Chapter 1: Prologue
Haven, Maine, November 1983
Lucy ran, her sneakers slipping on the muddy ground, her wet hair clinging to her skin. She looked back over her shoulder and saw the wavering light of Hansen’s flashlight behind her. The sight spurred her onward. She ran away from the road, beginning to climb the hill, pushing her way through brambles and bushes. She was ripping her skin to shreds, but she ignored the pain.
She stumbled over a hidden rock and fell headlong. Her outstretched hands sank into cold, slimy mud and she stifled a scream. Rolling onto her side she wiped one hand on her jeans and strained to see what was behind her. She couldn’t see the flashlight following her any more. Maybe Hansen had finally given up the chase.
Unwilling to trust to luck, Lucy went on climbing the hill. She moved more slowly now that her pursuer seemed to be gone, taking care not to fall again. She might be safe for now, but what was she going to do? She couldn’t go back to Haven. She could spend the night out in the open – she had done so before – but it would be a cold night and she was already wet and muddy.
She stopped to rest beside a familiar rock. From here, she could see Haven’s lighthouse clearly. Its rotating beam no longer flashed a warning out to sea: today’s ships with their modern technology no longer needed it, but still Lucy found it a comforting sight. She ran her hand over the rough stone beside her and when her fingers found the grooves of the carving she traced the familiar maze with her fingertips. The pattern was a mandala. Protection. It felt like a sign. Perhaps she could wait out the night here. It was a safe place and in the morning she could make her way back to Haven and…
And what? Wait around for Max Hansen or Driscoll to come after her again? To kill her as they killed the Colorado Kid? Her friends would try to protect her, Lucy knew they would. But Driscoll wouldn’t stop. Eleanor would die. Vince and Dave would die. Garland, too, if he tried to fight Hansen, would die.
But what else could she do? Where else could she go?
Lucy felt dampness soaking through her jeans from the grass beneath her. She stood and pulled off her waterproof parka. She laid it on the ground, partly on the grass and partly against the rock. Then she sat down on it and gazed up at the sky. It was a cloudy night but she saw patches of starlight through the clouds. That was not a good sign. Visible stars meant it would be very cold tonight.
Hot tears stung her eyes. “I messed up,” she said aloud, gazing up at the stars. “I messed up and now people are dead because of me.” She swiped at her eyes, angry with her own, useless tears. “I don’t know what to do!” she cried to the heavens. “Please help me. God, I don’t know what to do!”
The heavens, as always, were silent and cold.
Lucy sighed, folded her arms on the great rock, and rested her head on her arms.
She couldn’t be sure, but perhaps she slept.
At first, she thought she was dreaming. A hand caressed her shoulder, gentle and comforting. She began to raise her head. She almost smiled. Those warm fingers combed through her tangled hair. Adrenaline flooded her and she sprang away from the rock and that touch.
When she turned, Lucy fully expected to see Max Hansen with an axe or a gun. But the man was a complete stranger. The sun was peeking over the horizon in the west, giving Lucy enough light to study the man. He was dressed for hiking: jeans, sensible boots, a waterproof hanging open over a flannel shirt. His hair was quite long – shoulder-length and wavy, nut brown – his skin pale and a little flushed as if from exertion.
He said, “Hello, Lucy.”
At the sound of her name, Lucy tensed. “Do I know you?” She had no memory of this man. She had never seen him before, but there was something about him that felt familiar. Something in his eyes…
“Very well,” he answered, “but you don’t remember me yet.”
“Who are you?” Lucy demanded.
The man moved toward her, reaching out with one hand. Lucy tried to back away, though the gesture didn’t seem threatening. He was too fast for her. His fingertips touched her forehead…
…and she remembered…
She found herself sitting on the wet ground, her legs outstretched before her. She stared up at him and now she saw past the flesh to the core of him. Gabriel! She didn’t understand why she hadn’t known him instantly. How could she possibly have thought him human?
“Are you here to kill me?” Lucy asked calmly. She had no fear of death; it was the inevitable result of the choices she had made. She just hadn’t expected it to come so soon, or like this. She thought of her friends back in Haven and had a moment to regret that they would never know what happened to her.
His eyes met hers, full of compassion. “No, Lucy. I’m not going to kill you. You’re in some trouble here. I came to help.”
No. She knew what she was to Gabriel: at best, nothing; at worst, a traitor. Why would he offer her help? “How can I believe you?” she demanded suspiciously.
“You’re still alive,” he pointed out bluntly.
Oh. That was true. Even so. Then she realised what kind of ‘help’ he might be offering, and she felt a chill that had nothing to do with the damp earth. “How can you help?” she demanded. “I won’t let you hurt them.”
Won’t let. As if she could stop him. He could smite Haven into ashes and rubble with a thought.
He shook his head sadly. “You know me better than that. Come with me, Lucy.” He stretched out his hand.
She looked at the offered hand. His nails were trimmed short and neat, the fingers slightly curved as he stretched it out toward her. It was not a threatening gesture.
“Where?” she asked.
He smiled. “When,” he corrected.
Lucy understood. She reached up and took his hand.
Alastair slid the blade beneath his victim’s skin, separating skin from muscle with practised skill. As he worked, he talked, discussing what he planned to do next and asking his victim’s opinion, although the soul on his rack could not reply. Every now and then he paused to lick the blood from his blade.
The damned soul once known as John Winchester endured it in silence. His silence wasn’t stoicism. If he could have screamed until his throat bled, he would have. But his jaw was crushed and his mouth had been stuffed with his own bloody intestines. He couldn’t scream. He could only endure. There was no escape into unconsciousness or death. He was already dead. This was Hell.
John knew that he had chosen this fate freely, but no longer remembered why he had done such a thing. He knew it was vitally important to deny Alastair what he wanted, but he could no longer fathom what could be important enough for him to endure this over and over.
The knife slide into his elbow joint and Alastair twisted it viciously, ripping the tendons. It forced John to suck in an involuntary breath, burning his lungs from the inside. He cursed silently. This wasn’t even the worst of it. Alastair was just getting started. The knife continued to saw through his flesh.
Alastair lifted John’s severed forearm, making sure John could see it. They knew each other so well now. At first, Alastair took John’s eyes early in the torture, but he knew now that it was so much worse for John if he could see what was being done to him. John watched him toss the severed arm to the waiting jaws of a hellhound. He felt its teeth sink into flesh and crack bone; it made no difference that it wasn’t attached to him. John waited for the next twist of the knife.
That was when it happened.
The shock went through Hell like an earthquake. Even on the rack, absorbed in his own agony, John felt it. The ground cracked. Geysers of flame shot upward from the cracks. The sound was deafening. Alastair stopped mid-cut. Then they came: demons flying past, too many to count. Somehow, the horde carried John with them. Instinct made him fight until he realised he was whole again. To escape Alastair’s knife, even for a moment, was a true gift. He allowed the demonic flight to carry him onward. Wherever they took him, it couldn’t be worse than what he was leaving behind.
The demonic flight carried him upward through the brimstone-filled darkness. Upward? Was this a way out? Could such a thing exist?
With the thought, John felt hope for the first time in a century. He stopped simply allowing the demons to carry him along and joined their flight. If this was a chance to escape, he had to find it! He remembered that there were gates which led out of Hell. He also knew they were all sealed up, tight. But this mass-exodus could mean nothing else. Somewhere, a Hell’s Gate had opened.
The climb wasn’t easy, but John was very motivated. He knew the Gate would not remain open for long. If he couldn’t reach it in time, he’d be back on Alastair’s rack. If it was possible for Alastair to make this even worse for John, he would. But John had nothing to lose by trying.
And there it was! The light ahead was dim, but steady. The demons left John behind, bursting out of the Gate in a torrent of black smoke. John spared a thought for the poor humans who must have opened the Gate: that horde would eat them alive. But he continued to climb, battling his own exhaustion, inching closer and closer to freedom, until – finally – he tumbled out of Hell…
…And found himself in a cemetery in South Wyoming.
John gazed at the objects Gabriel laid in his hand. Two small pieces of metal that meant so much to him. He had assumed they were lost forever, gone with the flesh he left behind with the rest of his former life. He slipped the plain, gold ring onto his finger; it slid over his knuckle and settled into place as if it had never been gone. As if the flesh he wore now was unchanged. John breathed, and absurdly, felt different. More complete, as if some part of him he hadn’t realised was missing returned with the ring. He closed his fist around the dog-tags, then pocketed them.
“Thank you,” John said sincerely.
They were in what looked like an expensive hotel suite: thick pile carpet on the floor, heavy floor-to-ceiling drapes and even a fruit basket on the mahogany table. The couch John was sitting on was soft leather. But every time he closed his eyes he saw shadow, flame and Alastair.
“It’s time,” Gabe said.
John frowned. “Time for what?”
“I need to know if you’re still in this, John.”
For a moment, John was speechless. Of course he was still in the fight. How could he possibly give up now? How could he back off knowing that Dean had made a deal, knowing that Dean was going to Hell…knowing what Dean would face there?
“If you think you’ve done enough, I – ” Gabe went on, his tone unusually reasonable.
John interrupted. “I’m in, damn you!” As long as my boys are alive. He knew he wouldn’t like whatever Gabe was going to propose. But he made a deal with Gabriel years before he sold his soul to Azazel, and the terms of that deal were clear. Gabriel agreed to help John try to kill Azazel. That was Plan A and John failed. Plan B was for John to go to Hell. They both thought that would buy time if John could hold out; they hadn’t expected Azazel to go after Dean so soon. John failed twice over; now he had to accept Gabriel’s plan. Whatever that was.
“This won’t be easy for you.”
John gave him the look that comment deserved. “And you think what? A century in Hell was a walk in the park?”
“Point taken. But this is different. Azazel is dead, and that’s a real victory. But Dean – ”
John interrupted again. “I know he sold his soul. I know the terms of his deal. I know that if we can’t break it – ”
“We can’t break it. That’s what you have to understand here, John. I don’t see the future, not perfectly, but I can see the unfolding destiny here. No one can break Dean’s contract except Dean himself and the terms mean he won’t do it. He’s going to Hell. And there he will break the first seal.”
John shook his head. “No, he won’t. He’s strong enough.”
“You were able to resist because you went down to the Pit knowing what was at stake. Dean will think he has nothing left to lose.”
“Then tell him!”
“At this point, that would only make things worse for Dean. The first seal is going to break, John, it’s only a question of when. Would you have Dean suffer as long as you have?”
John flinched. He smelled sulphur and blood. He felt the blade sliding under his skin.
Gabriel sat beside him, careful to stay far enough away that they did not touch. “Dean has made his deal; if I could change that I would, but it can’t be changed. Is it better for him to die without hope, or to go the way you did? How long would he hold out, John?”
Too long. John couldn’t bear to think of his son suffering even an hour under Alastair’s knife. He knew what Gabriel was saying. The faster Dean broke under the torture, the better for him. But not for the rest of the world…
“You’re talking about the apocalypse,” John said. “You want to let it happen?”
“No, I’m still talking about preventing it. That can still be done, John, and Dean won’t be left in Hell. When the first seal breaks my brothers will finally act and the first thing they’ll do is bring the Righteous Man out of Perdition. But it all depends on Dean and Sam’s choices, now, not yours or mine.”
John could see a trap coming. He knew Gabe well enough for that. But he didn’t know what the trap would be. If Dean and Sam understood the stakes, they would risk Sam’s death to break Dean’s contract. John knew the demons wouldn’t let Sam die: now they knew he was the one they needed to break the final seal, he was too important. More important, perhaps, than Dean was. So it seemed obvious to him: tell the boys the truth, make them believe it, and it would work out.
Yet Gabe insisted that wasn’t possible. There could be valid reasons. If they tried to break Dean’s contract and failed…things could end up even worse for the boys. Maybe Sam could die – a powerful demon would be able to resurrect him when they needed him – and what might happen to Sam’s soul in the meantime John didn’t know. Was that a reason not to try?
It might be. At the very least, John would listen to Gabe’s reasoning; he had learned the hard way that Gabriel was usually, annoyingly right.
Chapter 2: Part One: The Hunter
Haven, Maine, 2010
Special Agent Audrey Parker, FBI, presently on unofficial assignment with Haven PD, sat on a stone bench on the hill above the harbour. There was a light rain falling, enough to chill the air and turn her hair into damp rat-tails, but she didn’t mind the rain. It rained a lot in Haven and she was used to it. She unscrewed the top of her thermos, balanced the little plastic cup on her knee and poured coffee into it. She gazed out over the harbour as she drank. The sky was thick with cloud, the ocean grey and choppy, tossing the fishing boats as they returned to the harbour with the morning’s catch.
She heard heavy footsteps behind her and turned around to see a man in a green waxed coat approaching her bench. His was a familiar face: she saw him often on Main Street or at the Grey Gull in the evenings, but she didn’t know his name and couldn’t recall ever speaking with him. He was in his late fifties, she estimated: his once-black hair and beard were heavily streaked with grey and there were deep lines around his eyes.
“Can I join you?” he asked, gesturing toward the bench. His voice was deep and gravelly and – the first surprise – his accent was not local. Audrey couldn’t place it from so few words, but he wasn’t from Maine.
She nodded, shifting slightly to make room for him, though it wasn’t necessary. “Sure. Would you like some coffee?”
“If you can spare it, that would be great.” His smile crinkled his green eyes and showed off straight, white teeth.
Audrey finished her coffee, wiped the edge of the cup and refilled it before she handed it to him. “I’m Audrey Parker,” she offered.
“John,” he answered, taking the plastic cup in both hands. He sipped the coffee as if testing it, then took a longer drink. He nodded toward the ocean. “I heard you had some trouble out on Carpenter’s Knot.”
Audrey tensed. Some trouble? One of her best friends died on that island. She had been held captive while something wearing her face turned her friends against each other. “Yeah, there was trouble,” she agreed, conscious that trouble had several meanings in this town.
Who had been talking? Audrey wondered. Certainly not Chief Wuornos or Nathan. Duke, perhaps? Too much gossip over drinks in the bar? It wasn’t like him, and she dismissed the thought quickly. But someone must have talked. Who?
John nodded, as if her silence was confirmation. “Strange breed, ’shifters,” he said conversationally. “Hard to detect, because they have a psychic link with each person they become. They can fool even close family.”
Audrey, having recently experienced exactly that, was listening closely, but she said nothing, unwilling to confirm what could be astute guesswork.
“Did you kill it?” John asked.
That was direct. Audrey debated for a moment before deciding John knew what he was talking about. “I didn’t. It was my partner.”
“Wuornos? He shot it, then?”
Audrey frowned. Why did it matter to him? “I didn’t see it happen,” she answered evasively.
“Hm,” he grunted. He gave the plastic cup back to her. “Good coffee. Thanks.” He started to get up.
“Wait!” Audrey said quickly. “Who are you? What’s your interest in what happened on the island?”
John sat down again. “’Shifters can be dangerous. It takes silver to kill them: regular ammo won’t do it. I doubt Wuornos was packing silver bullets.”
“No, no silver,” she agreed. She’d noticed the word he used this time: ’shifter. The Chief had called it a chameleon.
“Then it’s still out there,” John growled. Audrey caught the edge in his voice: anger and hatred. He seemed angry enough to go out to the island and she didn’t want that.
“He’s dead, John,” she insisted. “I think he was dying anyway. He was very old. Without a new shape…” she broke off, a lump in her throat. The chameleon been so sure she would help him, as Lucy helped him before. But Audrey had no idea how to help him and he couldn’t explain how Lucy did, so she couldn’t even try. Now he was dead. “He’s gone,” she said again. “Believe me.”
John studied her for a moment, then nodded. “Fair enough.”
“What’s your story, John? You know something about the Troubles?”
John turned his eyes away from her, gazing out to sea. “My story?” he repeated.
“You’re not local,” she prompted, “but I can’t seem to place your accent. Where are you from?”
“Kansas, originally. I’ve been in Haven…” he hesitated, as if calculating it, “…nearly three years.”
It wasn’t tall corn she heard in his voice, but that originally suggested he knew that. He was being very cagey. “What brought you here?” she asked.
Surprising her, John gave a short bark of laughter. “You’d never believe me.”
“I’ve believed a lot of unlikely things since I arrived here.”
John met her eyes, then, flashing a swift smile. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” he drawled. He stood up and stepped away from the bench. “Thanks again for the coffee, Agent Parker.” He placed a slight stress on agent, as if scoring a point.
“You’re welcome,” she answered, unfazed. It was no secret in town that she was with the FBI.
Audrey watched him walk away from her: the heavy coat concealed the shape of his body but gave the impression he was quite heavyset and average height. Yet he hadn’t seemed so when sitting beside her. His walk was slow, his shoulders slightly hunched, which suggested some stiffness in the joints. It would be natural in a man his age, but again that seemed to Audrey to be a false impression, perhaps even a deliberate affectation. The man was an enigma. He was an outsider in Haven – three years wasn’t long enough for the folk of this insular town to consider him a local – yet he seemed to know the town’s peculiar history. Audrey’s own experiences had taught her how reluctant the locals were to share the real Haven with outsiders, and wondered how John could have learned so much.
What’s your story, John? she wondered again.
Even in Haven, people do die of natural causes sometimes, Audrey reminded herself as she sipped her dirty martini. It wasn’t necessary to look for some outlandish cause for every death. She seemed to do that automatically now, her mind inventing wilder and wilder theories instead of settling for the evidence in front of her. She would be ruined as an investigator outside Haven. There was no logical reason to think the death she and Nathan had been called to that morning was anything other than natural: Peggy Ashworth was in her eighties and died in her comfy chair looking out over the bay with her knitting in her lap. But still, it nagged at her, as if there were some detail she’d noticed unconsciously but couldn’t bring into conscious focus.
With an effort, she pushed the thoughts aside and glanced around the Grey Gull, noticing familiar faces. She could put names to most of them now, but to them she remained the outsider. Not one of them. She saw John approaching the bar and remembered their odd conversation that morning. What had he really wanted from her? He hadn’t approached her for coffee, she was sure.
“Do you know him?” she asked Duke quietly.
Duke’s eyes narrowed as if he didn’t like the question, but he glanced toward the bar to see who she meant. When he saw John there, he seemed to relax again. “Sure. John. He comes in a few nights a week.”
“Is he a local?” she asked, hoping to prompt a little more information.
Duke shook his head. “He showed up a couple of summers back looking for work and never left. He’s a good handyman. Did some work for me when I rebuilt this place.” Duke’s eyes followed the older man as he carried his beer to a table. “What’s your interest?”
Audrey tried to keep her tone casual. “Just the usual. He came to talk to me this morning but I’m not sure what he wanted. He just made small talk for a while, then left.”
Her half-truths seemed to satisfy Duke. “John keeps to himself mostly. He lives in Belle Gillespie’s basement and finds work where he can. Folks go to him for the kind of jobs no one else wants.”
“Such as?” Audrey asked, speaking a little more sharply than she intended.
“Oh, nothing crooked,” Duke grinned. “I mean nasty jobs, like…you remember the problem with the food from the farmers’ market a while back?”
Audrey nodded, wrinkling her nose at the memory of the stench.
“John did the worst of the cleanup after that. Most people couldn’t stomach it, but he didn’t seem to notice.”
So, John had either an exceptionally strong stomach or no sense of smell, Audrey concluded. And he didn’t get involved in criminal activity, if she’d caught Duke’s hint correctly. “Does he have a last name?” she asked.
“Sure,” Duke answered and then frowned. “That’s weird. I know I know his name, but I can’t remember. It’s, um, Williams. Or Winston. Something like that.”
John Williams-or-Winston noticed Audrey watching him and raised his glass to her. He didn’t smile, but she saw a glint of amusement in his eyes. She returned the salute with her martini glass and resolutely turned her eyes back to Duke. “So, you were telling me about this poker game…”
The ambient noise level in the Grey Gull was too loud for John to hear Agent Parker’s conversation with Crocker, but he guessed from the look in her eyes that he was the subject. She was interested in him, which had been his primary purpose in speaking to her that morning: the shape-shifter merely provided him with an excuse. He was glad to hear it was dead, but there was little he could have done about it if it wasn’t. Carpenters Knot was too far from Haven and the island was accessible only by boat. There was no way for John to get out there and even if he could it would raise too many questions, especially after the murder. John needed to live below the radar in Haven, because this town would be extremely uncomfortable if he got himself noticed by the locals.
Agent Parker, on the other hand, wasn’t a local. John didn’t know how long she planned to stay in Haven, or even what she was really doing in town: word on the street was vague about her purpose. But sooner or later, she would be leaving town, and when she did John hoped she could help him. Before he could get to that, though, he needed her to want to help him.
He usually drank alone in the Grey Gull. Three evenings a week, if he had enough money, he would drink two or three beers and order a simple meal. John never got drunk and he never caused trouble. On some evenings, someone he knew might wander in and join him, and then two beers might stretch into four or five. But mostly he drank alone.
John’s funds wouldn’t stretch to a third beer that night, so he left the Grey Gull early. Agent Parker left before he did and John considered heading out at the same time, maybe exchanging a few casual words, but he decided against it. He wanted her interested, willing to talk to him, not suspicious of him. So he stayed a while longer, until he was sure she’d be gone from the street outside. Then he left the Grey Gull.
It was raining again. John walked slowly up the street, heading for Belle’s home and his tiny, basement apartment. His shoulders were hunched against the wind blowing in from the ocean. The wind brought with it the smells of the harbour: diesel fuel from the boats, rotten seaweed and wood, and the sour, salty tang unique to the Atlantic. John glanced toward the harbour as he passed, saw the swaying lights of the occupied boats and heard the faint splish-splosh of the waves. It was all very familiar to him, white noise, barely noticed. But there was something else, too. Something less familiar.
In the darkness about halfway between John and the harbour, a figure moved swiftly away from him. It was a human-like shape, but seemed too small to be a human adult and too stout to be a kid. In the darkness it was difficult to judge; perhaps it looked small because it was further away than John thought. He turned and walked toward the harbour and that strange shape.
By the time he reached the place it had been, there was no sign of it. John took a flashlight from his pocket and swept the area. He found nothing out of place, no sign of who or what had been there. He didn’t like to lose his quarry, but he really wasn’t sure what he’d seen. Maybe it was only some kid. He would come back in daylight and check again, though with this rain it was unlikely he would find anything.
John pocketed his flashlight and trudged back up the street toward home.
When he reached the house, he saw the lights were still on in Belle’s living room. His basement apartment was self-contained, with its own door, but he had a key to the house above, too. It was John’s habit to enter through the house to check on Belle. He unlocked the front door, turning the key as slowly as he could in case Belle was sleeping. But there was nothing wrong with Belle’s hearing.
“John? Is that you?”she called as he swung the door open.
“It’s me,” he confirmed, moving toward the sound of her voice. He smiled as he stopped in the doorway of her living room. “You waitin’ up for me?”
Belle sat in her usual place on the sagging couch, a crochet blanket across her knees. She was an elderly woman with long, white hair which she usually wore coiled into a bun at the back of her head. Tonight her hair was loose around her face: she had been brushing it while she waited for him. “Did you have a nice evening?” she asked politely.
“Passable,” John answered, wishing she would get to the point. He knew she wanted something from him.
Thankfully, she didn’t try to make more small talk. “I hope you don’t mind, John. There’s a broken window in the pantry. Can you do something?”
“Of course. I’ll put a board over it right now and I can see Henry about replacement glass in the morning. Just let me get my tools.”
He was happy enough to do these little jobs for her. It was an informal part of his agreement with Belle: he helped her with the tasks she was too frail to do for herself in exchange for a generously low rent on the basement apartment. Belle felt safer with a man nearby and she didn’t ask him for much more than changing light bulbs she couldn’t reach and chopping wood for her stove.
The pantry window had been broken from the outside. John gathered up the shards of glass he could find, collecting them on a sheet of newspaper to make sure he had them all. Then he cut a piece of hardboard to size and secured it with a few tacks. It would be sufficient to keep the weather out. He put his tools away and lifted up the glass-covered newspaper. He set it on the kitchen table and tried to fit the shards together, hoping to figure out what broke the window. He hadn’t found any sign of a stone or ball or other missile. John frowned down at the arrangement of glass on the table. There were two pieces missing.
The old man sat in a wicker chair, near the window. A copy of the previous day’s Haven Herald lay on the rug beside him, as if it had fallen from his hands when he fell asleep reading it. Except he wasn’t asleep. He was quite dead, and looked like he had been so for a long time: his skin grey, his open eyes clouded.
Audrey watched Julia Carr replace the dead man’s hand on the arm of the chair. “What do you think?” she asked.
Julia straightened. “At a rough estimate, he’s been dead about eighteen hours, but I don’t see anything to suggest it isn’t natural causes. Of course, it would take an autopsy to be sure. Do you have a reason to be suspicious?”
Audrey considered it. She had no evidence at all, only a gut feeling. Requesting an autopsy would only further distress his family. The daughter who found his body was still crying on the front steps. Audrey’s ‘evidence’ amounted to just two things: this was the second death in two days, both elderly people who died alone, at home, near a window…and this was Haven.
Nathan caught her eye and shook his head slightly, but Audrey hadn’t needed the silent warning. She moved to the other side of the picture window, away from the body. “No, I don’t see anything suspicious,” she agreed.
Julia gave her an odd look, and Audrey knew she hadn’t been able to conceal her suspicions. But she shrugged it off and turned toward the window to avoid further questions.
She noticed the curtain move a little and felt a chill breeze. She pulled the curtain to one side and saw the cause at once. The window pane was broken and what appeared to be a single shard, about the size of her palm, was missing. It added to her disquiet, but it wasn’t enough to call this a suspicious death.
Audrey nodded to Nathan. “I think we’re done here.”
As they left the house, Audrey let Nathan walk ahead and sat on the step beside the daughter, struggling to remember her name. “It’s…Michelle, isn’t it?” she hazarded.
The daughter nodded. She was in her late forties, her hair streaked with grey.
“I’m very sorry for your loss,” Audrey offered. “It doesn’t seem suspicious at all. I hope that helps a little.”
Michelle swallowed and swiped at her red-rimmed eyes with one hand. “Yesterday he was fine,” she said.
“I know it’s hard. Sometimes these things…” Audrey shrugged, aware that anything she said would sound awful to a grieving woman. She waited for a moment, then added as casually as she could, “I noticed the window was broken up there…?”
Michelle sniffed. “Dad told me a few days ago. I don’t know how it happened. Is it important?”
“No. I was just curious.” Audrey patted Michelle’s arm awkwardly. “Once again, I’m sorry for your loss.”
She joined Nathan in the SUV; he already had the engine idling. “No case here,” he said as he turned the SUV onto the road.
“I hope not,” Audrey answered uncertainly. “I don’t like the coincidence.”
He gave her a sly grin. “I think you’re just bored.”
“Oh, because no one has died in some bizarre way since my birthday? That’s not boring, it’s…relaxing.”
“You’re bored,” he repeated, as if her words confirmed it.
Audrey gave in. “Fine. I’m bored. Let’s stop for coffee and pastries. That usually helps.”
She had a box of pastries balanced on one hand and a large cup of caramel latte in the other, so Nathan opened the door of the big red-brick building for her. They walked through the familiar offices of Haven PD, heading for the office they shared. Audrey glanced toward the Chief’s office – it had become an automatic thing for her to check whether or not he was there, because it affected Nathan’s moods so much – and saw the door standing open, revealing a man talking with the Chief. Audrey didn’t pay much attention: the coffee was calling to her.
In the office she sat down, leaned back in her chair and sipped the hot, sweet coffee. “Just answer this,” she said, opening the pastry box. “Two dead bodies in two days. Both of them in a chair near to a broken window. No signs of violence. You don’t think that’s a bit too much to be random coincidence?”
Nathan’s look was an odd mix of exasperated and indulgent. He shrugged. “It’s weird. But I don’t see anything we can investigate.”
“Well, do you know of anyone with a reason – ” Audrey broke off as she saw the man in the Chief’s office leaving: it was John. Another coincidence.
“Excuse me,” she said to Nathan and followed John as he headed for the exit. “Hey!” she called after him.
John turned. For a moment, he looked extremely weary. Then he smiled, but it was forced: a mask to hide his true feelings. “Agent Parker. Good to see you again.”
“Is something wrong?” What Audrey really wanted to ask was why she was suddenly seeing him everywhere, but that sounded too paranoid.
“No,” he answered. “Not with me.”
“I don’t…what does that mean?”
“I filed a report with the Chief,” John said gruffly.
It sounded like a dismissal, but Audrey persisted, “That sounds like something’s troubling you.”
John shrugged. “Someone broke my landlady’s window last night. I figured I should report it. It’s only minor vandalism but if someone’s getting their kicks tormenting old women – ”
“How old is your landlady?” Audrey asked sharply.
“I’m not sure. Over seventy. Look, I’ve already been through this with the Chief.”
She’s the next victim. Audrey felt it with a sudden, absolute certainty. Victim of what? She had no idea, but now she had a clear goal: to keep this unknown woman from dying.
“Of course,” she answered distractedly. “I’ll get the details from him.” She began to move away, intending to do just that.
John grabbed her arm. “Why are you so interested in a broken window? Is Belle in danger?”
“I don’t know.”
John’s eyes met hers with an intensity that stole her breath. “Tell me!” he ordered. Audrey recognised that tone: this was a man accustomed to instant obedience. His grip tightened on her arm.
Audrey hesitated, then gave him the facts. “Two elderly people died in the past two days. Natural causes as far as we can tell; we were called because they both died alone. But at today’s scene I noticed a broken window. It doesn’t mean there’s any connection here.”
John released her. “Thank you.”
Though she was cautious in her answer to John Winchester, Audrey now felt certain that the recent deaths were connected. She wasn’t yet ready to declare them murders, but she was convinced they were not natural deaths. Someone was responsible.
Unfortunately, because they had initially treated the deaths as natural, neither Audrey nor Nathan had done much investigation. She had a lot of catching up to do.
“The Church,” Nathan suggested when Audrey asked about places the elderly might gather in Haven. “That’s the only place in winter.”
She didn’t relish the thought of another reunion with the Rev, and she knew Nathan wouldn’t want to accompany her. “I’ll talk to the Rev,” she offered reluctantly. “I think one of us should keep an eye on Mrs Gillespe, too.”
Nathan nodded. “It won’t do any harm. Do you want me to come with you to the church?” It was a generous offer, considering how the Rev treated him.
“I’ll go alone.”
Nathan reached for a doughnut. “So, what’s your theory?”
Audrey leaned back in her chair, sipping coffee. “Right now, I’m not even sure this is part of the Troubles. I just think the two deaths are linked somehow. If there is someone doing this…” She was thinking it through as she spoke. “My instinct is it’s not malicious. Maybe a side-effect of something else, like Bill spoiling the food at Second Chance.”
Nathan considered that for a moment, then leaned across the table, looking into her eyes. “What if you’re wrong?” he asked seriously.
“Then we’ve got a Troubled serial killer out there,” Audrey answered. There was no point in sugar-coating it. Those were the facts.
“Keep that in mind, would you?” Nathan said.
He was worried. She understood. Audrey finished her coffee – too quickly – grabbed a donut and stood up. “Guess I’ll go talk to the Rev,” she announced.
John reached the hardware store early and was waiting outside when Henry arrived to open the store. He asked Henry about replacement glass for Belle’s window.
“I can order it for you, no problem,” Henry agreed. “It’ll take two or three days.”
“That’s fine.” John gave him the measurements.
Henry scratched his balding head. “You know, you could get this a lot faster if you drive to the wholesaler in Derry. Cheaper, too.”
John nodded, acknowledging the truth of that. “Advice like that is bad for business.”
“Just trying to help.”
“Well, it’ll be a day or two before I have time to drive to Derry and I don’t mind paying a fair markup.” The excuse sounded weak to John, but it was the best he could do. “I think it’ll save time if you place the order for me.”
“Consider it done, then.” Henry wrote the details in his ledger. John wondered if he knew what a computer was. “Anything else I can do for you today?” Henry offered.
John considered. His job for the day was repairs to the ceiling of the Good Shepherd Church Hall. He ran through what he needed in his mind. “No, I think I’m set for this job,” he decided. “Do you need a down-payment for that glass?”
“No, John. I know you’re good for it.”
“Thanks. I’ll be back in three days, then.” John headed out.
“Have a nice day!” Henry called after him.
The ceiling of the church hall was old. The beams were rotten, but there was no money to replace them. John had agreed to do what he could to repair and reinforce the beams, but warned Reverend Driscoll sternly that nothing he did could be more than a temporary repair.
He spent the morning up on a ladder carefully planing away the rotten wood from the beams. He had to work around the activity in the hall: it was Food Bank day and there were people there setting up tables when John arrived to start work. They wouldn’t appreciate the rain of sawdust and wood-shavings John’s work was going to create, but he marked out a space beneath his ladder and they were willing enough to avoid the area.
While he worked, John listened to the conversations going on beneath him. He knew most of the Food Bank volunteers by name and he knew that, eventually, the gossip would get around to the subject he was interested in.
It was the flowers that triggered the conversation John hoped to hear. The florist’s van was delivering wreaths to the church next door, but she found it still locked and came into the church hall to ask for the key and she stopped to chat. The wreaths were for the two funerals scheduled for the following days. Naturally, conversation among the volunteers turned to the people who had died.
Dan Harlow’s death seemed to surprise no one. A few people expressed sadness, but others said it was a blessing. Mr Harlow had been in pain for a long time. He was housebound, his only family a daughter who was busy caring for her own children and could not spend much time with her father.
That was not how they spoke of the Peggy Ashworth’s death. Though some admitted she had been in decline, Peggy was remembered as an active person for her age, always full of energy and with many activities outside the home. This got John’s attention. Maybe he wouldn’t have noticed it if he wasn’t looking for a red flag. After all, there was nothing strange about a woman in her eighties becoming suddenly ill. At that age, a fast decline ending in death was common. But the description, scant as it was, sounded familiar.
John worked until around 1:30, then he packed up his tools, swept the floor clean and extracted his lunch – a sandwich wrapped in brown paper – from his toolbox. He headed for the door, wanting quiet while he ate.
Letty Crane, the leader of the Food Bank volunteers since Driscoll’s daughter left town, stopped him. “Would you like a cup of coffee, John? You’ve been working so hard. Or maybe some soup?”
“If it’s no trouble, coffee would be good,” John answered. As long as she didn’t expect his company while he drank it. John had nothing against Letty’s company, but he had been listening to women’s gossip all morning. He wanted a few moments of solitude.
“No trouble at all,” Letty assured him and disappeared into the kitchen. She returned a moment later with coffee in a paper cup. “Black, no sugar, is that right?”
“You have a good memory,” John commented, taking the cup. “Thank you.” He made his escape quickly.
At the side of the church hall was a fire door with a few steps leading up to it, partly covered by a wooden wheelchair ramp. John sat there, on the steps. It was cold, but the position gave him a good view of Green Street: the big brass sculpture outside the church, the well-tended lawns and the cars parked on the road. Mulling over what he overheard, John’s thoughts returned to Belle’s broken window. Belle wasn’t very active: she suffered from arthritis and going out was painful for her. In winter, she was afraid to go out in case she fell, though John was always willing to accompany her. She did play bingo at the church hall every Wednesday; in poor weather there was a car pool and John had been her driver on occasion. If Belle felt too ill for her bingo night, John would know there was something wrong. But he didn’t want to wait until Wednesday for confirmation of his suspicions. Wednesday could be too late.
At first, John paid no attention to the car pulling into a space nearby. It was Reverend Driscoll’s car: a common sight outside the church. Driscoll got out of the car, locked it and started up the path toward the church. He was glancing around himself as he walked, his eyes darting from side to side as if he expected something to leap out at him. His eyes fixed on John for a moment and instead of continuing to the church he veered off the path toward John.
John finished his coffee and waved a greeting.
Driscoll didn’t return his wave. “Hey, John. I’ve missed you the last few Sundays.”
John grimaced at the predictable rebuke. He liked Reverend Driscoll, but the man’s hellfire-and-brimstone brand of religion didn’t appeal to him in the slightest. John had been to Hell, and didn’t need reminding of the experience. But he deserved the criticism. He had skipped church a bit too often lately. John was never much of a churchgoer but the odd circumstances of his arrival in Haven forced John to rely on the generosity of locals for support and the church was the best place to find charity in a small town. John established himself as a churchgoer in Haven more in order to get to know the local people than out of any religious inclination. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe; he just considered his faith between him and God. But he knew he should keep up appearances and he had been letting it slide lately.
So he nodded, with what he hoped was a show of contrition. “I’ve been…distracted,” he answered truthfully. “You’ll see me this Sunday.”
“Good, good.” Driscoll’s tone was smooth and practiced. “How is the work going?” He nodded toward the hall.
“I’ve removed the rotten wood. This afternoon I’ll treat what’s left and shore it up. It should hold for a while, Reverend, but sooner or later you’ll have to raise the funds to get those beams replaced. Sooner would be better.”
“Is that a job you can do?”
“No. Sorry, Reverend. You know I’ll always help out where I can, but for this you need a builder and a proper crew. It’s not a one-man job.”
“Well, I’ll see what can be done,” Driscoll agreed unenthusiastically.
“The flowers arrived for Mrs Ashworth’s funeral,” John mentioned.
Dricsoll nodded an acknowledgement but said nothing.
“She died very suddenly, I heard,” John said carefully. He knew from Agent Parker’s report that the death appeared to be natural causes, but perhaps Driscoll would know more.
He saw at once that it was a mistake. Driscoll’s head jerked up and he fixed on John, a fanatic light gleaming in his eyes as if John’s casual question confirmed for him that the woman was murdered. John, knowing Driscoll’s hatred of the Troubles, had been damned careful not to let Driscoll suspect how much he knew about the supernatural, but he realised now that Driscoll was shrewder than he’d suspected. John must have let something slip.
“She was a godly woman,” Driscoll’s frown deepened. “This ungodly death is a tragedy. Tragedy. One the police will do nothing about.”
“Cops rarely understand these things,” John agreed. “Even in Haven.”
“Especially in Haven,” Driscoll corrected. “The Wuornos boy is one of them and the Chief will always side with his ungodly son.”
John shook his head. There wasn’t much he wouldn’t do to protect his own sons, either. “That’s not fair to the Chief,” he argued, hoping to avoid the father-son part of the topic. “He’s a good man and he’s taken action against the Troubled when – ”
“Never!” Driscoll declared, raising his voice sharply.
Whatever you say. John nodded, not in agreement so much as to end the conversation. He stood, crushing the paper that had wrapped his sandwich in his hand. “I should get back to work,” he said shortly, and headed back inside.
Driscoll had the instincts of a hunter. He could spot the supernatural and he hated it, but unlike a hunter Driscoll lacked the will to follow through. He would never investigate these things as John did. He simply jumped to conclusions and railed against “the ungodly” in impotent rage. But the Reverend knew more about Haven’s Troubles than John could ever learn on his own. He was a useful source of information…sometimes.
Belle Gillespie’s house was about halfway up Harbour Hill, overlooking the harbour and the islands that dotted the bay. The house was red brick and white-painted timber above, just like its neighbours. There were signs of neglect: in places the paint was chipped, the windows dirty. But the path to the house was clear of weeds, the shrubbery had been trimmed and the gate repaired, with new wood pale and clean, the older wood stained dark.
Audrey parked a short distance uphill from the house, turned off the lights and engine, took out her flask of coffee and settled in to wait.
She was not sure what she expected to find. She just couldn’t shake the conviction that there was something here connected to the Troubles. Mrs Gillespie was in danger somehow. If there was a troubled person causing these deaths, Audrey suspected they were aware of their affliction and couldn’t help what they were doing. The choice of victims implied conscious choice: they were all elderly people, coming to the end of their lives. If a person had no choice but to kill, that might seem a lesser of two evils, though it was a terrible choice to have to make.
It was approaching midnight when she saw John coming up the hill. He moved quickly for a man of his age, his walk purposeful. His eyes searched the darkness as he walked, but his head barely moved, so it appeared his gaze was fixed upon his destination. His scrutiny would have been invisible to Audrey if she had not been looking for it. John saw her, she was certain, but he offered no greeting nor acknowledgement. He unlocked the front door and she saw his frame silhouetted against the light within for a moment before the door swung closed behind him.
Audrey poured more coffee into her little plastic cup and leaned back in the seat. She had a feeling it would be a long night.
Her sneakers slipped on the muddy ground as she ran. The driving rain was like icy needles and her wet hair clung to her skin. She looked back over her shoulder and saw the wavering light of her pursuer’s flashlight behind her. The sight spurred her onward. She knew he would never stop until he found her. She knew his fear of her, his hatred.
She turned away from the road, beginning to run up the hill, pushing her way through brambles and bushes. She moaned in pain, the thorns ripping into her skin, but she dared not slow down. Then her foot slipped on a hidden rock and she fell headlong…
Audrey woke with a start. She felt disoriented for a moment, the terror of the nightmare still with her. She raised a hand to her hair and was briefly surprised to find it dry. Then she recognised the truck she sat in and remembered why she was there. The clock on the dash told her it was past 3.00 am. She shook her head to clear the cobwebs and refocussed her gaze on the house.
The windows were dark, which was hardly surprising at this hour. The street was silent, not even a breeze or the barking of a dog to disturb the quiet. Audrey yawned and wondered if she should call it a night. She reached toward the keys in the ignition, but then let her hand fall away. There was something about the silence. It wasn’t peaceful. There was a tension in the air, like the silence after the bomb-disposal guy cuts the wire in the movies.
The sound of breaking glass shattered the tension. Audrey’s tiredness fled. She opened the truck’s door and headed for the house, drawing her gun as she walked. She heard sounds of movement and quickened her pace.
Before she reached the house, there was a flash of light from around the side of the building. Audrey heard an odd, wailing sound. It cut off suddenly. She rounded the corner, her gun aimed.
Someone lay on the ground; Audrey couldn’t see the figure clearly enough to identify age or gender, but it looked human. Standing over the person, holding some kind of cannister, was John. He did something to the rusted metal in his hand and flame gushed out. The smell was acrid and chemical.
“Stop!” Audrey cried.
Flame engulfed the figure on the ground. In its light, Audrey saw the face of the…the…god, what? It was a human face, and yet it wasn’t. She saw scarlet eyes in dark hollows, a lipless mouth full of fangs. It writhed in the flames, but its screams were silent and she could see why: a jagged piece of glass was embedded in its throat.
“John!” she protested, unable to watch the creature suffer. Maybe it wasn’t human, but it was alive!
He whirled, too fast for her to react. John knocked her gun aside and shoved her against the wall. Terror filled her and for a moment she was sure he would kill her, too.
“It’s not a person, Parker! Back off and let me do my job!”
John pushed her into the wall, an unspoken order to stay put, before he turned back to his grisly task. The flames were dying but the creature was dead, still, its limbs twisted and blackened. It was small, perhaps five feet tall, perhaps a little less, but proportional: a human shape.
Audrey thumbed the safety off on her gun and took a step toward John. “What did you do?” She gestured to the thing in his hand. “What is that?”
He lifted the cannister. “Napalm and a home made flame-thrower.” He said it as if that was something everyone had lying around. “All you need to know is that thing killed Dan Harlow and Peggy Ashworth. It would have killed Belle tonight. Now it won’t.” He set the cannister down and turned to her, unnaturally calm. “So, you can arrest me. Or you can let me clean up this mess.” He spoke mildly, no note of challenge in his voice.
“You don’t expect me to help you cover up a murder?” Audrey made it a question, but she knew he expected exactly that. It wouldn’t happen.
“I don’t need help. Walk away.” That was an order.
Audrey hesitated. She looked at the burned body on the ground.
John moved toward her. “Parker, you’re exhausted. Go home. I’m not gonna skip town.”
Strangely, she believed him, but still she hesitated. If she left now, John would destroy all evidence of the murder. Haven PD didn’t have the forensic resources of the FBI or a big city police department. She would never be able to prove anything happened tonight unless she arrested him now. And yet, even as the decision formed in her mind, she felt a reluctance she couldn’t explain.
John was right about one thing though. The person he killed did not look human. She would have trouble selling this to the Chief as murder. It was also probably true that John had saved Belle Gillespie’s life. Was she looking for an excuse to let him go?
Audrey sighed, defeated, and holstered her gun.
John watched the woman go with relief. Parker wasn’t a typical cop, but that had been a close one. He had several reasons to want to avoid that kind of trouble. He couldn’t just skip town the way he used to. But he was still John Winchester and he couldn’t stand by and let people die when he could stop it.
He crouched beside the moroi’s body, took its head between his hands and twisted roughly, breaking the neck. There was no reaction; it was dead. The trouble with moroi was they didn’t stay dead. He had until sunrise to destroy the flesh, or it would rise a revenant, hungry and much harder to kill. He hauled the body onto his shoulder, grunting with the effort. He picked up his improvised flame-thrower and carried both to Belle’s car.
In the woods behind the hunting club John cut the body into pieces and burned each part separately. He buried the ashes of the body, but kept those left from the head: he would dump that into the harbour. By the time he was done, it was close enough to dawn that the sky was deep blue instead of black. John returned home, did his best to clean the mud off the car and went into his basement apartment. He fell into his bed, fully clothed, hoping to get in a few hours sleep before he had to leave for work.
But sleep refused to come. John stared up at the ceiling above his bed, wondering whether he had ruined his chance of getting Agent Parker on his side. He needed her to trust him; now she thought him a murderer. Could he convince her otherwise? Should he even try? Perhaps it was better to keep his distance for a while.
He was looking at a large rock. The stone was black, with patches of palest green and orange lichen speckling its surface. Grass grew around its base, the length of the blades curling around it silent testament to how long it had been there. On the surface of the rock there was a carved symbol. The stonemason who created it was centuries dead, but the symbol was still clear: a circular maze with a stylised human figure at each of the four cardinal points. Beneath it, almost covered by the grass, was writing in a language John didn’t recognise and certainly couldn’t read.
“Tuwiuwok,” Gabriel said aloud. “It means Haven for God’s Orphans.”
“God’s orphans?” John repeated, making it a question.
“A long time before the white man came to these shores, this land was a sanctuary. Some came here to die free. Others came to live. The old ways are forgotten now, but traces remain in Haven.” Gabe turned to John, meeting his eyes. “It’s a good place, John.”
“Most places are,” he agreed, “but I can’t stay here. I need to find my boys.”
“Johnnie-boy, you ain’t goin’ near those boys. You know why.”
“Try and stop me!” John snarled. Their deal dictated John had to follow Gabe’s lead, but he had not agreed to stay out of it altogether. He would never have agreed to that.
Gabe gave an irritating grin. “I already have.”
“What do you mean?”
“You think you’re ready, but the best part of you is still in Hell. You need time, John. I’ll come for you when it’s safe. But while you’re here, you could do me a favour.”
“You can’t keep me from my sons!” he protested, well aware that Gabe could do exactly that.
“If you blunder into their lives now, you’ll guarantee Hell wins. We had a deal, and now it’s time you hold up your end.”
“This wasn’t the deal – ”John protested, but it was too late. He was alone beside the ancient rock.
“Do you think he’s troubled?” Nathan asked. He reached into the box of pastries on the desk between them, selected the plainest one, tore it in two and kept the smaller half.
“That’s not it,” Audrey answered. She selected a pastry for herself and took a bite, reconsidering. “I don’t know. There’s something about him. Do you know his last name?”
“Sure,” Nathan answered at once, then he frowned. “Weston. No, uh, Wesson.” He reached for the stack of files on the desk.
She knew he was looking for the report John filed the day before, so Audrey answered before he found it. “John Winchester. But you’re not the only one who can’t remember his name.”
Nathan flipped the file open. “Winchester, right. Like the rifle. But I didn’t forget him. Just the name.”
“I don’t think it’s an affliction. It’s just…strange.” She sighed and finished her pastry. “What do you think? Should I bring him in?”
“There’s no evidence of a crime, and if what he killed wasn’t human it isn’t murder.”
“This is Haven,” she said, giving him a look. Just because the body she saw didn’t look human didn’t mean it wasn’t.
Nathan got the point. He nodded. “We can follow it up. Find out if someone fitting the description is missing.”
“Red eyes and fangs should be noticeable in a crowd.”
“I meant size. You said about five foot, but adult proportions. If you couldn’t tell the sex it’s either a slender male or a flat-chested female. It doesn’t sound like anyone I know, but there are some communities in Haven that keep to themselves. We can at least ask around.”
“What about John himself? Has he been in any trouble since he showed up in town?”
“I’ll find out.” Nathan took another sip of his coffee before leaving the office. Two seconds later he was back. He pulled out the file again and wrote Winchester in block capitals on a post-it. He returned the file to the tray.
“Don’t say it,” Nathan warned Audrey. He walked out again.
Audrey left alone with the box of pastries, shrugged. “I didn’t say a word,” she told the empty room. She selected another pastry.
When Nathan returned, he held a few photocopied pages. “There’s not much,” he reported. He laid the first page on the desk. “John Winchester helped to break up a bar fight at the Rust Bucket. This is his witness statement. No one was badly hurt.” He laid down the second page. “John Winchester was doing some work at the harbour when there was a fire on one of the boats. He rescued two people from the flames before the firefighters got there. And there’s this,” Nathan added, laying a photograph on the desk.
Audrey picked it up. She recognised the scene: the road beneath Tuwiuwok Bluff, a body at the bottom of the cliff. Jonas Lester’s murder: the reason Audrey came to Haven. She studied the photograph for a moment before she spotted John. He was on the cliff path above the scene. He wasn’t near the place from which Lester fell, but it looked as if he might have been on his way there. The picture must have been taken before Audrey herself reached the scene.
Audrey shivered. The cliff path on Tuwiuwok Bluff had been haunting her dreams. The path slippery in the rain, the bobbing flashlight of her pursuer…
“What’s wrong?” Nathan asked.
Audrey set the photograph down and tried to smile. “Nothing. I’m just tired.” She realised it was true. She hadn’t slept well.
“Take some time off,” Nathan suggested. “I’ll call you if something comes up.”
Audrey nodded gratefully. “Thanks. I will.”
Coffee and pastries satisfied her hunger but not, Audrey realised as she left the Haven PD building, her confusion about the night’s events. Instead of going back to her room, Audrey found her feet carrying her up Harbour Hill. Toward John Winchester.
Audrey stared at the display on the wall of John’s tiny apartment. It was too much to take in.
There were copies of newspaper articles, most of them from the Haven Herald. A few described incidents she remembered: one described the manhunt for Jonas Lester; another was about the giant ball that wrecked the Rust Bucket. There was a copy of the Colorado Kid photograph; an article about a ship that went down in 1979; another about a freak storm in ’83. There was much, much more. Lines of string pinned to the wall linked some of the articles; others had handwritten notes stuck to them with tape. Audrey moved closer to the wall and examined the note beneath the Colorado Kid picture. It read
Murder 10-8 vic connx L.R. Gate?
It made no sense to her. LR might refer to Lucy Ripley. 10-8 could be a date, 8th October. But Audrey knew of no murder involving Lucy except the Colorado Kid case and her only connection to that was the photograph. The date, if that’s what it was, meant nothing. The Colorado Kid murder happened in late October.
What was all this? What was John?
“I guess you don’t have a warrant.”
Audrey whirled, automatically pulling her weapon as she moved. John had entered so quietly she had no idea how long he had been standing behind her. He stood in the doorway, completely relaxed. It was as if he didn’t notice her gun pointed at his chest, but she was sure this man noticed everything.
“Mrs Gillespe let me in,” Audrey explained. “No warrant necessary.” The last was a lie. Strictly speaking she did need a warrant. She was gambling that John wasn’t the type to lawyer-up.
“Are you going to shoot me?” he asked.
Point to him. Audrey holstered her weapon. “Not today.” She gestured to the wall. “What is all this? And don’t give me that crap about not believing it.”
John took two steps into the room. “It’s Haven. The history. The Troubles.”
“But why is it all over your wall?”
“Because this is what I do.”
Audrey frowned. “Will you explain that?”
He regarded her for a moment, then shook his head. “I think it’s too soon. You’re not ready to believe it.”
Audrey frowned. She was in no mood for cryptic. “Life in Haven could get very difficult for you,” she suggested. “I may not be able to prove what you did last night, but Chief Wuornos trusts me. He’ll want to keep a close eye on you. And I know the FBI – ”
“Enough!” John barked. “You can’t intimidate me with threats, Parker, so don’t waste your breath. Just tell me what you want to know.”
Geez, where do I start? “Who are you, really? What kind of handyman has a stock of napalm under his bed? What is all this on your wall? And why is it no one in Haven remembers your name?”
John’s face remained impassive through most of her questions, but at the last he looked up sharply. “My name? What are you talking about?”
“Every time I’ve asked someone your last name, they don’t know it. Even the Chief, right after he wrote your name in the report you filed.”
John nodded thoughtfully. “I wasn’t aware of that, but it does make a kind of sense.”
“What kind of sense?”
“This is Haven.” John shrugged. “You must know by now that strange things happen here.”
“The Troubles,” Audrey agreed.
“The Troubles affect different people in different ways, but no one in Haven is untouched. I wasn’t born here, so I didn’t inherit any Trouble like most of these people.” He gestured to the display on his wall. “But I’ve spent a lot of my life hiding who I am or pretending to be something I’m not. So it makes sense that Haven would…help me with that.”
Audrey had never heard the Troubles described in that way before. She wondered if John really knew about the Troubles or was just making it up as he went along.
“My name is John Winchester,” he said. “You want to write it down?”
She smiled, just a little. “I don’t need to, John Winchester. I’m…I seem to be immune to the Troubles. Most of them, anyway.”
He glanced at the wall display, just a quick flicker of his eyes. “Interesting,” he commented.
But Audrey shook her head, unwilling to be distracted from her main purpose. “Why do you keep a stock of napalm?” she pressed.
He sighed. “I don’t. I don’t need to stock it. Anyone can cook up a batch with gasoline and any of a dozen things to thicken it.” John moved past her to sit on the bed. “Do you really care about the napalm?” he challenged.
“I care what you did with it. I care that it obviously wasn’t the first time.”
John nodded, his expression serious now. “You’re right about that.”
It was an effort not to reach for her gun. He’d basically admitted to being a serial killer. She should have been terrified. She wasn’t…but neither did she feel safe with him. “Will you tell me everything now?” she asked.
“If I must. Where should I start?”
John nodded. “Have a seat, Agent Parker.”
She looked around for a seat and found a fold-up chair against one wall. She opened it and sat down. Would he tell her the truth? She doubted it, but she hoped she would be able to sort the truth from the lies.
John sat on what Audrey had taken for a coffee table; evidently it doubled as a stool. “I’ll have to give you the short version or we’ll be here for weeks. So just…accept it.”
Audrey nodded. With a quick smile she said, “I can believe six impossible things before breakfast.”
“Six won’t be enough, Alice, and this ain’t Wonderland.” John touched his left hand, twisting the wedding ring he wore. “There are things out there most people wouldn’t believe in, and not only in Haven. Things that prey on humans, steal children, things that can control people and make them do errible things. No one sees it until they are forced to look.” He took a deep breath. “My wife passed in 1983. She was killed…” he stopped and rubbed a hand over his face. “I saw her die, and the way it happened was…impossible. So impossible no one believed me when I tried to tell them what I saw.”
Audrey nodded. “That must have been hard. I’m sorry.” She had seen things in Haven no one would believe. She understood the feeling. And when it involved his own wife…yeah, that was tough.
John ignored her comment. “I started hunting for the thing that killed her. Along the way, I hunted other monsters, too.”
“And the person you killed last night?” Audrey pressed, more interested in the present than in his history.
“It wasn’t a person. It was a moroi. They’re a kind of psychic vampire. They feed on the…I guess you’d call it the life force of humans.” John made an odd gesture. “Haven isn’t like anywhere else. The monsters I’ve hunted all my life are different here.”
“There are no demons here, for a start. Haven is protected from them, which right now, is pretty close to a miracle. But that’s just the beginning.” He reached under the bed and produced a book. He opened it and offered it to Audrey.
Audrey took the book from his hands. It was some kind of encyclopedia of mythological creatures. The page John indicated showed an illustration of something that looked a lot like Nosferatu in the 1922 movie: a human-like face, thin and gaunt, bald, with scarlet eyes and sharply pointed incisors.
“A lot of creatures are things that used to be human,” John went on as she studied the picture. “Vampires, skinwalkers, wendigos, werewolves. Haven changes them. They become more human. From what I’ve been able to figure out, that’s what this land used to be, centuries ago. A place for creatures to fight free of their curses. Tuwiuwok. It means – ”
“Haven for God’s Orphans. I know.” Audrey looked up, beginning to see his point. “‘God’s Orphans’ means supernatural creatures,” she said softly.
John flashed a grin at her. “You’re quick.”
“So you’re saying the Troubled are people who used to be monsters?” Audrey said, disbelieving. Nathan, less than human? No. It couldn’t be true.
“No, not monsters. I think the Troubled families have, somewhere back in their bloodlines, something not human. Monster is as good a word as any, but the people here now are human. At least, they are until the Troubles hit them.”
John pointed to a corner of his display on the wall. It was a cutting from the Haven Herald: an obituary for Joe Campbell. “Succubus,” he said and pointed to a picture of the giant steel ball that destroyed the Rust Bucket. “Dream Rider.” He picked out another news cutting. “Witch.” Another. “Skinwalker.” Another. “Springheel.” Another. “Necromancer. I could go on.”
Audrey rose to study the display. As she began to understand what he was doing, she could appreciate the work he had put into this research. John knew of more Troubled people than Audrey had encountered, perhaps because he had been in Haven for longer than she.
“But then the – what did you call it? Mori?”
“Moroi,” John corrected. “It was killing people, Parker, and it wasn’t a human with a bit of moroi blood. It was all moroi. Probably a new arrival. If you’re waiting for me to say I feel guilty for taking it out, I don’t.”
That much was obvious. Audrey nodded. She drew a breath to ask another question, but John interrupted her.
“What about you, Parker? What are you doing in Haven?”
“I’m helping out at Haven PD.” Audrey gave her stock answer. It was the second lie she’d told him.
But John wasn’t fooled for a second. “Please. You came here to find Jonas Lester. A strange job for an FBI agent, since it’s usually the Federal Marshals who track fugitives. Anyway, Lester’s dead, so why are you still here?”
It wasn’t a secret; she might as well tell him, Audrey decided. “I’m looking for the woman in the Colorado Kid photograph. I think she could be my mother. Do you know something about her? You have the picture.”
John glanced at the picture on his wall. It was a poor quality print from microfiche. “She disappeared about two weeks after the Colorado Kid murder. I don’t know everything that happened, but it ended the Troubles for a quarter of a century.”
Audrey knew that Lucy had been in Haven during the Troubles, but she hadn’t connected her leaving with the end of the Troubles. She frowned. “Are you saying she was the cause?”
“I doubt she’s that powerful,” John answered, utterly serious. “She’s connected to the Troubles somehow. She may have left because they were over.”
Audrey moved closer to the wall and examined the familiar photograph. “Is that possible? How could she know?”
John didn’t answer and Audrey guessed that meant he hadn’t figured that out yet. It was slightly reassuring to see he didn’t have an answer for everything.
“This is important to you, isn’t it?” John’s voice was soft.
She answered honestly. “She could be my mother. Of course it’s important to me.”
“I’ll make you a deal,” he offered.
“You can find me in the Gull three nights a week. Talk to me. Tell me what’s going on. I don’t mean confidential things, just whatever you’re free to say. In return, I’ll tell you everything I can find out about the Colorado Kid murder and this woman.”
Audrey was tempted, but she shook her head at once. “I’m not going to tell you things so you can go out and…”
“Throw napalm around?” he finished for her. “Look, Parker, I’m a hunter. Killing monsters that kill people is what I do. I’m not asking you to point me in the direction. I can do that myself. I’m interested in the Troubles.”
Audrey still felt suspicious, but after a moment’s consideration she nodded. She knew that by accepting his offer she was agreeing to keep his secret about the previous night’s events. More, she was making herself an accessory next time he did it. But the bait was just too tempting.
“I’ll see you at the Gull,” she agreed.
Chapter 3: Part Two: The Guardian
Haven, Maine, 2011
John Winchester sat in his usual corner of the Grey Gull, enjoying the day’s special – seafood pie – and a beer. He wasn’t there for the food, though. As he ate, he was observing the other people in the room.
Something had changed in Haven. There was a tension in the air, even here in the bar. John knew about some of the triggers. The disappearance of Chief Wuornos under highly suspicious circumstances was an obvious one. He’d been lost at sea, the official story went. “Lost at sea” seemed to raise suspicions in Haven the way “mauled by an unknown animal” raised red flags for hunters everywhere else. Without the old chief of police, the conflict between his son – the new Chief of Police – and Reverend Driscoll had been kicked to a new level. The Rev hated the Troubled the way John hated demons, and unfortunately Nathan Wuornos’ affliction was well known.
But that couldn’t account for everything John sensed. He knew how to take the temperature of a community and something was very wrong in this town. John noticed that when someone entered the Gull alone, they tended to look around and join a group. No one said hello to a friend here and a friend there. No one – except John himself – drank alone.
He saw Audrey enter alone. She glanced around the room but went straight to the bar where Crocker served her a drink without waiting for her to ask. To John, it signalled clearly which faction each of them was allied with, whether they knew it or not. Audrey and Crocker exchanged conversation for a few moments before Audrey glanced toward John. He raised his beer glass in greeting and she smiled, but then turned back to Crocker. John assumed that meant she had no time for him tonight, but not long after she walked over to his table.
Audrey set a glass in front of him. Whiskey on the rocks. “Can I join you?”
“Of course.” John gestured to the whiskey glass. “Thanks for the drink.” He didn’t tell her he preferred it without ice.
Audrey sipped her martini, her eyes darting from side to side as if she feared being overheard. She looked worried, but that seemed her natural state lately.
John decided to speak first before she got everyone staring at them. “I read through the autopsy report you gave me,” he said, keeping his voice low.
She nodded, relaxing a little.
“There was nothing strange about it. The murder weapon was a long, double-edged blade. Two wounds, either of which could have been the death blow…but you know all this. You read the report.”
“You didn’t find anything?”
“Not in the autopsy. But you won’t find much about the Troubles in Haven police reports, either.” John knew that she wrote a lot of those reports herself, and they were very carefully worded to avoid all mention of the supernatural.
“What’s interesting to me,” John went on, “is the circumstances of the murder and the victim, not the way he died. Have you asked why he was called ‘The Colorado Kid’?”
“He was a John Doe. The only clue to his identity was a bus ticket which showed he came from Colorado.”
“Meaning he wasn’t a local,” John pointed out. “So it’s unlikely he was one of the Troubled and he hadn’t been in Haven for long, so it’s a good bet he didn’t even know about them.”
Audrey set her glass down with an audible thunk. “The Chief was convinced Max Hansen killed the Colorado Kid.”
John shook his head. “Come on, FBI. You know serial killers don’t change their MO that much.”
“Serial killer? What makes you think…?”
“Check Hansen out, damn it! The family he was jailed for killing wasn’t his first. You can tell from the case file. Hansen was experienced and organised. The murders were efficient and he set the fire to cover his tracks. The Colorado Kid murder was rushed. He was killed where the body was found, meaning it happened in a public place and the killer took off. Either it’s amateurish or the killer knew none of the witnesses would remember anything.”
He was suggesting the killer was Troubled, Audrey thought. Max Hansen was Troubled, but his affliction had nothing to do with affecting memory. “How did you get Hansen’s case file?”
John merely smiled.
Audrey looked at him for a moment, her annoyance plain. Then she shrugged. “Fine, keep your secrets. Do you have a theory?”
“I have…a suspicion. But I need to find the Colorado Kid’s identity to confirm it.”
“Well, that’s not possible.”
“Of course it is. It just takes time. Can you get me a list of every missing person case Colorado 1983 that is still unresolved?”
Her look became challenging. “You mean you can’t?”
John smiled. “Sure I could. But you can get it quicker and once I have that I think I can narrow down the suspects. If I can get you pictures of the ten or so most likely, you can ask around. There’s no photo of the Colorado Kid but there must be a few people in town who will remember him. The Teague brothers, maybe. Reverend Driscoll.”
She frowned when he mentioned the Rev. John knew that the bad blood there was only getting worse. He was beginning to have suspicions of his own about Driscoll, but he was a difficult man to check out. Maybe John should make more effort to get close to the man.
Audrey nodded. “I can ask the Teagues. If they can’t help, they’ll know who can. But what’s your theory, John?”
He shook his head. “I’d rather not say until I know a bit more. I know you don’t like it, Parker, but this one will sound far fetched even by Haven’s standards.”
“Alright. For now.”
John nodded, accepting the compromise. “Your turn.” This was their deal: he checked things out for her, she returned the favour. Over the past year John had come to trust her. When Gabriel brought him to Haven, the angel told him someone would be coming to town whom John could help, if he were willing. John was certain now that Audrey was the one Gabriel meant.
Audrey sipped her drink. “Of the list you gave me, I can only find one man who is still alive. Bobby Singer, South Dakota.”
John drew in a slow breath. One. Just one of the old contacts. It didn’t mean they were all dead: hunters had reasons to live off the grid. But it was not good news. Still, Bobby was alive. And Bobby was a good friend to his boys. He would know how to find them.
“He’s still at the salvage yard?” John asked.
“It’s his address of record,” she answered carefully.
“Okay. That’s good.” John hesitated, not sure how to phrase his request.
“Come on, John. You could have found this out by picking up a phone. Why put me on the trail?”
“That’s my problem, Parker. I can’t just call the man. As far as he knows, I’ve been dead for four years. If I call, he’ll hang up on me.” Remembering his last conversation with Bobby, John snorted into his whiskey. “Come to that, he’d hang up on me regardless. Last time I saw him he ran me off with a shotgun. But if he’s the only one left, he’s my best hope.”
“Hope for what?”
“Finding my sons. This is hard to explain, but…what is it?”
Audrey said gently, “I was afraid that might be it. John, Dean and Sam Winchester are dead.”
For a moment, John’s heart stopped. His world stopped. The room around them, all the people, conversations, music, the clink of glasses, all of it fell silent. Nothing existed except Audrey’s words. Dean and Sam Winchester are dead…
She went on speaking, as if she couldn’t tell the whole universe had changed. “They died in a gas explosion – ”
The world snapped back into place and John started breathing again. “In Colorado. Sheriff’s department.” The words were matter-of-fact but his voice still shook. Damn, he should have been prepared for this. “I know that’s the story on record but it ain’t true. At least one of them was alive last May.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Because my Sammy is the only person born in the last thousand years who could have busted Lucifer out of his cage, and that’s when it happened, John thought, but he couldn’t give Audrey that answer. “I know, okay,” he growled. “I just know.” He waited for her to nod. “I need my boys to know I’m here.”
“So go and see this Bobby Singer in person,” she suggested.
“I would if I could, Parker. I’m chained to Haven. I can’t leave town.”
“What do you mean you can’t leave?”
John swore under his breath. “I mean what I said. Do you think I just showed up here and decided it’s a great place to live? I can’t leave. If I try to walk out of town under my own power, it’s like there’s an invisible wall around the town. If someone else gives me a ride, I’m so sick I can’t go on. I tried to charter a boat and somehow I just couldn’t make myself get aboard. I’m chained to Haven.”
Audrey frowned. “That sounds like an affliction.”
“I guess you could call it that, but it’s not the same as the Troubles. I…” he hesitated, but there was nothing stopping him from telling her. “I kind of agreed to this. I mean, I agreed to stay in town. I didn’t expect the deal to be enforced like this.”
“Deal with who?”
“With what,” John corrected, but did not supply the answer. “Are you gonna help me, or not?”
“…but first these WDLH headlines.” The radio signal in the church was poor and the voice was occasionally interrupted by static. “A family on a camping trip discovered what state police have confirmed as the remains of twenty-year-old Malia McClintock, a dental hygenist from Garby reported missing last week.”
John paused in his work to listen.
“The family of four, who asked not to be identified, found Ms McClintock’s dismembered body beneath a bed of leaves near the Scotts Lake camping area. Ms McClintock disappeared a few weeks ago…”
John stopped paying attention. Scotts Lake was thirty miles from Haven; well outside the range allowed by his leash. Whatever happened out there, he could do nothing about it. He listened for the end of the report – the most recent sighting of the suspect had been near Haven – but the reporter added nothing new.
The white paint was dry and John was atop a stepladder fixing the large wooden cross back into place when Reverend Driscoll approached him. John had taken as much time over the job as he could. Not for the money – he would be paid the same regardless – but because it gave him a reason to be in the Good Shepherd church and observe the Reverend.
The stand-off at the police station was the last straw. People died, people who could have been saved. Driscoll’s hatred of the Troubled was irrational, but to instigate something so reckless was unlike him.
John had suspected for some time that Driscoll was not what he seemed. The repair work at the Good Shepherd Church gave John an opportunity to run some subtle tests. It was a simple matter to switch the holy water in the church for water John had blessed himself. Salt was more tricky, as was testing the Rev with certain herbs. Silver, though, was simplest of all: the cross and chalice Driscoll handled every day were both pure silver; John only had to double check that they hadn’t been altered or replaced. Thus far, however, none of his tests gained any reaction at all.
John knew he was running out of time. Neutrality was no longer an option for him. He could not act until he had chosen a side, but that decision was not as easy as it would have been once. The code behind his entire career as a hunter – if it’s supernatural, we kill it – could not make the choice for him when the supernatural ran on both sides. The Troubled of Haven were supernatural by blood, not by choice.
“John,” Driscoll called.
John answered without looking down. “Almost done.” He gave the nail a last few taps with his hammer and smoothed the tiny chips away with a fingertip. Satisfied, he held out the hammer. “Catch this for me, would you, Reverend?”
Driscoll raised his hands and John dropped the hammer into them, head first. Driscoll caught it by the head and winced as if it were hot. He let it fall through his hands a little way, deftly grabbed the wooden handle instead and set it down in the open toolbox.
John climbed down the stepladder. “That should hold another fifty years,” he promised.
“I’m glad to hear it. May I offer you some coffee, John? We need to talk.”
John had been expecting it. “Sure, Reverend. Just let me tidy this up.” He gathered up his tools and sealed the box, then put the stepladder away. He was almost sure…
In his office, Driscoll came straight to the point. “I hear you’ve been spending time with Audrey Parker,” he said, his voice deceptively mild. He had his back to John as he spoke, his hands busy making coffee.
John had been spending time with Audrey for months; he’d had plenty of time to devise a story that would satisfy Driscoll. “Not by choice,” he lied smoothly.
Driscoll set a mug of coffee in front of him. “Explain,” he ordered.
Driscoll gave the answer John intended to provoke. “That’s not good enough.” His eyes remained flint-hard but his tone softened a little. “John, if you are having difficulties with Haven police, maybe I can help.”
John sighed heavily. “Alright, I’ll tell you. But I hope I can rely on your discretion, Reverend.” He reached into his jacket and took out his battered leather wallet. He deliberately fumbled a little as he opened it and drew out a folded piece of paper. He unfolded the sheet to reveal a photocopied article from a St Louis newspaper, together with a police artist’s drawing of a murder suspect: his son, Dean. John knew the truth of the story, that a ’shifter killed those women, but it was a useful prop to him now. He slid it across the table. “That’s my boy. Dean.”
Driscoll scanned the article quickly. His stern expression changed. “I’m very sorry, John. I know how painful it is when our children disappoint us.” He seemed sincere.
“I’ve been out of touch with my boys for a long time. Dean…he’s gone now. There was a fire in the jail.”
“I’m sorry,” Driscoll said again. John almost believed him.
“I don’t know where my youngest is. Sammy’s a good boy. He let his brother lead him astray, but he wouldn’t do anything like this.” He tapped the article. “Parker is FBI. She has access to…” He broke off with another sigh. “I just want to find my son, Reverend. If I have to deal with the devil to find him…” He shrugged helplessly, avoiding Driscoll’s eyes. Would the man buy it?
Driscoll carefully folded the article, his long fingers smoothing the creases in the paper. “Surely there are other authorities you can go to.”
“Not in Haven. Anyway, she came to me first, Reverend. I guess my name is in a file somewhere because I’m their father.” And for a lot of other reasons. John’s record was almost as colourful as his sons’, but Driscoll couldn’t know that.
Driscoll nodded, apparently satisfied. He offered the folded paper back to John.
As John took the article from his fingers, he caught a glimpse of Driscoll’s palm. The skin was red and swollen, like a burn. It was the final confirmation John needed. He tucked the article back into his wallet, satisfied on both counts.
“There was an incident today. A man was hurt in the wood.”
John stiffened. “Hurt how?”
“Mauled. Bitten. But not by any wolf.”
“Bear?” John suggested, thinking: Skinwalker. Maybe Rugaru.
“No,” Driscoll said grimly. “Something else. It took a local boy, Rory Campbell. Some of us will be going after him. I hear you’re a good man with a rifle.”
John shrugged. “I was a marine in ’Nam. You never lose that.” But now he was worried. He was now sure that this was not the man he’d known as Reverend Driscoll. Who or what it really was were questions John had no time to answer. If he – it – was taking a hunting party into the wood, he must have convinced others there was a Troubled person behind this not-a-wolf attack. But was he right? If there was some creature in the wood, the Reverend’s hunters would be the ones in danger.
Which side was John on?
He was a hunter. His job was to protect people. Humans. The man he was talking to was not the real Reverend Driscoll, so there was a good chance it knew what a hunter was. It might even know his name, though that wasn’t likely. John had never hunted much in Maine. John saw a chance, then. It was a risk, because he couldn’t be sure which way the Reverend would go, but it was a better option than joining the Rev’s hunting party.
He leaned forward. “Reverend Driscoll, I have some experience as a hunter. Not wolves or bears. I hunted things most men don’t believe in.”
The fanatic light in Driscoll’s eyes made John regret speaking, but he was committed now.
“Such as?” Driscoll asked eagerly.
Such as you, you son of a bitch, John thought, but he shrugged. He had to convince Driscoll he had no idea what he was…yet. “You name it. Demons. Vampires. Werewolves. Spirits. There ain’t much I haven’t run into over the years.”
“Then you’ll join us for the hunt?”
Only if I’m the one leading it, and you’ll never let me do that. “Depends,” John answered. “What do you think is in the wood?”
“Wendigo,” Driscoll said.
John snorted. “No.” An instant later, he wanted to kick himself. He should have played along, but the idea was so preposterous he couldn’t help himself.
Driscoll looked disappointed. “I’m sorry to hear – ”
“I mean,” John interrupted hoping to save the conversation, “it’s not a wendigo. Can’t be.”
“I assure you, I know about these ungodly creatures.”
Ungodly was Driscoll’s word for the Troubled. “You don’t know enough, Reverend. You said the man in the woods was hurt, not killed. So it’s not a wendigo. A real wendigo is unbelievably fast and strong. They don’t attack and run. They eat or store their prey. If the man survived the attack, what’s out there is something else.”
“These things are different in Haven.”
John stood. “Not that different. Trust me, Driscoll. If a bullet can kill it, it’s not a wendigo. And if your bullets won’t hurt it, your hunters are gonna die.” He turned to go.
“No. Someone will die today, but it will not be those who stand with me,” Driscoll declared.
Driscoll was talking about cold-blooded murder. He was going to take a hunting party into the wood knowing it was a person, not a monster they were going to kill. Had John been armed, he would have killed the Reverend right there in his own church. But he was not armed. It would be better to plan this carefully. John headed for the door.
“Wait!” Driscoll commanded. “What kills them if not bullets?”
John turned back. If he told Driscoll you kill a wendigo with fire, he would burn someone alive today. Someone who could be innocent. John would not have that on his conscience. First, he would warn Parker about the Rev. Then, John was going hunting, too.
“I do,” he said firmly, and walked out of the Good Shepherd church.
It was the last time he saw Driscoll alive.
Audrey opened her door reluctantly, not in the mood for visitors. It had been a horrible two days and she was ready to tell whoever was in the doorway to go to Hell. Nathan had promised to leave her alone and she wasn’t going to welcome Duke after seeing him cosy up with the Rev.
But the man in her doorway was neither of them. It was John Winchester.
Audrey was surprised. John had never sought her out before; they only met downstairs in the Grey Gull.
“I know it’s not a good time,” John said apologetically, “but…” he held up a bottle of whiskey.
Audrey managed a smile. “Thanks, but I’ve had enough to drink tonight.”
He nodded, grimly. “Can we talk?”
Audrey knew John Winchester well enough to expect he would insist, so she opened the door wider, letting him in. Though John had never been in her apartment before he did not look around, or give any sign of curiosity. He simply sat where she indicated and set the whiskey bottle down on the table in front of him.
“You’ve heard,” Audrey said flatly.
“All of Haven has heard by now,” John answered.
“I killed a man today.” Audrey needed to say it out loud. To face the truth of it.
“That’s partly why I came. Driscoll wasn’t exactly a man, Parker.”
Audrey’s knees felt suddenly weak. She sat down on the couch beside John. “What?”
“When you get a chance to examine the body, take a look at his right hand. There’s a burn on his palm.”
“What does that prove?”
“He got it from touching cold iron. I’ve been wondering about Driscoll for a while. Watching him. Not many things would masquerade as a priest, but I tried all the usual tests. Until today, I got no result.”
Audrey frowned, not sure she was following. “What happened today?”
“I found a way to test him with cold iron. It burned him. Which means he’s not human. I tried to call you as soon as I knew but you were already in the wood.”
No. No, that didn’t make any sense. John had told her before that what he called the usual tests didn’t always work in Haven because the people were partly supernatural, not non-human. Cursing the amount of alcohol in her bloodstream, she struggled to concentrate. “John, I don’t – I didn’t – like the Rev, but he’s been in Haven for decades. How could he be some sort of creature?”
“I didn’t say he always has been. My guess is you shot a changeling. If I’m right, it killed the real Reverend Driscoll and replaced him months ago. But, Parker, I didn’t come here to make you feel better about it. I came because of what this means.”
Audrey shook her head helplessly. She didn’t understand and wasn’t sure she cared. She had killed, and it didn’t matter whether he was a man or not. It only mattered that all of Haven knew that she shot and killed Reverend Driscoll. The factions that had slowly been forming in Haven were about to fracture. And she still did not understand who she was or why she was here.
“I give up, John. What does it mean?”
“Driscoll led hunters into the wood to keep the Troubled from living there. He – it – is protecting something. Something you missed because you were focussed on saving those wendigo kids.”
Audrey stared at him, dumbfounded. No, she couldn’t make it fit. Whatever leap of logic he had made, her brain couldn’t follow. She sighed. “So?”
“So I’m going after it. Parker, if I don’t make it back…”
Instantly sober, Audrey interrupted. “What do you mean?”
“If I don’t make it back,” John persisted, “would you see to it my sons get this?” He held out something wrapped in brown paper. “You’re the only one who knows, Parker. Please.”
She accepted the package. “I’ll see to it. But you’re not going alone if you think you could get killed.”
“I’m not takin’ anyone with me into danger.”
“No. You’re a civilian.”
“I’m a cop.”
“In this, that means nothing. You ain’t a hunter, Parker. Not my kind of hunter.”
“I can shoot. You need someone to watch your back.”
Audrey thrust the paper-wrapped package back at him. “Then do your own dirty work. Or do you expect me to tell your children I’m the one who let you get killed?”
They weren’t children, and John was not oblivious to the manipulation in her choice of that word. But it worked anyway. He did not take the package from her. He met her eyes. “I’m in charge. You follow orders.”
Audrey let out her breath. “Alright.”
“Meet me at the Hunt Club at dawn. Dress for a hike and don’t forget to come armed. I’ve got something else I have to do first.”
John stood and gave a strange smile. “I know he was your enemy, but I liked Reverend Driscoll. I’m gonna break into the morgue and make sure the bastard that killed him doesn’t rise again.”
Before Audrey could process that, he was gone.
When John left her, Audrey made coffee as strong as she could stand it and sat, watching the paper-wrapped package as if it were a ticking bomb, while she drank three mugs, black with too much sugar. Finally, she made a decision and picked up the package. It wasn’t sealed; the paper was just folded over like an envelope to keep it closed. She unwrapped it carefully, so she would be able to re-wrap it when she was done. The small leather-bound notebook was full, cover-to-cover, the words written in black ink in an even hand that occasionally degenerated into a barely-legible scrawl.
Son, if you are reading this… the first page began. Audrey hesitated to read something so intensely personal, but her eyes were drawn back to the page by more than mere curiosity. She had to read. She had to know.
When she reached the last page, the book fell from her fingers. Audrey felt as if she had been kicked in the stomach. She knew John had secrets, but if any of this were true… No, not if. It was true. Somehow, deep down, she knew it. Something inside her recognised his story.
She re-wrapped the notebook, placed it in a box and wrote a quick note of her own before drinking the rest of the coffee – cold, but it was caffeine – and packing what she needed for a hike in the woods. While she changed her clothes, she thought about who she could trust with the box and its contents. Nathan came to mind first, but though she trusted him more than anyone else in Haven, if she went to him now, he would insist on accompanying her. Duke’s boat was closer than Nathan’s home, and if not entirely trustworthy, she thought Duke would agree to do her this one favour.
Duke was not happy to be woken before dawn. Audrey let him complain for a while before she explained what she needed and gave him the box. She even said please, which caused Duke to ask her if she were dying. But he agreed to store the box for her.
Audrey walked to the Hunt Club. The streets of Haven were quiet, most of the good citizens sound asleep in their beds, and the walk didn’t take her very long. She had not slept at all and jumped at every little sound as she walked, the combination of tiredness and the caffeine-high putting her on-edge. Gravel crunched beneath her boots as she turned into the driveway toward the Club. At this hour, the building would be deserted but the gate was not locked. She saw John waiting under the trees and headed his way, stifling a yawn.
“Did you sleep at all?”
Audrey remembered what he said about breaking into the morgue. “Did you?” she challenged.
He shrugged. “Got me there.”
“So, am I going to get a call about someone mutilating a corpse and stuffing its mouth full of garlic?” She tried to keep her tone light as she asked. What she really wanted to know was whether she should expect a pissed-off Reverend Driscoll at her door.
John gave his quick smile. “That’s just for vampires and it doesn’t work anyway. No, you won’t get a call. If they do an autopsy and the ME is paying attention he or she might have a few questions, but I’m betting it’ll be okay.”
She wouldn’t take that bet, but she nodded. “Good to know.” She yawned again.
“Really, Parker, are you up for this? If you’re too tired…”
“I’ll be fine. Let’s go.”
John clicked on a flashlight and led the way into the wood. “You’ll need to show me where Driscoll died. Are those wendigo kids still around?”
“No, we sent them to – ”
John interrupted, “Don’t tell me where they are. I just need to know about the threat.”
“Good. I’ll make you a deal, Parker.”
Audrey frowned, not sure she would like this, but she nodded. “I’m listening.”
“I don’t know what we’re going to find. Maybe nothing. Maybe something important or dangerous. If there’s a Troubled person involved, I’ll follow your lead. You seem to understand the Troubles better than anyone. But if it’s anything else, you follow mine. Deal?”
Audrey was surprised he would compromise that far. “Deal,” she agreed.
The place where she had shot and killed the Rev – or his doppelgänger – was a long way from the Hunt Club. Audrey didn’t want to go back there so soon. Whatever the truth, in the moment Audrey pulled the trigger she believed the Rev was human. Not a man she liked. An enemy, even, but still a man. She was not by nature a killer. Only imminent danger to another innocent life could have made her pull shoot and she still regretted doing it. Watching him die would haunt her for a long time.
It was dark in the woodland and she wasn’t sure she could find the way. Audrey hesitated, looking for a familiar landmark. Trees, trees and more trees. With the sun barely breaking the horizon, all directions looked the same to her.
“Lost already?” John asked, but his voice was gentle, not scornful.
“It’s dark, and we didn’t start from the Hunt Club yesterday,” Audrey explained.
“Sorry. You’re right. This way.” John started in a different direction. “What are you packing?”
“Police issue .38. I didn’t have time to borrow a rifle.”
John slid the backpack from his shoulders without breaking stride and pulled out a rattling tobacco tin. He shone his flashlight onto the lid then gave it to her. “If you’ve got a spare clip, fill it with these instead of your regular bullets. They’ll fit your .38, but your aim won’t be as accurate, so if you need them be sure you compensate. They’re iron.”
“Why iron?” Audrey took the tin from his hand.
“What works against the supernatural depends on the creature. Everything has a weakness, even the immortals. For shape-shifters it’s silver. For demons you use holy water or salt. Wendigo – fire. The thing in Driscoll’s shape didn’t blink at silver so it wasn’t a ’shifter, it was a changeling.”
“What’s the difference?”
“A shape-shifter really does change form. A changeling just makes you think it looks like whoever. It’s an illusion. Look at it in a mirror or a reflection and you’ll see its true face. Cold iron will kill them. Regular lead bullets will just piss it off.”
Cold iron, Audrey remembered from childhood stories, was said to be proof against the fairy folk. Were fairies real, too? If so, she doubted they were miniature supermodels in ballgowns with gossamer wings. More likely evil imps stealing children and drinking blood, or something equally horrible.
“What about angels?” she asked.
John gave her an odd look. “What about them?”
“You said holy water and salt kills demons. So what about angels?” If demons existed, their opposites must also be real.
“Holy water doesn’t kill demons, it just hurts. Exorcism is how you send ’em back to Hell. Angels…they’re tough. I know a bit of warding, but if there’s an earthly weapon that can kill them, I don’t know about it.” He pointed ahead of them. “I think you came into the wood from over there yesterday. Think you can find your way from here?”
The ground beneath Audrey’s boots was soft from the recent rain and she felt her feet slipping occasionally as they walked. They had been walking for some time and there was enough light now that she had put her flashlight away. They were heading uphill, Audrey slightly ahead when she heard a loud crack.
She whirled around. John was gone.
His voice came from below her. “Parker?”
Only then did Audrey see the hole in the ground. Her heart sped up and she had to force herself to remain still. They had been walking over ground covered with vines and leaves and other plant-matter. There was a steep drop on their left side, but neither of them had realised the plant matter extended over the cliff edge. It had given way under John’s weight. Audrey’s mouth went dry with fear. She couldn’t even be sure she stood on solid ground.
Moving as slowly as she could, Audrey crouched down and edged back until she was sure the ground under her was real. She lay flat and pulled the vegetation aside so she could look down. John lay below, partly covered by dirt and leaves. He gave her a wave, letting her know he was conscious.
“John, are you okay?”
He lifted something away from his legs. “I don’t know,” he called back to her. “I’m hurt, but it might not be bad. Can you find a way down?”
Audrey looked. She would not risk climbing down the nearest slope: it looked too unstable. “I’ll have to go around,” she told John. “Is there any immediate danger?”
John took the question seriously and looked around himself, examining every angle before he answered. “I think I’m safe.”
She told him to hang in there and climbed gingerly to her feet. She found a broken branch and took a moment to strip it down so she could use it as a staff. Only then did she start looking for a safe way down into the gully. She checked the ground ahead with the staff before each step she took. It was slow going, but it wouldn’t help anyone if she moved too fast and got hurt. Audrey had to go quite a long way before she found a stable path down. Once she did, though, she could move faster.
From below, it was easy to see how John had fallen. The rock and dirt formed an overhang and the vegetation had grown over it, widening the overhang and concealing the edge.
Audrey hurried to John’s side. He had a pocket knife in his hand and was slicing through the left leg of his jeans. There was blood on the denim.
“What happened?” she asked, slipping the pack from her shoulders to find the first aid supplies. She hadn’t packed much.
John pulled the torn denim away from his knee. Audrey could see the skin around his knee turning purple and swelling. There was a shallow cut on his calf: it looked as if he’d sliced through his skin when he cut the denim away.
“I twisted my knee when I landed,” John explained. He ran a hand over the swollen flesh. “Sprained it, I guess. Tore the ligaments.”
Audrey grasped his hand and turned it over. His palm was shredded: she guessed from his attempt to break his fall. She opened a pack of antiseptic wipes and gave him two of them for his hands. “I don’t have any ice, but I’ll bandage that knee,” she offered.
“Thanks,” John said.
Compression was important for a sprain, Audrey knew, but even with a good bandage she did not think John would be able to walk out of the wood, and the one she had was not good. She wound the bandage around his knee as firmly as she could, and fastened it with a safety pin. She pulled the cell phone from her pocket and checked for a signal. She had only a single bar.
She dialled Nathan’s number.
“Nathan, I’m in the wood with John Winchester. He’s hurt. Can you get a team out here?”
“What are you doing in the wood?” Nathan demanded.
“I can walk, Parker!” John growled.
“No, you can’t,” Audrey told him, then, to Nathan, “Right now what I’m doing is sitting with an injured man asking my partner for help.”
“Oh. Right. What’s your position?”
It was only when Nathan asked that Audrey realised she didn’t have a clue. She turned to John. “Do you know where we are?” she asked, without much hope.
John gave an amused smile. “About two and a half miles due north of the Tanner property, I think.” He pulled the map from his pocket, glanced at it, then gave her co-ordinates.
Audrey relayed the co-ordinates to Nathan. “That’s our closest guess,” she added, but the phone crackled and she wasn’t sure whether he heard her. Nathan answered, but the signal kept dropping out and she couldn’t understand a word. Then it went dead. She swore and shook the phone, but couldn’t get the signal back. She pocketed it.
“I can walk,” John repeated stubbornly.
“Maybe you can walk now,” Audrey agreed, “but it’s several miles to the nearest help. If you walk that far on a compromised knee you could permanently damage it. So if you want to be walking tomorrow, we’ll wait.”
“Did Wuornos get our position?”
“I’m not sure. But he knows we’re in the wood and he knows you’re hurt. He’ll find us.” She rose to her feet. “If you can walk a little way, John, let’s at least get you out of this mud.” She offered her hands to help him up.
John was heavy and his knee was worse than he admitted. It took several attempts to get him on his feet and Audrey saw he couldn’t put weight on the injured leg. She gave him the stick she had been using to test the ground. “Lean on this and my shoulder. We don’t need to go far. There’s a fallen tree over there.”
“I’ll make it,” John said, but he spoke through gritted teeth.
Slowly they stumbled toward the fallen tree trunk. John began by trying to lean on her as little as possible, but after just a few steps he gave up the pretence that he could walk and let her take his weight as they moved, one painful step at a time. Audrey worried about that knee, but it wasn’t far and once they reached the tree trunk she was able to get him seated. John looked pale. She offered him water, chastising herself for not doing that sooner.
John took the bottle and drank. “Thanks.”
The woodland around them seemed unnaturally quiet.
Audrey stretched out her hand to take the bottle from him. “Do you hear that?” she asked.
The next thing she knew, she was lying on the forest floor. John was beside her.
“Audrey,” he said softly.
The gentle pressure of his hand on her shoulder prompted her to sit up. She let him help her. She blinked to clear her vision. Her head felt full of cobwebs.
“Are you hurt?” John asked. He was still supporting her with one hand on her back.
“I don’t think so,” she answered. She wasn’t in any pain, not even bruised. So why was she on the ground?
“Do you hear that?” Audrey asked.
“Hear what?” John responded, but as he spoke, he understood. He could hear nothing. Not the chirping of birds, not the wind in the trees all around them. He heard his own breathing, and Audrey’s. Nothing else.
John saw the figure appear at Audrey’s shoulder. “Great timing, Gabe.”
Audrey startled and began to turn toward the newcomer. His fingers touched her forehead and she fell. Gabriel caught her deftly and laid her gently on the woodland floor.
“Was that your idea of a joke?” John demanded, indicating the ledge above them. He never knew where he stood with Gabriel. Gabe was the only reason he was alive, but he was also the reason John was trapped in Haven, unable to help his sons. Gabriel was all the power and arrogance of an archangel in the body of a trickster-god. An unpredictable – and irritating – combination.
Gabe glanced up and smiled. “Nothing to do with me, John. We need to talk.”
John shrugged. “I didn’t think you were here for the lobster.”
Gabe reached out toward John’s injured knee. John stopped him. “Miracles are hard to explain, Gabe. I’ll be okay.” He didn’t want to be under any further obligation to Gabriel.
Gabe looked uncharacteristically serious. “No, you won’t. This damage won’t heal without help.”
“Then it won’t. It’s not life-threatening. Leave it alone and tell me what you need from me.”
“Dean and Sam are in some trouble. I’m going to get them out of it, John,” he added quickly, “but there’s something Dean wants me to do.” Gabriel turned away, gazing off into the distance. “If I do as he asks, I may not be able to keep my promise to you. Or my obligation to her.” His eyes flickered to Audrey.
John narrowed his eyes. He trusted Gabriel because he knew they were on the same side, but the former angel could be ruthless in using others for his own purposes. Or his own entertainment.
“Gabe, you can break the chain you’ve got on me any time you want. We both know it. What do you really want?”
“Your opinion. Your instinct about Dean.”
Gabe seemed worried, so John took the question seriously. “This thing Dean wants you to do; does it involve Sammy?”
Gabe just looked at him. “Everything involves Sam.”
Right. “I mean, is it about Sam’s safety, or his life?”
Gabe considered. “Not directly.”
“When it’s about Sam, Dean’s judgement gets messed up. He can’t see the big picture past his brother.”
Gabriel gave a quick smile. “Family does that to all of us.”
John looked at him sharply. Family for Gabriel meant the other archangels. Including Lucifer. If this thing involved his family, it was serious. “Do as Dean asks. That’s my advice,” he said firmly.
“You’re sure? Even if it means…”
It meant Gabe might die. John understood that. But the stakes were about as high as they could get: literally, the fate of the world was in the balance. That justified a lot of risk.
He looked down at Audrey, who still lay unconscious on the woodland floor. “Gabe, just tell me how I’m supposed to help her. Tell me who she really is.”
Gabriel sat down on the tree trunk. “I thought you’d have worked that out by now. She’s Haven’s guardian.”
John shook his head. “She’s not an angel.”
“Not any more. She was once. All angels were forbidden to come to Earth in human form, or to take a vessel. She felt that was the only way she could protect Haven. So she chose this.”
“Not exactly. It wasn’t disobedience. John, all I can tell you is she has the power to end Haven’s troubles. Forever. But she has to remember, or rediscover that for herself. You have to keep her alive so she can.”
“End the Troubles? But I thought – ”
Gabriel raised a hand. “It’s quicker to show you, John.”
John was not a fan of Gabriel’s method of show-not-tell, but though his instinct was to pull back, he made himself remain still. When Gabriel’s hand touched his forehead, the rush of sounds and images was overwhelming. He tried to move back, but Gabe grasped his shoulder, holding him in place while the torrent of knowledge poured into his head. John was forced to absorb all of it.
The woman he knew as Audrey Parker had far more courage than John had imagined. She sacrificed everything, her own existence, for Haven. Sacrifice was something he understood. They could not be more different in their origins or in what they wanted, but they had this one thing in common. He understood, too, what Gabriel risked in helping her over the centuries. He knew the obligation Gabe felt. John would never be sure whether it was Gabriel’s doing or his own free will, but John knew he had to honour that obligation. He would protect Audrey, for as long as he could. For as long as she needed a protector.
Gabriel released him. “Thank you, John. I owe you.”
“Keep my boys alive.” That was all John wanted from Gabriel. It was the only reason he got himself involved in the first place.
Gabe nodded. “For as long as I can,” he agreed.
John would have demanded Gabe break the chain holding him in Haven, but suddenly it didn’t seem important. Chain or not, he was not leaving Haven now. He had agreed to protect Audrey and she was here. So he simply nodded, and offered his hand to seal the deal.
When Gabe was gone, John went to Audrey’s side. It was three steps, and he nearly cried out with the pain from his knee. He should have let Gabe heal it. Too late now. He half-fell to the ground beside her and struggled to sit up. Only then did he reach out to her. She looked peaceful, lying there.
“Audrey,” he said softly, and as she opened her eyes, he helped her to sit up.
“I thought you might be angry I told people you are Troubled,” Audrey said, her eyes sparkling over her martini glass.
John shrugged. “Everyone in Haven is Troubled, Parker. Those who think they’re not just haven’t discovered it yet.” It was how she had explained to Wuornos and the others that John couldn’t go to the hospital. The hospital was outside Haven’s limits, so John couldn’t go there. They called a local doctor for help instead. He, too, had insisted John needed to visit the ER but had accepted Audrey’s explanation of why that wasn’t possible.
John had a brace on the injured knee and a crutch to help him walk, but the injury was frustrating. Walking to the Grey Gull took three times as long as it used to,and he was in constant pain. It was nothing he couldn’t handle, however, and it would get better with time.
“What about your inquiry?” he asked her. “Will they press charges for the Rev?”
“I don’t know.” She sipped her drink again, but the smile was gone.
John withdrew an envelope from his pocket. “Well, this might help. It’s not sealed.” He had written down his conversation with Reverend Driscoll from the morning before Audrey shot him, as closely as he could remember it, and found a local notary to witness it. His statement made it clear that Driscoll went into the wood with murder in mind. John didn’t know if his testimony would have any credibility for a police tribunal, but it was the best he could do.
Audrey read through the statement quickly. “He really said all this?”
John nodded. “And a few things I thought it best to leave out. But it’s the truth as I remember it. You can use it if you think it will help. Or maybe hang onto it in case you need the evidence later. Your call.”
She slipped the envelope into her purse. “Thank you, John.”
“I owed you that.” John finished his beer. He would need to order another; there was someone else he needed to speak to before he could head home. In fact, if all went well he didn’t expect to reach home much before dawn.
Audrey stayed with him a little longer, but when she finished her drink she went to the bar to order a fresh one and didn’t return. John stayed where he was, making his third beer stretch to the end of the night.
When most of the patrons had left, John carried his empty glass to the bar. Duke Crocker was there, stacking glasses while he waited for the establishment to empty.
“You’re here late tonight, John,” he remarked.
“I was hoping to talk to you,” John told him.
Crocker shook his head. “Not interested.”
“You want answers, don’t you? About the past?”
Crocker poured himself a drink and leaned on the bar opposite John. “What would you know about it? Did Audrey tell you that?”
“I’m looking for some information myself. For Audrey. I need help to find part of the puzzle.”
Crocker’s eyes narrowed. “Why me?”
“Because you’re her friend and because what I need to do isn’t legal.” John slapped his injured leg. “I can’t do it alone.”
“Do what, exactly?”
“Three of the stores opposite have security cameras,” John said quietly as they walked through to the rear of the building. “The only way in through the back is that window.”
Crocker gazed up at the small window. “I see why you needed help.”
John grunted an irritable acknowledgement. He could have climbed to the window if he were fit, but that wasn’t the only reason he had asked for help. Crocker was close to Audrey, but he had also been close to Driscoll; John wanted to know where he stood. That Duke Crocker had a reputation as the go-to guy in Haven for smuggling and other shady activities simply gave him a way in.
Crocker climbed up to the window easily and pushed against the frame. It opened to his touch, the broken clasp dangling, and Crocker grabbed the frame with both hands, hauled himself up and slithered inside. John heard a crash from within, and Crocker swearing. It was followed by silence.
“Coming?” Crocker asked as he finally opened the rear door.
John followed him into the Haven Herald office. He closed the door and clicked his flashlight on. He made for the store-room at the back, where the files and back issues were kept.
Crocker was ahead of him. “What are you looking for here?” he asked. “You know you can just search the Herald archives online, don’t you?”
“I’m looking for what they didn’t publish,” John answered, but didn’t explain further. Newspapermen were organised by nature and the filing cabinets were ordered by date, each drawer clearly labelled. He pulled open the drawer for 1983 and began to search through the files within.
John knew a little about Simon Crocker’s death, certainly enough to recognise the date. He pulled the files relating to that week and handed them to Duke. “All yours.”
Crocker took the files to a nearby desk and leaned over them, examining the files by flashlight.
Satisfied the man was distracted, John searched for the date that really mattered to him: the date of the Colorado Kid murder. He knew that no one who was present that day had any memory of it, but he was convinced that wasn’t the full story. The Colorado Kid photograph that had been published in the Haven Herald was well known, but photo-journalists never rely on taking just a single photograph. They take ten, fifty, a hundred. Only one of those will be published but the others are never thrown away. They may exist only as negatives or contact prints, but they are kept on file. John wanted the pictures of the Colorado Kid scene that were kept out of the newspaper.
John found the file easily: it was the only one in the 1983 drawer that had been well used. Someone kept returning to this file. But the photographs he sought were not there. There was a plastic insert of the kind used to store 35mm negatives, but the strips were gone. John put the file away, muttering a curse.
Crocker looked up. “Something wrong?”
“Something missing. Do these guys have a safe?”
Crocker nodded toward the next room. “I didn’t bring tools for safe cracking.”
John grinned. “That’s not a problem.” He headed into the office. A safe would be built into the wall somewhere. Somewhere hidden, but not usually particularly well hidden. He looked around and lifted the notice-board away from the wall. Nothing behind it but blank wall. There was a picture on the next wall: the safe wasn’t there, either. Then John turned the flashlight down to the floor, and there he found it: grooves in the linoleum where a heavy metal box had been moved and moved back repeatedly.
He cursed again. It would have to be at floor level. Gritting his teeth against the pain in his knee, John got down to the floor and dragged the heavy box aside. Behind it stood the safe he was looking for: it was an old model, the combination-lock a single dial on the front. John put his ear to the door and began to turn the dial. He closed his eyes, concentrating on nothing except the sound of the tumblers in the lock, slowly turning the dial one way, then the other.
When the lock finally sprang open, John found Crocker standing over him. “What kind of handyman knows how to crack a safe?”
“One who reads a lot of Raymond Chandler mysteries,” John answered. It was half-true. The hard-boiled detective stories gave him the idea; Bill Harvelle taught him the skill. It wasn’t a skill a hunter needed often, but John had been glad for it a few times over the years.
He opened the safe door and shone his flashlight inside. A gleam of silver greeted his eyes and he jerked back in shock. “Holy shit!”
“What?” Crocker crouched down to peer inside.
John reached into the safe. He was looking for Haven’s secrets, but this was the last thing he had expected to find. He withdrew the weapon and raised the blade before his eyes. In the darkness, it seemed to give off a faint glow of its own.
“What is it?” Crocker asked.
“A weapon. A very rare and special weapon.” John set it down between himself and the safe, so Crocker could not easily touch it and shone his flashlight into the safe again. There was a couple of thousand dollars in cash, a diary with 2004 on the cover and several large envelopes, most of them labelled. He sorted through the envelopes quickly and found one labelled with the date he wanted. He opened it and glanced inside to confirm it held the missing negatives and contact prints.
“Finally. Let’s go.”
“What’s so important?” Crocker asked. He stood, then offered a hand to help John rise.
John accepted the help, pissed-off that he needed it, but grateful for the offer. He stuffed the envelope into his pocket and picked up the silver sword. He straightened and rubbed his back, stiff from being on the ground for so long.
“I don’t know if they’re important until I examine them,” John hedged. “But they were in the safe. Someone’s hiding something.”
“Photos from the Colorado Kid murder?”
Crocker was sharp. John nodded reluctantly. “Yeah.”
Crocker shoved John against the wall, moving so fast John couldn’t defend against it. His hands dug into John’s shoulders, bruising. “What side are you on?” he demanded.
John reached behind him for his gun, trying to keep the movement subtle. “I could ask you the same,” he answered.
“I’m on my side, damn it. But if you do anything to put her in danger…”
John relaxed. Crocker was loyal to Parker. That was all he needed to know. “I won’t do that,” he said. “I can’t tell you why, but I’m going to do everything I can to protect her. I’m helping her find out what happened to Lucy Ripley.”
“And what’s that thing? The…weapon?”
John hid it under his coat. “Sword. It’s a sword.” He bent to close the safe, spun the dial to reset the lock and pushed back the box that concealed it. He checked with his flashlight. It looked untouched. With luck, the Teague brothers wouldn’t notice they had been robbed for some time.
What the Hell was an angel’s sword doing in a safe in the Haven Herald office? Did the Teague brothers even know what it was?
John managed to evade the rest of Crocker’s questions by pointing out how late it was, but he knew the man would pursue the issue later. He would have to make up his mind how much of the truth he could tell Crocker. As he walked home, the weight of the sword in his coat bothered him. John wasn’t much of a believer in destiny, but he was probably the only person in Haven who would have recognised the sword for what it was. That seemed a bit much to be coincidence.
A moment later he realised that wasn’t true. Audrey Parker would know exactly what the angel-sword was. She might not understand how she knew, she might not believe it, but she would know it. Hell, it might be hers. Was it possible Lucy Ripley killed the Colorado Kid?
John recalled the autopsy report on the Colorado Kid. Two wounds, made with a long, double-edged blade. It was consistent with the angel’s sword. But if that was indeed the murder weapon, it was more likely Gabriel who wielded it. That would certainly explain the amnesia suffered by everyone close to the event. Gabe was good at covering his tracks.
John examined the contact prints before he went to bed, but he already knew what he would find there. All he needed was a clear shot of the body to see the scorch marks of an angel’s wings. He found it: just one of the many photographs, blurry but clear to a man who knew what he was looking for. The Colorado Kid was an angel in a human vessel: something forbidden to all of the angels at the time. What John didn’t know was what it meant. For that, he needed the answer to the same question he started with: who was the Colorado Kid? And why?
Audrey knocked on the basement door. After a few moments, it opened. John stood there with a knife in his hand.
Audrey looked at the knife. “Something wrong, John?”
He glanced down at his hand. Apparently he hadn’t realised he was brandishing a weapon. “Oh. No. I’m just doing some whittling. Come on in, Parker.”
She followed him into the small apartment. His display of Haven’s Troubles on the wall had grown. A canvas sheet lay across his bed and on top of it lay a long piece of wood surrounded by shavings and chips. She asked permission with her eyes and picked it up.
The cane was sanded smooth on the outside but not yet painted or polished. John had been hollowing it out at one end, creating a tube of the wood. Audrey ran her finger around the inside of the tube.
“Going to fit a shot of whiskey in your cane?” she guessed.
John smiled. “No. A weapon.”
“It can be done, but that takes a custom build. It’ll be a knife.”
“You know that’s illegal, right? You need a permit to carry a concealed weapon in Maine.”
“Sure thing, Officer Parker. But you know I don’t kill humans.”
She gave up. She could throw John in jail and he wouldn’t care. He lived by his own rules, no one else’s. “John, I came because…well, I found something.” She offered him the printout of the articles she’d found. “After what you told me, I’ve been watching the news for, you know, omens. Signs.”
John’s smile vanished; replaced by his poker face – blank, giving nothing away. He took the pages from her hand and sat down on the bed. Audrey waited while he read. She tried not to watch him, but her eyes kept being drawn back to his face. She wasn’t sure if it meant anything, but she suspected. She had read the journal he left with her: the letter to his sons. There was a lot in it he hadn’t explained – his intended reader wouldn’t need the explanation – but she got enough to fill in most of the missing details.
John let the printout fall from his hand. It fluttered to the floor. He watched it fall.
“John?” Audrey asked gently.
“You know what it means,” he said. His voice was tight and controlled. “Or you wouldn’t have come.”
She swallowed. “I wasn’t sure. Is it…?” she didn’t quite know how to ask.
“It’s over,” John said flatly. “And we ain’t burning, so I think…I guess that means we won.” He was still staring at the ground.
“Isn’t that good?”
“Yes, it’s good.” His voice was flat and dull, as if he meant No, it’s terrible.
“Your son,” she guessed.
John nodded. “They’re most likely dead. Or worse.” He tried to stand but fell back on the bed. “Parker, I think…I want you to leave.”
“I’m not sure you should be alone.”
“I won’t do anything stupid. Just go, Parker. Please.”
“Alright.” Audrey took a step toward him. “John. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
He didn’t look up. Quietly, she left him alone.
Chapter 4: Epilogue: Broken Chains
Sam wanted him to go to Lisa.
Dean knew he would, eventually, but before he could face her, or anyone, he needed some time alone. He rented a motel room, bought a crate of beer, three bottles of cheap whiskey, four chilli dogs and a pie, then locked himself in, half hoping it would be enough to kill him.
It wasn’t, of course.
It was enough to make him wish he was dead, when he woke up about noon the next day with the worst hangover of his life. When he finished puking his guts out, he went back to bed and drank what was left of the whiskey. It didn’t matter how much he was hurting. He knew Sam was hurting worse. Sam was in Hell.
As darkness fell once more, Dean felt well enough to crawl out of bed and go in search of more alcohol. He got as far as the Impala and collapsed into the seat, but did not start the engine. He had promised Sam he would go to Lisa, he would try to live. But the whole idea seemed pointless. He climbed back out of the car and walked around to the trunk…and the guns.
Dean didn’t know if he really would have done it. It was certainly in his mind when he opened the trunk to load one of the shotguns, suck on the barrel and pull the trigger. But when he opened the trunk, the first thing he saw was the laptop. Sam’s laptop. He opened it, remembering a hundred arguments over his using the computer to surf for porn. A hundred arguments, all different, all exactly the same. The laptop sprang to life, though Dean hadn’t turned it on. He watched it boot up, indifferent.
A video began to play. At first, Dean didn’t recognise it. The soundtrack seemed like any other porn vid, the woman blonde and busty. It must be one of Sam’s, he thought and started to close the laptop.
That was when he heard the Trickster’s voice and he swore under his breath. This fucking disc was responsible for what happened to Sam. They won. Sure, but Dean didn’t care. He would rather send the whole world to Hell and save his brother.
“You did it, Dean,” Gabriel said through the tinny speakers of the laptop. “I don’t know how, but my brother is back in the cage. I’m leaving this message for you because I know that no matter how you did it, you paid a high price.”
Dean pulled the laptop open. This wasn’t the message he remembered. He stared at the screen.
“There is something I couldn’t tell you before. It’s not going to make this any easier for you but you’ll want to know. Believe me, I wouldn’t dare tell you this if I weren’t already dead.”
Dean found himself smiling. Nice to know even Gabriel was just a little scared of him.
He listened to the rest of the message. When it came to an end, the laptop went blank. Dean stared at it for a moment, while his brain processed the truth. In a fit of rage, Dean picked up the computer, whirled and flung it into the wall. How could Gabriel do this? Why would he do it? The computer broke into several pieces, scattered across the parking lot.
It was raining as John made his way down Haven’s main street toward the Grey Gull. The rain chilled his bones as he walked, leaning heavily on his cane. The cane concealed the sword within the wood while allowing easy access to the weapon should he need it. It was not the only weapon John carried. There was a lot of tension in Haven and soon enough something was going to break it. John was determined to be ready when it did.
But perhaps he wouldn’t even be here. John had done everything he could to track down his sons in the aftermath of whatever happened in Lawrence. He had called every number he could remember. He had searched online, hacked police records and gone through newspapers. No bodies had been found, but John found little hope in that. There was no chain holding him in Haven now. He could go himself and search in person.
Two things held him back. The first, and most important, was the simple fact that he had no idea where to begin searching. If Dean or Sam survived, they would not have stayed in Kansas, but they could have gone anywhere in the continental US. He was not even sure if they still had the Impala; after the FBI started hunting them they should have ditched the car for something less conspicuous, but Dean might not be that practical.
The second thing was Audrey Parker. Gabriel’s chain was broken, But John’s obligation to her was not. John’s sons were more important to him, but he needed more than hope to justify leaving when she was in danger. He had given his word he would protect her.
The rain was so heavy the boats in the harbour were mere shapes in a thick, grey fog. John pulled his hood further over his face and trudged on.
Because of the rain, John wasn’t really looking where he was going. He did not see the car outside the Grey Gull until he was almost there. When he did see it, John stopped dead. He thought his heart actually missed a beat. The old Chevy was so very familiar, he would know her sleek lines anywhere.
Beside the Impala, a man waited. John barely recognised his son. Dean stood stiffly, his shoulders hunched, ignoring the rain that poured over his leather coat and plastered his hair to his skull. He moved a little when John saw him; not approaching, just a change of position, a shifting of his weight.
The moment felt unreal, as if John were seeing a mirage that would vanish any moment. He gripped the cane in his hand, holding on to that reality.
“Dean,” he said when he found his voice. “How…?”
Dean raised a hand, showing him a broken compact disc. “Gabriel,” he said curtly.
Gabe. Thank you for doing one thing right. “Sam?” he asked, though he could see the answer written all over Dean. Sam was gone.
Dean shook his head.
John took a step closer. “Are you…?”
“Ask me if I’m okay! I dare you. I swear to God!” Dean exploded. “I had to let Sam – I had to watch him – And you’ve been here the whole time? We needed you, Dad!”
“You’re right to be angry,” John said, knowing it was true. We needed you. They were the words he had spoken in anger himself, to Sam, furious that the boy left his family. But he knew the boys had needed his help far more than he had ever needed theirs. Dean should hate him for not being there.
“Angry? Jesus fuck, Dad!”
John reached his son’s side. He knew Dean had been through Hell, both literally and figuratively. For the first time, John understood what Gabe was trying to do when he stranded him in Haven. The chain had given John a space to heal, to put Hell behind him, as much as that could ever be done. It was a space Dean had been denied.
“If you hate me now, son, I don’t blame you. But you’re here. You came for a reason, didn’t you? Give me a chance and we’ll find a way.”
“Dad…” Dean began, but he didn’t continue.
“I know. Believe me, I know.” John reached out to clasp Dean’s shoulder. The leather was cold and wet beneath his fingers. “Let’s go inside, son. It’s warm and dry, and we’ve got a lot to talk about.”
Dean nodded and they walked into the Grey Gull together.