By: Ridley C. James
A/N: This story was dreamed up on a recent vacation with some of my favorite people not to mention favorite writers. It has of course taken turns I did not imagine, but I hope you all enjoy. Thanks to Tidia, Mog and Williamson Scott for all their input. And of course Les, my consummate Dean girl, who inspired the Dean hurt comfort.
"Love is the thing that makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place."
-Zora Neale Hurston
South Amboy, New Jersey was a blue collar neighborhood perched on the precipice of sweeping change; at least that was the story Caleb Reaves kept repeating to investors whenever the subject of his current work came in to question. Dean Winchester didn't see it. The beach was far from a dream vacation locale, most of the industry and shops were boarded up. The houses were old as hell, although his best friend referred to them as pre-1920's vintage.
Dean kind of liked South Amboy the way it was now. The people were fiercely loyal to each other, hardworking and they loved baseball; even if Dean had almost gotten into a couple of friendly fist fights defending his precious Sox.
He couldn't remember having a summer like this. Dean had made some friends and was a regular at a few haunts, including a neighborhood ball field with a sweet batting cage set-up, where a guy could walk on to some lively night games. He and Caleb had been staying in one of the apartments above the Landmark Tavern and Café instead of commuting each morning. It wasn't the Hilton, but the rent was cheap. Old man Heiser, the tavern owner, gave them a 10 percent discount on bar food and booze, and didn't even charge extra for the wake-up call when the train to Penn Station rumbled through each morning at 5:05 AM, rattling the windows and shaking the walls. It guaranteed they were out of bed and on the job site before the sun came up, which was an hour before anyone else, and the reason Dean couldn't currently seem to stop yawning.
"Damn, Little Dude, you keep that up, and pretty soon the whole crew will be conked out for an afternoon nap." Oliver 'Moose' Havers, Caleb's former college roommate and now construction foreman for Tri-Corp, put down the sledge hammer he was wielding and wiped a meaty arm across his sweaty forehead. "What time did you and the boss man get in from the city last night?"
"First off, the name's Dean, Ass Wipe." Despite Dean being twenty-three, Moose insisted on keeping up the nickname he'd tagged an eleven year old Dean with upon first meeting the kid when Dean had hitchhiked his way to Auburn during Caleb's first year there. "Just because you're three times the size of normal humans doesn't give you the right to demean us who aren't height and girth challenged."
"Kid told you, Moose." Franklin Farley, one of the crew snorted, and Moose threw the water bottle he'd just pulled from the community Coleman with some heat, the man catching it with a muffled oomph.
"We don't pay you for commentary, Farley."
Frank took a long pull from the bottle, grinning at Dean. The older man's dark skin looked almost gray covered in the dust and grime from hours of pulling up old floors and tearing down dry wall. "Good thing it's a free service I offer or we'd all be bored to tears by now."
Moose took two more bottles from the cooler tossing one to Dean, his good-natured grin locked in place despite the ribbing. "There's some aspirin in the first-aid bag if you need something for that hangover, Little Dude."
Dean rolled his eyes, uncapping the water. "Who said I had a hangover?"
"I heard the score to the game on the radio this morning. Caleb told me how you hate to lose."
"Damn Yankees." Dean growled, downing most of the water with one gulp. He might have had more beers than he'd planned when the game took a turn for the worse after the third inning, but he'd been nowhere near drunk. That would have been Damien.
"Reaves must have taken the game hard, too," Frank interjected. "He nearly took my head off this morning when I asked which crews needed to head to those other two capes we're leveling."
"Damien's not exactly in his happy place." Dean finished off his water, tossed the bottle in the can with the rest of the trash they'd collected, a vast wonderland of oddities left behind by the last residents. He and the other men on the crew had made a game out of who could find the strangest objects. So far, Moose was winning with some sort of sex toy that resembled a cat of nine tails complete with leather straps and colored feathers.
"I don't see why not. There's enough work here to keep us up to our eyeballs in demolition to Christmas. South Amboy ain't Brooklyn, but I can get used to it as long as the green keeps rolling in. Besides, I'm kind of liking the space between me and my old lady."
"It's not all about the money, Farley, or giving your wife a break from you, although I'm sure she is thankful for that. You know Boss likes to build things, not tear them down." Moose pulled one of the ever present power bars from his front pocket and unwrapped it, nearly taking the entire bar with one bite. He chewed for only a second before swallowing. "He won't say it, but I know he feels bad for these old places, hates like hell to gut them and tear them down like they never meant anything."
Dean looked up at Moose, surprised a little that someone else knew his best friend so well. The last few months working on Caleb's crew had been an eye opener for Dean on a couple of fronts. For one he could see the allure of a regular nine to five job, the routine offering connections to a very different world than the one that existed in the shadows after the midnight hour. He was still working on wrapping his mind around the fact that other people knew Caleb, perhaps even a different Caleb than the one Dean had grown up with in their shared world of hunting all things supernatural.
"He thinks the townhouses that will be going up in their stead are and I quote 'soulless monstrosities of steel and glass,'" Moose continued, "So, cut him some slack."
"Then why take the job?" Dean had meant to ask Caleb that very question over the weeks they'd been in New Jersey; weeks where his best friend had grown sullen and moody. Dean had blamed it partly on the fact they were in close proximity to the beach, but hadn't been able to get past the immense appreciation he'd felt for having been offered a temporary escape from his normal life to tempt fate by opening up that particular can of worms with his savior. When Caleb had shown up in the little town of Monroe, Louisiana where Dean and his father had just finished a successful, but incident ridden hunt through the swamps for a werewolf, Caleb could have asked Dean to help him shave hairy pig balls for the summer and Dean would have leaped at the chance. There was no doubt that Caleb's appearance on the one year anniversary of Sam's departure for Stanford was not a coincidence, nor was the phone call from Pastor Jim, which had John Winchester capitulating to his protégé's proposed summer plans for Dean, plans which didn't include hunting. "I mean this is definitely not an award-winning architect's dream job."
The look Farley and Moose shared suddenly made Dean feel more like a kid than the annoying nickname Little Dude. Dean didn't like it, but realized they may have been more in touch with whatever was going on with Caleb. He hadn't exactly been concerned with much this past year except for surviving Sam's sudden departure, the fallout it brought with it. It had become Dean's one priority. "What? Is Tri-Corp in trouble?"
"I wouldn't say trouble," Farley scratched the back of his bald head. "Right, Moose?"
"No," Moose jumped in too quickly. "Not in trouble, exactly. We haven't had to down size or anything. I mean losing the funding for that last project in Chelsea hurt, especially considering the amount of time the boss put into the designs, but this job, you know, it just came around at the right time, and I think Caleb hopes that if we get in on the ground floor, he'll get a leg up on bidding some of the big projects that are going to come from this, ones that could really put us back on the map. I mean South Amboy is a town on the precipice of …"
"Sweeping change," Dean interrupted the foreman with a wave of his hand, wondering when exactly Tri-Corp had fallen off the map and why Damien hadn't bothered to mention it. "I know, I've heard all about it."
"Then you understand why your uncle sees this as a sort of necessary evil, like sprint drills. Painful and dirty, but effective." The fact Moose tossed the remainder of his power bar into the trash instead of eating it was far more telling than his attempt at optimism. "Sometimes a guy has to bend over and take it every once in a while for a chance to get off the bench during the big game."
"That how you got so much playing time in college, Havers?" Farley guffawed, slapping Moose on his broad shoulders. "I bet you got real good at bending over and taking it?"
Just like that the mood changed, and Dean found himself once more catapulted into the world of construction, one not entirely unlike that of The Brotherhood when you looked at all the razzing between peers in the name of a good working relationship. He supposed the deep bonds formed by waging war against a common enemy were missing, but then there was something to be said for passing time together, working towards a common goal, all the while bitching about nagging wives, frigid girlfriends and disappointing plays by your favorite sports team.
"No more comments from the peanut gallery," Moose pointed to the sledge hammer. "Time to actually earn your keep instead of entertaining us with your comedian act."
"I'll take that as a yes." Frank winked at Dean, picked up his tools and started for the back of the house where he had been working. "Watch yourself with him, Kid."
"You ready to give it another go at that godforsaken mantle Caleb insists we save?" Moose nodded to the ornate wooden structure over the fireplace. "Like you said, he's not exactly in a happy place and I'm afraid he might cry if we have to let it go."
Dean looked longingly at his own sledgehammer, the one he'd been using all morning to take down walls. He might have understood his best friend's hang up with destroying the old houses they were taking down, but he didn't share them. Despite the hard labor, which left his shoulders and back screaming for mercy each night, Dean had found the act of annihilation and destruction rather therapeutic. Mackland Ames would proudly approve of the positive use of a year's worth of Dean's pent-up frustration.
"Considering I can't stand to see a grown man cry, I guess I better." Dean picked up the crowbar and moved towards the mantle in question. He'd seen the spark in Caleb's eyes as he spotted the piece when they walked through the old place before starting the demolition. At the Tavern over burgers and beers Caleb had went on and on about the rare wood, the fact the mantle was the most expensive thing in the place and how unusual it was for an architect to add something so elaborate in a typical 1920's residential model. To say Caleb had been over the moon to find that two of the other houses had the same type mantle was a gross understatement. He had plans to give one to Pastor Jim then spring his idea for some renovations to the farm on The Guardian. Dean wasn't leaving until he found a way to remove the fucking piece of wood.
"I've tried everything and the pretty lady just won't give it up."
"That something else that happened a lot in college, Oliver?" Dean ran his hand along the backside of the mantle. He'd concede that Damien was right about the piece, it was unusual, the wood dark and swirled, smooth to the touch and shiny despite the dilapidation around it. It would look good at Jim's place. Maybe they could put one in The Tomb.
"Cute, Little Dude." Moose inserted his crowbar in the opposite edge and gave a grunt as he tried to pry the wood from the base of the wall. "I'll have you know I had the ladies falling at my feet."
"A dangerous place to be considering the size sixteen cleats you sported back then." Dean added his weight and together they gave another go at it.
"The only thing I broke was their hearts when old Moose was too quick to be tied down."
Dean laughed. "If I remember right, Damien said you had a whole other nickname on the offensive line. Mud Turtle, wasn't it?"
"No one ever told you slow and steady wins the race, Kid?"
"In my experience, the only thing slow and steady will get you is dead." Dean read the puzzled look Moose gave him and quickly flashed a devilish grin. One of the tough things about living 'above ground' in normal land was that a guy had to be careful about what he said. There was a legitimate reason John Winchester had left all his former friends in Kansas behind him and bothered to make no other connections except those in The Brotherhood. Dean wondered how Sam was fairing lying to all his new friends at Stanford. "Got to be quick to outrun buckshot."
Moose shook his head. "Someday you and Caleb are going to learn the hard way to make sure the women you pick up aren't married, have ex-con boyfriends or don't live with their ball-bat wielding daddy's."
"Where's the fun in that?" Dean tried shoving the crowbar farther behind the mantle. "Women need to keep a bit of mystery if they want to hold my interest."
"Considering Caleb shows up once a month or so beat to hell, I think I'll stick with the boring chicks."
"A walk on the wild side's not for everyone, Oliver."
"Now you sound like Caleb."
"If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that I could make an investment to put Tri-Corp back on the map." Dean's last great effort yielded nothing, not even a pop or splinter. "Damn, what is this thing put up with?"
"The hell if I know, I can't find a nail mark." Moose dropped his crowbar and bent down. He stuck his head in the fireplace, and Dean watched him trail his hand over the pieces of wood that framed the sides. "It's the damndest thing…"
"Let me try the mallet." Dean picked up the rubber hammer, disappointed in its lightness. He began a soft tapping around the perimeter. He bent down to reach the bottom of the surround. Each corner of the mantle had a square piece with a carved center which if you stared at it long enough seemed to take on the appearance of a man's face. Dean thought the one he tapped seemed to be smiling. He hammered the grinning caricature and heard a loud pop, then a crunch, but saw no surface damage from the blow.
"Whoa, guess it isn't a working fireplace," Moose commented, quickly ducking out of the opening.
Dean stood up and saw that the stone backing had slid open leaving a window-sized gap between the walls. "Cool."
"That's definitely a first for me." Moose sat back on his haunches studying the secret panel.
"Says the man missing his adventurous streak." Dean bobbed his eyebrows. "Where we come from hidden passageways are commonplace. In fact, we have one at the farm."
Moose shook his head, thinking Dean was bullshitting as usual. Sometimes truth was more unbelievable than fiction. "Let me guess, Robin. The Bat Cave?"
"I have been called a boy wonder, but it's more of a tomb than a cave." Dean kept his grin in place, knowing he could probably spill the whole sordid tale of The Brotherhood right then and there and Moose would think he was pulling his leg. He started forward, but the construction foreman caught his arm. "Whoa, you're going in there?"
"Hell, yes." Dean shook off the other man's grip. "There is bound to be something back there that is going to trump that fucked up sex toy you found. I can almost taste that steak and beer and the hundred bucks we all wagered is burning a hole in my pocket. Plus, there's no way you're fitting your freakish hulk body in there, Moose."
"You better take this." Moose offered up his flashlight with an uncharacteristic frown. "And for Pete's sake be careful."
Dean rolled his eyes at the coddling, but grabbed the light. He blamed Caleb for the kid-glove treatment. Dean had worked hard to prove himself as capable as any other guy on the payroll, a fact that wasn't easy considering his connection to the boss. "I promise not to get a scratch."
"Good, because Caleb put you on my crew for a reason."
"So I'd keep you from eating up all the profits?" Dean joked as he half slid, half crawled through the narrow opening. Once inside he was able to stand, panning the light from one side to the other, the space opened up into an area the size of a small bedroom.
"Has anyone told you the smart ass gene is definitely prominent in your family?" Moose called.
"If I had a dollar for every…" Dean let his words trail off as he took in the glass bottles neatly shelved on the row of book cases lining the walls. Cobwebs covered the different sized amber containers, and Caleb's diatribe about the old houses being the height of architecture during prohibition was suddenly more interesting. Dean was pretty damn certain a secret stash of 90 year old whiskey was going to make him a shoe in for the prize of greatest find, if not a whole lot richer.
"You alright in there, Little Dude?"
"Moose, my man, I am better than alright." Dean pulled one of the bottles from the shelf, turning to make his way back to the opening. Thunder rolled over head. It wasn't the rumble of nature, but of a shaking foundation that brought dirt and more bottles raining down on top of Dean. Another crack sent one of the shelves from its mooring, crashing towards the twenty-two year old. Dean was able to twist, avoiding a full on hit , but the glancing blow to his back sent him careening into the corner of the other shelf, his chest colliding into solid wood with a crunch. The falling structure pinned him against its twin, bottles of alcohol exploding around him as they struck the ground at his feet.
Dean tried to muffle a cry of pain as he used the strength of his legs to slide himself free, losing part of his shirt and some of the skin off his back in the process but at least he could breathe once more. Without Dean's body as wedge, the shelf banged the rest of the way to the floor, a cloud of dust and debris billowing past the hunter to plume out the small entrance. An eerie quiet settled on the room like a dense fog, the storm passing as quickly as it emerged.
"Frank!" Dean heard Moose yell for Farley at the back of the house. "Get Caleb!"
"No!" Dean coughed, hugging his arm across his stomach as he tried to coax his lungs into working properly. He still had a tight grip on the bottle of whiskey he'd pulled from the shelf and took another measured breath to get his bearings in the darkened space. The last thing he needed was Caleb to come barreling in, and find him covered in dirt, blood and booze. Dean wasn't even wearing the freaking hardhat his best friend made him promise to sport on the job site. Caleb claimed OSHA would fine their ass, but Dean didn't miss the fact Caleb didn't seem so concerned about Moose, Farley or half the other crew wearing standard operating safety equipment. "Moose, I'm okay."
"Little Dude?" Dean could detect the relief in the big man's voice. "Are you sure you're alright?"
Dean nodded even though he knew Moose couldn't see him. He focused on the faint light of the opening. Most of the dust had settled, allowing him to see the other man on hands and knees in the fireplace.
"I'm good. Really." Dean's ribs hurt like hell but he'd had worse when being tossed about by an angry spirit.
"Can you make it out? Do I need to come in after you?"
"That's all we need-Bullwinkle in the china shop." Dean groaned as he dropped to his knees, keeping hold of the unbroken bottles of whiskey before slowly crawling back to the secret panel. He was relieved to see the rest of the stone backing had slid away in the shifting, opening the passage more so he wouldn't have to contort his aching upper body to squeeze through. He held up the whiskey, noting the flowery emblem on the faded gold label. "Try not to be a sore loser, Oliver."
Moose grinned at him from the other side, giving an exasperated shake of his head. "Damn, Kid, I'd have bought you a steak dinner and a beer if you'd just asked."
"Now you tell me." Dean rolled his eyes. "There is the matter of the money and my pride."
"Screw it. I'll give you the hundred dollars if you get your ass out of here and put on your hard hat before Caleb shows up."
"Damn, Moose." Dean sighed. "I told you not to send Farley after him. We had a deal."
"Forgive me for thinking a house falling on you was a little higher on the scale of incidents that should be reported to big brother, than say Farley dropping that load of concrete on your foot, or you smashing your thumb with a hammer."
Dean growled deep in his throat thinking how he was going to thwart Caleb's mothering mode when his friend got a look at the cuts and bruises he was bound to have. On a hunt such injuries would be ignored as part of the job, but Caleb seemed to think Tri-Corp was a different ballgame, almost as if Dean was a rookie recruit all over again. "Just give me a hand out of here."
Moose reached for Dean at the same time Dean offered him the hand free of booze. They never made contact. It was like hitting a glass door.
"What the hell?" Moose tried again to reach for Dean's outstretched hand, his face reflecting his confusion when once again he was blocked by an invisible source. "That can't be…"
"Ah, shit." Dean looked from his hand, back to the space between him and Moose. He thought back to Caleb's puzzled reaction to the mantle. "Cocobolo wood."
"What?" Moose had now resorted to placing both hands on the unseen shield pushing with all his might. "This is crazy. Is this some kind of joke?"
"Not so much." Dean sat back on his heels, running a hand through his hair. Dean now remembered where he'd seen such wood before, recalled why it was special beyond being a beautiful building material typically used in fine musical instruments. Cocobolo rosewood was steeped in legend, often utilized in magical wards and enchantments. Whoever had hidden the booze was serious about its protection. Secret panels were one thing, but bewitched hiding spaces were quite another. Obviously he'd triggered the spell, one that sealed entrances and prohibited any exit. Dean was screwed. "The mantle is made of Cocobolo rosewood."
"What does that mean?" Moose reverted to kicking the unseen barricade keeping him from reaching Dean. He delivered three vicious blows before backing up, hands on hips as if he couldn't quite believe what was happening. "Did you hit your head?"
"It means you can take a sledge hammer, hell, a stick of dynamite to this bitch and I'm still going to be stuck." Dean placed his hand against what should have been thin air, feeling the slight echo of electricity through his silver hunter's band. They were dealing with some strong magic. Moose was not going to understand. He lifted his gaze to the foreman's, the other man's brown eyes spooked. "You better get Caleb."
To be continued...