The Sword, the Singer, and the Vessel
"What do we know about the victims? Any connections?" Dean asked.
"So far, there doesn't seem to be. Four tourists and two locals... Different ages, different genders," Sam replied.
"Six different genders?"
Sam rolled his eyes, but otherwise chose to ignore Dean's comment.
"What about careers?" I asked, thinking about how that ended up being very important in Rosedale.
"Looks like two of them were escorts, but that's it. The rest range."
"Escorts? You mean hookers?" Dean asked with sudden interest.
"I meant escorts," Sam corrected.
I shook my head, not surprised that Dean would choose to focus on that aspect of the case.
"Anyway," Sam stressed the word, glancing pointedly at Dean, "that's the only connection I've been able to find between any of them."
"So we've got nothing to go on, other than all of them going blind and dying sixty hours later," Dean surmised.
"Pretty much," Sam confirmed.
"Great," Dean sighed. "We've got no leads and no TV. At least this place has a minibar..."
Dean pulled out a couple of beers and a Coke, tossing one of the former to Sam and the latter to me. While Sam deftly caught his midair, I fumbled. I glared at the fallen soda, trying to ignore Dean's snort as I leaned over to pick the bottle up from the floor.
"You could've handed it to me," I grumbled, watching the foam surge toward the top.
"You've gotta learn how to catch sometime, Sweet Cheeks," Dean replied, popping the cap off of his beer.
"Throwing stuff at me isn't going to help," I pointed out.
Along with fishing and shooting, Charlie had tried to add football to our list of father-daughter activities. I wasn't entirely horrible at fishing, but his only real success had been with the gun, despite my initial fear of holding a firearm. After years of being unable to catch a simple ball, I had been extremely nervous about handling something so dangerous.
That nervousness—that definitive knowledge that one unintentional movement could end a life—should have left me a quivering mess, but somehow, it had the opposite effect. When I held a gun, I felt this inner calmness and strength that quite honestly frightened me a little.
"There has to be something..." Sam trailed off, frowning at his laptop screen. "Some kind of connection. Six people don't just go blind and die sixty hours later."
"We need to split up. I'll take the hookers," Dean offered with a grin.
"Fine," Sam sighed after a moment, begrudgingly. "Bella will go with you."
I grimaced at both the way Sam had said that and what I suspected would be an emphatic protest from Dean. I was surprised when Dean only raised an eyebrow. Sam glanced up from his screen at the feel of his brother's gaze and rolled his eyes.
"Come on. We both know you're gonna get distracted. At least Bella will be able to keep you focused."
I stared at Sam in disbelief, wondering if he had me confused with someone else.
"I don't need a babysitter," Dean grumbled.
I felt a smile quirk my lips, unable to ignore the humor in watching Dean complain about being treated like a child when that was how they tended to view me. It was strange, but more than a little refreshing to see our roles reversed, regardless if I agreed with Sam about my capabilities.
I cringed as I finally opened my soda, sighing in relief when it didn't explode. I took a generous swallow, watching Sam shutdown his laptop while Dean made himself presentable again. I frowned down at my clothes, hoping that Dean's threat about a shopping trip was empty.
"Larry's Lascivious Ladies," Dean read aloud, one hand on the wheel while the other held his notebook aloft.
My hands were gripping the side of the door.
"Lascivious?" I repeated, raising an eyebrow.
"I know. I hate it when they try to sound classy."
"I don't know if I'd call using alliteration and a word usually found in trashy romance novels classy," I replied, looking out the window.
I glanced back at Dean when I felt his gaze.
"You really sound like Sammy, sometimes."
"Is that a bad thing?" I asked.
Though I wasn't sure I agreed with his assessment, I was more interesting in hearing his reasoning than arguing.
"Not unless you start acting like a sap," Dean replied after a moment, shrugging.
Not for the first time, Dean reminded me of one of those hardboiled detectives. I wondered if he had a fascination with them or had actively tried to emulate them over the years. Despite the way he had grown up, there must have been a time when he wasn't jaded.
"I don't think Sam is a sap," I frowned. "Compassionate, maybe."
"Compassionate's just another word for sap."
I stared at him—noting the quirk of his lips, but also the set of his jaw. I had a feeling that he was more serious about this than he was letting on. Did he really feel that way?
"Caring about other people isn't a bad thing," I said.
If Dean was affected by my words, he didn't show it.
"We're here," he announced, changing the subject.
The place did look kind of classy, despite the images the business' name had suggested. Instead of the deep burgundy and gold drapery I had expected—for some reason, the word lascivious had conjured an Aladdin-themed pornography in my head—the decor was rather unassuming. The black and white design made the operation seem respectable.
I wondered what the existence of a place like this said about the locals.
When the woman at the front desk caught sight of us, she covered the mouthpiece of her headset and tilted the microphone away.
"I'm sorry, it'll be a few minutes," she whispered apologetically. "Please feel free to look through our catalog while you wait."
The woman handed Dean a black portfolio, before promptly returning to her phone call. I stepped closer as he began to flip through the pages of what appeared to be a documentation of every woman they employed. The photographs were obviously professionally done and the descriptions of each woman were explicit in detail, right down to the length of her toes.
Larry's Lascivious Ladies' was either remarkably thorough or they dealt regularly with customers who had a foot fetish. When I noticed a spot designated for the quantity of moles, I figured it was the former.
"That's insane," I muttered, astonished.
"It's...Disneyland," Dean breathed in awe. "This is my Disneyland."
I supposed that I shouldn't have been surprised over Dean's reaction. Between the shameless flirting with any female with a pulse and his belief that kissing a person in order to make a point was fine—definitely not—of course this place would appeal to him.
I glanced at the photo of the woman whose page he had paused on and frowned. The woman must've been my complete opposite. Something about that realization was very unpleasant.
"Who needs Busty Asian Beauties when you've got this?" Dean mumbled to himself.
I grimaced at the mention of what could only be a pornographic site, resolutely refusing to imagine Dean watching it, even as my cheeks heated. I was relieved when the receptionist finished up on the phone and called us over, forcing me to focus on the task at hand, rather than what Dean did in his downtime.
"Right, so. Here for an application or escort?" the woman enquired, glancing between Dean and I.
It took me a moment to realize what she meant.
"Wait—me?" I choked.
The woman's reply was cut off as a man dressed in nice suit—probably tailor-made—strolled into the room.
"With a little make-up and some better clothes, you could have a future here," he interjected with a smarmy smile. "I have a few customers who have been looking for an injured lady to fawn over."
The man glanced pointedly at the brace on my hand and clapped loudly before I could respond.
"Miranda! I have a new lady for you to work your magic on!"
A squat woman burst into the room, moving faster than I would have expected for someone of her stature. She began to flutter around me with a measuring tape, mumbling to herself something that I couldn't quite make out.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Dean interjected, waving his hands in a distinctly negative motion. "She is not here to become another one of your hookers."
The flurry of activity stopped as suddenly as it had began, every set of eyes now directed at Dean in a glare—apart from mine, which was undoubtedly radiating gratitude.
"I do not employ hookers," the man spat. "My ladies merely provide companionship for a select clientele."
"Your ladies? You're Larry?" I asked.
"I am Lawrence T. Veluso the third," the man sniffed.
"That's a mouthful," Dean muttered.
"Hence my simplification of Lawrence to Larry," Lawrence explained, his tone dripping with condescension and a little disgust, though whether the latter was directed at the nickname or Dean, was unclear.
Dean opened his mouth to reply and I quickly elbowed him before he could say anything that might get us thrown out. He glared at me, but seemed to concede my point when I gestured toward the frowning employees in front of us with what I hoped was a subtle tilt of my head.
"We're here to ask you a few questions about two of your employees." Dean announced, suddenly all business. He pulled out a black notebook from inside his coat. "Cassandra Reynolds and Tammy Hasher," he read aloud.
"I don't have time for the press," Lawrence replied dismissively.
"We're not with the press," Dean interjected before Lawrence could turn away. "I'm Detective Turner and this is Miss Thornton. We're from the Center for Disease Control."
When Lawrence remained skeptical, Dean fished a badge out of his wallet and flashed it at him.
"I already told their families that according to Section eight, paragraph C, we are not liable for their loss of sight," Lawrence sighed in exasperation. "They are responsible for treating any injury sustained outside of work."
"So the blindness was the result of an injury?" I asked, surprised that the doctor hadn't mentioned that.
Lawrence rolled his eyes.
"Well people don't just go blind, do they?"
I frowned at his tone, but otherwise chose not to comment. A glance at Dean showed that he was just as fed up with this guy as I was, though his expression remained unerringly blank. I wouldn't have noticed anything was amiss if not for his tensed jaw.
"Do you remember anything strange happening before they lost their sight? Might've been something they did, something they said?" Dean asked.
"Not that I can recall."
"What about their clients? Did they...ah...escort anyone new?"
"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to say. All client interaction with my ladies is strictly confidential," Lawrence sniffed, not sounding apologetic in the least.
"Alright," Dean smiled. "You can either answer our questions and give us the contact information of every client Cassandra and Tammy saw in the last week, or I can call the Director of the CDC and he will make you do it anyway."
Lawrence scoffed at the threat and stood notably straighter. Dean quirked an eyebrow at him, but his smirk stayed in place as he pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed. Considering that the whole Center for Disease Control back story was a lie, I wondered who he was calling.
Probably Sam, I thought.
"Director Stevenson," Dean greeted. "Yes, yes. No, he isn't cooperating. Alright."
Dean handed the phone to Lawrence.
"Lawrence T. Veluso the third," he answered proudly.
I watched his smirk fade into a grimace at whatever was being said by the person on the other end of the phone.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss—no I don't want this spreading—I don't see how—" Lawrence protested as the other person kept cutting him off. "I understand," he sighed finally.
Lawrence handed the phone back to Dean and begrudgingly ordered his receptionist to gather the information we had asked for. Dean did a far better job of concealing his triumph than I would have expected.
"I don't know much about Mississippi law, but shouldn't a place like that be illegal?" I asked Dean once we were back in the Impala.
"Probably," Dean replied with a faraway look in his eye. "Something about all of this doesn't feel right," he muttered.
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know. Just feels like we're missing something important."
I furrowed my brows, considering Dean's words. I had felt unsettled since we got here, but I had attributed that to the memory of Dean's kiss and the establishment itself. Now I wondered if that uneasiness had something to do with the case too.
"So...back there. Who did you call?" I asked curiously.
"Just a friend of ours," Dean smiled. "He's got a couple phones set up for when we need him."
"A couple phones..." I repeated, considering. "How does he know when you'll need him? Does he just...sit there? Waiting for one of you to call?"
"Don't know. Never thought about it, I guess."
Cassandra's family obviously didn't know much about her life. That became apparent when they started prodding us for information, along with the fact that they were under the impression that she worked for a temp agency. Tammy's family was similarly unhelpful, mainly because they lived in Colorado.
By the time we met up with Sam again, we hadn't found more than a list of the clients Cassandra and Tammy saw the week prior. Despite the company's extensively detailed catalog, all we had to go on were the names themselves. There were too many to simply visit, so that meant more research in order to narrow things down. Of course, I knew that if it came down to it, Sam and Dean would visit every name on that list.
That odd feeling that Dean mentioned seemed to have only grown stronger throughout the day. I still couldn't quite put my finger on why, but I knew something wasn't right. The brothers were being uncharacteristically quiet and it wasn't until now that I realized the silences between us had gradually lengthened. I might have blamed myself if I wasn't just as tight-lipped.
Today had been exhausting and I could feel my eyes beginning to droop as we left the Chinese Buffet Dean had insisted on revisiting. After having to wait ten minutes for one of the men behind the counter to fill up my drink in the back—the machines in the front were malfunctioning—I hoped that Dean had gotten his taste for their food out of his system. I was definitely ready for something else.
I listened to Sam and Dean mutter about the case on the ride back to the motel, though I didn't retain much. The steady stream of guitar through the speakers seemed more lulling than usual. The timbre of the brothers' voices only added to the feeling.
When we finally made it to the motel, I didn't have the energy to do more than stagger over to the bed. I knew I would regret napping in jeans when I awoke, but at the moment, I was much too tired to care. I had just enough presence of mind to kick off my shoes before I collapsed on top of the covers, sighing when my head settled on the pillow. I barely felt the bed dip before I was already asleep.
I groaned upon waking, already feeling off. I knew I would regret sleeping in jeans, but I had barely been able to make it to the bed, let alone retreat into the bathroom to change. I blinked rapidly against the ache in my eyes, wondering what time it was.
I couldn't make out anything in the darkness and I felt a moment of confusion before I realized that if the motel didn't have televisions, it wasn't really surprising that they didn't have digital clocks either. Without those familiar glowing red numbers to dictate the time, the room remained shrouded in darkness.
I shifted out of bed as quietly as I could and felt my away across the room. Memories of that shop in Kennewick filled the darkness and I remembered the fear of being unable to see my attacker coming. My heart beat faster despite myself and it was with relief that my fingers finally met the cool glass of the bathroom door.
Trailing my palm across the door, I felt along the wall until I reached a light switch. I flicked it on and frowned when the room remained dark. There wasn't even a spark to indicate a bad bulb. Perhaps the power had gone out.
I groaned, not looking forward to making the trek back to the bed. I decided to leave the switch flipped in case the light decided to turn back on. As I staggered back the way I had come, my thoughts kept returning to Treasure Trove and finding Dean's unconscious form on the floor.
"Bella? What're you doing up?" Sam asked drowsily, making me jump.
I wondered how he had known it was me.
" Just trying to use the bathroom, but the power's out. Sorry if I woke you," I whispered, trying not to wake Dean, too.
"I said I was just trying to use the bathroom," I whispered louder, grunting when I tripped over one of our bags. "Looks like the power's out, though."
"Bella...what are you doing?" Sam asked, his tone bewildered.
"Trying to find my way back to the bed," I grimaced. "It's so dark in here. I can't see anything."
I jumped when a warm hand grasped my arm. It only took me a split second to realize who it belonged to. Although it was odd that he had made contact, I was grateful for the help.
"Dean?" Sam said, confirming my thoughts.
"Did I wake you up too?" I sighed. "Sorry, it's just really hard to navigate in the dark."
Dean's hand tightened on my arm and I wondered if he was angry. I knew the brothers had trouble sleeping sometimes. Though Sam was usually the one who had a harder time getting some rest, Dean probably didn't get as many hours as he should have, either.
"Bella, you can't...you can't see, can you?" Sam asked suddenly, his tone strange.
"Of course I can't see," I scoffed. "It's pitch black in here."
The brothers were silent long enough for doubt to settle in. I didn't understand what was so strange about not being able to see in the dark, until suddenly, I remembered where we were and what we were investigating.
"Isn't it?" I swallowed, trying not to panic.
"I don't know what you're saying, but Bella, I think... I think you've gone blind," Sam confirmed gently. "And I think I've gone deaf."
"Deaf," I repeated in surprise, focusing on Sam's words. "I understand the blindness, but how could you have lost your hearing?"
"I'm not very good at reading lips," Sam replied.
"Right. You can't hear me... But what about Dean?"
I turned toward the direction his hand was coming from, realizing that he hadn't spoken once since I woke him up. I might've attributed his silence to grumpiness over having his sleep disrupted, except he was more of the type to grumble and complain.
"Dean seems to have lost his voice."
"I'm sorry, what?"
I pressed my back against the headboard, breathing deeply. I kept my eyes open, though I had little hope that my eyesight would miraculously return. Somehow, keeping them shut seemed worse, so although I suspected I looked strange darting my gaze around the ceaseless darkness, I refused to close my eyes for longer than a blink.
Sam and Dean were currently engaged in a conversation that remained verbally one-sided. I couldn't see what they were doing, but the scratch of pen on paper was pretty telling. Still, though I knew Dean was talking in his own manner, it sounded odd to listen to Sam seemingly talk to himself.
One of them had handed me my own notepad and pen, though I had neglected to use it thus far, focused more on quelling my panic over being unable to see.
"See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil," Sam recited.
I nodded in agreement—the phrase was familiar.
"It has something to do with three wise monkeys," Sam answered Dean. "No, I don't know much more than that. We'll need to do some research."
"I guess it'll have to be one of you," I sighed, suddenly realizing how useless I had just become in this situation. "Since I wouldn't be able to see the laptop screen."
I sighed again, but rather than write all of that out, I simply covered my eyes.
"Right," Sam replied, getting the message. "So, Bella will need to stay here since she can't see. One of us needs to go back to the morgue. See if there were other victims missing their voices or hearing."
I fidgeted on the bed, suddenly nervous. They wouldn't leave me here alone, would they?
"Dean, I think you should stay with Bella," Sam said, as if he had heard my thoughts.
I stopped tapping my leg, turning my head toward where I estimated Dean to be, though I knew it didn't really matter—I couldn't see anything anyway.
"You're right. I won't be able to find out much without my hearing," Sam agreed. "But that's also why I can't stay with Bella. She can't see and I wouldn't be able to hear her."
"I know," Sam answered. "I'm gonna call Bobby for back-up."
I picked up my pen and wrote my question as neatly as I could, taking care to space the letters apart to be legible.
"Who's Bobby?" I asked.
"He's—oh. Hold on. Dean's writing something," Sam informed me. "Dean says, he's that guy who answers the phones," Sam recited in a confused tone.
A thought struck me and I quickly picked up my pen, only to be stilled by Dean's hand on my arm in a halting gesture. I furrowed my brows, wondering what was wrong.
"Dean says he'll write your question down for me," Sam explained. "It'll go faster."
"Right," I acknowledged, though part of me resented the loss of the ability to speak for myself too. "I wanted to know how you two planned on calling your friend if one of you can't hear and the other can't talk."
I waited as Dean jotted down the question, listening to the scratch of the pen.
"Yeah... That's gonna be tricky."
Larry's Lascivious Ladies does not exist. The establishment is entirely fictional.