"Maybe One Day, I Could Run Away"
One more load. Maybe two if the boxes left in the back of the borrowed Blazer are the really heavy ones. Then all she has to do is unpack. And hang her diplomas on the wall. And buy some art. And get some furniture for the waiting room. And hire an assistant. And find some clients.
“Stop it, Mara,” she commands herself, picking her way through the maze of Bankers’ Boxes and mostly-assembled furniture that is gradually beginning to take shape as her new office. She stands at the wide window to watch the Sunday afternoon traffic meander past the bakery, hardware store, dusty antiques shops that line the other side of the street. The glass is smudged, even grimy, and she’ll have to get blinds installed if she ever expects to be able to work here in the afternoon when the sun starts to slant in across her desk, but it’s also the main reason she stopped touring Rock Springs’ office spaces for rent as soon as she saw this one. Even with the narrow stairwell and the dubious plumbing in the building’s shared bathroom, not to mention the fragrant Chinese carryout next door and the kitschy shop on the first floor, offering Herbs, Crystals, Massage, and Tanning.
She’d always wished for a window, a little sunlight, down in the basement where the PD’s cubes were stashed. And now this one is hers, even if thinking about how exactly she’s going to make use of it gives her a little twinge of nerves like she hasn’t felt since her first closing argument. Which led to her first win. And her first celebratory dinner-and-why-don’t-you-stay-for-breakfast? with Peter. But all of that’s the past. Her future is, apparently – no, amend that, absolutely - here in Wyoming.
She should have taken Susan up on her offer to get a sitter and indulge in a little retail therapy this afternoon. Especially if all she’s going to do is stare out her very own window and think about Little Rock. She tugs at her hair to tighten it in its lazy ponytail and collects her keys, impatient now to check “Unload the Car” off of the To Do list that started last February with “Find Nana’s Will” and will end with “Open for Business” one day soon.
While she’s wrestling with the heavy door, trying to prop it open for her loaded-down return trip, she hears a car pull up to the curb in front of the Blazer. She knows without looking that it’s something big and classic. Something that goes through gas like Nana used to go through grape soda before the doctor put her on insulin. Of course, even looking at it a moment later, she doesn’t know what kind of car it is, apart from black and glossy and somebody’s baby, with all that gleaming chrome. Probably the pride of some old man, retired but still spry, come to shoot the shit around the counter in the hardware store.
If she stacks these last three boxes just right and takes it slow up the stairs, she can get everything inside in one trip and then maybe take a break for some early supper, maybe pick up a bottle of wine and open it while she finishes organizing everything.
The door, as though it senses her approach, works itself loose to slam shut just as she reaches it. Before she can invent a new curse word or decide how to shift her load in order to work the brass lever of the doorhandle, the little bell over the door of the downstairs head shop tinkles and someone exits, snapping “Dude, quit talking to me like I forgot how to do the job. I got the ingredients right here. We can do the cleansing tonight and get the hell out of this state.”
“Excuse me,” she calls, trying to crane around the top box to catch a glimpse of her potential Good Samaritan. “Could you get this door for me?”
“I’ll call you from the road,” he says shortly, followed by the snap of a flip-phone flipped closed a little harder than strictly necessary. She catches herself smiling at the sound that was so much a part of her harried government-employee soundtrack. She only misses it a little.
“I’ll do you one better,” he says, and even through the rasp in his voice, she can hear the good humor he’s injected into his tone for her benefit. “Let me take these for you.”
And as he shoulders open the door and relieves her of the top two cartons, her brain locks up for a beat and her grip on the remaining box fails, letting thick manila folders slither out and spill their contents across the floor at their feet.
The jumpsuit is blue instead of orange this time, and the healing cuts are scattered over different parts of his striking face. And the band of faded bruises that disappears beneath his collar is a new accessory, but she’s sure it’s him. She’s got a file on him – a damn thick one, too – somewhere around here. Maybe even in one of the boxes in his arms.
“I’m sorry. Who?” he says, eyes locking instantly onto her own. There’s something wary in the appraisal, and she can’t tell if it’s because he doesn’t remember her or because he does.
He might not recognize her at all. When they met in Little Rock her hair was a different brown and she’d been wearing her most sharply-tailored don’t-fuck-with-me suit instead of today’s ratty, retired gym clothes. Or he might just wish he didn’t, since they both know he’s only here because he and his brother actually pulled off a prison break.
Plus, there’s the fact that the last thing she added to her folder on him was a report of his death, last year in some freak accident in Colorado.
“Mara Daniels,” she says, “Green River. Not the one just up I-80; the one in Arkansas.”
Something like relief flickers across his face, disappearing almost before she can register it. “Right. Sorry. I’d have placed you eventually, it’s just the last couple of years have been…” he seems to struggle for the right word, finally settles on, “long,” paired with a wry expression, like he’s repeating a joke he doesn’t expect her to find funny.
“And strange, right? I never expected to see you again, considering.” She lets him interpret considering what however he likes, and weighs the charges in his file against what her gut and all of her contacts told her about him one last time while she collects her scattered files. All those theories about lawyers’ Spidey sense, about the preternatural ability she should have to tell good men from bad, guilty from innocent, with “just one look” are mostly bullshit. Lawyers are just people, and people can be wrong about each other.
But sometimes they’re right, and she’s always had this feeling about this case, this man. Back while she was representing him, imagining that the FBI might be as reasonable as the local investigators, researching obituaries instead of precedents. While she was stonewalling the feds like she’d suddenly starting living in some preposterous TV show. Every time over the next year that she spent an idle lunchtime researching his rap sheet, his family.
And she has a new feeling now, that once he leaves, “gets the hell out” of Wyoming, she’ll never get another chance to make sense of his life (and deaths) and string of grateful “victims”.
“I’m just upstairs, if the offer’s still good,” she says, straightening with her recovered box.
He’s still standing on the threshold, bracing the door with his solid frame, and watching her cautiously. Wondering if she’s part of some elaborate sting? Trying to decide if she’s hitting on him? She can’t tell, but she must pass his inspection, because he ultimately ducks his head with a smile and an “After you.”
“I’m sorry about the mess,” she says, shifting the carton to her hip while she works the lock to her suite of rooms, “I’m just moving in.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that,” he says, smile turning rueful when she turns to give her most baffled stare.
“What? Oh, you can set those down anywhere,” she adds, resting her own load on the desk that will eventually belong to her receptionist.
“I just sort of assumed I had something to do with you being here. I thought maybe you got fired for helping us out or something.” He walks to the corner of the room and tucks the boxes against the wall, where she won’t be able to trip over them absent extraordinary circumstances, and she knows that she’s been right all this time. That this feeling she’s always had isn’t make-believe, even if she’s never been able to put the right words to it.
“No,” she says, “nothing like that. I won’t lie. Your case was one of my more, let’s call it “exhilarating”, experiences in the P.D.’s office, but it was never that dire. I left on my own earlier this year. I mean, you’ve seen the news. All the states are broke, so when they started begging for people to take voluntary lay offs, I signed up.” She wonders if she should share so much. Maybe he’d be more likely to answer her questions – one she figures out how to ask them – if he felt beholden?
“And came here? I mean, no offense, but Rock Springs, Wyoming?” he says, slouching against the sill of the window that she imagines her waiting room seating will overlook.
She shrugs. “I’ve got friends here, and if I’m starting over, might as well go big, right?” She got good at answering this question nonchalantly before she even collected her last paycheck in Little Rock. “Nothing to stay there for, anyway,” she adds, surprising herself by saying so aloud for the first time.
She casts around for a new subject. Something that will keep her words from spilling out without her consent. Her gaze settles on his navy coveralls, the ‘AmeriCable’ patch ironed on over his heart. “What about you? The hot cable repair market bring you to town?”
He gives an appreciative snicker, one hand coming up to pick absently at the label. “Yeah, this business’ll take you everywhere.” His smile fades and he looks down. Her job hasn’t given her any kind of lie-detection superpowers, but it has taught her to recognize a man making a decision. She stays quiet, waiting to see where he lands.
“Look, I’m too tired to do this whole talking-in-circles thing. You did me and my brother a solid, and knowing what you do about us, you gotta have questions. Lay ‘em on me, and I’ll answer the ones I can.”
"Okay." There's plenty she wants to know, but where to start? He's surprised her a little by not making her work too hard for it, and she can tell from the way one corner of his mouth quirks into a faint smile that he knows it, that he's used to being a surprise. "Well, it seems reports of your death have been greatly exaggerated. You look pretty lively to me."
She half-expects him to chide her, given that nothing she's just said counts as a question, but instead, the smile drops off of his face like it was never there, and he says quietly, "Colorado? The explosion, you mean?"
She nods, wondering how many times a person has to be declared dead before clarifying questions become necessary.
"Mistaken identity. Sam and I were long gone before the explosion. Whoever checked out the scene ID'd two other bodies wrong, but it wasn't like we were gonna correct them."
"What about Agent Henricksen?"
"He really was there."
"I'm sorry to hear that. He struck me as a bully, but he didn't deserve to die that way."
His eyes cut away from hers, expression unreadable as he agrees, "No. Nobody deserves what happened to him."
He’s still a stranger – not even a client anymore, and whatever strange parts of his history she’s privy to, it’s completely absurd that she should want to distract him, console him. But she does. “So, I have this whole file on you, and I think I know which parts of it you aren’t responsible for. But, if I’m right, how are you so consistently in the wrong place at the wrong time?”
His smile is sad enough that she’s sure it’s genuine. “We try to help people out when they’re in over their heads. Some times it’s hard to explain the mess to the cavalry when they finally put in an appearance. It’s kind of an… occupational hazard,” he says, pulling a face even as the words leave his mouth.
“I thought you were tired of the doubletalk?” she returns mildly.
“Oh, I am, but I promise you you’ll sleep better if I’m vague about this.”
She’s inclined to believe him; Dean Winchester doesn’t look like a man who sleeps well, even so long after the manhunt for him has been called off.
“Fair enough. So, it’s just you and your brother in this… line of work?”
“It’s not like there’s a union or anything, but there are some others scattered around. I hope you never have to meet any of them.”
She doesn't know exactly what he means by that, but something in the gaze he fixes on her, green and sad and inscrutable, starts a chill prickling down her spine, even though the room is, if anything, stuffy.
She struggles for another topic, something that will leave her less unaccountably unsettled. Something that won't scare him away or shut him up. She knows that there are other things she must have wanted to know. Distinctly remembers amusing herself by composing a series of questions she'd ask if he was ever brought back to Green River.
She wishes now that she'd written them down, even though she'd secretly liked to imagine that she'd been the one to buy them the time to slip the roadblock. Even though she'd thought he was beyond interviewing. She regrets not having a hard copy to consult, because here he is, standing in her future office, offering her facts - and an attorney always wants more facts - and the only questions she can think of in this moment are things like: Does anything but a serious throttling leave a mark like that? Are you always this worn out? Is there some way I could help?
Just as the silence is stretching into awkward territory, Geddy Lee interrupts, singing about "some celestial voice" from inside one of Dean's pockets. "Sammy," he says, by way of explanation, "checking up on me." She's pretty sure the grimace he flashes her way before he turns to take the call is meant to be disdainful or exasperated, but she hears the affection in his quiet answers. "I'm good, Dude. Nobody's getting kidnapped or drafted today."
He absently pulls a dram bottle from another pocket and holds it up to the window, and the light that pours through the amber glass casts a warm shadow across his face, melts away the ugly yellow bruise at the base of his throat. "I'm looking right at it. You bring the rest of the stuff, and I'll meet you there in twenty." He flips the phone shut, quietly this time, and turns back toward her.
"Would it be better for both of us if I pretended to believe that was about, let’s say, somebody’s ethernet?"
“Probably. I ought to get on the road, though. It’s kind of an important “house call”.”
“Of, course,” she says, reaching into one of the desk’s mostly-empty drawers to fish out a business card, knowing how ridiculous it is even as she holds it out toward him. “For the next time you find yourself arrested.”
He takes it graciously, even though they both know he’ll never use it. “You should take my number, for if you’re ever in trouble you can’t get yourself out of.”
And in another moment, she’s holding a receipt signed by “D. Frampton” with a series of numbers written in the same scrawl slanting across the back and walking him to the door. “Take care of yourself,” she says, sure she’ll think of something more profound right around the time he’s reaching the city limits.
“Someone’s got to,” he says, offering her one last smile before turning the corner at the landing and disappearing like he really doesn’t exist anymore after all.