The second time Rick met Dean Osbourne was Halloween. The day started off clear but early afternoon temperatures plummeted sharply. Following nearly a week of rain the result was thick mist which got denser as the afternoon progressed. By 4pm it was close to full-blown fog.
Rick expected it to keep customers away but Murphy’s was busier than usual, given the hour. The spooky weather was perfect for Halloween, the afternoon dark enough to make the candles and glowing pumpkins in the windows look atmospheric and inviting. Maybe old man Murphy knew what he was doing after all…
The mood inside the bar was sombre though. The ten or so patrons were conversing softly in small groups and the Wurlitzer stood silent. Rick understood the reason. Last night two teenagers from the next town over had been killed in some kind of animal attack. Details were sketchy, limited to what the local paper printed that morning, but it was only twenty minutes from Bumfuck and the locals were shocked...
Of course there were the inevitable opportunists, those who’d been quick to establish it was a full moon last night which therefore meant werewolves were on the prowl. A Halloween party was hastily convened at a bar down the block and creatively titled The Monster Mashup. Inevitably, to Rick at least, Waxing Gibbous were the headline act. It all seemed pretty tasteless but the event was already sold out. Silver lining though: he wouldn’t have to see their skinny asses anymore.
He was skim reading the story again when the street door opened. He looked up from the newspaper and smiled when he saw Dean Osbourne approaching, brushing moisture from his clothes. He was wearing a brown Henley and heavyweight black jacket but his boots and jeans were the same ones as yesterday. The limp seemed more pronounced but Rick was mostly aware of how every female eye in the house tracked his movements. Clearly this guy’s appeal went beyond a leather jacket and cute pick-up lines. If Dean noticed the attention he didn’t acknowledge it, was probably used to it and Rick felt a sharp pang of envy.
“How’s it going?” Dean sounded tired. He pulled a bar stool over and sat down heavily.
“Quiet.” Rick looked round the bar morosely. “Doubt it’ll pick up much tonight what with Halloween and… I guess you heard about the deaths?”
“Yeah.” Dean’s eyes glinted with something Rick couldn’t read. “Whoever did that’s gonna pay.”
Rick frowned. “Whatever did that. It was an animal attack; bear most likely.”
“My money’s on wolves.” Dean pulled a ten dollar bill from his pocket. “I’ll take a Corona.”
Rick uncapped the beer and slid it across. “You look like you need it.”
Dean rubbed his eyes and grimaced. “Didn’t get much shuteye last night.”
“You sure took off in a hurry; left a bunch of cougars hanging.”
“Something came up.” Dean spoke with the indifference of the physically blessed. “Those Jibber kids ever come back?”
It took Rick a moment to realise what he meant. “Waxing Gibbous? They got themselves a gig at a party down the block.”
“I heard. Figure I’ll go check ‘em out later.”
Rick raised an eyebrow. “You like stoner rock?”
Dean shrugged. “I’ll try anything once.”
Rick watched him take a gulp of beer. He seemed distracted. “How long you in town?”
Dean traced lines in the condensation on his bottle. It took him so long to respond Rick wasn’t sure he’d heard the question.
“Should have things wrapped up by tomorrow.”
He spoke quietly, like he was talking to himself. It went against Rick’s better judgement but he was about to ask exactly what brought him to Bumfuck when Dean's cell phone rang. The tinny, hard-rock ringtone made Rick smile but it faded quickly when Dean pulled the device from his pocket. The screen was smashed to hell, the whole rig so banged up it was a miracle it still worked. Dean squinted at the caller ID then jammed it to his ear in a hurry.
The bar was quiet enough that Rick could hear a gruff voice cut him short. His ears weren’t good enough to get the other end of the conversation though. Dean pivoted on his stool, put his back to Rick and dropped his voice. He sounded agitated.
“You think I don’t know that? They gave me the slip last night after…”
He listened for a moment then sat bolt upright. “No, sir; it’s not an excuse.”
Tension rippled across Dean’s back and Rick strained his ears. Still couldn’t hear a damned thing.
“…It’s a three day drive.” Dean sounded incredulous. “No friggin’ way you’ll make it in time. I figure…”
Whoever was on the other end of the line seemed intent on preventing him from finishing a sentence and Dean’s fingers drummed impatiently against his thigh as he waited to get a word in.
“I know what I’m up against. I’ve got it covered…”
Rick could sense frustration coming off him in waves. “… Or maybe you could trust me for once in your life? Bobby’s in Indiana, I’ll call him if…”
Dean’s grip on the handset tightened. His other hand clenched into a fist. “Yes, sir, I understand. I’ll meet you in…”
Dean exhaled as he closed the handset and dropped it into his pocket. It was a long, controlled breath, the sound of somebody trying to keep his shit together.
“Son of a bitch.”
He sat for a moment, head bowed and shoulders slumped before turning back to the bar. He finished his beer in two long drafts and signaled for another.
Rick eyed him curiously as he reached for the bottle. “That your CO?”
“Worse.” Dean threw him a lopsided grin. “My dad.”
Rick tried to keep the surprise off his face, wasn’t sure he’d succeeded. “Hard taskmaster, huh?”
“He’s got his reasons.” Dean took the fresh bottle and picked at the label, deep in thought. Finally he looked up. “You got family?”
Rick nodded. “Mother, father, sister all within two miles of this bar.”
“That must be nice.” Dean took a sip of beer. “My brother’s in California. I haven’t seen him in a while.”
Rick raised an eyebrow. “Falling out?”
“Hell no.” Dean looked mildly affronted, like Rick had just made a questionable joke. “Sammy’s making a name for himself at Stanford.”
“Smart dude, huh?”
Dean grinned and his whole face lit up. “The smartest.”
“What about you? You go to college?”
Dean snorted. “I’m not smart. Besides, someone needs to work the family business.”
Rick paused, debating whether to ask his next question before throwing caution to the wind.
“What kind of business you in?”
Dean shook his head. “Nothing you’d want to hear about.”
“Really? My family owns a scrapyard. There’s a conversation killer.”
“No that’s good, man, that’s normal.” Dean sounded sincere. “I’ve got this uncle owns a scrapyard in South Dakota. Best times I remember as a kid was running wild in that place.”
Rick laughed. “Tell me about it. I’m this well-adjusted cause I took all my anger issues out on those junkers.”
“I preferred fixing ‘em up.” Dean sounded wistful now. “Working on engines is like the best kind of jigsaw puzzle. It never gets old.”
Rick didn’t have much affinity for mechanics. He was more of a creative guy but he understood the sentiment. “That Chevy of yours must be high maintenance?”
“I treat her right, she treats me right. Working on Baby’s a privilege.”
Interesting he’d given the car a name. Just as Rick was filing that away in his mental dossier of Dean Osbourne facts the street door banged open with enough force to hit the wall. Waxing Gibbous swaggered through and left it hanging open. Rick cursed.
“Here comes trouble.”
Dean turned to look. “Not this early.”
He sounded dismissive but he’d gone tense as a coiled spring.
Waxing Gibbous approached the bar and Rick blinked a couple of times. Maybe it was a trick of the light, the flicker of candles or tendrils of fog which followed them into the room but he could swear they’d all put on a few pounds since yesterday. Gone were the wasted physiques and sallow studio tans; now they looked like poster kids for country living.
Dean was staring at them. “You leave your manners in the nursery? Close the friggin’ door.”
The tallest kid puffed himself up. “You gonna make us?”
Dean smiled and the menace it contained sent a chill up Rick’s spine. “I’ve already made you, Ginger Snaps.”
That seemed to give the speaker pause and he eyed his bandmates warily.
“You think this is the dipshit from last night?”
Another one of them piped up. “Sure smells like him.”
Dean was off his stool like a bullet. He grabbed the tall kid by the hair and collar then smacked his head off the top of the bar. Rick winced as he felt the impact shudder through the wood. The kid grunted and squirmed and Dean backed off slowly, hands held wide in supplication though his eyes were flashing with danger.
“Full moon always makes me clumsy. No hard feelings, huh?”
“You’re a fucking asshole.” The kid moved closer to his buddies and they gathered together. “Think you can take us all?”
Dean stood his ground and sneered at them. “Come and get some, White Fang.”
His hands were behind him now, hovering near the waistband of his jeans and with a shock Rick remembered how he’d been packing yesterday. He hurried round the bar, put himself between the two factions and addressed Waxing Gibbous in what he hoped was an assertive tone.
“Time to move on, fellers. I know for a fact you’ve got someplace better to be tonight.”
The tall kid sniggered. “You got that right, cue ball. We’ve got you to thank for never having to play this shithole.”
Rick smarted. He didn’t give a fuck about the bar but early hair loss was a family legacy he didn’t need reminding of. Not by a stick insect like this.
“I’m sure you didn’t come down here just to insult me. Be sure and close the door on your way out.”
The kid’s eyes slid across to Dean. “Or you’ll sic your dog on us?”
Dean smirked and cracked his knuckles. “Pedigree wolfhound, smartass.”
Rick felt rattled. There was something going down here which he didn’t understand and was pretty sure he didn’t want to. This level of animosity went deeper than a spontaneous disagreement in a bar, and Rick had seen enough of those to know. There was a threat hanging in the air which was so tangible the hairs on his arms stood on end. He felt exposed, vulnerable and some primal instinct was urging him to go join the other drinkers, seek safety in numbers. Instead he retreated behind the bar and reached for the shotgun Murphy kept there.
“Hit the road now or I’m calling the cops.”
“Screw you, grandpa.” Rick didn’t see which one of them said it but it proved to be their parting shot. They slouched out of the bar and Dean shoved the door closed, almost catching the fingers of the last one through. Rick glanced at the bar’s other patrons; their expressions ranged from shock, astonishment and fear to open disbelief. But there was more below the surface; he could sense respect and envy from the men, admiration and desire from the women. It was all focussed on Dean, strolling towards the bar like he’d just spent a day at the beach.
Rick’s heart was hammering. He’d gotten a whiff of something he could comprehend only at the basest, most intuitive level. He was having trouble processing exactly what just scared the shit out of him since there was no rational explanation for it. And there was Dean, cool as a friggin’ cucumber and acting like it was an everyday occurrence. The same subconscious sense which had been urging Rick to turn tail and run not thirty seconds ago was also damned glad somebody like him had been present.
Protecting the herd.
Rick forced the notion from his head. It was just a bar fight, nothing more. Dean settled back on his stool and shook his head.
“Kids these days, I tell you…”
Rick eyed him cautiously. “You still going to see them play?”
Dean took a pull on his beer. “Depends.”
Dean grinned and winked. “On whether you’ve got any eggs out back.”
They both laughed and it broke some of the tension. This was the guy Rick could relate to; an amiable joker who probably hadn’t been about to shoot four kids in the middle of a bar.
He was protecting us…
Once again Rick pushed away the unwelcome and inexplicable thought. Dean glanced towards the corner of the bar and Rick noted how some of the women tried to make eye contact with him.
“You having some kind of wake here?”
Rick frowned, not following. “Wake?”
“You know, for those kids who died?”
Rick shrugged. “Why would we? Nobody here knew ‘em.”
Dean thumped his fist on the bar and headed for the Wurlitzer. Seconds later the opening bars of Creedence’s Bad Moon Rising filled the room. He returned with a grin on his face and raised his bottle in salute.
“Bloody Halloween, man.”
Whatever kind of joke he was trying to make, Rick didn’t want to hear it.