Are you sure of this, Sam?
It'll work. You've done this before.
That was when I was still an angel.
We have the Grace; we have the spell. This will work, Cas.
John lifts one hand and knocks on the motel room door — three short raps — while his other hand slips the key in the door with a snikt. The door squeaks as it opens; John wonders if anyone calls housekeeping in this place.
Dean's standing by the small table next to the microwave and mini-fridge unit that they make work. The table has already been cleared of John's files for the case, and Dean watches a small pot of canned pasta on a hot plate, stirring with one hand.
"Where's your brother?" John can't see Sam anywhere, and the room doesn't have that many places to hide.
"Reading." Dean jerks a thumb over his shoulder toward the closed bathroom door.
"On the can?"
Dean shrugs and leaves the pot where it is to huff his way to the bathroom. John peers into the small pot and calculates whether he has enough cash to leave the boys for breakfast at the diner down the street. They're going to be hungry in the morning.
"Hey, Sammy!" Dean pounds on the bathroom door. "Suppertime!"
John eyes the closed door when Sam doesn't answer.
"Sam." Dean tilts his head toward the door, listening. "You stay in there, fine, but I'm not making anything else for you."
John looks up in time to see Dean walk away as the bathroom door opens. Sam keeps his head down when he comes out, and there's a thick book in one of his hands. Dean practically jumps back to watch the pot while Sam trudges along a little more slowly.
"You feelin' okay?" John asks.
John takes it. Dean would have said something immediately if his brother was hurt, in any fashion. It was the one thing John was certain Dean would never lie about — nights out with girls or maybe even injuries to himself were a different story. So Sammy's slumped shoulders and hung head are probably just the kid pouting, not a random stomach bug that John has to worry about.
Dean dishes up the fake pasta with thick red sauce; an equal amount in John's bowl and his own, and a little less for Sammy. John plunks himself into a seat at the only table in the motel, with Dean sitting right next to him.
"Make any breaks in the case, Dad?" Dean shovels food into his mouth like it's going to disappear, but that doesn't keep his eyes from staying on John.
"I think so."
Dean's been more than eager to join John on cases ever since he started high school. John settles a little deeper in his chair and pushes a manila file folder toward Dean.
"Victims were all male," John says. "All businessmen, in their late 20s or early 30s."
Sammy uses both hands to set his bowl on the table then opens up his book right next to his supper.
"So ... lamia?" Dean says.
"There's no body of water, Dean." A corner of John's mouth almost lifts up. Almost.
"Right." Dean just nods and tries again. "So it's not a siren, either."
Kid's got the right idea, though. All the missing victims means whatever's taking them needs them for either a food source or a power source. Dean's focusing on creatures that are known to lure men to their deaths, but John wonders how much of that is just Dean's hormones talking. The boy started noticing girls when he was thirteen, but he only hit his first growth spurt a few months ago when he turned fifteen.
"I'm thinking it's just a plain witch," John says. "I found some symbols at the last crime scene." He reaches into his jacket, pulls out his journal to open to the page that held the most recent sketches he's made. "I have to make a call to be sure, but it looks like some witch is gathering up sacrifices."
"Either that or a harem." Dean's mouth opens wide in a shit-eating grin.
"What's a harem?"
John's teeth come together and cut off the chuckle that had been rising up. He and Dean have gotten a lot more relaxed about discussing cases in front of Sammy ever since the kid found out about monsters in the dark. John shoots a look at Sammy before glancing at Dean. Dean just tones his smile down into something that says, All yours, Pop.
"Sam, did you clean the handguns like I asked?" John says.
Sam doesn't nod or shake his head. He runs his palm over the open pages of his book and ducks his head again, his hair falling into his eyes.
"I'm almost done." Just a hint of a whine comes through Sam's voice, like he's testing his limits.
John reaches over and tugs the book away from Sam.
And now Sammy's pouting. Full on lips-turned-down and eyebrows-together pouting as he shovels the last of his supper into his mouth. John closes the book; it's at least an inch thick and has a generic picture of two kids sitting at a desk on the cover, right below the bold words Fourth-Grade Reader.
"Where'd this come from?" It's spring break, so Dean and Sammy aren't going to school here.
"It's my Reading book." Sam shifts enough in his seat to get his legs under him. "I'm reading ahead so I won't be behind when we get back."
The kid licks the last of the sauce off his spoon and vaults himself out of his chair. He puts the dirty dishes right beside the empty pot and sits on the floor beside John's duffle, the one that holds all the guns he doesn't keep in the trunk of the Impala. John watches him slowly start his chores before Dean leans in close to him.
"Are we going back?" he asks.
John does not purse his lips or sigh.
"Haven't decided yet," he says. John stands and snatches his journal up. "Make sure he does those guns."
"Yes, sir." Dean gathers the dishes.
John slips out of the motel room and lays his journal flat on the hood of the Impala. Digging his cell phone out from his pocket, he flips it open and punches in one of the few numbers he has memorized.
"Singer," the gruff voice comes through the line after only a few rings.
John hears a grunt through the phone line and can't tell if it's supposed to be a greeting or a prelude to a dial tone.
"Thought you were in Missouri, Winchester," Bobby finally says.
"I am," John says shortly. "Look, I need you to look up a symbol for me."
"Why not? Not like I got a business to run or anything."
"Shut up." John knows that Bobby doesn't keep the salvage yard open for business after regular hours, and it's coming up on sundown.
John goes through a clinical description of what he's drawn in his journal. It's a pretty simple circle, as circles go. John knows just enough to know this particular circle isn't a devil's trap.
"That sound like witchery to you?" he asks when he's done.
"Sounds like a giant screw up," Bobby huffs. "Either you got a damn inexperienced witch or some kids playing with paint and thinking they're Satanists."
John rolls his eyes. Teenagers are the most stupid creatures in existence with what they get up to. Usually he's fortunate enough that Dean has a better head on his shoulders, but there was that one thing with a girl named Casey.
"Listen, I'll look through a few things, but I don't think you're dealing with witches here, Winchester," Bobby says. "There's no signs of demonic activity in the area. Anywhere in the area. No prior complaints of animal deaths or lightning omens. No sulfur."
Where did Bobby find the time to look up demonic omens in Missouri? For that matter, why is Bobby keeping tabs on him in the first place?
"Civilians don't know to smell for sulfur," John says. Bobby might have been part of this world longer than John, but John knows how to be a better soldier.
"Look, ya idjit." Bobby's exasperated eye roll is clear even through the phone. "Even if this is a witch, you're on a two-man job, and I can't be there. There's a new guy in Kansas, really good with research."
"No, Bobby," John says immediately. "If I need help, I've got Dean and Sam."
He doesn't need anyone else coming up on his family. John slides the journal closed again and tucks it into the inside of his jacket with one hand.
"You put too much on those boys," Bobby says.
John doesn't look back into the motel window, and he doesn't feel any regret at his youngest son learning how to clean out a revolver.
"Thanks for the help," John says, looking out into the near-empty parking lot because he's still not looking into motel windows anytime soon.
"Don't die, Winchester." And the line goes dead. John can't remember Bobby ever actually saying good-bye over the phone. Hardly even in person, either. It's always, "Don't die, idjit" or "Take care of those boys."
As if John needs to be told that.
John walks into the police headquarters confidently in his suit and tie. The key is always confidence. He nods at the officer on dispatch, a radio connected to her headphones as she directs calls, and then he heads straight for the right corridor, which leads to the detectives' desks. He sees the young detective he had talked to the other day, all thin and tall and eager to help, like a puppy dog in a worn jacket with a nameplate on his desk that says "Reagan."
"Agent Fogerty." Detective Reagan jumps forward and holds on his hand.
John shakes the younger man's hand quickly. For all that he has learned to lie and cheat his way around law enforcement, he can appreciate a man trying to catch the bad guys.
"I just wanted to check with you boys." John nods to include the whole open area regulated for detectives. "See if anything else on the case came in."
It's harder to portray just one FBI agent rather than working with a partner. Everyone expects the FBI to invade their jurisdiction in pairs. But John's got this down, and he doesn't need Bobby's offer of help. One of the older detectives — John thinks his name is Polish, something ending in -inski, at least — comes up behind Reagan like he's trying to get Reagan's attention without actually looking at him.
"Actually, sir, you should probably talk with the chief—"
"Wait, there was something." Reagan tramples all over the older man's attempts. "Remember that weird body, Tom?"
John's spine straightens immediately at the word "weird." Anything weird falls in his jurisdiction, not the local cops', no matter what they think he is.
"Body?" he presses, ignoring the way Something-inski stiffens.
"Yeah, we had a John Doe come in overnight." Reagan is practically bouncing in his place. "We thought it was a violent crime at first, but then he had a bite on his neck." He gestures vaguely to the right side of his own neck.
"A bite?" John's been thinking witches this whole time. If something's eating the men disappearing, he may have to rethink some of Dean's guesses. Or he's got a cannibalistic witch on the other side of his gun. He really doesn't know if that would be better or worse. He hates witches.
"Yeah, like from a wild animal or something," Reagan says. "Thing is, they found him right off Adams Street. I mean, that's right in the middle of downtown. Weird, right?"
John's nod is distracted, and he doesn't pay much attention to what Whatever-inski is doing back at his desk.
"Do you still have the body?" He has to see what he's dealing with if this guy is the latest of the victims.
"Yeah, it's in the morgue." Reagan jerks a thumb over his shoulder toward the elevator. "I'll show you."
John leaves the older detective in the open room and follows Reagan past the back door to the detention area and down to the basement. The morgue isn't anything like what John's seen in bigger cities, and it's also empty.
"Our M.E. won't be in until ten o'clock." Reagan strides into the room and right up to the wall of cold metal doors. "He was here most of the night trying to clean this guy up."
He yanks the handle of a door about halfway up the wall and pulls the sliding slab out. John chews on the side of his tongue and deliberately lifts his eyes from the empty tray to the detective.
"Wrong door?" He's found just the right mix of paternal disapproval and the disappointment of an officer to make his eyebrows speak louder than any fake-FBI reprimand. Reagan's already shifting nervously.
"That's weird. He's supposed to be here." Reagan backs up and checks out the number on the metal door again. "Lemme check something."
He goes to a wall to page through a clipboard — because when-in-doubt-check-the-paperwork seems to be the motto of all bureaucratic agencies. John bends over the empty morgue slab in the meantime. A dark red stain hasn't been cleaned from the slab midway down. About where an adult's hips would be. And there's another spot of some kind of filmy, transluscent goop near the head of the tray. John's seen ectoplasm like that, but that doesn't make sense. If the dead man had become a ghost, he would have left his body behind. John chases poltergeists, not zombies.
The heavy door to the morgue opens, and John glances up in time to see the police chief, in his uniform complete with shiny brass "Colfax" badge, enter the room.
"Reagan, I need you out of the morgue," he orders.
John straightens to regain his federal persona. Chief Colfax hasn't liked the idea of FBI agents in his town, even if John claimed to be the only one there.
"I'm just looking for the body from last night for Agent Fogerty." Reagan flips through the top layers of paperwork on the plain clipboard without looking up. "I think Keith wrote down the drawer number wrong."
"Yeah, well I need Agent Fogerty out of the morgue, too."
John plants his feet and stays where he is.
There's a problem alright. Colfax is glaring at John like he wants to throw him out of the station. Normally, that wouldn't bug John; he's used to not being welcome in town. But now Colfax looks like he's about to carry out his fantasy.
"I called the FBI branch office in Missouri City," Colfax says. "They don't have any agents looking into disappearances out here."
"I work out of Langley," John answers calmly.
This has happened before. Especially in smaller towns where people don't expect the FBI to have an interest in their crimes. John always gets out of it, though.
"The number on my card will go to my direct supervisor." It actually rings to a separate phone line in Bobby's house. "Have you tried him?"
"No answer." Colfax rests his hands on his uniform belt smugly.
John silently curses Bobby Singer once in English and once in Vietnamese just to be cover all his bases. Reagan freezes somewhere in the middle of his paperwork and starts looking between his chief and the supposed FBI agent like he's not sure which side to take. John holds his hands out placatingly.
"Look, chief," he says. "I'm just here to do my job. You've had six men, all from normal, good homes, go missing in the last week. That's unusual enough to get some notice."
"But we never called the FBI." Colfax steps closer to John. "I checked. No one at County did, either. The branch office in Missouri City never contacted Langley."
"Sir?" Reagan sounds really lost.
"You're not with the FBI." Colfax stops just in front of John.
For a second or ten, John thinks about what it would take to fight his way out of the morgue and back up into the detective area, walk calmly out the door, and continue working on the case while also dodging the local law enforcement. Then he puts his hands behind his back even before Colfax reaches for him.
"I need to make a phone call," he says.
"I'll bet you do," Colfax sneers as he tightens the handcuffs around John's wrists.
John banks on his ability to call Bobby to get out of this, but he's already planning.
"Do you really want any technicalities on this?" He eyes the chief, pumping an extra helping of disdain into his sneer. "Let me make a phone call, I'll clear this up."
Colfax spins him around again to glare in his face.
"Here's a hint," he says. "Next time, don't pick a name from CCR."
"Sir." Reagan takes one step forward then rocks on his heels again, like a puppy not knowing if he's playing fetch or not. "Are we arresting him?"
Colfax doesn't answer, keeps glaring at John. John feels his lungs expand like they're suddenly able to take in a lot more air. He smirks, knowing a thousand different interpretations of a cop's silence.
"You can't," he says confidently. "How many times did you actually try to call Langley before you quit?"
The whole situation makes sense that way. Bobby has an answering machine for the salvage yard, but not for the lines that he uses for hunting. No answer on a federal line was weird, but more importantly it gave Colfax an excuse to arrest John. But he still could get out of this.
"We'll hold him overnight." Colfax takes John's arm and marches him to the elevator and up one floor to the holding area. The cells are small but clean, all three of them. A part of John's brain is still thinking of barrel hinges and escape plans. But when the handcuffs are off, he walks into the cell calmly and only turns around when he hears the door lock into place.
"If that number is to a hotel in Bulgaria, I'm charging you with obstruction of justice." Colfax growls lowly, one hand still on the cell door. He turns to leave, and John starts worrying.
"I need to make a phone call," John calls at the man's back.
Unsurprisingly, Colfax doesn't turn around. But John still doesn't expect Reagan to come walking into the holding area with a thick cordless phone in his hand.
"Here." He hands the phone through the bars of the cell.
John could try to call Bobby, but he doesn't want to risk taking up the man's time when Colfax was supposed to be trying to call the man as well. There is one other person who needs to know how the hunt is going, though. John tilts the phone towards his chest as he dials, just so Reagan won't catch the number of the local motel.
"Dean," he says as soon as the other line picks up. "I just wanted to let you know I won't be checking in tonight. The officers here have decided to keep me for a while." Dean starts suggesting he come to the rescue, but that won't work. Dean is getting good at investigating, and John trusts him absolutely as a second gun, but still— the kid's fifteen. There's no way a bunch of cops are going to mistake him for one half of an FBI team. "Don't worry, they'll call Deputy Singer and he'll clear everything up. Just wanted to let you know. Look out for each other."
He changes his last order in time to catch the "Look out for your brother" that's automatic. Reviewing his words as he hangs up and hands the phone back to Reagan, John is sure that nothing he's said sounds like anything other than an agent checking in with his unit. Reagan goes back to the office without a word, though he gives John an awkward little head nod on his way out. Now John just has to wait for Bobby to answer his damn phone.