IN VINO VERITAS

Chapter 12

Sam shagged ass from Portland and made it back to Rising Sun just after 5pm. He had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach and it only got worse when he pulled up outside Joolz McGuire’s house. Even if the kid could locate Dean, and it was a big if, there was no saying he’d get to wherever his brother was being held in time to save him.

The house was out in the suburbs, a smart looking two storey with a manicured lawn and an SUV in the driveway. Sam knocked on the front door and had an intimidating close encounter with Joolz’s mom. She took him for a reporter and was a long way from friendly. She lightened up slightly when he showed her his marshal’s badge and explained how her son could be helpful in a federal investigation, but it still took a lot of sweet talking to get inside the house.

She showed him up to Joolz’s room and informed him he had fifteen minutes to conduct his business; after that she was coming in. Sam didn’t hang around, not on a schedule like that but when he knocked on the door he got no answer. He tried again, with similar lack of success before letting himself in quietly.

The tangle of posters covering the walls revealed Joolz was into the likes of Nirvana, Green Day, Rage and Jane’s Addiction. Cool tastes, if somewhat retro but an electric guitar and amplifier in the corner implied he took music a lot more seriously than most. Joolz himself was sprawled on the bed, engrossed in a noisy game on an iPad. He had a flashy haircut with orange streaks, was wearing a Foo Fighters tee and Sam was convinced he’d find make-up in the kid’s bathroom. He seemed the type. The window was wide open and letting in a good breeze, but couldn’t mask the distinctive odour of old socks and marijuana. Sam supposed all teenage boys’ rooms smelled like this, though he didn’t have much experience in the matter.

Joolz got the shock of his life when he glanced up and found Sam standing in the doorway. He scrambled off the bed, looking outraged.

“What the hell? Get out of my room, dick wad.”

Sam held up his hands. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m not…”

“Don’t sweat it, man. I know you’re not a fake reporter; I can smell those douches a mile off.” Joolz eyed him curiously. “You’re different. You’re on a hunt.”

“Hunt?”

Sam was shaken; not only because the kid seemed to have guessed his real motive for being here. If Joolz could spot fake reporters, could he also spot a fake marshal? He pulled himself together; reminded himself how psychic shit didn’t usually work on him and kept his game face on. Joolz was sizing him up.

“You’re a marshal, right? Primary function of the Marshals Service is to hunt fugitives.” He pointed to a poster near his bed, well hidden among all the band stuff. “This thing’s friggin’ awesome.”

Sam took a closer look. The poster was for a TV show called Justified and carried a picture of some dude in a white hat. He’d never seen the show but, judging from the badge on the guy’s belt, it had something to do with the marshals. He flashed his own ID; certain Joolz would recognise the name Reuben Cogburn if he caught sight of it; then pocketed it quickly.

“Did you, uh, sense I was a marshal?”

Joolz grinned. “Nah; heard you talking to my mom downstairs.”

He went to the window and looked into the street. The Impala was parked right in front of the house and Joolz whistled softly.

“Thought I heard a V8 out there. That’s a sweet ride, man; what is she?”

“Vintage Chevy Impala. It’s been in the family a while.”

Joolz turned to him with a smirk. “Bet she wasn’t vintage when you were born, huh?”

Sam tried not to be offended by the casual over-estimation of his age and brushed the insult aside. He stayed in character and put some gravitas into his voice.

“Joolz, I’m here because I need your help. I understand you can locate people?”

The smirk widened into a grin and now Joolz seemed wired. “I knew you were coming. I mean, I wasn’t expecting Chewbacca but I knew someone was coming. I get this… this itch I can’t scratch and it drives me crazy. Usually it means somebody’s gone missing, and somebody’ll come knocking.”

Sam grasped the opportunity with both hands. “Somebody did go missing. His name’s Dean Torrence and he’s a fugitive from the justice system, wanted on two counts of first degree murder. He’s...”

Joolz interrupted. “Does this mean I’m working for the marshals? I’m thinking of applying you know? This’ll look immense on the form.”

The kid was yammering fast enough to trip over his words and now Sam understood why the room smelled so strongly of dope. The conversation was drifting away from him and he struggled to maintain control.

“That’s great, Joolz, but I really need…”

Joolz steamrollered right over him. “You got a picture of this Dean Torrence?”

Sam found a photo on his cell phone. It was an embarrassing shot; Dean was drunk and pulling his Blue Steel special right into the lens. Sam had taken the picture in a bar last week, at his brother’s insistence and a minute later some chick’s boyfriend had punched Dean in the face. He didn’t want to remember how the rest of the evening had gone down.

Joolz took the phone and studied the picture. He didn’t seem impressed. “What’s his problem?”

Sam shrugged. “Confidence issues; he acts up for the camera.”

Joolz snorted. “Dude looks like Bieber before he went, you know… badass.”

He handed the phone back. “What does a federal marshal need me for? Finding people’s your job isn’t it?”

Sam nodded. “It is, but things have gotten a little awkward. See I was working prisoner transport, taking Dean Torrence over to Pendleton and he kind of… got away.”

Joolz laughed. “Like when Raylan lost Roley Pike? Awesome. Did he bail when you stopped for ice cream?”

Sam had no idea what he was talking about but now he was on edge. How did he end up posing as a marshal for a kid with a boner for the Marshals Service?

“Uh no, he didn’t but look… he’s in the wind right now and I’d really like to get this situation back on track before, you know, the Chief catches on.”

Joolz grinned. “I get it. Don’t want to drop a pay grade huh?” His expression turned shifty. “Marshals are on pretty good scratch; I’m guessing you’ll want to make this worth my while?”

Sam sighed, realising he’d just been played. He took some bills from his wallet and handed them across. Joolz looked suspicious, like he knew full well there was more in there and Sam gave him a stony look.

“Don’t push it, kid…”

Joolz pocketed the cash quickly. “Give me something he touched.”

Sam pulled out Dean’s cell phone and passed it over. Joolz flinched as he took it then inspected it closely. “There was blood on it, right? His blood?”

Sam nodded, watching the kid curiously. Joolz didn’t zone out or pull any of the amateur dramatic crap he associated with bogus psychics; just sat on the edge of his bed and stared at the phone for a while before he started talking.

“He lost this outside a bar. He was fighting with these dudes and…” He clutched at his left side, face screwed up in pain. “One of ‘em cut him…”

He went quiet for a spell but carried on staring. “He’s in this skanky yard and… oh fuck, I can’t breathe.”

Joolz began convulsing and his face turned red. Alarmed, Sam hurried across the room and slapped him hard on the back. It jerked him out of the vision and he dropped the phone. He was fighting for breath and clamped his arms across his chest.

“It’s like a friggin’ curse. Only seeing fragments of the crap these poor bastards go through, trying to put the rest together. Imagining…”

Sam felt guilty. The kid was too young to be involved in this kind of shit but then he reminded himself; you were always too young. On top of that he was angry. What the hell had those bastards done to his brother?

Joolz pulled it together quickly and seemed embarrassed. “Sorry, man; didn’t mean to go all Hannah Montana on you.”

He picked the phone off the floor and got back into his groove. A minute later he was bright red again, though he didn’t seem to be in any kind of distress. It made Sam uneasy.

“What can you see?”

“There’s a bedroom, a hot chick and…” There was a long pause and then Joolz chuckled. “This is like free porn.”

A broad grin spread across his face. “This dude’s pretty athletic. Did you know he could…”

Sam really didn’t want to hear about that. “Joolz, try to focus.”

The kid’s smile vanished abruptly. “Who’s Cas?”

“He’s a colleague. He’s trying to help.”

Joolz frowned. “Looks like he’s about to flash someone.”

Sam had heard enough snarky cracks for one day. “Do you think you could concentrate on the important stuff?”

Joolz scowled. “Back off, man; this is a process. Do you hear me telling you how to do your job?”

Sam bit back a retort and Joolz stared at the phone for a while longer, turning it over in his hands. “Okay he’s blitzed. Uh… scratch that, he’s stoned... he’s flying… still on it… Man, whatever it is I want some.”

Sam put a note of warning into his voice. “Joolz…”

“Chill out, man… Okay now he’s running, flat out Jesse Owens. He’s headed for some trees… more like a forest actually. He’s shit scared but he’s nearly there and, uh… damn!”

Sam was startled. “What?”

“The dogs got him. Now he’s talking to some creepy old guy in an orange suit and uh…” He glanced up at Sam, surprised. “Everything’s gone black.”

Sam’s stomach knotted up and his legs went to jelly. He fought to stay upright, control his panic and stay professional. “Is he dead?”

Joolz was watching him with a peculiar expression. “I don’t think so; it’s a lot creepier when they’re dead. I’m pretty sure he’s still kicking.”

Sam felt only slight relief. “Do you know where he is? This is really important?”

Joolz seemed frustrated. “I usually find people when there’s a sign or landmark in the vision, something which shows where they’re at. This guy Dean’s in a big house with trees all round but there’s nothing else. No towns, no road signs, nada.”

Sam pulled Dean’s drawing from his pocket and held it up. “Did you see this?”

“Yeah, maybe... “Joolz took the paper and studied it closely. “It was on the pocket of the old dude’s coat. What is it?”

“A clue, maybe.”

Sam ran his hands through his hair, anxious and afraid. This had been his last hope and he’d drawn yet another blank. Joolz was watching with something like sympathy.

“You’re close to Dean, right?”

Sam looked at him sharply. “Was that in your vision?”

Joolz shook his head. “Sometimes I just read people… Look, this crap isn’t set in stone. I can keep trying; see if there’s any more. Can I keep the phone?”

Sam shook his head. Dean’s phone was full of porn and while it would probably seem tame compared with what Joolz witnessed in his vision, he couldn’t risk leaving it here. He dug in his pocket for Dean’s Zippo and passed it over. Joolz played with it for a while, flicking the flame on and off.

“Who is he really, man?”

Something occurred to Sam and he used it as an opportunity to sidestep the question.

“What did you mean earlier about fake reporters?”

Joolz shrugged. “They put on a show, published the stories and all but they didn’t give a rat’s ass about those missing people. All they wanted was for someone special to read those newspapers and come to town.”

Sam didn’t get it. “Someone special? Who?”

“No clue, but I figured a US Marshal might be interested.”

Sam was definitely interested. “How do you know all this, Joolz?”

“I guess this whole psychic trip spills over into real life sometimes.” Joolz offered a weak smile. “I never asked for it, man. I wish to God I could just go back to being normal again.”

Sam could relate; he also knew it wasn’t going to happen. The ability Joolz possessed was only going to suck him in deeper, might wind up getting him killed some day. He smiled reassuringly.

“Ride the rap, kid.”

An idea was forming in the back of his mind; a suspicion based round something Joolz had said. Just as it was about to clarify his cell phone rang and Bobby’s caller ID popped up. He hurried into the hall and closed the bedroom door behind him.

“Bobby? What you got?”

“Other than a migraine, you mean?” Bobby sounded cantankerous and stressed. “I’ve been staring at maps on a computer for four hours straight. That’s just what the doctor ordered.”

Sam didn’t have time to humour him. “Did you find anything?”

He heard glass clink and something being poured. Bobby took a gulp of whatever he was drinking tonight.

“After checking all two hundred addresses, I narrowed it down to five possibles. They’re all impressive dwellings, generous acreage, pleasant forest locations, jack squat for miles around...”

Sam interrupted. “Are any of them close?”

“Nope, so listen up.”

Bobby reeled off the addresses and Sam wrote them down. He stared at them, mentally picturing their locations and realised they were spread all over Indiana, miles away from each other.

“I can’t check all these; the feast’s going down tonight.” Sam knew how used up and desperate he sounded, but Bobby didn’t sound much better.

“Pick a number. You might get lucky.”

“Dean’s about to die and that’s the best you’ve got?”

Bobby sighed. “I’ll help any way I can, son, but I’m three states away.”

Sam was flat out of ideas. “Are there any hunters close by?”

“Nobody closer than Lexington, Kentucky.”

It seemed like all the fates were conspiring against them. Sam was close to losing it and slammed his fist into the nearest wall. “Dammit!”

A second later Joolz threw his bedroom door open, still clutching the Zippo.

“This thing gives way better readings. Does Pine House mean anything?”

Sam had definitely heard the name. He couldn’t place it but was overwhelmed by so many emotions he could barely think straight. “Uh, it rings a bell…”

Bobby’s sardonic voice filtered through the speaker of his cell phone. “Pine House is on the shortlist, dumbass. Six hours away if you motor.”

Joolz was watching Sam warily. “Something’s going down at midnight and it ain’t looking good.”



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