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To the Stars

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Twenty-five-year-old Alexandra Crowe leaned back in her chair, her black, cordless office phone blending into the waves of her dark hair as she pressed it to her ear. "So, Mrs. Carey, why don't you go ahead and tell me what happened to your husband?"

Mrs. Carey, like all almost-certainly-widowed women, spoke in a voice thick with emotion. "That's what I need you to figure out, Miss Crowe. He just... disappeared on his drive home."

"And the police? What do they have to say about it?"

"Andrew is just another missing person to them. Nothing but a statistic. Look, I don't know what else to tell you. The police aren't doing anything, and the private investigator couldn't find a damn thing. You're my last shot—short of hiring some kind of psychic or something."

Alex scoffed, shaking her head. "Well, I'm glad you called here first. It's never a good idea to hire a psychic on your own. Between you and me, most of them are charlatans—the kind of awful people who just want to defraud money from the desperate and bereaved. I have contacts of my own; if a psychic is what it takes to find out what happened your husband, I'll make sure I find the right psychic to help. Now, did my assistant give you a rundown of my rates?"

"She did."

Perfect. "Alright. Then I'll be on the next flight to Jericho, Mrs. Carey. If your husband is still alive, I'm going to find him. If he's dead, I'll make sure that whoever killed him pays—or that whatever killed him never gets the chance to kill again."

"Thank you! Thank you! Please, do whatever it takes."

"You have my word."

Placing the phone back into its cradle, Alex grinned at the woman sitting across from her desk.

Maggie Holloway was a slender, sprightly woman in her eighties. She wore her long, silver hair in wild waves, and she seemed to go out of her way to always look like the world's most sweet and gentle grandmother. It went a long way toward hiding just how formidable she still was, even in her old age.

"You're taking the case, then?" asked Maggie.

"Sure am," said Alex. "Shouldn't be too hard. I already took a look at the missing persons information you brought me. It should be enough to go on. There's definitely a pattern here. That guy back in April, the guy in December last year, one the year before that, two in the 90s—and all of their cars found on the same little patch of road. Something's definitely up. Whether it's your run-of-the-mill serial killer or something more interesting, there's no way to tell yet... but based on who's dying, I'm leaning toward something more interesting. Very few serial killers go after middle-aged white men like our Mr. Carey here."

"Do you think you'll find him?"

"I really doubt it."

"Then do you think she'll actually pay?"

Alex shrugged. "Who cares? It's not like we need the money. As long as we get whatever's doing this, I'll be satisfied."

"And if it turns out to be nothing?"

Alex and Maggie shared a look—then both women laughed. "Can you book me the first flight out there? I want to make sure I'm well-rested before I go monster hunting. Last thing I need is to get killed again already."

Maggie scoffed. "You'd better not be so careless! I'm getting old. What happens if I die before you found someone to replace me?"

"Morbid!" Alex scolded. "Besides, how could I ever replace you?"

"I don't rightly know. But while we're on the subject of replacements, I think it's about time for me to remind you that you're all out of backup. Would you like me to start putting feelers out again while you're gone?"

Alex's good mood flagged. "Maggie... I don't want to go through this again."

"You've fired the last dozen candidates, Alex, and you haven't had a good reason for a single one of them. What's going on?"

Alex shook her head. "I had good reasons for all of them. I'm just sick of it."

"Sick of what, exactly?"

"People, Mags. You know trying to train someone up is a nightmare, and just when you think they're tough enough to make it, something nasty comes along and bumps 'em off. And anyone who already has the skill? I don't trust either a cop or a hunter as far as I can throw 'em. Look at me." Alex gestured down at herself—petite, slender, far from physically imposing. "Most of them would take one glance in my direction and decide to toss me to some beastie as bait. Or worse, give me a lecture on letting the boys do the tough jobs—and, oh hey, maybe I can go get them a sandwich instead?"

Maggie laughed. "It's not that bad, Alex. You know damn well that I don't let shit candidates get through to you. And you need a partner. No matter how good you are, dear, you can't get around that. People need people. You need someone who can help you out in the field. I certainly can't do it anymore!"

"And I'd never ask you to. I've got it covered, okay? If I need to hire some help, we can hire some help... but right now, I'm just not interested. Maybe if a really big job comes up or something, we can take a look at who's available. But for now? I'm definitely doing Jericho alone."

Jericho, California was a warm, sunny place to spend Halloween, and Alex Crowe started her afternoon by driving down the little stretch of road where men kept disappearing. Alex wasn't worried; even if her gender wasn't keeping her safe from whatever bump in the night was snatching men, the operative word was night. So far, all of the men had disappeared on their way home after sundown; in broad daylight, Alex didn't think that anyone was at risk, let alone herself.

But that meant she definitely wasn't running into the thing herself. Not right now, at least. There was no sign of ghosts or ghouls or even other motorists; Alex drove around for a little while, an EMF reader and a tape recorder running in the passenger seat. After twenty minutes of nothing, Alex moved on.

Catherine Carey's house was a typical two-story family home with a white picket fence and a happy-go-lucky golden retriever. All it was missing was the 2.5 kids... and, as of last month, a husband to father them.

Alex rang the doorbell, and a sullen-looking blonde woman in her forties answered the door. "Can I help you?"

"My name is Alex Crowe. We spoke on the phone?"

Realization ignited vigor in Mrs. Carey's listless expression. "Oh, Miss Crowe! Come in, please. Do you know anything yet? Have you... have you contacted a psychic?"

Stepping into the house—it smelled vaguely of fake "cookies baking" spray—Alex shook her head. "We're definitely not at that point yet, no. My investigation is just starting; there's a lot of ground to cover before we're at the point of bringing in any outside help. I took a drive past where your husband's car was found, and I'm going to be talking to a few other local people who have experienced similar disappearances."

"There are others?"

"There are, yes. Several, in fact, going back about twenty years—maybe longer. Men disappear from that particular area, and their cars are found right around that bridge."

"What does that mean?"

"Well, it could mean a number of things. The good news is that a serial killer is unlikely. The bad news is that it's definitely not something so simple as a kidnapping or runaway. One thing I did want to double-check was the possibility of a suicide. Your husband's car was found very near that bridge; did the police check the river?"

For a moment, Mrs. Carey looked affronted—the mention of suicide often did that to people—but then nodded reluctantly. "They did. They... also thought it might be a suicide, at first. But he wasn't there, Miss Crowe, and I promise that Andrew never would've done something like that."

"There wouldn't be any shame in it if he had," Alex said, and without pausing to offer any space for disagreement, she barreled on: "But that's good. If these disappearances were a pattern of suicide, that would be a really bad sign."

"A sign of what?"

"Anything that kills by faking elaborate suicides like that isn't a good thing. From a smart serial killer to a vengeful ghost or even a demon, nothing that makes people kill themselves is anything you want in your town. Now, that leaves me with a few leading theories. There's a pattern here, and it has a few key elements. All the victims were male, and I believe that almost of them were married at the time of their deaths. They all disappeared from the same area, which implies that it's the preferred hunting ground of someone or something, and there's a strict pattern to when the men are going missing. That there's a bridge involved might mean that the river plays some significance in whatever's happening. I'm going to be doing more research as soon as I leave here, and I'll hopefully have more information for you soon.

"Before I leave, though, ma'am, I wanted to ask you again if there's anything else you can tell me about your husband's disappearance. Is there anything strange that you might've seen or heard him mention in the days before he vanished? The slightest thing could turn out to be helpful."

Mrs. Carey shook her head slowly—paused for a moment—then shook it again with more vigor. "No. No, there's nothing."

"Anything could be a clue, Mrs. Carey. You're absolutely sure there's nothing? It could be something as simple as an odd odor in your husband's car, any kind of change in his routine, even a new person in his life."

Mrs. Carey, who had already appeared so sullen and defeated when she'd answered the door, now looked utterly destroyed. Whatever she was about to say, she clearly didn't want to admit it aloud. "I... had spoken to Andrew two days before his disappearance about... about the call history on his cell phone. The last month's bill was... well, it was twice as expensive as it usually was, and so I took a little look at his phone. I wasn't spying—not at first. I just assumed that something was wrong."

"And was something wrong?"

She swallowed. "Yes. But not what I was expecting. He had all these calls to and from some number I didn't recognize."

"And did you—"

"I did. It was a woman. I... didn't look into it any further than that."

"Would you be able to give me this number?"

She shook her head. "He had his cell phone with him when he disappeared. I don't know, maybe the company would have a record of it?"

"Alright, thank you. That might actually help me a lot. I might need you to get your hands on those records for me; if I do, I'd be happy to walk you through the process. For now, I'm going to see what else I can dig up, but again, thank you, Mrs. Carey. That really could be a lead."

Alex spent the rest of Halloween split between the library and her hotel room.

By the next morning, another man had disappeared.

Alex awoke to the sound of Bohemian Rhapsody belting from her cell phone.

Mama, just killed a man / Put a gun against his head / Pulled my trigger, now he's—

"What's up, Maggie?" Alex asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes as she tried to untangle herself from the hotel sheets.

"A local news website for Nevada county just posted a snippet about another disappearance in Jericho. The victim's name is still being withheld, but his car was left on that same bridge on Centennial. I'm sure they'll be diving in that river today, looking for a body; if you want to get out there and poke around, now's your chance."

Alex sighed. "Damn it. I was hoping to get this done before anyone else disappeared. Thanks, Mags. I'll head right over there and check it out."

"Sure thing, love."

Alex got stuck behind some old black muscle car on her way to the bridge. Its two occupants pulled over once they saw the road blocks set up to prevent anyone from driving through the crime scene, and Alex had no choice but to park her own rental right on their tail. She watched the driver give her a weird look in his side mirror as he said something to the man in the passenger seat, and then both men got out of their car and headed toward the cops.

Huh. Not what I was expecting...

Alex unbuckled her seat belt, sitting tight for a minute as she watched them both march right up to the crime scene—and then, much to her disbelief, she watched the driver give the cops the quickest flash of L.E.O. I.D. she'd ever seen. That, of course, was when Alex realized with a sinking feeling just who these two idiots were.

Why can't luck ever work out in my favor?

Alex got out of her rental and lingered at the driver's side door of the boys' flashy black ride as she waited for the cops to chase them off. It didn't take long.

The driver offered her what he surely thought was a very charming smile as he sauntered up to her with his taller counterpart in tow. "Hey, there," he said. "Uh, looks like they're gonna be busy here for a while. Think you'll have to turn around."

Now that they were up close, Alex found herself very surprised. These two didn't do a great job of passing for law enforcement, but they easily could've both been models. The shorter one especially looked like he'd just walked out of some clothing catalog. "I noticed all the cops, yeah. I kinda figured they'd be here about the latest missing guy. I didn't figure on a couple of hunters, though. What're you boys doing here?"

Their easy, open posture vanished in a heartbeat; now both stared at her with unwelcoming suspicion. "Who are you?" demanded the driver. He was clearly squaring up for a fight, and the other man knew it; he cast an anxious glance over his shoulder at the officers.

Alex held out her business card. The driver pulled a face, then took it rather reluctantly. "The name's Alex. And unlike you, I'm getting paid to work this case, so if you two would kindly go find something else to do with yourselves, that would be very much appreciated."

The driver's eyebrows were stretching for his hairline. "Paranormal Investigator?" he read in the most scathing voice Alex had heard since Maggie had started screening her calls. "What the hell does that mean?"

"It means that I do what you do, expect I get paid."

"You're—" The driver looked over shoulder, back at the cops, then took a step closer toward Alex before continuing in a quieter voice, "—you're charging people to save their lives?"

"Not usually, no. I'm charging people for exorcisms, psychic referrals, and the occasional monster hunt. People want to find out what happened to their missing loved ones. Some of those people have money."

Alex couldn't help but feel that the level of disgust on the two men's faces was rather unwarranted—not that she was surprised. Hunters were always so self-righteous about this. That was part of the reason she avoided working with them. "And what about the ones who don't?" demanded the passenger.

Alex shrugged. "If they call me, I help them. And I'm trying to help someone right now, so if you'd kindly fuck off, that would be great." She nodded toward the police behind the men's backs. "Besides, we're about to have company. I suggest you scram before they double-check that fake badge you flashed."

Alex barely had time to step away from the car before the driver rushed past her. He kept glaring at her even as he drove off.

Pulling out another of her cards, Alex threw on a smile and crossed her fingers that she'd be able to charm these already-suspicious officers.

Troy Squire had gone missing just like all the others. His car was abandoned on the bridge without any signs of struggle, and there was no body in the river below. The police saw no connections between any of the victims, and they had no good theories on what might've happened to them. What they did have was an unmistakable disdain for Alex and everything she stood for. Only one of them—the handsome young black man—was even polite to her; the aging-out-of-relevance white man in shades who walked like he thought he was God's gift to law enforcement outright laughed in her face and sent her off with words so dismissive that she would've been less offended if he'd just said "fuck off".

And just like that, Alex's investigation stalled.

With her flip phone pressed against her ear, Alex listened to it ring Mrs. Carey's number once, then twice, and then the woman picked up. "Hello? Miss Crowe?"

"Yeah, hi, Mrs. Carey. I'm afraid I have some bad news. Another man went missing last night. You didn't happen to know a Troy Squire, did you? Seems he was a local teen who didn't make it home. His car was found on the bridge."

"Uh... Squire? That might be Jill's boy."

"Do you know anything else about him? Since we're talking about the disappearance of a minor here, the cops aren't willing to give me any information at all."

"No, I'm afraid not. I know plenty of people in town, but not much about their kids. I could give you Jill's number, I suppose?"

"That would be great, thanks." Alex jotted the number down as Mrs. Carey recited it. "I'll let you know if I find out anything else. Bye."

Alex dropped her notepad and her cell phone into the passenger seat of her car. She wouldn't be able to talk to Jill Squire yet; the woman might not even know that her son was missing, and she wouldn't take kindly to whoever was unlucky enough to bring her the news. It looked like the Squire kid was a dead end for now.

Alex's eyes wandered to the tape recorder peeking out from beneath her notepad. She hadn't listened back to the tape yet; she'd completely forgotten to check it the night before. Since the EMF hadn't gone off, she didn't think there was any chance of having caught any EVP, but with nothing else to do, Alex snatched up the recorder and rewound the cassette.

For a good few minutes, there was nothing but typical static and the inherent noise of recording audio inside a moving car. But then, there it was. Alex's eyes went wide and she scrambled to rewind it again.

"That's a woman's voice," she muttered, furrowing her brow as she strained to listen closer. "What the hell is it saying?"

She'd have to run it through some of the audio programs on her laptop before she'd be able to make out the words. Satisfied with her new lead—and cursing herself for not catching it the night before—Alex raced back to her hotel.

"I can never go home," was an enigmatic but unsubtle statement. Alex didn't know who the woman was yet, but she knew a spirit when she heard one. There was unmistakable shame and regret in that woman's haunted whisper, and those emotions were almost always part and parcel of an vengeful ghost.

After that, it was just one quick Google search before Alex had a name. The only notable female death on Centennial Highway in recent history was one Constance Welch, a young mother who committed suicide after the drowning deaths of her two young children. And, of course, she killed herself right on the bridge where Troy Squire's car was found.

"Well, we've got our ghost," Alex muttered. She glanced toward the alarm clock on the hotel nightstand. It was only six o'clock.

Alex had two options now. She could either find the grave of Constance Welch, dig up the body, and destroy it... or she could not pursue that very disgusting course of action and instead drive out to the bridge tonight and do a little ghost hunting herself. Getting spirits to move into the light on their own was always a crapshoot; Alex had only ever seen it happen once in the past thirty years. Still... it smelled a lot better than the other option. Provided no one else died at Constance's hands tonight, it had to be worth a try.

Alex laid down against the pillows. If she was going to be up all night chasing ghosties, she figured she deserved a nap.

That night, just like the morning that preceded it, there was a black impala in Alex's way when she drove up to the bridge. Again, she parked her rental behind it and went to join the hunters.

"Howdy, fellas!" she called, taking a certain amusement in the way the shorter of the two men—the one who had been the driver earlier—startled at the sound of her voice. "These new cars sure run quiet, don't they?"

"Oh, go home, would you?" groaned the shorter man. "Leave this to the professionals!"

Alex grinned as she pulled her EVP meter out of her bag. "Professionals get paid. So... seen anything spooky yet?"

"No," came the gruff, terse response.

"And I take it you know we're looking for a ghost, right?"

"We know," said the taller man, and something about the way he said it made Alex really look at him for the first time. "You know who it is?"

Alex nodded. "Constance Welch. Jumped off somewhere right over there. So... are you two boyfriends, brothers, what?"

The taller man laughed. "Brothers. I'm Sam. That's my older brother Dean."

"Nice to meet you, Sam and Dean. I hope."

Dean glared at the two of them. "Can we quit the small talk? In case you've both forgotten, there's a man-hating killer ghost somewhere nearby."

"Closer than you think," Alex said, nodding behind them.

Both men whirled around. The ghost of Constance Welch stood on the edge of the bridge, dark hair blowing in the breeze as her long, white dress fluttered around her legs. She was as beautiful as she had been in her obituary photo—and no doubt just as homicidal as Alex suspected she'd been in life.

Constance leaned toward the water... and then she was gone.

All three of them—Alex, Sam, and Dean—sprinted toward the edge of the bridge.

"Where'd she go?" Dean demanded.

Three pairs of eyes scanned the dark water beneath the bridge, but there was nothing to be seen. "I don't know," said Sam.

"She could be anywhere," said Alex. "She's a ghost; she doesn't actually have to fall. She could be—"

The unmistakable sound of a muscle car's ignition broke the relative silence of the night, and Alex's eyes went wide as she looked over her shoulder to see that damn impala turn its own headlights on.

"What the—?"

"Who's driving your car?" asked Sam.

Without a single word, Dean held up his keys.

"Shit, shit, shit!" Alex gasped as the car shot in their direction. Sam and Dean took off; Alex clambered up onto the railings of the bridge. "Don't run right in front of it, you idiots! Get out of its way!"

Much to her horror, both men were out of time. The car was so close on their heels that they had no choice—one, then the other leaped over the side of the bridge just as Constance had done only a few seconds before. The car stopped as soon as they were beyond its reach.

"Shit!" Alex yelled again. One massive splash meant one of them hit the muddy water below; the second splash never came.

In the darkness, Alex could just barely see where Sam was clinging to the support beams of the bridge. With a wary eye kept on the possessed impala, Alex rushed to help him. "Are you okay?" she asked, reaching out to help him.

"I'm fine," he said, ignoring her offered hand. He pulled himself up and over the edge of the bridge, then turned to peer down into the water. "Dean!?"

The man had crawled to the muddy bank. "What?"

"Hey, are you alright!?"

Covered in mud from head to toe, Dean sounded utterly defeated as he called back, "I'm super."

Sam's laugh was equal parts relief and schadenfreude. Alex did her best to hide her smile. If there was anything she did miss about working with other people, it was moments like this.

Once Dean had made his muddy, battered way back up onto the bridge, he wasted no time in popping the hood of his car and checking over every inch of the machine as lovingly as if it were a pet or a child that had been taken for a joyride by the ghost instead.

Sam, for his part, seemed as unimpressed by this as Alex did; he, though, seemed to have been expecting it, and he certainly seemed much more willing to indulge the quirk.

"Car alright?" he asked after a minute.

Alex found it absurd that the disgust written across Dean's face and positively dripping from his voice was the result of his car's violation rather than the thick coat of mud still encasing his body. "Yeah," he grumbled. "Whatever she did to it, it seems alright now. That Constance chick—what a bitch!"

Gender slurs were always such fun. "Well, if you guys are good to go, I think I'll head out. I doubt Constance is going to be showing up again tonight, which means I'd best get started trying to track down her body."

"What the hell have you been hanging around for, then? You could've left as soon as she did." Dean's voice dropped to a nasty mutter, "You could've just not shown up at all."

"I had been planning to offer you a ride back to your hotel if your car was fried," Alex said, a brow raised, "but apparently that wouldn't have been appreciated anyway. Oh, well. That's hunters for you. Have a nice night, boys! Try not to fall off any more—"

"Wait, Alex," said Sam. His voice was a gentle and friendly as his brother's was rude and unwelcoming, and Alex found that it did actually make her pause. "Why don't we just work together. Three brains are better than one, aren't they? People are dying here. The sooner we get Constance taken care of, the safer this town's gonna be."

"Technically, we don't have any actual proof yet that anyone's dead." Alex sighed. "Alright. Do you guys actually have a lead, or are you just stumbling in the dark here?"

Dean pointed an angry finger at her. "None of your business," he growled, and he turned incredulously to his brother. "You can't be serious, Sammy! We're not working with this chick. She hunts for cash, you remember this, right?"

"I think that just means she's smarter than us, man."

With Dean doing a wonderful imitation of a goldfish, Sam turned back to Alex. "We're pretty much out of leads at this point. What about you?"

"I've got some stuff I could check out. I don't expect any of it to be especially useful, though, which is I haven't done it yet. My client thinks her husband was cheating, which could be a motive for his death; I could go after the guy's phone records to try to confirm it, of course, but I think it'd be a better use of time to see if the kid had a girlfriend and if either Constance Welch or her husband was cheating. My next best guess for a motive is murder; Constance supposedly killed her kids, either intentionally or accidentally or maybe even psychotically. There's a possibility that she's killing other people who've killed their kids, or people who've killed a kid in general, or even just people who've killed. Since all her victims have been men, though, my money's on the cheating thing. No offense."

Dean sneered at her. Alex went on. "But all that's just extra stuff anyway. We don't have to jump through those hoops since we already know who the ghost is. We just have to find her and torch her, and we're good to go."

Sam and Dean shared a look. Dean rolled his eyes, then nodded begrudgingly. "We actually already talked to Troy's girlfriend," said Sam. "She's the one who told us about Constance. You know about the legend?" Impressed in spite of herself, Alex shook her head. "The local teens have a story about a murdered woman who hitchhikes and kills whoever picks her up. Of course, that's Constance, and they just changed the suicide to murder to make it more dramatic."

Alex looked them over again, more appreciatively this time. "That's actually not bad work, boys. Color me pleasantly surprised. Indulge me: how'd two pretty boys like you end up hunters?"

Each looked very startled, either by the question or their descriptor. Maybe both.

"Sam," Dean warned.

"Our dad's a hunter, too," Sam said, polite but definitive. Obviously, Alex was not supposed to ask questions.

"Family business, then?"

"Something like that. What about you?"

Sam, Alex noticed, did not rise to what she felt would be his only ever excuse to imply she was just a pretty face, too. She gave him quite a bit of credit for that he didn't take it.

"Something like that," she echoed. At Dean's very scathing look, Alex glanced away and pretending to be suddenly very interested in her own car. "Well, I'm gonna go search for some wifi and see if I can't track down a gravesite for our dearly departed murderer. You still have my card?" Sam rather sheepishly shook his head. She sighed, withdrawing another one from her wallet and offering it very pointedly to him instead of his brother. "You guys got a number?"

As Sam rattled his mobile number off to her, Alex patiently typed it into her flip phone, then gave him a smile. "Perfect. If I find anything, I'll give you boys a call. You find something... well, feel free to do the same."

She offered them a wave as she headed back to her own little car, and as she walked away, she very distinctly heard Dean grunt to his brother, "She's not really gonna call us."

It was sometime after dawn on Sunday when Alex got Sam's text. "U were right," it read. "Welch is a woman n white. Will talk 2 her husband."

Alex stared down at the text blankly for a moment, then looked back up at the mortuary she'd been parked in front of for the last hour. She had planned to go in, talk to the oldest employee she could find, and ask whether they could point her to the grave of Constance Welch. She normally wouldn't expect then to give out such information to random strangers, which was why she also planned to present herself as a relative who wanted to pay her respects but was on too bad of terms with Constance's former husband to ask him for the location directly. It was roundabout and far from guaranteed to work, but her method also wouldn't have gotten the potentially volatile survivor of murdered children and a suicidal spouse involved.

Competent they may be, it appears the boys lacked that particular dash of empathy.

Alex considered it a moment longer, then shook her head. She was going with her plan, not theirs. If they wanted to run around and cause haphazard emotional damage left and right, that was their problem, not hers.

But she didn't have to wait long with her decision.

Mama, just killed a man / Put a gun against—

Sam was calling.

"Hello?" Alex asked. "I got your text. You're not talking to the husband now, are you?"

"No, I haven't gone to see him yet," Sam said. He sounded oddly anxious and a bit out of breath.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine." He paused. "...Dean just got arrested."

Alex was so startled, she couldn't stop her blurt of laughter. "I'm sorry, what? Oh, wait, no, let me guess. The police realized you guys were impersonating officers? Not a good idea if you want to avoid jail time, guys. How the hell did you get away?"

"He warned me in time, and I slipped out. Look, I still want to go talk to Joseph Welch. I've got the address right here. Do you want to come with me?"

Alex looked, once again, up at the sign for Summerhall Mortuary. "Why don't you come with me, instead? I'm at the mortuary right now, I'm sure they'll—"

"I can't risk being seen by the police," Sam interrupted, surprisingly firm. "It's safer if I just ask the husband."

"And it's safer for him if you don't. Look, I'm sure he knows where his wife is buried, but it's probably gonna be pretty hard to get the information out of him. More likely than not, she killed his children, and I guarantee either strongly suspects it or else refuses to even consider it. And whichever the case is, I'm sure he's not going to be happy with some rando asking where they can find his dead wife's corpse."

The line was silent for a moment. "I'm going, Alex. Are you coming with me, or am I jacking someone's car?"

Fucking hunters. "Fine. But try for some subtlety, won't you? And if he ends up shooting one of us, it had better not be me."

Sam chuckled as he told her where he'd be waiting, and when Alex hung up a minute later, she stared down at her phone in silence for a moment before she started up her car and very begrudgingly drove away.

Joseph Welch lived in one of the junkiest neighborhoods that Alex had ever seen. She'd been in worse, sure—she'd even lived in worse, once upon a time—but this easily was the worst place she'd visited since the new millennium began. It was a sad place, all bare dirt and rusted metal, ramshackle houses and the decaying shells of cars, and broken down people with dejected, weathered faces.

As she and Sam approached the door of Welch's trailer, Sam pulled an old photo from his wallet. "What's that?" Alex asked, peering at it curiously.

For a split second, he pulled the photo back as if to hide it from her. Then he visibly gave up, and he held it up for her to see. "That's my dad. And, uh, the kids are me and Dean. It's an old photo."

"And you think this is how you're going to bond with Welch enough for him to spill his secrets?"

Sam grimaced. "Not exactly." They walked up the few steps to the door.

"What exactly, then?"

Sam paused in the act of lifting his hand to knock. "My dad was actually the one who was going to work this case with Dean, not me. I don't really hunt anymore."

"What're you doing here, then? Your dad got a better case?"

"I don't know. Dean and I can't find him. He's not answering his phone, and all his stuff is still in his motel room. I don't know what happened to him, and I'm running out of time to find out."

"Wait, why? What's the timelock here?"

"I've gotta get back to Stanford before tomorrow."

Alex's brows lifted right up to her hairline. "Stanford?" she repeated. "Damn, dude. Good for you." Again, she looked him over carefully, recontextualizing. "So you're really not a hunter, are you? Not the way your dad and Dean are, at least."

"Not if I can help it."

"Well, I hope you find your dad, then."

Sam stared at her for a moment. "Thanks," he said finally, and then he turned his attention back to the door and knocked.

Joseph Welch opened it almost immediately, his arms crossed over his chest and a look of utter disgust on his face. "You two gonna chat on my doorstep all day, or d'you plan to tell me what the hell it is you want?"

Alex looked expectantly at Sam. This was his plan; let him do the heavy lifting. "Hi," Sam started, and suddenly Alex could definitely see eager college kid in him, "uh, are you Joseph Welch?"


Sam held up the photo. "I'm sorry if this sounds weird, but could you take a look at this photo for me? Do you recognize the man?"

Welch leaned over the threshold, squinting at the picture. "Yeah. He was older, but I recognize him. He came by three or four days ago, said he was a reporter."

Sam rolled with it easily, like he'd been doing this all his life. (If his father was really a hunter, he probably had.) "That's right. We're working on a story together."

Welch didn't seem to believe this. He gave both Sam and Alex their own individual skeptical surveys. "Well, I don't know what the hell kind of story you're working on. The questions he asked me..."

"About your late wife, Constance?"

Welch looked disgusted. "He asked me where she was buried."

Alex did her best not to match his expression. Clearly, Sam and Dean had picked up their knack for bright ideas and emotional understanding from their dad. "And where is that again?" Sam asked.

"What, I gotta go through this twice?"

"It's fact checking, if you don't mind."

Now, Alex couldn't help casting Sam an incredulous look. How the hell did that make any sense? That was not remotely what "fact checking" meant.

Welch was silent for a moment, then sighed heavily. " a plot behind my old place over on Breckenridge."

"Why did you move?" Sam asked, and now Alex's expression grew horrified. What kind of dumbass question was that?

"I'm not gonna live in the house where my children died."

"Of course not, sir," Alex interrupted quickly, "and we're very sorry for your loss."

"Well, thanks, I guess, but it was twenty years ago." He narrowed his eyes at her. "Probably before you were even born."

Alex smiled brightly and completely falsely, very much unamused. If there was one thing she hated about life, it was the constant dismissal of youth. (And old age but that wasn't her problem right now.)

"Mr. Welch, did you ever—"

Alex grabbed Sam's arm, her fingers curling so tightly into the sleeve of his thick jacket that he winced and glanced over at her. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Welch, that's all the questions we have for you. If you happen to see that other reporter again, could you please give us a call at this number?" She dug into her pocket, looking for one of the few cards she carried that didn't have 'Paranormal Investigator' listed as her job title; she doubted Welch would be particularly pleased with that.

He took her card from her very hesitantly. "Sure, I guess," he said, though his expression had now grown even more suspicious and confused.

Still gripping his arm as tightly as she physically could, Alex led Sam away from Welch's porch and back to her car. "Why'd you interrupt me?" he demanded once they were out of earshot.

"Are you kidding? We got the info we need. You don't need to interrogate him anymore. Let's go salt and burn this corpse before it kills anyone else!"

"But he might know something else about—"

"We don't need to know anymore, Sam. It's not our goddamn business why he doesn't live in the house where his kids were murdered, or whether he realizes that their deaths were because his infidelity made his wife completely snap, or whether he thinks it's possible that his dead wife has been killing people for twenty years. None of that is important. That's just our curiosity; it's not the job. So let's go do the job, yeah?"

Sam was staring at her like he couldn't believe his ears. Alex ran a hand through her hair and forced herself—for the first time in a long time—to extend some understanding toward a hunter, too. "Look, just imagine what he feels like, having lost his wife decades ago only to find himself fielding a bunch of creepy-ass questions from three different strangers within the span of a week. Asking where the body's buried is fucking weird, and pushing beyond that is seriously testing him. You wouldn't want someone coming at you the way you were about to come at him. We can always come back and talk to him again if we really need to, okay?"

"Yeah. Right." Sam barely even glanced in her direction as he settled into her passenger seat, and Alex just shook her head minutely. More reasons she didn't like to work with people. People, generally speaking, were not usually good about either respecting other people's boundaries or about taking any criticism. Not even the Good Guys™ like Sam.

They drove in silence. Sam stared at his cellphone the whole time, obviously hoping that either his dad or his brother might call.

Neither did.

After two hours of combing the yard all around the house where Constance Welch had murdered her children, Sam and Alex were forced to give it up. There was no headstone, no cross, nothing at all to mark where the body was buried, and they certainly couldn't waste the whole day blindly digging in hopes of stumbling upon the corpse.

"Any ideas?" Alex asked.

"This is why we should've asked Mr. Welch more questions."

"What, like, 'Can you tell us specifically where on the property you buried your wife's body?' I'm sure that would've gone over well."

Sam sighed. "If we're gonna have to dig this whole place up, we'll need Dean's help."

"So, what, we're gonna wait until the cops let him go? The D.A. might prosecute, Sam. Impersonating an officer to get onto a crime scene isn't nothing."

Now Sam smiled at her. "Yeah, I didn't really plan on waiting." Alex watched, baffled, as he pulled out his cellphone, and she peered over his shoulder with rapidly rising skepticism as he punched into the numbers 9-1-1.

Alex could only hear Sam's half of the conversation, but she had to hand it to him: he wasn't if bad as an actor. He sounded genuinely terrified.

"No, no, no, no, there's no time for that! Look, I'm at the corner of Whiteford Road, and I just heard a bunch of gunshots. Please, I know what a gun sounds like, and that was definitely a gun! I think someone's just shot someone—down by the motel, maybe. It sounded really close by. Please hurry!"

He flipped the phone off, looking smug. Alex shrugged. "If it works, it works. But they can trace the call back to your phone, you know. You'll have to get rid of it."

Sam's smile became a smirk. "That's why I used Dean's."

Alex laughed. "Well played."

Sure enough, Dean called about an hour later, and less then ten minutes after Sam relayed the address of Constance Welch's former home, Dean's Impala pulled into the driveway.

"How the hell'd you get the car out of the impound lot?" Sam asked incredulously.

There was an extra bit of swagger in Dean's step as he walked around to the back of the car. "By being awesome, little brother." He gave Alex what she supposed must be a friendly nod of acknowledgement. "A fake 911 call, though? I don't know, lawyer boy, that's pretty illegal."

"A lawyer, huh?"

"Not yet," Sam said. "Not at all if I can't get back to Stanford by tomorrow morning. So we better do this quick, Dean."

"Okay, where's the body?"

Alex gestured around at the overgrown grass. "Your guess is as good as mine. She's around here somewhere, but we're not going to find her without either the right equipment or a hell of a lot of time."

Dean popped open his trunk, and he tossed his brother a shovel. "Guess we better get started, then."

Alex looked from Sam to Dean, then to the shovel, then to the vast and untamed yard. "I'm gonna make a call first, if you two don't mind. I'll be back in just a minute to help."

And Alex wandered off in search of Maggie's help.

Alex got the call from Maggie a little while after dusk. "Thanks, Mags. You're a lifesaver." She flipped her phone shut and turned to the boys, each of whom was dirty and exhausted from several hours of pointless digging. "Alright, guys, I've got a GPR machine waiting for me down at a private airfield about a forty-five minutes north of here. If there's no objections, I'm headed out to fetch it."

"Wait, what?" Dean demanded.

"I told you we needed equipment, didn't I? Obviously we've not had any luck without it."

"So you, what, had a machine flown in?" Sam asked. "How did you...? You've been digging this whole time."

"I told you I had to make a call. My assistant had my machine flown over. I mean, it took a few hours, sure, but it was quicker than trying to rent one. Now I just have to go pick it up, we'll run it around for a little while to see if we can't find her rotten ass, and then you're free to go be a college kid. Everyone wins."

She gave them a big smile and a tiny wave, then slid behind the wheel of her car. "Try not to get arrested before I get back!"

About an hour and a half later, Alex was almost back to the old Welch place with the bulky machine crammed very precariously into the back of her car. She pressed her flip phone to her ear and listened as it rang.

"Hello?" Dean's voice answered on the other end. "Who is this?"

"You forgot about me already? I'm heartbroken, Dean." She could practically hear the sneer on his face. "I've got the machine, and I'm about five, maybe ten minutes from the house. Assuming you're not already back in jail, we should be able to finish this up pretty soon. Hell, you can probably tell Sam to take a nap if he wants. I assume he's got some kind of, like, test in the morning, since he's so eager to get back to school, so go ahead and let him know that you and I can handle this on our own."

"It's an interview," Dean said. "And I'd tell him if he were here. He's out getting food right now."

"Aren't the cops looking for the two of you?"

"We got hungry, what can I say?"

If Alex were careless enough to take her eyes from the road that long, she would've turned her gaze instead to the heavens and demanded why the extra model-pretty brother had to be the somewhat dim, rather rude one who didn't seem to like her much. "Fine, whatever. I'll be back in a few minutes, that's my point."

Alex's car, going just a little over the speed limit, was coming up on another on the road ahead. It only took a second for her to recognize it. "Oh, shit, I'm actually right behind him on the—FUCK!"

Alex slammed on her breaks, dropping the phone as she scrambled to get both hands on the wheel. The Impala had skidded to a dead stop right in front of her, and Alex had barely enough road to keep herself from rear-ending it. She doubted Dean would ever forgive her if she'd fucked up his car.

Wondering what exactly had just happened, Alex went to unbuckle her seatbelt so she could go check on Sam... and then she noticed that there wasn't just one person sitting in the idling black car. Sam, hulking behemoth that he was, sat unmistakably in the driver's seat, but he wasn't alone; a figure, black-haired and wearing white, sat in the back seat behind him.

Alex's stomach did a loop-the-loop in her guts. Constance Welch, ghostly murderer, was in Sam and Dean's car. Had Sam seen her yet? Alex couldn't tell.

But before Alex could so much as reconsider getting out of her car and helping him, the Impala was already barreling down the road, back toward the house. Alex stared after it in disbelief, glanced down at her fallen phone, and realized she couldn't reach it. "CONSTANCE IS GOING AFTER SAM!" she yelled at the top of her lungs, hoping that Dean would be able to hear her, and then she put her foot down on the gas pedal and floored it after Sam's car.

Alex followed them all the way back to the house. The Impala turned into the driveway; Alex's car skidded to a stop in the middle of the street. She flung herself out of the car, nearly choking herself on the seatbelt as she scrambled to get it off, and in the front seat of the Impala, it looked as if Constance Welch had squeezed herself into the space between Sam's body and the steering wheel. Her hands were all over him, fingers threading into his hair as she pressed her lips to his; but he was struggling, trying to pull away from her, and the most absurd thought crossed Alex's mind.

As a woman in white, Constance Welch only killed unfaithful men. But how many of those men were 'unfaithful' only because of what she did to them after they'd caught her eye?

Alex pulled her literally iron tire iron—a go-to weapon if ever she had one—out of her trunk and stomped toward the Impala. But she wasn't fast enough; Dean was already there at the window, his pistol in his hands, and he shot the windows clean out.

Constance disappeared—but only for a moment. She blinked back into existence as if nothing had happened, and now that Alex was closer, she could see that the specter's beautiful face was now a garish mask of death. The lips had rotted away, exposing the teeth in a nightmarish imitation of a living face, and the mottled skin surrounding her mouth made her look like something that could only dwell in the darkest recesses of the human mind.

And yet here she was, and she was killing Sam.

"Hey, baby-killer!" Alex yelled, scrambling for the door handle and hoping that Dean wouldn't accidentally shoot her by mistake. "It's not infidelity if it's a sexual fucking assault!"

Alex screamed as the world seemed to explode around her; she'd put too much trust in Dean. He'd fired again, two bullets whizzing right past Alex's head, and she fell onto the grass, holding her ringing ears. For a heartbeat, she wasn't even sure if he'd shot her or not.

And by the time she got her bearings back, the Impala was gone and Dean was yelling Sam's name. Another deafening noise rang out, but now it was the sound of the Impala crashing into Constance's long-abandoned family home. Dean raced after the car, and after Alex managed to pull herself up to her feet, she did, too.

Constance, in her white dress with her pretty face back in place, ignored both the boys as they struggled to escape the Impala. Alex stumbled through the wreckage, wishing quite fervently that she'd grabbed her own gun instead of the surprisingly useless tire iron—

—and turned as the temperature of the room seemed to drop below zero within the span of a heartbeat.

Constance was not the only ghost here.

They all looked up at the same time—Alex, Sam, Dean, and Constance—and Constance's children stared at their mother for a moment before blinking out of existence. They reappeared right in front of her, opening their arms to her as if to embrace her in a hug. But when their four little arms closed around her body, Constance shrieked like she'd just found herself within the depths of hell, and all three spectral bodies began to flash and smoke and sizzle.

Constance screamed and screamed, her agony echoing off the worn wooden walls... and then she was gone, and so were her kids, and Alex's ears started ringing even louder in the newfound stillness and silence of the house.

"...she drowned her kids," Alex heard the tail-end of Dean's sentence as he approached the spot where the ghosts had imploded.

"We already knew that..." Alex muttered, but she couldn't tell if her voice was loud enough for them to hear. Or maybe she was yelling? She had no idea.

"That's why she could never go home," Sam said, staring down at the eerie little puddle that was all that was left of Constance Welch and her two kids. "She was too scared to face them."

"You found her weak spot. Nice work, Sammy." Dean clapped his brother hard on the shoulder.

Sam laughed, though he seemed to be in more than a bit of pain. "Wish I could say the same for you. What were you thinking, shooting Casper in the face, you freak?"

"You nearly shot me, too, by the way!"

Dean shrugged. "Saved us all, didn't it? Besides, I'm a good shot. I wouldn't have hit either of you." He leaned down, examining the Impala. Wooden beams and dust covered it. "I'll tell you another thing. If you screwed up my car, I'll kill you."

Sam offered his brother a huge smile, but Alex had the bad feeling that there wasn't as much joke in that threat as she would've liked. Dean had, quite literally, fired his gun at the both of them. So what if he thought he was a good shot? That didn't actually mean much, at the end of the day. Everybody misses sometimes.

"Right," Alex said, trying to compose herself. She was still trembling, and her rapidly calming mind, which had been through shit like this many times before, couldn't seem to reassure her body that the danger was gone. "Well, that was certainly something. I would've much preferred burning her, but I guess that works, too. So, uh... I'm gonna go, I guess. Because my head hurts now, and, uh, yeah."

"You sure you're okay?" Sam asked, his wide grin of amusement morphing into a concerned frown. "You don't really look fit to drive."

"I'm fine, trust me," she said. "The adrenaline will wear off in a minute. I promise I've been through much worse than that."

Dean visibly did not believe her; Alex didn't give a damn. Her tremble was starting to subside. "Best of luck at Stanford, Sam, and I hope you guys find your dad. I'll give you guys a ring if I happen to run into him or anything like that. What'd you say his name was?"

Sam and Dean shared a glance. "John," Dean said with an edge of reluctance. "John Winchester."

Nope. She definitely didn't have time to deal with this. She couldn't believe she'd just worked a case with John Winchester's sons without even fucking realizing.

"Right. If I hear anything, I'll be sure to pass it along. See you around, boys."

She marched off to her car with all the dignity she could muster and tossed her tire iron into the passenger seat. Her phone was still somewhere down on the floor; she didn't bother trying to find it now as she sped off back to her hotel.

Right now, all Alex wanted to do was sleep. She could deal with missing hunters and GPR machines and potential eardrum injuries later. And in the morning, she'd have to make sure that she gave Mrs. Carey a call.

Considering what she'd been through tonight—and what might be on the horizon, if John Winchester had really abandoned his sons—she wanted to make sure she got her money after all.