Title: Dead Man's Party
AN: Well here we are again. This is another original stand alone from the VS. I appreciate ya'lls indulgence over these. You are too kind. This has a lot of little plot holes which glare at me even more now than they did then so forgive anything that doesn't quite make sense and just go with it.
"I just don't understand it," Sam said, watching Dean in pretend amazement.
"What?" Dean asked, eyes rolled up to stare at Sam.
He crammed the last batter- dipped fry in his mouth, chewed and swallowed, forcing it down. He was stuffed to the gills but they were so damned good he couldn't leave them uneaten.
"How can you eat so much, so often, and stay so thin?" Sam replied, shaking his head. He was kidding, of course. They were always on the move and sometimes opportunities to eat were few and far between and usually not good. Indigestion and worse was a common and accepted fact of their life.
Sam had to admit this place they had stopped at for dinner was amazing. An all you can eat family style chicken place with table clothes and everything. Sam had suggested they stop there on a whim. It had looked like a nice place and they were unusually flush for a change.
"Fast metabolism, son," Dean replied to Sam's comment, wiping his fingers on the cloth - cloth, for God's sake- napkin. "Fast metabolism." He sat back, very full and momentarily content. He hiccupped softly.
Sam laughed. "Can you even breathe?"
Dean's eyes widened slightly. "Just barely."
Sam went back to his own food. He was getting pretty full himself.
Dean was so wired all the time, Sam reflected, he probably burned thousands of calories just sitting still. Sam enjoyed those rare occasions when Dean was in a really good mood - well rested, well fed and not bleeding. Trying to achieve all three states at the same time for either of them was usually difficult, if not impossible. Food, at least, was somewhat controllable. Good food was a rare treat.
The waitress, a high school girl with curly blonde hair, stopped at their table with the coffee pot. Dean put his hand over the cup. "Thanks, but I've got nowhere left to put it but my pocket." He gave her a glittering smile. Sam was sure he saw the girls knees buckle.
"I think we're ready for the check."
"No dessert?" she asked, sounding disappointed. "We've got the best blackberry cobbler around."
Sam groaned, but shook his head.
Dean laughed. "I guess not tonight. Thanks anyway."
She shrugged, thumbing through her tickets. "Your loss," she said with a laugh, handing the check to Dean. "I'm glad you enjoyed it, come back again." She smiled longingly at Dean then went to wait on a beckoning customer.
Dean smirked at Sam. "I still got it."
"If you're into cradle robbing," Sam snorted. He swallowed the last bite he could make room for and gave up.
Dean chuckled and pulled out his billfold, tossing some money on the table by the check. "You ready?"
Sam nodded and got up. "I wanta wash my hands, I'll meet you outside." Sam saw Dean hesitate. "Swear to God, if I'm not out in five minutes you have permission to come in after me."
Dean eyed him a moment longer then held up five fingers, cocking an eyebrow. He turned and ambled toward the door, snatching a toothpick from the dispenser and putting it in his mouth, unable to resist a quick look back as Sam vanished in the direction of the men's room.
He pushed his way out into the cool evening air, liking the feel of the breeze on his face. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked slowly to the Impala rolling the toothpick across his lips with his tongue.
It was that golden period between dusk and nightfall and the setting sun cast a rich mixture of fading light and shadow across the ground as Dean crunched through the scattered leaves. He returned the smile of a young couple he passed as he moved through the parking lot, in no particular hurry to get to the car. They had no place they had to be right now, he had a good meal, actually a great meal, under his belt and prospects of a quiet night if he couldn't find some place for a few drinks and a quick game of pool. It didn't matter. It was nice just to be peaceful once in a while. To actually relax.
The hand that fell on Dean's arm jerked him out of his food induced haze and he snapped around, pulling his arm free, automatically falling into a defensive posture. The toothpick spiraled to the ground.
The man behind him wore a suit and a look of surprise. He stepped back with his hands up when Dean turned, fists raised.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you-"
Dean dropped his hands slightly, only Sam would have noticed the change in his breathing.
The man in the suit, who looked to be in his mid to late forties was obviously not a physical threat. He had taken care to step well out of Dean's arm range and kept his hands up in a placating gesture. His dark hair was streaked with gray at the temples and his suit had cost more money than Dean saw in six months. His eyes were a bright, intense blue. A gold signet ring flashed on the pinky of his left hand. To say Dean came off as a little shabby next to him would have been an understatement.
Dean's gaze fastened on the mountain standing behind the man who had spoken. This guy's suit was just as expensive, but the fit was having a hard time duplicating the tailored look of the first guy, who was obviously his boss. Massive shoulders strained the fabric and the coat front barely contained the equally huge chest, tapering down to a narrow set of hips and legs of respectable size. His hair was buzz cut and his features looked as though they had been hastily whittled from balsa wood, blocky and lacking in detail. His washed out blue eyes stared coldly at Dean, his stance screaming bodyguard.
Dean's eyes shifted back to the well dressed man, dismissing the muscle with that brief glance. "Whatever you want, you got the wrong guy." Dean growled brushing past them, angry with himself for allowing someone to get that close without noticing.
The smooth voice followed him. "You are Dean Winchester, aren't you?"
Dean's pause was so brief it might never have happened. He turned back with a smile and shook his head. "Sorry, wrong number," he replied, continuing on to the car.
"My name is Dale Carlyle. I just want to talk to you for a moment." His voice held the trace of an accent. He slowly lowered his hands, careful to keep them away from his body.
Dean stopped again, looking back. He cocked his head and squinted at the man. "Is that name supposed to mean something to me?" He nodded over Carlyle's shoulder at the bigger man behind him. "And if you just want to talk, why'd you bring The Incredible Hulk with you?"
The bodyguard stiffened and took a step forward. "Why you little-"
Carlyle reached back without looking and stopped the other man's momentum with a slight touch. "Stand down, Monty."
Dean watched, fascinated, as the bigger man, Monty, fell back without a murmur. His body might have been at rest but judging from Monty's face, if looks could have killed, Dean would have been kicking his life out on the ground right now.
"You have a brother named Sam, parents John and Mary Winchester—" Carlyle never saw Dean move but the hands that were suddenly twisted in the lapels of his suit jacket, backed by muscles of iron shoving him backwards, were undeniable proof that he had.
"Who the hell are you?" Dean snarled, bending Carlyle back over the hood of someone's car.
Carlyle's goon, a beat behind the action, moved forward but stopped abruptly as past experience told him the sudden coldness pressing against his neck was the muzzle of a gun. A hand fisted into the collar of his jacket and a voice hissed in his ear, so close Monty could feel the heat of the newcomer's breath.
"One more step and you get a free body piercing."
"Hey, Sammy," Dean said, eyes flicking up to Sam, standing behind Monty, the corner of his mouth quirking slightly,
"Dean," Sam replied, eyes never leaving his prize. Sam wouldn't have pulled the trigger but sometimes it was just fun to say stuff like that. He and Monty were about the same height but Monty would've made two of Sam. Possibly three. "I can't leave you alone for five minutes, can I?" He said to Dean.
Dean snorted and gave Carlyle's body a shake. "You had something you wanted to say to me?"
Carlyle made no attempt to resist him. His hands rose again, palms out, out where Dean and Sam both could see them clearly.
"Please…" he choked out around Dean's death grip. "I think there's a misunderstanding…"
"Damned right there is!" Dean growled.
"I didn't mean to make you feel threatened, I'm sorry. I just wanted to make sure I had the right people." Carlyle's aplomb was swiftly draining away under the intensity of this most scary young man leaning over him and his equally scary giant of a brother standing a short distance away. He was used to waging verbal war in board rooms with powerful men who could control destiny with the flick of an eyebrow; where you knew the damage had been inflicted but you never personally got your hands dirty. This was a little too real for his taste. "If you'll just let me up I'll explain…"
Dean's eyes narrowed. "Are you a cop?"
Carlyle actually laughed. "Not even close. My ID is in my front coat pocket…"
Dean sneered. He knew how much an ID was worth. But he began to relax his grip and slowly straightened back up, pulling Carlyle with him.
Monty shifted in Sam's grip and Sam shoved the gun harder into his neck. "Stay!" he warned. When Monty reluctantly relaxed, Sam nodded. "Good boy."
Carlyle glanced at his bodyguard, whose obvious fury was barely being restrained, then at the tall young man behind him who, although somewhat baby faced, had a look in his eyes much older than his features. This was no kid still wet behind the ears.
"If you'll release Monty, I promise he won't try to do anything," Carlyle said motioning at the bigger man who made a noise of frustrated protest but kept his mouth shut.
Sam shot a look at Dean, who had slipped a hand into his jacket. Dean nodded. Sam dropped his hand and stepped back, knowing Carlyle wouldn't draw another breath if Monty so much as cocked an eyebrow at him. Monty appeared to be well trained but you never knew and while Dean wasn't a murderer, Sam knew what Dean was capable of when pushed or when he thought Sam was being threatened.
"Monty, go back to the car." Carlyle ordered, without looking at him.
"Mr. Carlyle—" Monty protested, looking from Sam to Dean and back at Carlyle.
"The car, Monty, now. I'll be fine."
With a snort of anger, Monty turned, hands fisted, stomping toward a black Mercedes sedan and getting inside. The heavily tinted window rolled down and he sat glaring at them.
Carlyle smiled at the two brothers who had moved next to each other. Sam had relaxed somewhat but Dean was still tensed and wary.
"Let's start again." Carlyle offered, holding out his hand. "I'm Dale Carlyle and assuming you are Sam and Dean Winchester, I want to offer you a job."
Carlyle had offered them a ride in his Mercedes to someplace where they could talk comfortably, but Dean had insisted he and Sam would ride in the Impala to a public place of their choosing.
Carlyle had agreed readily and Monty had pulled in behind the Impala, following so closely that if Dean has even hesitated slightly in his maneuvering of the big car, the Mercedes would have ended up in the back seat.
Dean had barely started the ignition when Sam had the laptop out and was keying rapidly.
Dean glanced at him. "So?"
Sam's eyebrows disappeared under his bangs as a page of websites flashed on screen in response to the name Dale Carlyle. There were sixteen more pages listed at the bottom and a next.
"Wow," Sam murmured, opening one of the sites. He scanned as quickly as he could. "Entrepreneur, wealthy investor, likes unusual projects." Sam blinked in surprise. "He owns a bunch of big houses all over the world that people rent out for special occasions, family reunions, corporate getaways and junk like that. Mystery weekends. High rollers apparently," he remarked. There were no fees listed for the service, just a number to call for assistance in planning.
Dean frowned. "He has what?"
Sam shrugged, shutting the laptop off as Dean spotted what he was looking for turned the car into the parking lot. "It's like a game. People pretend they're different characters in a murder mystery or something, you get clues and try to solve the mystery. There're other kinds of scenarios, too."
"People pay money to do that?" Dean exclaimed coming to a stop.
"You have enough money you can pay a lot to have fun," Sam replied, sliding out of the car.
Dean shook his head and got out as the Mercedes slid into a parking space next to the Impala.
Almost sadistically, Dean had pulled into a somewhat sordid-looking all night truck stop/restaurant/bar, enjoying the sight of the gleaming black Mercedes alongside the battered collection of vehicles, semi's and motorcycles parked out front. This was the kind of place Sam and Dean inhabited on a regular basis and Sam knew Dean had chosen this spot to level the playing field, even if it was only in his own mind.
Carlyle's distaste at his surroundings was thinly disguised, but he gamely followed Sam and Dean through the smoke and bad country music, sliding into a booth without hesitation. He seemed oblivious to the looks and snickers his expensive suit drew. Monty, lumbering along behind like a tame grizzly, stifled most of the looks and gestures as the patrons quickly avoided eye contact with him. He slid in after his employer, eyes shooting daggers at Sam and Dean.
A frowsy waitress undulated up to the table, gave Sam and Dean the usual once over, smirked at Carlyle and his bear-like companion and disinterestedly scribbled their orders for coffee and beer, then slithered away.
Sam bit back a grin when Dean suddenly let out a hicupping belch, looking surprised.
"Sorry," he said, straightening. He took a deep breath. He rested his elbows on the table, cracking his knuckles. "First, there's something I want to know. How the hell did you find us?"
Carlyle couldn't quite stop the smile. He cleared his throat and absently moved his place setting around. "I'm sure you don't give away your trade secrets, I hope you'll understand if I prefer not to reveal mine." He looked Dean straight in the eye. "Let's just say I have friends and I called in some favors and leave it at that. Although I will say, it wasn't easy." He clasped his fingers together and rested them on the table in front of him, waiting.
Dean eyed Sam and shrugged. "Fair enough." He leaned back and flipped his hand. "So talk, we're listening."
Carlyle suddenly looked a little uncomfortable, as if realizing what he had to say wasn't going to be as easy as he had thought. He raked a hand across his perfectly cut hair and made a face. "Well, I'm sure you had time to do a little research on me as we made our way to this fine establishment so I will assume you have some idea of who I am…"
"A little," Sam replied, tapping his fork softly on the table. "Although, I'm having a little trouble seeing how what you do has anything to do with us."
Dean glanced pointedly at his watch, then back at Carlyle.
"Okay," Carlyle began. "I have this...problem…I was hoping I could interest you both in." He leaned forward slightly, "I spent a lot of time and a not inconsiderable amount of money to track you two down. I researched you both, what you do—" he stopped as Dean stiffened and the fire began to blaze in his eyes again. "Don't get the wrong idea," Carlyle added hastily, "My interest is purely business. I need someone who understands this…stuff." His hands rose and fell.
"This…stuff?" Sam replied, eyeing Dean, who shrugged.
"Someone who isn't just another crackpot scam artist." Carlyle finally said when it became obvious the Winchester's had no intention of making this any easier for him. He laughed softly. "Trust me, I learned a lot more about some things I'd have been happier not knowing about than I ever wanted to trying to locate you two once I found out about you."
"Cut to the chase," Dean snapped "We don't have all night." Somehow managing to imply that they actually had someplace to be that was immeasurably more important than where they were.
"I own a haunted house," Carlyle said with great reluctance, as if revealing a dark and long kept secret. Whatever reaction he had expected to get at this revelation did not include the look of blank "so what?" he was getting from both brothers.
Dean looked at Sam then back at Carlyle, raising his eyebrows and moving his hands in an obvious "yeah, and…?" gesture.
"I'm serious," Carlyle insisted.
"What do you want us to say?" Sam asked finally when the silence had stretched out to awkward.
Carlyle blew out a laugh. "I guess I expected you to laugh," he replied.
"Cause it's crazy. There's no such thing as a haunted house!"
Dean got up. "C'mon, Sam. This is wasting our time, I ate too much, I wanta go to sleep." Sam obligingly slid over.
"Wait-" Carlyle reached out.
Dean put his hands on the table and leaned his weight on them. "Look, Mr. Carlyle. You either want some help or you don't, but don't tell me you spent a great deal of time and money hunting down a pair of "ghostbusters" to just tell them you don't believe in something. So what's it gonna be? Cause, I gotta tell you, if you don't want to tell us because you're afraid of what we, of all people, might think about you, you got a bigger problem than a haunted house. C'mon Sam." Dean said again, turning away.
Sam smiled. "Nice meeting you, Mr. Carlyle."
Waiting for it to play out.
Carlyle caught Sam's arm as he got out of the booth. "Okay, you're right. Please, sit back down. I really do need your help with this." He sighed and the look on his face this time was not that of a slick professional businessman but just a man with a problem he didn't know how to deal with.
Sam glanced up at Dean and shrugged. Dean rolled his eyes but sat back down with obvious reluctance.
"Okay," Dean said. "Let's start again. I'm Dean Winchester and this is my brother Sam." He nodded at Sam. "What's the deal with the house and whadaya think we can do to help?"
The coffee became beer and except for Monty's cold glare, the atmosphere had definitely become less stiff a short time later as Carlyle explained the situation.
Sam sipped his beer. "So let me get this straight. You buy the houses and set them up for these special parties?"
Carlyle nodded. "They're fantasy parties. You create the scenario, my company sets it up at the appropriate location and you and your guests play it out. It's sort of like playing video games but it's for real. You can bring your friend and they can play or we'll supply the other players, whatever the client wants and is willing to pay for. With the exception that, other than the unavoidable accident now and then, no one gets hurt. We have a dozen properties all over the world running right now with settings for a multitude of scenarios. I have a rather large staff that coordinates the games."
"Sounds expensive," Dean commented, watching Carlyle over the rim of his glass.
The cold mask of the businessman slipped into place briefly. "We cater to a select clientele, yes. Obviously, it's not for everyone. But if you want to go to an island and play war with your buddies, play the killer in a murder mystery or hire a mansion, pretend your Hugh Hefner and surround yourself with bunnies, my people can set you up."
Dean's eyes widened, Sam kicked him.
"A couple of years ago one of my location scouts found a house for me that had a reputation as being haunted. A place called Blackmoor House. I was intrigued, I'll admit it. It was in pretty bad shape but worth the renovation and as a draw for the client looking for unusual entertainment I thought it might be worth the investment." Carlyle caught the waitress's attention and signaled for refills.
"The renovation took a while but when it was done it was a showplace. We did a lot of research into the history of the house, filled it with furniture, art and architectural elements from locations all over the world that also had reputations for being haunted."
"Are you friggin' nuts? Why would you do a thing like that?" Dean asked in disbelief. "Do you have any idea how dangerous that could be?"
Carlyle looked disgusted. "Please remember that when all this started it was just a way of creating a draw to a new enterprise. The house is practically a museum of purportedly haunted items. Up until now that kind of thing was total crap as far as I was concerned. Who believes in that kind of thing?"
Now it was Sam and Dean's turn to look disgusted
"We were right about the appeal," Carlyle continued. "The house has been booked up solid since it opened, in fact it's booked up for the next eighteen months. The recent…accident…just seems to have made it more popular." He hesitated, looking at his hands, deciding what to say next. "A couple of months ago, we received a new group of items for the house, a special request from a special customer." Carlyle knotted his hands together. "You have to remember the house is pitched as haunted, it's rigged for that. There were always little things going on at the house no one could explain, harmless stuff that the engineers didn't design. It just kind of added to the atmosphere…"
"What was in this new shipment?" Sam asked, sitting forward.
"I'm not sure, I can provide you with a list; it was quite sizeable." Carlyle rubbed his upper lip. "The thing is, after that shipment was installed, during the party scheduled for that weekend some really strange stuff started happening. People started saying they were seeing things, feeling things, there started to be accidents, clients really frightened. Then a few weeks ago, during a scheduled party, two clients were killed in…I want to call it an unfortunate accident, and another has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital totally traumatized. The remaining members of the party had conflicting stories about what happened. No one could seem to agree on the exact series of events that led up to the accident-"
"What supposedly happened?" Dean asked, pushing his glass around in its small puddle of condensation.
Carlyle sighed. "The police wrote it up as a murder/suicide, but frankly, based on what I heard and what we've been able to find out, I don't think that's what happened at all."
"What do you think happened?" Sam questioned softly. Carlyle was obviously upset and he felt like it wasn't totally over the accident he had related to them.
"I wish I knew," Carlyle replied, shaking his head. "We tried to keep the lid on the whole thing, bad publicity and all that, but word gets around." He laughed mirthlessly. "Can you believe it? Our bookings at that location tripled."
"You want us to check the place out, see what's causing the problem," Dean supplied for the man.
"I want to keep the property open. If something we brought in caused this I want to get rid of it." Carlyle paused. "Here's the real problem as far as I'm concerned."
Sam cocked his head and shot a look at Dean.
"I have a client whose daughter's twenty-first birthday is this coming weekend. This party has been booked for almost a year at Blackmoor, right after the property was completed. His daughter's friends are the children of some pretty high rollers. I can't cancel the event this late in the game. This client is looking to invest pretty heavily in this if he likes what he gets, but I can't take any chances that something might happen to anyone."
Carlyle knotted his hands together. "I won't lie to you guys, I need this investment, this is a unique venture and there's a much bigger market for it than anyone realizes but I can't expand any further without additional capital. I need this to go off without a hitch and I need you guys to help me sort this out and make sure no one gets hurt."
At this point, Monty, who had sat like a statue throughout the entire exchange, suddenly barked, "We don't need these guys, Mr. Carlyle! I told you I—"
"Monty, we had this discussion. Everything can't be solved by hitting it." Carlyle spoke sharply and Monty, like a trained dog, sat back and fell silent. His mouth might have been closed but his eyes said volumes.
Dean stared straight at Monty and made a kiss face. Red flooded Monty's angry features but he remained still. Damn, Dean thought, he's better than trained dog…
He felt Sam poke him. He turned and Sam's look clearly conveyed, don't tease the bears, you idiot!
"Think of it kind of like working security. You'll be paid and rooms and food are included. You don't have to participate in the entertainment, just keep an eye on everyone and see if you can figure out what's causing this." Carlyle spread his hands. "With any luck it'll be like a vacation. Good food, soft beds, a chance to mingle with the scion of the high and mighty. You never know when a new contact might come in handy." Carlyle searched his mind to try and make the offer as appealing as possible.
He looked over at Monty, who made a face but reluctantly reached into his jacket withdrawing a hefty envelope which he laid on the table between them, sliding it toward Sam.
"What is this?" Sam asked reaching for it when Dean didn't. He opened the clasp on the envelope and pulled out a thick sheaf of folded papers and another smaller envelope.
"That's is the history on the house and an up to date inventory list. I figured you could use that. It includes every item purchased for the house and, to the best that our research can tell us, the history of each item." Carlyle tapped the smaller envelope. "That's an advance. If you take this job, you need to get some better clothes. At Sam and Dean's twin looks of slightly offended surprise, Carlyle added. "No offense but this isn't a torn jeans and old t-shirt kind of get together. There's also driving directions and money for gasoline and food, it's a fifteen hour drive from here. I know you prefer not to fly-" Dean's eyes flicked up at that and his mouth opened slightly. "-so it also includes money for motel rooms if you don't want to drive straight through."
Dean was still floundering at "prefer not to fly" and was at a momentary loss for words.
Sam frowned at Carlyle and slowly opened the white envelope, thumbing through the bills inside, trying not to look stunned. "What happens if we don't find anything? Or if something happens that we can't stop?"
Carlyle sat back, looking a little smug. "I have faith in you. No one is going to know anything about you other than you are part of our house security there to ensure everyone's safety. This weekend goes by without incident ,you get paid a set fee. If you can figure out what happened and make sure it doesn't happen again I could be very generous over that amount. If something especially untoward does happen, I think you'll agree that the advance is very generous and depending on the circumstances we can negotiate any additional pay. Think of the advance as a gesture of good faith." He smiled.
The businessman was back in control. He was well aware of the financial gray area that the Winchester brothers operated in, the people on staff who did his research were nothing if not thorough, but frankly didn't give a damn, it was none of his business and he preferred not play that card, sensing correctly, that Monty's presence notwithstanding, Dean Winchester would punch him in the nose. Then he and Sam would vanish into the night and his chances of ever finding them again would vanish right along with them. Another thing he had learned was that the two hunters were not without their own backup of protective resources if threatened, some of which they apparently were not even aware of, but enough red lights had gone off as a result of his inquiries that he knew to tread carefully.
"I will be on hand, personally, for this occasion as host and you will be provided with any other information that you may need when you get there. Which, by the way, is 4 pm on Friday the 24th, two days from now. The weekend ends the following Monday morning. We will settle additional compensation at that time." He held out his hand over the table. "So, do we have a deal?"
Sam handed the envelope to Dean, who glanced at the contents, then back at Sam. "We need to talk about it, Mr. Carlyle. You got a card?"
This was obviously not the response that Carlyle expected judging from the look on his face. The smile was quickly back in place though, and his hand shifted smoothly to his pocket where he palmed a card which he pushed toward Dean.
Dean took the card without looking at it. He shoved out of the booth, tucking the envelope Monty had provided into his inside jacket pocket. Sam slid out behind him.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" Carlyle said, rising also. He held out his hand palm up. "The advance?"
Dean glanced at Monty, whose face had turned black. Only Carlyle's touch on his arm prevented Monty from crossing the short distance between Dean and himself and doing some serious damage. Sam could feel himself tensing up as they stood there.
"At 4 pm on Friday, Sam and I will be there, or this will." Dean patted his pocket.
As Carlyle opened his mouth to protest, Dean smiled. "Think of it as a gesture of good faith, Mr. Carlyle."
End notes: Reading over this I still like it but it's a little silly. It gets better as it goes. I think. Hope anyway.