The television show "Numb3rs," including the characters Don Eppes, Charlie Eppes, Alan Eppes, and Margaret Eppes, is copyrighted by CBS Paramount Network Television and Scott Free Productions. The television show "Supernatural," including the characters Sam Winchester, Dean Winchester, and John Winchester, is copyrighted by Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc.
This story takes place in May, 2001, approximately four years before the beginning of both series.
A large canister of rock salt with a narrow spout sat on the floor beside the altar, which was draped in midnight blue. The dry-erase board had been pushed back against the wall in front of the old chalkboard. Chairs had also been pushed aside to leave the circle in the middle of the room, but not in front of the door, because Jon was late. Manuel had finally got the incense burner going, and the white smoke was already making the air savory. Pam closed her eyes and breathed deeply, seemingly trying to relax.
"We are going to freak some security guard right out," Carol said.
Manuel shook his head, gently blowing out the match and placing it in an iron dish on the altar. "He's an older guy, half-dozes downstairs and checks the outside doors every once in awhile. It's not like we have fissionable material in this building."
"We did say we shouldn't do this in any of our usual spots," Pam said. "And this room is good. I feel safe here."
"I don't mind," Hugh said. He hadn't had time to change after work, and he was still wearing his oil-stained short-sleeved work shirt. "This is probably the only time I'm ever going to see the inside of one of these classrooms."
"Is it everything you dreamed it would be?" Manuel asked in a mock-sentimental tone.
"Well, I was kind of hoping for marble halls and white robes," Hugh said, and Manuel laughed as Jon opened the door.
Everyone greeted him, and Pam expelled a sigh as she smiled, as though she'd been holding her breath without realizing it.
"Sorry to be late," Jon said. I was picking this up." He brandished a bottle of wine with one hand; in the other he held a stack of paper cups.
Hugh indicated a glass carafe on the altar. "We already have – "
"This isn't for ritual," Jon said. "Well, it sort of is, if you consider a toast a ritual. And it's for an apology, too."
No one asked what for. Jon put the bottle on a student desk and pulled the cork as Pam began unstacking the cups and asked him, "So – you're – doing better?"
"I am," Jon told her. "Thank you, Pam. You were right. And you didn't even call me an asshole, which you could've. Rage makes us vulnerable. If Cal hadn't been constantly enraged, the thing wouldn't have got him. And my rage since Cal died was opening me up to all kinds of crap."
He was pouring, Pam was distributing. Carol said, "Don't kick yourself too hard, Jon. I think we all got a little irrational for awhile."
Jon looked up at the complex equation on the dry erase board and smiled. "Well, this is a place for rationality, for sure." He raised his cup, and the others followed suit. "Here's to Cal Carson, a damn fine hunter. And to absolute determination, without rage."
"Hear, hear," Hugh said, and they all drank. Pam broke off and glanced over at Jon, hearing him choke as he drained his glass, but he finished it without further trouble, and she took another sip.
Manuel set down his empty cup, his mouth showing that he didn't think much of Jon's taste in wine, but he simply said, "Thanks, Jon. Good note to get started on." He gestured at the canister of salt. "You want to do the honors?"
"Sure," Jon said, smiling.
It took him a long time to pour the salt circle, but the others understood his caution, and they had their own preparations to make. Carol was the first to notice, abruptly dropping her black bowl filled with water onto the altar. "Oh. Oh, God."
She turned and looked at Jon, then fell to her knees. As she collapsed completely, Hugh gave a violent groan and bent double.
"Carol, what – Hugh!" And just as she saw them fall, Pam herself bent over, grabbed a desk with a shaking hand, and vomited violently. Jon groaned, fell to the floor.
"No," Pam said between choking spasms of sickness. "No, please, no – "
Manuel tried to get to the door, fell over a chair and lay, his breath rasping as if someone were choking him.
"Please," Pam said, crawling toward her purse, "please – "
She had her cell phone in her hand, and then there was a hand on hers taking it away. With a spasmodic jerk, Jon threw the phone a few feet away. Then he rolled onto his back and his neck doubled as he threw his head back and his jaw gaped. The demon that had possessed him jetted down his throat and out of his mouth, a huge black funnel cloud that by all laws of physics could never have been contained in a human body. The cloud covered the classroom ceiling, then sheeted sideways out of the salt circle through the break Jon had left when he poured it, and disappeared through the ceiling vents.
"I couldn't stop it," Jon said to Pam, tears running down his face. "God, I tried, I couldn't – "
Near Pam's phone, Hugh cried out, a childlike sound coming from a big man, and crashed to the floor, making gasping sounds, as Carol was. Manuel had stopped making any sound at all. The last time Pam ever saw Jon, he was going into convulsions.
Don Eppes awoke in his parents' home at 7:00 a.m. and stretched mightily, having enjoyed his extra vacation sleep. But he didn't enjoy lazing in bed, so he combed his hair, threw on some clothes, slipped out quietly so as not to waken anyone, and drove to a familiar little diner near the heart of Pasadena.
Since the diner was just north of the office buildings around the intersection of Lake and Colorado, its usual morning clientele consisted of office workers, rubbing their eyes as they finished their muffins, drinking coffee as they stared at the business pages of the newspaper. On Sundays, though, breakfasters were mostly the pre- and post-church crowd, who came in a little later. Joe Edwards, the owner, greeted him familiarly and waited on him personally, although there was a teenage kid helping the few other clients. Don and Joe caught up on a little history and then, as the other customers left, Joe went back to the office, leaving Don to his breakfast and the sports section and the quiet.
Don saw the thing flash by his head an instant before it smashed against the wall and he almost hit the floor before he realized: too big for a bullet, too quiet for a firecracker. He turned sharply in his chair. "What the hell–"
He stopped. The skinny kid with floppy hair in the kitchen doorway was obviously so horrified that any reproach of Don's would be redundant. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry, man. I didn't know anyone was in here."
"Well, I'm glad. I'd have hated to think that was aimed at me."
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. What was that?"
The kid was going over to the wall. "My cell phone."
Don raised his eyebrows. "Bad news?"
"You know, I was listening to a voicemail and I got so – focused – on it, I just didn't even look at the rest of the room."
"Mm." Even in a monosyllable, Don could sound rueful.
The kid was standing by the wall looking down at the corpse. "Guess I won't have to be listening to voicemail again for a while."
"Probably just as well, if it sets you off like that."
"I don't do that kind of thing usually. I mean it. It's just my dad. 'Just blow off your job. Drop everything and come back here because we might or might not have something important for you to do. College isn't important, you know, why do you need a life?' You know what I mean?"
Don had to smile. "Sorry, I can't even begin to identify. The night I hit the winning home run in the regionals, my dad cheered for two minutes and then wanted to know if I'd decided on my classes for next year."
"Wanna switch dads?" The kid gave him a little crooked smile, and Don responded. "Depends. What does your dad do?"
"He's, he owns a garage. Auto repair."
Hiding something. Even before his FBI training Don had had good instincts for that, but he also knew you can never jump to conclusions about what's being hidden. "Well, that's good money. Does he think you're just trying to be better than he is?"
"Better, worse, wouldn't matter, what bugs him is me trying to be different than he is."
"Can your mom run interference?"
"She died when I was a baby. My dad and my brother, they're the only family I've ever known."
"Makes it even harder to break away. You're not going to CalSci by any chance, are you?"
"No. Pasadena City College." The kid started cleaning a nearby table, stacking dishes and glasses. "I got my high school degree a semester early and got down here as soon as I could. But the main goal is Stanford."
"Yeah. We moved around a lot when I was growing up, and I didn't really have time to get the kind of academic credentials and, you know, extracurricular activities that could get me in there." The kid stopped stacking and looked at Don. "But I figure, if I work my ass off for a couple of years here, I have a shot at completing my degree there, and a Stanford degree will get me into a good law school, maybe even Stanford Law itself."
Don grinned. "A man with a plan."
The kid picked up the stacks. "Sorry. Didn't mean to dump all that on you. I've only been thinking about it since I was about thirteen."
"Well, if all else fails, try for an athletic scholarship. You've got a heck of an arm."
Joe, in transit from the office to the kitchen, laughed. "What are you, Don, moonlighting as a college recruiter? Aren't the feds keeping you busy enough in New Mexico?"
"Hey, you never know when crime is gonna dry up."
"I forgot to ask before about your mom and dad."
"They're fine, thanks. Mom was bouncing off the walls last night, they're hosting a big block party today. Do you want to come over? Or are you going to be here through lunch?"
"No, I'm actually closing right after breakfast and taking off the next few days. Anna's family's in town and we've got plans. But I would like to see your folks some other time."
"They'd like to see you too." Don addressed the employee, who was now wiping down tables. "This guy's been a family friend for, what, 25 years? I used to work here after school, so I know the kind of crap you're putting up with."
Joe began, "And no one knows crap like – "
"Don?" A young man was in the diner doorway. He was wearing a T-shirt, jeans and mismatched running shoes; his hair combined the curly locks of a Romantic poet with a small explosion. "I didn't know you were here."
"Hi, Charlie! The usual?" Joe asked, and the young man nodded, crossing the room.
"On your way to the office?" Don asked, and then, as one trying to frame the question delicately, "You do know it's Sunday, right?"
Charlie gave Don a withering look. "Yes, I am aware of the day," he said, and then, as though he'd just remembered something, "This time. But I just realized – I had a thought, and I'm going over to the school."
"PCC?" asked Joe's employee.
"Cool. What's your major?"
Don's mouth quirked and the kid saw it. Charlie said, "I'm a professor of mathematics."
The kid chortled. "Pleased to meet you, I'm a brain surgeon," then realized no one else was laughing.
"This is my kid brother, Charlie," Don said. "He's gifted. Charlie, this is – uh – "
"Sam. Winchester. Hi. Sorry. You just look really young to be a CalSci professor."
"I am," Charlie said simply, and there was an awkward silence. Sam retreated to the kitchen. Charlie paid Joe for a sweet roll and coffee to go, and headed for the door.
"Don't forget the party," Don said. "Mom said she really hopes you'll mingle a little."
Charlie nodded at Don absently. "Party. Yes," he said, and departed.
"One of these days," Don mused to thin air, "my brother and I are actually going have a conversation."
"Hey, at least you talk," Joe said in a low tone, moving over to Don's table. "Sam in there just had his 18th birthday. His father and brother couldn't even make it into town, couldn't even send a present. Anna and I had him over for birthday cake."
"Hard to fathom," Don agreed. He left a generous tip on the table and went with Joe to the register to settle up. "I'll tell the folks you said hi."
"Tell them I'll call them next week. It's been too long."
Sam came back out to clear Don's table, and Don said, "Uh, Sam. If you don't have anything else to do this afternoon, you want to come to my parents' party? It doesn't sound too exciting, but some good-looking girls live in my folks' neighborhood. And my mom's potato salad is legendary."