Six hours previously
Sam had dozed off on I-74, somewhere in the vicinity of Batesville, lulled by the tedium of the interstate and rhythmic roll of the Impala’s wheels on the blacktop. He was dead beat. He’d gotten about three hours sleep the night before; cold and cramped on the back seat of the car, parked up on some godforsaken back road in the middle of nowhere. Dean snoring up front didn’t add a whole lot to the experience.
Even so, he was amazed he’d managed to drop off with his brother at the wheel. Dean could be an irritating driver. It wasn’t just his persistent cursing at other motorists, phones going off and channel hopping on the radio either. On top was the volume constantly going up and down, the sing alongs, the crackle of chip packets and other road food… In spite of it all, Sam sank into a sound sleep.
Something flicking his ear lobe woke him with a jolt. He knew what it was before he even opened his eyes; Dean couldn’t handle his own company for long. His brother’s voice was way too loud.
“What’s up Van Winkle?”
So not funny and Sam winced. Where had Dean dredged that up from? He faked sleep for a while, tried to get back into whatever dream he knew he’d been enjoying, but there was the flicking again. Harder this time. Dean wasn’t about to let up. He opened his eyes and knocked his brother’s hand away.
“What the hell? Get off me, Dean.”
Dean’s eyes were fixed on the road ahead but there was a smile pulling at his lips. He was pleased with his work.
“Ten miles to Shinetown, bro. You’re missing the sights.”
Sam squinted at the scenery through sleep-blurred eyes. Early evening sunlight slanted across open fields and forest, accenting the spectacular colours of early Fall. He took it all in, trying to appreciate the rustic charm and Dean whistled as they drove through a tiny, picturesque town which could easily have doubled for Tuscany or Provence.
“This is serious grape country, man. You know the Pepper Ridge and Crest Valley vineyards are round here somewhere?”
He paused just a moment for effect. “Did that sound whiney?”
Sam couldn’t even crack a smile. “You’re not funny, Dean.”
“Come on. I’m a barrel of laughs.”
Sam groaned. Dean had probably been thinking these up for hours. He stared out the side window pointedly, hoping his brother would get the message but no dice. He still wasn’t done.
“Don’t bottle it up, Sammy. Say what you feel.”
Dean seemed wired and Sam wondered what he’d taken before realising it was a combination of sleep deprivation, junk food and adrenalin. It might be annoying but he’d rather have this Dean than the morose, introspective, taciturn Dean of the past few months.
“Why are you so stoked?”
Dean glanced over, surprised. “Are you kidding? This is the closest thing to a vacation we’ve had in months. Maybe I’ll do me some fishing, know what I mean? See what local delicacies I can reel in…”
“Dean, we’re here to work.”
The words ran like water off a duck’s back; his brother was on some kind of sugar high. “Hey, do you think Pepper Ridge does tastings? I could use a little cheese and wine action.”
It was frustrating when Dean got like this, especially when they had more important things to do, but Sam didn’t want to burst the bubble of unexpected good humor. He chose his words carefully.
“This thing’s been lighting up the frequencies for weeks. Now something’s actually happening you want to take a sabbatical?”
Dean grinned. “Man, I just wanna stop long enough to smell the rosès.”
Okay, that one was funny but Sam didn’t give him the satisfaction of a laugh. Dean’s mind wasn’t even in the vicinity of the job in hand and he searched for a way to get his brother focussed.
“We’re gonna check it out, okay? Now we’ve finally got an ID on Joolz McGuire…”
Dean snorted. “Joolz with a zee.”
No sarcasm there at all and Sam raised an eyebrow. “Dude, he’s fifteen.”
Dean shook his head. “No excuse.”
Sam persevered, though it felt like he was wading through treacle. “Joolz McGuire, the wonder kid who can apparently locate missing people, dead or living, by touching something they touched…”
“How’s that different to a regular psychic?” Now Dean was plain dismissive and Sam fought down his irritation.
“How many psychics do you know with a hundred percent strike rate, huh? None of the fake, floaty crap you love so much?”
Dean shrugged. “I can think of a few.”
“Yeah? How many are still alive?”
It was a low blow; the memory of Pamela Barnes and her shocking, untimely death, slammed straight into his head. Judging by the frown on his face, Dean was getting the same picture. When he eventually broke the long silence, he sounded more subdued.
“This thing’s been nothing but smoke and mirrors and suddenly it all zeroes in on Rising Sun. Doesn’t it seem kind of convenient?”
Sam considered. “Maybe; but three reports in a week, all pointing here? We’ve got to check it out. Just think what this kid can do for us if he’s on the level.”
Dean looked sceptical. “If he’s not, we just wasted two days driving across three states.”
Sam gazed at him quizzically. “Those were real missing people, man. Anyway, you got someplace better to go?”
Dean smiled. “Pepper Ridge still sounds good.”
The Impala chose that moment to shudder and momentarily lose power before pulling it together and rumbling onwards. Dean nearly shit himself.
“Baby? What’s wrong, where does it hurt?”
Dean had been talking to his car like she was a chick for so long that Sam barely noticed anymore. However, he owed his brother for all the bad wine puns.
“You know you sound like a lunatic when you talk…”
Dean interrupted, sounding outraged. “What the hell, Sam? She can hear you.”
The old Chevy shuddered again and Dean threw him an accusing look. “Now she’s pissed. Way to go, Sammy.”
Sam couldn’t see why it was such a big deal. “It’s a loose cable, dude. Chill out.”
“You chill out. Who made you the Queen friggin’ spanner monkey?”
Sam grimaced, remembering a time when, no thanks to The Trickster, he’d been on intimate terms with the car. “I spent time under that hood, remember? Quality time...”
“Oh yeah.” Dean
smirked. “I never told you, Sam; but that was pretty hot.”
Sam really wouldn’t put it past his brother to get off on that kind of thing. “Pervert.”
Dean shrugged it off. “Whatever.”
Dean grinned and his eyes flashed. “Don’t be stealing my lines, bro. You know what happens…”
He turned the radio up to deafening volume. Then he started singing.
Sam blocked out the noise with an efficiency born of long experience. They were getting close to town now and he watched a few buildings roll past between the fields and stands of trees. Houses and factories mainly, but then they approached something which was unmistakeably a bar. Not a classy one either. It was called House of the Rising Sun and he braced himself, waiting for another lousy joke. Dean didn’t say a word though, just took his foot off the gas and let the Impala cruise. A moment later he spotted what Dean had zeroed in on; a couple of scantily clad chicks hanging out on the porch. Dean had his window down, arm propped on the side sill, shades low on his nose and he gunned the engine to pull their attention. Miraculously he got what he was looking for; one of the chicks gave him the eye and blew a kiss.
Dean chuckled and Sam cursed silently. He knew where they’d be spending the rest of their evening; so much for beer, take-out and TV in their room, as planned.
They found a place to stay a couple more miles down the same road. The Beaujolais Motel sounded promising but when Sam went to the front desk to check in, he knew from a glance it was their usual brand of skanky dive. Dean held back, popped the hood on the Impala and got busy making whatever repair was necessary. It gave Sam time to find the room, dump their bags, get his shit unpacked and check out the shower. The water was a good temperature and he considered jumping right in, eager to shed two days of road grime. It wasn’t worth the grief he’d get from Dean though. His brother always pulled rank and took the hottest shower on account of being the oldest.
Dean sauntered through the door a few minutes later, holding a mostly empty bottle of beer. “Loose HT cable; just like you said, mom.”
The beer explained why it had taken ten minutes to make a thirty second repair. He scoped out the room casually. “You wanna take first shower?”
Sam looked at him, surprised. “Seriously?”
Dean threw himself onto the vacant bed and made himself comfortable. “Sure. I figured I’d take a power nap before we check out the bar.”
Sam didn’t push it. They’d both seen the Magic Fingers machine.