Part One Part Two Part Three
The hospital room was cool and very, very white. It was shockingly empty and surprisingly small. There was a thin IV sliding into his right elbow and Dean’s head had the heavy, cotton-thick feel that came with heavy duty pain medication and only the worst of hangovers.
“You’re awake.” The wrinkled, craggy face of an older man in a nurse’s scrubs bent into Dean’s field of vision and adjusted some piece of technology behind him. “The doctor will want to know.”
The nurse vanished from Dean’s line of sight as sharply and suddenly as he had appeared. Dean tried to move, to twist around in his uncomfortably flat hospital bed, but it felt like someone had weighted his limbs with iron and stone. He soon gave up the effort as futile and resigned himself to counting the spots in the ceiling tiles above his head.
“It looks like Jason was right.” Another cragged, aging face slipped into Dean’s field of vision and watched him carefully. “I’m Dr. Linden, Al Linden, if you like. And how are you feeling tonight, Mr Smith?”
Smith. Mr Smith. Dean’s mind raced as fast as the heady, mind-numbing drugs would allow. He hadn’t used any alias with the last name Smith in more than two years, not since that game with the Splinter Cat up in the Willamette went south too fast for even Sam to control. And he hadn’t been Smith when he’d walked out into the desert after the bogeyman of Jensen. God, what had Aaron found when he’d gone looking for Dean’s insurance card? Why wasn’t he already cuffed wrist and ankle to the bed? Was that what the drugs were for?
“Calm down,” Linden told him gently, a heavy hand coming to rest on Dean’s shoulder. “You are safe here. We’re all safe thanks to you, if Officer Hernandez is to be believed at all and I’ve no good reason to disbelieve the police in this matter. Don’t worry and don’t begrudge whatever guardian angel has been looking after you. It seems we owe it to you.”
Dean could not suppress the flinch that was nearly instinctive when Linden mentioned his guardian angel. Angels didn’t have anything to do with the mess out in Dinosaur National Park. Dean was sure of it. If they had, he wouldn’t be alive to be poked and prodded in this sanitarium white hospital room. If Linden noticed Dean’s twitch or his frantic worry, he didn’t say anything about it and soon enough, Dean’s world grayed into dull, drugged unconsciousness again.
He drifted back into consciousness and the stark hospital room was brighter. Sunlight, Dean’s drugged mind supplied. It was daytime. If it’s another day, it’s another day too long. Dean needs to leave, needs to get out before they realize his insurance is as fake as his name. It was always easier to escape hospitals when there was someone to help him out, to say he’d be in someone’s care. Everything is harder alone.
This time there was no nurse and no Dr Linden. Instead, Aaron was sitting in the plastic chair by Dean’s bed, reading Dean’s copy of Nobody’s Death. His dark face didn’t reveal anything and Dean still wasn’t cuffed to the bed. Aaron was out of uniform which means he probably was not police detail, but Dean couldn’t imagine why else he would be here.
“Fuck, you’re awake!” Aaron exclaimed, clearly surprised.
“I try to be,” Dean said weakly. “What the hell’s going on?”
Aaron’s face darkened. “What do you remember?”
Dean tried to shrug, but it hurt, even with the drugs pumping through his system. “I was headed on Brush Creek Road. I -” Dean winced. “I was going to see what was out there. All the kids disappeared at night… But that’s it. It’s all black.”
Aaron dropped his head and stared at his lap for a long moment. “I followed you. Davy wasn’t with you and I figured you’d need back up, even if you’ll never admit to it.”
“And you conked me over the head with your night stick?”
“No. You went into the park, out up near Jones Hole. Not exactly where a stranger should be heading alone in the dark, you follow me? And… fuck, man, the sheriff has me getting with a shrink over this shit.”
Dean didn’t say anything. He was exhausted, for all that he’d just woken up, and Aaron sounded like he was at the end of his rope.
“I was hoping you’d remember. Because, I’ve got to tell you, I think - I wish I’ve got it all wrong.”
“Tell me. What happened?”
“You were ahead of me; I was just following you, hoping you wouldn’t take a tumble, you know? And… fuck, I’m just crazy, you know? Obviously I couldn’t take whatever really was there. I could swear he was El Cucuy - the bogeyman. He… Dr Hayes says it’s my way of coping and Sheriff says he must of been living out there for ages. But when the fucker attacked you - shoved that sack over your head, pulled out that godawful knife…”
Dean gave Aaron a minute to pull himself together. Obviously, the officer hadn’t been prepared to deal with an actual bogeyman killing the local kids. “What did he look like?”
“The killer, the one that knocked me out, what did he look like?”
“Hairy,” Aaron said immediately. “I don’t think the guy had shaved in years and - I guess he was skinny and… It was dark. He’d been hiding out there for a long time, years probably.”
“Sounds about right on target with what I figured,” Dean told him. “And you shot him?”
“I used your gun,” Aaron admitted. “There.. We’d been fighting, all three of us. It’s jumble in my head. I’m sorry. I’d really been hoping you would be able to clarify things for us, but… You were out like a light as soon as he pulled that sack over your head. We figure there was chloroform or something else in it; something that would keep the kids quiet. We… Fuck, when sheriff sent Jackson and Desouza out there two days ago, they found the kids’ bones and plenty of others.”
“But you used my gun? You shot him with my Colt? My .45?”
“Yeah. I’d lost my gun in the fight. And, with you out of the picture, I had to… I’ve never killed anyone before.”
Dean relaxed back against the hospital bed. The blessed bullets he’d put in the gun were more than enough to take down whatever had been out in the desert, as long as it wasn’t a young Wendigo. If it was a Coco, like he’d thought and like Aaron said the beast looked like, holy ammunition was the best cure.
He listened to Aaron describe carrying him back to the road, with Dean a dead weight. He’d been taken to the hospital in Vernal and then, while he was still in the ICU the next morning, the sheriff got a call. The unconscious cop who had risked his life for local kids wasn’t who he said he was. Dean was slipping back into unconsciousness and didn’t catch the whole story, but he dreamed about Homeland Security fighting Wendigos and Green Berets armed with rifles full of salt and iron.
When Dean finally got out of the hospital, leaving the baffled doctors behind, he drove and drove and drove until he found himself deep in the heart of Nevada, far from any bogeymen haunting the Colorado-Utah border. He found himself a crappy motel - not one of the half-decent places he stayed in with Sam, but one of the real dives, like Dad used to stick to when he and Sammy were just kids - and holed up in it for a couple of days.
The room was basic - a bed that looked like it might have been on the set of I Love Lucy, an aging coffee maker by the bathroom sink next to an even old AM/FM radio, and a tiny window overlooking the parking lot right off of I-80 with a rickety table beneath it - but it was what Dean wanted. It was faceless and nameless and could have been in any city or small town in America. It was his childhood home. He was safe, as safe as a Winchester ever got, and he could think.
He did what Dad had always done when a hunt got hard, what Bobby did when the trail went cold. Hunters were always chasing sour leads and old, dry lines of logic that didn’t make sense and even if all Dean was hunting was Sammy and himself, the old rules still applied. He pulled Dad’s old journal and his own journal and Sam’s journal out of his bag and shook out the papers and pins and string.
The tiny radio belted out an oldies station while Dean sat at the too small table and wrote up his case. The string - green and blue - connected the pieces of paper pinned against the wall and he taped old newspaper clippings from Sam’s journal next to them. In the end, as the sun began to set toward California and the Pacific, Dean realised the logic was too obvious even for him.
Dean had started backwards, started from that afternoon before he escaped the needles and beeping machinery of the hospital, like any seasoned hunter did. He not only had really good insurance - better insurance than David Samsa, his current scammed man, had - but the bill for his stay had been paid, in full, before he left.
The next scrap of paper had Aaron’s name on it and a mark of the sheriff’s badge. Aaron had come to see him in the hospital, again, with the sheriff of the county in tow. Dean had still felt drugged to the gills, like he was floating somewhere above his body instead of plotting to get out of the hospital, but he’d written down what he remembered. Aaron, who was normally impressed by Dean’s “FBI” status in a vague way and knew him as Peter Townsend, introduced him as Dean Smith, Special Ops to the sheriff, who was duly impressed. They thanked him profusely for helping them and walked away, telling the doctors to take good care of the man who saved the local kids from a serial killer.
Neither piece fit, not with each other, and not with the other scraps of paper and newsprint pinned and taped to the wall, not with the endless journal entries - Dad’s with their incoherent scrawl as he learned the hunt; Dean’s with his sharp, short notes in dark pen; Sam’s, where they were half sketches and half words.
The drive south through the desert was dusty and bright. Dean wasn’t any closer to his quarry than he had been back in the hospital in Vernal. He didn’t know what was happening and he didn’t like that feeling. The desert mostly empty, though, except for him and his girl and that gave him a long time to think.
The Impala’s tape deck had made it halfway through In Through the Out Door - moving, of course, chronologically through Zeppelin’s discography - by the time the bright neon lights of Vegas crowded the horizon. It was easy enough to find a cheap motel on the outskirts of the city. Dean picked a place he thought Sam would like. It was decorated like an Old West saloon and the room he took, two queens for old time’s sake, was decked out even more than the signs.
After buying a cheap new phone from a shop and making a couple of phone calls, Dean hit the Strip. Vegas was harder to hustle than the average city. The security was tight and everyone was watching for someone trying to steal from the casino. It made his skin itch, to know he was being watched like that. So, Dean hit a couple of places and only took enough money to get by on. It didn’t really matter because he was half way through a poker game at the Venetian when his new phone started vibrating in his pocket. He folded and left.
Standing by the doors to the casino, the Las Vegas night was nearly as bright and well lit as day. He hit the button on his phone to take the call, but didn’t say anything. Luckily, the person calling didn’t bother to wait for him to say hello.
Two days later, when Dean was taking advantage of one the cheap all-day buffets, his cell phone rang again. This time is wasn’t Bobby. Dean didn’t recognise the number, so he swallowed his General Tso’s chicken and answered it. “Vegas House of Cards, how can I help you today?”
“Is this Dean Smith?”
Dean fished a couple of bills out of his pocket and put them on the table, next to his half filled plate. “Yeah, that’s me. You’re Palmer.”
“My friends tend to call me Russell,” the man said. “I don’t think anyone’s called me just Palmer since I was in school.”
“Okay, Russ,” Dean told him, walking out into the nearly deserted street. It was hot, but not as hot as the empty desert, and Dean knew he could duck into a casino or show or just another restaurant if he wanted.
Palmer sighed and Dean imagined the man pinching the bridge of his nose. “I take it that you’ve got some kind of manuscript and you don’t have a problem using whatever connections you have to try to get it published. I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way, Mr Smith.”
“I’m not the writer in the family, never was. But I hear you help out Sam Wesson a lot.”
“I don’t handle fans.” Palmer was more than irritated now. “I’m sure he’d appreciate a letter, though.”
Dean held his breath a moment. For all that he had plotted it out and actually talked to Bobby and everything pointed back to Sam and his books and hunting together. He’d never met Palmer, but everything depended on him.
“I’m not a fan,” Dean said at last. “Didn’t Sammy ever tell you about his, uh, buddy? The one he traveled with?” After a long pause on the other end of the phone line. “You didn’t think Sam traveled all around the country by himself, did you? Somebody has got to have the sweet ride and good sense.”
“So you say. Where did you meet Mr Wesson?”
“We’ve known each other for ages,” Dean hedged. “Smith and Wesson, you know, fits together.”
“Nice try, Mr Smith. But I think this call is coming to an end.”
“”Fuck! Come on, I just need to know where Sammy is. I need to know he’s okay.”
There was another long pause. “What kind of car do you drive?”
Palmer just repeated himself, a little louder. “What kind of car do you drive?”
“67 Impala; she was my dad’s. What does that have to do with Sam?”
“Sam never told me your name, you know,” Palmer told him. “It’s good to talk to you, finally. Mr Wesson was very specific in telling me not to tell you that he will be in New Mexico in three days.”