"Well, how many cases of Extra Brut did we order?" El scanned the shipping invoice from the liquor wholesaler. "Oh, yes, that should be plenty. We'll be fine."
"Okay." Yvonne took the invoice back and went to ensure the champagne and sparkling cider were both being properly chilled, while El looked around to check that everything was coming together. There was the book display, stacked with pristine copies of the latest Richard Castle mystery, the table for the signing, the lectern for the reading, and the chairs and tables for the more sedentary guests, which were dressed in crisp white linen and topped with small centerpieces, so that was all—
El stopped. Threading her way purposefully between the tables was a young red-headed woman, carrying a small roll of paper and a marker pen. She was heading for the lectern, and although she didn't look like a vandal or a graffiti artist, she also didn't look old enough to work the bar and she certainly wasn't on El's staff.
El went to intercept her. "Excuse me. Can I help you?"
"Oh, hi." The young woman smiled, unabashed at being caught. "I'm Alexis Castle, daughter of the author." She gave a tiny curtsey that managed to be both graceful and dorky.
El hid a smile. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Elizabeth Burke, the event planner."
Alexis' smile widened, and she leaned in and lowered her voice. "You're much nicer than the last one. And more efficient—I've been to a ton of these, and they're usually still stacking the books when the guests start to arrive."
"Well, thank you," said El, slightly taken aback. "That's good to know."
"I just need to leave something for my dad for the reading." Alexis started toward the lectern, taking El with her. "It's a tradition. He gets nervous."
El followed along, protective of her arrangements and curious to see what the young woman had up her sleeve.
With confidence apparently borne of practice, Alexis unrolled the paper and taped it to the wooden slope where Richard Castle's reading copy of the book would rest that evening. El edged around to see: it was a cartoonishly drawn picture of a masked man with a big chin and broad shoulders wearing a superhero cape. There was a stylized castle on his chest like an insignia. In the corner, Alexis wrote Good luck, dad! and drew a heart, and then she straightened and looked at El, blushing slightly. "He's not always a superhero. Sometimes he's a cowboy or a space pirate," she explained. "It's to help him relax."
"It's adorable," said El, sincerely, and wondered for a wicked moment how Peter would react if she tucked a picture of him in tights and a cape into his suit jacket pocket one morning.
Diana and Jones arrived on the scene just as the NYPD were piling out of their vehicles. Jones walked past the cops and then stopped dead and turned on his heel. "Kate Beckett?"
"Clinton Jones," said one of the detectives, a tall, chic woman with cheekbones to die for. "How've you been, Clinton?"
Diana tried not to stare and muttered, "Clinton?" under her breath.
"Shut up," Jones muttered back, and he went to talk to Beckett. A second later, a gangling Labrador of a guy emerged from the other side of the car, his gaze fixed on his iPhone.
"There's nothing about it on Twitter, so unless it's a conspiracy—" He broke off when he saw Beckett and Jones talking, and he looked around, sharp-eyed. "Feds?"
"Feds," said Beckett briskly. She turned back to Jones. "Sorry I didn't call you back, after—you know, but—things got a little crazy."
"They do that," said Jones easily. "Don't worry about it. You've still got my number, right?"
"I do," said Beckett.
"Wait a minute," said the iPhone guy, frowning in suspicion. "You're a cop. You don't like Feds."
"I guess there's an exception to every rule, Castle," said Beckett. "Sometimes the lion lies down with the lamb."
"Now I'm wondering which one of us was the lion," said Jones with a wink.
"Aw, see, I was just wondering that too," said Castle, raising one finger. "I mean, no offense, but it has to be Beckett, right?"
Beckett rolled her eyes. "When you two have finished over-extending my metaphor, perhaps we could turn our deductive skills to the dead body."
Castle grinned. "You know I love it when you use literary jargon."
Beckett looked exasperated and caught Diana's eye. "If I kill him now, any chance you'd help me dispose of the body?"
"I'll even testify it was provoked," said Diana.
One murder scene later, Castle was expounding on the literal meaning of the phrase 'hoist with his own petard'. "It's not 'hoist' as in 'lifted.' A petard is an explosive device."
Diana and Jones walked away, Diana raising her eyebrows at Jones. "You never told me you dated Nikki Heat. Everyone I know has a crush on her."
Jones looked smug. "You never asked."
"Ah, Neal, darling." June beckoned him over with the two glasses of champagne he'd liberated from a waiter. He presented her with one and turned to her companion with his best charming smile. June waved grandly. "This is an old friend of mine, Martha. Martha, this is Neal Caffrey."
"A pleasure." Martha already had a glass, but she held out her other hand and her eyes gleamed with curiosity.
Neal murmured something polite, taking his cue from June. Over by the dance floor, a number of elderly couples were gathered around the tiered cake.
"You know, I never understood the point of remarrying at our age," said June to Martha. "Society's long since stopped caring."
"Oh, but it's Mirabel," said Martha, rolling her eyes. "Religious."
"God's far too busy with the younger generation to bother about us," said June with a grin. "Oh look, they're cutting the cake." She touched her champagne glass to Martha's and Neal's, and Martha left to witness the festivities.
"You know Martha Rogers," said Neal. Usually, the most interesting thing about June's society occasions was the array of jewelry, and half of that was paste, but every so often Neal was afforded an introduction to a celebrity along with a fascinating glimpse into June's past.
"A lovely woman with no poker face whatsoever," said June. "I used to fleece her at five-card stud quite regularly in the eighties."
"Your disreputable youth." Neal gave her a mock-reproving look, tinged with admiration, and she laughed.
"A spotless reputation is terribly dull. Anyway, Martha loved it. Is she watching us?"
Neal sent a casual glance after the legendary Ms. Rogers. "She is."
"Well, then, would you mind kissing my cheek, dear?" June's eyes twinkled as she looked up at him. "I do enjoy a good rumor."
"I saw a mockingbird in the park." The stranger sounded inappropriately cheerful, to Mozzie's ear, but at least he was willing to go through the proper motions.
Mozzie peered around the corner of the statue of Lajos Kossuth on 112th Street and saw a tall man wearing a trench coat and dark glasses. "What color was the mockingbird?"
The man whipped off his glasses, grinning broadly. "This is so cool! Sneaking around? Actual passwords? I haven't had this much fun since Halloween."
He had the air of a young man cracking his first code, though he must be nearly forty. Mozzie heaved an inward sigh. He'd told Diego he was willing to advise this stranger on the technical requirements for hiding codes in synthetic jewels, but Mozzie had hoped for someone a little more jaded and world-weary. Someone to whom paranoia was second nature, someone who—
The man came over, holding out his hand. "Rick Castle. You must be the mysterious Mozzie."
"The Richard Castle?" Mozzie's doubts were instantly forgotten. "The celebrated author of Storm Warning? Hey, do you happen to know A.B. Tattersall?"
"I play poker with him on Friday nights," said Castle. "Now, I need to know in exact detail how one would go about etching markings into the silk veins of a—"
"This is an honor, sir," said Mozzie, barely listening. "I'm at your service. Would you like to come up to Thursday for some tea? The views are exquisite."
Beckett strode into the station so quickly that Castle almost had to jog to keep up with her. Ryan and Esposito were waiting.
"What have we got?" said Beckett, plucking a file from Esposito's hand as she walked past him toward the interview rooms.
"A smoking gun," said Ryan, radiating satisfaction.
"Nicholas Halden, dealer in rare coins," explained Esposito. "We found him at the crime scene—figure he came back to dispose of the murder weapon."
"The nine iron," said Castle, catching up. "Wouldn't he have taken it with him in the first place?"
"He must have left it behind in the heat of the moment," said Esposito. "Murderers don't always act rational."
"Does Halden have a record?" asked Beckett.
Esposito pursed his lips. "Nope. And he's called his lawyer."
Ryan, who'd been hanging back up till now, pointed at Castle. "Would you say a man can be pretty?"
"I'd say you're cute, not pretty," said Beckett. "Has someone been pulling your pigtails?"
"Not me!" Ryan scowled and jerked his thumb toward the interview room.
Castle thought back over the male characters in his extensive oeuvre. "As a rule, I prefer to describe men as handsome, attractive or good-looking, with or without a qualifier—in my case, that would be 'ruggedly'. You want to steer clear of labeling them as pretty—it can be seen as condescending."
Esposito grinned. "You haven't seen this guy."
The four of them trooped into the viewing room and looked at Nick Halden through the glass. He had dark wavy hair and classical features, a black leather jacket. And fine, he was pretty, and not in a condescending way either. But discussing the finer points of the adjective's applicability could only lead to getting teased, so Castle distracted himself and the others with, "Nice watch."
As he said it, there was a commotion outside, and a tall, harried-looking man knocked on the viewing room door. "Detective Ryan?"
"Detectives Ryan, Esposito and Beckett," said Castle, helpfully, pointing to each of them in turn. "I'm the token civilian."
The man held up a badge. "Peter Burke, FBI. You're holding Nick Halden for questioning."
"He's the lead suspect in the murder of Dion West," said Beckett. "What's your interest?"
"His real name is Neal Caffrey, and he's my CI," said Burke. "We're after West's business partner, Evan Morrison, for embezzling."
As if Caffrey could hear them, he looked up at the one-way glass and waved.
Beckett folded her arms. "Well, given the C in CI stands for 'criminal' and Mr. Caffrey was found at the scene of the crime, we're going to have to pursue our investigation."
Burke held up his hands. "Okay, fine. But that watch he's wearing is FBI issue, and it's equipped with GPS."
"He could have slipped it," said Beckett, unimpressed.
"Not if he knows what's good for him," said Burke. "Trust me, I know this guy. Neal didn't murder anyone."
"You'll have to forgive me, but I'm not a very trusting person," said Beckett.
"She's one of the most suspicious people I know," said Castle. "Occupational hazard."
Three detectives, a federal agent and an award-winning author all swiveled to face the glass, behind which stood Caffrey, wide-eyed with assumed innocence, slightly disheveled and really quite distractingly pretty.
Peter knocked on the glass, shave and a haircut, and Caffrey visibly relaxed. "I didn't do it." A sly grin lit his face. "But I know who did."