They came to a crossroads, and Dean pulled the car over to wipe snow off the road sign.
"Are we close?" asked Sam sleepily, his right cheek red from pressing against a rolled-up jacket.
"Another hour I'm guessing," he said, shutting the door, "I'll want to switch out our plates before we hit town though."
Sam looked down at the map. The folders Bobby had stolen pointed to two cities, and Cleveland seemed the best candidate for trouble. A new business venture of Dick Roman's, Long Beach Inc., had made its headquarters there, though for what kind of business, neither of them could tell.
"Okay then," said Sam, "Should be some houses up ahead, we can switch out while it's dark. You want me to drive?"
Dean blew on his fingers to get some warmth back into them. "Nah. Keep an eye out for something to eat though. Something low-profile."
"Should've snatched some hospital food while we had the chance."
Dean said nothing, putting the car into drive and heading north. Sam closed his eyes again, relieved that Dean felt normal enough to feel hungry, though not normal enough to pick a fight over Bobby.
Farm houses became less scattered, and soon they were in a suburb, new homes studded with blinking Christmas lights. Most of the driveways were empty.
"Everyone's gone for Thanksgiving," said Dean, "Feel like squatting?"
"I feel like stretching," said Sam, his arms over his head, elbows digging into the roof, "I swear I lose a half inch for every month I spend sleeping in this thing."
"Well, no more," said Dean, climbing out and stowing a 9mm in his jacket, "Tonight it's feather beds and central heating."
"Just cut the burglar alarm this time," said Sam, "That last rottweiler nearly gave me a vasectomy."
Dean should have laughed. Should have responded with "you turned into a girl years ago" or something equally childish. But winter was coming, and nothing seemed funny these days.
While Dean took to the alarm system, Sam tried to make sense of Roman's green files. Spreadsheets and memos took up most of them, but the language was too vague, it could be describing anything. Accounting records covered everything from publishing to cafeteria food to prison staffing.
He went back to the one section he felt comfortable with: a series of memos between Roman's office and a judge. Was Roman trying to spring an associate out of jail?
A flashlight tapped against the window. "Are you lost?"
Sam jumped, and then breathed again when he saw it was just a woman, a hugely pregnant one, in a lilac house-dress. "I'm...no, my brother should be back in a minute."
She smiled. "Oh, he's helping you find the dog?"
Sam smiled back at her. Searching for a lost pet had always been a ready excuse whenever either of them had been caught trespassing. "Yes ma'am, is he inside?"
The lack of a car was due to her husband taking the mini-van to the grocery store for more snacks. "We're having the baby shower while everyone's off work," she explained as she led him inside, "And we don't have a thing in the house to feed my guests."
"Congratulations." he said absently, giving Dean a look that said they should hit the road, but Dean brightened at the mention of food.
"Well if we can be of ANY help," said Dean with his most debonair smile, "I do know my way around a grill."
"Oh I couldn't possibly..." she said, just as the phone rang. "Oh, it's my husband, please, um..." she said, waving her hand vaguely at the sofa before walking toward the kitchen.
"Wow, she's trusting," remarked Sam in a low voice, "Shouldn't we get going?"
"Dude, I'm starving," said Dean, "Can't we at least wait around for sandwiches?"
"It's a baby shower. That's usually code for 'no penises allowed', what do you expect her to say when she sees a total stranger eating her guests' food?"
"I expect to be serving up mini frittatas to a bunch of desperate housewives with huge breasts."
"Those women are lactating."
"Hey man, I don't judge."
"Hold up." said Sam, as he eyed the spare phone on the desk and noted the ID caller. "Long Beach."
He was about to say more, when the hostess made a little noise despair in the kitchen, followed by frantic opening of cabinets and drawers.
"Everything okay ma'am?" asked Sam.
She walked out, a tight smile on her face. "My husband was called back to the office. He has the car, and I have nothing, NOTHING, to feed people."
"Well it can't be that bad." said Dean, not giving up hope of a free lunch. He opened her freezer and smiled. "You've got tons of ground beef, and by the looks of your fridge you've got buns and cheese. Problem solved."
She chewed on a nail. "Maybe."
"Maybe?" he said, his eyebrows shot up, "Ma'am, hamburgers got me thru worse disasters than this, how many people are you expecting?"
Over the next hour, pregnant women trickled in, all connected thru a local yoga class, and the house filled with the sounds of gossip and spoons in tea mugs. Sam shot Dean an impatient look, but Dean was too happy scraping patties off the skillet to notice.
"Her husband works for Long Beach," hissed Sam, one eye on the party, "Don't you think it's a little weird?"
"Mfa fehg ferf?" replied Dean, his mouth full of food.
"I was watching the women as they came in the driveway," Sam continued, "None of them brought their keys with them. Those cars are all sitting unlocked, their purses on the seat."
"Therg freffin derf." said Dean.
"I doubt it. No one's that trusting," said Sam darkly, "We need to find out where the Long Beach office is located. We'll break in after dark, scout the offices for information, find something, ANYTHING, that helps clarify these documents of Dick Roman's."
"Darfa mumberfer?" asked Dean, offering up a fresh burger.
"Don't you ever stop eating?"
Dean shrugged, and wiped grease on his jeans before picking up a small pyramid of burgers to take to the living room. A chorus of delighted sighs preceded him as he rounded the corner.
Sam rolled his eyes, and glanced at the trash can where Dean had thrown the plastic wrap from the freezer. The logo read "Deli Deluxe" with a picture of a cartoon pig, but it was the newspaper underneath that caught his eye. Plucking it from the trashcan, he read the headline: CLEVELAND MAYOR ENACTS CONVICT LABOR ACT.
He scanned the article. He'd heard about similar legislation going on down south, where migrant labor was slowly being outlawed and replaced with prison workers, but the tone here was a little more...sympathetic?
"In this economy, the penal system cannot be supported indefinitely," a local judge was quoted, "Part of the government's job is making sure there is a place for every citizen, even the ones who refuse to be governed." The article went on to applaud the mayor's decision for finding hundreds of jobs at the local plant for men at the state penitentiary.
"How long have you been in the neighborhood?" Sam asked the hostess. Dean was seated between two women who, for once, were more in love with his cooking than him, but he didn't seem disappointed.
"Oh my husband was transferred here pretty recently," she said, sucking grease off her fingers, "It's really the best place to raise a family."
"I can imagine." he said, as a woman in a checked shirt got up awkwardly to make her way into the kitchen.
"The schools are really good too," said a woman who had finished one sandwich and was bending over Dean to grab a second, her pendulous breasts inches from his nose, "I was reading how the Long Beach diet is a big deal in China, and that's why the kids there are so smart."
"The...what?" said Sam, incredulous. He could hear the freezer door open, and a soft squelchy noise as something hit the countertop.
"The meat does something with cell cohesion in the fetus' brain," said another woman, who made hand gestures as if drawing chemical formulas in the air, "It makes the synapses do...stuff, and that's why they have such high SAT math scores."
"And this zip code has the lowest violent crime rate in the state," said one woman, "They haven't had an arrest all year."
Dean tore his eyes away from the breasts next to him, wondering if "lactating" was a lesbian thing, and asked, "Why's that?"
Mama Checked Shirt walked out of the kitchen, a bowl of raw meat sitting atop her belly as she stuffed a great fistful of it into her mouth. A lock of hair had gotten stuck in her mouth, and she sucked the blood off it before daintily tucking it behind her ear.
"Because they ate them all." said Sam.
"Dude, what are you talking about?" said Dean, all boobs forgotten.
"He's right," said the hostess, looking him in the eye, though clearly embarrassed at her bloody guest, and she fidgeted with a paper napkin.
"That prison is right behind our homes," said Checked Shirt, blood weeping thru the cracks of her fingers, "Our door's been kicked in twice this year already."
"When they let those cons out on parole, they could be anywhere," said Boobs, "Anyone. Street sweepers. Dish washers." she said, tears suddenly springing to her eyes. "School bus drivers."
"It's not right," said another woman, "Our children have a right to be safe."
"But you can't eat people!" said Sam in alarm.
"They're not people," said the largest woman in the room, her belly so swollen that she might have been a watermelon on stilts. Under the surface of her tight cotton shirt, several pairs of feet kicked against her skin. "They're murderers. Rapists. Child molesters."
"Monsters." said the women in unison.
"Uuuumm..." said Dean, lifting himself off the couch very slowly, "What have I been eating?"
The hostess blinked at him, recognition in her eyes. "Wait...haven't I seen you two before?"
The air went still as all eyes narrowed in on the brothers, and Sam realized what conclusion they had come to, too late. "Wait, ladies, we only LOOK like those bank robbers-"
A skillet came down on the back of his head, and he fell face first into a pile of tissue-wrapped onesies.