|And The Holy Ghost
Author: Guede Mazaka
“Hey, it’s fresh meat. Grade A, Smecker…just look at the ID photo and you’ll see exactly what I mean.”
This coming on top of a really, really fucked day. The migraine had started around ten-thirty, when Paul had been walking around a domestic-turned-murder and had turned to see one of the beat cops swiping milk from the fridge. It’d steadily rose during a couple of desultory attempts at haranguing the locals into producing usable witnesses, then leveled out to a constant seething, a bleeding scratch that still itched, during the rest of his nonproductive day. His damn leg was acting up as well, forcing him to use the cane, and then Jude had swung in with a file, wanting another favor.
“Smecker. Don’t ignore me, okay? Give me at least that much respect.”
“Fine. Fuck off.” Paul flicked the file away with his finger, then lifted up the set of reports that’d been under it and began flipping through them. The shadows on the wall puppeted their mockery of his industry as a car drove by outside, some couple on their way into the dark promise of the night. “I’m organized crime. I’m not a fucking training dog for your misbehaving puppies. Go pimp your problem case to someone who gives a shit.”
Jude sighed and uncrossed his legs so he could sit more forward and less like the twenty-year-old hotshot exec that his paunchy fifty-year-old ass definitely was not. He was an old colleague, a leftover from the same academy class who’d hoisted himself into administration early and settled down there to lay fucking eggs. “Smecker. You’re thisclose to being cashiered out of here—”
About fucking time.
“—and straight into a psych ward. You have any fucking idea how many eyebrows went up when you made them keep you in Boston? What you need to do is give people something—”
“Fuck you, too. And how is partnering up with some kid you think is also nuts going to make me look saner?” Paul asked. He actually was interested in the answer to this question. Once in a while Jude came up with an original wad of bullshit, as opposed to the decades-old recycled shit that usually came down. It was pretty much why he still let Jude sit down in his office.
For a second, Jude just sat there, looking aggrieved as if he were the one needing the aspirin and having nothing but a half-empty bottle of whiskey in the bottom desk drawer. Then he shook his head, grinning to himself, his fat head morphing into a skull.
“Because I know you, Paul.” It’d been maybe two years since Jude had used a first-name address with him. “Dean Winchester. Sky-high scores on the physical tests. Scores on the other stuff were all over the place, but he’s been pulling enough of a caseload in the field so that the powers that be want him salvaged, if possible. The other agents in his district are starting to call him ‘Mulder.’”
“That’s your idea of piquing my interest?” Paul snorted. The throb in his head pounded over the sound of their voices, oscillating loud and soft with awkward, piercing hisses in between. He flipped the files with his fingers and caught the one Jude had brought, then pulled it towards him.
Jude tipped his head and looked at Paul like he was looking at a dissection in the morgue. “You are interested, aren’t you? He was based out west, but don’t worry, he just transferred here. Don’t need to push your old bones more than you have to.”
“Fuck you,” Paul said again, tiredly. He closed his eyes as he slotted the halves of the folder between his fingers, then slowly opened them to look at the papers. He heard Jude reply, chair creaking back into shape as the other man got up, but didn’t bother listening.
Interested? No, but if it made Jude feel better to think so, then Paul wasn’t going to make the effort of correcting him. That was surviving outside of a psychiatric center for you.
He heard a laugh and showed it the finger out of habit and not out of any real strong and fierce emotional response. He was too worn-out and aching to get really offended at the indignities that were hurled at him nowadays, but he was too old to just get the hell out of the way. And too much of a fucking baby to flip around his gun and blow himself to sleep.
The laugh came again and Paul looked up. The room bleared, blurred out its hospital neutral walls and turned to warm golds and greens and reds around the man standing there with the pint. Fucking Guinness. “Shut up,” Paul told the bastard, and he just smiled back as he toasted Paul. “Fuck that, and fuck you.”
Paul’s migraine crept back into the forefront of his attention, like a rat slinking along the wall, then suddenly bit down. He winced and Connor went away, like usual. He kept one hand pressed to the side of his head as he fumbled open the desk drawer and reached for the aspirin bottle that he already knew was empty—empty habit, too.
“Fuck,” Paul said. He got up and got his damn coat. The address on the first page of the agent profile was a good fucking fifteen-dollar cab ride away, even at this hour.
* * *
There was a drugstore on the corner across from Agent Dean Winchester’s apartment, which saved Paul ten cents. He spent an increasingly pained five minutes perusing the rows and rows of different kinds of aspirin before he finally settled on plain white tablets. After he’d paid, he stood over the trashcan just outside and shucked off the box, the protective shrink-wrap, the lid, and just dumped the bottle into his pants-pocket.
Chewing aspirin meant he had to take more, because he lost more of the active ingredient to his mouth’s digestive juices before it ever had a chance to hit his brain. It left him with a permanent sour, dried-out taste like stale vomit in his throat and a sickly white film over his tongue that scared people. By the time Paul had located Winchester’s apartment, he’d popped five of them and his headache was just beginning to curl back its claws.
The wrong man opened the door: three inches too tall, maybe four years too young, hair too dark and mouth too pretty. “Can I help you?”
An image of the profile page flashed through Paul’s mind. Too damn blurry nowadays, but it gave him the bare minimum. He put his cane out so the man saw it and tossed another aspirin into his mouth. Of course there had to be a brother. “Agent Paul Smecker. I’m looking for Dean.”
Winchester Two blinked, shifted uneasily with eyes flicking from the cane to Paul’s cheek; Paul tended to chew on the left side. The aspirin crunched louder than nuts. “Can I see some identification?”
“Why, you have a rap sheet?” Paul waited a moment, then sighed and pulled out his badge. Little bits of the pill spread over his tongue and worked beneath it when he talked, getting trapped so they dissolved into harshly bitter spots. “There.”
Dean’s presumable brother took it from Paul and looked it over more closely than the metal detector guards at the airport. He tipped it to check the hologram before he handed it back and opened the door wider. “Dean? There’s someone to see you.”
Inside was a stark Cubist landscape of boxes on one side and a nascent frat-house on the other. Furniture was scarce on the ground, but there was a couch, and two chairs and a table by the kitchen area, and they probably had actual beds instead of just mattresses on the concrete. Carpet. Paul closed his eyes and ate more acetylsalicylic acid, hoping it would win out over what his insides naturally oozed
When he opened them, he was staring at Dean Winchester. The man was prettier than his photo, but he looked more threatening when he was static and flat. In three dimensions, messing with a half-done white buttondown shirt, he told Paul exactly why Jude, that fucking hypocritical satyr of an HR pansy, had taken that angle. He had a grease smear on the back of his left hand and he was looking not at Paul so much as how his brother was positioned between Paul and the door, and he smelled like leather and salt and cheap hamburgers.
“Paul…Smecker,” he said in an uncertain tone.
“I’m your new partner.” Paul hung his weight back on his good leg so he could tap his fingers on his cane handle.
Dean flinched inwards, slamming on himself before he did something—probably punch Paul, if the flash in his eyes had been any clue. “Oh. You’re the gay one, aren’t you?”
“Jesus,” hissed his brother. He’d started to move away and poke around the boxes, but now he turned around again to watch.
“You’re the wet-ass Texas redneck one, aren’t you?” Paul replied. He dug around in his pockets, but instead of a little white round pill, he came up with a penny he’d forgotten to shift over. He pulled it out and dropped it on the ground without bothering to check which side was up, then reached into his pocket again.
The flash of anger came into Dean’s eyes again, and this time it hung around. “Kansas.”
“Whatever. There’s a reason I never worked farther west than Chicago.” Paul finally came up with another aspirin and flicked it into his mouth. He held it up against the back of his teeth for a moment, trying to gauge whether or not he needed to slow down yet, and caught Dean staring. “Aspirin,” he said, clicking the pill between his molars. “So what about these cases that took you to the big bad East Coast?”
The brother was still hanging around in the background, pushing into this box and pulling out those books. He hunched his shoulders even when he stood straight, and kept his head cocked towards Dean.
“You’re not gonna ask me if it’s a good time or anything?” Dean incredulously said. His eyes narrowed. He didn’t look at the cane, which put him one-up on about sixty percent of the general population when it came to subtle digs. “Are you supposed to be eating those like that?”
“Well, you’ve got dead people you say died unnaturally. Not really a good time for them, is it? Dean, how’d you do on chemistry? Bad?” Paul had glanced a second time at the man’s academic record before going up. Scores on non-physical tests hadn’t been scattered—they’d been schizo. “Yeah, well, why don’t we stay away from toxicology in that case. You drink coffee?”
Dean stared at him for another moment before abruptly turning away. He had a couple dress jackets tossed over a box stack and a scuffed casual leather one over the sofa-arm, which he started to go for before he thought the better of it. He jerked on his coat with curt movements, then walked around a little more.
“When you wear a tie, do you usually end up yanking at it every other second?” This time, Paul waited for Dean to reluctantly nod at him. “Then forget that. It’ll annoy the hell out of me.”
“Cell phone’s on, Sam,” Dean said as he walked after Paul. The door closed on Sam turning to look at them.
The lights flickered up, high and brilliant and red, and suddenly the pain slammed back through the painkiller haze that’d been developing. Paul saw flames, and through them, he dimly saw Sam’s eyes widen slightly.
The sound of the door hitting its frame cut the illusion in half so it flickered away. Not enough drugs, Paul grimly thought to himself. He counted the number left in his pocket and wondered if he’d have to stop at another pharmacy on the way home.
* * *
“You know, even in Kansas we’ve heard of you. You’re the guy they bring in after everyone else has fucked up,” Dean said over his house blend, black, two sugars. He hadn’t done up his cuffs and he’d left the top button of his shirt undone, too, so he looked like a fucking hustler with his latest pick-up. And he looked hurt, offended, all wary and beneath that, hoping for a denial from Paul. “Or when they think somebody’s lost it. Or both.”
“Thanks.” Too damned pretty. Fuck Jude and his fucking assumptions, but more than that, fuck his lousy eye. Dean was big and blond and obviously bred out of pure homey American wheat—not a trace of whatever European land had brought forth his ancestors in him. Not much of a sense of humor showing so far, either. “I’ll be honest with you: what I’ve heard about you is that you’ve lost it.”
The tension started at the edges of Dean’s face, like someone had glued fine hairs to him all around it and was yanking on them from behind. His mouth twisted and he leaned back, taking refuge in macho nonchalance. “No kidding. Did they say why?”
“I told them to fuck off before they could get to that part. Don’t think that’s because I like you, because I hadn’t even met you at that point.” Paul drank his coffee. It didn’t go well with the remnants of aspirin on his tongue and he couldn’t keep himself from grimacing. His leg began to ache and he moved it, only to have the ache spread: cramp, damn it. “Why?”
Dean put his hands back on the table and drummed his fingers on the edge. He was staring hard at Paul, trying to get a grip; Paul had seen that look so many damn times on so many damn faces. There’d been a handful of people in his life who’d ever looked at him like they either didn’t have to have a grip to get him or that they knew they were never going to get a grip and were okay with that.
“Because,” Dean finally said, pronouncing his words oh-so-carefully, “I believe in ghosts.”
He was waiting for a reaction. He was going to be waiting a while. “I work in the predominantly Irish Catholic sections of the city, Dean. And when I’m not there, I’m chasing down Italian Catholics and Russian Orthodox fucks. You wanna be more specific there?”
There was more drumming of the fingers. The noise began to blur together into a low rumble, oddly comforting, like an old engine purring along a clear highway. Then it stopped and the abruptness of it was like a shotgun blast. Paul realized he’d closed his eyes and opened them again to see Dean still staring at him in the same way. “You’re crazy,” Dean said. “Can you get me into the morgue? My clearance hasn’t been processed yet, but my body’s there.”
The fucked-up shop-talk of the criminally obsessed. It never failed to put a nasty smile on Paul’s face as he pretended not to think about the religious parallels. “Get me another coffee.” He picked up the one he had and levered his way out from beneath the table, manipulating cane and legs and sinking willpower. “Don’t stare at me, Dean. I’m not pretty and I don’t find it flattering.”
Dean called Paul a couple names beneath his breath. He got the damn coffee, though, and he remembered to get napkins and half-and-half, which Greenly never had.
Paul gritted his teeth. The headache and the aspirin smashed against each other a few more times before settling into a temporary stalemate, like a heavy band pressing down on the crown of his head.
* * *
“There’s a sixty-year-old lady in Indiana who used to have a congenital heart defect—” Dean’s accent briefly rolled its drawl into the twang of the coroner who’d introduced him to that phrase “—that kept her on an oxygen tank twenty-four-seven. Exactly the same kind of defect that this guy’s got. He’s twenty-three and has—”
“I can read, Winchester.” Actually, Paul had already finished, but he didn’t feel like looking up yet.
The body didn’t bother him. It was relatively clean as autopsies went, since the death had been internal and hadn’t disfigured the corpse beforehand. The autopsy itself told him the story in soulless technical terms that didn’t make him feel anything except his headache again, struggling back to life under the effort of remembering what medical terms unrelated to gunshot wounds or drug overdoses meant.
Dean shut up. He stood there and looked down at the body with an irritated expression, jiggling his hand in his pocket.
“How come this guy ended up here and not in Indiana?” Paul finally asked. He handed the analysis back to Dean and reached into his pocket. His hand came out with his cigarettes, and then things made sense.
He walked out of the room and made a hard right into the nearest office; he knew the labbie it belonged to was a chain-smoker himself and wouldn’t notice any extra smells. He heard Dean following, steps slow and sullen.
“Guy was on a flight home,” Dean said. His voice echoed through the place. This was Boston and down the way, two offices were still lit, but the forensic labs still had the kind of hollow ring more associated with abandoned buildings. “He had a heart attack just after they were cleared for landing. I’ve got six more pairs like this—old people having miracles, young people having tragedies.”
The first drag hurt nowadays, passing over raw nerves that never seemed to form calluses. The second drag usually took care of that. “Very poetic.”
“Thanks.” Dean’s sarcasm didn’t carry quite so well. “You track these things on a map, they follow the travels of a Sue Ann Le Grange. She’s the widow of a guy up in Nebraska who was claiming to be a faith healer. Someone sued him for fraud, turned up dead, and when they investigated, they found all sorts of black magic shit in the basement.”
“What’d they charge him on? Health code violation?” Aspirin and nicotine and caffeine in Paul’s system so far. He weighed the relative effects of each, then regretfully ground out his cigarette while half was still left. He needed to get in some sleep tonight, or else when he came in tomorrow morning, they’d try to book him for another fucking physical.
“Unfortunately, he had a heart attack and died right there while they were raiding him. Funny thing is, he’d had a similar episode a couple years before, only to miraculously pull out of it.” It sounded like Dean had found his groove, the story just spinning itself along out of his mouth. He didn’t even sound pissed off anymore, but instead was ignoring Paul to stare through the office window at someone walking down the hall. “The whole operation kind of folded, so they closed the case. Sue Ann started off cross-country to stay with some relations here.”
Paul followed Dean’s gaze and at the end of it found one of the few reasonably decent-looking lab techs. She had curves, all right, but he had a feeling Dean wouldn’t be able to get past her fascination with maggots. “Trailing death in her wake.”
“Now who’s being poetic?” Dean looked up and over at Paul, like he was hoping they were bonding or some ridiculous cuddly idea like that. His shutters came back down fast enough once he saw Paul’s expression; he coughed off to the side and straightened up, fiddling with the coroner’s report. “There’s evidence that she visited all of the people who lived. She sort of put herself up as a missionary type, hooking up with the local church while she was in town and going out to comfort the lost causes.”
“So what’s the official theory?” Paul asked. Crazy the kid might be, but so far it didn’t extend to shoddy investigative work. All the evidence Dean had offered had turned out concrete enough.
With a shrug, Dean flipped the report under his arm. The greenish white light streaming in through the windows turned his face and throat to pure smooth beeswax and made his shirt fluoresce beneath the dark jacket. Groovy death, man. “Coincidence. You know, maybe the woman’s just damn unlucky for some people. All the deaths technically have been ‘natural causes,’ after all.”
And wasn’t he a dedicated little agent, paying attention to that half of the story, when he was talking to a fucking fifty-something with a bad leg and addiction issues. “And what’s your pet theory?”
Dean stilled with his head turned slightly from profile to Paul, angled so the light clipped sideways through his eyes and took out all the color. The muscles around his mouth twitched, and also the muscles in his shoulders and arms, which were so casually bent out from his sides so he could hook his thumbs over his belt. “I think Sue Ann was pulling a spell to make her husband look like Jesus, and when that didn’t work, she let her husband take the hit. And she kept on going.”
“Okay.” Witchcraft. The pale light carving this lovely young man from seemingly pure air. Some kind of wicked magic responsible for everything, for what ailed and healed mankind, for why all the dumb fucks put up with an imperfect solution, and Paul was past fifty with a broken faith gnawing at him, and Dean staring at him, begging in spite of the proud lifted chin to believe. Fuck.
Paul picked up his cane from where he’d laid it against the desk. He used it to push the chair out of the way, then hobbled around Dean. His thigh was brutally cramping now, and he’d have to spend half the damn night with it wrapped up in a heat-pad, wide-awake and railing at the angel that lamed him without leaving one damn drop of epiphany behind.
“Where—where are you going?” Dean asked, belatedly shaking himself.
“Home. It’s late,” Paul muttered. “See you in the morning.”
Dean sputtered, wordless rage radiating from him in thoughtless plenty. “What the fuck--”
Paul kicked the door shut on him. By the time Dean opened it again, Paul was getting into the elevator.
* * *
After Paul had settled himself in his office the next morning, he made a couple calls to various administrative people. Then he sat back and looked at the amount of paperwork he’d have to hack through, and then he reached over to yank open the desk drawer. He took out the bottle of aspirin he’d just bought and popped a couple.
A cup of steaming coffee appeared a little before lunch, plopped down right on top of the folder Paul had just been about to open. He reared back with a scathing comment ready on the tip of his tongue, then bit down hard on it.
Dean made himself comfortable in the better of Paul’s two visitor chairs. He had on a tie and it looked like he was losing the battle with it. “I’m told you’re a little more human if you get lots of coffee,” he stiffly said. “Hope that’s true, because they don’t let me charge that to my expense account.”
Seeing shadows of the past again, Paul told himself with more than a touch of anger. Ed never quite had gotten the balls to beard Paul in the FBI office; he’d always left it for when Paul came down to the precinct station. “Did you finish processing? I’m not taking you out on the fucking streets if—”
With a sigh, Dean flipped open one side of his coat to show the gun and shoulder harness. “You want to check my badge too, make sure it’s all in order, Pops?”
“Call me that again and you’ll be buying me a new cane because my old one will be rammed up your smart ass till it’s knocking against your fucking teeth, sugar-pie.” Paul picked up the coffee and cautiously sipped it. The cream and sugar was right; Dean had been watching last night. “Do you need to do anything else?”
“Great. Let’s go. I’m already ten minutes behind, but if you’re a half-decent driver, you should be able to figure out a way to catch up,” Paul said, getting up.
He grabbed his coat and briefcase and walked out before Dean had even gotten up. Around four in the morning, he’d given up on the fucking thigh and just slammed a syringe into it, and now he couldn’t feel anything in that leg from the hip down. But he could walk the amount he had to on it. Actually, he wondered why he hadn’t done that sooner.
* * *
When the painkiller began to wear off, Paul had Dean pull over to the curb. He didn’t pack a full medical kit anymore, so he made himself get out of the car, wincing and swearing, and twist around to get into the backseat where his spare cane was. Maybe he could’ve done that without getting out of the front seat, but maybe he didn’t feel like acting like a fucking moron in front of Dean, who had been simmering all morning and was clearly just waiting for an excuse.
“So where to next?” Dean asked, just short of a snarl.
The cane had rolled so one end had gotten wedged in the driver’s seat’s runners. Paul studied the situation, then gave a sharp hit to the cane with the heel of his hand and watched it lever itself free. He smiled because God, he was so fucking clever, wasn’t he? Still master of basic physics, though when he straightened up, he was reminded that that was getting more and more difficult. “Bethel Seventh Day Adventist Church.”
“Get out of the goddamn car and take a look,” Paul snapped. He slammed the backdoor shut, then leaned against it and ground his hand into his thigh till he felt something give a little. When he tested it, he decided the muscles would cooperate long enough to get him to the corner. “Sue Ann Le Grange née Smith has cousins in the congregation and an uncle working for the pastor. Now, do me a favor and fuck off for a couple hours, but don’t do anything that’ll land more paperwork on my desk.”
Paul cautiously pushed himself off of the car. He waited a little, and when he didn’t fall over, essayed a few steps. He could feel Dean staring disbelievingly from the other side and had a sudden urge to laugh at the poor bastard. “Am I supposed to pick you up somewhere?”
“No, dahling, you aren’t. Show up at the office with some Chinese take-out that isn’t shot up with MSG around six, and stop looking at me like I’m your fairy godmother.” A cab just came into view and Paul hailed it down. When it drove away, Dean was still standing by the car with a poleaxed expression.
He’d learn better eventually. Because Paul wasn’t being generous.
“Cathedral of the Holy Cross,” Paul told the cabbie.
* * *
The black cassocks temporarily stopped gliding around. One of them, not the tallest or the most imposing, turned towards Paul.
“Mr. Smecker.” They never called him agent here, predictably enough. Deep down in their little parched sacramental hearts, they didn’t recognize any agency save one. “Are you here for confession today?”
“No, thanks. I just want some time in the back.”
The cassocks swept away, like fickle vultures spotting another carcass. Paul tightened his grip on his cane and looked up towards the gold and dull red of the altar. Then he put his other hand on the railing and slowly began to mount the steps. There were three, but they felt like thirty-three, full of agony and knowledge.
Not enough had been left to justify a burial, and no relatives had been around to pester the FBI for what little had remained, but Paul had heard the parish had chipped in to do empty caskets anyway. He wondered if they’d somehow managed to squeeze those into the walls, or if it was only this plaque.
It smelled thickly of incense and smoke and old, old wood back here…and beer. The last one did make Paul laugh under his breath; the sound rattled up against the silver candlesticks and the case in the back holding the altarpieces, but beyond that it was quickly deadened into nothing by the heavy woodwork.
He began to lean his cane against the table, but his hand spasmed and he nearly lost hold of the damn thing. The noise of the scuffle cut deeper into the cathedral—typical, that fighting would go farther—and he winced even though he already knew every damn person in the place was staring at him, at his fucking lapsed Lutheran ass trying to kneel before two of the deadliest serial killers—
--serial killers wasn’t the right term. Neither was repeat vigilantes. Fuck it, Paul told himself, and dropped his head so the edge of the table dug a bar across his forehead. Fuck that.
An’ bless you for it, whispered Murphy.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, I saw too late, and then I didn’t see at all. Peccavi, sons. Sorry for the fuck-up, once again.
* * *
Paul said hi to Greenly on his way back. The big dumb lout had turned out to be Presbyterian, and go figure: must have been Scots-Irish in there somewhere. He got a proper grave, with the grotesquely elaborate spectacle of a full Boston cop’s procession beforehand. New Orléans jazz funerals at least had decent music; Boston just offered a lot of bad booze during the wake, with exactly the wrong kind of fiddling for an aching head in the background. That night Paul had gotten so hammered, he’d woken up in the fucking detox ward with men and women in blue robes standing over him, talking about his fate. Not his idea of heaven.
Dean must have dropped by with dinner somewhere along the line, because when Paul finally left his office, take-out containers were scattered all over his desk. He didn’t remember whether the other man had spoken, or if he’d given him the cold shoulder or driven him away with a couple choice phrases. At any rate, he’d completely caught up on his backlog.
Unlike labbies, agents on the night shift didn’t like to stay in the office. The floor was all but empty when Paul walked out into the hallways, and hell, Julio way down at the end sitting on his pail and reading his Hispanic paper didn’t really count. He’d been working here longer than Paul, and sometimes it was more like he was one of those big plants passed around for job anniversaries.
Paul turned the corner to head for the elevators and ran into someone. Taller and broader than him, and viciously cursing.
“Jesus fucking Christ! Can’t you—ah, shit. It’s you.”
The nearest light was fifteen feet away and flicker-buzzing as some dumb trapped fly repeatedly shocked itself. It could’ve been any of a thousand hallways Paul had walked down late at night, any of a thousand crap-hole stations where he’d been unceremoniously knocked out of his thoughts.
“Smecker? What the hell are you doing?”
Paul yanked down his hand and pressed it against the cold wall so the burn would leech out of his flesh faster. He swore to himself; he could still see, like someone had overlaid Dean’s cheek and jaw with a black-paper cut-out with thumb near to touching the lips and fingers swooping past the eye, where he’d almost fucked up. “Being very tired and mistaking you for somebody else, obviously. I don’t molest jackass rookies of my own free and conscious will.”
Kansas drawl wasn’t anything like the punchy clip of the classic Boston windbag. “Old boyfriend?” Dean asked with more archness than Paul would’ve given him credit for.
“Dead boyfriend.” Cheap shot, and usually Paul didn’t rely on guilt to shut people up, but like he’d said, he was tired. Too tired even to care that he was admitting that now, and aw, poor Ed wasn’t around to say I-told-you-so-fucker. “The fuck are you doing back here? Aren’t you supposed to be kicking back beers with your Harvard brother or whatever the fuck?”
Dean twitched his head back a fraction of an inch, staring down at Paul. Then he jerked himself around and grabbed Paul’s arm in one fluid gesture that should’ve put him in the movies, or somewhere else that wasn’t going to rough up his grace. “Sam’s a big boy and can finish unpacking by himself. I set up a flag on the morgue system for any more weird deaths like the ones I’ve been tracking. Just got two in. Was that in my file? About Sam?”
“If that’s how you question people, no wonder your partners always wrote up the transcripts,” Paul snorted. He pulled his arm free and followed along at his own pace, which was a nice way of saying he limped his ass afterward. “What, embarrassed that you’ve got a smart brother?”
“Didn’t you pick up a college degree before you joined the FBI? Are you ashamed of that?” Dean shot back over his shoulder. He ruined the jab by glancing down, towards Paul’s leg, and then slowing up. “What’s wrong with it?”
Paul hiked his cane up in his hand and stretched it past Dean to push for the elevator. “I fucked it up directing traffic back when you were pissing in your diapers.”
They stood there for a moment, stuck in that awkward shoulder-to-shoulder stance of people staring at the digital floor display, watching the numbers go down like that’d speed things up. Then Dean put his head down, and then his shoulders shook a little. He rubbed at the bridge of his nose as he glanced sideways to Paul. “You fuck with everyone like this?”
“Well, telling them to shut the fuck up stopped working around when MTV hit.” The doors opened and Paul slipped inside while Dean was still recovering from his laughing fit. He punched in for the floor where the coffee machine was, and then for the garage.
Dean walked after, still shaking his head. He didn’t comment on the lighted buttons on the wall panel, but as the doors slid shut, he turned to Paul with an honest-to-God earnest expression on his face. “So why’d you get me that lead?”
“So I can tell you we’ve got a full day tomorrow and no time to take off for your personal obsessions, so shut the fuck up and take it like a man,” Paul sighed. He’d meant to put all that snap and fire people usually expected from him into it, but he was sleepy. He needed that goddamn coffee, and he needed to give his leg a good rest so he didn’t wake up frothing tiny bits of white pills at the mouth. “You wander off tomorrow and I’ll make sure they boot your fucking ass to mail fraud.”
“Okay,” Dean said after a moment. He blinked a little in the grayish light. His face smoothed over, went stony and polite. “You could’ve just said so.”
Paul shut his eyes and kindly refrained from pointing out that that was exactly what he’d just done. Then he opened them, wishing humans could shut their ears without having to use their hands. A muffled whistle had filtered down to them—probably just the elevator grindings its chains, but still sounding too much like a certain bar-song for Paul’s comfort.
“Can’t you get a doctor to get you anything stronger than aspirin?” Dean was staring at the cane again.
“Yeah, and then they can give me a disability discharge. Think about it for a second before you ask what’s next on your mind, Dean,” Paul muttered. “Pays more, but then I have to keep going to doctors. And they have reasons to keep up my medical files after I’ve left.”
“You could give me a chance to think,” Dean said. He was remarkably controlled about it.
What was it Paul had screamed? If he’d wanted someone else to think, he’d have a toe-tag on him—no, that wasn’t it. That’d been what he really had meant, though, and hadn’t that turned out fucking great. His intelligence wasn’t all-encompassing, wasn’t infallible, wasn’t even that fast.
They’d stopped at the floor with the coffee machine, but Paul was wide-fucking awake now, his thoughts running round and round like the shadows racing each other about the elevator as the doors closed again.
“Okay,” Dean finally breathed, confused and pissed off about it and clearly not going to bring it up. “Whatever.”
* * *
The bodies were of a woman and a man, and as it happened, Paul recognized the man. He furthered the rights movement for a certain segment of the population, all right, but when it came to his personal life, he was a control-freak with only half the number of domestics on his rap sheet as there should’ve been because the local law just couldn’t get how men beating on men constituted abuse. “Fucking activist fag.”
Dean paused, glove-box slipping from his hands to dance a little on the steel counter. Then he resumed snapping on the latex, watching Paul like he was a possible rabies case. “Know him?”
“The lady was in the papers a few weeks ago,” said the labbie. He was waiting for them, already garbed in plastic with his scalpel hovering over the female corpse. “What was it…right, they were quoting her on one of those abortion-protest cases. She was a lawyer for the pro-choice side.”
“Well, that fits the pattern too,” Dean muttered. “What can you say about cause of death?”
* * *
Paul leaned in the doorway and watched Dean bang in the last pin with his stapler. “Nice map.”
“Hey, you said we were done for the day. My paperwork’s clear for a while, so I’m not wasting government money or anything by following up my hobby,” Dean grunted. He let his arms fall and dropped back with their swing, then put his hands on the edge of his desk and rolled his shoulders. He stared up at the map with its snaking trail of shiny pinheads.
He was blond, Paul reminded himself. It was a nice clear difference between the past and the present. “Did you find any corresponding failures to die for the latest two?”
Dean pushed himself up to sit on his desk, then slewed himself in a half-turn so he could look at Paul. “Do you really care, or are you just humoring the rookie?”
“Does it fucking matter to you, honey? Seems like it’s the only way you’re gonna get anyone to listen to you,” Paul snorted. A spike of pain drove up from his knee deep into the thigh muscle and he twisted so he could dig the heel of his hand into the spot without looking obvious about it. He’d left the aspirin in his office, but…he still had his cigarettes. He stopped pushing at his leg long enough to light one. “I hear the office nickname for you here is ‘Buffy.’”
“Well, she does kick a lot of ass.” It wasn’t a complete save; too much resentment came through for that, but Dean stiff-upper-lipped better than Paul had thought he would. “Yeah, I did. I’m working on tracking down Sue Ann, but that’s not flying well with the admin guys.”
And then Dean just put himself back into the shit-house. “It’s called due process and legal rights and fucking huge lawsuits, Winchester. You can’t just put out an APB on a person without any good reason.”
“I know. I’m not stupid, okay? But I can’t—” Dean screwed up his face and made chopping gestures of frustrated uselessness “—this woman is killing people, and I can’t just sit here.”
Well, Paul wasn’t stupid either, and he paid attention to his history and yet he still seemed doomed to repeat it. He remembered he used to wear headphones and pack Baroque and Prohibition-era delta blues against the roar and the fury of the world, hoping beauty would outlast it or cynicism would undercut it. He couldn’t remember, right here and now, what he’d done with his fucking headphones.
He turned away so the smoke curled around the side of his head and touched his ear ever so gently, skimming it with heat. Fire and brimstone filled his mind and plugged up his nose with the smell of ashes.
How many crusades and pilgrimages were necessary to expiate sin, anyway? At some point didn’t it just tip over into masochism, and what was that but an extremely unhealthy attachment to the fleshly world?
“Hey! What’s up with you, anyway? Do you believe me or don’t you? What kind of fucking partner are you?”
“I’m not your partner, jackass. I’m the guy they set up to bring you back onto the straight and narrow. Or alternatively, certify you as gone beyond the pale.” Paul kept walking. Hobbling on his jury-rigged leg and humming to himself to keep out the sound of the desperation in Dean’s cry. He cut his losses while he still had enough of a body left for Resurrection Day. If he was wrong, then let God and not man prove he was a goddamn idiot. For once in his life.
* * *
“I’m not bringing you any more coffee till you start being polite to me, at least. I think asking for ‘nice’ might just kill you.”
Another late night at the office. A couple more months of this and Paul might as well give in, save on all the retirement money he was squandering on his apartment and move a cot into the corner here. “Whatever. Did you get back to the lab?”
“Yeah, and it’ll be on your desk in the morning,” Dean said. He started to move, but it was only to let someone else pass him in the hallway. He braced himself back in Paul’s doorway afterward, shoulder against one side and arm stretched across to grind his palm into the other. “I talked to Connolly.”
Jude. If Dean knew what was good for him, he would’ve stayed on the far side of the desk and never asked why Jude’s hands were beneath it so much. “Yeah?”
“He says I’ve been doing good work, clearing a lot of cases. ‘Shaping up,’ so I guess we can assume he thinks I’m out of the danger zone. Said to pass along his compliments.” Dean’s upper lip curled derisively through most of that. He tugged at his tie three times, and ran his finger between his gun harness and shirt once, pushing beneath his arm where the straps dug the worst. “You’ve been—” slight collision in his throat there, his pride and his honesty getting into it “—doing most of that, actually. You just have me do all the legwork, and then you put it together.”
“Physical effort isn’t my strong point,” Paul dryly said. “Keep the compliments, Dean. I’m a wrinkled old bastard and I wouldn’t know what to do with them.”
That wasn’t a compliment itself, and from the way Dean snorted, he probably realized it. He scanned over Paul, eyes lighting on the steaming coffee Paul had dosed up with a shot of whiskey, the cigarette in Paul’s hand, the cane hanging on the wall. “Well, I guess we all play to our strengths.”
“Nice to see you’ve got an appreciation of your limits.” Paul went back to shuffling papers. After reading through one paragraph, he reached for his coffee and took a good long swallow of it.
Dean emitted the little airless ‘ah’ noise characteristic of a jaw dropping. Judging from the silence afterward, he held that pose for a while. Then he sucked in his breath, but instead of giving Paul an entertaining piece of his mind, he hesitated again.
“Thanks.” He spat out the word as he finally walked off.
He hadn’t shown up just to tell Paul that, even in a slightly nicer version. But Paul hadn’t wanted to hear it. If the record player was going to run the same dialogue over and over again and Paul couldn’t turn off the fucking thing, he’d break it.
He got through another page before he leaned down and pulled open that bottom drawer. He’d half-finished his coffee; now he topped up the mug with whiskey. And after a moment’s thought, he left the bottle on the floor by his desk, top off. Paul pulled out a sheet from the very bottom of the stack and looked at the address on it for the fourth or fifth time of the day. Dean had finally tracked it down around ten in the morning, or so said the secretary scuttlebutt; he’d come in with a grin on his face and mentioned leaving early to pick up his brother for something.
Well, one Harvard scholar down the drain. And a lot more besides, but Paul thought he had enough whiskey to avoid thinking about that.
* * *
At some point, Paul went out of his office to take a piss and heard Dean calling a farewell to somebody. He turned on his heel and nearly overbalanced into a trashcan, but caught himself on the wall. Then he stumbled the ten yards to the bathroom—a ten-year running fight with the admin had finally seen them giving him an office perfectly situated for midday breakdowns—and had his piss.
He pushed his burning, aching head against the cool wall tiles and heard someone laughing at him. Paul gave them the finger as he zipped up and the laughter turned to swearing, to low hissed imprecations.
“Fuck off, Greenly,” Paul muttered. He stood there and put up with it a little longer, his head bowed over the stinking urinal. Then he flung himself around to confront the smartass son of a bitch, but of course Greenly left then and there was no one and no sound except for his harsh, jerky breathing.
He still had a fifth of whiskey left at that point. Reading the reports got harder and harder as the words blurred, swam off the page and regrouped themselves in taunting ways. He skimmed a sheet twice before figuring out that he was reading a toxicology analysis and not a selection of God’s best bitching-outs from the Old Testament.
The whiskey got finished off, and he still had work. He couldn’t muster up the coordination to walk to the door, so he had to sit there and sift through the damn files till finally it was fucking ten-thirty and he was sobering up and all that was left on the desk was Sue Ann fucking Le Grange’s Boston address. Where the hell did that kind of name come from, anyway?
Fuck it, Paul didn’t care. He packed his shit up and somehow got himself downstairs and out onto the street to catch a taxi. The driver asked him where to and he actually needed a moment to realize he was hesitating; he snapped his apartment address at the man, who took it in typical Boston stride with a sulky curse and a quick peel away from the curb.
Paul stretched out in the backseat, letting his head go back so he could stare at the ceiling. Abraham had sacrificed the ram, not the man, but how guilty was the sheep, anyway? Or maybe it was two sheep, two cocky Irish bastards with wool between their ears, but the man had died anyway. Eventually. People always did. What was the point of trying to save them?
Hey, man, I signed up with the PD to help people. So Connor and Murphy, they’re people, but they’re not the only people out there, you know?
“Yeah, Greenly, you fucking dumbass. Figures you’d start making sense after I get you killed,” Paul muttered. He put his hand over his face. The world went to sound and quickly filled up with the rasp of his breath, the low irregular thumping of blood whooshing through the veins running near his eardrum.
Thanks for havin’ faith in us, man.
“Thanks for going and fucking dying on me, you sorry little sons of bitches. Thanks for shooting my fucking leg and starting the whole fucking mess just so you had the last damn word. Thanks for making me ditch Greenly knowing his dumb ass wasn’t going to stay out of that standoff—”
“Hey, dude, something wrong with you?” The cabbie. If he thought he had a crazy, he’d drive Paul to the nearest hospital and run out screaming for a SWAT team.
Paul pressed his hand down hard on his face, then jerked himself up and forward so he could rest his elbows on his knees. His leg screamed. His head whirled and he got nauseated and the back of his fucking throat tasted like vomit. “Yeah. Changed my mind about where I want to go.”
“Man, we’re like, five blocks—” Cabbie thought he had an angry drunk, which was certainly what Paul looked like to himself in the rearview, and he was just going to play along. Better chance of keeping the puke off his seats, and dry-cleaning was goddamn expensive. “Okay, okay, your wallet.”
“Yeah, I’m paying.” Paul gave him the other address. “Make it snappy, shithead. FBI business.”
“Aw, shit,” cabbie whined.
Fuck him, and fuck the voices in Paul’s head. The whiskey wasn’t loud enough.
* * *
Sue Ann lived in a little pastel Sue Ann house in a little precious Sue Ann neighborhood. The cab hadn’t pulled away before Paul could see curtains across the street being drawn back.
He knocked on the door twice, once with his fist and once with the head of his cane. The second time, he heard footsteps scurry up to the other side of the door and had his badge out to flash it when the door was cracked open. The pale face framed in it widened and started to speak; Paul ignored them and jammed his cane into the crack. He caught the door-chain with it, then pulled back and twisted.
Paul had never been a fucking strongman, but he knew all the petty Boston construction frauds that went down in neighborhoods like this. The door was cheap box pine and didn’t hold the screws. Sheer shock kept whoever was inside from resisting much when Paul shoved at the door and shouldered in over the fallen chain. “FBI, stop whatever the hell you’re doing.”
“Mother?” quavered a girl’s voice from a darkened room.
Mother apparently was the one who’d answered the door. “No! No! You can’t—this is her only chance! She’s dying!”
“Shut up,” Paul snapped, swinging out with the cane. That was for balance on his part because the whiskey was eating at him in irregular waves, but by chance the tip flew near the woman’s face and she backed off.
There was a sliver of light coming from beneath what Paul thought was the basement door. He headed for it and pulled hard on the knob; it’d been locked too, but the same thing happened with this door as with the front. Also, when drunk Paul didn’t feel what the hell he was doing to his muscles, really.
He went down the stairs. That damn woman was shouting her head off and it sounded like she was coming after him. The steps were uneven and sometimes came at him in a rush so he stumbled and skidded and never took a steady step his whole way down till he was finally facing a fucking Halloween tableau in the basement. Dean was on the floor and looked concussed. Someone—Paul would’ve laid payday money on it being Sam, if he’d been sober enough to figure the odds properly—was banging inside a closet. There was a dumpy middle-aged woman standing in front of a tricked-out altar that would’ve looked at home in the Santeria haunts of the Harlem ghettos, and then there was a gaunt, grey-faced bastard standing over Dean with his pasty mummy hand almost touching Dean’s face.
“Don’t interrupt! It’s for the best.” Sue fucking Ann smiled like a Santa Claus candle. “I’m trading evil for good. That girl upstairs deserves to live, and this man—”
“Well, he’s a pain in the ass, but at least he’s not gay like me,” Paul said. He took a step, swayed too much during it, and fell back against the wall to eye the grey man. Predictably enough, Paul did recognize him. “He doesn’t stalk innocent young men so he can fornicate in their mouths and asses later on, and he doesn’t lie awake at night thinking about the taste of come, and you know, I bet—”
Sue Ann looked as if she were getting fifty years of education slammed into her schoolmarm head. Dean was being an idiot and doing an openmouthed stare instead of trying to get away.
“—if he met up with two killers who went around shooting people, he probably would’ve arrested them instead of helping them break into a courtroom to shoot a guy. He sure as hell wouldn’t—oh, changed your mind, did you?” Paul slouched where he was and snickered himself sick as Death slowly turned around to face him. He would’ve waved if he hadn’t needed both hands to stay upright. “Yeah. Yeah, you remember me, don’t you? Mind not fucking it the hell up this time?”
Flat black, with no gloss at all, stared back at him. Same thing he’d seen squatting in Il Duce’s eyes, flickering through the panic in Connor’s and Murphy’s eyes near the end. Same thing he’d seen clouding over Ed’s eyes.
It glided like those priests, coming to within two or three feet of Paul, and there it stopped. After a moment, it cocked its head, and a terrible, improbable suspicion began to grow in Paul.
Sue Ann suddenly shrieked, “Do something!”
Death raised its right arm and pushed its hand at Paul’s face, like it was trying to force itself through something thick, slow to yield. Then it put its arm down again and stood there, and Paul shook his head once, hard and sharp. He meant to laugh and instead swore, so violently that he nearly lost his grip on the wall. “Fucking Irish! Fuck! I didn’t want this, you lousy bog-trotting assholes! Don’t—fucking--do--this to me!”
The world suddenly filled with a horrendous, thundering crash, and lilting over it Paul heard Connor and Murphy laughing. The bastards. The fucking—everything spun around and it dragged at Paul’s knees so no matter how he clawed at the wall, he still went down. He slammed out his hand and hit concrete, the coldness of it jarring up his arm as warm bile rose in his throat and heaved out of his mouth. Paul sank back for a moment, then rocked forward again as another wave of nausea ripped through him.
* * *
Eventually he became aware that someone was holding his shoulders up. They had his tie out of the way, too. Paul spat one last time, then made himself open his eyes and focus. The first thing he saw was the shiny edge of freshly-broken metal: a dangling link. He absently flicked at it.
“That bitch threw the key to them somewhere, but Sam found wire-cutters. Man, I’ve been here less than a month and I’ve already got to file for lost cuffs.” Dean slowly let go of Paul’s shoulders and sat back. He twisted himself down and around in an attempt to look Paul in the face, then grimaced. “Are you drunk?”
“No, I’m fucking wasted,” Paul muttered. He wiped at his mouth with his hand. “Fucking assholes. If this was the first miracle, then they fucked it up because I’m not standing witness for their canonization.”
The hands went back on Paul’s shoulders and jerked him up so he got a nice look at how concerned and scared Dean looked on his behalf. Over Dean’s shoulder, Paul glimpsed a humped form; on second look, it turned out to be Sue Ann, her face twisted into a ghastly bloodless mask, sprawled before her toppled altar. Death wasn’t around any more.
“God-fucking-dammit, Dean. It’s Friday night and you just landed us with—” Paul remembered the girl’s voice coming out of the dark, made almost sexless with fear “—at least one dead body.”
“Well…right. Sorry,” Dean said, awkward between his relief and his budding irritation. He patted at Paul’s shoulders a few more times before he twisted around to greet someone coming down the stairs: his brother. “He’s okay, pretty much. What about the two women?”
Sam opened his mouth, but a strident voice cut him off from higher up in the stairwell. “My baby’s fine, but only for now. She wasn’t healed! You didn’t let her!”
“Did you fucking mention to her that if she had been, she could’ve been charged for accessory to murder?” Paul snapped. He pushed himself against the wall, then staggered back onto his feet. “Jesus Christ. Look, is she over sixteen? Gets three meals a day and has a nice bed at night that she doesn’t have to whore herself out for? Then why don’t you give her a goddamn hug for once and stop harping so much on how she’s gonna fucking die? You know where she is when she goes, then you’ll be better off than half the fucking mothers I have to show down to the morgue.”
One moment of silence. Then another. Then Paul pressed his hands to the sides of his head and sighed. He was beginning to think that the pain in his head was progressing to hang-over stage.
Dean started to say something, then cut himself off by turning around and going hunting around the basement. He came back a second later with his muddled-up coat in his hands, and after digging around in the pockets, produced a bottle of aspirin. “Guess you don’t need water,” he muttered.
Paul threw the two pills he was offered into his mouth and mashed them between his teeth. “Shut your goddamn mouth and get your brother and those girls out of here already. Fuck, I didn’t need this. I needed to get drunk--”
“Yeah, well, I’m real sorry I interrupted that,” Dean said under his breath, sounding about as far from sorry as he could get. “Sam…”
“Got it,” Sam said, going back up. A few moments later, Paul could hear him herding the two women…somewhere else.
Dean had the next two pills out so fast he almost was shoving them in Paul’s mouth before Paul could take them. He was jiggling his foot. “So…does this mean you believe me?”
And what exactly, Paul helplessly thought, was one supposed to fucking do when gifted with something before one was ready to take it? He would’ve been fucking happy to have it out with Death, and not for the sake of the girlie upstairs; he just was goddamn ready to be done with it. He didn’t want to do this again, and he sure as hell didn’t want to feel like doing it again.
He hadn’t wanted to be forgiven yet—not by those goddamn Irish fucks. He hadn’t.
“You know, I’ve been an agent for thirty years—four years longer than you’ve been walking this damn planet. Back when I first started, nobody thought cocaine was going to be a big deal. It was gonna stay with the blacks and the spics, get them to kill each other off and lighten up the caseload, that was all,” Paul muttered. “And then two months in, I try to book a guy for questioning with a murder and he thinks I’m there for his kilos of crack and that’s the first fucking time somebody tries to kill me on the job. You know what that means?”
“That…you believe me?”
“That if something fucking tries to kill me, I fucking well believe it exists.”
After a moment, Dean shrugged and handed Paul the whole bottle. “Hell, that works for me. So…is this where you teach me about manipulation of the crime scene and perjury?”
“Fuck off.” Paul chewed down a few more aspirin as he stumbled towards the stairwell. He amazed himself by managing to hook his cane over the railing, but nearly fucked it up when he tried to pull himself up. His foot slipped and his back slammed into Dean’s hands; the broken cuff-chains on Dean’s right jabbed through Paul’s clothes to sting him.
Dean gave him a shove and backed off so Paul could lunge at a couple more steps. “Should I call for coffee or back-up first?”
The wisecracking little bitch was grinning at Paul, and kept on doing it even while Paul glared and tripped and swore like the goddamn bastard he was. “Call in to the local precinct and tell them I’m the presiding officer. They’ll bring the fucking coffee.”
“History with you, huh? Well, okay,” Dean airily said. “Hey, by the way, thanks for sa—”
“Shut the fuck up, Dean. I’m hung-over, or did that escape your goddamn notice?”
“Okay. Jesus goddamn Christ…” After they got out of the stairwell, Dean wandered into the next room, dialing on his cell.
Paul leaned against the wall and closed his eyes, calling himself idiot and lucky and miserable and a couple other nastier ones. Then he opened them.
“You’re all his now, you mean son of a bitch,” Ed said, smirking at him. Then the other man faded away as Dean walked back out of the shadows, cell glued to one ear and lots of questions in his eyes.
For the moment, Paul ignored him and squeezed his eyes shut again. “Yeah, good fucking luck,” he muttered.