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Just Saying - Baby Bird is Starving, Feed It

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It was not so much an office pool as a white board in an empty conference room on the fifth floor next to the broken since forever bathrooms, which was why no one ever used it. A white board with a sort of two row grid in red pen that sort of drifted up on the right, because clearly the person who'd drawn it had zero sense of what a straight line was. They'd had a more definite sense of how to drive the lines down. Red slashes that lightened to pink at the end. Also, and they didn't know this yet, but they'd drawn the lines in permanent marker. They'd find this out later when they tried to update the date ranges that ever expanded to the right. But for now, there were initials in each box on the row. Three months out had the most initials. Some joker had written written "NC + KB 4 EvR - Neva" in a "Yeah Right" column in green. It was signed N. Heat.

It was all just friendly money exchanging friendly hands on when friendly banter would become really-really friendly. Jamey in Accounting kept calling it "groinaly friendly," and that one time, "Groinalicious," and done this thing that Ryan never-ever wanted to think about with his hips. But Ryan didn't call it either of those. Ever. Not even when Beckett and Castle started arguing about whether or not underwear on Christmas trees was festive or tacky. Castle was all for fun and festive, unless his daughter was around in which case, he was for shrunken heads. Bloody dripping shrunken heads. Maybe with puss. While Beckett smirked. And then everyone tried to put money down on a party at New Years. Helga in Transit and Railroad had wanted them to narrow it down to locations so she could put in for top of the Empire State, but Esposito had put the nix on that. Date ranges and that was it.

Oh, who are we kidding, it was an office pool. Ryan was not running it. He merely was the one who wrote the initials in the slots. He was the one who took the money. He'd be the one who paid out the money if "they" ever got on with it.

Oh, who are we kidding Ryan was running the pool. Esposito knew. Okay, he was kind of running it too. Okay, so it was his idea. Well, okay, it was more a case of they'd gotten trashed on mumble-mumble, which Ryan would never admit to drinking one of those much less four, after the deep fat-fried Picasso, but no saturated fats, case, and gave into the inevitable. The office pool had started before they even pulled out the Advil. This by the way both explained the permanent marker and the wobbly lines.

Tanoti from down in Vice handed Esposito a twenty for a crappy date two weeks out. She'd seen Beckett and Castle at exactly the right-wrong moment bickering over a dead died blue hooker under some whacked statue of an angel being molested by a giraffe out by St. John the Divine in Morningside. Smart money was one or two weeks after Alexis graduated. He'd get sloppy and kind of like an adult. She'd get soppy and lose the stick. They'd be doing it like rabbits in five minutes. The captain'd put down a hundred. Right now however, Tanoti handed him a twenty exactly when she should not have been handing him a twenty, because she handed him that twenty when Castle walked into the room and inevitably said, "Oh, oh, office pool. I want in. What's it for?" A grin spread across Castle's face, "It isn't for how long Heat Wave'll be on the Best Seller List is it? Come on is it?" It was a goofy smile. A goofy smile like a great white shark. In a tuna commercial. "So, come on, what's it for? Is it for a case. Come on. Tell me."

Ryan's eyes flickered over to Esposito, who was laughing at him, and was absolutely no help. He crumpled up a receipt in his pocket and threw it backhand at Esposito, while smiling brightly at Castle. His brain sorted through several possible answers, which started with "Nothing," went straight to "All dogs go to heaven," which who the hell knew where that came from.

Castle kept smiling like a shark at him and Ryan could feel the entire room turning to look at him. Okay, so not the entire room, only a small part of the room, the part not actively trying to solve crimes involving crow bars or twelve accidental bullets into their best buddy's head. Ryan wished someone would put a bullet in his head. Or someone's head. Horrible death right now. However, staring blankly around the room did not materialize a dismembered corpse clutching a something-something-something that Castle would say was cool. From somewhere he found himself saying, "So, you think you can Dance." Out of that same nowhere Esposito nodded, "Yeah, I like the Crumper."

Castle seemed to consider this a moment and then put pulled out two twenties and said, "Put me down for December." Then he winked, "I'm feeling New Years will be lucky." Then he held out his hand. Ryan reluctantly fed Castle's baby bird. Then Castle put his hands in his pockets and wandered off back to whatever place he'd appeared from.

Ryan shrugged and noted it down. Took a surreptitious sixty from Ramki in Fish and Game, which had a single desk office down in the basement next to the boiler, for the other not a pool. Which as we've already been through this, really was a pool. Anyway, smart money said that it would only last three to four weeks. Five tops.

Ryan had done that one in actual dry erase marker. Course, it had been sitting there so long, it would take the bomb squad to take it off. Shirley on the Bomb Squad had a hundred on forever. But then Shirley was a romantic.