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Sunday, August 15th, 2010 04:49 pm
Part 5 - Canadian

Breakfast at the Railroad Bar and Grill, which is attached to the motel, brings a meal so unremarkable that Sam knows he will be fantasizing about Jack’s Grill forever. Sam’s waffles turn to mush the second the syrup hits them. Dean’s eggs are cold.

“This coffee is swill,” Dean says. Sam sympathizes, his eyes flicking the cheese on Dean’s chin. He motions to his own chin, gets Dean’s attention, and then points at Dean.

Dean wipes it off.

“Only a true friend would tell you,” says Sam. He’s thinking about lunch, and they can find a decent local place that serves good food. Not crap.

*

After breakfast, they go visit Edgar Norton, who lives in an apartment in the only apartment building in town. It is a clapboard building with faded blue paint, but Sam is coming to realize that every color in this part of the county is faded, by the sun, by time, by neglect. Apartment number one is on the first floor, which is good, because by the looks of him, Edgar can’t walk without his cane. Can barely walk with it, probably. The black shoes on his feet are polished for Sunday wear, but his feet swim in them, and the soles look brand new. His skin is paper thin and splotchy. He has almost no hair, and his glasses are like the bottom of coke bottles.


(Canadian Apartments)


But he smiles and waves them to sit. He’s wearing a sweater thick enough for an Alaskan winter’s night, and the heater is going full bore. The air is dry, the room is stuffy, but the walls are covered with pictures of people who are smiling, and there is a large fluffy cat that Edgar pets and pets.

“Millie here saw the ghost first,” Edgar says. “Then I saw her. It took me a while to realize who she was.”

Sam sits on the ottoman near Edgar’s chair and listens, thinking. Edgar is one of those rare people. His voice is faint, but he’s coming in clear. Maybe it’s his age, but he saw a ghost, and he didn’t freak out and scream or disbelieve what he was seeing.

“How did you know who she was?” This from Dean in that voice he gets when he doesn’t understand how a mere civilian has figured something supernatural it out. Maybe he’s working off a bit of his hangover still, as well.

“She was wearing the same clothes as in the picture,” Edgar says.

“Picture?” asks Sam, giving Dean a look. He’d give Dean’s thigh a smack if it was within range to remind him to be polite. But he doesn’t want to upset Edgar, who is petting Millie and nodding.

“The picture of her. Some guy came through in, oh, I think it was 1926, and took pictures of the whole town. Some historical project. Millie worked in the hotel; it was called The Canadian Courts Inn, then. Still is.”

Edgar stops petting the cat long enough to motion to the wall. Dean moves first and takes the picture down. He hands it to Edgar who takes it, his hand shaking under the weight.

Dean takes the picture back. “Which one is she?” he asks.

“The pretty one.” Edgar points and Dean hands the picture to Sam, pointing. There are four girls, all in a line. They are pulling up their skirts to show their stockings; they are wearing dresses that want to be fashionable, but that hang like homemade sacks. They all have short air and giggling expressions as they squint at the camera.

They all look the same to Sam, but the one that Edgar points to, the first one in line, has a shine in her eyes and a sweet smile. “That’s her. That’s Virginia.”


(Virginia and Her Pals)


Edgar looks a little uncomfortable now, and Dean hangs up the picture.   

“It’s nothing you did, sir,” says Sam, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees. He makes Edgar look at him with the sound of his voice. “You told me on the phone that your dad, he didn’t want—”

“My daddy didn’t want to do it, but they made him.” This upsets Edgar to the point that his voice cracks, and he buries his thin hand in his cat’s fur. “There were oil wells popping up all over the place, you know, everything was out of control. There was lots of money to be made, and you had to prove that you were a man.”


(Oil Wells in Canadian)


“And your dad told you that he did this?” Dean asks, making Sam look up at the shocked sound in Dean’s voice. Sam is pretty sure he’s comparing Harold to John Winchester, just for a minute. Harold would confess a sin, whereas Dad wouldn’t. There was so much Dad had kept from them.

“He told me when I was as old as he was when he’d—” Edgar stops and his mouth moves over his false teeth. “Told me never to make a mistake like that. To never hurt a woman. It was only years later that he finally told me the rest of it. That after they did what they did, they killed her and just tossed her away. My dad said they buried her on the banks of the river, just on this side of the bridge. The new one the built in the ‘50’s.”

He looks up at them, and his eyes are damp. “Not far,” he says. “They didn’t carry her far. They were too drunk.”

“And so she came to you,” says Sam, his brain wanting to turn away from the story with its nasty overtones. “Told you.”

“She reminded me because I already knew what had happened to her,” says Edgar. “I don’t have long, and I want to fix this. She only startled me that first time. She waves to me to her, like she wants me to go with her. Only I can’t.” Edgar sighs, and starts petting his cat more slowly. “I’m going to fix this for my dad. So he can rest. So I can, when I go.”

There’s nothing like this in any of the books that Sam has read. There’s no fear on Edgar’s part, no blame. Only a desire to help, to set things to rights. To fix what is broken. It makes Sam sit back, and he has to rub his thighs with both hands, till he can dip his head and swallow hard. Then he looks up. “We’ll take care of it Mr. Norton,” he says. He means it.

“What can I do for you boys, then?” asks Edgar. His hands are buried in Millie’s fur. “My daddy taught me never to let a debt go unpaid. How much you boys charge?”

Now even Dean is affected. Sam can tell by the way Dean’s face softens, how his mouth moves without any sound coming out. His shoulders come down, and he leans in towards Edgar like they are old friends, even though Sam knows that old people give Dean the willies.

“Hey,” Dean says, his voice low. “My daddy taught me never to take money for something like this.”

“But I need to give you something, my wallet’s over there—” Edgar raises one hand to point. Sam sees a wallet sitting in plain sight on the bookshelf. It is shiny from use, and has the edges of many green bills sticking out of it.

Dean straightens up and shakes his head. “Can’t take it, Edgar,” he says. “Sorry, no.”

“Well, there is something,” says Sam, chewing the inside of his lip.

Dean looks at him, eyebrows going up. There’s a rule about taking things from people they help.

“I know,” says Sam to Dean’s unspoken comment. He brushes this aside with a jerk of his head. “Mr. Norton, do you know of someplace good to eat in this town? My brother and I had the worst breakfast at—”

“Tell me you didn’t eat at the Railroad Bar and Grill,” says Edgar, grimacing. “You wanna to go a place on Second Street. It’s called The Bucket, and Betty runs it. Betty’s from back east. Order the Ruben, you won’t be sorry. And the fries, oh, my, I don’t know when I last had one of her fries. She fries in lard, you know.”

Sam’s mouth begins to water. He looks at Dean and knows his mouth is doing the same.

“Sounds good,” says Dean, holding it out for Edgar to shake. “Payment accepted.”

Dean and Edgar shake hands; Sam pets the cat, who sniffs at him and looks like she wants to nip. Edgar pets her for her loyalty and Sam and Dean let themselves out.

“We’re so going to The Bucket,” says Dean, unlocking the car door and getting in. Sam slips in and closes the passenger door. He looks at Dean as Dean starts the engine. “And we are bringing that old guy a Ruben, I swear.”

“And fries,” says Sam. He thinks about how old people have special, bland diets long after it makes any difference whatsoever. He smiles at Dean. “Can we get some beer to go?”

*

The Bucket serves the most amazing Rubens, as promised; the pastrami and sauerkraut are a dynamic mixture in Sam’s mouth. The fries, as well, are good and greasy, and while The Bucket doesn’t serve beer, the cokes are icy and sparkle with just the right amount of bite.

“Holy crap,” says Dean around an overly large mouthful. “These are sure the hell worth driving through Texas for.”

Sam wants to agree but his mouth is full, and unlike his brother, he knows better than to try and talk through chewing. But he nods through chewing anyway, because it seems that the day, and Dean’s mood, is going to get better, and a salt and burn is always a nice gig to have when the weather is cool like it is. Sam knows they’ll have to wait for nightfall to do it, but that’s okay. Maybe they can come back to The Bucket for dinner, because the food is so good he can concentrate on his meal rather than Dean, so that’s good, too.

Because it’s a damn fine meal, and the restaurant is local and not a chain, Dean flips out a twenty instead of a credit card when the waitress comes by with the bill.

“Could we get a Ruben and some fries to go?” Dean asks.

“Sure,” says the waitress.

They soon finish eating, with both of them chomping down on every last French fry within reaching distance. Sam even goes as far as to lick his finger and swipe it along the edge of his plate, where several slightly charred salty bits linger.

When the waitress comes back with their change, she’s got a plastic to-go bag with a knot tied in the top. As she puts the bag and their change on the table, she looks at them with more attention than she had before and stands there for a minute with her hands on her hips.

Sam wonders if there was something wrong with the twenty Dean’d given her and gauges the distance between their table and the door. He tries to get Dean’s attention, but Dean is admiring the waitress’s nametag. Or maybe it’s her boobs. Either way, Sam makes himself act like he doesn’t care. Because he doesn’t. Dean can sleep with whomever he pleases, flirty eyelashes and all.

“So,” she says, “you guys didn’t get enough to eat?”

“No, Malinda,” says Dean, giving her his best I like what I see look. “We had plenty and it was terrific.”

Malinda waves her hand at the to-go bag, and Sam figures that small town waitresses are more involved in what they bring from the kitchen; a big city waitress wouldn’t have batted an eye.

“It’s for our friend, Edgar,” Dean explains. “He said he had a hankering for one of Betty’s Rubens, so we thought we’d bring him some.”

“And fries,” adds Sam for good measure, though he wants to kick Dean under the table for attempting such a terrible Texas twang.

“Edgar Norton?” she asks.

“Uh-huh,” says Dean, his voice dipping like he’s letting her in on a secret.

“Hang on,” says Melinda, suddenly. She turns to the back of the restaurant and calls out, “Betty, something here for you.”

Betty comes out. She’s got flour on her apron, and a bit in her curly hair that’s held back with a wide band. Or maybe her hair is grey, Sam doesn’t know. Her waist is round and her face is too, and Sam wagers that she enjoys her own cooking, not that he can blame her.

“What’s up?” Betty asks. Maybe she thinks they are going to complain, because her eyes are somber, and her mouth stays in a serious line.

“Theses boys are taking a Ruben and fries to Edgar,” says Malinda.

“He was friends with our Dad,” says Sam, not wanting Betty to ask why two rough-looking fellows who are obviously not from around these parts are hanging with a feeble old man who keeps his fat, slick wallet on his bookshelf. Dean is giving him a what the hell look, so Sam hurries to finish his story so Dean will understand what the punch line is. “Because our grandpa worked on the new bridge with Harold. Isn’t that the connection, Dean?” Sam looks at Dean with his eyebrows raised.

“You know how grandpa used to rattle on,” says Dean, all smooth smiles. “I never could keep it straight.” Dean shakes his head for good measure as if bemused at the verbose nature of the aged.

“Oh,” says Betty. She smiles, the laugh lines beside her eyes crinkle when she does this. “Well then,” she says, nodding. “Where’s the bill for that, Malinda?”

Malinda pulls the slip of paper from her apron pocket and hands it over. Betty rips it into pieces and crumples it in her hand. “Go get a slice of that cherry pie I made today, Malinda, okay?”

Malinda trots off to get the pie, and Sam looks up at Betty.

“Don’t tell him it’s on the house, or he’ll freak,” she says. “I let it slip, visiting him. He used to love my Rubens, and why shouldn’t he have what he wants? Tell him I said hello and that I’ll be by.”

Dean nods and Sam smiles, thinking that it’s nice to run into nice people for a change.


(The Bucket)


Malinda returns with a Styrofoam box that she slips between the knots on the to-go bag and Dean gets up, which is his signal to Sam that they need to move the hell on before Betty is going to start asking more questions that even Sam’s storytelling ability won’t be able to keep up with.

“You boys have a nice visit, you hear?” Betty puts her hands in her apron pockets and smiles at them.

They walk out of The Bucket. Sam is almost purring as he gets into the passenger side of the car. Something good has been set in motion here.

Dean drives straight to Edgar’s, and Sam carries the knotted bag in his fist. The wind has kicked up at bit, and Sam hopes the food is still warm.

Edgar opens the door, but doesn’t seem surprised to see them.

“Betty called,” he says, smiling.

“I’m sorry about the lack of beer, Mr. Norton,” says Dean. He shoves Sam in Edgar’s direction. The cat is nowhere to be seen.

Edgar’s eyes light up as he takes in the to-go box and puts it on the side table to open.

“One of Betty’s special sandwiches,” says Edgar. He takes a fry and puts the whole thing in his mouth, smiling. His teeth click as he chews and peeks into the other box.  “And cherry pie, too, my my.”

The food is obviously illicit. Sam raises his eyebrows at Dean, and gets the answering smile. “She’ll be by to see you, she says,” Dean tells him. “Don’t let that cat steal your fries, okay?”

Edgar’s mouth is full when they turn to go, but he motions at them to wait. They do, and he finishes his mouthful and wipes his hands on a paper napkin. The cat appears, leaping up to sniff at the food.

“I have a map,” says Edgar. “I realized you boys might get confused on account of all the bridges, so I drew it for you. Near as I can remember anyway.”

“Drew what?” asks Dean.

“Where the body is buried,” says Edgar. He hands them a piece of paper, and Sam, keeper of the maps, takes it.

The lines are wobbly and the handwriting overly large, but the issue is now clear. There are, apparently, three bridges that cross the river, so Edger’s saying that the body was buried on “this side of the bridge,” would have been more confusing than helpful. Sam had figured they’d just poke around a bit, till the EMF got them where they needed to be. But it would have taken a while, which wouldn’t have been fun in the cold air by the river. Edgar is sharp enough to realize that the multiple bridges might be confusing to two boys from out of town, obviously, hence the map. 

“This is perfect, Mr. Norton,” he says, smiling at Edgar.

The nice little moment that Sam sees so few of is broken when Dean tugs on his jacket and drags Sam to the door.

“Take care, Mr. Norton,” says Sam. Dean opens the door as Edgar waves at them, and just before the door closes, Sam can see that the old man is petting his cat and reaching for more French fries.

“What do you think,” says Dean. For a second, Sam thinks Dean is going to make a comment about Edgar and his cat, or maybe the way his eyes are on Sam, he’s going to take up the mock-flirting again. But then he only asks, “Is The Bucket open for dinner?”

*

Dean drives them back to the motel. It is a short drive, but then, it’s a small town. One that Sam is starting to feel overly familiar with.

At the motel, as Dean unlocks the door to their room, he shrugs off his leather jacket and flings it on the bed. 

“What time is sunset?” he asks.

Sam wants to make the retort that Dean can look it up as easily as Sam can, but it doesn’t feel worth the effort to be so pissy.

“Around six,” he says.

He watches Dean lay his body on the bed, sneakers and all, stretching his muscles to loosen them and suddenly Sam doesn’t want to be in the same room with him.

“I think I’ll check out the River Valley Pioneer Museum,” he says. He pats his back pocket to check for his wallet.

“Oh, so you can’t go have fun at a bar because you’re too tired, but you sure can manage the energy to go to some crap museum in the middle of nowhere.” Dean doesn’t even open his eyes to give any weight to his remark, but Sam can feel the sting just the same.

“I’ll be back in an hour or so,” he says.

Dean makes a rough sound in the back of his throat that sounds like a snort.

Fuck you too, Dean.


Sam opens the door to walk out, and without glancing back, shuts the door behind him with a hard snap. He wants to ignore the simmering heat behind his eyes, and why does Dean get to decide what’s fun and what isn’t?

His strides across the street to the museum are long and purposeful, not just to keep himself warm, but to let anyone who might be watching from a motel room window know that he, Sam, means to be going where he’s going. To a museum to get some culture, damnit.

But when he gets to the yellow paneled doors, and tries to open them, the handle jerks in his hand. The door is locked, and too late he realizes that the tiny parking lot is empty and that there is simply no activity anywhere around or near the museum.


(River Valley Pioneer Museum)



Sam tugs on the door again, and then sees the laminated sign taped to the door. He feels his body sag. He was so ready to look at old saddles and wagon wheels, at pioneer clothes, even, or maybe some rusty oil well capping gear. A dusty fossil of mastodon teeth. Maybe even two. Anything. In fact, he is desperate. He tugs on the door hard, like he means to yank it open with pure force of will.

The door remains stubbornly locked.

What’s he supposed to do, spend the afternoon watching Dean nap? Or worse, napping with Dean? His mind races him through the idea of napping with Dean in the same bed, his face in Dean’s neck, warm breath, maybe a sweet kiss or two—But the wind is sharp and there is no where else for him to go, so he swallows and releases the door handle. He shuffles back to the motel room, his head hanging.

When he opens the door, the room is dark, and the TV is turned on low. Dean might have been asleep, but he sits right up, bracing himself on his elbows. Sam can see his face clearly in the light from the open doorway.

“What happened?” asks Dean. “Museum off limits to losers?”

“Knock it off, Dean,” says Sam. He sits on the edge of the other bed, slumping, and stares at the shadows his feet make on the floor. “The museum is closed for renovations for the next four days.”

Dean is silent for a moment and Sam images that Dean is thinking of some scathing remark mean to cut Sam into to proper bar-appreciating, loser-sized pieces. Sam braces himself.

“Well,” says Dean. He sits up and puts his feet on the floor. He turns on the light. “There is something else in town you might like.”

Sam stiffens further. If the something he “might like” is more of what Dean handed out in Mammoth Spring, then Sam is not interested. That is, his brain insists that he is not; his body, on the other hand, starts humming inside his skin. Yes, we want that.

Now Dean gets up and claps his hand on Sam’s shoulder. Sam can see him grab his leather jacket and the keys from the nightstand between the beds. Sam follows with his eyes as Dean walks to the door.

When Dean gets to the door, he appears to only then notice that Sam isn’t following him. He looks at Sam and his eyes are laughing. But in a nice way, that Sam hasn’t seen for days.

“You look like you got kicked in the mouth, hard,” says Dean. Then he gestures with his hand. “Come on, sourpuss, I knowing something that might make the brain cells under all that floppy hair very happy.”

“What is it?” Sam asks. He has no idea what Dean intends other than the fact that since they are leaving the room, it obviously doesn’t involve another helping hand job. Though, knowing Dean, it just might involve hookers. Which Sam is sure Dean could find, even in a town as small as Canadian.

“Trust me,” says Dean, and it is the look on his face, pure big brother affection, that tells Sam that getting up and following Dean will be okay.

*

A short drive across town to 5th street brings them to a large red brick building with white columns. It is easily the biggest building around, and the gardens around it take up the entire block.

“What is this?” Sam asks as they get out and go up the walkway that is paved with artistically placed flagstones. The air from the bright yellow flowers smells sweet.

“It’s The Citadelle,” says Dean. Which tells Sam exactly nothing.


(Gardens at The Citadelle)


Dean leads the way up the steps into a little building that is separate from the main building, which it turns out to be a shop so frou-frou in nature that it is normally the kind Dean avoids at all costs. Even when Dean pulls out his wallet to hand over a twenty to the pretty shop girl, Sam still doesn’t get it.

“Dean,” he says, his voice rising in irritation.

“Come this way,” says the shop girl, while Dean says, at the same time, “Hang on, you’ll see.”

The shop girl leads the way around the garden, along another flagstone path that cuts through the tidy lawn. There are marble statues and glossy ivy plants that wind their way across white painted trellises, and tiled fountains and sundials, and Sam stares hard at everything, as if that will help him figure it out.

When they enter the door of the main building, they stop in a little alcove, and the shop girl hands them each a pair of thin white cotton gloves and something that looks like a little telephone.

“Just enter the number beside each piece of art, and you can listen to Mrs. Abrahams tell the story about it.”

Then she leaves them standing it what looks like the entry way to someone’s kitchen.

“Mrs. Who?” asks Sam. “Are we in someone’s house?”

Dean shrugs his shoulders and puts his gloves on. “I don’t know, Sammy, but let’s find out.”

Sam steps around the corner, with the phone halfway to his ear out of reflex. He glances at the large, empty and very clean kitchen, still getting the vague, uncomfortable feeling that he’s invading someone’s privacy. Then he sees the huge, wall to wall carpet, which is an ugly combination of pale cream background with a riotous circle of bright green leaves and yellow and red flowers woven into it.

The carpet is hideous to begin with, but what makes it even more horrible to look at is the fact that above it, hanging from what looks like a balcony from the upper floor, is a set of pointed wooden panels that gleam with gold leaf and lapis lazuli paint. There is a number 17 listed on a placard next to the panels, and as Sam enters the number into his phone, he discovers that he is right. The southern voice tells him it is a set of panels from the altar of an Italian church, dating to the 15th century. The contrast between the carpet and the graceful panels is jarring.

He drops the phone from his ear and looks around the room, which looks big enough to land a plane in. Everywhere he looks, he sees art, in the painting of painting of bishops playing musical instruments, to sixteen foot high gold-gilded mirrors, to the dresser made of wood that shines so brightly that Sam wants to touch it. And then there is Dean, who is smirking at him.


(Plein Chante by Jules Monge)


“What the hell is this place?” he asks.

“Don’t know, really,” says Dean. “But the website said it was an incredible collection of art, so here we are.”

Sam can see that other rooms lead off from the main one. There are at least two sets of stairs, and it’s obvious that there’s more art, and more placards, all stretching out as far as the eye can see.

“Incredible is not the word,” Sam says, and he realizes he’s almost whispering, maybe out of awe or maybe it’s shock that such a place exists in the panhandle of Texas, let alone that Dean would bring him here. And not only that, but that Dean would come in with him. Sam can’t figure out when Dean would have been able to look anything like this up on the internet.

“Why did you bring me here?” he asks, and then before Dean can answer he adds, “And why are you in here and not out waiting in the car or something, taking a nap?”

Dean scratches the back of his neck, and never mind the gloves, apparently. “Well,” he says, “I figure if I did this for you, maybe you would come to a bar with me sometime. And enjoy yourself, the way you should.”

Sam doesn’t know what to say. There is a resigned determination in Dean’s eyes, along with a sweet flush at getting caught being so nice. Yes, fair is fair, he should be more willing to go to bars with Dean. And normally he is, and Dean should know this. Dean probably does know this, but after last night, and the night before that, and the night before that

The fact that Dean is trying to make things more normal between them, in his own way, makes Sam’s stomach dip. Maybe Dean’s not making the connection between the fact that bars serve alcohol and a little too much alcohol is what made it so easy for Dean to crawl into bed behind his brother one night not too many nights ago.

But the look on Dean’s face is hopeful, and he’s sucking his lower lip between his teeth as if he’s worried that maybe suddenly, and inexplicably, Sam doesn’t like art any more. And that Dean’s plan to cheer Sam the hell up has failed.

It’s up to Sam to make it okay, because if Dean’s trying, then he has to try, too.

“It’s a deal.” Sam smiles and rubs his begloved thumb across the numbers on the handset, which still looks like a portable phone. “Now let’s look at some art, and try and keep up, okay?”


~

Part 6 - The Salt and Burn
Master Fic Post

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