He sits shakily on a bar stool and barely notices the curious looks the tall, dark, long-faced bartender named Duke is giving him. Duke puts a drink in front of him, then joins Nathan and Audrey in a huddle, where they whisper urgently.
Castle picks up the scotch with shaking hands, and sips. The taste of the liquor calms him, until he remembers the pain meds, and regretfully pushes the glass away. He doesn’t need any bad reactions from mixing drugs and alcohol, and being stoned isn’t going to help him figure out if he’s truly losing his mind, or if he’s the victim of some giant practical joke.
He brightens at the thought. Maybe Beckett has arranged all of this, like she arranged the Rear Window thing for his birthday.
Except she doesn’t know he’s left New York, and he deflates. He didn’t even tell Ryan and Espo where he was going, only that he was leaving town for a few weeks, and he’d call them when he got back.
As the two cops and barkeeper return, he looks at them, a determined albeit terrified gleam in his eyes.
“I am not losing my mind,” he says.
“We know,” Audrey says. “Tell me, Mr. Castle--”
“Just Castle. Or Rick.”
Her mouth quirks up at the corners, but her smoky blue eyes stay watchful. “Tell me...Rick, do you have any relatives in town?”
He frowns. “Not to my knowledge,” he says slowly.
“Not originally from around here?”
He shakes his head. “Not as far as I know, but then again, I don’t know anything about my dad. Why?”
She glances at Nathan and Duke, who look unhappy but resigned, then turns back to him.
“Let’s just say...there are things that happen only to people who have roots in Haven.”
He considers her thoughtfully. “Things like...angels in the backseat, or suddenly wearing armour while riding a horse that’s on fire?”
She smiles. “Things exactly like that.”
He stares, expressionless. “Am I being punk’d?” he asks finally.
“If only,” Nathan sighs.
Duke raises an eyebrow. “You know what that means?”
“I grew up with you, didn’t I?”
“Guys,” Audrey chides softly, and Castle smiles. The interplay is something blessedly familiar in a world that’s become frighteningly off-kilter.
Audrey turns her attention back to him, her eyes clear, direct, cautious.
“You’re not being punk’d,” she assures him.
Castle meets her gaze for another moment, then shrugs and says, “Tell me more.”
“Do you believe us?” Duke demands. “Just like that?”
“Better than the alternative.”
“Yeah? And what’s the alternative?”
“That I’ve lost my mind, and I’m out of a job.”
Castle sees the trio’s relief, and Nathan’s face relaxes into a shy, surprisingly sweet half-smile.
“Before things get crazy...” he shrugs at Castle’s wide, disbelieving stare, “crazier, I just wanted to say I love your books. I’m a huge fan.”
Castle sits a little straighter and grins with flattered pride.
“Wait -- you’re that Richard Castle?” Duke demands.
“I love your books, too, and I guess if an outsider had to get pulled into Haven’s special brand of crazy, I’m glad it’s you.”
Castle listens with a growing fascination, and steadfast skepticism, as Audrey, Duke and Nathan take turns telling him about Haven and its Troubles. About the unexplained -- and unexplainable -- things that happen here, from a woman whose emotions control the weather, to a man whose shadow acts independently and murderously, to Nathan’s inability to feel anything physical, to Duke’s temporary super-strength when he absorbs the blood of a Troubled person.
Then there’s Audrey: immune to the Troubles, and unchanging, Haven’s saviour time and time and time again.
He listens, and he can hear Beckett in his head, arguing for a logical explanation. Mass delusions, maybe, or poisoned water that causes shared hallucinations. But Beckett isn’t here, and Castle...
Castle listens, and his excitement rises, and the part of him that believes, that truly believes, in Bigfoot and curses and the magic of the unknown is waking, and is giggling as gleefully as a child at this town that’s living proof of every crazy idea he could come up with, and more.
The fact that he seems to be the target of one of these Troubles is the only thing that keeps him from jumping up and down with joy.
“What do you suggest I do?” he asks when they’ve finished. He’s torn between wanting to run as far as possible from this town that kills indiscriminately, and staying to experience more of these Troubles first hand. Although that ‘kills indiscriminately’ thing does dampen the desire somewhat. At least the killers he tracks with Beckett and the others are logical...to a certain definition of ‘logical’, anyway.
His three companions share a glance before Audrey says, “I suggest you get out while the getting’s good. Troubles like these tend to stay within the town limits. Well. As far as we know, anyway.”
“So I’m sort of like a lightning rod for this particular Trouble? I’m attracting it by my mere presence?”
“Possibly,” Audrey says cautiously. “Right now, it’s as good a theory as any other. At least this Trouble doesn’t seem to be deadly.”
“Well, the horse was on fire,” he reminds her.
“But you weren’t. Did you feel any heat from it?”
He pauses, thinking, because he had obviously been on the horse for a while before he realized it. “No,” he says thoughtfully.
Audrey smiles. “Well, I don’t mean to be inhospitable, but I think you need to be out of town by nightfall.”
Castle wavers, torn between a desire to learn more, his wariness about actually surviving the town if he decides to stay, and his certain knowledge that Kate would have his hide if he got hurt or worse on his summer vacation, especially if he did it by sticking his nose in where it didn’t belong. Because he’s never done that before.
He nods reluctantly, for once listening to his inner Beckett urging him to err on the side of caution. “All right. But I reserve the right to come back this way later this summer.”
“I wouldn’t push my luck, if I were you.”
Rents a car and gets as far as Derry, where he glances at the dashboard and sees an array of more angels, only these ones are playing harps and floating tranquilly on clouds.
He doesn’t run into anything this time, and returns to Haven to tell the others the Trouble seems to be following him, and it’s probably better for the rest of the world if he stuck around for a while. He’s both frightened, and excited, because his fingers itch, and that always means there are stories to be heard and to be told. But contrary to popular belief, he’s not stupid.
He calls Ryan and Espo and gives vague reasons for his interest in a tiny town in Maine. They’re hesitant until he tells them he’s thinking about a new book, starring two intrepid New York cops, transplanted to a quirky town known for its odd happenings.
They buy it, and report back that other than an unusually high rate of infrastructure failures and gas leaks, and a lighthouse that seems to be in ruins more often than it’s functional, there’s nothing particularly newsworthy about Haven.
He thinks about calling Beckett, if only to get his feet back in reality, but she’s incommunicado for another five weeks. He suspects she’s learning even more ways to murder him in his sleep, or while he’s awake, and if he breaks this rule, she’ll take great pleasure in showing him everything’s she’s learned. He shudders. And not in the good way he knows and loves.
He does call Alexis, but the connection is bad, and she doesn’t have time to talk anyway as she’s heading out to find, of all things, pie, and he sadly wonders if Costa Rica is known for its pies. As he ends the call, he realizes he misses the little girl she used to be, the one who would have loved hearing this story and given him ideas to explore.
He even calls his mother - a sign of how desperate he is - but more to see if she knows of any family connections in Maine. She’s too busy being Martha to really listen, and says no in a distracted way, then tells him she’s in a hurry, they’re in the middle of dress rehearsal, and to ‘enjoy yourself, darling’.
He tosses the phone onto the night stand, flops back on the bed in the tiny bed and breakfast place Audrey recommended, stares at the ceiling and allows himself a moment to pout. If he knew how to contact his father, he would, although he doubts Jackson Hunt, or whatever his real name may be, would be a good solution for the problem Castle faces. He also doubts Haven is Hunt’s home town.
He scowls at the ceiling, then allows his innate good sense to take over, and contrary to what everyone believes, he does have some.
Whatever this is, this Trouble, it hasn’t caused him any real harm. It’s been his reactions that have caused damage. Yes, it seems to have attached itself to him, but he’s been in strange situations before, and he’s always gotten out of them.
Besides, he has five weeks to figure things out, and he suspects the two detectives and their somewhat less law-abiding barkeep friend have a pretty good track record of solving these Troubles, otherwise...well, he suspects they’ve faced even more unpredictable things than serial killers and crazed spies.
Not to mention, and here he smiles slowly and rather evilly as he does a little soft shoe across the ceiling, this place is a treasure trove of stories, he can smell them, and probably more than enough of them to give old Steve a run for his money.
On the ceiling.
He lands on the bed with a thud and a whoosh as his breath escapes him.
Well, he thinks, Beckett would definitely not appreciate that, if she had been on the bed, but at least now he knows what this Trouble is about.
“Songs from the 80s?” Nathan says incredulously.
Castle nods eagerly.
“So...we’re looking for somebody old?” Duke says.
Castle shrugs. “Or just somebody who listens to an oldies station and, I don’t know, gets an earwig or something.”
They look thunderstruck.
“An earwig Trouble?” Audrey says. “Where the song that’s stuck in their head manifests itself on...you? Why you?”
Castle opens his mouth, then shrugs. “That, I’m a little unclear about. But maybe it isn’t focused on me. I mean, only me.”
He takes in their blank stares. He leans forward.
“Okay, look. We all think about different things, at the same time. So, we’re having this conversation, but you’re probably also thinking about the ten other Troubles you need to take care of, what’s caused them in the first place, what is Audrey’s true identity, and when are you going to get something to eat. I’m a pretty flashy guy. Somebody saw me driving my cherry red convertible, and at the same time has this bloody earwig of that Meat Loaf song, and voila!”
“Voila?” Audrey asks.
“‘I can see her rising up out of the back seat now-’“
“‘Just like an angel rising up from the tomb’,” Nathan finishes.
Duke and Audrey look at him with equally mocking expressions.
He shrugs. “It could be Haven’s theme song,” he mutters, “the past is never far enough away.”
Audrey and Duke share a glance, shrug and turn back to Castle, whose eyes are sparkling.
He grins. “Since I’m stuck here until I either stop being the object of this person’s thoughts, or you, Audrey, find and help them, I may as well help you guys out as much as I can. It’s what I do in New York, anyway. While I’m at it, I’m so going to pick yours and everyone else’s brains.”
His fingertips itch for his keyboard, in much the same way they’d itched the first time he met Kate.
There are stories here, stories he desperately wants to hear.
Part Two Part Four