This Bitter EarthAuthor: art_savageRecipient: jadesfireRating:
Violence, language, flimsy plot.Author's Notes:
Title from the song made popular by Dinah Washington and covered by a ton of other people.Summary:
The Winchesters and the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit investigate the same case, a series of mysterious deaths on the grounds of a South Carolina plantation. For the prompt: "Crossover with Criminal Minds. How do you profile demon hunters?" Set late in the 4th season for both shows, but specifically after "On the Head of a Pin" in the SPN timeline.
Those unfamiliar with the CM characters might want to check out these photos and short biographies
Steady slap of foot against pavement. Sweat soaked his shirt, dripped stinging into his eyes. The streets were still wet with last night's hard rain, littered with snapped limbs and dropped buds. Each step kicked up a splash. Fog rose in wisps from dips in the road.
He'd done five miles before sunrise, then turned around, no real purpose besides burning off some jittery energy, besides finding the simplicity of one foot in front of the other. He'd been doing a lot of this lately. If he ran till he puked, then ran some more, maybe his brain would shut off long enough for him to sleep. Maybe the panic that gripped him at odd times would be quiet today.
Maybe by the time he got back, Sam would be there, back from wherever he'd been with Ruby the night before, dropped off by that damn Mustang Dean had spotted from time to time.
a demon would drive a Ford.
The motel was in sight now, maybe half a mile distant, a crumbling L-shaped building with weeds growing up through cracks in the empty pool. The crooked sign splayed its neon letters against a lightening sky: Sleep E-Z Inn
. Dean kept his pace steady for a few more yards, then poured on the speed, sprinting full-tilt for the motel. His legs burned. His ribs twinged with each breath, a reminder of his encounter with Alastair – which kind of defeated the purpose of forgetting, but what the fuck could you do? He splashed past a closed dry cleaner and a diner just opening up, a gas station and Stop-N-Rob, a veterinary hospital, the buildings a blur, breathing too fast. Didn't slow down till he hit the blacktopped parking lot.
The Impala waited in front of their room, plastered with wet redbud blossoms from nearby trees. Dean jogged to a stop, rested both hands on the hood. He sucked in deep breaths, cataloguing each pain: burning lungs, pounding head. An ache in his ribs. He'd tweaked his right knee somehow, and his feet felt like a mass of blisters. He sat down on the curb, elbows on his knees. Looked back at the room. The curtains hadn't moved, but that didn't mean much. Wasn't even seven a.m.
Maybe he didn't really want to know.
He pushed back up to his feet, limped toward the Stop-N-Rob. He'd tucked a twenty into his shoe before he'd left and stooped now to fish it out before heading inside, hoping the lumpy guy behind the counter wouldn't be too offended by the limp and sweaty bill.
One liter-size bottle of cold water. One coffee, extra-large, black. Three newspapers. One Tradin' Post
for downtime distraction. The ads for classic cars, exotic pets, and arms of questionable legality always lifted his spirits a bit.
He went back to his curb and downed half the water before flapping open one of the newspapers and scanning automatically for their kind of thing. A few items looked promising. Wild animal attack in downtown Knoxville. Freak accident involving a garden rake outside of Savannah. Series of mysterious deaths at a historic plantation near Charleston.
Behind him, the door to their room stuck for a moment before opening with a crack. Dean clenched his jaw, tried to hide his flinch. He glanced to his right as Sam's shoes came into his sight. Didn't look up. Didn't trust himself not to say the wrong thing.
"You're up early," Sam said.Yeah, and you're home late.
"Gotta seize the day, Sammy." He folded the newspaper back to take a closer look at the plantation article.
"So, what, running's gonna replace drinking now?"
Dean looked over at Sam's shoes. "Think I found us a job." He held up the paper.
Sam huffed a sigh, shifted his feet. Took the newspaper just the same. Dean waited, watched a fat red worm writhe on the drying pavement.
"Huh," Sam said. "No witnesses, no signs of struggle…authorities baffled. Does sound pretty weird."
"Charleston, then?" Dean asked Sam's shoes.
"Sure. Grab some breakfast, then hit the road?" Sam started in the direction of the diner, newspaper tucked under his arm.
"Gonna grab a shower first," Dean said. "Meet you there."
He watched as Sam crossed the lot and then the street, long shadow stretched out before him.
Dean drained the rest of the water, listening to a robin sing high in a redbud tree, then gathered up his cooling coffee and the rest of the newspapers. He stooped, caught the wriggling worm between thumb and forefinger, and deposited it in the strip of grass beneath the trees. The robin might still get it, but at least the little fucker wouldn't fry in the sun.--
In his years with the FBI, Derek Morgan had seen what could charitably be termed some fucked up shit. He'd seen bodies shot, stabbed, beaten, burned, raped, dismembered. He'd worked to catch killers who felt no remorse, who wanted to be stopped, who didn't even know they'd done anything wrong. But never in his career had he seen a case that made as little sense as this one.
Morgan pulled the door to the conference room shut, took a seat between Hotch and Reid. The smell of coffee was strong in the room: a mug at each place. Their last case had wrapped up late the day before. Fatigue showed in each face around the table.
Morgan took a sip from his own mug of strong brew, leafed quickly through his copy of the case file as J.J. started her presentation. "This is Roger Cooper, age 43." With a click of her remote, J.J. brought up a picture of a smiling middle-aged black man. "He was found dead on the grounds of Branford Hall Plantation near Charleston, South Carolina, in one of the restored slave cabins along the main drive." Another click. The next photo showed a long blacktopped driveway, each side lined with moss-draped live oaks. "The plantation is a popular historic attraction and can be rented out for special events, weddings, fundraisers, and the like. Cooper was employed at the plantation as an archaeologist and head of preservation. Three days ago, he was working late preparing a new exhibit. Another employee found his body Tuesday morning."
J.J. clicked though a series of photos documenting the crime scene. The victim's body lay sprawled in an ungainly heap on the dirt floor of the one-room cabin. Dead eyes stared up at the ceiling.
"Cause of death was strangulation," J.J. continued. "Ligature marks point to thick rope, but local police found no trace of any possible weapon. In fact, they found no evidence whatsoever. No hairs or fibers. No signs of a struggle in the victim's office, in the cabin, or anywhere else on the plantation grounds. The last person to see Cooper alive, a clerk in the gift shop, noticed nothing unusual before she left that night, and regular police patrols in the area didn't report anything suspicious.
"Cooper was the third African-American man to die at the plantation in the last eight months." J.J. clicked again, brought up two more photos, two more ordinary, smiling black men. "William Eckert was found in the same cabin last August, Thomas Holston in February. Eckert had disappeared from the wedding reception he was attending, Holston from a historical society fundraiser.
"Both previous victims died in the same manner, with the same lack of evidence. However, there were additional injuries to Cooper's body that convinced the sheriff's department they needed to call in some help." The next photo had been taken in the sterile stainless steel setting of an autopsy suite. The victim's body lay facedown on the table. The skin of the man's back had been flayed to the bone by a whip or switch of some sort.
Next to Morgan, Hotch made a note on his legal pad. "Escalation in violence, shortening interval between killings. It won't be long before this unsub strikes again."
"Have police found any connection between the victims?" Rossi asked.
J.J. shook her head. "Aside from being fairly affluent black men, nothing so far."
Morgan skimmed through the file again, flipped back and forth through the autopsy and crime scene photos several times. Something wasn't right here.
Reid was the first to pick up on the anomalies. "Wait a minute, this doesn't make any sense. Cooper was found fully dressed, but there was no damage to his clothes, other than the obvious bloodstains. How is that possible?"
"Maybe the unsub redressed him after the whipping?" Prentiss offered.
Morgan went back to the photos that showed the victim's clothing after it had been removed, stretched out on a flat surface. The only bloodstains were those on the back of the white button-down shirt, corresponding to the location of the injuries. "Naw, if that was how it happened, there would have to be more smears of blood on the clothes. This looks too contained, almost as if – " He stopped there. The rest just sounded too absurd.
Reid finished the thought. "– Almost as if he were whipped underneath
There had to be a reasonable explanation, but damned if Morgan could figure it out right now. They ran through the rest of the basics quickly. Any other theories and questions could wait till they were in the air.--
The grounds of Branford Hall Plantation reminded Dean of nothing so much as a cemetery: clean and tastefully landscaped, its buildings like monuments; quiet, dead.
The main house stood across a broad expanse of lawn, two massive stories of red brick, columned and porticoed, one of the finest surviving examples of Georgian Palladian architecture, according to the background information Sam had insisted on reading aloud in the car. Sculpted gardens flanked the house, filled with azaleas and camellias in bloom, hedges trimmed into geometric knots. Gnarled live oaks lined the long drive leading up to the house, Spanish moss trailing from the limbs. A few horses wandered a corral on one side of the drive; across the lane stood a row of nine tiny slave cabins.
It looked like bad publicity from the deaths was hurting business. Only a few cars and minivans were parked in the gravel lot between the mansion and the gin house that now served as a restaurant and gift shop. Dean angled the Impala into a shady spot beneath a dogwood tree in full flower. They were going in as FBI today. Sam flapped into his jacket as Dean fiddled with his tie, checked the Impala's doors to make sure they were locked.
Megan Peters was the last person to see Roger Cooper alive, and she'd discovered his body the next morning. They found her behind the counter of the gift shop, a perky college-age girl decked out in a hoop skirt, her long blond hair looped in complex whorls of braids. Dean couldn't figure how she moved through the narrow aisles without knocking over displays at every turn.
She didn't flinch when they flashed their badges. "I figured there would be more questions," she said, "but I really don't know what else I can tell you."
"We're sorry to make you go through this again," Sam trotted out his sympathetic frown. "Sometimes details that seemed insignificant at the time can be a big help."
Megan took in a deep breath, let it slowly whoosh out. "Like I told the sheriff's people, I didn't really see or hear anything. The last time I saw Mr. Cooper, he was heading from the slave cabins up to the main house. He'd work late in his office a lot, especially with the new exhibit coming up. It was about six-thirty, because I had just finished counting out the till and was straightening the shelves. When I got done, I locked up and went to my car. The light was still on in Mr. Cooper's office. That would have been about seven. I didn't see anybody hanging around or anything strange. The next morning when I came in, his car was still in the lot, so I went looking for him. And I found him in the last cabin." She half-turned toward the window facing the row of trees.
"I know you've already answered a lot of questions about that night," Dean said. "But what about the weeks before? Do you remember anything strange – maybe creepy people hanging around, strange phone calls? Even – " He raised his eyebrows. "– weird noises or smells? Flickering lights?"
Megan reached up, smoothed a hand over her braids. "Well, up in the main house, there are problems sometimes with the wiring. It's an old house, you know? But what would that have to do with Mr. Cooper's death?"
Dean smiled, bland and reassuring. "Probably nothing. We just want to make sure we cover all the bases. You wouldn't happen to remember if those lights flicker more often in one part of the house, would you?"
"Actually, yeah. Usually in the study. Mr. Cooper's office is just off that room."
Sam pasted on a smile of his own. "Would it be all right if we take a look at the house?"
The rooms of Branford Hall echoed with their footsteps. Ordinarily, docents guided tours through the house at half-hour intervals, but Cooper's death was keeping business slow. The hoop-skirted guides were more than happy to perch on the stone garden benches and let Sam and Dean roam through the halls on their own.
The house was just as finely crafted inside as it was out. Egg-and-dart molding, hand-carved wooden brackets beneath the grand staircase. Grapes and vines carved in plaster bordered the ceilings in some rooms. Another plaster carving was the centerpiece of the ballroom on the second floor: a huge circular medallion made up of vines and flowers and leaves. Each room was furnished with antique pieces, every bit as ornate and well-made as the house itself.
Dean didn't consider himself naïve – he knew that most fortunes, in the north, the south, or anywhere else in the world, were made by exploiting other people. But the visible reminders of the slave cabins soured his appreciation of the craftsmanship, the glimpse of history. There were two different histories here: the privileged lives lived within the mansion's walls, and the lives of those who had worked and suffered to provide those privileges.
They swept each room for EMF, but found only background readings until they reached the study. Located on the northeast corner of the first floor, the room was furnished much the way it would have been a hundred and fifty years earlier. A man's man kind of place. Everything was done in dark wood. Bookcases filled with old volumes lined two walls. Dean let Sam browse the titles, turned to the massive mahogany desk. An old-fashioned ledger book lay opened on the leather blotter, flanked by a fountain pen and ink well, a cigar box inlaid with an intricate star-shaped pattern. He pulled open each drawer, but wasn't surprised to find them empty.
A squeal from the EMF meter. Dean looked up from the desk. Across the room, Sam stood before a large globe set in a floor stand. The globe was spinning. Dean raised an eyebrow at Sam. "I didn't touch the thing," Sam said.
Dean glanced around the room. The temperature seemed to have dropped a few degrees, but nothing else moved, nothing manifested. As spirit activity went, it was pretty tame.
"Definitely something here," Sam said. "I bet things will ramp up after dark."
Dean nodded, continued his circuit of the room. The EMF readings waxed and waned, quiet in the empty spaces, louder when he approached the desk. He waved the meter toward Sam, gave a big cheesy grin like it was just a joke, but he couldn't help feeling a rush of relief when the thing didn't go off.
Nothing else turned up in their search of the house. They walked the grounds next, poking around in the sculpted gardens, the small family cemetery, the round brick smokehouse and brick privy building. Then they wandered down the oak-lined alley toward the slave cabins. "Well, looks like it's gotta be one of the men of the house," Dean said, more to break the silence than anything else.
"Yeah, now we just need to figure out which one."
Dean loosened his tie. "Should be a piece of cake. Only, what, eight generations to narrow down?"
"Could also be an overseer of some sort. We'll have to dig pretty deep into the history, make sure we don't miss anyone."
They stopped at the cabin closest to the main house, the one where Roger Cooper's body had been found. The cabins were built from the same locally-made red brick as the rest of the buildings. Each was a single room, no more than twelve feet by thirty. A quick sweep of each building turned up nothing more than minimal EMF readings.
After the last cabin, they crossed the drive to lean against the corral fence. A cool breeze carried the scents of horses and azaleas. "You really think it's that simple?" Dean asked. "Just some good ol' boy slave owner pissed off that black people are free?"
Sam shrugged. "Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one. Now, does that mean I think it'll be easy?"
Dean looked over at Sam with a ghost of a smile. Neither of them had to say it: seemed like nothing ever came easy for them.--
Derek Morgan stood beneath the twisted branches of the live oaks, surrounded by crime scene tape and evidence markers, case file in hand, and couldn't stop staring at the slave cabins.
He wondered if this were the last sight of those three dead men, if this was what the unsub had wanted them to see: a reminder of their collective past. Some sick way of saying, This is where you came from. This is where you belong.
Footsteps shuffled through the grass behind him. He turned. Reid came to stand beside him, hands shoved deep into his pockets, squinting in the direction of the cabins. "It's fairly unusual to find slave housing out in the open like this. Typically, slave quarters were placed behind or to the side of the main house, out of sight. But some plantation owners had cabins built like this, along the main entry road, probably to show off the size of their labor force to any visitors. Plus" – Reid half-turned toward the mansion – "tiny cabins like these made the house seem that much more impressive." A silent moment passed, filled by the undignified squawk of some bird out in the marshes. Then Reid said, "Dicks."
Morgan started. "What?"
"I just don't get it, you know? I mean, I try to come at it from a historical or socioeconomic perspective, I try to tell myself that this was the world that people were raised into, that this wasn't a moral problem for them, that this was all they knew. But to believe that one human being can own another? Even the bizarre things we see every day somehow make more sense to me than slavery ever will."
The pain in Reid's eyes was real and far from naïve, and that meant a lot. All Morgan could do was nod.
They stood in companionable silence, waited as Hotch crossed the broad lawn from the parking lot, looking hopelessly out of place in his G-man suit next to the corral. A couple of curious horses trotted over to the fence to watch him pass. "What've we got?" he asked.
"No answers, but a whole lot of new questions." Morgan flapped his file folder toward the last cabin. "How the hell did the unsub manage to get three grown men out here? These weren't blitz attacks. No trace of drugs. And I can't think of any ruse or coercion that would get me to stand still long enough to string me up."
"Good point," Hotch said. "Maybe he convinced these men that there was some danger to their families."
"A neuromuscular agent is a possibility," Reid put in. "Like what we saw with that angel of death in Pittsburgh."
Hotch nodded. "The coroner still has Cooper's body. We'll have him check for an injection site. I'd say we're definitely dealing with a degree of sophistication here. This unsub is either charming enough to blend in at these receptions and fundraisers, or so familiar with the area that he can slip in and out without ever being noticed."
"Possible military training?" Morgan said. "Maybe we're looking at a militia type. Hardcore white supremacists."
Reid nodded toward the marshes and creeks. "No one reported hearing or seeing strange cars in the area. It's possible he came and went by boat."
And wasn't that a comforting thought: some whacked-out, backwoods, paramilitary redneck poling a skiff through the swamps? Morgan flashed briefly on mosquitoes and gators. He sincerely hoped they were dealing with a more urbane criminal, but suspected they wouldn't get that lucky.
They left the alley of oaks and crossed the grounds again, heading for the gin house-cum-gift shop to speak to the woman who'd found Cooper's body. A black muscle car motored slowly from the opposite direction, leaving the parking lot. An old Chevy Impala, late sixties. Something about that niggled at Morgan's brain. The low rumble of its engine faded as the car disappeared beneath the canopy of trees.
Three FBI agents and one clerk in a giant hoop skirt made the aisles of the gift shop seem even smaller. Reid browsed a shelf of trinkets while Hotch made the introductions.
Reid picked up a pen from the display, studied it as he turned it upside down. Morgan peered over his shoulder. Behind the pen's clear plastic casing, a tiny cut-out of a southern belle drifted from one end to the other, set against a veranda backdrop.
The exasperated tone of the clerk's words caught their attention. "Look, I already talked to a couple of other agents not even an hour ago. Can't you guys just share notes or something?"
Morgan stepped closer, shared a look with Hotch. "What other agents?"--
"Fuck," Dean said.
"Fuck," Sam agreed.
Dean shucked his jacket and tie, sat down hard on the edge of his bed. He slumped forward, elbows on his knees. "How are we supposed to work this case with real feds running around?"
Sam perched on the other bed, mirroring Dean's position. "Dunno, man. Guess we could split. Call Bobby, see if he knows someone who could take it."
"Yeah, and in the meantime, how long do you think it'll be before Casper the racist ghost finds another victim, considering there's a black agent working the case? If they happen to be at the plantation after dark, that guy is screwed."
"And if we get arrested for impersonating law enforcement, we're
screwed." Sam shot a glance over at Dean. "Or have you forgotten what it's like being trapped in a jail cell with Lilith out for our blood?"
Dean hadn't forgotten. Could never forget. More good people, dead because of him.
He pushed up from the bed, crossed to the window. Outside, midday sun sparked off the cars in the motel lot. The Impala was parked a few doors down from their room, sleek and solid and constant. He took comfort in its presence because he had to take comfort in something, a bubbly panic rising up in his chest, grabbing at his throat. He closed his eyes, dragged in a few deep breaths through his nose, and made up his mind. He was taking a stand here – because Jesus Christ, he couldn't let any more people die
"You said yourself this was a pretty straightforward case," he told Sam. "We can work this thing without getting in their way, hopefully wrap it up in a couple of days."
Sam watched him for a long, uncomfortable moment, and Dean wondered if this would be it: the time Sam refused, the time they split and went their separate ways for good. Dean didn't want it to happen – didn't think he could handle it if it did – but felt it coming, as inevitable as the end of his one year had felt, ten months (almost forty-one years)
Then Sam shrugged. "Guess we could do most of the research online. And I doubt the FBI will need the public library or vital records for anything."
"Well, all right then." Dean grinned. It felt weak even to him.
After a furtive trip to pick up a stack of books from the library and some steaming Styrofoam cartons of buffalo wings, they got to work, digging into the history of Branford Hall. Sam took the laptop – presumably because he was better-stronger-smarter, as he was so fond of pointing out – while Dean got stuck with several dusty volumes of county histories and genealogies.
Most of the genealogical information was documented with paperwork from the plantation, wills and inventories, bills of sale for slaves. He tried to read with objectivity, but couldn't ignore the human stories hidden in the dry legal language, the forgotten and nameless who'd been considered nothing but property. One bill of sale described a four-year-old girl who was traded for "one bay mare, two cows, and two pigs."
Jesus. A four-year-old kid. All the fucked-up shit he and Sam saw every day – spirits and demons and werewolves and killer clowns – and he still couldn't believe the things people did to each other.
When the coffee ran out, they took a break to start another pot and report their findings.
Sam stood and stretched, popping his back. "Well," he started, "this spirit, if that's definitely what it is, is a pretty recent phenomenon. There's nothing else in the history or lore to suggest spirit activity before the first killing in August of last year. And I think I know what set this ghost off. Last July, some of the graves in the family cemetery were dug up, most likely by graverobbers looking for jewelry or Civil War artifacts.
"I did find a few rumors of hauntings, but it's all your standard plantation lore: angry ghosts of slaves, yellow fever epidemics. The only interesting legend has to do with why the house was spared during the war – it was supposedly used as a cholera hospital. Of course, most scholars believe that Thomas Branford, Senior just hung out flags to make it look
like a hospital, so ghosts from an epidemic look pretty unlikely. What'd you get?"
Dean grabbed the legal pad full of his notes and flipped back to the start. "The first owner of the land was John Branford, who grew rice and indigo. Construction on the house was completed in 1742. Over the years, the plantation was passed down through the family – a total of six generations of Branfords owned it, until a spinster daughter died in 1943. Since then, the place has had a handful of owners. It was bought by the local preservation association in 1979."
"Any crazed white-power types stick out among the owners?"
"You know how these books are, man." Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "It's all civic pride, upstanding citizens, founding fathers. They never say, 'Mister Branford enjoyed tending his gardens and beating his slaves.' "But if I had to guess – " He paged through his notes. "I've got two guys that seem like a good bet. John Branford the third, owned the plantation from his father's death in 1802 till his own death in 1835. Some of the biggest expansions to the plantation occurred during those years, including the purchase of a whole hell of a lot of slaves.
"Then we've got Thomas Branford, Junior, Confederate hero
" – the word held a bitter edge – "who went off to war even though he could have bought his way out, because he was such a believer in the cause of states' rights."
"Any idea how either of them died?"
"Thomas was killed at Chickamauga, so 'violent death' definitely applies. Nothing I've read so far mentions John's death, but he was in his sixties when he died, so I'd guess natural causes."
Sam sprawled back into his chair again, watched as the coffee dribbled into the pot. "We'll have to find the death certificates. We need to find out how John Branford died, and where these guys are buried."--
Morgan slapped the hood of the SUV. "Dammit. We must have just missed these guys."
Hotch was on the line with J.J. at the sheriff's office, requesting a crime scene unit to search for fingerprints or any other evidence of the imposters. They'd done a quick check of the property, but the only visitors at the moment were two elderly couples on vacation from Ohio. Whoever these "agents" were, they were long gone – and Morgan had the sinking feeling he'd watched them go.
He leaned in close to Reid when he spoke. "I saw a car leaving while we were walking over to the gift shop. Late sixties Chevy Impala. Black."
A flash of recognition in Reid's eyes. "Hey, the Winchester brothers drove a black Chevy Impala. Sixty-seven, wasn't it?"
Morgan nodded. "I knew the lead on their case, Victor Henriksen. He was a good agent – and a good friend. I saw that car, couldn't quite place what it reminded me of. But that clerk's description sounded awfully familiar."
"But the Winchesters died in that explosion, over a year ago." Reid frowned. "Copycats, maybe? Like the Angelmaker case?"
Hotch had ended the call, caught the tail end of the conversation. "Please tell me we haven't found another dead serial killer acting from beyond the vale."
Morgan repeated what he'd told Reid. "Anybody else, I'd say we were dealing with copycats or just a huge coincidence. But those guys escaped custody at least twice that I know of, and Dean Winchester's already faked his own death once before."
"There wasn't much left to find after that explosion in Colorado." Hotch folded his arms across his chest, somehow managed to look even more serious than usual. "You think they engineered the whole thing and escaped again?"
Morgan shrugged. "Possible."
"Well," Reid said with a laugh, "at least we can be sure they weren't resurrected."--
The Charleston County Health Department was housed in a low-slung building that looked more like a strip mall than a government office building. Dean parked around back. They weren't sure the FBI guys had noticed the Impala, but there was no sense tempting fate.
Dean straightened his jacket, shot the cuffs. To cover all the bases, they'd need to get death certificates for all their possible suspects. A violent death that wasn't mentioned in any of the histories could focus the investigation in a different direction – and the certificates should list a place of burial.
The lady behind the counter looked like a soccer mom picking up some extra cash: plump and cheerful, wearing a baby blue sweater and glasses on a chain. Her nametag announced her as "Terri," and her southern accent was too sweet to be true. "Hello there, boys, how can I help you?"
They flashed their badges and Sam took the lead. "I'm Agent Cook, this is Agent Clifford. "We need to locate some death certificates in connection with a case we're working. Some of them go pretty far back, all the way to the 1800s. Would you be able to help us with that?"
Terri's eyes lit up, a suburbanite's typical excitement at helping with an investigation. "Of course. Be happy to, Agent Cook."
She took the list Sam handed her, written out in Dean's neat capital letters with as much detail as they could find. Terri frowned as she scanned the names and dates. "Some of these are from the old ledger books, might take a little bit of time to pull together. Do you boys have time to wait?"
Not like they had much choice. While Terri disappeared into some hidden archive, Dean leaned back against the counter, keeping one eye on the parking lot, one eye on his brother. Sam wandered over to a spin a rack of pamphlets, presumably hoping to learn about teen pregnancy and STDs. Dean wondered if they had one along the lines of "Sex With Demons – How to Stay Safe."
Of course, Dean didn't have much room to talk, hooking up with an angel.
God, if only he could get his brain to shut the fuck up
. He rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands. The daily headache was early today.
What he saw when he opened his eyes didn't exactly help matters: a big black SUV with government plates had pulled up in the parking lot and was currently disgorging the same FBI agents they'd seen at the plantation.Fuck.
Dean pushed away from the counter, slapped Sam's shoulder. "Dude," he hissed, "Feds." Sam turned, eyes comically wide. Frozen, they watched the agents cross the parking lot…and enter the suite next door, the coroner's office.
Dean released the grip he'd had on Sam's sleeve, let himself breathe again.
Sam looked a little peaked himself. "You wanna take a chance, hope nobody looks out a window back there?"
A minute later, they were on the road, sans death certificates. It took everything Dean had not to floor it. "Great. What now?"
"I dunno, man, we've gotta get that information somehow."
"Yeah, I know." Dean looked up at the rearview, tried to loosen his grip on the wheel.--
Morgan figured Victor Henriksen would be spinning in his grave.
You know, if there'd been enough left of the poor guy to bury.
After a few prints had been found at the plantation gift shop, a call from Garcia had confirmed everyone's worst fear: the Winchester brothers were alive and well. How they'd pulled that off was anyone's guess. All Morgan knew was that he wanted these guys bad, for Victor – and for his own curiosity.
Reid had obviously read up on the brothers at some point. He leaned forward between the front seats as Hotch navigated and Morgan drove. "No one was ever able to accurately profile the Winchesters. Their crimes were all over the map – ritualistic killings with elements of sexual sadism followed by bank robbery and grave desecration. Victimology was seemingly random. The older brother, Dean, was thought to be responsible for the most violent acts, since he was caught literally red-handed more than once. But they always escaped before anybody could get them to talk."
Morgan swung into the parking lot at the coroner's office. "Garcia's sending us everything she can dig up. Maybe we can find something that was missed – or at least try to make some sense out of this mess."
"In the meantime," Hotch said, "let's try to work this like any other case."
That was exactly what they did, grilling the coroner about his findings. There were no signs of injections on the latest victim, ruling out the theory of a neuromuscular drug. No trace evidence had been found, either. The visit was a dead end, until a plump secretary in a blue sweater approached Hotch. "I was wondering, would you mind giving these to Agent Cook? He and his partner must have had to leave in a hurry."
While Reid coaxed a description from the woman, Hotch fanned through the photocopied pages, then handed them to Morgan. Death certificates. The oldest dated back some two hundred years, entries in some old record book penned in a faded, spidery hand.
Morgan was getting sick of missing these guys.
By the time they got back to the sheriff's office, J.J., Rossi, and Prentiss were sorting through reams of printouts that nearly covered the conference table – crime scene photos, police reports, mug shots, newspaper articles. "What's all this?" Morgan waved a hand toward the stacks.
Prentiss grimaced. "Every bit of information Garcia's found so far, starting with any crime in which the Winchesters – father or sons – were ever suspected. Some of this stuff dates back to the eighties."
Reid slung his messenger bag into a chair and picked up the nearest sheaf, running one hand down the page while his eyes did a rapid scan. "I'll see if I can put together some kind of timeline."
Hotch stood with his hands on his hips and surveyed the mounds of paper. "What do we know for sure about the Winchesters?"
"Dean Winchester was born in 1979, Sam in 1983, to John Winchester and Mary Campbell of Lawrence, Kansas," Reid rattled off. "Mary was killed in a house fire in November 1983, when Sam was six months old. John apparently became delusional, convinced that his wife had been murdered by something supernatural. The family left Kansas after that. They popped up in records from time to time all over the country, but no one really knows much else."
"Henriksen told me they stockpiled weapons," Morgan said. "Everything from ceremonial daggers to sniper rifles, handguns to landmines. John Winchester had a lot of contacts among militia members out west."
"That definitely fits with the current case," Hotch said. "What about the grave desecrations last year?"
J.J. shook her head. "Deputies caught a couple of local kids who'd been hunting for jewelry to sell."
"The death certificates – why were those so important?"
Reid paged through the photocopies. "Looks like they're all members of the Branford family, the original owners of the plantation…though I'm not sure why they would need this information."
"They left without it, though, right?" Rossi said. "If it was so important, maybe they'll be back."--
The alarm was easy to bypass.
Sam stood watch while Dean worked the lock. No traffic on this street this late at night. A loud-ass cricket chirped somewhere to their left. Dean cast one last look around the parking lot. Empty, except for a couple of coroner's vans. No one in sight. He still had a bad feeling, the prickling sensation of being watched.
The last tumbler clicked. Dean pocketed his picks, held the door open for Sam.
Sudden light – the coroner's van's headlights. "FBI! Freeze!"
The shout came from behind the light.
Dean glanced over at Sam. Sam shrugged.
Opposite directions, Sam toward a nearby copse of trees, Dean across the parking lot toward the street. He hoped they'd chase him instead of Sam; he was supposed to be the dangerous one, after all. A quick look over his shoulder. Two agents followed.
Dean put on a burst of speed, but not so much he'd lose them. Sam had the better chance of getting away, and Dean wanted to give him as much time as he could.
When he thought he'd given Sam long enough to reach the woods, he slowed. He couldn't hear the feds over his own pounding footsteps, over his breath and the rush of blood in his ears, but he could feel the pursuit closing in. He slowed a bit more.
A body slammed into him from behind, taking the both of them down in a sprawl of limbs. The blow knocked the wind out of him; the pavement took the skin off his hands. He lay there for a moment trying to breathe, while the fed yanked on his arms, cuffed him roughly and a bit too tight.
"Dean Winchester," the voice behind him panted. "Lookin' pretty good for a dead man."
Dean wheezed a laugh. "You think I haven't heard that one before?"Part Two