IN VINO VERITAS

Chapter 6

Sam woke slowly, enjoying the comfort of his bed, the peace and quiet in the room. He figured it must be early; way too early for Dean to be up and crashing around, but when he opened his eyes and squinted at his watch, he was surprised to see it was after ten.

He’d slept soundly from the moment his head touched the pillow last night, which was unusual. Normally Dean would wake him in the early hours; drunk and stumbling in the dark, trying to find his shit. Unless he’d got lucky... One glace at the empty bed confirmed Dean had pulled a one-nighter; it hadn’t been slept in but bore the indentation of the power nap the day before. The pile of quarters was still on the night stand by the Magic Fingers machine.

Ten o’clock was late for Dean. Usually he was out the girl’s bed at the crack of dawn, before things got awkward. Occasionally he’d get lucky a second time though; still make the grade once she’d sobered up and the Led Zep chick had seemed keen. Sam figured they were probably going for seconds; that got him thinking about the fight in the bar and suddenly he was glad Dean wasn’t around. He was still angry with his brother and didn’t particularly want to see him for a while.

He took a long shower then drove into Rising Sun for a late breakfast. It was a pretty town, a sunny day and after he’d eaten he took a leisurely stroll, checking out the arts and book stores. After lunch he walked along the river and found a quaint restaurant with a variety of local wines on the menu. He spent a pleasant few hours sampling the various vintages and they were all excellent.

Sam had started the day feeling guilty, knowing he should be working the job and checking out Joolz McGuire; but somewhere along the line he’d decided to take the same attitude as his brother. Dean had no interest in this job from the get go and his prolonged absence was nothing more than a mammoth screw you. Two could play at that game though; if one Winchester felt like taking an impromptu vacation, why shouldn’t the other? Sam didn’t plan on lifting a finger until Dean showed his face again.

He ate supper in the same restaurant and bought a bottle of wine before driving to the motel. It was after seven when he got back. He’d half expected Dean to be waiting there, ready to give him hell for taking the car, but the room was empty. Sam felt a moment’s disquiet but the tiny grain of doubt was cushioned by the wine he’d drunk. The booze helped take the edge off his dented pride, though and fifteen minutes later he called all of Dean’s cell phones. Two of them rang in the room while the third, his main phone, went to voicemail. Sam left a short message, in a lukewarm tone, suggesting Dean get in touch as soon as he was thinking with his big brain again.

Sam settled in for the evening. He drank a glass of wine out on the porch, enjoying the evening sun, trying not to think how much better this would be if his brother was sat beside him, chugging beer and rattling off crappy jokes. When the sun dipped below the treeline he went back inside. He spent the next few hours watching TV but his phone was on the bed and he glanced at it every five minutes, willing it to ring. Dean would know he was worried but he could be one stubborn son of a bitch, not to mention an insensitive one. At eleven o’clock he left another message and texted for good measure. Then he finished the wine.

When Sam woke next morning, with only a minor headache, the first thing he did was grab for his phone. No voice message, no text. It was after nine and now he was definitely concerned; thirty six hours with no word from Dean was unthinkable and he was getting a bad feeling. He left another message, sent another text and decided what to do while he showered. The obvious course of action was retracing their steps, which meant first port of call was The House of the Rising Sun.

Sam doubted it would be open for a while so he grabbed breakfast in a diner near the motel and took his laptop with him. As he ate he checked the local news websites for recent stories involving skirmishes, arrests and accidents. They turned up nothing but for good measure he phoned the local hospitals, clinics and police, giving Dean’s description and a sketchy story. That also drew a blank but offered some relief; at least his brother wasn’t in a cell or hospitalized.

It was after ten when he arrived at The Rising Sun. The lot was deserted and he parked the Impala by the street door. Inside it was quiet and empty but he spotted the well-endowed waitress, Melanie, sitting up one end of the bar; drinking coffee and engaged in animated conversation with another woman. Sam knew she’d seen him come in but she ignored him. He waited at the other end of the bar for a minute before approaching her, fixing his most engaging smile into place.

“Hey, you might remember I was here a couple of nights ago with…”

She beat him to the punch. “With a gigantic douchebag; how could I forget? What a creep.”

“Wow, don’t hold back.” Sam was startled by her tone, though it was an accurate description of Dean’s behaviour.

Melanie shrugged. “What can I tell you? I say what I see.”

Sam let the fake smile drop. “The thing is; he never made it back to his motel so I was wondering…”

“Doesn’t surprise me; he was all over that slut Tanya.” Melanie grimaced. “I was nearly sick in my mouth.”

Sam persevered, treading gently. Clearly she was still pissed. “And they left together?”

“I guess; can’t say I gave that much of a shit.”

He tried a different tack. “Do you know where Tanya lives?”

Melanie shook her head. “I’m paid to pour drinks, mister, that’s all. I don’t pry.”

Sam was getting frustrated by her stone walling and struggled to keep his voice even. “Would anybody else here know? Any of the staff?”

She shrugged again. “You’d have to ask them.”

“Sure, okay.” Sam looked round the bar for other staff. “Where do I find them?”

Melanie smirked. “It’s just me here right now. Next shift starts at noon.”

Sam was downright annoyed now. Even if she could help, she clearly wasn’t going to. Way to go, Dean. “Right; well, thanks for being so helpful.”

The sarcasm earned him a spiteful grin. “My middle name.”

Sam went back to the car, wondering if he should wait it out and question the other staff. Temporarily at a loss, he called Dean again. As expected the phone rang a few times before going to voicemail, but not before he caught the sound of distant music. He dialed again, suspecting he’d imagined it but this time he was certain; the familiar rock ringtone was coming from a far corner of the lot. He headed over and called again, located the phone under a scrubby bush and his stomach twisted as he picked it up. It was covered in dried blood. He looked round and found a large patch of blood in the dust nearby; Dean’s battered Zippo was beside it.

Sam checked through the phone quickly, trying to keep his hands from shaking. He found his own missed calls, messages and texts, but nothing outgoing since before they’d arrived in town. Now he was officially frightened; something bad had gone down here, somebody had gotten hurt and every instinct told him it was his brother.

He hurried over to the Impala, popped the trunk and rummaged through the box of fake IDs. The first useful one he pulled was a US Marshal’s badge but it wasn’t until he was striding purposefully through the bar that he saw the name on it. Reuben Cogburn. If he wasn’t so damned worried he’d be cursing Dean with all his heart.

He flashed the badge at Melanie and spoke sternly. “I tried to do this nicely, but now I’m making it official. I’m a Deputy US Marshal and you’re going to answer some questions.”

Melanie raised an eyebrow. “A marshal? Like from the wild west?”

Sam pulled himself to his full height and glared at her. “Our facilities are modern and our lockups are very secure. Would you like to see them?”

She stared for a moment, looked about to make another smart ass comment then thought better of it. “Jeez, I was only saying…”

Sam nodded. “You’re feeling talkative now? How about you tell me what really happened two nights ago?”

“To that douch…”

“To my partner; also a Federal Marshal.”

Melanie shrugged. “He left with the slut around midnight; four guys followed them out. I heard there was a fight in the lot but none of ‘em came back in. The end.”

Sam glanced around the room, looking for cameras. “You got CCTV here?”

“Nope.” Melanie sounded smug; or maybe she thought she was getting one over on him. Sam stared at her through narrowed eyes until she dropped her gaze.

“In that case you’re going to give me names and no more bullshit.”

She was quiet for a while; she really didn’t want to help but Sam had the power of the law on his side. He slapped his hand down firmly on the bar.

“Sometime this year, miss.”

“I only recognised that creep Charlie Watson.” Melanie sounded like she was sucking lemons. “Thinks he’s some kind of big shot but he’s just another low life retard. This place is crawling with ‘em.”

“Where does he live?”

“Somewhere out on River Lane; that’s all I know.” Melanie scowled. “That’s all I want to know. “

Sam was suspicious, convinced she knew the guy better than she was letting on. “You sure about that?”

“I don’t row on that team, mister”. She was indignant, affronted and Sam decided this part, at least, wasn’t an act.

“Can I get back to my customer now?”

She didn’t wait for an answer, just turned on her heel and marched away. Sam realised Dean’s gaydar had been spot on but resolved not to share; it would make his brother unbearable. He called after Melanie.

“If you’re lying, I’ll be back.”

She eyed him coldly. “Whatever you say; Wyatt.”

It didn’t take Sam long to find Charlie Watson on the police database and the various mug shots showed a weasely looking dude with stringy blonde hair. He had a long record of petty crime, with a side line in violence and Sam wondered why the hell Dean had tangled with an asshole like that. He wasn’t really surprised though; his brother had a gift for finding trouble.

He drove out to Charlie’s address, only a few minutes from the bar and discovered a ramshackle one-storey with two junkers out front and a bunch of engine parts strewn round the yard. He parked down the street and approached the place cautiously on foot. He snuck round the perimeter, looking through windows and eventually spotted Charlie in a dirty, cluttered living room. He was sitting on a couch in his underwear, watching a big screen TV and eating cereal from the box. He seemed to be alone so Sam went to the back door and tried the handle. It opened first time and he smiled; why did country people always leave their doors unlocked? He walked quietly down a short hallway, following the sound of the TV then barrelled through the living room door. Charlie almost jumped out of his skin and cereal scattered across the floor.

“What the fuck? Who are you?”

From the look in his eyes, Charlie had no clue who Sam was. That could work to his advantage.

“I’m the guy who’s gonna make your life real difficult unless you tell me what happened two nights ago.”

Sam kept his voice quiet, menacing and Charlie blinked at him for a moment. When the penny dropped he lunged sideways, fast as a tomcat on heat and grabbed something from under a cushion. Sam was already charging when he saw the muzzle of a pistol swinging his way. He kept going, shoved the gun aside and a bullet whistled past his left ear; impacting in the wall behind.

“Son of a bitch!”

He grabbed Charlie’s wrist and twisted it until something cracked. Charlie screamed in agony, the gun clattered to the floor and Sam punched him in the face for good measure.

“That’s for trying to shoot me.”

He stepped back, breathing hard. Charlie was doubled up on the couch, clutching his wrist and whimpering. Sam picked up the gun and realised, with a shock, it was Dean’s Colt. 45; his service pistol with the white grip. He cuffed Charlie round the head to get his attention.

“Where did you get this gun?”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

Sam cuffed him again. “Dean Winchester, asshole; this is his gun. I also found his cell phone in the parking lot at the bar and I found a lot of blood.”

He got right up in Charlie’s face. “I’m only gonna ask once. What happened?”

Charlie flinched away. “Jesus, chill out will you? We was only following orders.”

“Whose orders?”

“Jake was the fixer. Talk to him.”

Sam pointed the gun at Charlie’s head and he screamed. “I swear to God, man.”

Sam thumbed back the trigger. “Where’s my brother, you son of a bitch?”

Charlie’s eyes widened slightly as he took in that piece of information. “We drove him to the old house on Somerset Road and the buyers met us. I don’t know where they took him after.”

Sam reeled at the implications of his words. “Buyers… What the hell? What did you do to him?”

Charlie managed to drum up some bravado and he sneered. “Your brother’s a real jerk; he needed telling some things.”

Sam grabbed his shirt and dragged him to his feet. “It took four of you to do that?”

Charlie didn’t smell so good up close. Sam released him and backed away but he kept the gun armed and visible.

“You’re going to tell me everything.”

Over a long course of blame laying, whining and excuses, Sam managed to piece together events at The Rising Sun. Tanya was bait, Charlie and his buddies jumped Dean in the parking lot and Jake met them at a house on Somerset Road. Three men came to collect Dean sometime after 1am, money had changed hands and Sam tried to get his head round that one. Charlie told him it was ten thousand dollars, minus cashback, which meant someone might have put a bounty on his brother. Charlie didn’t know for sure; all Charlie cared about was the two grand he’d made for a few hours work.

Sam was sure he was holding something back, though he gave the spineless bastard his best badass act. Charlie was scared, but seemed more frightened of something else; kept repeating how Jake Matthews was the main man and Sam needed to go see him.

When he was done, Sam drove out to Jake’s place. It was ten minutes away and the house was empty; no car in the driveway, all the doors locked. Charlie had probably called ahead, warned his buddy but Jake couldn’t stay gone forever. He’d break cover eventually.

Sam’s next stop was the house on Somerset Road. He found it just as Charlie described; dirty, falling down and abandoned. He located the room where the sale had taken place, found blood on the floor then sought out the tiny cell where they’d kept Dean prisoner. There were fresh bloodstains on the mattress and Sam’s stomach knotted up; Charlie had been uncharacteristically descriptive about what happened inside this house and Dean had not been in good shape. He’d been unconscious by the time negotiations were complete and judging from all the blood, it wasn’t surprising. The only positive Sam could see was how nobody would pay ten thousand dollars for his brother and let him bleed to death. He held onto the thought grimly, it was the only thing keeping him sane right now.

He made a thorough search of the house but came up empty; it was clean as a whistle, in a totally shitty kind of way. The buyers had been careful, they’d hired over-priced help to do their dirty work and now they were in the wind. The only solid lead was Jake Matthews, also in the wind. In desperation Sam called Bobby Singer, explained the situation and Bobby promised to put out an APB across hunter frequencies. After that Sam called Castiel. As usual Cas didn’t pick up so he left an abrupt voicemail, trying to convey the urgency of the situation to an angel who didn’t seem to give a shit anymore.

By the time Sam drove away from Somerset Road he’d managed to get his panic under control. Dean was hurt, Dean was somebody’s prisoner but Sam wasn’t a lick of use to him unless he stayed calm and worked this like a regular case. The nagging guilt which had plagued him since he awoke wasn’t as easy to dismiss; he’d sat around sulking for a day and a half while his brother was going through God knew what. If the tables were turned, no way would Dean have sat on his ass like that. Dean was hardwired to protect his family, brainwashed was probably more accurate, but he got the job done and he never felt sorry for himself. Sam pushed the feelings to one side; he didn’t have time for them right now.

There wasn’t much of anything to go on but he needed to do something. He headed back to Jake’s place, planning to break in and turn the place over. Maybe he’d find something useful, maybe he’d beat on Charlie Watson some more, maybe he’d see if the cops had anything he could use…

It was a lot of maybes.



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