Nice 'N Easy
"You say one word, Sam, and I swear…" Dean Winchester said, let the threat dangle into nothingness because his brother knew exactly where he was going with it anyway. He ran a hand through his hair, grimaced and then pulled his hand away. He stared at his palm to make sure it hadn't come away dirty. "Not one word."
Sam, resting lazily on the hood of the Impala with his legs stretched in an easy cross, stared at him with too-wide eyes and a fake expression of hurt on his face. Little bastard. Dean wanted to wring his neck. This thing had to be all Sam's fault, somehow, even if it wasn't.
"All I was going to do was ask if it's done. It's almost dawn. You were in there for hours."
Like hell that was all he was going to say, Dean thought. Sam's eyes were shining with amusement, and that wasn't some cheesy, trash-novel exaggeration. There was a goddamned twinkle in Sam's eyes. Dean could also see the smile waiting to break free.
"Oh, it's done. You can see it's done, you jackass. And you can't tell me you haven't been watching all the damn while."
"Aw, Dean," Sam said, his teeth gleaming white in the dim street light as he broke into a huge grin. "I think all that time was well spent. It looks real purdy."
Dean answered with a single finger salute.
Seven hours earlier
"It should have worked, damn it," Dean said. His shoulders still ached from all the digging he'd done last night, and this time Sam had been a bit too generous with the lighter fluid and Dean thought he had singed all the hair right out of his nostrils. "A quick salt and burn should have done the trick."
"Remember the hook man," Sam said. "Obviously we missed something, some object or some part of him that wasn't buried with him."
Yeah, sure. The silver from the hook was one thing, it had been part of the guy. The lock of hair from that psycho girl ghost was also totally understandable. But what the hell could a dead hairdresser have latched onto so strongly that he wouldn't frigging die like a good spirit when he was salted and burned? Something wasn't adding up as far as Dean was concerned.
"You think he's got a collection of his own hair clippings or something? Who does that?"
"I dunno, man. What I do know is that poor Steve Kyllo, aged forty-five, bit it last night near Frederico Fantango's Fantastic Follicles." Sam slid the morning edition to Dean and slid the laptop so they could both see the screen. "And we did our thing pretty early for us, Dean. According to the police report, this guy died in the middle of the night, apparently in the halfway through a coloring. He had streaks of "Roasted Chestnut" running down his face."
No guy in his right mind would be caught dead (no pun) coloring his hair Roasted Chestnut on purpose. This was a stupid case. Frederico Fantango, aka Fred Petersen, was a stupid ghost. Dean hated that he'd spent the better part of an evening neck-deep in mud for nothing. That was stupid, too. He burped, which seemed the perfect expression of his mood. When Sam scowled, Dean burped again and exhaled in his whiny little brother's direction.
"Dude, come on," Sam said.
"Focus on the case instead of trying to gross me out, here."
Dean supposed he had stepped right into the Sammy lecture. He rolled his eyes.
"Okay, Frances." Dean got one last burp in, but it wasn't to annoy Sam this time. Onions. So tasty, but they got him every time. He thumped a hand against his chest, as if to relieve the pressure. Never worked. "So whatever it is – fingernails, hair, some part of him – is still in the or near the salon. So, he got creamed by a car, yeah?"
"Yeah," Sam said. "Remember the salon manager said he was easily distracted by beautiful things and the boys cross country team happened to be out on a practice run nearby when he was jaywalking across the street."
"Well, usually there's no harm in lookin'. The law of averages worked against him. But at least he went with a smile and probably a stiffy." Dean grinned.
Sam didn't. "Did you have a point, Dean?"
"Just that maybe there was a part or two missed when they scraped him off the asphalt. We might find an ear behind a dumpster in the alley."
"After all this time?"
"Hey, you got a better idea?"
"I suppose we could start there and work our way into the salon. At the very least, maybe we can keep any more people from getting killed until we figure out how to get rid of Fred."
"Now's as good a time as any," Dean said. "Maybe we can get out of this sinkhole of a town tonight."
"If we'd left last night, we would have had to turn around and come right back."
Sometimes Dean thought Sam killed his buzz for fun the way he ate his food like a freaking Neanderthal to bug Sam.
It was already dark out. Businesses would be open for maybe another half hour and then they could break in to the late Frederico's former place of business if they had to. It didn't seem likely that someone like Fred Petersen who had apparently lived and breathed almost every camp-gay stereotype would have a habit of stashing hair or nails anywhere, but stranger things had happened. In fact, stranger things had happened last week when they had discovered that, yes, Virginia, there really were chupacabras. Disgusting goat-suckers. Dean shuddered just remembering the stench. Maybe this was a stupid case, but at least it wasn't smelly.
"If we find any bits, it's gonna be your job to deal with 'em," Dean said as Sam tromped out of the room. "I did all the heavy lifting last night. You get the gross stuff from now until we dispatch the Sweeny Todd of Mayberry."
"Whatever," Sam called over his shoulder, already at the car. "You big baby."
Dean let that pass, because it was true he didn't want to come anywhere near a decomposing ear. If that made him a baby, then he'd go buy a bib to complete the outfit. There were some things he just wouldn't do unless there were no other options. Toying with rotting human remains was one of 'em. He thought he was being completely fair about the whole thing.
Once they got to Frederico Fantango's Blah-Blah-Blah Frou-Frou Lounge, though, it became quickly apparent there was no pound of flesh to be found. Well, it had been a long shot anyway. Dean stood watch while Sam fiddled around with the lock of the salon's front door – businesses were slightly more complicated than home invasions – for a bit, finally getting in. He'd had enough of bitchy Sam for the evening, so he didn't mention that his brother hadn't set any records.
Sam skulked around the back room with all the towels and dyes and supplies, while Dean stuck to the front. He began at Fred's old station, which was still serving as some kind of memorial. There weren't flowers or pictures, but Stephanie the salon manager said no one had taken over his spot or touched any of his things yet. It was her job, and she wasn't ready. The only ones to touch the station had been a professional company called in from the city to clean up after the numerous … bad haircuts. Frankly, Dean didn't know how the place was still in business. Three dead bodies and lots of gory disfigurements weren't big customer draws.
Unfortunately, Dean found nothing at Fred's station. Everything was immaculately kept. Even the hairdryer cord didn't have any kinks in it, no stray hairs stuck in the vent. He was about to move on when he felt a cool breeze. The EMF in his pocket, switched on, whined. And standing right next to him all of a sudden was Frederico himself, ghostly attired in tight pants and tattered shirt, hair in perfect place except for that one spot on the whole left half of his head that was pretty much a bloody mess of goo.
"Well, look at you. Just about the perfect specimen of masculinity. Except, no, no, darling, that hair color does nothing for your eyes and complexion. God messed up. It's all wrong for you."
"Wrong," Dean said stupidly. "Hair color?"
"Right," said Fred.
Dean fumbled for the flask of holy water in his jacket, was prevented by a blast of cold that seemed to pin him in place. So far the ghost hadn't shown any signs of violence. That did not reassure him as the thought of being straight-razored to death played through his head.
"I think I can definitely work with this," Fred said.
Dean heard the loud footfalls as Sam raced into the salon, heard them halt as well. He wasn't sure why he couldn't turn his damned head.
"Dean!" Sam called, and then there was a loud crash.
"Don't interrupt. Please." Fred appeared in front of Dean again, leaned in close. "I don't know why, but my emotions are all over the place. Up and down, this way and that. I get so angry so quickly if things don't go just right. I suppose that's why this place is empty. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, my mother used to say."
Great, a babbling, psychotic ghost that had him in some weird stasis.
"All I ever wanted was to help make people beautiful. Lately, though, people just won't cooperate. I have to go and find them, and then it's so difficult to get things right when people are screaming and crying at you."
"You try staying calm when a ghost is coming at you with a pair of scissors, pal," Dean meant to say, but it got frozen somewhere along the way.
"Hey, Fred," Sam said.
"I don't answer to that name anymore. Fred is such an ugly name."
Another crash and thud.
"I meant Frederico. Frederico, I need to ask you something, and I need for you to stay cool about it." Sam was using that soft voice reserved for people he was trying to emo-whammy into submission. "Do you know you're dead? That that's why there's no one here anymore?"
Now Sam was just egging the guy on. Why wasn't he blasting the crap out of him?
"What?" Fred gasped. "No, you're lying. I'm too fabulous to be dead!"
"I'm afraid it's true, and I … I think you're stuck here because you're so dedicated to making things beautiful," Sam said.
What in the what? Dean had no idea what Sam was going on about, yet it seemed to be working. He was definitely thawing out. He could move his head. He took a step back, shook his head.
"I'm really dead?"
"Look at your reflection in the mirror, dude," Dean said. If he couldn't beat them, he'd join them in the insanity. "It's not that you're having a bad hair day."
"Oh, damn. This was my favorite shirt," Fred said, glancing with misery at the torn fabric. "And I'll have you know I was having a great hair day."
"You remember what happened to you?" Sam said.
Fred sighed. "I do now. I didn't … I don't want to give this up. My work is here."
The ghost started weeping. Boy, he wasn't lying about the emotions. In another second he might be ready to decapitate Dean again.
"I think you're going to have to, Frederico." Sam shook his head, the picture of sympathy. "And either we can help, or you can go on your own. We can't let you keep hurting people. Because that's what you're doing. You've even killed some of them. "
Yeah, except they still didn't know what Fred was tied to on this mortal plane.
"I know," Fred wailed. "I'm sorry!"
"Of course you are," Dean said, trying out Sam's soft-voice. He was not convincing, at all. He unobtrusively sidestepped until he was next to Sam. He turned and muttered, "What the hell are you doing?"
"I don't think he's got anything physical allowing him to stay here. There was nothing in the back. Maybe it's that he has to want to move on."
"So the plan is to talk him away?"
Sam shrugged and turned to Fred, who was still weeping and barely seemed to know they were there.
"Frederico, can you stop crying for a minute?" Sam asked. He took a step closer to the sobbing ghost. "Frederico."
"I didn't want to kill them, not at first," Fred said. "I swear it never started out that way. If only they had stopped screaming so I could concentrate on my art."
"Of course you didn't mean it. We get that. We do." Sam started to look very uncomfortable. He swallowed. "Frederico, do you see a light anywhere? Somewhere in the distance, maybe?"
Jesus, Sam really was Jennifer Love Hewitt.
"Oh, that? Yes, I see it. It's always there."
"Maybe you should go to it," Dean snapped. He was sick of coddling the ghost. "Like, now."
Frederico looked out the salon's front windows, expression vacant but also kind of dreamy. His gaze lingered for a moment, then he shook his head slowly.
"I can't leave you like that, sugar," Fred said, looking directly at Dean. "Will you let me make you the most gorgeous you can be?"
"What?" Dean squared his shoulders. "No, I really don't think so."
Frederico's expression darkened. The room got colder, and Sam started scuttling backwards, through no power of his own.
"Dean," Sam said.
"Sam, I distinctly remember saying you had to do all the gross stuff," Dean grumbled. "And you're the one with the goddamned floppy hair."
"Dean," Sam said again as he thudded against the far wall and stuck there like a great wind held him up. "Frederico doesn't care about my hair, he cares about yours." He groaned. "And I think he really cares about it a lot."
"It's true, Dean," Frederico practically purred. "You look very much like a Dean, now don't you? I love it. Deannnnn."
Dean shifted between his feet. He could do without the staring and the breathy, drawn-out pronunciation of his name. There had to be another way to get rid of this freaking ghost.
"Anyway, Sam over there is a cutie pie, I suppose, but not really my type. You? Mmmm. You are more than worth the effort. I cross my heart and hope to … die, I will go to the light if you just let me get my hands on that hair of yours for a little bit."
Dean hesitated too long. Something silver and sharp flew across the room, stabbed into the wall right next to Sam's left ear.
"Okay. Fine," Dean said immediately. "Do what you want to my hair, but then you're sure as shit goin' to the light."
Frederico squealed with delight and clapped his hands.
Dean let his middle finger stay up longer than was probably necessary, even though all it did was make Sam burst into a fit of giggles.
"That's kinda rude," Sam said, voice choking from the laughter, "f-for a pretty, pretty princess like you."
"Knock it off, Sam. That was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life," Dean said, mood not lifting at all.
He did not believe in rubbing elbows with the supernatural. Ghosts and monsters were to be put down like rabid animals, nothing more. Dean tried not to think about Sam's weird visions, didn't want to catalogue them as supernatural. They were … quirks. Anyway, considering he'd spent the better part of five hours avoiding being rubbed in places far more delicate than his elbows by a very gorily dead guy, he thought the foul mood was justified. He shuddered.
"Definitely top five."
In was probably a gigantic effort for him, but Sam did manage to tone down the giggling. Dean ignored the sideling glances at his overly-worked, just-got-out-of-bed rumpled look. Fred had waxed on about it, saying it perfectly complemented Dean's new Honey Crème golden blond shade before he stepped backwards into the light, his eyes never leaving his last Earthly masterpiece. Dean was never, ever going to tell Sam about the enraptured expression on the dead hair stylist's face.
"But he did, y'know, go away," Sam said as he headed for the passenger door. "He was satisfied with his work and everything?"
"Not satisfied the way I think he wanted to be," Dean muttered.
"As satisfied as he ever could be," Dean said.
"Good. So you could say this case was nice n' easy after all."
Dean didn't rise to the bait. He started the Impala, and pulled away from the curb. He didn't care what Sam said, they were leaving this town tonight. And tomorrow he was going to find someone to fix the unnaturally lightened load of crap that was currently his hair. Fred was wrong. His own natural shade of brown suited him just fine. Better than fine.
"Hey, Dean?" Sam said after a few minutes. "I really do think it looks good. We might even think about heading to Hollywood so you can try out for the next new boy band."
"Fuck you, Sam," Dean said.