"Whoever undertakes to set himself as the judge of all truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of gods"
They put him up at the Renaissance Mayflower. It’s the largest luxury hotel in Washington DC - exclusive and sophisticated, proud and eminent member of the Historic Hotels of America, second only to the White House in all of DC.
Jared’s just glad the sheets are clean, and the beds don’t creak.
He sits at the bar downing his second martini and scans his surroundings. Everything’s so neat and overstated, and expensive and shiny. Someone plays the piano in the distance, the sound reverberating soothingly in every direction. The air conditioning is quite and perfect, the bar smells of nothing, nothing at all. Maybe it’s the way the rich folks prefer it, no matter what those Airwick beasties would have you believe.
Jared tucks his feet behind that metal rod thingie that serves as a footrest on the barstool, puts his elbows on the glossy granite counter before him and leans over his drink. The bartender is slightly scruffy for a place like this, he thinks. Then again what does he know? At least the guy’s friendly, Steve something, smiles at him whenever Jared catches his eye. Not an asshole like the bald concierge outside.
Sucks to know this isn’t going to last. His one-off stint in this luxurious decadence will end soon as the job gets done. Then he’d go back to his old, decrepit one-bedroom in Jersey City where the toilet clogs up every week, and the heating doesn’t work and he can touch the ceiling with his elbow, and the water from kitchen taps is brown in color. At least it’s his. At least he doesn’t need to share it with anyone else.
Except the roaches, of course. Can’t forget the roaches.
He grabs more hors d'oeuvres from a passing waiter and stuffs his mouth surreptitiously. The credit card they gave him should take care of all his expenses. Too bad he still can’t try everything on the menu, not the high-carb stuff, not the desserts. And especially not the steaks.
His job simply wouldn’t allow it.
He wears a brown sports jacket over a plain white t-shirt and fashionably faded blue jeans, all brand new. All well known, quality brands, the kind you’d never find at any secondhand sales or discount stores. Even the boxer briefs are Ralph Lauren, brand new, and he bought like a hundred of those. They can take it out of his final payment if they want.
Looks down at his new Tag Heuer, two minutes to seven. His mark should be in any moment now.
Like clockwork, all week.
Guy hits the hotel gym at six in the morning, every morning. Leaves at eight sharp in a chauffeur-driven town car, spends the day at his… whatever, some conference at the International Center for Journalists, gets back after dark at seven, sharp-ish. He then walks up to the bar, orders a scotch, single malt. Doesn’t seem to have a favorite brand, tries just about anything and everything. Chats up the bartender once in a while but mostly he keeps his back to the world, staring out the full-length glass windows for exactly, okay, approximately thirty minutes. Then he retreats to his luxury suite and doesn’t come out all night. Orders room service for dinner at some point, maybe.
Boring kinda guy.
Jared shrugs to himself. Whatever. Guess when you’re that rich, boring is chic.
His stomach grumbles. His salad was limp and boring (not chic) and he craves meat and cheese like a Bedouin might crave the rain, maybe. Who knows, he’s only read about them in, like, recycled paperbacks that he can sell back for a buck each. But Jared can’t eat now, not yet. He pleads to and curses at nothing and no one under his breath, looks at his watch again and wonders where the man is.
He wants this night to be over. But it can’t be over until it begins first. And it needs to begin with this guy. Jared wishes again for him to just turn up already, and at last after a few more minutes of excruciating wait, his wish is granted.
Jensen Ackles - Chairman and CEO of Achilles News Corporation - walks into the bar, and every pair of eyes in the house turns to look at him.
Jared turns away instead to glare at his drink, let the man make himself comfortable like he’s done every evening for the past five days. Jared’s been waiting for an opportunity, an opening, all week. But for one reason or another, it’s just never worked out. This isn’t exactly his forte. He’s not supposed to do dates you know. But there can be no more excuses if he wants to get paid. Tonight’s his last chance ever and if he can’t do it today, well…
Ackles leaves Washington DC tomorrow.
“Here, everything you’ll ever need to know about Ackles is in this dossier. Go ahead, open it.”
“Look, this here is the big stuff about his family, this is a picture of his ex-wife… oh yeah… that is supermodel Danneel Harris. Here are the colleges he went to. All his likes and dislikes, his favorite color, favorite food, favorite football team. But be careful how you use this information, he’s a very smart man. One slip-up and he’ll know you’ve researched him. Don’t act suspicious, don’t let him get suspicious. Act cool, like you belong there. You with me, kid?”
“Now for your cover story, you’re a senior at Carnegie Mellon. Pick a major. Any subject you were good at? Any subject you passed?”
“It’s a university in Pittsburgh. The only college Ackles admires but doesn't have any friends or contacts at. There’s stuff in here about the place, cram it up. You can’t be your stupid dumb self while talking to him or he’d drop you like a bad habit. You need to look and sound confident, and like you come from a decent all-American family. Can you do that?”
“I can try.”
“Here’s your credit card, it does have a limit, do not max it out. Buy yourself some nice stuff before you get there. I suppose you shouldn’t have a problem picking out clothes. Your kind is supposed to have a sense about shit like that, yeah?”
“Please tell me you graduated from high school at least?”
“Jesus. I can’t believe out of all the guys…! Fine, no problem, it’s cool. Just keep your mouth shut and let him do all the talking, alright?
Jared watches as the older man shrugs out of his black formal jacket and loosens his lavender tie. Older by seven years, Jared read in the dossier, twenty-nine to be precise. Not the youngest billionaire CEO in the country, Jared squints as he tries to recall. No, that would be that Facebook guy. But with twelve successful magazines, five TV channels and a newly acquired internet portal, this guy’s hot.
Jared gulps. He still has no idea why he was chosen for this job. All he knows is that they’ve promised to pay him a shitload if it works. And even if it doesn’t, what’s he got to lose anyway? He got to fly, for the very first time in his life. Not that he liked it very much, but hey, it’s an experience. And he got to visit Washington DC and stay at a fucking five star hotel, also for the first and probably the only time in his life. He got to buy new clothes and stuff for himself, all free of charge. All beyond his means.
Untouchable his ass. Jared’s got a job to do, and he intends to do it.
“So you’re leaving tomorrow morning, Mr. Ackles?”
“Yeah, and I told you to call me Jensen, Steve.”
The bartender smiles, nods graciously. “Okay, Jensen.”
Jared sighs and braces himself. Better move in now, before the fucking bartender does.
Turns to his left, Ackles is seated only three bar stools away. There’s nobody in between. Ackles turns towards him briefly and nods, but then looks away again. Jared huffs in irritation. He didn’t even get enough time to smile at him. His smile always works. Always.
Time for Plan B: Talking. Except, Jared doesn’t know what to say that would make him sound smart. Like - college smart. He searches his empty glass for inspiration, and guts. No wonder they’re paying him so much, for a change he’s supposed to use his upstairs brain more than his…
Someone clears a throat right beside him. Jared starts, looks up and his jaw drops.
When the hell did this guy make it all the way here, from all the way over there?
“Tell me to go away and I will.”
The photographs sure did no justice to the deep sea green of Ackles’ eyes.
Jared swallows, hard, reminding himself that it’s now or never. Pulls out his best natural drawl ever, even if he hasn’t really used one in years.
“I ain’t so smart, but I ain’t dumb either.”
Ackles is the one that starts this time. “You’re from Texas?”
The smile is wide, and bright and breathtaking. He pulls up a bar stool and sits down next to Jared, folding his long, impressively sculpted body beside him.
Jared smells a heady combination of white musk and ivory, tries to block it out by wondering how much the chronograph watch on Ackles’ right wrist might be worth. Must be left-handed, he muses.
“I’m from Dallas, originally. But I’m a New Yorker now. Jensen.”
Jared takes the offered hand, feeling its warmth seep into his cold and clammy one instantly. The grip is firm, embracing his hand, keeping it there like it belongs.
They share a short laugh. Jared wonders if it’s modesty that makes Ackles not give out his last name. He pretends not to notice, or know, and besides he’s still too stunned and happy by this new turn of events. This is going to be easier than he thought. Jared smiles then, his trademark smile. He doesn’t know if it reaches his eyes anymore, and hopes the other man doesn’t care either.
“Here on business?”
Researching for a college term paper.
Split-party delegations in the US Senate. Apparently it was creepy blond midget guy’s own research paper in college. Jared tried to read it all week but it’s frightfully boring. The only thing he’s taken away from the damn thing is a tiny, absent-minded scribble on page four that says ‘James Marsters of the universe’. Probably creepy blond midget guy’s real name, sure sounds like the obnoxious bastard he met.
Ackles is waiting, his eyes keen, piercing right through to Jared’s soul.
“I sort of won this free trip to Washington DC. Flight and hotel package. Four days and five nights?”
Padalecki you idiot.
“Awesome! So what do you think of this place?”
“Oh my God, it’s so cool! I mean… it’s very interesting. All the… uh, museums and memorials and stuff.”
Ackles chuckles. “How old are you?”
Say you’re twenty-four at least. He won’t go for it if you’re too young.
“Twenty two. A-And two months.”
Something falters in the older man’s eyes, and Jared secretly crosses his fingers.
“So what do you do, Jared?”
Senior at Carnegie Mellon. A senior who’s got nothing to talk about except basketball and… that other thing he’s good at but doesn’t quite make for polite conversation in an upscale joint like this.
“I’m a basketball coach at a middle school in New Jersey.”
The face brightens again. “No kidding! How tall are you again?”
A genuine smile splashes across Jared’s face, but he hunches a bit. Most of his Johns don’t really like it that he’s taller. “Six four.”
“Awesome, so you played in school?”
“Yeah. We even won the High School State championship back in…”
The memories flood back before Jared can stop himself, his knee buckles and his foot slips from its precarious resting place. He reaches out with a hand to grip the slab and steady himself, anchor himself to the present.
“Uh. Yeah, sorry, guess the booze is just hitting me now.”
“Happens if you’re not used to it. Sure you’re old enough to drink?”
Jared stutters, and Ackles laughs.
“Relax. I’m kidding. You had dinner? I know this great place not far from here, we could walk if you like. It’s nice and breezy out there. Might even help clear your head. What do you say?”
What Jared really wants to say is - you’re so easy, dude. Relaxes for the first time all day, heck all week, except there’s one more thing he must make sure of.
“Yeah sure. Uh just out of curiosity, how far is it?”
“About five minutes?”
Jared smiles. “Okay, let’s go.”
They get up and Ackles picks up his jacket but leaves his tie at the bar. He also drops a generous amount of money to cover both their tabs and turns to look up at Jared who is now standing behind him.
“Wow, you’re a big boy, aren’t ya, stretch?”
Jared tries to slouch again.
“Relax, I’m kidding! Just a minute.”
Great. Man’s a kidder. Bit of an asshole, but a kidder. Jared glares at the back of the retreating man’s head for a second before he checks himself out in one of the many gleaming reflecting surfaces surrounding him. While Ackles shares a few parting words with the bartender, he takes the time to tame his long, floppy hair back from his face.
Five minutes, no problem. He can walk that much without showing it.
“Jesus… Jeffrey I don’t know. This is going to be a disaster. Ackles is going to see right through that oversized oaf.”
“Relax, Marsters. Look at this picture – his face, look at those kicked puppy dog eyes. Ackles with his savior complex won’t be able to resist that. Remember what Danneel said? He’s got a thing for the smart but wounded types. You just make him look and sound smart. Kid’s got the rest covered.”
“Yeah, that limp in his left leg - wonder what’s up with that. I asked him, he told me to fuck off.”
“Who cares? So long as he gets the job done. I want hi-def quality, Jimmy. Make sure your techies rig up both the rooms.”
“Done. But don’t you think twenty grand is too much? It’s just a fuck for God’s sake.”
“I want to see him fall, and fall hard, Jimmy. Imagine the irony – his sordid secret revealed at that fucking conference he’s speaking at.”
“Hell yeah. Media Mogul turned laughing stock at Ethics summit.”
“Talk about truth and justice all you want, Ackles. Let’s see what you have to say when the truth comes out about you. When all your readers and viewers see with their own eyes the double life that you lead.”
“And we’ll be the ones to show them. Shocking exposé by Morgan Media.”
“I want to be there, Jimmy, when he hides his face in shame, running from the same guys that he claims are his family and friends. And I don’t give a flying fuck how much it costs me to do it. I want Achilles News Corp destroyed.”
“Amen, boss. Amen.”