The Body in the Library by Youthere
All the usual disclaimers apply.
Set just after Phantom Traveler. Spoilers that far.
This doesn't get all that violent or gory, but there is a definite gross-out factor. You've been warned.
Great thanks to Adara Chan for lending me a hand (or a brain). Of course I did my usual compulsive post-beta rewriting, so for any mistakes, blame me.
I decided to do an experiment on this one and see if I couldn't clean up my language. Note that the f word is not in there once. If you've read any of my other stuff you'll know that's quite an accomplishment.
Ah well, here goes:
This is John Winchester. I can't be reached.
If this is an emergency, call my son, Dean- 785 555 0179. He can help.
Call my son Dean. He can help.
Dean can help. Sure he can. Bring it on.
Except ,of course, that he can't help his brother, who is spiraling down to who-knows-where, or his father, who is already there and in who-knows-what kind of trouble.
Polishing off his scrambled eggs, Dean shot a covert glance at his little brother. Sam sat across the diner table, swirling his coffee listlessly, the shadows under his eyes painfully stark in the early morning light.
Maybe he should just help when people ask for it. Scream for it, more often than not. In his experience, anyway. The screamers, he knows how to help. It's not easy, but it's oh-so-much easier than his brother, stubbornly insisting he's perfectly okay; or his father, not insisting but declaring he won't be needing anybody. Both giving the one fingered salute before climbing into their respective barrels and pushing off down the Niagara.
But hey, Dean can help. Sure he can... Bring it on.
Draining the last of his own coffee, he turned a page in the Conway Gazette. A headline caught his attention and he studied the article for a while, picking out sentences that to anyone else would merely have seemed like random bits of crazy.
Oh, this was just what he needed to cheer Sammy up.
"Hey, check this out," he said, looking up from the paper and pointing to the article in question. "An antiquities dealer in town was found with his throat slashed. The cut was so deep it almost took his head off."
He ran over that sentence again in his head. Okay, so it wouldn't cheer Sam up, exactly. But still: nothing like a hunt to get your mind off your troubles.
His brother looked up. "Yeah? What makes you think it's a hunt? Maybe it's just some psycho."
"Well, the guy's daughter-in-law saw a man on the scene that 'vanished into thin air,'" Dean said with the air of a maitre d' introducing the evening's first delicacy. "Also, according to her, the man was dressed in a military uniform from the 19th century. So unless someone is making Texas Chainsaw Massacre into a period drama..."
Sam nodded. "...There's an angry spirit in Conway." He nodded again and emptied his coffee cup. "Okay, let's go"
Dean watched as his brother tossed a tip on the table and then headed for the door in long, purposeful strides. He grinned to himself. Yup, miracle cure...
The Sharps sat huddled together on their sofa, a tiny clump of human flesh in a great expanse of plush velvet. It was anyone's guess whether they sat like this for mutual support, or were simply squashed together by their combined weight, creating a ski slope of antique sofa on either side of them.
Dean couldn't help but stare at the couple, but hey, he was supposed to be trying to get a feel for them anyway. So far he'd figured that, even if the ghost Mrs. Sharp saw was real, she was probably still nuts.
She had probably been a lovely sight at some point in her life and Dean had to admit that she remained, if not beautiful, then impressive. Not a lot of women in their fifties pulled off henna red, waist length curls, knee high Doc Martins' and a dress with more flowers on it than your average Amazonian jungle. But the Mrs. wore it, again if not with grace, then with attitude. She was probably nuts, but he kinda liked her.
The same could not be said of her husband, though. Mr. Sharp was just over fifty with thin, mouse brown hair pulled back into a middle length pony tail that accented his sagging face. Said face sported overly moist, goggling eyes and a melancholy, slightly helpless expression. He was wearing Moby-type glasses, slacks and, strung over a gut about as flabby as his face; a beige hemp shirt. Looking at him, Dean could just smell the steam cooked soy meat, stewing away happily to the dulcet tones of Kenny G.
Some of his thoughts must have showed on his face, because Sam elbowed him hard and shot him one of his best disapproving glares. Then he turned his attention back to Mrs. Sharp, who was looking deeply embarrassed.
"Look, Agent, I'm sorry I even mentioned it to anybody. It was just... I was scared, you know? We had just found Ellis...like that... and I just... I don't know, I was seeing things. It was nothing, I feel like an idiot." She laughed harsh and shaky. "I mean he disappeared into thin air. What are you gonna do, have the Ghost Busters make the arrest?!"
"Hah!" Dean scratched the back of his neck with a strained grin. "Yeah Ghost Busters, that's... that's funny."
"Mrs. Sharp," Sam cut in, doing that forehead wrinkling thing that just seemed to work wonders on witnesses."Could you describe the man you saw?"
"I didn't see anything. There was nobody there!"
"Ma'am..." Sam paused for a second, then went on."We have heard some very strange stories in our work for the Bureau. People's minds tend to play tricks on them under stress. But we also know from experience that no information can be safely ignored, no matter how trivial it seems. And even if we don't need the Ghost Busters-" he gave a small conspiratorial smile. "-Every detail is still important."
He leaned in closer. "So I'm going to need you to describe him, please. As thoroughly as you can."
Awed despite himself, Dean listened to the complete and utter wad of crap delivered with the quiet confidence of a seasoned professional and the steady sincerity of a truly honest man. He shook his head minutely. And the kid refused to hustle poker - what a waste of talent.
He jerked himself out of his thoughts as Anna Sharp cleared her throat and, albeit hesitantly, started to speak.
"He did look a bit familiar;" she said. "But I don't know from where...He was quite tall and had these very bright eyes, and he was wearing a British officer's uniform, probably from the 19th century."
Dean frowned. "How do you know the uniform?"
"Well, we get a lot of army paraphernalia through the dealership, so I know my basics. I wouldn't be able to tell you his rank or his regiment or anything, though."
"I see." The older brother turned his attention to Mr. Sharp. "Now, you say you didn't see this man... or anything at all?"
"Well, no. We came in and found my father... on the floor...I stayed with him and Anna ran out into the hallway to call 911. And that's where... Well, but how would I have seen him if it was all in her mind?"
"Right," Dean answered with a strained grin. "Right. No, you wouldn't have..."
"Look," Mr. Sharp said, taking his wife's hand in his. "We truly appreciate your dedication, we do. But it's very hard to talk about this and we've already gone over it three different times..."
"Yes. The local police, you two and the other FBI agent."
"There was another FBI agent?" Sam asked.
"Yes, a man maybe in his early fifties. Something like a Mid West accent..."
Dean swallowed. "Uh, could you describe him any further?"
Mr. Sharp looked puzzled. "Yeah... uh, he was a bit on the skinny side, dirty blonde hair... I dunno, average height." He looked questioningly at the brothers.
Dean sagged a little. He didn't know what he'd been expecting. "Well, yes that is agent... uhm... our colleague... from Quantico, who was sent here too. The Bureau likes to be ...thorough in its' investigations."
He stood up. "Thank you for your time ma'am, sir. If anything else comes to mind, or if something comes up, please don't hesitate to call."
Sam slammed the door behind him and found his brother sitting on his bed, munching on a pizza.
"Dean, did you have to get room nr. 13?" he asked as he snagged a slice and flopped down on the chair by the desk.
"Don't tell me you're scared of a number, Sammy. It's not gonna eat you."
Sam eyed the salt lines lying thick against the room's two windows and then his brother's duffel, already lying on the bed nearer the door and claiming it as the elder's territory. "Yeah, you're right. I'm paranoid."
"Hey." Dean frowned as he took another mouthful of pizza. "There's cautious and there's chicken, Chicken. Besides, that's 'cause of things that actually would eat you."
Sam gave a half smirk. "Whatever."
"How went the library?" Dean asked, licking his fingers. "Find anything?"
"Not much. No similar deaths in the area as far back as documentation goes, no history connecting the Sharps to any British regiments. This area also didn't see much action in the civil war, or any other conflict involving the British. I was thinking..." He leaned back in the chair and looked at his brother. "If the Sharps get a lot of army paraphernalia, then maybe he came with some of their merchandise. I mean, he doesn't seem to be local..."
"You mean like a haunted object?"
"Yeah, a cherished personal possession, a murder weapon..." Sam shrugged. "I think we should go see the Sharps again, take a look at their stock."
Dean nodded at that and started in on the last slice.
There was silence for a while, Sam staring strangely intently at the carpet. Then he started speaking again. "I also heard a rumor that there was an FBI agent in town. He looked at the murder in connection with a serial case, but figured it wasn't connected. He's left again."
Dean nodded. "Good. Won't have to worry about him, then."
Sam shook his head bemusedly. "You know, for a second back there... I though maybe it was..."
He didn't finish the sentence, but he didn't have to. Dean just shrugged, and the silence continued.
Surprisingly, the actual premises of Sharp Antiques was a large sun-filled building, the merchandise organized neatly on large white shelves, creating a feeling of efficiency and even modernity despite the archaic nature of the objects themselves.
Mrs. Sharp was also a bit surprising where she beamed at Dean from behind the counter. Gone was the Janice Joplin wannabe of the previous day, replaced by a business woman in a plain skirt suit, with her hair held in a tight bun, high on her head.
"Agent Steed!" She smiled warmly at him, freckled skin crinkling like leather at the corners of her eyes. "Didn't bring your partner?"
"No. He went to the local archive to check on some things. I just needed to ask you a few more questions."
She looked thoughtful. "Well, he seemed pretty adamant that I should tell you everything. So I guess he'd want to know..."
Dean nodded. "Trust me. Whatever it is, he'll want to know." He almost added something about his brother and his geek status, but figured that was probably not very FBI-like. Instead he asked: "Has something happened?"
"No, no. I just realized where I'd seen the man before. The one from last night."
She led Dean into a storage room and opened a drawer, pulling out an old sepia photograph. It showed a group of 7 men, all in uniform. They were lined up with four standing and three kneeling in front and with a huge dead tiger lying on the ground in front of the group.
Mrs. Sharp handed the photo to Dean and poked a finger at the man in the middle of the kneeling line.
"That's him right there."
Dean nodded. A haunted object for sure, this would be simple.
"Do you know who he was?"
"Yes, they're all named on the back of the photo. It says this is Captain Everett Willows of the Indian Army... I think this is one of the European regiments. I guess that's not much use for your investigation." She laughed uneasily. "Why on earth I'd be hallucinating this man, I can't imagine."
"Well, the uh... mind works in ...mysterious ways." Dean threw out a brilliant smile for distraction. It worked just as well on older women. "Tell me, you haven't been handling any of the late captain's things?"
"No, this photo comes from a purchase we made of the properties of the Stark family. Mr. Stark's great grandfather was in India too, you see. That's him in the top left corner."
"And you're sure it's not him you saw?"
"No, it was Willows, for sure. I just don't understand why."
"O-kay... so what are you handling that was Stark's?"
"I'm sorry, his what?"
"His library, or at least a fraction of it," she told him with an enthusiastic smile. "We got about 1500 volumes, some quite valuable."
Dean gave a strained grin. Okay, this was not gonna be so simple.
Realizing what he had to do, he groaned inwardly and then spoke words he'd never expected to hear from his own lips; "Could you show me that library please."
Dean sighed into the phone. He could just hear the geeky lust in his brother's voice.
"Have you gone through them yet?" Sam asked.
"You're kidding me, right? Did you not hear me say 1500? I say we just salt'n'burn the lot."
There was an explosion of incoherent sputtering on the line, followed by the unmistakable sound of someone choking on his own saliva.
There was silence.
"Sam? Did you have an aneurysm?"
"Dean," came Sam's voice, every word carefully enunciated. "I'm coming down there. Don't. Touch. Anything."
Dean flipped his cell closed and grinned brightly at the stacks of books. After four years apart it was nice to know he could still play his brother like a fiddle.