TITLE: Glimpse of Reality
AUTHOR: Eleri McCleod
EMAIL: elerimc (at) gmail (.) com
SPOILERS: Route 666, anything through mid season 3 is fair game
SEASON: 1 & 3
SERIES/SEQUEL INFO: none
CONTENT LEVEL: T, 15+, FR15, take your pick
CONTENT WARNINGS: none
SUMMARY: Most people choose to forget their brush with the Winchesters and the impossible. But for one survivor, it takes tracking down the past to find a course for the future.
DISCLAIMER: Supernatural and its characters are the property of Eric Kripke, Kripke Enterprises and Warner Brothers. I'm just borrowing them for a little while and will return them unharmed. No copyright infringement is intended.
ARCHIVE: FF . net, Supernaturalville, LJ, any others please ask
AUTHORS' NOTES: I've wondered for a while now what happens to the people Dean and Sam leave behind once the Big Bad has been dispatched. That's where this story started. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. Huge hugs go to Lynette, my wonderful beta. All the extra mistakes were just for you, lady! This story is complete and will be posted in two parts. I'll be sticking to my normal posting schedule of one part a week. Thanks for reading! As always, any and all feedback is appreciated.
It was supposed to be a simple verification of death case, a milk run to rule out a suicide that wasn't covered in the policy. A one car accident always raises eyebrows in the eyes of insurance companies. They just love to triple and quadruple check everything before shelling out a payoff, no matter what the official cause of death was deemed. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. Those miserly penny-pinchers provide over fifty-percent of my annual investigative income. Not that I really need it.
Working a case has always entailed a bit of legwork, but I had no idea how many legs this one would sprout.
I found Ron Stubbins and Charlie March, friends of the deceased, by the docks, a well-worn checkers board sitting comfortably between the two men. It appeared to be a daily routine. They'd been surprised that yet another insurance agent had been sent out to investigate Jimmy Anderson's death. Wasn't I a little late? The two men had been there over a week ago. Sweet ride they'd had, too. I was a little stunned, but didn't let it show. I had too much experience lying through my teeth to let a couple of unexpected questions shake my calm. What can I say? I was always a quick study. The men gave me all the information I needed for my case as well as a whole lot more they didn't know they were giving. Ah, the innocence of ignorance. I missed that. Sometimes.
Ron wanted to know if I needed more information on the big black truck. You know, the one no one's ever seen? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Charlie didn't look amused. Those two men had been interested in it after all. Didn't we work for the same company? I gave them the standard line about private investigators and how insurance companies hired these investigations out to save on expenses. They laughed, thinking I was joking I guess. I didn't. I rarely joke about my work, as mind numbing as it is sometimes. Then they hit me with the coup de gras - were the other three insured by the same company? There were three others? All vehicular deaths? Sort of, they'd said. Unfortunately, sort of and I never had gotten along too well.
My gut was telling me this was one of those cases I needed to get out of. Now. Immediately. No, make that yesterday. But I asked the question anyway. I just had to ask. Was it a black 1967 Chevy Impala? The sweet ride. Yep. Cherry condition, too. Kind of unusual car for company men, right?
As soon as I left the checkers club I called the company. No, they hadn't sent someone else. No, there wasn't a concurrent investigation. And why was I asking anyway? So I finished my investigation, filed my report - full of completely sane conclusions and nothing that would compromise my pay - billed the client and drove home. When I got there I poured myself two fingers of single malt and set about reburying the memories that had pushed up from their coffin.
Only this time they refused to stay buried.
I was eight when I saw it, and him, still innocent, still full of joy and life. I'd disobeyed Father and taken my new doll down to the gate at the beginning of the driveway. It wasn't safe, my parents told me, but never why. I just wanted to show Nora the cars as they drove by, the families together on a sunny Saturday afternoon. My mom never needed to know I took one of the special dolls out of the house. It would be our secret.
That's when it rolled past. It was a great black beast of a car, growling like Fitz did when he didn't like someone. I hugged Nora tighter to my chest, her blond hair soft where it touched my chin. Something about the car held my attention, wouldn't let my trembling legs run me to the safety of the arched entry I'd known all my life. A small face peered out of the passenger window at me, a boy, maybe a few years older. Father always said I had an active imagination, but I just knew that boy was staring right back at me, his eyes holding mine as the black beast continued down my street. I waved. He didn't wave back.
That was the night my parents were killed. That was the night my world was turned upside down and left to dangle in the wind.
Shaking my head once, hard, I downed the alcohol, wincing as it burned my mouth and throat. I stalked to the file cabinet, the uncomfortably familiar nerves filling my gut. Kneeling, I unlocked the bottom drawer and it opened with a squeal. The folder inside was packed full to overflowing, stained, creased and hadn't been opened in almost five years. I'd stopped my useless obsession, determined to move on, to get on with my life – such as it was – and pretend there was nothing out there besides what I could see and feel.
Apparently nothing wasn't done with me just yet.
I poured another finger's worth and downed it just as fast. Whoever had dubbed it liquid courage was a lying bastard. All the scotch did was lay a haze of heat over my skin. Courage was nowhere in sight.
But I flipped the folder open anyway, the yellowed newspaper clippings fluttering in the wake of air.
"Murder at Stanwick Estate."
"Eight Year Old Heiress Cleared."
"Stanwick Heiress Once Again in Psych Ward."
"Heiress Released: Says It's in the Past Now."
"Stanwick Heiress Withdraws From Society - Old Problems Returning?"
"Vultures," I mumbled, staring at the familiar headlines. Ten years they'd made my life a living hell, even after I'd learned to shut up, to pretend I hadn't seen what had killed my parents. That I hadn't seen the stranger save my life. It took me four years of weekly counseling and in-patient therapy to figure out no one was going to believe me. So I stopped trying to convince anyone. I told the therapists what they wanted to hear, played the fully adjusted teen and when I turned sixteen, became the temperamental heiress everyone expected me to be. All the while I did my own research, scoured the newspapers and then the internet for mysterious deaths, created my file and an extensive list of creepy-crawlies to keep even the most hardened person in a permanent state of hysteria.
But on my nineteenth birthday everything changed. I'd had no family left after my parents were killed and their wills had given my guardianship over to my mom's closest friend. Aunt Cecelia had been a good friend to my mom, but as a guardian she'd been sorely lacking. I'd have been better off with the housekeeper, at least she had been in the same country as me. Aunt Cece cared for me, I know that, but then she died as well and left me alone, truly alone, with no one to care one way or another if I lived or died. Somewhere along the line I'd become a ghost, a living ghost who drifted through life, making no meaningful contact and absolutely no impact on anything or anyone around me. All I had was an independent fortune that ran itself and an ability to piece together seemingly unrelated bits of information. Oh, and I could lie my ass off. Helpful skill that.
I flipped the pages slowly, finally flipping past my life in newsprint, and saw my own handwriting, orderly rows of neat block script listing dates, names and places. The articles were filed in chronological order, going back to before I was born. Each death was one I had no doubt was from something beyond the natural order, like the ghost no one believed me about all those years ago. More pages turned under my hand, eyes skimming the words.
I'd given up all of this, forged my own life somewhere between the mayhem of the supernatural and the empty chaos of being the Stanwick Heiress. Now I was just Gabriel Jones, private investigator and all around average person. My days were filled by photographing cheating spouses and investigating deaths for insurance companies. The most exciting thing that happened to me on a regular basis was deciding what disguise to use. My flaming red hair and deep blue eyes were a combination too memorable for surveillance work.
My fingers stroked slowly over the picture of the car, the big black beast that had so frightened me as I stood at the gate, clutching Nora to me. I'd looked at hundreds of photos to figure out what kind of car it was and knew the picture did little justice to the reality. 1967 Chevrolet Impala - a solid steel altar to pure testosterone. I had to admit it was my kind of car. And it had appeared over and over in my nightmares for years, the rumbling growl and the face staring out of the window my constant companions.
I swirled the glass, amber liquid glistening in the single light I'd turned on. The Impala stared back at me, daring me, pushing me. Did I want to open that door again? Was it worth the sleepless nights and the hours of endless searching? Hell, was Jimmy Anderson's death even unnatural? All I had to go on were the rumors of a mysterious black truck, four seemingly unrelated deaths and two insurance agents who were anything but. It was slim, practically paper thin, but every instinct I had told me I wasn't wrong.
I threw back the shot and stood, leaving the file spread all over the table. Guess I was headed back to Cape Girardeau tomorrow.
The little sleep I'd gotten was long since used up by the time I hit the town. It had taken all of half an hour to come up with a cover story and another half hour to create my new image. Long blond wig, brown contacts and skillfully applied makeup would keep anyone from recognizing me as the private investigator from the previous day. Never before had I been so grateful for keeping the Camaro tuned up and ready to drive, despite the fact I took her out maybe twice a year.
And so Gabby Taylor roared into town, windows rolled down and AC/DC blaring from the suped-up radio. Nothing like a little sensory overkill to divert attention exactly where I wanted it. I gave myself this one trip to satisfy curiosity. If nothing came out of it I'd hightail it back to Chicago and bury that damn file back in the filing cabinet. But if I was right?
Well, I'd swallow that round when it became necessary.
I spent the afternoon spinning a tale of a classic car enthusiast who'd been told by a friend of a friend that a mint condition Chevy had been spotted in town. All I wanted was a few pictures, maybe a little bit of the car's history. I had quite the book started. A few people remembered seeing the Impala and not much else, but I hit paydirt when I dropped into the local newspaper office.
"Cassie Robinson?" A polite smile and nod confirmed my guess. "I'm Gabby Taylor," I said, layering deep south into my voice and brandishing my camera. "I hear there's a '67 Impala around here I need some pictures of. I was told you're the lady who can get me in contact with the owner."
She was good, I'll give her that, but not good enough to hide the split second of panic from me. "No, I'm sorry. I don't think so. I'm not a big car buff. I can't tell a Ford from a Ferrari."
"It's a Chevy, actually." I dug the photo out of my pocket. "Looks like this. I just want a few snapshots with the owner and maybe a quote or two to go with them."
"I'm sorry, Ms. Taylor, was it?" I nodded, forcing a disappointed frown to my face. "I can't help you."
"Well, shoot. You were my best bet." I grabbed a pad from her desk and wrote one of my numerous work numbers down along with my name of the week. "If you do happen to remember the ride, give me a call. Cars like that are few and far between."
She smiled, just a little brittle around the edges, and took the slip of paper. "I doubt I'll remember anything, but I'll let you know if I do."
"Thanks." I left with a wink and a smile, letting her make what she would of it. Pushing out into the sunshine, I made my way back to the Camaro, forcing my face to stay neutral. The Impala had been here, Cassie Robinson's assertions aside, and she knew the owners. I'd have bet a good portion of my parents' estate on it.
I slid into the driver's seat and blew out a breath. What the hell was I going to do now? I hadn't planned this far ahead, maybe subconsciously hoping I'd be wrong. I could forget about it. They obviously didn't want to be found. And notice the easy assumption of 'they' and not 'he.' That's one giant ass leap of logic for you, Gabriel. I'd seen two people that day in the car, the driver and the kid in the passenger seat. There might have been a third in the back, but I had no way of knowing.
I drove back to Chicago, stopping for gas and food along the way, but I couldn't have answered a single question about the trip if someone had held a gun to my head. By the time I pulled into the garage at the estate, I knew what I was going to do. It probably wasn't the best thing for my peace of mind and the simple shell that was my life, but I was doing it anyway.
I spent the next week sequestered at the estate, letting business calls go to voicemail where Gabriel Jones told everyone she was on vacation and would return in a month. I scanned, typed and reorganized every piece of information in the file into geographical location instead of chronological order. The entire US was simply too big to hunt for one little car, as distinctive as it was. I had to take that haystack and turn it into a shovel's worth. Eventually, I settled on Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Missouri. I broke it down even further by pattern and whether the deaths seemed to have stopped. There were more than enough entries, on both sides, in my new database to get me some fresh information. I planned out a route that would wind me through the four states, keeping to two lane highways and back roads as much as possible. I figured people who wanted to stay under the radar would steer clear of the Interstates and their heavily patrolled lanes.
Finally finished planning, I stared across the map laid out on my parents' ginormous dining table, over the printouts, highlighters and my laptop scattered along its gleaming surface and took one last deep breath.
Tomorrow I would hit the road in search of one very specific Impala.
After that first unbelievably long month of road trip research, I kept it to one week out of every four. I couldn't let myself become obsessed as I'd been as a teenager. I had clients and a life, such as it was, with a few people whom I could conceivably call friends but were really barely more than acquaintances. I owed it to them to at least pretend I wasn't some freak out on a mission to find the impossible.
I still had no idea what I would do if I actually did manage to find the car and the boy who didn't wave back. I had no proof that he was still with the car. I only had my own instincts, which had been honed through four years of investigative work and studying people since I was eight. My database grew at an exponential rate. Sometimes the Impala would make its presence known, but most times it was nowhere to be found. I added new entries as articles and obituaries appeared and checked off ones that seemed to be solved.
It took over a year to work my way through the database and when I was finished I had cobbled together a story that even Stephen King would have been hard pressed to come up with. Hell, after everything I'd seen, everything I'd lived through as a child, I was hard pressed to believe what I was watching unfold underneath my own eyelids.
I had a list of aliases longer than my arm, a list of people who were alive because of the holders of those aliases, and yet another list of potential places those aliases might crop up in my four state radius. With a sigh, I scanned the entries, slightly daunted by the sheer number. Remembering that haystack I'd thought I'd whittled down, I had to laugh at my ignorance. This was more like throwing darts blindfolded and expecting to hit the bullseye when I didn't even know which direction the board was.
I clicked the first entry on the list and read through the news reports and my meticulous notes. My latest insurance case was only contracted through the end of the week. I could be in Ohio Saturday morning.
Rearing back, I let the dart fly.
Eight months later I hit the bullseye.