"Your case?" Dean repeats, incredulously. "Dude you were what, 10 in '87? How can it be your case?"
Castiel breathes out noisily, in irritation. "12, actually. And it wasn't a case I led."
Dean takes a sip of his coffee - and jesus christ that's strong - and side-eyes him suspiciously. "You involved in some juvie shenanigans you never mentioned?"
Managing to perfect a delicate balance between an expression that combines 'you're an idiot', uneasiness, and his customary poker-face, Castiel shakes his head. "I know you would only have been young at the time, but do you remember the kidnapping that year?"
"Yeah, the-" and there go the cogs, how didn't he add that up a minute ago? "You're the Areli baby?"
"Not a baby, obviously."
"I think every kid my age remembers that, dude, everyone's parents were super-paranoid for the whole year. Dad wouldn't let us go anywhere without supervision. Wow."
Castiel looks rather distinctly like this isn't the sort of thing anyone should be saying 'wow' over, which, fair enough, no one wants to hear you whinge about how you couldn't chill in your secret base one summer because they had the gall to go get themselves abducted. It adds a few things up about the guy, too, like how disconnected he is from a load of films and shit that should have been his childhood; big guy like Areli probably wasn't going to let his kid out the house for years after that. "I don't even remember who went down for that, it was so hush-hush after the first couple weeks."
"No one did," he says reedily. "Not officially, anyway. It was 'taken care of'." He hunches down a little, stares at his coffee like it might answer some universal questions for him. "I think Luke took care of it. He turned his leaves a little afterward, set up the children’s charity, and then he was gone." His tone turns bitter at that. "The following years are why Michael and I are at such odds. He felt is necessary to dictate how my life was led from there. I did not approve."
This is so big, and so weird, and probably the biggest chunk of Castiel's past he's ever gonna learn at this stage, but he can't help but swing it back round to the task at hand. "Don't you wanna look at it, then? If it's gonna be another hit for your conspiracy, surely it's worth looking into?" Castiel looks at him a little blankly, but says nothing. "If it's about the court-order thing, I could probably swing it. Having an ADA for a brother has its benefits."
Eventually, Castiel shakes his head. "No, I-" and it's maybe the first time he's ever heard the guy stumble over his words when sober and not hungover, "I think we can do with what we already have. It's not a big enough puzzle piece."
"It might be. I mean, you were being watched, what if it's all connected?"
"I doubt it."
"Because it involves you? Your framework ain't being broad enough right now, man."
"Dean," he says sharply, "We are trying to solve one murder here. One with several threads linking it elsewhere, but ultimately, one murder. Time is paramount." He deflates again, and looks dejected enough that Dean's tempted to throw an arm around his shoulder and reassure him. "I don't want to look into it."
"Okay," Dean says quietly, and nods. "You've already got a load of 'emotionally compromising' stuff going on with this, I don't wanna add to it if we don't have to." He takes a sip of his coffee, and is pretty glad for how strong it is now. "Think you can look into the charity from here, and I'll talk to our lab guys about this?"
"Yes, Dean," he says eventually. "For now, though, I am thinking dinner and sleep. No good working on a tired brain."
Dean couldn't agree more. And later, when the guy sets a surprisingly comfy campbed up for him in the computer room, he pretends not to notice that Castiel leaves his hall light on to sleep.
* * *
"It's rather obvious why you're here, Mr Winchester, and I am afraid I can offer little illumination," Mort states, not bothering to look up from the slides he's studying when Dean walks into the lab with a knock and a 'do you have a minute?'
Mr Mort is probably the second scariest sonuvabitch Dean knows, the top spot only taken by Ellen because he knows from experience that she'll bean him, whereas the pathologist has only ever looked down his nose at Dean. He has the air of a grand professor, or a 30's noir film villain, and Dean always feels a little off-kilter talking to him, like the rug is about to be pulled from his feet. The fact it's first thing in the morning after a really weird night doesn't help, either.
"So you know it's about the report?" he asks, doing his best to not sound too eager or too nervous. Seriously, why couldn't Bobby be around this time of day? "Novak says when he got it off you guys, the kid was clean. That right?"
Mort carefully removes a slide from the scope, replacing it with a hum. "That is correct. However, as it was not the report that was signed off for that case, it's rather irrelevant now, wouldn't you think?"
There's an edge to the guys voice that marks it as a pretty damn relevant piece of information, but Dean understands what he's saying. Castiel's version is unofficial; inadmissible.
But who the hell decided to send the case to another lab?
"An unnamed station chief," Mort answers his unasked question. "It isn't unusual, during busy periods where time-sensitive material is being reviewed, for a department to outsource forensic reports. It is unusual for them to do so during one of our drier spells."
So Castiel was right. Chalk one up for paranoid detectives everywhere. "So what, you guyses report just wasn't good enough or something?"
Mort sniffs. "Without wishing to blow one's trumpet, the work myself and Mr Singer do here is of the utmost quality. We would not make so glaring an error as this. Our report is accurate." When he looks up from the slides, Dean feels a little like he's being scrutinised, peered at like an interesting bug. Well, a lot like. "Which begs the question; who wished to doctor the facts so boldly? Your friend would never allow such an oversight, nor would he settle for the report of a pathologist he does not know, no matter the time cost. His meticulousness in this is well documented; it makes one question why someone would go to the trouble of fabricating something that would so obviously be spotted by him. What purpose could it serve, Mr Winchester?"
He has to think about it. Dean knows that Castiel's original theory rests on the data from the samples he collected, but his suspension at the time means it's inadmissible. All the other evidence they've found is based on hunches, or is circumspect; without the hard physical evidence to tie the lab into dodgy business instead of just occasional negligence, they can only shout and hope someone listens. Unless they got permission to exhume the kids body, there's no way to refute the official report, and if Castiel insists on pressing it, they'll string him up as a crackpot.
Well. More of a crackpot.
Was someone just going out of their way to discredit him? Surely not for a case this small-time; it was just some kid who looked like he'd got mixed up in some bad shit, whether it was drugs or something else. Why would someone be going out of their way to push the drugs-and-gangs perspective?
"The whole thing stinks," he says, studying Mort for a reaction. The guy had to know more than he was letting on. "The whole suspension thing is the kinda hokey deal defenders wheel out in court, not something our own guys should be saying this early on. And his superiors have gotta know better than anyone how anal he is about the whole sample collecting thing, there's not a snowball's chance he woulda contaminated them. And it's for some case that shoulda been wrapped up quickly by a guy like him, but he's running into roadblocks like this everywhere, it's enough to make anyone side-eye it. It's like--" but he can't say it, not in his own stations lab, he can't. Dean wants to believe he works for an honest force. He does.
"This is far bigger than you realise, Dean," Mort intones quietly. "Something is brewing, and this small case is a spill-over. Someone didn't cover their tracks well enough in the first instance, and isn't doing well enough in the second. Keep digging."
And just like that, it's as though he's been dismissed; Mort is back to looking over his slides with disinterest. Dean shrugs and gives his thanks, heading out, and Mort calls to him with a carefully casual tone. "And Mr Winchester? If you could provide new samples, we'd be happy to test them."
Well. Guess he was gonna have to get a body exhumed.
* * *
Calling a grieving woman up to ask if she'll let his body be re-examined doesn't exactly sound like an easy task, but Dean's still surprised how much he has to psych himself up for it. How the hell is he gonna play it? 'Hey, Mrs Gallhager, remember me, the guy who didn't say much during that interview? Well, I need a HUGE favour.' Not gonna work.
It's frustrating, because if he could just nail this one thing, that'd be another crack in the drugs-and-gangs theory that'd already been accepted by Adler, and wasn't he just starting to look entirely too dodgy? As a station chief, he could easily have ordered forensics at other labs, and Castiel had said he was all but in the Mayor's pocket; who else could he be sucking up to big time?
Mort was right, just as Castiel had been right, just as all the evidence piling up at their door was saying they were right; this was way bigger than just one murder - hell, maybe just two, if the lab was that dodgy, hadn't Cas said something about digitalis?
Fuck. He was gonna have to do it.
"Hi," he says eventually, when Mrs G picks up. "I'm really sorry to bother you, but I'm the other guy who's investigating your son's death. We've got a really weird break in the case, but I need your permission for something pretty extreme."
If there was one thing Dean knew, ultimately, it was that he could be a hell of a salesman when the need came.
* * *
Dean gets what he needs, because it turns out Mrs G is a tough lady who's more than dedicated to getting her son justice. It'll take a couple days, sure, but it's one ball he's managed to get rolling, and he's starting to feel a little hopeful.
Less so, however, when he calls Castiel for a check-in and the guy tells him to meet up at Balthazar's bar.
It's not even 12 yet!
When he arrives, he's pretty surprised to see Sting Ramsay greeting him with a cup of coffee and directing him to the bar. "Give it a couple of minutes, is all he says, before hopping over to his side of the bar, doing something on a little netbook. "Accounts," he says, to Dean's curious gaze.
"So I'm not here to pick his drunkass self up again?"
"Luckily not. I understand last night was a little rough on him, but he's just burning with glee today."
Dean sips the coffee which, like the beer he'd had last time, is annoyingly good. "All right, why am I being kept out here then?"
"He's meeting with one of his 'associates'. You wouldn't get on, I believe."
"He has 'associates'?" If there was one thing Castiel had demonstrated during their partnership, it was the fact he was willing and able to handle pretty much any aspect of a case himself, and more than down with grinding on the details until he found what he was looking for instead of turning to someone else.
"Oh yes, rather like your little ring of thieves-" and he smirks at the 'hey!' Dean gives in protest, "he's made a number of... let's not call them friends, but people who appreciate his work. I think you know who he's talking to right now."
As if on cue, a woman walks out of the back room and Dean has trouble keeping his volume down when he recognises her. "Bela?"
The woman in question gives him a smirk. "Always a pleasure to see you, Winchester."
"Yeah, well, the pleasure ain't mine at all. I thought you went down for something or other?" His brain's just about short-circuited, because Bela used to be top of everyone's list in OC, before she went white collar. Or legit, no one was entirely sure what she was actually doing now. She had also been joint top of his 'crushing-on-but-way-outta-my-league'
"Now, Dean, you know as well as I do that I'd never be caught doing something illegal." She gives him a smirk, and offers a friendly wave to Balthazar, before striding out.
"Okay," he says, "what the hell?"
Castiel, ever the master of timing, chooses that moment to emerge from the back room too, looking both harassed and pleased with himself at the same time. He holds up a little pen drive with a flourish. "My morning has been very productive. How about yours?"
"I'm getting a body dug up. Was that Bela? How the hell do you know her?"
"She's very good as an anonymous whistleblower," he says mysteriously, sitting at the bar with him. "Thank you for accommodating us, Balthazar."
"Oh, you know me Cassie, I can't say no to you when you make that face."
Dean's not sure he wants to know what kind of face that is, considering how hard it is to say no to the man anyway.
"So, what did it cost you this time? Trip to the Bahamas? Booking at elBulli?"
"Dude, that's been closed since 2009."
Balthazar grins at him. "She does like to demand the impossible."
"So you pay her?"
"Only in favours," Castiel says gruffly. "This one is easy enough. I'm to demonstrate the evidence against her in a case is flawed."
"Seriously? Dude, whatever she's in trouble, she probably did. Isn't she all into corporate espionage now?"
"In this case, no, it wasn't her. It's a stitch-it."
"Stitch-up," he and Balthazar correct at once.
"In any case, this could be a good break on another front. Good work on getting the exhumation, by the way."
And that is totally a sentence he never expected to hear from anyone.
"So, what is it?"
"Data from computers at the charity headquarters. I called Bela last night for the favour, and she tells me there was one computer not connected to the network. Very suspicious."
"All right, well, that sounds more your bag then mine." He tries to think of what else he can be getting on with - waiting around for bodies to appear isn't really his thing.
"It is. And it might take a while. I thought you might appreciate the chance to catch up with your brother, considering we're at an impasse elsewhere."
That's not actually a half-bad idea. He can always ask Sam if there's any rumblings in his office about the charity, or any of the guys involved; Pamela might come off as a pretty right-on lady, but she was probably the toothiest DA Dean'd ever seen, and she was always getting her guys to keep an eye out for corruption.
It's then he notices, under the bluh of negotiating with terrifying women, that Castiel has a kind of happy buzz about him, and Dean wonders if he is maybe paying way too much attention to the guy's mood. "Something good happen this morning, dude?"
He nods, the biggest smile the guy's probably ever pulled in his life coming out. "Luke contacted me. He's in town, wants to meet. It's very exciting. The intention is to make headway on this and then perhaps meet later."
"Good for you, dude. So, we splitting up for the day?"
"Yes. I'll contact you if anything comes up. Everything seems to be coming together well." His smile softens a little. "Thank you for working with me, Dean. I know I've had moments."
"Hey, this's been a collab clusterfuck all the way, Cas. See you later?"
With Cas and Balthazar waving him off, Dean calls Sam to meet up for lunch. Sure, he's probably gonna get teased to shit, but right now he needs to confide in someone about the way his heartrate shot up just because he smiled at him.
* * *
It feels like an age since he's really spent any time at his apartment, despite it having been about a day, so Dean throw his keys on the table and takes in the nice, neat, tidy sight of home, grabbing a beer out of the fridge and plonking himself down on the sofa. Definitely time for some shitty daytime viewing, no matter that it ain't daytime anymore.
It's only by chance he notices the answering machine blinking; sometimes he forgets he even has a landline, considering how much he relies on his cell for everything. Shrugging to himself, and fully expecting to hear a telemarketer's blurb, he's surprised when it's Cas' voice that speaks.
"Dean," he says, in very Cas-like style, no introduction, "The lead is good. As suspected, this is a lot bigger than us, and everything we've been pulling together is connected. I've emailed you the details of a woman I have an interview with, she used to head the charity, but there's another lead I must look into first." He pauses, and Dean can hear a huff down the line; he can picture Cas looking around the street, like anyone could be listening to whatever super-secret thing he's about to divulge is. "Meet me tomorrow morning, at mine. If I'm not present, there will be a gift for you in the usual place." And, equally Cas-like, he hangs up.
The number on his caller-ID isn't a cellphone, and when he dials it it rings out, so he shrugs. Must've been an office number or something.
Weird and mysterious as the call is, it drifts to the back of his mind under the force of vegging out to Adam Richmond looking for the country's greatest sandwich.
* * *
When he gets to Cas' place in the morning, Dean wants to shoot himself.
The door being ajar tells him right off that something's amiss; and since, despite this being a mostly papertrail-based case, he's still a cop, and he still carries, he draws his handgun and slowly pushes the door open.
He reholsters it immediately, because whoever was in here isn't now. The place is a tip - and considering what a tip it was before, that's saying something.
He treads carefully, wary of disturbing anything, well aware of evidence-gathering procedure, but he can tell what's been taken straight away; the computers.
Something bubbles up in him. This was targeted.
A look in the room confirms it; a couple of screens have been pulled off the wall, and the beast itself is missing; otherwise, there's books and cd's pulled out of the shelves, and to him it looks like someone trying to make it look like a smash-and-grab; it'll just be seen as part of a crime spree or whatever, but he knows it's on purpose.
Dean tries to think what the hell the 'usual place' would be as he dials first Cas' cellphone, then his desk, then his other cellphone - then he remembers the camera set-up the guy had shown him when he was giving the tour. It was right up there with his Holmes collection as his favourite thing in the place, but he'd shown Den how there was a little blackspot just by his living-room bed where he liked to hide things.
Looking at the computer room now, he sees one of the vintage Holmes books has pages torn out. It seems oddly malicious.
In the hiding place, naturally, is a little netbook. He calls the PD to get someone to look at the break-in, pleased that whoever had tried to shut down what Castiel was doing had missed it, and trying to use the satisfaction to bury the pit of worry growing in his stomach.
Had Cas known this was going to happen? Is that why he'd hidden the computer for him to find? Or was this just random, and the stash just part of his normal paranoia?
Dean knew he'd be able to put some of his worry to rest if the guy would just pick up, but no.
Once he's handed off to the guys who show up, keeping the laptop carefully hidden under his jacket, he tries Balthazar - just in case - and asks the guy to call anyone who might've seen him, because he can't shake the fear that Cas investigating something and the break-in are linked, the same with him not picking up anywhere, and he knows, empirically, that Cas is more capable of taking care of himself than Dean is, frankly, but the more he's thinking about it the more he's starting to freak out.
He tries the number the guy rang him on again, and still, nothing. It suddenly dawns on him, though, why he recognises the number; a quick search on his phone tells him it's one of the public payphones in the city, and why the hell would Cas call him on a payphone?
Somewhat on auto-pilot, he makes his way to his car, opens the laptop, and is greeted by the most heart-sinking thing he's ever seen.
It's a login screen, he reckons, with the space for a password, but all it says, otherwise, in big letters is 'I WAS WRONG'.
Dean pins for the first wrong thing he can think of, and all but speeds to the PD. Time to get the files on his abduction fucking re-opened, like he should've pushed for originally. Of course it was related.