SUMMARY: An AU featuring Castle as a hard-boiled private detective in 1940s Los Angeles.
SPOILERS: There are NO spoilers for the S3 finale, but there are references to some characters from S2's "Sucker Punch" and S3's "Knockdown."
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story is a tribute to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, two authors who would have been tremendously influential to a mystery writer like Richard Castle. Many references throughout my story were taken directly from their works.
All my fics are also archived at AO3. Read it there instead.
Rick Castle was a handsome mug in a badly-tailored gray flannel suit. He had a hard mouth offset by a pair of dark, playful eyes and his straight brown hair was brushed back from his deceptively youthful-looking face. He sat alone at a table in the far corner of the Delmar Club, listening to the King Leopardi Orchestra play.
The Delmar was hopping, but not so full it felt crowded. The orchestra was tucked into an archway, horns and strings playing seductive Duke Ellington melodies to set the mood. There was no dance floor, just a long bar along one wall and a lot of small round tables with crimson tablecloths filling up the rest of the space.
Castle signaled a waiter in a midnight-blue dinner jacket and ordered a gimlet. A few minutes later the waiter came back and set his drink on the table.
“Where’s the owner?” Castle asked without looking up.
The waiter stiffened, his lips twitching neurotically. “Mr. Raglan? Is there a problem, sir?”
“No problem. I just want to pay my respects.”
“He’s over there, sir, near the microphone.” He pointed to a corner of the band shell.
Castle produced a crisply-folded five-dollar bill between two blunt fingers. The waiter snatched the bill and scampered off.
John Raglan, the owner of the Delmar, was a thin man in his fifties with a bald head and a long nose. He held a drink in one hand, a cigar in the other, and smiled broadly at everything and everyone around him, playing the part of the benevolent host. Castle watched him for a while, then let his gaze slide around the club, taking in the other patrons.
One woman in particular caught his attention. She was sitting alone at the bar and had a mane of glossy brown hair that seemed to catch all the light in the joint. Her eyes were dark and cold in her heart-shaped face. A black velvet beret was perched rakishly on her head and her dress was a burgundy silk number that was tight in all the right places. She was smoking a long, thin cigarette and tapping it absently against the edge of the ashtray. A pale amber-colored drink sat in front of her untouched, the ice mostly melted. She stared into a big gilt mirror behind the bar, watching Raglan with a gaze like steel cable. Her eyes followed him as he moved among the tables glad-handing the customers.
Raglan’s meandering progress through the room didn’t carry him anywhere near the woman and he never once glanced in her direction. If he was aware of her presence or the fact that she was staring at him he didn’t show it. After a while he drifted past Castle’s table, with a friendly smile and a clap on the back. “My office, half-an-hour,” he said coolly and quietly.
Castle turned his eyes to the orchestra. “The E-string on the bass is a half-tone flat.”
Raglan followed his gaze and nodded. “That’s the way the King likes it. Melancholy.” He moved off to the next table and launched into a racy joke for a couple of pot-bellied banker-looking types. When he hit the punchline the fat bankers laughed loudly, snorting until their faces turned red.
After a while Raglan edged his way back over to the band shell, hitting a few more tables along the way. He threw one last quick glance over his shoulder at the club before disappearing behind a pair of thick red curtains.
The brunette at the bar didn’t move. She puffed on her cigarette and ran a vermillion-tipped finger idly around the edge of her glass. A minute passed. Then two. Then five. She crushed the cigarette out in the glass tray and took a sip of her watery drink. Then she stood up, reached for her bag, and followed Raglan into the back of the club.
Castle leaned back in his chair and thoughtfully sipped his own drink. It was too heavy on the bitters. He set it back on the table and pushed it away.
A minute later the brunette reappeared through the curtains, looking two shades whiter than when she’d gone into the back. She walked over to the bar, reached for her drink and knocked back the whole thing. Then she tossed some money on the bar and started for the door.
Castle stood up abruptly and moved towards the door, setting a course to intercept her. His steps were clumsy, like a man who’s been served one too many. He made it to the door just ahead of the brunette and paused, blocking the exit. Then he swung around suddenly, like he’d forgotten something, and bumped into her. Her bag went flying out of her hand, spilling its contents onto the floor. The woman started and stepped back.
He went to one knee, apologizing loudly, and started pushing her stuff back into her bag. There was a hotel room key, a mother-of-pearl compact, a nickel cigarette case, and a matchbook from the Hobart Arms. There was also a white lace handkerchief, a couple of crumpled dollar bills and odd silver, and a folded piece of paper with a ragged edge that looked like it had been torn from a memo pad. When he went for the paper the girl stooped and snatched it out of his hand. He stood up and offered her the bag. “How’s about I make it up to you by buying you a drink?”
She caught the bag out of his hand roughly and stuffed the paper back in. “Not interested.”
“Sure about that, sweetheart?” He grabbed her hand and brought it to his lips. Her skin smelled of Shalimar. One of his ex-wives had worn that scent. It was the only thing he remembered fondly about her.
She jerked away, her lip curling into a sneer. “Get lost, creep!”
Castle smiled and stepped aside. The woman hurried past him and out into the street.
When she was gone he made his way back through the club, over to the side of the band shell. The curtains were shabby-looking up close and opened onto a dim hallway. He tried the first door, which turned out to be a custodial closet. The next was a storage room. The third door he tried led to Raglan’s office.
There wasn’t much light in the room, just a small yellow reading lamp on the desk that cast a sickly glow on the polished wood. The green carpet was worn and stained. On one wall was a louvered door, probably leading to some kind of closet. There were no windows. The air was close and warm, with a thickly sweet smell to it.
John Raglan sat behind the desk. He looked poised and calm, except for the two bright spots of blood that soaked the front of his vest. He was very dead.