The 12 Saves Of Christmas
December 22nd 11am
"So, we can go see this big, freaky-ass star thing. You'll like it Sam, it's a local landmark. People come for miles just to see it. See the blue and white signs?"
Dean gestured out the window to the highway markers flashing past the windows. Sam craned his neck and peered in the indicated direction, reading the quickly passing sign with difficulty in the low, winter light.
'Follow... the Star... to ...Bethlehem!'
He murmured disinterestedly, and Dean frowned at his lack of enthusiasm. Sammy was really not getting his head into this whole winter adventure deal and Dean had put lots of energy into making this a real special Christmas.
Not that Sammy knew that, of course. That was the whole point. It was gonna be a terrific surprise. That was if it all went to plan, but then what was there to go wrong? Dean had it planned down to the last detail.
Well, almost the last detail. They still needed to hit a K-Mart and stock up on essentials but they'd do that once they got checked in at their surprise destination.
This was gonna be a great Christmas.
The elder Winchester pressed on, determined to innervate his sulking sibling.
"So we go see the Star, salt and burn this ghostly Christmas Hiker of theirs, and while we're here, we just maybe catch a glimpse of 'the' Jonathan Frakes! How cool would that be, Sam? Commander Riker from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was born right here in Bethlehem. So was Jimmy DeGrasso and 'The Rock'. They sure have more than their fair share of celebrities, huh?"
Dean smiled happily over at Sam where he slumped dejectedly against the door of the Impala, as they barrelled through the increasingly snowy weather towards Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Sam was struggling to see why Dean was so excited about a very routine salt and burn in a declining, backwater steel town but he recognised that Dean's eyes were alight with the fervour of the hunt, and the possibility of a Star Trek/Megadeth/WWF celebrity sighting, and he knew nothing was going to distract his brother from his objective. He was resigned to going along with the stupid road trip, but he just couldn't get buzzed about it. Not even to please his over excited, suddenly Christmas-loving brother.
All Sam could think of was that they could have been settling into the relative comfort of Christmas at Bobby Singer's right now. Okay, the salvage yard wasn't exactly the lap of luxury, but it beat Christmas in some crappy motel again. Sam would have done his famous or was that infamous? egg-nog and Bobby would have grumbled his way good naturedly through incinerating a turkey for them. That was as good as it ever got for him now, since losing Jess. He sighed, knowing he wasn't even gonna have that now because Dean had a bee in his Yuletide Santa hat over some half-assed Hiker ghost.
Happy freaking Winchester Christmas!
Sam wasn't even convinced that this was really their type of job. Okay, this guy, he opened the tattered buff file again, James Tannenbaum - Jeeze, what a name! - had disappeared without a trace on a simple hike with his two business partners and his wife had sworn blind there was something sinister about his disappearance.
However, all the so-called Ghost of the 'Christmas Hiker' had ever done was chase the odd South Mountain Hiker. He'd never hurt anyone and the only reason to assume it was the spirit of Tannenbaum was that the ghost had only begun to appear the year after his disappearance, on the anniversary of that fateful hike in the spruce forest with his partners.
Sam picked out one of the print outs Dean had packed into the file and almost smiled, just catching himself before Dean could see it. Dean had really worked the research for this one.
It was a grainy shot of three smiling, middle-aged men standing shoulder to shoulder outside the steel works. The plant that loomed behind them was large and Sam confirmed in the accompanying text that it was the major employer in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania.
James Tannenbaum and the Harvey brothers were the founding partners of the firm and had taken 10 years to build it to the thriving enterprise it was at the time of the freak disappearance. The Harveys had fared little better than their ex-partner, the plant foundering just months after the incident, amidst rumours of financial wrongdoings.
Nothing was ever proven but the brothers blamed the crash of the company on their lost partner and left the area themselves shortly afterwards. That was 1995 and the prosperity of the town had gone downhill with the decline of its major employer and the name of Tannenbaum had become anathema in Bethlehem.
Sam pulled another photocopied page from the file and began to read about 'The Star of Bethlehem'. Yup, for some reason, Dean had been very thorough in his research and Sam found himself warming slightly to the job despite himself.
The Star was situated on top of South Mountain, the same mountain where Tannenbaum had taken that fateful hike, and was the crowning glory for 'Christmas City, USA'. The original star had been a wooden one erected by the grateful people of the town to commemorate their founding father, Count Zinzendorf's, naming their town Bethlehem on Christmas Eve 1741. That had been replaced later by a steel construction and later again, in 1967, by the current Plexiglas star. It was a pretty looking thing, even in the tiny, newsprint picture on the photocopy, and Sam read that it was visible from miles away.
Sam looked up from the papers.
"Where are we now, Dean?"
Dean swivelled his head on stiff shoulders and glanced over at Sam before looking back to the snowy road.
"Umm, we passed a town a couple of miles back...think it was called Wind Rush or something?"
Sam questioned, unable to keep a slight touch of excitement from his voice.
"Yeah, that was it I think, Wind Gap. Knew it was Wind something. Why, Sam?"
Sam sat forward on the bench seat, wiping at the slightly fogged up windshield, but the condensation and the snowflakes gathering on the outside restricted his view.
"Stop the car a minute, Dean."
Dean raised his eyebrows but Sam's face was earnest and he cruised the Impala into the kerb.
Sam was popping the door as he replied.
"Wanna see if it's true..."
Snowflakes blew into the car and Dean yelled
"Sam! Shut the damn door."
His plea fell on deaf ears and Dean growled as he followed his brother into the persistent storm. It was cold as he made his way around the Impala and he slammed the passenger door shut before joining Sam where he stood on the road, in front of the car. Sam was holding both hands up to his forehead to keep the fat, white flakes from his eyes as he squinted into the low, winter sunlight.
Dean stood by his side and adopted the same posture.
Both brothers exclaimed in unison as the twinkling Star of Bethlehem cut through the buffeting storm before them.
"You really can see it from 20 miles away..."
Sam's voice held a slight note of childlike wonder.
"Crap, that sucker must be freaking huge!"
Dean's voice was equally as wondrous in its own way.
The rest of the journey to Bethlehem was uneventful; lit as it was by the guiding beam of the Star, and just short of an hour later saw the Winchesters pulling into the parking lot of the swanky Holy Night Inn.
Well more correctly the once swanky Holy Night Inn. Since the closure of the steel mill the hotel had fared no better than the rest of the businesses in town, but that said it was still clearly way better than the standard accommodation the brothers were used to.
Sam peered through the small, clear section of windshield before him and turned to the older man, perplexed.
"Dean. Have you lost your mind? This isn't our sorta place. Rooms must be at least $89 a night. We can't afford this."
Dean placed his hand on his brother's shoulder and squeezed affectionately.
"It's Christmas, bro. It's all arranged. I booked it on line weeks ago. All we need to do is go check in. I thought we'd finish off the spirit real quick and then we can have a few nights relaxing in splendour. And where better to do it than Holy Night Inn? I thought it might make up for some of our more spectacularly crappy 'Christmas pasts'!"
"So this is what all the manic research and secrecy has been about?"
Dean's huge grin was as infectious as always and Sam found his face cracking into a smile.
"We deserve a bit of R&R, Sammy... and they have pay per view and a Jacuzzi."
Sam laughed out loud, realising how low his brother's expectations were.
"Thanks, Dean, this is real nice..."
"Don't get all chick-flick on me, Sam."
Dean smiled as he stepped from the car closely followed by his now excited sibling.
"Leave the bags; we'll have a bus-boy come get them!"
"You really think that's wise, Dean? Considering the lethal arsenal you've got stashed away in there?"
Dean inclined his head, nodding sagely.
"I guess you've got a good point there, Sammy. Let's get checked in, I'll come get 'em once we're settled."
Dean stretched up and threw his arm around his giant baby brother's shoulders and the Winchester brothers headed for their much anticipated and well-deserved luxury.
"And I was supposed to know you have to confirm freaking on line bookings, how?"
Dean's blood pressure was at maximum mercury levels and he was about to lose what little cool he had left. The best laid plans he had worked so hard at were melting like snowflakes in Hades before his stunned emerald eyes, but he had no intention of going down without a fight.
The desk clerk, however, was a thirty year leisure industry veteran and it was gonna take more than an irate, if particularly handsome customer, to faze him.
"If Sir would just let me explain."
He spoke with exaggerated patience that had Sam biting his lip to keep from laughing. Somehow he had known, looking at the Holy Night Inn, that it was not destined to be their resting place.
"It does say quite clearly on the on line booking form that at peak times we require a confirmation e-mail within a week of the booking. And Christmas is one of our busiest times, Sir. The Star and all, you know."
The clerk tapped unthreateningly, but irritatingly, with his pen on the screen that he had turned so Dean could see. Sensing impending disaster, Dean took a deep breath and turned up the charm to full power.
He schmoozed, clocking the clerks name badge.
"So,okay, we can't have the premiere suite with the Jacuzzi..."
Charles shook his head with sympathetic sincerity.
"So what can you offer us?"
Sam watched Charles' eyebrows rise suggestively and the slight blush creep to Dean's cheek and he bit his tongue to keep from laughing out loud.
"By way of rooms, I mean. For me and my brother, that is!"
Dean quickly added in his deepest voice and Charles pretended to hide his disappointment.
"I'm really sorry, Mr Cringle, but the hotel is absolutely full. There's not a single room to be had in the whole Inn. I'm afraid at this time there's nothing I can do to service your needs."
Sam's laughter burst forth at that point, seeing his brother's frank blush at the clerk's amused suggestiveness. He gently pushed his open mouthed sibling out of Charles immediate eye-line, mouthing 'Mr Cringle' incredulously. Dean shrugged defiantly.
"So, Charles. Can you advise of where in town we might find a room for the next couple of nights?"
Sam smiled his best 'innocent abroad' smile and Charles returned it sympathetically.
"I'm sorry, sir, but Bethlehem is totally full. I know because we have an on line booking tracker which shows us the other hotels of repute in the area so we can help guests to somewhere else when we are full. As I said, though, this is our peak time and everywhere is totally max'd out. I'm very sorry."
The smiling clerk ran his eye appreciatively over the younger Winchester.
"If it was up to me, I'd certainly make room for the pair of you. Indeed it would be my great pleasure to have you both in the hotel."
Sam blushed, ignored Dean's snort of irritation and smiled warmly at the, some might say, over-friendly clerk.
"Are all the hotels on your system, Charles?"
The clerk nodded sadly.
"Yes, Sir, they are.
Sam enquired hopefully.
"Well, there's only the one out by the paddocks at the edge of town, The Bethlehem Stables."
Charles was unaware but his nostril had flared in slight distaste at the thought of the infamously sub standard institute.
"The Bethlehem Stables..? You're kidding me, Charles, right?"
Sam smiled in astonished delight.
"You're really telling me that there's no room at the inn for two weary travellers, and the only possible option could be a stable in Bethlehem?"
Charles lifted a delicate hand to hide his inappropriate grin.
"I'm afraid I am, Sir."
Sam nodded slowly, taking in the incredulous impossibility of the situation. He nodded his thanks to Charles and forcefully took his brother's arm by the wrist.
"Come on, Dean."
He pulled the reluctant hunter toward the door.
"Let's blow this joint before the Three Wise Men and an interfering Angel of the Lord appear!"
Dean laughed out loud.
"Angel of the Lord? Now Sammy, that's just too fantastical for words!"