SUMMARY: A spirit in a coastal Maine town once known as a smugglers' haven, has taken the law into his own hands. Sam and Dean set out to stop him, turning the spirit's wrath on them. Case-fic, set circa Season 2 with plenty of bro-mos and equal opportunity whumpage.
DISCLAIMER: The characters of Supernatural belong to Eric Kripke & Co. I am playing in their sandbox, with their toys, thanks to their largesse – and with much gratitude.
RATING: T for mild swearing.
WORD COUNT: 14K+
A/N: This fic first appeared in the fanzine Blood Brothers 5 and is now available for web publication. Many thanks to Teajunkie for the beta and the wonderful support during the writing process. Enjoy.
Long Arm of the Law
Dean yanked down the police tape that blocked the doorway, flicked on his flashlight, then glanced over his shoulder at Sam. When his brother gave a ready nod, he pushed open the door with the barrel of his sawed-off shotgun, blinked as his eyes adjusted to the darkness beyond, then moved quickly down the cellar stairs.
The old wooden treads groaned loudly with each step. Dean held his flashlight in his left hand, resting it atop the shotgun in his right as he swept the light around the cellar. Behind him, Sam did the same.
The lights revealed two large but empty rooms, one at the bottom of the stairs, the second beyond a large, square opening in the back wall. The floor and the walls of both rooms were stone, irregular pieces worn smooth with age and glistening with salt and moisture.
Dean stepped off the stairs, the creak of old wood replaced by the echo of boot heels on stone as he moved toward the back room. He tucked his gun under his arm, pulled the EMF meter from his pocket and turned it on; the MacGyvered Walkman crackled and whined loudly. "Yahtzee. Spook was here, too."
"That's three different buildings." Sam shone his flashlight into the back room. "How the hell is it bouncing all over town?"
Dean frowned. "All three victims drowned. All three buildings are riverfront warehouses. Could be the spook's tied to the water."
"All three were smugglers, too." Sam shook his head. "That can't be a coincidence."
"No such thing as coincidence." Dean stepped into the second room. "This is where the cops found the illegal smokes?"
Sam nodded. "Street value—close to half a million bucks."
Dean whistled. "Must've been stacked Sam-high in here." He grinned at Sam's bitchface. "Okay, victim number three washes ashore on the other side of town, but he was last seen alive heading for this room. So…" Dean took in the solid walls surrounding them, then turned back to Sam with a questioning shrug. "How'd he get in the water?"
Now it was Sam's turn to grin. "While you were getting intel on the victims, I had a chat with the guy at the historical society. Turns out this warehouse, and the others, don't just have ties to modern smuggling. All were built pre-Prohibition and were used for booze smuggling back then."
Sam waved his flashlight at the opening between the rooms. "Cops left the, um, door open after they confiscated the cigarettes, but normally..." He juggled his gun and flashlight as he pulled a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. After studying it briefly, he moved to the left side of the wall, running his fingers down the damp stones until he found a loose one and pulled it free. "…it would be closed."
Sam reached into a hole behind the loose stone, and twisted an old, rusty iron handle hidden there. The sound of stone grating against stone filled the room as the wall slid from the right to the center, sealing the opening and trapping the brothers in the now doorless room.
"Nice trick, Copperfield." Dean glared through the darkness at his brother. "Now you wanna Open Sesame our only way outta here?"
"Dude, chill." Sam twisted the ring again. The wall stayed closed, but there were more sounds of grating stone. Turning their flashlights to the source of the noise revealed that a four-foot square section of floor at the back of the room had tilted up to sit about five inches higher than the rest. "During Prohibition, ships brought booze from Europe into the bay, then smaller boats carried it upriver at night to warehouses like this. They all had secret trapdoors to the river where the launches could tie up so the booze could be unloaded into these hidden storerooms."
Dean exhaled impatiently. "Fascinating. Now get the damn wall open."
"Since when are you claustrophobic?" Sam grinned as twisted the ring in the opposite direction and the wall slid back, once again allowing access to the first room and the exit. "Steve, the guy at the historical society, said the cops opened and closed this wall a bunch of times while they were gathering evidence. They never had a problem."
"I'll be impressed later. Just—" Dean's protest was cut off by the wall sliding closed, once more sealing them inside the room. "Not funny, Sam. What the hell did you—?"
"I didn't." Sam's grin disappeared. He reached in to twist the ring again, but hissed loudly as his fingers touched the metal and yanked his hand back out.
"Sammy?" Dean's light caught the look of shock on his brother's face. "What?"
Sam shook his head. "The handle. It's…icy cold. Wasn't before." He pulled his sleeve down so it covered his hand, then reached in again to turn the ring. "Damn, it's … jammed." He exhaled, his clouding breath visible in the beam cast by Dean's flashlight.
"Crap. Guess we go out the back way." Dean crossed quickly to the trapdoor. Grabbing the iron ring handle, his face reddened with the effort of lifting the heavy hatch. "Son of a bitch... Cover me." He placed his shotgun on the floor, clamped his flashlight between his teeth and used both hands to pull up the hatch and push it over. It fell back with a loud crash, the sound echoing through the empty room. Dean was breathing heavily as he retrieved his weapon and peered down through the trapdoor.
A cold wind pushed in through the opening, carrying with it the salty smell of the tidal river that ran alongside and beneath the old warehouse. His flashlight cut through the darkness to reveal a ten-foot drop to the fast-moving, greenish-black water of the river once known as the Smuggler's Highway.
Dean pulled a face when he saw there was no ladder. "Looks like we jump. You—" He ducked instinctively as Sam blasted a shell full of salt over his head. When he looked up, the gun was still smoking and Sam was warily scanning the room.
"We've got company," was Sam's terse response by way of explanation.
Dean tightened his grip on his shotgun. "What does it look—? Sam, down!"
A ghostly figure appeared suddenly behind his brother. But Sam had no chance to duck. In tandem with Dean's warning shout, the spirit snaked an arm around Sam's throat, tightening his hold as he yanked his captive off his feet, pulled the gun from Sam's hand, and pointed it at Dean.
"Okay, son. Put down your gun and raise your hands, nice and slow." The spirit was almost as tall as Sam, his gray hair cropped close in military style, and he wore a dark suit under a rumpled overcoat. Only the occasional flicker told Dean he was a ghost and not a man. "Keep 'em high in the air where I can see 'em."
Dean had no clean shot with the spirit using Sam as a shield. He swallowed as it became apparent what the spirit was. "Damn, Sammy. He's a cop." Dean reluctantly placed the shotgun on the floor as he kept his eyes on the specter. "Look, how 'bout you let Sam go and we clear up this…misunderstanding."
"Oh, there's no misunderstanding." The spirit's expression was hard. "I've got myself a couple of lawbreakers. That's pretty cut and dried from where I stand."
Dean's heart rate sped up at the sight of Sam struggling to free himself. The spirit's arm around his neck seemed solid and his brother was choking under the pressure. Sam tried driving his elbow into his captor's gut, but it had no noticeable effect.
Dean forced a smile. "We're not smugglers. In fact, you and me, we're in the same line of work."
The spirit's mouth twisted into a sneer. "You trying to tell me you're cops?"
"No, but—" Dean took a step forward as Sam dropped his flashlight and his knees began to buckle. "Damn it, you're choking my brother. Since when is that police procedure, huh? Let him go."
"I don't think so. Men like you…" The spirit tightened his hold on Sam, "…you're used to flaunting the law and getting away with it. But not this time. Not in my town."
Sam suddenly went limp; his arms fell to his sides and his head lolled forward. As the spirit gloated in satisfaction, Dean used the momentary distraction to drop to the ground, grab his shotgun and fired over Sam's head. As Dean pulled the trigger, the spirit let go of Sam and waved his hand at the elder Winchester. Dean was flung across the room, shotgun flying from his hands as he slammed into the brick wall, and crumpled to the floor. But his shot was true and the spirit dissipated, its expression a mix of fury and incredulity.
Sam had dropped to his knees. Dean looked up in time to see him teeter briefly, then pitch forward, falling through the open trapdoor into the fast-moving water below.
"Sam!" Dean groggily lunged for his brother but grabbed only air. His chest tightened at the loud splash as Sam hit the water. He watched, horrified, as his brother disappeared beneath the churning foam, stark white against the dark water, then bobbed to the surface before being carried off, face down, by the current.
Dean tumbled through the trapdoor without ever making a conscious decision to go after Sam. He hit hard, the frigid water causing him to inhale sharply. He surfaced, coughing up water, then swiped a hand over his eyes to clear his vision as he scanned the river for Sam.
Lights from the buildings that lined the banks and pale moonlight on a thankfully clear night provided some illumination on the dark water, aiding in the search. Even so, it was luck more than keen eyesight that allowed him to catch a glimpse of a beige jacket as Sam rolled with the current.
Dean began swimming toward him, eyes glued to his brother now that he had him in sight. It was hard going, the cold water quickly sapping his strength, his water-filled boots and sodden clothes slowing him down and threatening to pull him under.
"Sam!" He hoped for some kind of response, that the cold water might have shocked Sam awake, but there was nothing. His brother still floated face down, spinning with the current as it carried him toward the Atlantic.
Heart racing, Dean kicked out harder, slowly but steadily narrowing the gap between them. He had no reference for time, no idea how long it took, only that he was shaking from the cold by the time his hand latched onto Sam's water-logged jacket. He pulled his brother to him, rolling him over and brushing aside the wet hair plastered across his face; Sam's features were lax.
Dean pressed trembling fingers to his brother's neck in search of a pulse, cursing when he couldn't find one. "Don't you do this, Sammy," he muttered as he slid a hand under Sam's wet shirts, pressing it flat over his heart. He swallowed in relief at the slow but steady rhythm that beat beneath the skin. But relief dissipated quickly as he moved his hand to Sam's right side, then his left; he could find no signs that Sam's lungs were inflating.
"Son of a—" He tilted Sam's head back, leaned in, and began rescue breathing. Worry and exertion caused his own heart to beat faster as he continued to breathe for his brother while fighting to keep them both afloat in the swift current.
The river toyed with them, spinning them through an eddy one moment, drenching them with a breaking wave the next. But Dean's focus was solely on Sam, on getting him to breathe. He was completely unaware that the current was pushing them toward shore as the river twisted to the right until his back slammed into a boulder that poked above the surface about twenty feet from the rocky riverbank. He grunted as the impact added new bruises to those already forming from his collision with the cellar wall, but any pain was quickly forgotten when Sam began moving, coughing and spitting up water as he began breathing on his own.
"Sammy?" Dean used the rock at his back for leverage as he shifted his grip on Sam, pulling his brother from the shadows and into the weak moonlight so he could see his face. He smiled as Sam's eyes slowly slid open.
Sam still had that glazed, not-quite-with-it look, but he was back. Dean patted him on the chest, then twisted him around so Sam was leaning against him, Sam's back against Dean's chest, his head supported by Dean's shoulder.
He tightened his hold to prevent the current from pulling his brother from him, and glanced over at the shore. It was both teasingly close and way too far. Under normal circumstances, it would be an easy swim but he was exhausted and freezing and Sam was basically a dead weight in his arms. Still, it wasn't like he had multiple options to pick from.
Dean adjusted his grip on Sam, then pushed off the rock toward the shore. "Hang in there, Sammy. We're getting the hell outta here."
Sam shuddered, instinctively sliding deeper under the covers to chase away the chill that had a tight hold on him.
Eyes still closed, he heard Dean talking, his brother's voice alternating with that of an unfamiliar woman. Sam peeled open his eyes, squinting against the room's fluorescent light—a room way too bright to be their motel.
He glanced to his left; Dean, wearing scrubs, sat on the edge of a bed, his back to Sam. The nurse at his side, an attractive brunette around Dean's age, smiled as she peeled the blood pressure cuff from his arm.
"Almost done," she said. "I just need to check your temperature and have a listen to your lungs."
Dean's voice turned serious. "Sam…my brother, he's out of the woods, right?"
The nurse nodded. "Like the doctor told you, after seven hours, secondary drowning is unlikely. His temperature's rebounding and his lungs are clearing nicely. We can't do a full assessment 'til he wakes up, of course, but everything looks good…I know it's hard, but try to stop worrying, huh?"
Sam frowned. Seven hours? Secondary drowning? What the hell had he missed?
The nurse gave Dean's arm a gentle squeeze. "Now, let's take care of you, okay?"
Some of the tension dissipated from Dean's shoulders. "I'm good."
The laugh lines around the nurse's brown eyes deepened as she smiled. "Let's just make sure." She pressed the thermometer into Dean's ear, released it when it beeped, then checked the readout. "Ninety-eight point three. Close to perfect."
Sam caught a glimpse of a grin as his brother looked up at the nurse.
"I'm usually a lot closer to perfect than that."
The nurse shook her head. "Considering your body temperature was barely above ninety last night, close is just what the doctor ordered." She gently turned Dean and lifted his shirt to place the stethoscope against his back.
Sam's eyes widened at the mass of mottled bruises that covered his brother's skin from his shoulders to his waist.
"Deep breath." The nurse listened as Dean complied, then shifted the scope from one side to the other. "And again." She nodded, then stepped around him to place the scope on his chest. "And one more time, inhale…and exhale."
Dean's eyes were locked on her as she worked. When she pulled the stethoscope from her ears, draped it around her neck, and picked up his chart to jot down her findings, he raised his eyebrows. "Well?"
The nurse looked up from the paperwork. "Your lungs are clear, Mr. Hetfield, your heartbeat's strong, and there's no sign of infection. You're three for three."
"Right back to perfect." Dean's grin widened. "And, um, Mr. Hetfield? That's a little formal, don't you think, since I'm sitting here in my PJs? It's Dean."
The nurse bit back a grin as she picked up a blanket. "You need to stay warm, Dean." She wrapped the blanket around his shoulders. "Make sure you retain all that body heat you've built back up."
"I can think of lots of great ways to warm up. You just—"
Sam's groan cut him off.
Dean's head snapped around to face his brother. "Sammy?"
Sam's eyes slid closed, his stomach suddenly lurching. "Feel sick."
Dean's tone was all business. "Check him out. You should get his doctor in here, too, now he's awake. He's—"
"Dean, chill." Sam grimaced at the hoarseness of his voice. "It's just..." He forced open his eyes and offered a weak smile as his stomach settled. "It's your pick-up lines that didn't agree with me."
Dean snorted. "More like the ten gallons of river water you swallowed."
The nurse was at Sam's side now, efficiently going through the process of checking his vitals. As she worked, Sam took in the fact that his hospital bed was raised to a forty-five-degree angle and the bed rails were up. The dry tickle of air under his nose told him he was fitted with an oxygen cannula. There was also an IV taped to his left hand, and a host of wires draped over his shoulder and disappearing inside the neck of his hospital shirt that obviously connected him to the bank of monitors at his bedside.
The nurse shone a light in his eyes, checking his pupil response. "You have a headache?"
Sam frowned at the light but gave his head a slight shake. "Not really."
Dean scowled, watching intently as the nurse worked. "It's a yes or no question, Sam. Which is it?"
Sam sighed. "Yes, but it's no big deal."
Dean glanced at the nurse. "Is it, or isn't it?"
"I'm going to page the doctor." The nurse eased Sam back onto the pillows after listening to his lungs, then offered a reassuring smile. "You're doing much better. You had us all worried, especially your brother, here. He's been, how do I put this politely, a royal pain in the butt making sure we take good care of you."
Sam snorted weakly. "Dean's always a pain in the ass, worried or not."
"Nice." Dean scowled across at Sam. "Asshat."
The nurse's smile returned. "Definitely brothers." She made a few notations on Sam's chart. "What do you remember, Sam? About how you got here?"
Sam pulled the covers up around his shoulders to chase away another shiver. The events that had landed him in the hospital were fuzzy, but the nurse was worried about body temperature and Dean had said something about swallowing gallons of water. That told him enough. He cleared his throat. "I, um, fell in the river…" He glanced over at Dean. "Not really sure how."
"Floor gave way in that old riverfront building." Dean glanced at the nurse. "I told you we're with ATF. We're in town checking out reports of smuggling activity."
"Dangerous line of work." The nurse—her name tag read "Tonia LeBlanc, RN"—again checked the monitors at Sam's bedside. "What about since you've been here, at the hospital? Do you remember anything before now?"
For that, Sam didn't have to stretch the truth; he had little—just jumbled glimpses of doctors and nurses coming and going. "Not really." He cleared his throat again and grimaced. "Throat hurts." As the nurse glanced away, he winked at Dean to let him know it was a ruse to cut off questions rather than a legitimate complaint.
"I'm sorry, that's enough for now." Tonia flipped closed the chart and clipped it to the base of the bed. "We had you on a ventilator for part of the night until your lungs cleared. That's why your throat's sore."
Sam nodded. That would do it, as would being choked by the spirit that had snuck up on him in the cellar. That he remembered clearly. He never got a look at his attacker but the memory of the pressure against his throat, of not being able to breathe, returned with a vengeance.
Tonia smiled as she straightened Sam's blankets. "Your temperature's almost back to normal and your lungs are clearing nicely, both really good signs. It's the doctor's call, of course, but I don't think we'll have to keep you much longer." She patted his shoulder. "Just relax and I'll go let him know you're awake." With a nod to Dean, she crossed the room and disappeared into the corridor beyond.
The minute she was out of sight, Dean was on this feet and moving to Sam's bedside. "No B.S., Sammy. Gimme the 411 straight."
Sam pulled the cannula from under his nose. "I'm cold and my head hurts, but it's nothing another blanket and a couple of Tylenol won't fix." He waved his hand at Dean's back. "What happened to you?"
"I saw your back."
"Oh. Ghost cop tossed me just before I took him out." Dean grabbed the blanket he'd been wrapped in and laid it over Sam. "No big deal."
Sam was staring hard at Dean. "How bad is it?"
"It looks like the three victims we're investigating are just the latest in a long line. I made some calls while you were sleeping. There's at least a dozen more unsolved drownings, dating back decades. All victims had criminal records, most for smuggling. We need—"
"I meant your back, Dean." Sam waited for his brother to make eye contact. "How bad is it?"
Dean waved his hand dismissively. "Don't be a grandma. It's just a bruise."
Sam's gaze jumped to the slept-in bed Dean stood beside. "Hospitals don't keep you overnight for 'just a bruise.'"
Dean shifted impatiently. "The ER docs just got their panties in a twist because I jumped into the river to save your soggy butt. Seem to think October's a little chilly for a midnight swim." Dean frowned at Sam's puzzled look. "You don't remember being in the river?"
Sam shook his head.
Dean sat down on his bed. "No surprise. You were out cold before you hit the water. The spirit choked you out and you fell through the trapdoor. I jumped in, dragged you out of the river and flagged down a passing car. They called 911, ambulance brought us here. The rest you know."
Sam studied his brother. Dean was downplaying the situation, a habit honed over the years to protect Sam when things were bad. It frustrated him at times, had even pissed him off when he was younger, until he'd come to accept it was just part of who Dean was. Always would be. Hell, when they were ninety, if they lived that long, Dean's protective streak would still be in full force. He grinned at a sudden mental image of the two of them shuffling along as old men, about to step off a curb to cross the street. "Watch your step there, Sammy. You break a hip, they'll have to break into the dinosaur museum to find you a new one."
"Sammy?" Dean was looking at him curiously.
"It's nothing, just…" Sam shivered as he nodded at Dean. "Thanks…for saving my 'soggy butt.'"
"Again." Dean's eyes stayed serious above his grin. "Besides, you saw the nurse. Very hot. No way was I letting you have her all to yourself."
Sam shook his head as he slowly pushed himself up. "Look, you wanna bust out of this joint, just say the word. I'm good to go."
Dean snorted. "Right"
Sam shot his brother a glare. "We've got a spirit to gank, right? We know it's a cop," he threw back the covers, shivering involuntarily, "but we still need a name. Any leads?"
"He's not a beat cop. The way he talked, the way he dressed, he was a detective or a fed. Kind of had an Elliott Ness vibe." Dean tracked Sam's movements as he swung his legs over the side of the bed with a groan. "Could only get so far making calls from in here, so I called Bobby. Asked him to do some digging, get back to us when—"
He was interrupted by his Metallica ringtone. Dean snatched up the phone from the nightstand between the beds and shook his head when he saw the caller ID. "How the hell does he do that? Hey, Bobby." He listened for a moment, then glanced over at Sam. "He's awake. Ask him yourself."
Hitting the speaker button, Dean replaced the phone on the nightstand. Bobby's voice came across clearly. "Hey, kid. You back among us?"
Sam peeled off the tape holding the IV lines in place. "Ignore what Dean's been telling you. I'm good."
A snort came across the phone. "If you didn't sound like you'd been gargling with rusty nails, I might believe you. But you're breathing and bitching, which is two better than last night, so I'll take it."
Dean glanced at the phone. "You got anything for us?"
"No name yet." Bobby sighed. "But, besides being lawbreakers, all the victims have one other thing in common."
"What?" Sam and Dean asked the question in unison.
"You two practice that?" Bobby didn't wait for an answer. "In every case, cops nabbed them and charges were laid, but none did time. They either worked a deal—aboveboard or otherwise – got their case tossed on a technicality or disappeared while out on bail. In other words, they butted heads with the law and pretty much got away with it."
Sam looked over at Dean. "Like we do on almost every case—butt heads with the law, I mean. Guess that's why he came after us."
"If the law doesn't reel 'em in, he takes them out." Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "I got a good look at him. If we could find some photos, I could ID him…yank his badge for good."
"We could try to get access to the police archives." Sam winced as he pulled the IV needle from his arm. "Or, if he had a big bust on his record, there's a good chance the local paper or historical society has photos on file."
"Good." The sound of Bobby's chair squeaking came across the phone. "I've got another possibility, too. Retired cop by the name of Frank Bryden. He's in his eighties now, turned his badge in over twenty years ago, but he had a pretty impressive arrest record in his day, especially when it came to smugglers. Other cops seemed to think he was born with a horseshoe up his ass but, talking to an old hunter friend in that neck of the woods, it's likely something more than dumb luck."
Dean leaned forward, intrigued. "In what way?"
Bobby sighed. "Joe Casey's been hunting on the east coast for almost thirty years. He crossed paths with Frank while working a few cases. More than once, he thought he saw a spirit hanging around Frank. Frank wasn't talking, but Joe's convinced he knew it was there."
Dean glanced over at Sam. "Helping him do his job, or cleaning up when he didn't?"
"Either, or both."
Sam frowned. "Joe didn't look into it further?"
"Spirit didn't kill anybody when he was in town so he didn't dig deeper. Body count started amping up a few years later. Over time, it's got less and less picky who it goes after."
"Yeah." Dean winced as he rubbed his back. "Like us."
Bobby's chair creaked again. "Most of his victims deserve some time behind bars or, in your case, a kick in the ass but from what I can tell, none has done anything to warrant the death penalty."
Sam pushed himself off the bed, closing his eyes against a wave of dizziness. When he opened them, Dean was watching him intently but said nothing. Sam turned to the phone. "Sounds like we need to have a chat with Frank. You got an address?"
"Yeah." There was more shuffling of papers. "196 Teller Street." Bobby's voice softened. "And watch your backs, would ya? I don't like getting phone calls at two in the morning telling me one of you is on a respirator and the other's doing a damn fine impression of an ice cube."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Love you, too, grandma."
"Idjits." Bobby hung up.
Sam stared through the office window at the water on the horizon glinting in the early afternoon sunlight. "I thought that was the Atlantic out there."
"Technically, it is." Steve Bailey, curator of the St. Croix Historical Society, grinned as he passed Sam a cup of coffee. "But around these parts, we call it the Bay of Maine." He filled his own cup, then sat down at his desk to face the brothers. "And there are hundreds of islands out there in the bay where smugglers' ships would anchor and unload their cargo for pickup by smaller boats to run upriver. Booze, drugs, cigarettes, people…it's all been tried at some point."
Dean glanced to where Steve was pointing. "We're interested specifically in smuggling operations around the Prohibition era."
Steve nodded. "At that time, the schooners were mostly coming down from St-Pierre, the French island up in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. As a French territory, it got regular shipments from Europe: wine, champagne, scotch…all the good stuff craved by bluebloods along the east coast who couldn't stomach bathtub gin. The smugglers would load up in St-Pierre, sail down here, then weigh anchor out in the bay. The riverboats would take over from there."
Dean took a sip of his coffee, then set the mug on the edge of the desk. "The cops, the Coast Guard…they couldn't shut 'em down?"
"They caught some, others slipped through." Steve shrugged. "And when the waters got too hot, the smugglers just shipped the booze overland through Canada. Either trucked it across the border at night, or ran it down the St. Croix River, which starts north of the border and flows right into town. Feds, local police, even Mounties worked together to shut down land operations but, like with anything else, the criminals always seemed to be two steps ahead of law enforcement." His face creased with embarrassment as he glanced from Dean to Sam, who had introduced themselves as ATF officers. "Um, no offense."
"None taken." Dean winked at Sam. "Things always get done a lot faster when you skip the rules and the paperwork." He turned back to Steve and leaned forward conspiratorially. "Look, this isn't public knowledge, so we'd appreciate you keeping it under wraps, but we believe we have a smuggling ring in town intent on taking over the region. Our job is to find out where they're operating and shut them down."
Steve's eyes widened. "Is this, um, ring responsible for those murders I've read about?"
Sam nodded tersely. "It's a possibility, but we're still gathering information."
Steve shook his head. "This is a quiet town. We'll always have to deal with smugglers because of our location, but we don't get a lot of violent crime. These murders—"
"If we do our job, we'll put a stop to them." Dean smiled tightly. "Now, getting a look at your Prohibition archives could be a big help to us in putting the pieces together."
Steve frowned. "Can I ask how looking at—"
"The smuggling ring seems to be using routes and buildings first established during Prohibition." Sam's expression was all business, cutting off further inquiries. "We're simply covering all the bases."
"Of course." Steve set down his mug on the desk, pulled open a drawer, and withdrew a set of keys. "Our archives are on the lower level…mostly hard copy and microfiche, I'm afraid. We're still fundraising to computerize everything." He handed the keys to Sam. "There are three cabinets at the back of the room clearly marked Prohibition. They're well-organized but if you need any help, just give me a shout. I'll be happy to help."
"We will." Sam pushed himself up and offered Steve his hand. "Thanks. But for now, if you could just point us in the right direction."
Steve gestured at the door. "Take the stairs all the way to the bottom. It's the first door on the left. But if you have any calls to make, make them at the street level. Cell phones don't work well in the basement." He shrugged. "Old building. Walls are too thick."
"Good to know." Dean's chair squeaked as he stood up. "Thanks for your help." Like Sam, he shook Steve's hand, then followed his brother out the door, closing it behind him.
The brothers' first stop of the day had been at the police archives. After a full morning of research, they'd added another dozen names to the list of the spirit's likely victims, but there were few photos of cops in the files and none that Dean recognized as the spirit that had attacked them in the warehouse cellar. There had been no answer when they'd called Frank Bryden's home, so they'd headed next to the historical society. Steve had been more than helpful, but to find what they needed, they still faced an afternoon of sifting through years of musty files.
Sam pushed open the door to the stairs and jogged down. As he reached the landing at street level, he stopped and offered the archive keys to Dean. "Let's cut our time in half. You go through the files, I'll try to round up the retired cop."
Dean's face fell as he glanced from Sam down the stairs to the archive. "Why do you—?"
"I didn't see the spook, Dean." Sam shrugged apologetically.
"Yeah, yeah," Dean huffed as he dug the Impala keys from this pocket and tossed them to Sam. "But remember, we missed lunch. On your way back, stop for burgers, extra onions. And don't be surprised if you find me snoring down there."
Sam smiled. "Later."
"But, Sam..." Dean, already moving down the stairs, grinned over his shoulder. "If I'm smiling, let me sleep. Trust me, I can dream up far better things than anything that room can offer."
"TMI, dude." Sam shook his head, pushed open the door and disappeared into the street.
Sam looked on as a white-haired man he believed to be Frank Bryden walked slowly up the front path to his house, unlocked the door, and disappeared inside. Sam shoved open the door of the Impala and was about to step out when his phone rang. Dean's name appeared on the screen. "Hey. You find anything?"
"Dude, where's my burger? You've been gone hours."
Sam shook his head. "I'll take that as a no."
"Just tell me you're on your way back here with food."
"Bryden wasn't home." Sam glanced up at the house across the street. "One of his neighbors said he had a doctor's appointment, wouldn't be gone long, so I stuck around. I've been making some calls, talking to cops, but they're not giving me anything we don't already know. "
"So you haven't even talked to Frank yet?"
"He just got back." Sam unfolded himself out of the car, slammed shut the door, and crossed the street toward the retired cop's house. "I'm about to right now."
"How long you think you're gonna be?"
"I dunno. Depends what I can get." Sam listened to the ambient sounds behind Dean's voice. "Your phone's working so you're not in the archive room. Where are you?"
"At the restaurant across the street."
Sam frowned. "Then why're you pushing me to bring food."
Dean's voice was decidedly cranky now. "It's called The Veggie Garden, Sam. Only place in walking distance, according to Steve, and there's not a damn thing on the menu that doesn't have bean sprouts in it."
"Oh." Sam bit back a smile. "Just get coffee. I'll bring you a burger when I'm done here."
"It's decaf, Sam. All they have is organically grown, free-trade decaf. And when I didn't jump at that, the chick behind the counter tried to sell me on the house special—carrot juice. Told me it would make my eyes sparkle. I don't wanna freaking sparkle. I want coffee – fully leaded."
Sam shook his head. Boredom always made Dean testy. "Get some from Steve. It wasn't great but it was caffeinated."
Dean sighed loudly. "Steve had a meeting at city hall. Left me a map of all the Prohibition buildings in town and the key to the front door to lock up when I leave, but not the key to his office. Which is why I'm at The Veggie Garden, waiting for my grande black decaf and tofu burger on a 270-grain bun."
"Forget it. Just talk to Frank and get something we can work with. If I have to eat bean sprouts and look at more dusty, old pictures, I'm gonna drown myself in my decaf."
Sam smiled. "The map Steve gave you, it offer any clues?"
"Only that this freaking ghost covers more turf than the Steelers' defense. I cross-checked the information from the police files against the map: all the victims ended up in the water, but they disappeared from buildings all over town—some on the water, some not. To repeat your earlier question, how the hell is it bouncing around like that?"
Sam frowned as he glanced up at Frank Bryden's house. "Hopefully I'll find out by talking to Frank."
"Yeah." Dean's voice was muffled for a moment as he pulled the phone away from his mouth. "That's me. I'll be right there. Can't wait." His attention returned to Sam. "My food, if you can call it that, is ready. I'll head back to the archives and try not to choke on a bean sprout."
Sam's smile returned. "I'll bring real food on the way to pick you up."
"Burgers…and pie. Blueberry…no, cherry. Cherry pie."
"Don't forget the pie, Sammy."
Sam hung up the phone, shoved it in his pocket, and rang the doorbell.
It was opened a few moments later by the tall, slightly stooped man Sam had seen a few moments earlier. His hair was thick and snow white, his complexion ruddy and his blue eyes clear and sharp. Sam had no doubt they were assessing him in much the same way he was the veteran police officer. "Frank Bryden?"
Sam flashed his badge. "I'm Sam Jones with the ATF. We're investigating the smuggling operations based in this town that seem to be connected to three murders, possibly more. I think you may have some information that can help us."
Dean pushed open the door to the archive room and took a sip of his decaf, grimacing at the taste. "Oh, come on! On what planet does this qualify as coffee?"
He set down the cup in disgust. Holding the paper bag containing his food in his teeth, he slipped off his suit jacket and loosened his tie. After hanging his jacket on the seat back, he flopped into the chair and rolled it in front of the microfiche machine. He pulled a face as he unrolled the paper bag and pulled out his tofu burger. "Pretend it's meat, Dean. Pretend it's meat," he muttered as he peeled back the paper wrapper and took a bite. His grimace deepened with each chew. He swallowed with difficulty and shuddered for effect. "Ugh. Nobody's imagination's that good. The paper bag it came in would taste better."
He dropped the burger back into the bag, shoved it to one side, then flicked the switch on the microfiche machine. The screen flickered to life, revealing a page of a newspaper from 1927. Dean had spent his time in the archive viewing the hard copy Prohibition files, which were grouped by year, starting in 1919 and continuing through to 1932. Each time the files offered a potential lead, he turned to microfiched newspapers, hoping for more details and, if he was lucky, photographs.
Until now, it had been one dead end after another. But the 1927 file featured extensive accounts of one of the biggest raids ever to take place in the town. Ten thousand bottles of fine European liquors had been confiscated and seven smugglers, including one thought to be a kingpin in east coast operations, had been arrested. Dean scanned through the words on the screen and reached for his coffee out of habit as he turned the dial to move to the next page. His hand froze over the cup as a black and white photograph came into focus at the top of the new page. It featured a group of police officers proudly posing in front of a large stash of confiscated liquor.
Most wore uniforms, but one man off to the left wore a fedora and a long, beige trench coat. Beneath the brim of the hat, the face was familiar; it was the spirit who'd attacked them at the warehouse.
Coffee forgotten and heart racing, Dean began reading through the story attached to the photo. No identifying names were listed with the caption, but the story said the operation had been under the command of the newly promoted Captain Caldwell Pritchard.
Dean stared again at the man in the photo. "Is that your name, huh? Captain Pritchard?" He reached into his pocket for his phone, then cursed at the No signal message on the screen. He shoved back his chair and stood up, wheeling around to head for street level where he could get the call through and pass on this latest info to Sam.
He stopped dead when a figure blocked his path. Dean offered a tight smile. "Captain Pritchard. You get around. "
The spirit glowered back at him. "It's my town, son, and I have a job to do. I go where I'm needed. And since you seem determined to stop me, I need to stop you."
Dean's fingers twitched as he thought about the gun nestled in the small of his back. "Hate to nitpick here, but your badge was retired the minute they put you six feet under."
Pritchard smiled. "I'll retire when this town's cleaned up. Not a moment before."
Dean snorted. "Fine but, nitpicking again, your job is to toss the bad guys behind bars, not into the harbor."
The spirit shrugged. "For years, that's just what I did. But you know what? The slimier they are, the easier it is for them to worm their way out of trouble. A lie here, pay off a judge there, and they're back in business, living the high life. The law can't keep up." He shook his head. "My way, there's no worming their way out of anything."
The moment Pritchard's gaze shifted, Dean reacted. He dropped his phone, pulled his gun from his waistband, clicked off the safety, and fired.
The spirit vanished.
The room was silent except for Dean's harsh breathing. He scanned the room, gun still at the ready, finger still on the trigger. He didn't know if he'd hit the spirit or not.
A sudden chill behind him gave him the answer, and it wasn't the one he'd hoped for.
He spun around, depressing the trigger the second he made eye contact, but this time Pritchard was faster. A billy club materialized in the spirit's hand and he swung it viciously, connecting with the side of Dean's head.
Dean went down hard, crashing into his chair as he fell. He was out cold before he hit the floor.
"What exactly are you saying?" Frank sat in his recliner at the side of the fire, his eyes locked on his guest.
Sam held the retired officer's gaze. "I'm saying you were a good cop, Frank, but I think you had a little help when it came to racking up that impressive arrest record."
"'Course I did, kid." Frank's schooled expression slipped a little, revealing his suspicion over visitor's motives. "You don't have your fellow officers backing you up, you're dead."
Sam took his opening. "Except, in your case, your backup was the spirit of a dead cop."
Frank's eyes widened in shock, but he recovered quickly. "I think you're a little old to still believe in ghost stories."
Sam smiled. "Oh, I'd bet good money I'm not the only one in this room who knows ghosts are real." He leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. "Let me guess—the spirit ferreted out the bad guys for you, led you right to them, then let you take the credit. At least initially."
Frank was losing the battle to maintain his composure. He rose slowly to his feet, his arms shaking as he pushed himself up, but more from anger than age. "Get out of my house."
Sam stood too, his arms spread wide in a placating gesture. "Then something changed. The spirit started killing. He's behind these drowning deaths, isn't he?"
Frank shook his head. "Are you listening to yourself? Only thing that kind of talk gets you is locked up in a rubber room."
Sam lowered his hands. "He has to be stopped, Frank, before he kills anyone else. I can do that. I can stop him, but I need your help."
Frank pointed a shaking finger at his door. "I asked you to leave."
Sam took a step toward Frank. "I will. Just give me the name of the spirit so I can get rid of him."
Frank stared hard at Sam. "Who the hell are you? You're not ATF, that's for damn sure."
"No." Sam sensed Frank's defenses give a little. "My name is Sam Winchester. My brother and I…this is what we do. I know it must've been tough, to believe what you were seeing was real but, trust me, it is."
Frank placed a hand on the chair at his side to steady himself. His voice was quiet. "You've seen him…it?"
Sam nodded. "He attacked me. Probably would've killed us if my brother hadn't stopped him."
Frank's eyes narrowed. "He only goes after criminals…"
"I'm not a criminal." Sam scrubbed a hand down his face. "Not in the big picture sense, anyway. But we…bend the law to get rid of dangerous spirits like this." He took another step toward Frank. "You know he's gonna kill again unless you help me stop him."
Frank stumbled around the chair and sank into it. His knuckles whitened as he tightly gripped the arms of his recliner. "The first time I saw him…I thought I'd lost my mind." He shook his head. "I mean…I saw them put him in the ground. I helped carry his casket."
Sam sat on the sofa. "What's his name, Frank?"
The retired cop stared at Sam for a moment before dropping his gaze. "Caldwell Pritchard. He was my captain, my mentor for my first five years on the force. He was a good man. Solid as they come."
Sam nodded; they had a name. "When did you first see him? As a spirit, I mean."
Frank pushed himself up and walked over to a bookcase that flanked the fireplace. "It was in '56, a few months after his funeral. We got a report that dope smugglers were using one of the old warehouses on the river. My partner and I went to investigate. We split up, and when I started down the cellar stairs…there was the captain, motioning for me to follow him." He glanced back at Sam. "I thought I'd lost it. He seemed so damn real. But when he yelled out, 'Move it, Bryden,' I did. He led me right to the smuggler. He was out cold, right beside the stash of drugs he was about to ship out." Frank pulled a battered leather photo album off the shelf. "I ran to the stairs to call for my partner…and when I turned back, the captain was gone.
Sam watched Frank intently. "Anyone else ever see his ghost?"
Frank shook his head. "No one ever said anything to me, and I sure as hell never told anyone what I was seeing. I mean, unless you're talking Halloween, you'd be crazy to believe in ghosts, right?
Sam snorted softly as he sat back. "You'd be surprised what's out there."
Frank stared again at his visitor, seemingly incredulous that after years of thinking he was losing his mind, there was finally someone who believed him. "After that first time, it was almost a year before I saw the captain again. That time, he led me to a chop shop." He crossed the room to his recliner, and lowered himself into the chair. "And so it went, for the rest of my career. Every time some smuggler tried to set up shop here, rub our noses in it, the captain would take him down, then call me in for the clean up."
Sam's eyes narrowed. "Why smugglers?"
Frank smiled. "That was the captain's thing. He waged a war on smuggling all through his career. Called it a blight on this town. And he sure didn't like it much when the feds rolled in here during Prohibition and started telling him how to do his job. Vowed it would never happen again. Had a near perfect record, too."
Sam frowned. "Just near perfect?"
Frank nodded. "The brains behind one big booze smuggling ring paid off a judge. Walked away without ever seeing the inside of a jail cell." He shook his head. "It was common knowledge Judge Fennety was on the take, but the bastard covered his tracks well. We never had any proof to nail him with. The captain had already filed retirement papers when Fennety took the bench so he never got the chance to go after him again. That case haunted the captain for the rest of his days."
"That's likely why he became a vengeful spirit." At Frank's puzzled look, Sam shrugged. "Ghosts are spirits that have unfinished business. Instead of moving on, they stick around…and the longer they stick around, the angrier they get."
"Angry enough to kill?" When Sam nodded, Frank glanced down at the album in his lap, turned a few pages, and stared at a photo. "Just after I retired, he showed up here and gave me an address. I couldn't make the arrest myself, so I called it in. Said I'd got a tip from an old source. They nabbed the smuggler, laid the charges…but they didn't stick."
Sam frowned. "Why not?"
"Judge Fennety again – his last case in a long, crooked career. He said the cops didn't have just cause to enter the property, so the suspect walked on a technicality. The captain showed up here that night. I'd never seen him so angry. He said Fennety, the smugglers, they all thought they were above the law, but that they'd answer to smuggler's law."
Sam leaned forward, intrigued. "Smuggler's law?"
"You cross a smuggler, they drown you." A haunted expression crossed Frank's face. "The smuggler's body washed up on shore a few days later, rope burns on his wrists and ankles." He looked up at Sam. "The judge drowned a few days later. Same M.O." Frank shook his head. "I never saw the captain again."
Sam sat back. "He didn't need you anymore. He was taking care of things himself."
Frank pulled an envelope from behind a large photo in the album. Inside was a sheaf of yellowed newspaper clippings. "Over the years, each time a smuggler washed up, the cops went after rivals. Sometimes they were able to pin it on someone. Sometimes the cases went unsolved. But every time I read the stories," he leafed through the clippings, "I wondered if the captain was still…cleaning up." Frank's expression was troubled as he again looked up at Sam. "What you said before, about getting angrier and angrier the longer he's a spirit… If you stop him…will he be at peace?"
Sam chewed his lip; he didn't want to lie to Frank, but he didn't want to tell him his mentor had likely earned himself a place in Hell, either. "He'll move on. What happens beyond that, none of us knows." He frowned as he recalled something Frank had said a few moments earlier. "You said the captain's spirit showed up here, at your home?"
"Where else did you see him?"
Frank tapped the photo album as he sifted through his memories. "At the station, at the warehouses by the river, down by the docks, even on the old police boat he used to ride around the bay in." He frowned. "Why?"
Sam raked his fingers through his hair. "It's just… ghosts are usually tied to a specific place or thing. A building, a room, a piece of jewelry…something that means something to them. I've never known one be able to wander the way the captain does, at least not without possessing someone."
Frank turned a few pages of the album, staring down at a photo. "This was the captain's town. He knew every building, every street, every island in the bay. He was never one to stay behind a desk. Even when he earned his stripes, he was out on patrol every day, on foot, in a car, or on the water."
"And in death, he kept doing the same thing – still walking his beat." Sam glanced over at the photo that had captured Frank's attention. "Is that a picture of him?"
Frank nodded, handing the book to Sam. "Top photo, right-hand page. That's me and him outside the station the day I passed probation."
The photo featured a young, skinny Frank in a uniform that looked two sizes too big, shaking the hand of an older man who fit the description of the spirit Dean had seen. But it was the building behind the two that caught Sam's attention. He turned the book to face Frank, tapping the photo. "You said outside the police station, but this is the historical society building. I was just there."
Frank nodded. "It is now, but back then it was the police station. We moved downtown in the '60s, then they built a big new stationhouse out by the interstate in the '80s, but the captain served his entire career at that building on Tupper Street. Why?"
Sam stood quickly, snapping the album shut. "I've gotta go."
Frank stood too, his face creasing into a puzzled frown. "But—"
"My brother's in that building." Sam yanked his phone from his pocket. "I've gotta warn him that the captain can get to him there."
Frank straightened up, the old man he'd become giving way to the officer he once was. "I wanna help. What can I do?"
Sam dialed Dean's number. It went straight to voicemail, which told him his brother was likely back in the archive room. He looked over at Frank. "Where is Captain Pritchard buried?"
Frank's frown returned. "At Cliffside Cemetery…far end of town. Why?"
"Like I said, we know how to take care of him but I've gotta check on my brother first." Sam yanked open the front door, glancing briefly over his shoulder as he stepped outside. "Thanks."
Frank followed him to the door. "You need any help, son, you call me. I was there at the start of this. I'd like to help end it."
Sam nodded tersely, closed the door behind him and jogged down the front steps to the Impala. He redialed Dean's number and, predictably, got voice mail again. "Damn it." As he yanked open the car door, he scrolled through his address book to Bobby's number and hit send.
"Sam? What's up?"
"I need a favor."
The front door to the historical society building was unlocked. That meant Dean was inside. Or…
Sam swallowed as he pulled open the door, then charged down the stairs to the archives. That door was also open. As Sam skidded to a stop inside the room, his chest tightened. The room's lone chair was tipped over. A cardboard coffee cup on the table beside the microfiche machine was upended and dripping coffee onto the floor, each drip joining the large puddle already spreading across the tiles, soaking into Dean's abandoned suit jacket. Beside the jacket lay Dean's phone and his gun.
Sam's heart was racing as he stared at the gun. Beyond the obvious signs of a struggle, Dean's abandoned weapon confirmed Sam's fears above all else: Dean didn't leave voluntarily.
Sam bent down to pick up his brother's gun, phone, and jacket, considering his next move. If the spirit had Dean, it meant to kill him. But where the hell would it take him? All the captain's victims had ended up in the water, but none of the reports Sam had read stated where they'd been dumped.
Sam left the building quickly, grabbing his phone and dialing Frank's number as he walked. "Frank. It's Sam Winchester."
Frank didn't waste time on pleasantries. "You find your brother?"
Sam swallowed. "No. Looks like Pritchard's got him."
"What can we do?"
Sam mentally sifted through all the details of the case. "Where would it take him?"
"Think, Frank. All the victims were drowned. Where would he drop them in the water?"
Frank's silence as he considered the possibilities seemed interminable. Sam slammed shut the Impala door in frustration and fired the engine. "Frank, come on."
"I think I know. I can take you there. Meet me at the town dock."
Dean groaned, the drum solo in his head reverberating through his skull. He peeled open his eyes and reached for his aching head, only to startle awake when he realized he couldn't.
His hands were tied securely behind his back. As he tried sitting up, he discovered his ankles were lashed too.
Dean's vision slid in and out of focus as he awkwardly pushed himself up. He shivered in the cold wind, his damp dress shirt clinging to the contours of his chest, his skin sticky with salt. His eyes widened when the ground beneath him shifted suddenly.
It was then it clicked that it wasn't the ground at all, but the deck of a boat. He glanced around, still fighting to keep his eyesight in focus. He lay at the back of what appeared to be an old police boat, bobbing gently with the swells mid-bay. Behind him was the open ocean, beyond the mouth of the bay. In front, there was a small, C-shaped island that blocked most of his view of the town behind it.
Dean snapped his head to the right. The spirit of Captain Caldwell Pritchard stood next to him. "No thanks to you, you son of a bitch. Why the hell are we out here?"
"To pass sentence." Pritchard smiled tightly. "I waited until you were awake, to make sure you understand. There is no escaping the law. You break it, you pay—one way, or another."
Dean strained against his bonds, but there was little give in the rope. "I told you before, I'm no smuggler."
Pritchard stared at him, his eyes dark and cold, any trace of the man he once was long gone. "I watched you impersonate officers, contaminate a crime scene, access information you had no right to see. All in an attempt to stop me from doing my job. I call that criminal behaviour."
Dean was still struggling to free himself but making little progress. "You saw all that, huh? Damn, but you get around. What the hell happened to ghosts being stuck in one place?"
"This is my place,"Pritchard hissed. "This whole town is mine. You break the law here, there are consequences." The spirit flickered, disappeared, then reappeared at the stern of the boat. Dean whipped his head around in time to see Pritchard wave his hand at the stern and the gate that spanned almost the entire width drop down with a loud splash, forming a ramp into the water.
It was then Dean noticed two large burlap sacks at Pritchard's feet. Each was filled with fifty pounds of salt, if the red ink label on the fabric was correct. Rope lashed the two sacks together, with one long piece trailing free across the deck. He shifted uneasily. "Oh, that can't be good."
Pritchard grabbed the loose end of the rope, crouched beside Dean, and quickly lashed it to those already binding his prisoner's ankles. "You've been found guilty." He smiled coldly. "The law must be upheld."
Dean was starting to sweat despite the chill in the air. "I'm curious. How exactly does murder fit with upholding the law, huh?"
"It's justice, not murder," Pritchard offered evenly. "If the law can't catch you, I will." His eyes narrowed as he looked up at Dean. "Oh, and don't you worry. When I'm done with you, that brother of yours is the next on my list."
"You leave him alone, you son of a bitch." Dean's gaze jumped between the spirit, the sacks of salt, and the water lapping into the boat. He needed to stall until he could figure a way out of this mess. "Look, from what I hear, once upon a time, you were a good cop. You gotta know that what you're doing is all kinds of messed up. You—"
Dean ducked instinctively as the crack of a shotgun blast cut off his protest, but glanced up in time to see the spirit dissipate as the salt shot slammed into it.
Dean snapped his head in the direction the shot came from. Another boat was gliding silently toward them from around the tiny island, its engine turned off. Sam stood on the narrow bow of the deck that wrapped around the wheelhouse, leaning against the railing, his shotgun now lowered to chest height but his finger still on the trigger.
"Dean!" his brother's deep voice boomed across the water. "Y'okay?"
"Okay's a relative term." Dean's heart was still pounding against his chest. "But yeah." He winced as he pushed himself up. "Cutting it a little close there, Sammy."
Sam snorted. "Needle in haystack, dude, just to find you. How 'bout a thanks?"
It was Dean's turn to snort. "I'll thank you when you get my ass back on dry land. You know I hate boats."
Sam glanced at the wheelhouse behind him, nodded, then quickly reloaded the shotgun. "Look, we've gotta fire up the engines to pull alongside. Hang tight."
Dean rolled his eyes. "I ain't going anywhere."
The boat's engine came roaring to life. Sam dropped a hand from his shotgun to grab the railing as the boat veered sharply to port. He turned back to Dean and his expression changed instantly. He shouted something, his words lost under the growl of the boat motors, but the speed with which Sam raised his shotgun told Dean all he needed to know. His head snapped to the left. Caldwell Pritchard had reappeared behind him.
The spirit smirked down at him. "I never leave a job unfinished."
Sam's shotgun boomed, this time hitting Pritchard square in the back. Again, he dissipated, but not before he'd waved his hand at the sacks of salt sitting near the stern of the boat, pushing them off the ramp.
Dean could only watch helplessly as the sacks plunged into the water. The rope attached to them uncoiled rapidly, then pulled taut, jerking Dean across the deck of the boat, down the ramp and into the water. He barely had time to inhale before he was pulled beneath the surface.
"Dean!" Sam watched, horrified, as his brother was dragged off the boat and into the bay, pulled under by the weight tied to his legs. "Frank, stop the boat!" he yelled, his focus locked on the spot where Dean disappeared.
The engines cut out immediately and Frank swung the boat to port.
Sam kicked off his shoes, yanked off his jacket and jammed the shotgun and a handful of shells into Frank's hands as the retired cop appeared beside him. "Watch for Pritchard. When he shows up, blast him with this." With that, he vaulted over the railing and launched himself into the water.
He hit hard, the force of the jump driving him close to ten feet below the surface. He ignored the sting of saltwater on his eyes and the numbing cold against his skin as he focused on finding Dean. But even as the bubbles around him dissipated, the murky gray of the water made visibility difficult. He turned himself around, searching the water below him, his vision darting each time a shadow moved, but there was no sign of Dean. Sam glanced up. He could just make out the hulls of the two boats. Using their position to triangulate where Dean had been dragged under, he jackknifed his body, then began swimming farther from the surface, strong strokes pulling him downward. He peered through the water, twisting his head from left to right, searching for any sign of his brother until his lungs were empty. He punched the water in frustration, and kicked for the surface.
He broke through, coughing up water and gasping in air, tremors rippling through him as the cold tightened its grip. As he inhaled, ready to dive under again, he heard Frank yelling. Sam scrubbed a hand over his face, wiping the water from his eyes, and squinted up at the boat.
Frank was gesturing to Sam's right. "Over there," he shouted. "We've drifted. He should be over there."
Sam, shivering visibly now, nodded, turned in the direction Frank pointed, and once more dove under the surface. This time he swam downward at a forty-five-degree angle rather than straight down. He searched frantically, the cold quickly sapping his strength, fear stealing his air far faster than exertion.
Tied up as Dean was, the weight around his ankles would just keep pulling him down until he hit bottom, and Sam had no idea how deep the water was in this part of the bay. He could only pray his brother had somehow managed to Houdini himself free, that he'd suddenly bump into Dean as he swam for the surface under his own steam, flashing Sam a What?-You-didn't-think-I'd-get-myself-out-of-this-mess? grin. Hell, he'd done it before in seemingly impossible situations, so why not this one?
That faint hope was dashed when a flash of color in the murky water caught Sam's attention. It was Dean's red tie, stark against the white of his dress shirt, and waving in slow motion in the underwater currents. Dean wasn't moving. He was upright, the rope around his ankles stretched taut to the sacks of salt that had dragged him under. His hands were bound behind his back, his eyes open but unseeing, his mouth lax.
The sight sent a chill through Sam that had nothing to do with the water temperature. He kicked out, pushing himself toward his brother, eyes widening as he drew closer. The salt sacks had landed at the edge of a sandy shelf and the weight was causing the ledge to crumble. As it gave way, the sacks tipped further and further toward the edge, beyond which was nothing but dark water hiding unfathomable depths. If they went over with Dean still tied to them…
Sam felt sick as he frantically tried to undo the rope that bound Dean's ankles. The pressure in his chest was building, the cold stealing his co-ordination. It took conscious effort to fight the reflex to open his mouth and inhale. He knew he should resurface, refill his lungs, and return to his brother but he couldn't leave Dean. What if he couldn't find him again?
He shook his head to help him focus and glared at the knots that refused to budge under his clumsy fingers. He'd have to cut Dean loose—
Damn it, Sam. He cursed the lack of oxygen making his thinking sluggish; he should have cut Dean loose the second he reached his side.
Sam screwed his eyes closed, forcing himself to think; he didn't have a knife—but Dean did. He pulled up his brother's pant leg and yanked the small dagger from its ankle holster, then sawed desperately at the rope connecting Dean to the anchor.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see more of the shelf give way beneath the anchor, sand clouding the water. Even as he cut, he could feel the heavy, waxed rope pull taut in his hand, burning against his skin as the anchor began to slip over the edge.
Sam's chest felt like it was about to burst but he sawed even faster, willing the rope to give.
It snapped suddenly, the anchor threatening to pull Sam over the edge with it until his fuzzy brain remembered to let go of the rope. The sacks slipped silently into the dark water beyond the shelf, unobserved because Sam's full attention was immediately back on Dean.
He wrapped an arm around his brother's chest, then kicked wildly, clawing at the water with his free hand to speed the ascent. He had no idea how deep they were, how long it would take. All he knew was that he couldn't fight the reflex to breathe in any longer. He opened his mouth and inhaled, filling his lungs with seawater.
It didn't register at first that they'd breached the surface, but somewhere between coughing up water and clinging tightly to Dean, it clicked that he was sucking in air as well as water.
Sam's violent coughing masked the boat's approach.
The boat had pulled alongside the brothers, the engine cutting out just before Frank appeared by the lowered liftgate at the stern. He was suddenly beside them, kneeling on the open ramp and offering a hand to pull them aboard. "Come on, before the captain shows up again."
Shivering uncontrollably, Sam clumsily maneuvered Dean onto the ramp. He was still coughing as he looked up at Frank. "I got him…Watch…for—"
"You sure?" When Sam nodded, Frank picked up the gun he'd set down on the deck, released the safety, and scanned the waters around the boat. "He came back. I got the drop on him 'cause, well, he sure as hell didn't expect to see me."
With the ramp supporting Dean's weight, Sam crawled aboard the boat. His legs felt like rubber, his hands and feet numb, but his only thoughts were of Dean and getting him to breathe. He hauled Dean farther into the boat, then dropped to his knees at his brother's side, pressing his fingers against his neck to check for a pulse. His own heart began racing when he didn't find one. Surprised to see Dean's knife still clutched tightly in his hand, Sam slashed the ropes that bound Dean's hands and feet, rolled him again onto his back, and began rescue breathing.
After filling Dean's lungs with air, he started compressions, staring down at his lifeless brother, haunted by the image of him anchored underwater, his eyes open but vacant. "…twenty-eight…twenty-nine…thirty." He breathed for Dean again, then repeated the compressions. "Come on. Don't you let him win. Don't you do that." Again and again, he breathed for his brother, continuing compressions while willing Dean's heart to start pumping on its own.
And then it did.
Sam's only warning was a slight convulsion. He rolled Dean onto his side as he started coughing up water, his body jackknifing reflexively. Sam nodded in relief when fingers pressed to his brother's neck found a soft but steady pulse and he could see the slight rise and fall of his chest beneath the wet shirts plastered to his skin.
He looked up at Frank, just in time to see the spirit of Caldwell Pritchard materialize right behind the retired cop. "Frank!"
Frank stumbled around, shotgun raised, but this time the spirit was faster. He waved a hand, yanking the gun from Frank's grasp and tossing it to the side. It was luck, nothing more, that it hit the side of the boat and fell onto the deck rather than dropping over the side.
The spirit's attention was solely on the retired cop. "Sergeant Bryden? Is that you?"
Frank held his ground. "Yes, sir."
"You're…older." Pritchard's eyes narrowed. "I'm surprised to see you."
Frank snorted. "Right back atcha."
The spirit frowned. "You've changed, and not for the better. The sergeant I knew wouldn't be caught dead helping lowlifes like these."
Frank shook his head. Then, risking a glimpse at Sam, moved to his right, placing himself directly between the spirit and the hunter. "One of the first things you taught me is never to be quick to judge. Things are often not what they seem. Instinct tells me these are good men. A little…unorthodox maybe, but they're just doing what we did every day on the job—hunting down the bad guys and stopping them from hurting innocent people."
Sam knew immediately what Frank was doing: giving him a chance to go for the shotgun. It had skidded to a stop about ten feet to his left. Slowly, he began sliding across the deck toward the weapon. His gaze shifted between Frank and the captain as he listened attentively to their exchange.
The spirit laughed bitterly. "You got soft, sergeant. Gave up your badge before the job was done. And since you weren't cleaning up this filth, I had to."
Frank took a step forward, his voice quiet. "What happened to, 'Nobody's above the law, son.'?Or, when a perp slipped through the cracks,'Trust me, he'll break the law again. And when he does, we'll be there to catch him. Make sure it sticks.'" He shook his head. "The captain I knew, the man I admired, he never would have resorted to this – to murder."
Pritchard snorted. "Yeah, well, the law, and those charged with enforcing it, let me down. One too many good guys turned bad. One too many bad guys slipping the noose." He smiled coldly. "Now, they don't. And these two won't be any exception."
At that moment, Sam's fingers closed around the shotgun. He rolled to his right to clear Frank, raised the weapon and fired. The spirit disappeared just as the salt shot hit. Sam scrambled to his feet, breathing heavily. Unsure whether or not he'd hit the captain, he warily scanned the boat.
Sam spun around to see Pritchard glowering at him. The spirit pulled the shotgun from Sam's hands, this time successfully tossing it into the bay. He flickered forward, grabbed Sam by the neck and slammed him into the wheelhouse wall.
Pritchard tightened his grip, leaving Sam gasping for breath as he pinned him against the wall and lifted him off the ground. His glance slid to Dean, who still lay unconscious on the deck a few feet away. "Like I said, you two will be no exception. The only question is, who goes first?"
His focus returned to Sam, but his cold smile disappeared when the hand he had wrapped around his victim's throat burst into flames. His expression morphed from surprise to fear to anger as the fire consumed him, deep red-orange flames quickly painting him from head to foot. His anger had escalated to full-on fury, the hatred in his glare at Sam burning more intensely than the fire itself, when his body blackened and turned to ash. The flames died out, the ash crumbled and, with a final, tortured scream, Captain Caldwell Pritchard was gone.
Suddenly released from the spirit's hold, Sam collapsed to the deck, coughing. "Who goes first?" he rasped, rubbing his sore throat as he struggled back to his feet. "You do."
Frank was at Sam's side, offering a hand. "What did you do?"
Sam accepted Frank's offer of help, then stumbled to Dean's side. He checked his brother's pulse, relieved to find it slow but steady. "Shooting them with salt just gets rid of them temporarily. That—him bursting into flames—means his remains have been salted and burned. He's gone for good."
Frank scrubbed a hand down his face. "But how…?"
"I called a friend." With the spirit taken care of, Sam's attention was now fully on his brother. "You told me where the remains were but I had to find Dean, so Bobby got another hunter to torch the bones. Guess it took them a while to get there and dig up the casket."
"Almost too long." Frank moved to the large deck box that sat behind the wheelhouse, opened it, and pulled out a bright orange survival suit. "Here, get your brother's wet clothes off and put him in this. It'll help warm him up. I'll go radio for help, make sure an ambulance is waiting when we get to the dock."
"Thanks." Sam took the suit, laid it out on the deck beside Dean, and began unzipping it.
Frank frowned down at Sam, then reached into the deck box for a second survival suit. "Soon as he's zipped in, strip yourself off and get yourself in this, too."
Sam had pulled off Dean's tie, ripped open his shirt and was using the knife to slice open his t-shirt. "It's okay. I—"
"That's not a request, son." Frank gestured again with the suit. "You stay out here on deck soaked through like that, you're gonna end up in the hospital right beside your brother."
"Been there, done that." Sam pulled off Dean's boots and began slicing through his jeans. He paused when he realized Frank was still standing beside him, then took the suit the retired cop was offering."I'll put it on… Thanks."
"It's me who should be thanking you, risking your lives to stop…to put an end to this."
Sam shrugged as he pulled off the last of Dean's sodden clothes. "It's what we do." He quickly wrangled his brother into the survival suit, pulled up the hood and zipped him inside, leaving only Dean's face exposed. He looked up as he peeled off his own wet shirt, but Frank had already disappeared inside the wheelhouse. A few seconds later, the engine roared to life and the boat lurched around, heading back to the wharf.
Sam quickly shucked off the rest of his clothes, then unsteadily pulled on the survival suit. He'd just pulled up the hood and sat down beside Dean when he noticed a pair of hazy hazel-green eyes staring up at him. "Hey." He squeezed Dean's shoulder. "Hang in there. The spirit's toast, now we're gonna get you some help."
Dean glanced around, then down at the suit he was encased in, still disoriented, his voice little more than a raspy whisper. "Son of a bitch…"
It was such a Dean thing to say, for the first time since he realized the spirit had snatched his brother, Sam smiled.
Dean scowled as Sam walked through the door of his hospital room. "Oh, that is just cold, dude."
Sam frowned. "What?"
Dean gestured at the coffee cup in Sam's hand. "That. Drinking java in front of me when I'm sentenced to apple juice." He dropped his head back on the pillow. "This sucks."
Sam bit back a smile. "What kind of brother do you think I am?"
"A bitchy one. Dean's expression brightened as he rolled his head across the pillow to look up at Sam. "Unless…"
Sam grinned. "Yeah, it's for you." He handed Dean the cup. "Call it self-preservation. Caffeine deprivation makes you crappy company."
Dean removed the lid and sniffed the drink suspiciously. "This is real coffee, right?"
Sam held up his right hand. "Scout's honor. Black, extra strong, fully caffeinated. "
Dean inhaled deeply, and smiled. "You may be a pain in the ass, Sammy, but right now, you're an awesome pain in the ass."
Sam slid his backpack off his shoulder, flipped up the cover and pulled a small, square Styrofoam container from inside. "Couldn't get your doc to sign off on a bacon cheeseburger, extra onions. Said the cardiologist is booked up this week." His grin returned at Dean's scowl. "But she okayed this."
Dean gulped down some coffee, placed the cup on the nightstand, then took the box from Sam. His smile widened when he popped the lid. "Cherry pie! This day is sucking less by the minute."
Sam dug out a plastic fork from the side pocket of his knapsack, handed it to Dean, then sat down on the empty bed beside his brother's. It had been a rough couple of days for both of them: Dean, as doctors treated him for drowning and hypothermia, running every cardiac and neurological test available to them to ensure there was no permanent damage; Sam, as he waited for his brother to fully regain consciousness and listened to doctors explain the worst-case scenario, followed by the not-so-comforting caveat, "But let's not go there yet."
Dean was a lousy patient under the best of circumstances; a second stay in less than a week had him itching to hightail it from the moment he woke up. Sam had no love of hospitals either, but wasn't about to aid and abet until he knew Dean was okay. He'd played every card he knew to keep his brother's ass in bed; the pie and coffee were just the latest.
Dean stopped mid-chew when he realized Sam was staring at him. "What?"
Sam shrugged. "Nothing. But, if you're up for more good news, I think they're gonna spring you from here in the morning."
Dean frowned. "Why not now?"
"Just waiting for the last batch of test results."
Dean's eyes narrowed as he studied Sam. "You get the all clear?"
"I'm fine. I—"
Sam exhaled loudly. "Got a follow-up exam this morning. Everything's good."
Dean held Sam's gaze for a moment, then scooped up another forkful of pie. "Tell me something. How'd you find me out on the boat? How'd you know where to look?"
Sam shook his head. "I didn't, but Frank did. Apparently that part of the bay is in the shadow of Becker's Island. It's one of the few places you can't see from any vantage point in town. It was a favorite spot for smugglers to rendezvous with ships coming down the coast from the north until Captain Pritchard organized routine daily sweeps by either the police or the Coast Guard. Frank figured he'd like the irony of drowning his victims there."
Dean swallowed a piece of pie, put down his fork and closed his eyes. "It was weird, Sammy. When I got dragged under… I was fighting to hold my breath and get out of the ropes and one stupid thought kept going through my head." He looked up at his brother. "Salt. Of all the times salt has saved our asses, this time it was gonna be the thing that killed me." He snorted. "Not the footnote I wanted on my career: Dean Winchester—drowned by a bag of salt."
"Not funny." Sam shifted uncomfortably, still unable to shake the eerie image of a lifeless Dean at the bottom of the bay. He cleared his throat. "But that's another smuggler's trick Pritchard borrowed." At Dean's puzzled frown he continued. "If someone crossed them or cheated them, drowning was the smugglers' punishment of choice. They used sacks of salt as an anchor because, over time, the salt would dissipate and the body would float up and wash ashore…"
"Serving as a warning to anyone else who felt like double-crossing them." Dean shook his head. "Nice."
Sam swallowed. "Not the word I'd use, but yeah."
Dean looked over at Sam, shoveled in a large forkful of pie, then grinned as he chewed. "Get your panties untwisted, Sammy. I'm good. It's gonna take a lot more than a pissed-off spirit to take me out."
Sam snorted. "Maybe, but do we have to keep testing that theory?"
"All part of the job, dude." Dean reached for the cup on the nightstand and washed down the pie with a big gulp of coffee, then winked at Sam. "Just another day at the office for the Brothers Winchester."
A/N: This history of smuggling – especially during Prohibition – along the east coast of Canada and the U.S. is fascinating to me so I thought it would be fun to throw Sam and Dean into the mix. All the smugglers' tricks used in the story – the Smuggler's Law which says rivals will be drowned, for example, and the use of bags of salt to weigh them down – are all pulled from the pages of history. Yup, they were really used. Hope you enjoyed. If you have a moment, I'd love to hear from you. Until next time, cheers!