It was like any other case—well, any of their cases—70% run of the mill and 30% weird. Dead guy in a hotel room, door bashed in, bullets fired in an odd pattern in the wall, and a ten thousand dollar guitar shoved under the bed.
“How do you know it’s worth ten thousand dollars?” Ryan asked Esposito as he laid it carefully on a cushion.
Esposito looked like he’d just seen the girl of his dreams. “I know my Gibsons,” he said reverently.
“Well, I bet Gibson knows who bought this from them; call them,” Beckett said. “Ryan, did you get past the fake name on the room yet?”
“Yeah, it’s actually registered to Jive. The record company?”
“Well, this guy’s no guitarist,” Lanie said. “No calluses on his fingers. Maybe he was the drummer.”
“Huh,” Castle said.
Beckett turned to him. “Huh what?”
“Something about this wall bugs me.”
“The truly atrocious fake paneling?” Esposito asked. Ryan rolled his eyes.
“The fact that the closet ends here.” Castle pointed at a spot just before the bullets began. “And yet the wall on the other side stays straight as a board.”
“How old is this building?” Beckett asked. She and Castle looked at each other and said, "Dumbwaiter," in unison. The two of them started digging their fingers into the lines of the paneling, tugging in different spots where the panels didn’t quite match up. Ryan and Esposito unholstered their guns and moved closer.
There was a commotion outside. “I’m sorry, sir, this is a crime scene. You can’t come in here.”
“What’s going on?” A man appeared in the doorway, pushing against the outstretched arms of the uniforms blocking his way. “Who’s in charge here? What happened?”
“Beckett, Homicide,” Beckett said shortly as a piece of paneling came loose. “There’s been a murder here, sir; you need to stay in the hallway.”
“Oh, God,” the man said, and under his beard, his face went chalk-white. “My husb—Arch—oh, God.”
Castle turned his head. “Cook?” he asked—
--just as the paneling ripped open and a body tumbled out of it into Castle and Beckett’s joined arms. They lowered it to the floor.
”Archie!” The man burst through the doorway and into the room. Ryan and Esposito turned, but surprisingly, Castle jumped up and grabbed him by the shoulders.
“Cook, it’s okay. He’s breathing.”
Lanie hurried over and brushed past Beckett.
“This is a doctor, she’s going to help him,” Castle said.
“Look at me, Cook. Archie’s alive. It’s not him. Look at me.”
“Rick?” Cook finally focused on Castle’s face. “Rick Castle? What are you doing here?”
“It’s a long story.” Castle looked over his shoulder. “Lanie?”
“He took a heck of a blow to the head, and he needs to go to the hospital, but I think he’s going to be all right.” Lanie was wrapping up a bloody scratch across one arm, being careful to stay out of sight of Castle and his friend.
“Meanwhile, maybe introductions are in order here?” Beckett asked pointedly.
Castle collected himself. “Right, of course. Cook, Detective Kate Beckett, NYPD Homicide. That’s Ryan, that’s Esposito. The dead guy in the corner we don’t know, maybe you can introduce us in a second. Everyone, this is David Cook, who you may remember won a little show called American Idol about six years ago. The gentleman on the floor is his husband, David Archuleta. Can I let him go sit with him now?”
Both Beckett and Lanie nodded.
Cook sank down to the floor, brushing one hand carefully across his husband’s cheek.
“I don’t want to move him too much until the paramedics get here,” Lanie told him quietly.
Cook nodded. He leaned down. “Archie?”
“Cook?” Archie asked, barely audible. His eyes stayed shut.
“It’s me. Everything’s okay.” Cook wiped a hand across his eyes, then leaned down to kiss Archie on the forehead. “Try to stay still, okay?”
“There was a gun!” Archie said suddenly, and only the combined efforts of Cook, Lanie, and Beckett kept him flat on his back.
“Don’t move!” Cook said, urgently, into Archie’s ear. “The police are here. Everything is all right.” When Archie kept struggling, Cook dropped his voice lower and started to sing.
To everyone’s relief, Archie immediately calmed down.
“What’s he singing?” Esposito whispered to Castle.
Castle stood up straight from where he’d been leaned over trying to catch the words. “I’m sure it’s none of our business,” he snapped.
Beckett rolled her eyes.
"Okay, explain how you know them," Beckett said as they exited the elevator and headed for Archie's hospital room.
"I'm surprised you didn't ask me before," Castle said.
"I was busy investigating the crime. Your social life isn't exactly a priority for me, Castle."
"Well, if it's so unimportant, maybe I won't tell you."
Beckett looked at him.
Castle sighed. "Fine. I took Alexis to see one of Cook's shows a couple years back. We wrangled backstage passes—"
"—and it turns out that Mr. Cook is a fan of my books."
"We keep in touch with each other, and I even used him for research for Dying to Meet You."
"Oh, the backstage fight with the B&B Killer."
Castle beamed at her. "Yes, good job."
"What about the husband?"
"I don't know Archie as well, but of course he's a bestselling musician in his own right." Beckett nodded to the uniform at the door, and he reached for the handle. "And all you have to do is spend five minutes with them to know—"
The door opened to reveal Cook leaning over Archie's bed, one hand cupped behind his neck as he kissed him.
"—that they're crazy in love," Castle said with a grin. "Hello, boys."
"Rick," Cook said with a grin, as Archie blushed. "I'm glad to see you in better circumstances."
"Me too," Castle said. "How're you feeling, Archie?"
"Pretty good," Archie said. "This must be what it's like to be high."
"Mormon," Castle stage-whispered to Beckett.
Cook looked down at the glazed look in Archie's eyes and laughed. "Yes, I'd say you're stoned. Very, very stoned."
"Okay," Archie said. He smiled at Beckett. "Hi, I'm stoned."
"I'm Kate," she said with a nearly straight face. "It's nice to officially meet you, Mr. Archuleta."
"Archie. Just Archie. And he's Cook. Or it gets confusing. Confusing-er."
Cook hid a grin behind his hand.
Archie offered his hand to Kate, and she took it, careful not to jostle the IV on it. "Do you feel up to answering some questions?" she asked.
"Yeah, I'm not that stoned," Archie said. "I remember."
Beckett took a seat and opened her notebook. "Let's start from the beginning. Why were you two in New York?"
"Early anniversary trip," Archie replied. "We'll be in different states on the real day. We got here a couple days ago, and, to be absolutely totally honest with you, because you're the police, I have to tell you we hadn't left the room the whole time."
"I'm sure the NYPD needed to hear that," Cook muttered, turning red himself.
"Oh, don't worry. Beckett thinks it's adorable," Castle said.
"Beckett thinks it's potentially relevant to the investigation. You think it's adorable."
Castle tipped his head to one side. "You're right, I do."
Castle looked at Cook. "And yesterday?"
"Somebody convinced me that he just had to have Thai food from the place around the block that doesn't deliver."
"Did he really?" Castle asked.
"Didn't I really?" Archie asked.
"No," Cook said, and rolled his eyes when Archie visibly deflated. "Man, it's cute that you think you can lie to me."
"Then why did you go?"
"I knew you were plotting something—as well as you're capable of plotting something, which isn't that well—and I was trying to go along with it."
"I used to be able to lie!" Archie protested. "I'm going to work on it. Some day I'll fool you again."
"Not even when you're as old as him," Cook said, pointing to Castle.
"Says the cradle-robber," Castle said.
Cook made an inarticulate noise. "Stop calling me that!"
Beckett put up a hand. "Excuse me? Gentlemen? Murder?"
"Sorry," they all said in unison.
She turned her attention back to Archie. "So, Cook left, and—"
"The delivery guy was waiting in the lobby, and as soon as Cook left, I had him come up."
"And what was he delivering?"
Archie looked up at Cook. "I could really use something to drink."
"Are you kidding me?" Cook asked. "See above re: lying, Archie can't do it."
"Then just—just go outside for a second?" Archie asked hopefully. "I don't want to ruin the surprise."
"I think the surprise is in evidence lockup, with one of my detectives trying not to drool on it," Beckett said dryly.
Archie looked at her pleadingly.
She looked over at Cook. "He bought you a guitar."
"A guitar?" Cook asked. Archie looked mutinous.
Beckett checked her notes. "A Mick Jones Les Paul custom Gibson guitar with a one-piece solid mahogany body and neck, gold hardware, and nitro finish. Cost, approximately ten thousand dollars."
"I got a deal," Archie muttered.
Cook’s face went from embarrassed red to furious red in an instant. “David James Archuleta.”
“Oh, I’m in big trouble,” Archie told Beckett solemnly.
“Not only did we agree we weren’t going to spend that kind of money on each other this year—“
“See, I can lie to you,” Archie said triumphantly.
“—but what the hell were you thinking, letting a stranger into the room, especially one with something that valuable?”
“Well, he had the guitar already,” Archie said. “If he wanted it, all he had to do was not bring it up. Be reasonable, Cook.”
“Reason—” Cook dissolved into a series of stutters and half-finished expletives.
Beckett and Castle exchanged a look; Castle reached for Cook’s arm. “Maybe we should take a quick walk down the hall and back.”
Cook shook him off. “No.”
Something had finally sunk through Archie’s high. “I’m sorry. Cook? I’m sorry.”
Cook leaned down and wrapped his arms carefully around his husband, burying his face in Archie’s neck. “I know. Just—don’t ever do it again, okay? I can’t take it.”
“I promise.” Archie hugged him back as well as the IV would let him.
“Is it at least an awesome guitar?” Cook asked, muffled against Archie’s shoulder.
“Neal said you wouldn’t let me out of bed for a week after you saw it.”
Cook’s laugh was barely distinguishable from a sob. “Well, then.”
Beckett waited until the two of them pulled apart, and pretended not to notice that both were wiping their eyes.
“Archie, can you take a look at a photo for me, and tell me if it’s the deliveryman?”
Archie nodded, one hand coming up to cover Cook’s on his shoulder.
Kate passed over the photo of the corpse. Archie went a little pale, but nodded. “That’s him.”
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“Okay.” Archie took a deep breath. “Okay. I opened the door when he came—I did check the peephole first,” he said in Cook’s direction. “He sort of burst in and slammed the door behind him. He asked, ‘Can you keep quiet?’ and I just—I mean—what do you do when someone says that to you?”
“What did you do?” Castle asked.
“I ran for the door,” Archie said. He sighed. “Which is why I had my back to him when he hit me on the head.”
“Oh, Jesus,” Cook said.
“Um, everything after that is a little blurry. I was in some little space, all scrunched up, and I couldn’t see to try to get out. Then people were screaming and firing guns.“ He twitched the arm with the bandage on it. “I think I passed out, then, because the next thing I remember is Cook singing to me.”
“Adorable,” Castle said. Cook just shook his head.
“I’m going to need a list of people who knew you were in New York,” Beckett said. “And a list of anyone who might have threatened either of you recently.”
“Our assistants can get that for you ASAP,” Cook said.
“Aww,” Archie said. “And interrupt their vacation? We’ll get sad looks for weeks.”
“Life’s hard,” Cook said. “Is there anything else we can do for you, Detective?”
“Just stay put and don’t get into any more trouble for a while,” Beckett said.
“We’ll work on that,” Cook said. “Thank you.”
As Castle and Beckett let themselves out, Cook was saying to Archie, “That’s it, dude. I’m quitting my job and becoming your full-time bodyguard.”
“You’d be a terrible bodyguard, dude,” Archie said. “Stick to being a rock star.”
Ryan and Esposito were waiting for them when they got back to the station. “We finally IDed the victim,” Ryan said, handing Beckett a blown-up ID photo to add to the board. “Tony Hurtado, Brooklyn resident, age thirty-five. No wife; one daughter, a college freshman, who’s on her way in with a uniform to talk to us. Hurtado was, in fact, a delivery driver for the firm Archuleta hired to deliver the guitar.”
Esposito put one hand over his heart and sighed.
“Make him stop,” Ryan said.
Esposito grinned at him. “Lanie said he died of multiple gunshot wounds,” he said, turning back to Beckett and Castle. “He also has lacerations on his hands and arms, and his blood is on the wall panels.”
“Suggesting that he did, in fact, shove Archie up in there,” Castle said.
“Okay, so.” Beckett pointed at the sketch of the room’s dimensions. “Archie is standing here. Hurtado comes in, Archie turns to run for the door—“
“Hurtado hits him over the head and he falls,” Castle continued. “And then Hurtado—picks him up and shoves him into the dumbwaiter?”
“I think he stashes the guitar first,” Esposito said, ignoring Ryan’s exaggerated groan. “Shoves it under the bed, goes back and picks Archie up, stuffs him in the dumbwaiter—“
“—Which he has no reason to know about,” Ryan pointed out.
“—and is still closing it when our perp enters.”
“That’s why the bullet holes are right by where Archie was stashed,” Beckett said. “He knew what direction to shoot in, more or less.”
“And by that point,” Ryan tapped the hotel security log, “Security would have been seconds away. So he has to leave without finishing the job. Whichever job.”
“Has to be the guitar,” Esposito said. “Otherwise, why would he follow the delivery in?”
“Besides, Archie is made entirely of unicorns and Skittles, as some reviewer said back in the day,” Castle said. “Who would want to kill him?”
“Adam Lambert fans?” Esposito asked.
They all turned to stare at him.
“I knew there was a reason you wouldn’t let me see your iPod,” Ryan said.
Nelle Hurtado identified her father with an eerie calm that suggested a full breakdown was coming later. “I used to have nightmares that he’d die in prison,” she told Castle softly as they walked to the interview room. “I guess I should have worried about it after he was released, but he really seemed like he was taking it seriously this time. He was so excited when he got the delivery job.”
“Sometimes it’s…difficult for a convicted felon to get this type of job,” Beckett said. They reached the interview room and settled in. “Did they have any problems with his background?”
“No, the owner was a friend of a friend or something like that.”
“Nelle, did your father ever say anything to you about a singer named David Archuleta?”
“Archie?” Nelle asked, shock crossing her face. “Why would you ask about him?”
“He’s involved in the investigation,” Beckett said.
“I don’t understand,” Nelle said. “I mean, yeah. When my dad got out of prison the first time, my mom would let me go over to his house twice a week for ‘Idol Night.’ We would watch the show and spend like two hours voting for Archie every week. I cried for days when he lost.” She shifted uncomfortably. “I was twelve.”
“I understand completely,” Castle said.
“I felt better when they got married,” she said, nearly smiling.
He smiled back. “Me too.”
“But your father had never met Mr. Archuleta or his husband, not personally?”
“No," Nelle said. “Why?”
“What do you think?” Beckett asked as they watched Nelle walk away.
“I don’t think you go around killing your daughter’s childhood hero if you can help it,” Castle said.
“What if you can’t help it?”
“So he was part of a plan to, I don’t know, murder, rob, kidnap Archie and/or Cook and had an attack of conscience partway in?”
Castle’s phone rang; he looked at the caller ID and took a step away. “Cook! How’s your better half?”
He wandered back to the desk area as Ryan managed to steal Esposito’s iPod. He held his partner off with one hand and scrolled through the Artist listing with the other. “You do have Lambert. Lots of Lambert. Wow. I see a whole new side of you, Espo.”
“You’ll see a whole new side of my fist if you don’t give me that back,” Esposito said, scrabbling for it.
“Aren’t they cute?” Castle asked, moving to stand next to Beckett. “Like puppies. With guns.”
“Shut up, Castle,” they both said.
“So cute,” Castle said. He turned to Beckett. “Archie’s been released from the hospital.”
“I wasn’t notified.” She grabbed for her phone. “I’ll have to set up a safe—wait. They’re at your place, aren’t they?”
“Alexis would have killed me. Killed me. And she’s read my books, she could get away with it.”
She poked him in the chest. “Have you forgotten that someone may still be after them?”
“They’ve had their own personal security with them since they left the hospital—Cook called the company that does their tour security. And my building’s security has been beefed up as well.”
“I still want my own people in there, too.”
Castle looked over at the Ryan/Esposito slapfight. “I can see why. I’ll tell Mother to double the pizza order.” He paused and one hand went to his mouth. “Oh, God. Mother.”
“Not that a girl should necessarily turn down someone who can sell out Madison Square Garden,” Martha was saying as Beckett and Castle showed their IDs and stepped in the door. “But proper hygiene has to be considered, don’t you think, boys?”
The “boys” nodded obediently. They were tucked in next to each other on the couch. Martha was standing in front of them, one hand raised as she declaimed, and Alexis was trying to look unaffected and non-star struck in the chair across from them and failing miserably.
“Mother,” Castle said, putting one hand on her shoulder and sweeping her off towards the kitchen, “Archie and Detective Beckett would like some water, and Cook and I could use some beer. Can you make it happen for us?”
“And then I suppose you’d like me to disappear upstairs and stop torturing the boys with stories of long ago.”
“You know Alexis and I prefer that you only share that special time with us.”
She snorted at him and went.
“Cook,” Castle said, turning back to the couch, “did I tell you that Alexis is quite the violin student? Her instructors think she’s got amazing potential.”
“That’s awesome,” Cook said. He smiled over at Alexis, who was all blushes. “Do you like it?”
“Um, I love it,” she said.
“One of my sisters plays,” Archie said. He looked much more alert and sober than he had before. “I tried hers once—it’s hard. I could never do it.”
She blushed some more.
“Well played,” Beckett whispered to Castle as she helped him collect the drinks from his mother and hand them out. Martha reluctantly disappeared up the stairs. Castle beamed innocently after her.
“If she weren’t traumatizing the heck out of Archie, I think I’d like to have a long talk with your mother,” Cook said. “She’s probably forgotten more about rock history than I’ll ever know.”
“Oh, I think that can be arranged,” Alexis said dryly. She was only a little red now.
Beckett pulled up a chair and filled the room in on the developments of the day.
“So this guy died trying to save my life because he couldn’t let his daughter down.” Archie rubbed a hand down the bandage on his arm. “I don’t know how I feel about that.”
“I know how I feel about it,” Cook said. “I don’t know that he had to brain you to do it, though.”
“You’re just mad someone else thought of it first,” Archie said. Cook laughed and kissed the top of his head.
Castle took a long drink from his beer and leaned against the back of Alexis’s chair. “You said something interesting yesterday, Archie. Aha, don’t make that face. I’m serious. You said that if Hurtado had wanted the guitar, he could have just walked off with it. Whoever killed him had the same option--he could have taken it from Hurtado long before he got to your room."
"What are you suggesting?" Cook asked.
Castle's face was solemn. "That Archie's worth a lot more to you than any guitar."
Cook went dead pale. He and Archie groped for each other's hands.
"It's only a theory," Beckett said quickly. Her cell rang, and she stood up. "Excuse me."
Archie had his mouth at Cook's ear and was talking quietly into it; Cook was visibly shaking. Alexis looked at them, then up at Castle. "Do you think that's what happened?" she asked quietly.
"I do," Castle said. "At least, I think that's what was supposed to happen, until Tony Hurtado had a change of heart."
"Because of his daughter."
He ran a hand over her hair. "Is there a better reason?"
Beckett came back, and Castle straightened at the look on her face. "You have something."
"Ryan and Esposito stopped wrestling long enough to get something." She held out her phone, which had a picture of a blond man on it, to Archie. "Have you ever seen this man? Maybe in passing, in the hotel lobby, anything like that?"
Archie shook his head no, but Cook, looking over his shoulder, reached out to take the phone. "I saw him. When I was on my way out of the hotel, he--he asked for my autograph."
"He did?" Beckett asked.
"Yeah. I thought at the time he wasn't really the type, but--and he said something. About Archie. 'I hope you and your husband enjoy your time in New York.' I was thinking I might say something to Archie about it when I got back, but--" He made a circular gesture with his hand. "All this happened."
"Ryan and Esposito are bringing him in." Beckett took her phone back and headed for the door.
Castle hung back long enough to meet Cook's eyes. "It'll be okay."
Cook nodded. "Go. Get him in a cell."
As the door closed behind them, Cook was asking Alexis about her violin lessons in a voice that was only a little too high-pitched, and Archie was still tucked into his side, running a comforting hand up and down Cook's forearm.
Beckett walked into the interrogation room, Castle right behind her, and took a seat across from a blond man in a suit and a scowl. "Gary Stark?"
"I'm gonna sue your asses," he said. "Your men had no right to drag me out of my place of business and bring me down here like a--"
"Criminal?" Castle asked.
"Mr. Stark, we all know a picture is worth a thousand words. Let me lay a whole bunch out for you." Beckett opened a file and started setting documents on the table. "This is a picture of Tony Hurtado, one of your delivery employees, shortly after you shot and killed him."
She raised an eyebrow at him. He shut up.
"Here is a security photo from the day before, where Mr. Hurtado is checking out the back door of a hotel he had no reason to be at."
Castle said, "In my line of work, we call that 'casing the joint.'"
Another picture went down. "And look, here's you and Hurtado, in the hotel lobby, arguing, just before he tried to back out of your kidnapping attempt. And here, photos of David Archuleta, an invoice for the delivery of a custom delivery guitar to Mr. Archuleta--an invoice only about three people had access to, including you--and, this is my favorite, a list of your Internet history, including a visit to an auction site that sells high-end guitars." Beckett smiled sweetly at Stark. "Planning on selling one in the near future?"
Stark tried to hold her gaze for all of a few seconds before he dropped his gaze to the table and said, "Fucking dumbwaiter."
"The one thing he couldn't predict," Castle said to Cook as they crossed the cemetery. "Hurtado had actually robbed your hotel once, years ago, and as part of that job had stashed the stolen cash in the paneled-over dumbwaiter."
"You have got to be kidding me," Cook said.
Castle shook his head. "My hand to God."
They walked in silence for a minute. Archie was a few steps ahead of them, having an intense conversation with Beckett.
"You're going to have to take your eyes off him at some point, you know," Castle said.
"Wanna bet?" Cook said.
Castle put a hand on his shoulder. "Stark confessed. He's spending the next couple decades in prison. It might not feel like it, but it's over now."
"Until the next crazy person comes up with a crazy plan, or the next time Archie drops his guard and forgets the world's not as nice as he is."
"Precious Moments angels aren't as nice as Archie is."
"Tell me about it."
Meanwhile, Archie had reached the gravesite, and walked through the small crowd of gathering mourners. "Hello, are you Nelle?"
Her eyes went incredibly wide. "Yes?"
He held out a hand. "I'm David Archuleta."
"I know," she said. Her hands wavered in mid-air. "You shouldn't be here. My dad--"
"Your dad saved my life, because of you." He reached out and took both her hands in his. "I can't thank him, but I wanted to thank you."
Tears started to slide down her face, and Archie, with one panicked look at Cook, put his arms around her. She sobbed into his shoulder.
Castle looked over at Beckett, who had a deliberately neutral expression on her face, and bumped shoulders with her. "She'll be okay."
"Eventually," she said.
"Plus," Castle said, just loud enough for Cook to hear, "I bet you twenty bucks Archie gives her his phone number, checks in with her weekly, and puts her through college."
"No bet," Beckett said. "Plus I bet he makes a solemn vow to never lie again."
Cook smiled. "You know, some day, when I am very very drunk, I just might tell you two the story of how I fell in love with Archie."
Castle perked up. "There's a story? More than the one everybody and their pet paparazzi knows?"
"You have no idea," Cook said.
The minister started speaking; Archie kept one arm wrapped around Nelle and held the other hand out for Cook. They stood together in the sunlight while Beckett and Castle watched behind them.