Bear River, Wyoming. It was way out in the middle of freaking nowhere, which sucked, because it meant sleazy motels with worse beds than usual. Also pretty typical for his job. Well, at least it wasn’t that freaky hoodoo case he’d been tracking down in Louisiana. He’d had to sleep in the back of his baby, because with that witch doctor around, nowhere had been safe. Not even a motel.
Luckily the doctor hadn’t touched his baby, or Dean would’ve been toast.
This was his third hunt without any contact from Dad, which was a little weird. Last he’d heard, his Dad had gone out to check on somethin’ down in Texas. Supposedly he’d gotten a lead on the thing that’d killed Mom. He wasn’t too sure exactly what his dad was hunting, but he liked not having to check in every other day.
It was nice not having the man breathing down his neck for a change.
He would’ve loved having backup on a hunt like this, though. He could get it done alone, but he wished Sammy were here with him anyway. Not like he could trust any other hunter to have his back.
Dean was on his way to the house of the most recent victim, with a fake FBI badge. It was much easier to fake being FBI with a gun, since he didn’t have to dress up in a monkey suit. As he walked down the street, he considered what could be doing this. Ten deaths in a small town, all ruled as suicides, with each of them dying in ten different ways over the past three weeks, which made it a pattern.
The first guy had been found locked in his car with the engine running. It’d been wrapped around a tree, but the body was almost completely intact. The second, a woman about Dean’s age, had killed herself by jumping off an overhang at a local park. Body also nearly completely intact. The third was an old woman who looked like she’d overdosed on sleeping pills, while the fourth had hung himself in his room. Again, the bodies were completely intact.
Intact bodies from what seemed to be accidental or suicidal deaths. In a town as small as Bear River, nobody just dropped dead or committed suicide without being linked somehow, and the nearly-intact bodies just made things weirder.
After the fourth death, people started dying from freaky, screwed-up seemingly ‘natural’ causes. One guy in his 20s and in near-perfect shape had died of a heart attack. The newspapers described it as a ‘shocking’ death since the man was a star athlete and training to be an Olympic runner. It almost looked like poison, but there were no traces of it in the autopsy report Bobby’d put together.
Another had caught what had looked like the flu, and died from it, despite being about forty and in otherwise perfect health. One woman supposedly died of TB without ever getting it treated, but from what the obituary said, she’d only started coughing about a day before her death. Then some guy died of what looked like the Black Plague, according to his obituary, and a woman had died of ‘a botany accident’ of some kind. Then, the last one’s obituary hadn’t even said how she’d died-just estimated time of death and said she was found in her house.
Suspicious, ‘natural’ deaths were usually because of some creepy witch or something worse. God, Dean hoped it was just a crazy witch on a revenge kick. Otherwise he’d need backup, which he didn’t have right now.
He was on his way to the last victim’s house, to try and figure out how she’d died. And maybe, he hoped, to get more of a lead on the killer.
The deaths were all different. It was probably a witch, given the way most of them died was ‘natural’ but stuff like this was weird, even for a witch to pull off. It wasn’t at all like the normal, freaky deaths they caused from their rituals and spells-it was worse. But it sure as hell wasn’t a restless spirit, either, which meant it was something more dangerous.
There wasn’t a pattern to the killings, either. That was Dean’s only real clue right now. If there really were something funky about how the last vic died, it’d confirm that this was all connected somehow and give him more of an idea of what he was dealing with. Hopefully the witch wasn’t looking for ritual sacrifices for somethin’, which would be just his dumb luck.
Somehow he always ended up in the middle of those things when hunting witches, and it sure wasn’t like he asked for it. Hopefully this time he wouldn’t end up smack in the middle and in need of backup.
As Dean walked, he looked down at the paper again, frowning at the vague wording of the obituary. What the hell kind of obituary didn’t put in cause of death, anyway? Just seemed really weird.
He didn’t see the person coming his way until it was too late, and then they hit him hard in the side of his left arm with a meaty thud. It felt like being hit with a bar of solid metal right above his elbow joint, and fiery pain shot through his whole arm. Dean stumbled back a few steps with a curse as the other stumbled back too, dropping something to the ground.
Dean grimaced, clutching at his aching arm as he looked up and blinked back the tears of pain in his eyes, fully prepared to give the jackass that’d hit him a piece of his mind. Then he saw her, and his breath caught as he stared.
Because the jackass who’d hit him wasn’t a man, or an old lady intent on getting somewhere quick.
It was an attractive woman, about his age. She had long, wavy dark hair pulled back into a low ponytail, framing a face with high cheekbones, pale skin, and stark, piercing blue eyes. She was wincing, too, holding her left shoulder like it hurt-a lot, no doubt.
And she was wearing a tan trench coat over a slightly too-big men’s suit. Which was not normal, but hey, he’d seen weirder on humans.
She caught his eyes, and her own eyes widened “Oh,” she said, wincing as she rubbed at her shoulder where she’d hit him. “I’m sorry,” her voice was deep, almost throaty, like she’d just had sex. “I wasn’t watching. Are you alright?”
Dean shrugged, hiding the wince as he regretted the action “It’s not that bad,” he replied. He was pretty sure he’d have a bruise from it, but it wasn’t worth a hospital visit. “You?”
“I’m fine,” she said, all traces of the wince gone as she shook out her shoulder. That shoulder felt like it was made of steel. She bent down, picking up her purse and the leather-bound book that had fallen out of it, “I’m sorry I ran into you,” she said.
“Nah, don’t worry about it,” he said, giving her his best lady-killer smile. For some reason that made her expression darken a little. “What’s your name?”
The least he could do was get her name. Maybe more, if he was lucky.
Besides, who wore a trench coat and suit in the middle of July, even if it was Wyoming? It was nearly seventy degrees and she’d have been sweltering, but she looked fine. That was a little suspicious. Maybe he could get some information out of her, or maybe she was involved on the case.
And if not, well, he might get her number anyway.
She tilted her head slightly to the side, almost reminding Dean of a bird, and frowned slightly. “I thought it was common courtesy to give your name first.”
Dean chuckled “Yeah, sometimes it is,” he said, “I’m Dean.”
She didn’t smile, but he swore he saw her lips twitch a little, and her expression became much less serious. It made her look years younger. “I am Castiel,” she replied.
Castiel? Who named their daughter Castiel? Really odd name, especially for a girl.
She was probably from some uber-religious family. He was pretty sure there was a church of St. Castiel or some angel named Castiel, somewhere in all the reading Bobby had made him do last week. It sounded Biblical, at least. But the name seemed to fit.
Dean nodded “Interesting name.” Castiel shrugged slightly, as if she was used to hearing it. She probably was. “You from around here?”
“No,” said Castiel, “I am,” she paused, and tilted her head again “I am looking for someone.”
Family, friends, boyfriend…? It didn’t look like it to him, but he couldn’t tell. He wasn’t nearly as good at reading people as Sammy could.
Dean smirked a little “You don’t look like the type.” Almost immediately Castiel’s expression blanked out, and Dean felt like he was staring at a blank wall.
Castiel nodded “I have to go. It was nice meeting you, Dean,” then she moved around him, and he watched her go.
Her clothes hid what they could, but they couldn’t hide her walk-graceful, but stiff, like a soldier’s. Maybe she was one of those Army brats who couldn’t fit back into normal life or a rich kid with weird tastes in clothing. He’d sure as hell run across those before-and he hated most of them. He might run into her again, if he stuck around, which would be awesome. She was awkward, but then awkward women were cute, and once he got them going they could be really good in bed. Beneath that suit, he was fairly sure there was a sexy woman, and her voice was really sexy.
Dean really hoped she was normal. He’d hate to have to hutn her, weird though she was. She was the first woman he’d met since Cassie who hadn’t looked twice at him to start with, or been drawn in by the smile. Some girls were good for a one-night stand or some fun, but Castiel…didn’t seem like the type.
Beneath that suit he was pretty sure there was some kind of catlike woman, given the way she walked with that deep-throated sex voice. He’d be disappointed if she had a boyfriend, even though she didn’t seem all that interested.
Tearing his eyes away from her, he turned toward the house of the latest victim, one Emily Smythe. Well, no time like the present to get to work on charming the locals. Even if what he really wanted to do was find out more about this mysterious Castiel chick.
He walked up the steps to the house, and knocked on the door without looking back.
“We don’t want any more visitors, well-wishers, or ex-friends!” came a gruff shout from inside the house. “Go away!” it sounded like an older man with a slight Western accent; probably Emily’s father or grandfather, given how old she’d been.
Dean just knocked again. Some people were rude, but this was his job, and Dean had dealt with worse on a bad day. “I’m not any of those,” he said, “FBI, sir; open up.”
He heard someone get up and start walking toward the door. FBI usually did the trick. Dean stepped back from the door, with his hand in his pocket on his false ID. His other hand was on the handle of his gun, because he didn’t know what kind of guy this was answering the door.
The old man who answered the door looked to be in his sixties or early seventies, with short, whitening hair, several wrinkles on his face, and reddened eyes from crying. He was a little shorter than Dean, wearing a short-sleeved plaid shirt and jeans.
Dean flipped out his FBI badge, professionally “Agent Dean Lannister,” it was time to shake things up a bit, since he’d started reading that Game of Thrones series, and he liked the house of Lannister.
Sexy, crude, power-hungry bastards the lot of them, but if the shoe fit… hell, he wouldn’t complain.
“You don’t look like FBI,” the man said suspiciously. “You look a little young.”
Dean glanced around and leant in slightly “I’m incognito right now,” he said, lowering his voice. “Trying to keep from raising a big fuss about this. The director wants this investigated, but without raising a big stink about it. Can I come in?”
The man nodded “Y-yeah, sure,” and stepped back from the door, sniffling as he let Dean in.
It was just like any other home that Dean had ever seen, and he’d seen quite a few, except here, there were Chinese paintings in the entryway. He’d seen a picture of Emily; she’d looked half-Chinese, which meant her mother was probably from Asia, since a picture of her dad had been in the newspaper. This guy didn’t look Asian, though, so he was probably her granddad on her dad’s side.
“This way,” said the man, leading him into a living room area that had an Asian rug on the floor, a low coffee table, and a couch as well as two leather chairs.
The room was elegantly furnished, had a fireplace, and on the mantel above it was several pictures of people, including Emily. Curiously, no one else was home, even though Emily was ‘survived’ by her whole family, including two brothers, a sister, a mother, and her grandparents, who were said to have found their granddaughter.
Dean was distracted by the old man, “Do you want a beer?” Dean turned to him in surprise, and the man offered him a small, sad smile, “I’m having one. Unless it’s against regulations, of course.”
Dean smirked “Yeah, well,” he shrugged “Not really big on the rules myself. One beer won’t hurt.” The elderly man smiled a little more.
“I knew a man like you, when I was in the Army,” he said, and Dean was left in the living room to look around a little. “Good man, he was. Great commander,” the ex-soldier added from the kitchen.
Dean paid very little attention, trying to take in the living room instead, but couldn’t stop the faint flush from rising to his cheeks at the praise.
There was a computer plugged into the wall, with its monitor resting on what looked like a serious gamer’s desk. Dean wasn’t going anywhere near that, not unless he found out something about the woman that meant she was a gamer. For all he knew, it belonged to a relative. Instead, he walked over to the mantel, to take a closer look at the pictures.
Emily’d been beautiful, not that the picture in the paper did her any justice, and was exactly Dean’s type. Asiatic features, dark hair, heavy-lidded warm hazel eyes, and a tendency to dress in really nice clothes. Almost like a super-hot nerd girl, kinda like the ones he’d seen at Stanford the last time he’d checked in with Sammy, at the sorority parties. She was standing arm-in-arm with a woman who didn’t look related to her at all, someone with strawberry-blonde hair, a heart-shaped face, and baby blue eyes, but they were both smiling in the picture he settled on. Now she was a possible suspect, since she didn’t match the looks of the obituaries that he’d seen.
Emily’s grandfather came back into the room, carrying two beers, and offered one to Dean after cracking it open. Dean accepted it, and the old man sat down in the bigger of the two leather chairs, looking wistfully at the picture of Emily on the mantel.
Dean sat down too, on the couch after making sure he didn’t squash a stuffed animal that looked like a bear. Kind of. It looked fairly old and ratty, but he was pretty sure that at some point it’d been someone’s teddy bear.
“I don’t understand,” said the old man. “Your partner was just here; why does the FBI need to talk to me about my granddaughter’s death,” his voice cracked “Twice?”
Partner? Who could he…wait, Castiel??
Dean frowned “I’m going to have to talk to my boss about that,” he said, taking a sip of his beer. “I wasn’t told there was another agent in town.”
Was Castiel the one he was talking about? She’d been coming toward him and he couldn’t see any other reason she’d have had for being in the neighborhood, since she’d been getting some strange looks. If she’d lived here, she’d have been ignored. She dressed kinda like an agent, too.
“Really,” said the old man, with a frown “Hmm.” He took a sip of his beer, nodding to Dean “You just missed her.”
“Can I have a description of her, just so I know what to look for?” asked Dean. “There are so many of us,” he chuckled a little, “Well, I’m sure you get it. She might even be one of our Interpol contacts, since there are a few of them in the Midwest this time of yea.”
The old man snorted, “Didn’t sound British to me. She dressed kind of weird for a government agent, though she might’ve been undercover, I guess.” He sniffed “She had dark hair, bright blue eyes, and she was wearing a tan trench coat over a man’s suit.”
Castiel. Castiel had just been here. So he was right; there was something not quite normal about that woman.
Damn. If she was an FBI agent, he’d better hope she either didn’t check him out immediately or that she would believe him. He’d have to stick around to make sure she didn’t get herself killed, and working with law enforcement never ended well for hunters. Most of them were too stubborn to do anything except get their fool selves killed.
Dean nodded “Did she give you a name?”
The man smiled “Yeah, she was-she was really nice about it. She said her name was Cassidy MacGyver, and she’d heard the jokes before.”
So Castiel had been lying, either to this man or to Dean, about her name. Dean was willing to bet she was lying to the old man, since the name MacGyver was from the movies. That was a pretty obvious cover, too, but he was pretty sure MacGyver was also a real last name. Huh.
That meant the name Castiel was either another cover, or it was her real name. He had the strangest feeling that it was really her name, but couldn’t figure out why. It was sure weird for a cover name, if it was a cover name.
“Didn’t smile very much, though,” Dean returned his attention to the old man. “She said her family didn’t like showing emotion when I asked her about it.” Huh. That explained why she hadn’t smiled at him at all. “But she was very nice. Is she supposed to be here?”
Dean nodded. “Well, if you don’t mind, sir, I’d like to go over my set of questions again. I’ll check my information against hers,” he said, when the older man opened his mouth “But I probably won’t have quite the same questions as she did.”
The man snorted, looking away with a shake of the head.
Dean agreed with him completely “Yeah, I get it, but it’s my job,” he shrugged “And just between you and me, my boss will have my ass if I don’t ask you all of these.”
“Sure, sure,” said the old man. “You’re here about Emily.” Dean nodded. “I was the one who found her, lying on the bathroom floor. She’d just gone upstairs to brush her teeth-she had a date,” explained the man “And he was at the door.”
“And what was his name?” Dean would have to check him out, too.
The old man frowned “I think it was Zachary Quinn,” he said. “He lives in town. She asked us to stall for her for a minute, and I heard the sink go on. Then…” he swallowed “Then she didn’t come back out of the bathroom, so I asked my wife to go check on her, to see if she needed anything.”
Dean nodded “I’m sorry we have to ask this twice,” he said gently, as the grandfather blew his nose and wiped at his eyes with two sheets of Kleenex “But we have to be sure this was really an accident. How did you find her?”
“T-There was blood, on the bathroom floor-it was coming out of her mouth,” said the man with a quiet sob “I-I’ve never seen so much blood. S-she-she was choking on it, something i-in her throat. My wife called the ambulance but it was too late…she was gone before they got her to the hospital,” he whispered. “She was brilliant; she was going to be salutatorian of her class at Boulder.”
Dean let him grieve silently, taking another sip of his beer. Emily did sound brilliant. He knew Boulder was a good school, but to be salutatorian at any college was good, given how big college classes were.
“I know, and I’m sorry,” said Dean quietly, “It’s part of the investigation. I have just a few more questions for you.” He waited for the old man to nod, and compose himself again. “Did Emily have any enemies? People who might’ve wanted her gone, or hurt? A jealous ex, a friendship gone sour…”
Her grandfather frowned “No. No, everyone loved Emily,” he said, his voice breaking “She-she wasn’t always the best at talking to people, but she was really, genuinely kind. She,” he choked, and looked down. “She was a little-outspoken for our town, but we loved her.”
“Could anyone have disagreed with her?” asked Dean.
Emily’s grandfather scowled at him “You think someone who disagreed with her political views wanted her dead? Or her opinions? This was an accident, Agent Lannister, like I told your coworker.”
No way. Dean knew better than to think it was an accident; the whole thing stank of a witch. Not that he’d say anything.
Dean nodded “I understand that. I just have to be sure, because if this is related to the other deaths, then we might be dealing with a serial killer,” he explained.
The targets had to be linked for one reason or another. There was no reason for anyone except a serial killer to go after unrelated people and these deaths were too ‘natural’ looking to be a serial killer’s work. That probably meant demonic possession or demon-powered witches. Best cover for that was a nutty serial killer with an obsession with the occult, especially if he had to work this case with someone in law enforcement.
He was going to be busy for the next week or so. He slid the notepad he’d pulled from his jacket out and flipped to the list of names of the dead, before handing it over to Emily’s grandfather.
“Did she happen to know any of these people?” he asked.
Her grandfather’s eyes went down the list “No…well, yes,” he corrected himself, handing the notepad back to him. “Jenny Davies. She was Emily’s best friend.”
Jenny was the last person killed, about two and a half days before Emily. Dean would no doubt have to interview every one of the victim’s families or links in this area, just to be sure, but he could see the older man frowning, as he tried to come up with an explanation. How had Emily known Jennifer Davies?
“How?” he asked, knowing that was the best way to get what he needed.
Emily’s grandfather took a sip from his beer “They weren’t-friends, exactly. Jenny needed help with her grades, back in high school, and Emily tutored her. Emily was so smart…” Dean nodded, making a note of it. “They were friendly, but they weren’t friends. Emily didn’t even talk to her anymore. I don’t understand, what does this have to do with my granddaughter’s death?”
“These nine people were the others who died in the past month,” said Dean, and Emily’s grandfather gasped. “Emily sounds like she was a great person,” he said, taking another sip, “Wish I’d had someone like that to help me back in school.” He paused. “Say, did Agent MacGyver ask to see where it happened?”
How had the guy not known their names? Did he live somewhere else or something? Something wasn’t right here.
“Yeah, she did,” said the other, and Dean frowned “We-we haven’t been in there since…” he trailed off. “But she was.”
“If it’s not too much trouble,” said Dean “I’d like to see it, too. You said your wife found her?” he asked, as the older man slowly got to his feet.
“Y-yes,” he replied, as he led Dean up the stairs “There was so much blood…”
“Do you know if they figured out what happened?” Dean asked, keeping his tone gentle.
He could tell the guy was still in shock, even if the older man wasn’t going to admit to it. The signs were there, even if it was mild-if he was still okay and Castiel hadn’t done anything, the guy would probably live.
Mr. Smythe looked at him sharply “No. They just…they said she choked to death on her toothbrush,” Dean nodded as he was led to the bathroom. “I can’t…”
Toothbrush? Really? Witches were really getting creative these days. And nasty. Dean would never look at a toothbrush the same way again.
“It’s alright,” said Dean, “Thank you.” He walked into the room, skirting the edge of the doorway cautiously and putting a hand on his concealed gun.
“I’ll be downstairs,” said her grandfather, sounding like he was choking back tears.
The room was rank with the smell of old blood. Clearly it hadn’t been cleaned since Emily’s death. The white tile was stained with rusty red in the shape of a woman’s body, lying on her side, and the inside was dark. He flipped on the light, but nothing really changed about the room, except that now he could see the white sink was stained, too. It was mostly stained down the left side, showing a trail of blood that had obviously pooled on the floor before Emily had fallen over to begin with. Pulling on a pair of plastic gloves, Dean crouched down and took a sample of her blood from the tile, scraping it off with a penknife into a tiny plastic bag.
Then Dean started looking around for the hex bag. The witches were always sloppy enough to leave one behind, no matter what they did.
He opened the blue shower curtains, checked the sides of the sink and behind the door. Then he poked around the bathroom shelving and under the sink, trying to avoid the toilet, because any witch who put one there was just freaking nasty. Nothing. Great, now he had to avoid making noise and check behind the sink. He barely managed it, hoisting himself up so he was half-lying over the blood-stained sink, and prayed the bag wasn’t about to hit him with its freaky mojo too.
Something small and black, like a triangle of black cloth, was poking out of the very back of the sink, between the sideboard and the backboard of the sink. It was barely visible, and almost impossible to see. He wouldn’t have found it if he hadn’t been looking for the hex bag in particular. He pulled out a pair of tweezers and another plastic bag so he didn’t have to touch it. Then he carefully tugged it out, surprised at how easy it was to pull it out.
If Castiel was a hunter, then she’d missed this bag. Then again, it also didn’t look like it was that powerful, so it was possible she’d de-powered it and forgotten about it. It didn’t look like it’d been de-powered, though, which meant she’d been distracted.
That was if she was a hunter at all. But even an FBI agent would pick up hex bags. Hell, he’d seen them do stupid shit like that several times over. What was going on here?
He took a closer look at it, and was surprised when he realized it wasn’t bulging like a normal hex bag. He prodded it with the tweezers, confused, before he realized the bag was empty. Completely empty.
Dean put the empty hex bag in his own warded cloth bag after putting it into the plastic one. He couldn’t afford to be careless, not with a witch in town. And it looked less professional not to use a plastic bag. What could do that to a hex bag? He’d never seen anything that could, not like this. Nothing he knew of, in any of his research and any of Bobby’s books, could empty a hex bag and leave it relatively harmless-looking. At least not without touching it.
But it hadn’t been untouched, had it? Castiel had been here. She could’ve emptied it and put it back. But why would she do that? Was she trying to keep him on the trail of whoever had done this?
Or had she touched it at all? That looked like it had needed magic to put it in that spot in the first place. He’d have to do some more research before writing off something Castiel did as the cause, though.
Dean checked the whole bathroom over, using his EMF meter. It only started beeping near the mirror. He swiped the underside of it using a cotton swab, and put that in a bag to analyze later. Just in case it was something weird. That wasn’t normal either, at least not for a witch killing. What the hell was that? Could it have been sulfur? He didn’t smell sulfur, but it was possible the smell had just aired out. He doubted it, though there was a little of the yellow stuff on the cotton swab.
Witches. Why the hell did it have to be witches? He headed back downstairs, knowing he might be missing something, but Emily was still a victim. Yeah, sure, she was connected to the first victim, but that didn’t automatically make her a target.
Unless Jenny was a witch too, but Dean seriously doubted that. What kind of witch killed herself though? The whole situation didn’t make any sense.