “I was going to go home,” he said. “I think I should spend some time with Alexis.”
She smiled faintly. “If we find anything, we’ll let you know,” she said. “Keep safe, okay?”
“You too,” he said, turning and walking away.
The case was getting worse by the hour.
There were no traces of Lily Devine in the apartment, and CSU were unable to find even a trace of blood. There weren’t even any signs that anyone had been living there: no skin follicles, no stray hairs.
The only traces that anyone had been there were prints of three different women, each in a different room, all of them found dead at intervals over the past ten years. All three were brunette or black-haired, one of them a Jane Doe, the two others professional women, one a lawyer, one a market trader. Only one of them had been involved with anyone, and none of them had any ties to the others.
Most significantly, the one link they did all have was their death: incised wounds on the left side of their neck, and drained of blood.
“How is it possible no one noticed this?” Beckett asked the office at large, as another picture was added to the murder board.
“C.O.D. was given a different cause every time,” Esposito observed. “One of them was even put down to a dog bite.”
“Maybe Castle’s right about this one,” Ryan added. He held up his hands as if to ward off their disbelieving looks. “I mean that this guy thinks he is a vampire. Not that he, y’know, actually is one.”
“Still doesn’t explain the lack of trace evidence,” Beckett said. Her head was throbbing from hours of staring at the board and the files. “There are clean crime scenes, but I’ve never seen one as clean as this. We have evidence that three women were there, but no blood, no stains, not even a sign that the place has been cleaned. The only dust they’ve found didn’t even have a grain of human tissue.”
“Maybe he didn’t live there?” Ryan suggested. “Could have been his killing house.”
“Dude’s got to be rolling in it, if he has a place like that just to kill people in it,” Esposito said with a grimace. “If he’s been able to kill multiple victims there, how do we know he doesn’t have another safe house to do the same in another part of the city?”
“We don’t. And we don’t even know what other aliases he might have to check where else he could have been living,” Beckett sighed. She closed the file in front of her. “I don’t know about you guys, but it’s late, and I don’t think we’re going to get anything more tonight.”
Ryan nodded. “Unless he walks in here to turn himself in, I say we call it a night.”
All three of them looked at the door in a forlorn hope.
“Screw it,” Esposito said, pushing his chair back and standing. “I’m going home.” He pulled on his jacket. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“See you,” Ryan agreed, getting up. “You heading home, Beckett?”
She tapped her pen on the cover of the file, a pensive look on her face. “In a while,” she said. “Be here for eight-thirty tomorrow?” They nodded, heading for the elevator, as she stood up and examined the board again.
There were obvious similarities between the victims: dark-haired, independent women, all of them in powerful positions. It looked like Cristea, if that was his name, liked to pick on smart women. Probably because killing someone smart was more of a challenge than killing someone dumb.
And drinking their blood.
Judging by the angle of the bite, he bit from behind, and pressed them against whatever surface they were near. It explained the prints. He would come from behind, assume the position of power and control, and they would be forced to submit.
Cristea liked his power. He liked to be in control, and he liked to control women who weren’t usually controlled by anyone but themselves. Some kind of twisted game. There was another thing the victims had in common: no sign of sexual activity in the hours before their death. It was all about the power and the blood.
Her eyes kept coming back to the word ‘blood’ on the board. Castle’s advice had been bothering her all day. He was right about the blood. All of the women had been drained dry, but there had never been any trace found anywhere. None of the crime scenes, none of the places where the bodies were dumped.
In her experience, violent biting would lead to spray, especially from a central vein or artery, which would lead to stains, and yet, this guy bit and… nothing.
She rubbed her eyes. Castle’s paranoia was catching.
“How about this one?”
Castle leaned sideways over a small mountain of books to look at the one Alexis was holding. “Ew! Toenails?”
She flashed him her mother’s smile, her eyes dancing. “You asked me to find all the vampire myths I could,” she reminded him. “That even means the really gross ones.”
“As if drinking blood isn’t gross enough,” he muttered with a shudder.
The table in front of them was piled high with books of all shapes and sizes, every one of them featuring myths and legends from all over the world. Most of them had colourful tag marking relevant pages. Alexis had spent her vacation day indulging in hyper-efficiency.
“A lot of them say the same thing,” Alexis said, pulling a spreadsheet towards her. “The best way to kill a vampire is to cut off its head, but if you can’t do that, a stake through the heart would slow it down.”
“There’s something they didn’t teach us in writer-school,” he said ruefully.
“I don’t think this is something they teach in any school, dad,” Alexis said fondly.
He gave her a stern look. “You know what I said about shattering my illusions?”
“I’m not illusion-shattering!” she assured him with a laugh. “Look at all the research I’ve done to help you slay a vampire.” She patted his hands. “I’ve even worked out the pressure you would need to exert to stake through skin and into a heart.”
He smiled dotingly, putting an arm around her and giving her a loving squeeze. “You’re the best daughter a wannabe vampire-hunter could have, sweetie,” he assured her. “Kinda creepy, but great.”
She leaned against his side. “You’re still worrying about that guy?”
“I don’t like serial killers,” he admitted freely. “Especially not ones who are as smug about it as he is.” He kissed her hair. “At least I know you’re safe. For one thing, you’re too sweet and innocent for him and for another, you’re far too not-brunette.”
“If he has a type, won’t that make it easier to find him?”
Castle shook his head. “This one is different,” he said. “I bet he’s so rich, he can go into hiding in any city in the world.” He rubbed his chin pensively. “It’s just strange...” He fell silent, frowning.
“What is?” Alexis nudged him. “Dad? What’s strange?”
He was staring into a world of his own. “He found her in a bar, in a public place,” he murmured to himself. “He made sure he was seen. He made sure that there were witnesses who saw where he went. He wanted us to find him.” He turned to Alexis. “He wanted us to find him!”
“And you did, then he ran away,” Alexis said. “So he wanted to get caught then changed his mind?”
“I don’t think so,” Castle said, getting up and pacing across the room. “Why do serial killers kill? To make some kind of statement, gesture. There’s a pattern, a theme. This guy goes for women in power, but Lily was just a college student. She was a junior temp in an office. Not his kind of person at all. Just a dark-haired...” His eyes widened and he grabbed at his phone. “Beckett!”
It was raining lightly when Beckett finally gave up on the board and its secrets. Home was calling, but she stopped off along the way.
Maybe it was Castle and his dumb theories, but sitting in the quiet church two blocks from her apartment gave her time to think about things under the strangely comforting shadow of a crucifix. The Priest looked surprised but gratified by an unexpected visitor, and offered her confession and a prayer.
When she finally walked down the narrow steps, she felt at ease. Which was ridiculous, since she didn’t believe in all that church stuff. Or vampires for that matter. Using one to distract from the other felt kind of stupid.
She stopped off at the store to grab some groceries, then headed in the direction of home.
An engine purring up the street behind her caught her attention. Anyone who had ever owned or rode on a motorcycle recognised the sound of one, especially one that is high-quality and well-maintained. It caught her attention even more, because she was walking at an easy pace, and on a street utterly deserted, the motorcycle was going at about the same speed as she was.
She slipped one hand from beneath her grocery bag to the gun at her belt, and thumbed the safety off.
The motorcycle continued to trail behind her until she reached the door of her apartment building, and set her foot on the step. The engine murmured to a halt, then cut out right behind her, making the hair on the back of her neck rise.
She drew a slow breath, turning and extending the gun at Cristea, who was sitting astride the large black bike. “Get off the bike,” she said quietly and calmly. “And put your hands on your head.”
He laughed and she saw his gleaming teeth, sharp as Castle had said. “I do not think I will do this,” he said, swinging one leg over the bike to sit facing her. “You do not seem to be surprised.”
She smiled without humour. “Very little surprises me,” she said. “Get off the bike, now, or I swear to God I will fire.”
“You do not follow police protocol,” he observed, leaning lazily sideways. “You cannot shoot a man with no weapon, I think.”
Beckett stared coldly at him. “I would risk it,” she said bluntly. “How many women have you killed?”
He smiled, his teeth gleaming. “How many have you found?”
She tightened her grip. “Get off the bike.”
“Put the gun down, Miss Beckett,” he murmured, and to her horror, she did. He smiled again, lazily, his eyes half-closed to glittering slits. “Very good, yes?”
She lifted the gun again. “Don’t...”
“Down,” he said in a low, dangerous murmur.
The gun dropped from her fingers. She could feel her cell vibrating in her pocket, but didn’t dare to go for it. “What the hell did you do to me?”
Cristea glided to his feet. “I appeal to your better nature,” he murmured, prowling closer to her. “I think you will come with me. We will go to a beautiful place to look down on all of this city, and then...” He traced her cheek with a knuckle, his skin papery and rasping.
“And then?” she asked quietly, turning her face from his touch.
He smiled, almost benevolently. “And then, I shall drink your strength from your veins.”
“I won’t let you,” she said, though she tried to move and felt like she was rooted to the ground.
He laughed, plucking her groceries from her arm and dropping them on the sidewalk. “Miss Beckett,” he said. “You will find that you do not have a choice.”
She looked up at him. “Where?” she asked quietly.
He slipped his arm around her shoulder and drew her towards the motorcycle. “You will see,” he said. “Get on.”
She glared at him viciously and wedged her hands into her pockets. “No.”
“Get onto the bike,” he repeated, his voice plummeting in depth. Her body jerked as if someone else was controlling it, and she swung one leg over the saddle, swearing as she did so. He smiled and slid onto the seat in front of her. “Very good, Miss Beckett. Now, you will hold on.”
Spitting venom, she put her arms around his waist, and the engine roared to life.
“Any sign of her?” Castle demanded.
He’d called Beckett, and she had picked up, but hadn’t said anything. That had made the bottom drop out of his stomach, and he called the station right away. Captain Montgomery had been woken and all at once, everyone was on high alert.
Since her cell was still connected to Castle’s, they were able to triangulate the location, and Castle had headed there to meet Ryan, Esposito and the SWAT team. They were currently arming up outside an older building in downtown Manhattan, which had boarded up windows and a generous share of graffiti.
Esposito was standing at the doorway, directing the teams in. He eyed Castle’s choice of weapon. “You brought a water pistol?”
“With Holy Water.”
“Man, you might be taking this vampire-thing too far.”
“Ryan has a crucifix,” Castle pointed out, making Ryan colour. “Any sign?”
“Nothing so far,” Esposito said, as they headed into the building. “She did the smart thing picking up her phone, but we don’t know if she still has it. Or...”
“Don’t even go there,” Castle said tersely. “We need to get to the top floor.”
Ryan asked, “Why?”
“He’s a power-trip kind of guy,” he said. “He likes to look down on people and control them. He’d want to kill her from the top.”
Ryan eyed him. “Castle, did anyone ever tell you that you’d make a great super villain?”
“My mother,” Castle replied. “Elevator or stairs?”
“Stairs,” Esposito murmured. He gestured for the SWAT team to split into two groups and they all headed for the staircases. “Elevator’s busted.”
There were scuffs in the dust on the stairs, as they ascended, and something gleamed on the fifth landing. Castle swooped down and grabbed it. “Her father’s watch,” he said tersely. “She never takes it off.”
“She’ll be okay, Castle,” Esposito said. “She’s smart.”
Castle ignored him and continued up the stairs, holding his water gun as if it were a real weapon. They flowed after him in silence, following the trail of dusty footprints. The top level of the building was only tenth storey.
“Spread out,” Esposito murmured as they reached the top storey, taking a moment to catch their breath. “It’s a former office, so it’ll have divided rooms. Castle...” He looked around. “Shit! Castle!”
Castle had already vanished off into the gloom alone.
He crept along the gloomy hallways, and spotted what he was looking for: the rickety staircase which provided rooftop access. A single feminine shoe was lying at the bottom, a breadcrumb for anyone looking for a trail.
A hand grabbed his shoulder and he whirled around, spraying his assailant.
“Castle!” Esposito gurgled.
“Esposito?” Castle lowered the water gun. “Don’t sneak up on people on a vampire hunt!”
Esposito glared at him. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to shoot your buddies?” he demanded in a whisper.
Castle motioned for him to be quiet, pointing upwards. Esposito frowned, inclining his head in an unspoken question. Castle nodded, then pointed to the shoe and the stairs. He tapped his chest and gestured that he would go first.
“No way, Castle,” Esposito hissed.
“He met me,” Castle replied. “He doesn’t think I’m a threat. You’re all cops with guns. Let me try?”
Esposito held up his hands. “Your funeral, man,” he murmured. “Yell if you need help.”
“I’ll scream,” Castle promised, handing Esposito his used up water gun and starting up the stairs.
The door squealed quietly when he pushed it open and stumbled out into the New York night. It took a moment to get his bearings, looking around the flat expanse of the roof, but it was impossible to miss Cristea and Beckett.
He was sitting on the edge of the roof, smiling lightly, and Beckett was sitting at his feet in front of him. Her expression suggested that she could tear his head off with her bare hands, given the chance.
“Your friend, Mr Castle,” Cristea said cheerfully.
“You shouldn’t have come, Castle,” Beckett said through clenched teeth.
He laughed nervously. “I know,” he said. “But you know me. Like to get myself into trouble so you can save me.” He forced himself to look at Cristea. “I know what you are.”
Cristea shrugged one shoulder. “It is obvious, I think,” he said, stroking Beckett’s hair. “But we have talked enough.” He rose, and with a gesture, Beckett rose too, her whole body rigid and tense. “I know that you fear, Mr Castle. I want you to see, so you remember to fear for as long as you live.”
Castle screamed then. It came out girlie and high-pitched, but it was a scream.
Footsteps thudded on the stairs, but the door slammed closed, and with another curt gesture from Cristea’s ancient hand, a portion of the roof above the doorway collapse, blocking it completely.
Castle stared at the blocked doorway, then back at Cristea. “Oh God...”
Cristea clicked his tongue sadly. “You disappoint, Mr Castle. You are a story teller. You know that a confrontation must be between us. You are her hero.”
“But I’m not a hero. I didn’t even bring any garlic!”
“Leave him out of this,” Beckett hissed, her body straining against Cristea’s control.
Cristea laughed softly, drawing a strand of hair behind her ear. “You have no say anymore, Miss Beckett,” he murmured close to her ear. “He will watch you die. You will watch him watch you die. You will watch his mind and his heart break.”
“Like he cares that much,” she snapped.
“Oh, he does, Miss Beckett,” Cristea murmured with a smile. “He has three in his heart. A mother. A daughter. And you.”
Beckett met Castle’s eyes. Cristea had hit right on the truth, judging by his expression. “Could do with one of those tricks you mentioned, to get us out of this,” she hissed.
Castle spread his hands helplessly. “I don’t even carry a gun!” he exclaimed. “You just expect me to have a stake stuck in my pocket or something?” He shook his head significantly. “I’m not a stake-in-my-pocket kind of guy!”
“You hoped for too much, Miss Beckett,” Cristea said mildly. His threaded his hand through her hair and pulled her head to the side.
“I wouldn’t,” she said quietly. One hand uncurled by her side. Castle nodded, reaching to his pocket. “I really, really wouldn’t.”
“I would.” Cristea laughed, then bit her savagely.
She gasped out in breathless pain, but it was him that screamed.
“Now, Castle!” she choked, as the vampire reeled back, howling and clutching his smoking mouth. Castle pulled a stake from his pocket and tossed it to her. Beckett whirled and planting into Cristea’s chest with all the force she could muster.
Cristea screamed again, clawing at her wrists, leaving bloody furrows. She returned the gesture in kind by punching him full in the face, knocking him flat. The vampire wriggled backwards across the roof, hissing and whimpering, the wedge of sharpened wood still jutting out of his chest.
One hand pressing on the wound at her neck, Beckett walked over to him. “I told you not to,” she whispered, then stamped down on the last three inches of the stake, driving it right into his chest cavity. “Assault on a police officer. Allows for maximum force.”
“Beckett,” Castle said quietly, coming up beside her. “I don’t think he can hear you.” He tugged at his shirt in annoyance. “How come they don’t rip as easily as they do in the movies?” he demanded. He finally stripped off the whole shirt, bundling it up and pulling her hand away to press the cloth to her neck.
“What kills vampires?” she asked distantly, looking down at the corpse. Cristea’s mouth was still open in a bloody scream, his hands claw-like and contorted.
“Stake through the heart, decapitation, fire,” Castle replied. “You really should sit down.”
Beckett nodded. “Got a lighter?”
Castle nodded. “Just this once.”
“In case of vampires?” Beckett asked. She went on one knee, holding the flickering flame to the edge of Cristea’s pants. She rose and watched dispassionately as the flames licked up across the motionless body, engulfing it.
Castle took her by the arm and gently guided her to sit down. “I’ll get help,” he said.
He was halfway across the roof and tugging at the broken wood and concrete blocking the door when she murmured his name.
“Yeah?” he asked, looking over his shoulder.
She smiled, her eyes half-closed. “Thanks.”
“So he wasn’t really a vampire?”
Castle twirled on his seat. “Nope,” he said. “Just some crazy guy who liked biting and blood a whole lot more than is natural.”
Esposito folded his arms. “Can’t help thinking you’re not telling us something, bro,” he said.
The whole rooftop hostage situation of the previous night was being carefully tidied up. Beckett was kept in hospital overnight, under observation, and she had only just arrived at the department at four in the afternoon, in time to explain what had happened, even if the explanation wasn’t one that was easily swallowed.
Castle smiled. “You guys were at the debriefing,” he said, spreading his arms wide as if daring them to contradict him. “Creepy guy bit Beckett, Beckett is toxic and made guy spontaneously combust.”
“With a stake in his heart,” Ryan said. “A big one. Very wooden.”
Castle shot him a wounded look. “Are you going to believe the rumours, rather than your trusted friends?”
“The truth, Castle,” Esposito said, leaning down. “Were you right or were you wrong?”
Castle grimaced. “Oh, that’s a dirty trick!” he protested.
“So you were wrong?”
Castle clenched his hands in impotent frustration. “I... ack... gaaaah!” Esposito raised his eyebrows in challenge. “Okay! I was right! He was a vampire! He tried to eat Beckett, so we killed him, had a barbecue and roasted marshmallows over his charred corpse, okay?”
Esposito held out a hand to Ryan. “Pay up.”
“Wait a minute, you bet on him being a vampire?”
“No,” Esposito said with a snort. “He bet you would be able to hold out under interrogation. I said you’d break like an egg.”
Castle grumbled under his breath.
“What you do to make him pouty already?” Beckett asked as she entered the office.
“The usual, boss,” Esposito said with a grin. He pulled her chair out for her. “How you doing?”
She self-consciously touched the bandage at her neck. “I’ll be fine,” she said. “Barely a scratch. They gave me all the shots I could need as well.”
“Including anti-vampire?” Ryan said innocently.
Beckett glanced at Castle who was deliberately avoiding her eyes. “I have no idea what you mean,” she said. She looked at the two officers. “Captain Montgomery wants to see you both, to discuss what happened.”
“You mean about the vampire?” Esposito said with a grin.
Her smile was cool. “Something like that.”
Esposito patted Ryan on the shoulder, and they went towards the Captain’s office.
“Cover-up time?” Castle inquired, watching her.
“I couldn’t really say,” she said, picking up her pen.
He was quiet for a few moments, then asked, “Beckett?”
“When he bit you, he started smoking at the mouth,” he said. “He looked kinda surprised. I figured that it’s not something that usually happens with people when he bites them.”
“I just happened to be passing a church on the way home,” Beckett replied lightly. “Spoke to the priest, did confession, took communion.” She shrugged, then lifted her eyes from the paper to look at him. “Dabbed myself with Holy Water.”
He gasped, pointing accusingly at her. “You believed he was a vampire too!” he exclaimed.
“I didn’t believe exactly,” she clarified. “But I didn’t see anything wrong with taking precautions. Just in case.”
His lips curled up. “Just in case, huh?”
“I’m a dark-haired professional woman in a position of power,” she said with a small smile and a shrug. “Who knows what kind of crazy people might come after me.”
He laughed quietly. “Yeah. Pretty crazy people. Though I hear you have a shiny new motorbike…”
She innocently wrote down some notes.
There was a rap on the glass screen that separated hall from office. “Hey, guys,” Lanie said, leaning around it. “You didn’t okay anyone to pick up Lily Devine’s body, did you?”
Beckett frowned, shaking her head. “Her family are coming down on Monday to collect her, last I heard.”
“Huh.” Lanie looked puzzled.
“Why?” Castle asked. “Someone here to get her?”
Lanie shook her head. “I went in to collect some paperwork ten minutes ago. Her locker was open and she was gone. So was the sheet. I figured someone had collected her, but I didn’t see anyone come down.”
“Beckett,” Castle said quietly, carefully. “Alexis told me that a victim, if turned, would rise after three days.”
“No, Castle,” Beckett said, putting down the pen.
“It’s three days.”
Lanie looked from one to the other. “You guys have got to be kidding, right? You’re saying she’s a...”
“Don’t even say it,” Beckett said, rising to her feet and pulling on her jacket. “Castle. That bar where she met him. He said she would be there.”
“I’ll get my watergun,” he said, as they headed for the door.