They rejoined the interstate at Richfield, pulling into a gas station and filling the tank up again. Sam watched the flow of traffic past them as he waited for his brother. He hoped that the green car had been slowed down enough in the park roads to be gone, but he somehow doubted it.
Dean was looking at his watch as he came out. He slid behind the wheel and started the engine, pulling out into the traffic as soon as a slot seemed long enough.
"Car must have hell of a tank." He commented cheerfully, despite the gouge in his wallet.
"Enough to get us to San Diego?" Sam looked down at the map.
"Yeah, easily," he said, adding tersely. "We've got ten hours. No stops, I'll take the next two hours, then you're on for two and so on."
They were just bypassing Phoenix when Sam felt a return of the bad feeling. He looked around nervously. Dean glanced at him, then back to the road.
"I don't know," Sam looked around again. "I feel like something's coming."
Dean looked into the rear view mirror, scanning across the lanes behind them. "I don't see anything."
Sam shook his head. "Neither do I, but I can still feel it."
The green Ford was five or six cars behind them, creeping steadily forward when Sam finally caught sight of it in the side mirror.
"There he is," he said, twisting around in the seat. "Seven o'clock your side."
Dean bit his lip, looking at the traffic around them. It wasn't heavy but he didn't want to risk anyone's lives, least of all their own, initiating a high speed chase until he absolutely had to. Goddamn it, why weren't they catching any breaks?
"Sam, anywhere we can get off the interstate and lose him again?"
"Not if we want to make the deadline."
"Alright, we'll go hell for leather, and hope that sonofabitch doesn't catch up and the cops don't get ahead of us." He checked the lane beside him and put his foot down slowly, the engine growling as the car picked up speed, then changed into the right lane, accelerating harder.
Instantly, the green car changed lanes and started overtaking to his left, coming up behind them with frightening speed.
"He's not interested in keeping a low profile," Sam commented, watching the car manoeuvre through the traffic, dodging from lane to lane.
"Put on your seat belt, Sammy." Dean glanced behind them, and then spotted an opening ahead. "Sonofabitch wants to race, we'll race."
The Lincoln surged ahead and Dean wove them through the cars ahead, braking and accelerating as the slots opened and closed around them. They were doing seventy by the time they were on the 10 and increasing. The blaring of horns and squealing of tyres behind them indicated the frustrations and anger of the drivers of the cars they left in their wake.
Out of the city's limits the traffic thinned and Dean just put his foot all the way down. They shot along the 10, speeding past the rest of the traffic, outgunning their pursuit as well. But at that speed, it was only a matter of time before they ran past a patrol car. Theirs was lurking at the on ramp from the 60. Dean glanced behind as the red and blue lights twirled in his rear view mirror. He could see the green Ford behind the patrol car, keeping pace but not trying to get past.
"Dean! Watch out!" Sam shouted as he shifted his gaze from the back to the front and saw the livestock truck cross into their lane and start to lean. Dean's eyes snapped back to the front as the truck pitched over onto its side and the wooden crate exploded, sending rails in every direction. As the truck skidded along the Armco on its side, animals began to fall or jump out, and Sam and Dean watched in disbelief as the goats ran across the lanes in front of them, bleating and jumping.
This cannot be happening, not really, Dean thought, swerving wide to miss two goats, then back the other way to miss a third. He let their speed drop a fraction, and hauled the wheel this and that as they snaked through the livestock. A goat jumped onto the hood of the Lincoln, scrambling as the car's speed sent it flying over the roof. Sam snapped around to look through the back window, expecting to see a mangled carcass on the road, but the goat landed neatly on four feet and bounded off.
Dean's face was crawling with sweat as they avoided the last three animals and he put his foot down again.
"How's the pursuit going?" He asked Sam. Sam looked back. The patrol car had been mired in the goats, coming to a stop and surrounded by them, goats on the hood and trunk, one of the roof attempting to eat the flashing lights. The green Ford had swerved far to the right, knocking two animals over as it accelerated past.
"One down, one left." Sam sighed and turned back to the front. He looked at the map. Another two hundred and thirty miles to go.
"Dean, at Blythe we need to take the 78." Sam looked at the map. "We'll pick up the 8 at El Centro."
Dean nodded, flexing his hands on the wheel to loosen them. Goats, yet.
At the off ramp to the 78, Dean crossed all six lanes to get through without alerting the Ford driver of what they intended. Sam was soaked in sweat by the time the Lincoln decelerated and they turned onto the two lane highway. He knew his brother was a good driver, an excellent driver even, but that had been … just too freakin' close. He'd watched the Ford speed past as they'd shot off. The next exit was sixty miles away. There was probably a U-turn bay before then but Dean had gained them a breathing space anyway.
"Sam, I've been thinking …," He flicked a glance at Sam, "this trip – the Impala, then the plane troubles, then the train and now this … this is kind of a long streak of bad luck, even for us."
Sam nodded slowly. "A spell? Someone's got a grudge against us?"
"Doesn't really narrow the field." Dean said sourly, "But things got worse when we were carrying our gear, or had it close by – I mean, more personal." He thought of the bottles and the soap, the burger and the girl on the train.
Sam frowned, remembering the details of their endless trip. "Cursed object? In our gear?"
Dean nodded. "I think so."
Sam reached into the back and grabbed his bag, pulling it onto his lap. He opened it and started searching, pushing aside his clothes, books and iPod, feeling for anything that shouldn't be there. He pulled everything out, and put everything back. There was nothing in the bag that wasn't his.
"I don't think it's in my bag." He looked at his brother. Aside from the exploding soda can – which, come to think of it, had been sitting right next to Dean's bag – all of the other stuff had happened to … Dean.
Dean sighed resignedly. "It's in my bag, isn't it?"
"I think so. Most of the stuff seemed to be focussed on you."
"Can you search it?"
Sam hesitated. "I put it in the trunk; it was stinking up the car."
"Awesome." Dean looked at his watch. Three hours, if nothing else happened in the meantime. Which, of course, was certainly not going to be the case since they couldn't stop to get the damned cursed object out of his bag. He chewed his lip.
They drove through Blythe and Palo Verde right on the speed limit, attracting the attention of no one, for a change. Dean's foot went down when the last of the housing developments beside the road disappeared behind them. According to the map, at least, there was nothing now for the next sixty miles, when they'd hit Brawley. He brought them up to eighty and let it sit there. If they could get enough lead time, they could stop, get the object out of his gear and return to their more normal run of luck. Maybe.
The road from Brawley to El Centro was a crawl. Dean looked at his watch, feeling sweat trickle down the back of his neck as the sun lowered, defeating the visor and shining directly into his face. Two and a half hours. It was only a hundred miles, theoretically it should have been as easy as pie. But nothing was going to be easy on this trip, he knew.
Well, whatever comes, we'll just have to improvise, he thought tiredly. There was no time to stop and search the bag, no time to even stop and throw the goddamned thing out of the car. He glanced back to the rear view mirror. No sign – yet – of the Ford. But it would be there, sooner or later. Whether the guy had put a tracking device into the Lincoln or his uncanny pursuit was just the result of the cursed object somewhere in his bag, he knew for sure that they would not be able to lose the asshole for good, not on this trip.
The road eased south, and the sun shifted from directly at him to one side. He flexed his hands, and stretched the muscles along the back of his neck, trying to ease the tension there before it turned into a world-class pounder. Sam turned his head, to look behind them.
"Dean, he's back." His voice was steady.
"Time to rock'n'roll." Dean pushed his foot down again, watching the road and glancing at the speedo as the needle rose. Behind them, the Ford accelerated as well, and by the time they passed the off ramps for Octotillo, they were both doing above eighty.
"We got any other route into San Diego except the 8?" Dean asked Sam, wondering if he could pull off another fly-by.
"Yeah, there is. The 94 runs near the border. It's a bit longer, but less populated." Sam held the map, considering the road. "The off ramp is Live Oaks."
Dean nodded. He'd try it again.
"Less populated sounds good to me," he said quietly, accelerating harder. The Lincoln surged up to a hundred. Sam looked at Dean's profile, wondering what he was planning. He had that hard, closed look, the one that said he'd made up his mind, and no matter what stood in the way, he was going to get it done. Behind them, the Ford accelerated as well, the two cars flying along the interstate.
At the off ramp Dean didn't slow down. Sam tightened his belt and braced himself against the dash and the door as the heavy car shot in front of three cars and a truck, driver's side lifting off the ground as they screamed around the bend on two wheels and onto the ramp. Behind them, car horns blared as the Ford attempted to make the same turn. Sam looked back, seeing the Ford suddenly braking, the driver's side slamming against the Armco railings and losing half its paint job as the railing alone kept it on the road.
Dean hit the accelerator again once they were on the 94, and they sped west.
"Red light." Sam said quietly as they approached the intersection. The quiet, orderly streets of San Diego were a multi-coloured relief to the eyes after the dry mountains they'd just come through.
"Red light." He glanced at his brother. "Dean, red light!"
Dean ignored him, watching the traffic to either side and punched through a narrow slot between a bus and a semi rig. Sam leaned back in the seat, realising he'd been able to see the rivets in the side of the bus as they'd passed.
"He's behind us again, Sam." Dean said quietly. Sam twisted around and looked back. Yeah, the car looked like hammered crap, but there it was. A flash of light caught his eye. Someone else had seen them running the light, San Diego's finest were on their tails now too.
"Dean, tell me you have a plan," Sam said.
"Always gotta plan, Sammy."
"It'd better work."
Dean sped up a little, changing lanes to get through the traffic as they headed north to Mission Hills. They were supposed to meet the contact in a house there, in twenty minutes. The late afternoon commuter traffic was getting thicker by the minute. He turned right toward the bay and accelerated through another amber light, as a second patrol car shot out of the intersection and turned in behind them. Sam chewed on the inside of his cheek, watching his brother, the cars behind them, the Ford still following behind the cops.
Dean turned to him with a sudden grin. "I know what I'm doing, Sam, don't worry."
Sam didn't feel all that reassured.
They turned onto California Street and Dean sped up again, braking then accelerating as a police car turned the same way in front of him. He overtook it and slid back into the same lane before suddenly turning left across the oncoming traffic. Sam felt his heartbeat slow down as they left the pursuit waiting for a break behind them.
Dean sped up again, making a sharp right and following the curving road as fast as he could north. Behind them, he could hear the sirens and horns going as the police, and presumably the Ford, tried to follow their trail. He turned right and slowed down, looking at the big houses to either side of them. They passed another cross-street and he frowned at the sign. Then just ahead, he saw what he was looking for. Sam slammed into his door as Dean wrenched the wheel around, accelerating sharply as he drove up the driveway and into the open garage.
He switched off the engine and flung himself out of the car, his palm hitting the manual button for the garage door opener, and the door trundled down a second before Sam heard the sirens go past and fade away.
He got out of the car slowly, looking at his brother with a slowly widening smile.
"That actually wasn't bad."
"Ha! That was genius, and you know it." Dean wiped his forehead with his sleeve, shaking his head. "Let's get rid of this thing now."
He opened the trunk and flinched back from the smell – his bag smelled like rotten potatoes. Grabbing the handles gingerly, he pulled it out, unzipping it and tipping everything onto the smooth concrete floor. They sorted through the clothing, the wet books, tapes, soggy papers, and stopped as the small amber sphere rolled out of a pair of socks.
"Don't touch it!" Sam knocked Dean's hand aside. "Pick it up with something." Dean remembered the rabbit's foot belatedly and nodded, picking up a pair of pliers from the tidy workbench beside them and carefully lifting the sphere from the ground.
"Got your stuff? We're hoofing from here," he said, holding the sphere above the open well of the trunk. Sam nodded and opened the passenger door, reaching back and grabbing his bag and the map. He walked back to the trunk and Dean tossed the sphere inside it, closing the lid. They could hear the sirens circling the neighbourhood.
Dean hit the garage door opener again, and the door trundled obediently up. He turned and walked back into the garage, passing the Lincoln and heading for the personal door at the other end. Sam followed him.
"Short cut," he said to Sam as he opened it. "Contact address is Arden Way, isn't it?"
Sam nodded, walking through the door warily and looking around the backyard.
"Well, we're right behind it. Just over that fence." Dean pointed to the high metal fence at the end of the yard.
They scaled the fence easily, dropping to the other side and walked around the side of the house. Dean glanced at his watch and knocked on the back door. A moment later it opened, and they walked into the shadowy interior of the house.
"I was just on my way out." The elderly man looked reprovingly at them.
"Have you got it?" Sam asked bluntly, out of patience for absolutely everything.
"Right here." The man's pale, washed out eyes looked up at him. "What are you going to do with it?"
"Bury it," Dean said, "somewhere where no one will find it again."
"Good. I'm getting too old for this shit." The old man turned around and picked up a heavy metal box. "This should never have been allowed out of Heaven in the first place."
Sam nodded. "We know." He took the box and tucked it under his arm.
They turned as the sound of police sirens zeroed in on the house behind the one they stood in. Dean and Sam glanced at each other, then back to the old man.
"Well, now I can go." He said to them. "I won't say it's been a pleasure, because frankly, it hasn't. But good luck." He vanished.
From the second story of the house, they watched the police cars fill and block the road behind them. In front of the garage where they'd left the Lincoln, the green Ford, bent inwards on the driver's side, was parked skewed across the driveway. The driver was leaning across the hood, hands cuffed behind his back, as the officers swarmed in and out of the garage. Beside the car the black sports bag sat open, a police photographer taking pictures of the contents.
"See now that's the way our luck should be running," Dean said with a wide, delighted grin. "Oh, and the bonus round did go to us …" He held open his jacket and pulled something from the inner pocket, handing it to Sam.
Sam took the paper-bound wad of hundreds and fanned the end. From the other pocket, Dean pulled a second one, holding it under his nose and taking a deep breath. "Nothing like the smell of the good ol' greenback."
He put it away again, and Sam tucked his into his jacket.
"Okay." Dean closed his eyes and bowed his head slightly. "Cas, we've got it."
He opened one eye, peering around the room. "Cas?"
The sound of fluttering wings filled the room. Castiel stood behind Sam, looking more dishevelled than usual. He walked past Sam, turning as he saw the box.
"That's it?" He took the box from Sam, opening the heavy lid and looking inside. "Thank you. This is too dangerous to be left down here."
"Ah Cas, can you drop off us at Bobby's?" Dean gestured around the room. "Someone gave us a lovely bon voyage gift for the trip, and we haven't had break since we left. No way to get home."
Cas looked away, frowning slightly. "Ah … yes, I think that was probably Atropos. Cursed object."
"You KNEW about it?" Sam sputtered, staring at the angel. Cas stepped back.
"Not exactly, I couldn't keep track of you the whole time," he said, his gravelly voice regretful, "but I thought it was a bit unlikely after the train derailed."
Dean stared at him. "Cas, the train derailed in Utah. We've been running for our lives ever since."
"It couldn't be helped," Cas shrugged. "I knew you'd be able to cope."
Dean looked at Sam. "Able to cope."
Sam looked back at his brother. "He knew."
Castiel leaned forward and put his hands on their shoulders. There was a noise like the flutter of wings in the empty room.