The Sin Eater
''How far 'til Bradford?" Dean asked.
They'd been on the road for days, and the charm was wearing thin. Sam unfolded his map of Pennsylvania once again, sighing with his own road-weariness. "About three hours. There's a little fly-speck of a town coming up; Spencerville. I wouldn't mind stopping, I could use a coffee."
Dean nodded. Yeah-a shot of caffeine would be a good idea about now. They were scheduled to meet up with Bobby in Bradford, at his request. Something to do with demons, some signs. Dean was loathe to address anything hell-related at the moment; it was all still pretty fresh. He'd only just regained his brother from the otherworld, and he wasn't in any state of mind, after everything, to deal with the ugly reality that he'd brought down on his own head. But Bobby Singer could ask him to send his right arm gift-wrapped, and he'd do it without question. Sam felt likewise.
They were driving through some breathtaking country. The Adirondack hills were beautiful in any season, but particularly so now, in the waning summer. Here and there were hints of the scarlet that the maples would explode into later, surrounded by deep, verdent green. It was lovely country to retire in, if you had money. Not so romantic for those who were born here. Generations lived and died in poverty in the hills. There was forestry, but little else to sustain anything beyond subsistence. And mills were closing left and right, throwing more and more of the current generation into dire straits. Farming opportunities were almost nil; the land was too hilly and rocky. There were little plots, carved out in the 1800's, between hills and ravines, just enough to grow a few things for the family's use. The mines that made hiking treacherous were all played out. The only thing that had sustained the people here now was oil. Small, backyard oil rigs dotted the view, some moving slowly up and down, pulling the precious commodity from the depths, but most sat rusting and silent, shut down by the Environmental Protection Agency.
A shabby little restaurant came into view. No cars graced its weedy parking lot, and Dean slowed as they drove past. "Looks closed. Shit... I really have to take a leak." He pulled over and backed up, stopping in front of the abandoned building. He ducked behind it to relieve himself, and as he did, a pickup truck slowed and stopped on the road. An unfriendly looking man called out to Sam, who sat waiting.
"That place is closed. What do you want there?"
Sam pasted on his most innocuous smile. "Just looking for a coffee. Any place around here to grab one?"
The man sized him up, his frosty demeanor remaining unchanged. "Post office, up ahead a mile." With that curt statement, he pulled away and left. Sam whistled, as Dean re entered the car. "What'd he want?"
"To make sure we weren't strangers robbing the place. I asked him where we could grab something to drink, he said the post office coming up. Friendly bastard." he snorted.
"What, he didn't even melt a little at your dewy puppy eyes..?"
"Shut up, you freak. The place is a mile up the road. Maybe somebody there knows where there's a motel somewhere near. I don't know about you but I need to be horizontal for a while."
Dean grunted his agreement. After a few minutes, the building in question came into view. It was an old frame general store, with the post office being its main function these days. It seemed it was still the social hub of the community, such as it was. There were a number of pick-ups out front, several of which carried plywood crates with baying hounds as their cargo. Sam chose to stay behind. "Coffee, and see if they have anything like those pepperettes or something."
Dean nodded and headed inside.
The place was as he expected. The post office took most of the counter, along with an ancient cash register and a collection of lottery tickets. The walls were lined with hunting and fishing needs, some stale looking loaves of bread, and chips. The coffee maker was at one wall, a throng of scruffy, bearded men standing around it. He had to excuse himself to get at it, and they seemed reluctant to let him pass. At least he thought so. Their cold appraisal of him made him nervous, he didn't know why. But he smiled warmly and made a lame comment about the weather as he poured out two coffees. No one answered, they just turned away in disinterest.
The coffee was so black and cooked smelling that he added extra sugar and cream, stacked the cups, and carried them along as he went in search of some snacks. The group of men were grimly discussing events of the previous days, Dean couldn't help but overhear.
"..I'm telling you, Frank; that place ain't right. Bert knew how to use that tractor, he woulda never took it near that slope. And lookit Dale...half his hand gone. Him too; been using a chainsaw since he was a kid, for christs sake, He don't make that kinda mistake."
The one called Frank grunted. "Them chains just broke off that load of logs, too. You see those links? Nuthin shoulda snapped them, they were so thick. Baker was nearly flattened when they came off that trailer. He was damned lucky."
"What's Alice gonna do now...hire somebody to finish clearing that lot? With Bert gone, she can't afford to quit that contract. That rich bastard from New York will probably kill the sale, and then she'll have piss-all."
There was general agreement to that. One of the men piped up; "Well, I sure as hell ain't gonna do it. I could use the money as much as anybody, but not if it's gonna cost me so dear. She can hire somebody that don't know the history..."
Dean's curiosity overtook his caution. It sounded to him that something odd was going on, something right up their alley. He decided to learn more. He unloaded his armload onto the counter and paid for it. At least the woman behind the counter was friendly enough. He asked her about a motel, and she laughed.
"Well there's nothing like that, 'til Bradford. You can go check with May Adams; she keeps a couple of rooms for boarders and such. She might have room for you. Just head left after the blue house down the road; you'll see her sign. They're not fancy, but they're clean. How long you planning to stay?"
Dean smiled and thanked her. "Just one night. We've been driving for a while, supposed to meet a buddy of ours in Bradford. But since that's still a few hours away, we figured maybe we'd put up for the night."
"Well that sounds wise. Best not to drive at dusk on these roads, the deer are all over them at this time of year. You take care, now."
He nodded and turned to the men. "Hey, listen, I couldn't help but hear you talking. Something strange going on?"
They stared at him. "What's it to you?"
Dean was taken aback by their raw hostility. "Nothing. Just overheard, and it's my business to check things out." He reached into his coat and withdrew his wallet, and showed his federal badge. It was a mistake.
"Fed, huh?" the one named Frank said. "Well, you got no business round here, Mr. Federal Agent. Ain't nothing going on 'cept an accident, and folks mourning a good man. Nuthin here to tax, nuthin to legislate, nuthin to investigate, you got that? This ain't no government business."
Dean was very aware that he was outnumbered. Even the lady that had been so forthcoming moments ago was now staring at him coldly. He wisely backed off.
"Relax, Buddy; I'm not here to interfere with you people. Sorry to have bothered you all." He smiled benignly, nodded to them, and backed out of the store. He returned to the car, tossing the sack to Sam and handing him the cups.
"Whoa...I was about as welcome in there as a freaking dentist. You should've seen that group of toothless mouth breathers, Sam; the second I identified myself as a Fed, they went all Deliverence.
Sam glanced back. "Well, they're coming out, and they don't look like a welcoming committee. Better go."
Dean put it in gear and drove away, leaving the grim group of men standing, staring at them with arms crossed.
"Why'd you pull a badge anyway?" Sam wondered.
"They were all going on about some incident yesterday. Some local guy got squashed; he rolled his backhoe. Might've just been an accident, except they were saying that it was the fourth major thing to happen on that land in the past week. The dead guy had just sold the plot, and was clearing it for the new owner to build, and they've had nothing but bad luck trying to work it. Since we're a few days ahead of Bobby, I thought it was worth looking into. What do you think?"
"I don't know...could be a waste of time. What other things happened?"
"Equipment failures; a truck broke an axle for no reason, chains broke on a trailer of house logs and nearly pancaked some jerk. Oh, and some poor SOB cut off half his hand with a chainsaw. That's a little weird, I'd say. Can't chalk all that up to murphy's law."
"Ouch!" Sam snorted. "Guess he won't be playing that banjo anymore. So how'd you piss them off so fast in there, anyway?"
Dean offered a wounded expression. "I didn't do anything! Geez, it's not like I'm always looking for a fight!"
"No, but you do have a certain manner."
Dean frowned, still indignant "Yeah, well... all I did was flash my badge and ask about it. They all clammed up, and got pretty hostile as soon as Fed came up. I thought I was going to get lynched."
Sam stretched and yawned, trying to get comfortable after so many hours in the car. "Well, we're in hill country now, Dean. It's an old area; historically resistant to government interference. Don't take it personally; you're just a revenuer to them. Just watch your back when you're around any of them, or you might get a load of buckshot in your ass."
Dean was still peeved when they located May Adam's place. Sam told him he would speak to her, worrying that Dean would alienate another local with the mood he was in. He waited in the car. Within a few minutes, Sam stepped out and waved to him to bring their gear. The room they'd gotten was at the back of the farmhouse, thankfully with it's own access and bathroom. Dean was relieved, the last thing he wanted was to have to go through some flowery, knick-knack-laden parlour with some old hag sitting crocheting or something, just to get to a can.
"So what's this gonna cost?" he asked sourly.
"Forty-five per night. Can't beat that, Dean."
Dean had to agree; it was particularly reasonable. They settled in to the room, hauling in the essentials and locking up the rest. "So what's this May like?" Dean asked hopefully.
Sam laughed. "Depends on what your fetishes are, Dean. You like wrinkles? Facial hair? Or maybe nice big gummy smiles."
Dean shuddered visibly. "Ugh. It's been a while, but I'm not that desperate." He rolled over and closed his eyes for a moment, groaning. "Christ; I can still see broken yellow lines. Is there anywhere around here that I can pick up something stronger than bad rot-gut coffee?"
"Good question. We didn't pass any stores or anything, but the people around here must be able to buy stuff closer than Bradford. Wasn't there anything in the post office?"
Dean wracked his brain. "I saw a bunch of shit, but I didn't see any bottles. But from the looks of the clientelle, they weren't tea-totallers. I don't know; maybe they brew their own around here."
"Could be, Dean." Sam reached into his own bag, retrieving something, which he proudly handed over. "By the way, Merry Christmas."
Dean was delighted at the bottle of Jack Daniels. "Hey! Way to go! What made you get this?"
Sam looked at him a little shyly. "Nothing. I picked it up because it was on sale."
"Liar!" Dean grinned. He was beyond pleased that Sam had thought of him. He knew his younger brother would rather drink bleach than something with the bite and personality of this particular poison. He put it aside, still smiling like a cheshire cat.