(The Mysterious Voyage of the Winchester Brothers)
Spoilers: S2, Set after Playthings
Warnings: Violence, Sexual Content, Language
Word Count: 32,500
Summary and Story Notes can be found back in part one
part one can be found here
Part Two: Some Dude Called Máximo Gómez and Other Unusual Suspects
Home of Félix and Carmen Guerra, Miami, Florida
It had been too damn easy, sauntering into the foster-parent’s home (Dean isn’t too clear on the details, apparently the girl’s in the process of being adopted by distant in-laws or something), all it takes is a flash of a badge and they’re golden. Trouble is that it’s the rest of it that ain’t so easy, because the survivor of the first set of murders is pretty much clamming up, not surprising, considering she’s all of thirteen years old and has seen shit that no kid has a right to see.
She’s got a real name but Dean’ll call her Straw Hair Girl until she stops flinching every time she as much as glances in Dean’s general direction. She’d been cool when they’d first taken a seat in the dining room, an impromptu and unfortunate investigation room, but the moment she’d locked onto his face, she’d just shut down, refusing to even say hell back to him.
He raises an eyebrow at Sam, not expecting anything more that Sam’s quick flash of exasperation for Dean being so unsympathetic.
“It’s been a trying time,” the social worker offers to Dean and Sam, eager to suck up to actual federal agents. Whispering to Dean, her eyes nearly crinkling with excitement, “You think it’s a serial killer? Any leads?”
God, the people the government hires. They’re all whacked out of their skulls.
“It’s a shame about her family,” Dean says, letting an undercurrent of watch your fucking mouth fly loose.
And for once a person actually takes the goddamn hint from Dean.
Sam’s taking his usual role as the giant oversized puppy to the max, using soothing words and apologizing for having to speak to her at such a difficult time. “But you don’t have to worry. Just tell us what you saw. That’s it.”
“She doesn’t have to worry because she’s given five interviews to the news about this already,” the social worker, Marissa, informs them. “Right, honey?”
Straw Hair nods once. Dean realizes she’s trying to peer at him out of the corner of her sight but she’s failing badly at being subtle about it. What the hell is going on?
“Agent Sol,” Dean says, dropping the o before Marissa recognizes that they’re F.B.I. agents named after one Mr. Harrison Ford. She’d taken a quick look at their badges but probably didn’t make out the names since there’s already been so many freakin’ people making it a point to interview the poor kid. Dean could have walked in, saying, Call me, Elvis and she’d still be fawning over them, a big case like this, with tons of media attention? Yeah, people just love the goddamn spotlight.
Dean repeats Sam’s fake identity again, this time getting Sam’s attention. “You think it would be better for me to leave?”
Sam spares him a quick look before he returns all his focus on Straw Hair. “No, Agent Ryan, I think you can stay. Maybe Elena has something to say to you.”
Nervous eyes, the color’s more like a tree trunk slicked with rainwater, a kind of wet brown that’s unsettling, flick back and forth between Sam and Dean. She shakes her head, a sullen no.
There’s gentle prodding and then there’s this, a futile attempt at getting answers. No conversation is needed between Sam and Dean to end the interview. They close it out with the social worker oozing how she’s so sorry and she’s sure that tonight’s piece on Sixty Minutes will be good.
“Elena spoke for a whole thirty minutes about what happened,” she says with disgusting enthusiasm, like this is such a cool thing to happen, a little excitement spicing up her life.
“Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be groundbreaking,” Dean says.
Sam caps it off with a beautiful comment, something that damn near makes Dean punch a fist in the air for victory, “Another fine day for journalism.” Some folks think they can nail sarcasm but damn, Sammy owns it when he puts his mind to it.
‘Course Marissa doesn’t get the hint and they leave with more questions than when they’d walked into the house.
“I’m thinking we need to check out what Marcos Flores has to say.” Dean puts the key in the ignition, grunting when the car’s fans push out warm air instead of the expected cool. Another thing to put on his to-do list and with their luck, they’ll wind up working the next job someplace cold and the heater will go on the fritz. He pats the dash of his car, comforting her, as though she can read his mind. Hey, stranger things have happened and Dean’s seen most of ‘em.
“We already have a ‘tentative appointment,’” Sam says, careful quotation marks surrounding the words. “His assistant’s been fielding most calls and said he’d have time in the late afternoon to meet with us.”
“Which ‘us’ are we gonna be?”
Sam looks sideways at Dean. “Not FBI.”
Flores-Norwood Home, Miami Beach, Florida
Marcos Flores turns out to be a whirlwind of personality. Despite the familiar haunted look of bereavement in his eyes, he doesn’t let that deter him from admiring Dean’s car, inquiring about so many parts that Sam’s sure he’s just making them up. That is until Sam looks to Dean for confirmation and shockingly sees the kind of glimmer in Dean’s eyes when a girl is commenting on the Impala.
The car doesn’t even look that impressive in the afternoon, the sunlight slowly starting to lower as the time’s almost winding down on that period called dusk. But despite Sam’s lack of enthusiasm about the shop talk, Marcos has plenty to say on the history of Chevrolet, the beauty of Impalas from the sixties to the early seventies, actually arguing about which year was Chevy’s finest.
Sam had expected Marcos to look older, but plastic surgery is almost a hobby to the wealthy residents of Miami, so that really shouldn’t surprise him all that much. He invites them into his home with a flourish, apologizing for his bad manners, politely saying how he’s never been a collector of cars, trying to be environmentally conscious, don’t you know, but there’s nothing finer than a big car lovingly crafted out of Detroit steel.
“Though we have a BMW,” Marcos confesses, waving in the direction of the discreet three car garage. He smiles his wrinkle-free face at Sam and Dean, and says, “So Agents Barett and Cochran, or can I just call you Sydney and Eddie?”
“I’m fine with Eddie,” Dean says, happy to wipe his boots on the mat when Marcos pointedly waves a hand at the Bienvenido braided rug set before the threshold of the house. “You can call Agent Barett here Syd.”
“How…punk of you,” Marcos tells Sam after a very long and puzzled pause. He has to crane his head up just to look in the general vicinity of Sam’s face. Marcos is easily a foot shorter, though he’s built solid, which strangely works with his easy conversational nature. It’s like the weight of him makes his natural chattiness seem less affected as though he really is interested in speaking with you. Must serve him well for all the charity work he does.
It’s strange to be in this house and be hit quite suddenly with the wealth of this man. While it had been implied from outside – the traditional Floridian style of stucco and clean Mediterranean lines – there’s a subtle modesty outside that is completely absent indoors. It’s a cushy home, with its wide open rooms, scrupulously cleaned so that it looked more like a modern museum than anything else.
Considering that Googling about Marcos and the deceased Henry had led to tons of hits on society gossip pages, it isn’t all that shocking that this is the house of a pair of movers and shakers, but it’s still something else to be so visibly confronted by signs of real wealth. Marcos might be a Cuban civil rights leader but he knew how to work an image, how money buys respect. Sam had seen the children of those kind of people at Stanford, the wealthy elites, always so entitled, but Marcos works it like any good businessman-slash-champion for societal causes.
According to Sam’s research, Marcos keeps himself on the guest lists to the big parties and specializes in throwing charity events which dazzle people into believing his spin and accidentally doing the right thing. It’s another form of lying and one that Sam could almost respect. That is, if he can get at least some of the truth out of him for their line of work.
“So, I have two agents from the Fish and Wildlife Services in my home to assure me that an angry shark killed Henry.” Marcos makes a quiet kind of tssking noise, as though he doesn’t buy their cover, but he shrugs. “The cost of bureaucracy: all these agencies and no one who has any answers. Or have the manatees evolved into killers?”
Dean politely laughs at that, happy to take a seat in the living room (or entertaining room, or whatever the space was called), with its huge modern couches and chairs that looked vaguely impossible to actually use as seats. Sam gingerly sits down next to Dean, warily noting that Marcos is still taking in the state of their suits, probably scrutinizing every detail.
Marcos is gentleman enough not to let it slip what his final estimations of Sam and Dean are, instead he sits down across from them, flashing a measured smile. He pops up just as soon as he looks comfortable, saying, “I didn’t offer any drinks, I apologize. Did you want anything?”
“Coffee would be great,” Dean enthuses, wisely ignoring Sam’s glare.
“I make an excellent café con leche,” Marcos says. And there’s sincerity enough in that to mean that he actually does make it as opposed to having a live-in cook prepare it. A tremble of a frown passes his face before he smoothes it again. Ah, so it’s a game face. “Care for the same or something else, Syd?”
“Coffee, uh, café, would be great,” Sam says. With Marcos out of the room, Sam has ample time to strangle Dean. But this type of place is probably hooked up with security cameras. “Dean, we need to get information here about Henry Norwood, not about cars.”
“Yeah, you’re always right. What we need is information about an angry manatee, hey, they’re the mermaids of the sea, aren’t they? Mermaids are close enough to Sirens anyways,” Dean says, his eyes alit with mockery. “Maybe your whacked-out theory is right.”
“We barely have anything else to go on right now.”
Dean rolls his eyes. “Damn straight.” Picking up the pillow crammed up against his left side, Dean asks him, “And what the hell is this stuff on these pillows?”
“Ah, I’m afraid that these pillows are for decoration only,” Marcos says, entering with a rattan tray of colorful mugs. He sets it on the coffee table with an ease of a person well accustomed to giving many house parties but the celebration of the ritual has been drained out of it, justifiably so, considering the circumstances.
Pointing to the wooden rings linked in three uneven rows down the front of the pillow, he explains, “Something our interior designer convinced us to purchase. I never much cared for it, but, uh, Henry loved it. Loved. I shouldn’t be saying that.”
He hands a mug to Sam first, along with a real linen napkin, then to Dean. His own coffee, he lets stand, as though he’d just brought the three because that’s what he’s supposed to do.
“It’s perfectly understandable, Mr. Flores.”
“If I have the pleasure of calling you two by your first names, then I would insist you call me Marcos,” he gently corrects. “The only person I know of as Mr. Flores is my father and he’s been dead for twenty years.”
“Marcos,” Sam says, keeping his tone as sincere as possible while Dean is happily drinking the coffee, making an approving sound in his throat in between sips, “I know this is a difficult time, but our office has disagreed with the Coast Guard regarding the attack of Mr. Henry Norwood. The police reports indicate that you did not agree that this was an animal attack or an unfortunate drowning. With the past accidents, we just want to make sure that every avenue has been examined.”
Sam’s about to get into the rest of Fish and Wildlife spiel, everything he could glean from a crash course in the history of the Department, but Dean beats him to the punch.
“We don’t think it was a shark but maybe another kind of species.”
There’s a quick tell, a worried look that Marcos smothers with a disbelieving laugh, “Some kind of new violent fish?”
“The attack was unusual. We’re trying to confirm behavioral patterns of the possible animal involved, because we do think that there’s more than just a theory that these attacks are related to a new vicious species.”
It’s the enthusiasm when it comes down to it, that’s how Sam makes these lies work. Slipping on the persona of a person who, when ticking off career choices in the guidance counselor’s office, decided that they wanted to work their way up the civil service ladder. A person who seriously thought that by watching after the local fish and wildlife population, squelching around in muddy places to check after these animals, they’d be doing something good, something honorable, for their country.
Sam watches Marcos’s face carefully, but all he sees there is a weary composure, and perhaps, a little bit of guarded hope, a tension line around the left eye that might one day work itself into a wrinkle. That’s not what he expected to happen when he offered up the animal attack theory. Going in for the rest of the lie, “This hasn’t been officially stated—”
“And we’re not officially saying anything either,” Dean supplies, figuring out where Sam’s going. He offers an easygoing smile, but this is not a game of good cop, bad cop, this is an entirely different kind of game.
“But there have also been some carcasses of some big game fish and a few sharks that have been discovered,” Sam says, the shape of the lie comfortable in his mouth. “These remains aren’t as well preserved, as you can imagine, but they do have enough similar details that our agency must assume that these are all related, that Mr. Norwood’s death was indeed the result of an animal attack unless proven otherwise.”
Scratching at the edge of his right jaw, Marcos closes his eyes. The years that weren’t evident on his face beforehand come back with a vengeance, his skin almost taking on a grey pallor. “That would be better than the alternative.”
Sam pauses and Dean jumps in with the question.
“Which is what?”
Marcos looks sharply at Dean, in a hard stare that shouldn’t be possible. All those years that have been surgically masked bleed through and while he doesn’t look frail, he does look pained, the kind of pain that’s too raw, a cumbersome thing that has unsettled the natural balances – that unfortunate medium between joy and sorrow.
“Suicide.” Marcos disrupts his hair’s carefully tousled shape; silvery strands now visible in the dark brown at the very top of his head. His voice has gone tight, the precise voice of someone who has refused to accept this though he has dreaded it all along, “He went out in the middle of the night on a boat that we didn’t have the heart to sell or toss out. We’ve been together for sixteen years and that stupid boat… it was something that we had when we could barely afford a condo on the waterfront. A souvenir, that’s all it was, something we couldn’t lose. Like it was a damn love letter or a keepsake, not something better left to rot away in a boatyard.”
He sets down his mug, eyes darting between Sam and Dean, but he’s not looking at them at all, his mind too occupied with the past. “You know, for all that I’ve always had something to say, this is the first time that words don’t help. I can tell you that Henry was never spontaneous, I mean, I loved him for it, but he needed to have things just so. Every other week he’d treat himself to one of those shaves with a straight razor at the barbershop in Little Havana. Nene’s Barber Shop. So old-fashioned, but he insisted that it was a tradition and he’d never give up on traditions. Every little thing, you see it all. Sixteen years. Why couldn’t I see this?”
Sam gets up from the ridiculous couch, kneeling down beside Marcos so that he can look him in his eyes, “Had Henry gone out fishing or boating before that night? Did he seem distracted?”
A bitter laugh, the kind that could strip a spring flower of its early petals, comes out of Marcos’s mouth before he tamps his lips together fiercely, swallowing back something just as bitter. “A day without distraction was a day wasted. That’s what he always said. I’ve already told the police that he hadn’t been sleeping well, he was never a sound sleeper, but he’d started to call out a name in his sleep.”
“What name?” Sam can tell that Dean’s perched on the edge of his seat, recognizing this familiar moment. A break in the case.
Marcos hesitates for a minute, the room going so quiet that the tick of the modern grandfather-style clock in the foyer can be heard ticking, hands going round and round.
“Yemaya.” There’s a strange tremble of Marcos’s lip when he says it, like it’s something that embarrasses him. It’s a lie but it’s a reckless one, there’s a look of defeat too, one that Marcos tries like hell to cover up but it’s futile. “Or maybe it was Y Maya. But that doesn’t make any sense. Henry would never go to that type of place.”
“What sort of place?”
Sharp eyes flick between Dean and Sam, before Marcos addresses the air, his eyes half-lidded, “Flores Y Maya Botánica. Everyone calls it Y Maya, if they call it anything. It’s my mother’s business. She’s been running it since my father passed away. I doubt that helps you, Agents.”
“Oh, you never know,” Dean says lightly. He taps the side of the mug, “This was great.”
“Family recipe,” Marcos says, his pride subdued, but his well-mannered hosting skills bleed through. Continuing, he says, “The police didn’t care about what Henry said, only that he’d shown signs of...you know. Obvious distress.”
“We like to be thorough,” Sam offers. Putting a hand on Marcos’s shoulder, Sam says, “I hope we can discover what’s responsible for this.”
Marcos offers the first real smile, probably the one that’s made him the civil rights heavyweight he’s known to be, saying quite sincerely, “I have no doubt that someone will discover what happened to my Henry.”
As Sam and Dean leave, the night well on its way, Sam’s the one who speaks first as they walk across the courtyard to the car, “He lied about what Henry was saying in his sleep.”
“Well, he’s into politics, ain’t he?” Dean’s already tugging off his tie, if they don’t get in the car soon enough he’ll start taking off his jacket and start rolling up his sleeves. “Nice guy and he’s still grieving, but he’s gonna lie his ass off, even if we’d’ve asked him what’s his favorite color.”
Sam pauses just before he opens the car door, looking across the hood at Dean, wanting Dean to realize that there’s something off about how easily Marcos gave up the information about that botánica. “You know, some Cubans practice Santeria.”
Dean rolls his eyes. “Of course. Occult practices in Florida.” Dean bites his tongue on the rest of the vitriol he’d like to say about Florida, probably saving it when they uncover the rest of what’s going on, because Sam’s sure it’ll warrant plenty of understandable abuse.
Because if someone’s invoking a monster to kill off specific people, they’ve got their work cut out for them.
The Breakers Resort, Miami Beach, Florida
Two Days Ago
"Cheryl Hernández." No, she still can't get her mouth around it, the twist of her mouth necessary, swallowing out the Ramirez that used to follow her first name. She'd toyed with Cheryl Ramirez-Hernández a week after the engagement but it never worked properly, so she happily took up the new surname and filled all the paperwork to end the story of Cheryl Ramirez: she was married, the end. The five wasted years of Cheryl Ramirez-Castro, a hyphen destined to fail (not to mention a surname that always caused a double-take), can be ignored.
It's just new, that's what it is. That’s why this name doesn't fit her.
Rob is a wonderful man and she's sure that second time's the charm. A year long engagement, lavish wedding at the Oheka Castle on Long Island and a three-week long honeymoon in the Bahamas, and ending the trip in Rob's hometown, Miami. Which, honestly she doesn't mind it too much even though Rob's family never managed to leave their woes in Cuba.
Rob's mother, in particular, has been quite vocal of her distain of Rob marrying a Cuban woman who barely speaks their language and had been divorced. Of all the things to find fault in, that seemed to be the biggest scandal. That small-mindedness is almost charming but Cheryl wouldn't dare say such a thing to Rob, not here, where he's Roberto and he speaks rapid-fire Spanish to all his relatives, a huge family that was once far larger. Some of his uncles and aunts and their children couldn't afford to leave Cuba after the revolution, they’re still stuck there, waiting. Waiting for another revolution apparently.
Cheryl doesn't have quite that story, that history that mixes the bitterness with the sweet nostalgia. Both her mother and her father have a couple of generations over the Hernández family in American citizenship.
Yet when she tries to reconcile the two Robs she now has seen, she cannot understand why he’s so different. There’s the Rob of Manhattan, the slightly atypical Wall Street analyst who prefers to spend a Saturday relaxing at the Cloisters with her by his side and a Sunday spent doing the crossword puzzle stretched out on a blanket at Sheep Meadow in Central Park.
This new Rob, the Rob of Miami, is a different breed, but so very similar. He’s still her husband, the one who insisted they get the oceanfront suite at the Breakers but he’s also a stranger, begging off all her desires to go to the latest hot spots of Miami Beach so he can spend more time visiting friends and family living in Little Havana. Still living in Little Havana, not even spreading out to one of the nicer suburbs, those are the kind of people he grew up with, stuck in the past, a past she doesn’t believe in.
I never need to come to Miami again, she thinks, taking off her wedding band and engagement ring, moving them around on her other fingers, the feel of them still too new. The hotel's beautiful and Miami Beach is a lovely expanse of sand, all golden-white and dazzling even at night.
Almost makes a day spent out in the sun worth it although she hasn’t tested the waters. She really should sign up at the exclusive club that has an indoor pool. Swimming would be a good addition to the rest of her fitness regime during the worst part of a New York City summer.
“Thinking of taking a dip?” Rob asks, announcing his presence in the sitting room as he does regardless of the situation: always managing to touch on her thoughts. She smiles, tilting her head to receive his kiss. His mouth is rum-soaked, too much for her liking but she keeps an even face when he breaks away.
“Who needed to see Roberto?”
A flicker of a frown touches his lips. Cheryl notices the familiar scrunch of his brows that ages him more than his thirty-three years – it’s something he does when he has too many things occupying his mind. Rob scratches the back of his neck. His hair doesn’t move as he had it buzzed short at a barbershop. A friend of the family, he had explained when she touched the new texture, rougher and slightly springy, he used to cut my hair when I was a kid.
“Do you need a fight, Cheryl?” He says this in his infinitely patient voice, the one that he uses when he’s drunk and too tired to make up excuses, waiting for her to say something that will lead her back in a full circle: apologizing for picking a fight on their honeymoon.
“No.” She tries for another entry, one that works on any Cuban boy raised right: guilt. “You haven’t taken me to the beach once since we’ve been here. My first time to Miami, baby.”
Cheryl steps in close to him, on tiptoes, the round curve of her slight belly pressing into Rob’s groin. Keeping her eyes half-lidded so he won’t see the gleam of triumph, he may be drunk, but he’s aware enough that he’s stirring in response. This is the very best part of a honeymoon: getting your way with sex negotiations.
His hands wander down her back but he pauses just above the curve of her ass, mind still too busy for her liking. “Really? You’d be willing to go now?”
“Now?” She laughs at that. “Honey, it’s past midnight.”
He sweeps her up in a kiss so different from all the kisses they’ve experienced since that first one, at a crowded bar in the West Village, their second date. It’s Roberto’s kiss, she realizes when he breaks away, his breath hot on her face. “Cheryl-baby, let’s go swimming.”
Before she can protest, exclaiming that the only swimming she ever bothers with is relaxing in a large hot tub, going from one end to other, Rob dashes off to the bedroom. She watches him paw through his suitcase as she leans against the doorjamb, now setting her rings on her pinky fingers, keeping them from falling off by clutching her hands closed.
Waving his swim trunks at her, like he’s signaling her to move from her stock-still position, Rob says, “Come on, baby, we vámonos.”
She can’t help laugh despite the tension knotted in her stomach. She’d said that once, impatient to get to the Lincoln Center on time, and he’d thought it was hilarious; his white bread little mamacita didn’t know the right way to tell him to hurry.
“My bathing suits are being laundered.” She settles her rings back to the proper place, adjusting them until the diamonds align properly. “I won’t have them until tomorrow morning.”
He kisses away her smirk. “Don’t need it, baby.”
Giggling like she’s the one who’s romanced a bottle of rum, Cheryl grabs Rob’s trunks. “If I’m not wearing anything, then you’re not.”
He chases her, out of their hotel room, in the corridor, catching her just as she gets to the elevator, kissing her until she has to break away if only to catch her breath. For all that they’ve done, they’ve not had sex in an elevator and unfortunately it moves too fast for them to even get to a point where they’re close to behaving inappropriately. Their touching is almost decent. They are newlyweds after all, the boundaries are a little bit wider and they’re still fully clothed by the time the elevator doors open up to the lobby.
There’s no way she’s ruining her Ferragamos by getting sand all over them, so she deposits them behind a potted palm tree, a discreet hiding place, but a temporary one at best.
Rob is happy to carry her, joking how this is another tradition of marriage, the first time the husband carries his lazy wife to the beach until she can stick her tender feet in the sand. He lets her down with a flourish, another lazy rum-soaked kiss to let her know it’s a joke, telling her to wiggle her toes. It’s not as cool as she expected it to be at this time of night.
Rob balls his button-down in his hands, throwing his shirt in the sand – gauntlets have been thrown with less force. Strips off his belt and lets it drop like it’s a broken seashell, far more deserving to get lost in the sand to be uncovered by enterprising children designing their makeshift sandcastles.
It’s not just any belt; it’s the custom alligator belt she bought for Rob’s thirty-second birthday. A replacement, that’s what it is, for the worn and nearly disintegrating old belt that Rob had kept, precious memento of his grandfather. When the tarnished belt buckle had finally ripped into the old skin, she’d spent hours making sure that the belt-maker could make an exact replica. Rob had said then, amazed, that he’d loved it, loved her and they were engaged in less than three weeks.
Every detail’s perfect, even the weird little grooves on the inside of the belt, ones that neither she nor the restorer could figure out.
The hurt hits her where she’s buried her insecurity, a deep place where she rarely treads, preferring the happier future that she’s been so sure of just hours ago. Before Miami.
But Cheryl doesn’t say anything. He turns to her, asking, “Baby, you afraid to skinny-dip?”
She wrinkles her forehead, knowing that it does no favors to the premature wrinkles she’s supposed to be avoiding. If soaking up the rays and having facial expressions are going to ruin her face that much, then she’ll take the risk and get the Botox later.
“Aren’t there warnings about swimming this late at night?” She pointedly does not add that she doesn’t swim, a fact that Rob has oddly forgotten.
“Cherry, are you nervous? Don’t be,” he says as he shucks off pants and Jockeys. “I’ll keep you safe from all the hungry sharks.”
He chuckles and she begs off when he tries to hug her. “Robert, that’s not funny.”
He lands a sloppy kiss on her cheek (too wet for any reasonable person’s liking) when he stumbles into her. His fingertips, dusted with a fine coat of sand, brush the exposed skin of her back and she feels a knot of worry loosen.
“I’ll keep you safe,” he repeats, wisely omitting his bad joke.
She wishes she had something to drink beforehand. “Okay, but not too far. Are the currents strong?”
“You’re stronger. We won’t go too far.” He’s wheedling now, pulling her shirt up and over her head, his eyes dark. There’s a glint of soberness to them that she hadn’t seen before.
It’s a huge dark thing, these waves smashing onto the shore, never ceasing, and she doesn’t know what else to do but to follow Rob as he continues in, only stopping when the water’s up to his knees. The water hits her mid-thigh when she stands next to him. He’s staring out at a point she cannot see, something that curves over the horizon maybe, a point of light that she can’t reach (damn laser-eye surgery never quite got her to 20/20).
“I’ve heard her since we landed at the airport,” Rob confesses, his voice suddenly softer than she’s ever heard it, a timber that he’s not even used during lovemaking. “Calling for me.”
Ice touches her belly, no, it’s just a wave hitting higher than she anticipated. “What are you talking about?”
He doesn’t answer, just goes out further in the water. “It’s a dream,” he says and she has to struggle to make out the words so she treads closer to him. The water’s to her shoulders but it hits her chin as the waves gently bend and roll, the surface of the water ceaseless in its motions.
“Rob, answer me.”
He comes closer to her and the moonlight hits his face just right and it’s like she’s standing on the street corner again, seeing him looking at her and that’s when she knew that she’d fall for him, that he’d just have to ask her and she’d always say yes.
“I didn’t believe it, that it could be her, calling for me but it has to be her. I love you, I always will,” his hands are suddenly on her shoulders, pushing her down, she can’t find purchase in the sand, “so please don’t scream.”
Rob’s not that much bigger than her, five inches taller and she’s only 5’3” on a big hair day. He’s narrowly built like the men of his family, a manly kind of fragility that she always found endearing. But here, he knows what he’s doing and for all her resistance, she can’t stop him.
Cheryl has always prided herself on her legs, athletic but not obviously muscled, but in the water, she’s at a loss. Doesn’t realize that he’s been pulling her towards the edge of the shelf until she struggles for footing, splashing at him and suddenly she can feel the cold lancing up her toes, to her feet, and zipping upwards. A cold of deepness and unending. The ocean.
His grip on her body is fierce and he’s an excellent swimmer, able to keep her from getting back on the shelf while not letting her scream for help.
Something tugs on the bottom of her foot and it’s too much like Jaws, that stupid movie that she never feared, it was all so fake but it doesn’t feel like teeth at all. Wet cords snaking up her leg and Rob’s saying something, something to her and God, she prays it isn’t I love you, I love you, she can’t listen to that lie.
Then he just lets her go and she isn’t moving, the tentacle (oh God, she doesn’t want to know what it is, realizing it’s a tentacle holding her still) has a fierce grip and the pain keeps her from screaming for help. Nothing but salt tears falling in the ocean.
“You’ll see her soon, Cheryl-baby.” He goes to say something else, another condescending, horrible twist of his insincere comfort, but he’s tugged underwater, the look of surprise almost, just almost, lets her forget about the pain.
Enough time to scream for help. No, that isn’t true. Enough time to get the shape of the word out, the first part, he, but she’s dragged down before she can finish the word. Help.
It is darkness under the water, just darkness but there’s a spark of something and she comes across her.
A creature made of something wrong, not animal enough and too intelligent. Almost human, but a monster, it stares at her and strikes out two sharp claws, jabbing into Cheryl’s eyes, the pressure ending with a faint pop. The bones are broken next, with exacting patience, delaying each break until she’s felt the extent of the pain before new pain is introduced.
It takes a long time to drown, her body left to the whims of the undertow, moving this way and that.
Her last thought isn’t even hers. It is a voice of ancient hatred and madness, swearing to her that she has no need to worry, Rob will die above surface, so it hurts more.
The blackness that has been touching her mind finally swallows her whole.
Flores Y Maya Botánica Calle Ocho, Little Havana, Miami, Florida
A night of research and a morning spent waiting for the store to open and Sam’s already impatient with the revelation of three more mysterious deaths with a turnaround on the bodies a lot quicker than the others. It’s like whatever’s doing this is ratcheting up the body count and it has to mean something.
First it had been the reveal of the death of a local TV personality, a Yvette García, star of the popular children show Noticias con Eva y Eduardo on the evening news, which Dean had noted by saying she’d been the one forced to do small talk with a dude in a giant Muppet get-up. Dean also had the very important point to make that she was way too hot to be working on a crap show like that, which Sam had thanked Dean for, because it’s always good to know that Dean ranked his Children’s TV stars by hotness factor.
Come to think of it, Dean probably did that even when he was a little kid and you know what? Sam doesn’t want to think about that, pushing it down where all weird Dean Facts go in his mind, a deep dark place with a very closeable lid.
This morning, the news was still all about Yvette, until a new story popped up. This one’s just as juicy, although not quite as perfectly photogenic: a couple, newlyweds apparently, found washed up on the private beach of The Breakers Resort.
With only a couple of hours to prepare, Sam’s mind has been overloaded too much information. Trying to figure out all the connections to all these deaths. Eyes taken, bodies crushed, the males in worse condition than the female victims.
Parking in front of the store, they stake out the place for a little while as it’s still too early for there to be customers milling around the aisles. As soon as the morning heat gets to be too much to handle, Sam and Dean enter the building, done in a pastel stucco façade, a Latino Heritage mural painted on the exposed left side.
The implication of botanicals, something light and sweet, is not at all what Sam sees from the shopkeeper at the Flores Y Maya Botánica . She’s a very short woman, bent and rounded with so many years that it’s difficult to gage how old she actually is. Though her face is heavily wrinkled and looks more like a pale wood carving, the narrow look she gives Sam and Dean indicates there’s still an active mind. A very irritable mind, but it’s clear that she knows her stuff.
Fingertips tighten around her cane until her knuckles whiten. She says before Sam can introduce himself, “No hablo inglés.”
A quick cursory scan of the labels of cure-alls and medicine on the shelves reveals the bilingual nature of the store (as well as several shelves dedicated to the touristy tchotchkes that non-Cubans would be happy to purchase) but Sam gives her the benefit of the doubt despite the little quirk of her thin mouth that suggests otherwise.
“Your son, Mrs. Flores, said that you never worked the store alone.” Not true, but he may as will give it a shot. “Is there alguien más here? Someone we can speak to that speaks English? ¿Alguien más que hable inglés?”
She points to Dean.
“Oh, she’s hilarious,” Dean says, putting down a bottle of cologne that Sam really hopes isn’t in honor of Eleggua, even though that seems to be what the bottle is advertising, because he doesn’t want to think what they put in that for the god of the rock hard...dick.
“Dean,” Sam says, a low warning.
“Dean,” Mrs. Flores repeats, hitting the consonants in his name hard, as though she’s testing the name and has already decided that she doesn’t trust him. But then she smiles, so maybe Sam’s failed at reading her or she’s completely enigmatic.
Or Dean’s charm works on women of all ages.
“Dude, she’s faking.” Dean picks up a yellow candle, checking the handwritten price on the tiny sticker. “Her son’s fluent in English and she’s been in the country since she was barely legal. Use your head. And your Spanish sucks.”
Giving Mrs. Flores a quick apologetic look, Sam turns around, taking the candle out of Dean’s hands. “How the hell would you know? You can barely compliment a girl without screwing up a verb tense.”
“Hey,” he protests weakly, “I do fine, man, so they must be digging something. Didn’t you notice her wincing when you were butchering those words?”
Dropping his voice so low that Sam has to lean in to hear him, Dean says, “C’mon, she’s Cuban, they’re freakin’ proud. Let’s not piss her off.”
“What? But manhandling the store merchandise is okay?” Sam punctuates this by giving Dean an example of how to put things back where they belong – setting down the candle so it doesn’t look like it had been touched at all.
Sam’s not a neat freak, despite what Dean might think, but he is tasked with dealing with a brother who embraces the slovenly lifestyle with a kind of peculiar zest that Sam still believes is Dean just screwing around, trying to drive Sam crazy. Trouble is, that it works, of course.
Dean looks around Sam (not easy when Sam is this close, he has to do a full body lean to get out of the Sam-zone), flashing a perfect toothpaste commercial smile at Mrs. Flores. Clapping Sam’s shoulder, he says real quick so only Sam’ll catch it, “Damn straight. That ain’t what’s making her cagey.”
“You are the first, yes? Hermanos.” Mrs. Flores’s English is worn and overly formal: the stiffness of someone who makes it a point never to converse in the language. “The first son.”
“Yes, ma’am. Sam here is my little brother. Human growth hormone,” he confides, “A shame what they put into food nowadays. I’d rather eat frijoles and arroz but he’s still a hamburger and fries kind of guy.”
Dean even clucks his tongue in disapproval. And nailed the fucking pronunciation.
It’s far too easy to switch between shooting Dean death glares to offering apologetic looks to Mrs. Flores as she peers up at him. She has to crane her neck quite a bit seeing as she barely hits five foot nothing in her orthopedic shoes.
“You know my son, yes?”
“And Henry Norwood,” Sam says, unsure of how to tread. Marcos Flores had spoken of his mother in a way that seemed that they got along okay but Marcos seemed to get along with anyone.
Dean had nearly gotten an open invite to a charity function for immigrant’s rights for God’s sake. Apparently it had been offered sometime in-between Dean and Marcos conversing about the Impala, which Sam had missed because he’d rather make up anagrams in his mind than listen to even more shop talk about the car.
There’s a quick cluck of her tongue and she shakes her head. It doesn’t seem like disapproval. “A nice boy. Sick con el nerviosismo every day,” she explains, taking careful steps back to the counter. She doesn’t tell Dean and Sam to stay where they are, so they follow her, Dean offering to help her up to the tall barstool-style chair behind the register. Murmuring her thanks, she turns to look Sam straight in the eye, “You wan’ more, yes?”
“Marcos doesn’t think Henry would’ve killed himself. I’m sorry for speaking to you at such a delicate time, but we wanted to know why Henry would be calling out the name of your store in his sleep.”
It’s direct enough that Mrs. Flores has to take a rattling breath, composing herself but she’s clearly rattled.
“My Marcos says that?”
Dean steps up to Mrs. Flores, nodding his head in confirmation. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Why would Henry do that, Mrs. Flores?”
“He comes here and say, ‘I want to be no more sick’ but he won’t say to Marcos.” Mrs. Flores has given up on attempting to speak clearly, her voice clouded with pain. “‘Say no thing,’ he says, an’ I say no thing. Now he’s dead. So, what? Do I tell Marcos so he comes here and he say, ‘it’s okay.’ No okay. Not okay.”
“Mrs. Flores,” Sam says, hesitating to show his fake Miami P.D. license, because while Dean had taken the Don Johnson identification for himself, Sam’s ID was even more ridiculous. But he still flashes it despite mentally cursing Dean, saying, “We’re detectives with the police department. Did Henry Norwood tell you he was sick?”
She’d had her sharp eyes, bespectacled and everything, fixed on Sam’s identification for all of a half-second. Frowning, she asks, “Ron Butterfly?”
“It’s his middle name. I know, it’s silly. That I is for Irving.” Dean smiles at her and it is creepy that Dean can get that kind of a reaction out of a woman old enough to be like, their great-grandmother. “I’m Detective Johnson.”
“You ask his doctors?”
Sam had cracked into Henry Norwood’s files and things had come up clean, not even any signs that he’d ever had any mental illnesses. “Why would he go to you, Mrs. Flores? Perhaps he was keeping secrets even from his doctors?”
“Not nerviosismo,” she says, sadly. Clarifying, “His sickness. He’d go to Tampa, he say, a test, for his memory. He say to me, it’s bad. Ask me for help.”
“He forgets. Some days. Didn’t wan’ anyone to know. I don’t forget. It’s a sickness for the old, for me, but I don’t get sick and he does.”
Mrs. Flores just nods. “I give him remedies.”
“Looks like they didn’t work,” Dean summarizes but his tone isn’t as blunt. If anything, it’s just tired.
“You’ve been running the store since your husband died?”
Mrs. Flores looks at Sam, startled. “Yes. Why you ask?”
“It’s a nice store,” Sam says, offhandedly. Slots away the information, like he’s shoving it in a pile marked to be examined later. “I’m sorry we had to come here under the circumstances. Thank you for your time, Mrs. Flores.”
Taking off, Dean’s right by Sam’s side, opening the door for Sam as they walk into the late morning-turning-high-noon heat.
“What was that all about?”
“Sam,” Dean says, not letting Sam get away with the evasion, “Come on.”
“We need to find out more information on those last people murdered.”
A puzzled frown passes over Dean’s face and he says, “I thought we did that already. Or do you want to pull out some wild speculation off that conspiracy theory website?”
“Dean, you know who Yemaya is? In the Santeria faith, she’s a goddess, a spirit, of the ocean.”
“Shit. You’re thinking that there’s some kind of summoning crap going on?” Dean starts pacing down the sidewalk, ignoring the car in favor of heading down to the closest restaurant that’s open for lunch.
“I think we need to figure this out without getting the runaround. And can you open the car so I can get my laptop?” Sam calls after Dean’s retreating form.
Exquisito Restaurant, Calle Ocho, Little Havana, Miami, Florida
The croquettes are all-around excellent and the tostones were good when hot but now it’s like eating cold fries. Only it’s cold slices of fried plantains, so hey, a little variety never killed a guy.
Sam had cleared off the little appetizer plate of chorizo with slices of garlic before Dean had even had a shot at tasting pork heaven, something that honestly dripped orange-colored oil and made Sam almost tear up in how freakin’ excellent it tasted. Dean makes a note to himself not to check out the waitress when she’s walking away while there’s hot food on the table. Sam may not embrace Dean’s “if you can eat it, put it in your mouth” motto, but he does move fast when he’s hungry.
Dean hasn’t known heaven until the pork sandwich arrives, the aptly named Cuban. Pork, glorious artery-killing pork, flattened to perfection, with slices of cheese and a thin-pressed pickle, oozing with too much mustard, clearly if it’s one thing a Cuban should be known for, it’s this sandwich, screw the cigar.
It’s like there’s a party in his mouth and it’s doing the freaking merengue. Which is apparently the only kind of music that can be played at this place so he’s gonna drown it out in favor of enjoying the food over the ambience.
“So it’s a game of connect the dots and what do we got? That everyone who bought it was either Cuban or involved in the community, right?” Finishes off the first round of questioning by taking another bite of his sandwich, his mind betraying his overjoyed taste buds with curiosity about whether Sam’s chicken is any decent.
In response to that thought, Sam puts his free arm around his plate, as he continues checking sites on his laptop. That’s not his psychic powers coming into play, that’s just Sam being well-trained against patented Dean-theft of anything good on Sam’s plate.
“Miguel Díaz, a friend of Robert Hernández, one of the victims, said he’d met with Robert at a barbershop hours before Robert and Cheryl took their ill-fated midnight swim.”
“Dude, I hope you’re quoting an article, ‘cause that’s a little purple. The barbershop, is that the same one Marcos Flores mentioned?”
“Yeah.” Tap-tap, Sam’s right hand is busy doing his search and destroy thing, geekery at its finest.
“Okay, so back to Yemaya.” Another bite of Dean’s sandwich, a glorious moan of triumph that it still tastes so damn good before he continues, “She’s a water spirit, huh?”
“Not just any water spirit.” Sam turns the computer around, showing a series of images. Some of them are dark-skinned women in blue-and-white dresses, but other ones?
“Dad always suspected there was more to mermaids than just heat-stroked sailors mistaking manatees for sea-women,” Sam says.
“I don’t know, dude.” It’s just too much. Mermaids. They’re about twenty barrels full of monkeys funnier than vampires, and oh, that time with all the barrels of monkeys? Now that had been a wild time.
“You got any better ideas, I’ll be happy to hear them. Because we’ve got Santeria or an angry mermaid on our hands and I think dealing with a sea goddess would probably be harder than taking out a Siren or a mermaid.”
Sam finishes this by tearing into his chicken and Dean sighs, knowing where this is going.
“So we gotta check out that barbershop, see if there’s anything funky going on there.”
“And figure out how to kill a mermaid or vanquish a spirit of the ocean.”
“You’re killing my food afterglow,” Dean weakly says. “So you know.”
“Yeah,” Sam’s poking his food, playing with his food, a habit he never learned to drop, moving half-stripped chicken bones around his plate. “I know.”
Nene’s Barbershop, Little Havana, Miami, Florida
To say his Spanish was shaky was to say that the tower at Pisa wasn’t all that straight.
“Mi hermano y me buscamos demonios. Tu visto algo, hombre?”
Nah man, there’s no way in hell Dean’s saying anything close to that. He’s just gonna work on keeping the conversation tilted towards English.
Dean settles into the creaky old chair, the gaps in the vinyl covering have been covered over with grey electrical tape, and says in the best Spanish he can manage, for a little to be taken off.
The barber, an older man with grey hair on its way to white, had nodded in response to Dean’s crap Spanish when Dean had greeted the barber. His neatly trimmed mustache is still stark black, as are his bushy eyebrows, which is a little disconcerting, it’s like part of his face has decided not to age with the rest of his body.
“Okay, okay,” the barber says, smiling fearlessly, showing off his wide gap-tooth smile. There’s an old fashioned thread-stitched name in blue on his front pocket, Frank, which, okay then. Frank it is. He takes a comb out of the clear glass jar, shakes off the disinfectant water, and starts to examine the state of Dean’s hair.
Originally Sam was gonna join Dean in questioning the locals here but Sam suddenly backed out. It figures, the one time Dean can say one of his favorite Spanish phrases, an approximation of “take it all off,” (actually he knows both ways, the dirty one and the innocent-relating-to-hair way) that’s when Sam bails, suddenly feeling that wonderful craving to tear into some books at the local library.
Dean’s had a theory that part of Sam’s amazing powers of bitchiness are maintained in the raggedy mess that Sam calls his hair, but Sam’s a hell of a lot smarter than Samson and Dean’s no Delilah.
Dean’s never the hot chick, okay?
The bells chime as two men walk in, younger than the barber though not by much. Their faces are so similar Dean almost mistakes them for twins, but there’s a taller one (by about two inches) and the shorter one. They’re wearing their hair just an inch too long and have rough stubble-beards on their faces. It’s the seventh-days-growth they both wear as beards that gives Dean a disconcerting image of his father, days into a hunt and having no time for anything but the damn hunt.
The tall one, possessing a weird scratchy voice, makes a comment to Frank the barber – a joke as both Frank and the short one (who’s got light brown eyes, almond-shaped when he isn’t fully squinting) laugh in response.
“Joe,” Frank says, waving a comb in the direction of the shorter guy, “Mira, you can’t stay out too late, Ana will start clawing down the street for you.”
His English’s a thousand times better than Dean’s Spanish and it’s an indication to the other guys, Joe and the comedian, that it’s better to speak English for the time being.
The comedian doesn’t give a shit apparently, because he makes another joke, something to do with dogs and fucking and Dean knows enough to laugh, making sure to keep his head even as Frank’s just started up his electric razor. Smooth buzzing of the back of Dean’s neck, a feather-light touch that’s damn impressive, as Frank does his thing.
“That guy,” Frank says, glancing briefly at Dean’s reflection in the mirror, “thinks he knows because he’s not married.”
“He’s still in love with a, ¿Cómo es? Mujer del Mar. Sirena.”
“Mermaid?” Dean forces a smile to hide the disbelief. If Sam’s original damn theory is right, after all, a Siren is just a mermaid without the damn tail, then he’s never going to hear the end of it.
“Mermaid, sí,” Joe confirms, settling down in the empty chair next to Dean, unfurling a Spanish language newspaper. As though imparting a great secret, Joe leans over slightly, opening his light brown eyes a little too wide for dramatic effect, he says, “Water’s no good for your brain.”
“Okay, okay,” Frank interrupts, stilling Dean’s head from turning any further. “You see this, boy? You get old, you start dreaming mermaids.”
“Don’t get old,” the Comedian informs him, speaking in English, horribly mangled. It’s like it’s his first shot at speaking English and the Comedian’s mouth puckers at the end of his sentence, like, sure he knows he fucked that up royally but are you gonna call him on it?
Dean’s not about to piss off any leads in this case, so he just raise his eyebrows, unable to nod, and says, “Amen.”
The door rings again as another man walks in, this one around Dean’s age, average height with a face that looks like this guy’s been in more than his fair share of fights and he’s always come out on the losing end.
He’s wearing an honest-to-god fedora and if it weren’t for the tendrils of a tattoo crawling along the side of his neck, he’d look like he just time-traveled here from the Sixties.
“Manny, cabrón, you break another wall with your face?” asks Joe. In the reflection of the mirror, Dean can see Manny scowl at that before Manny just shakes his head, sitting next to the Comedian in one of the cheap plastic lawn chairs arranged in front of the main window.
“Rodrigo,” Manny says to the Comedian, finally naming the funny guy. He say something else, but it’s quiet enough that only Rodrigo can hear it and all Rodrigo does in response is shake his head in disbelief.
“There, good, eh?”
It’s better than good, a neat clean cut with perfect lines and Dean tells Frank as much. Asks how much he owes and Frank helpfully points to the thumb-tacked price list.
“That’s real nice.” Dean goes for the push, saying, “Marcos said this was the best place for a haircut.”
“Marcos?” Frank frowns at Dean, his dark eyebrows flattening to a thick straight line mere centimeters above his eyes.
Manny says, slight edge to his voice, “There’s a lot of men called Marcos round here, man. You gotta narrow it down.”
Joe laughs at that. “That pendejo? He wouldn’t step into here if he had to take a piss.”
“No man, he’d piss in the doorway,” Manny agrees, flash of sharp teeth. Okay, that’s interesting. Pillar of the community disliked by the little people. Now that’s a shocker. Manny looks at Dean, a kind of shark smile on his face, only more distorted, “You his new fucktoy now that Henry’s croaked and left poor Marcos with nothing but his money to keep him warm at night?”
“You sure know a lot about Marcos Flores,” Dean says, opting for the easy route as he gets out of the chair after Frank wipes off errant strands of hair off Dean’s t-shirt. Dean knows how to flash a smile of his own but he’ll save the fuck-off smiles for another time.
“Part of the hazards of the job. Him and his fucking house parties.” Dean isn’t sure what the hell Manny means by that, but whatever it is, everyone else seems to be following along, so Dean stays quiet. After a moment, Manny says, flippantly, “But hey, you’re cool with him, huh?”
“He was considering buying an Impala. I restore ‘em.”
“No shit? Man, that’s a sweet ride. I got a Monte Carlo, but she’s been giving me grief.” Manny blows it off, saying, “Well, he’s still a fucking maricón.”
“Hey,” Frank says, shaking a different disinfected comb, waving it over Joe’s head. “He gave back to the community. Henry Norwood helped us back when Hurricane Andrew hit. You’re not too young to remember that.”
“They don’t need to remember,” Rodrigo says in his mangled way, and it looks like all his jokes have left him, a haunted look in eyes.
Manny shakes his head. “Don’t matter, things are going to get better.”
“Oh yeah,” Joe says, with his easygoing laugh. “You know that?”
Dean smiles too, playing into the pretense by giving Frank a big tip even though it goes against his nature. Sam would be so proud.
“Oh, I’ve been hearing a lady singing all my troubles away,” and just before Dean thinks Manny’s quoting an unfamiliar song, he sees Rodrigo tense, suddenly standing up and making a terse excuse (in Spanish, naturally) as he heads out of the shop.
Before Rodrigo leaves out, Frank says to him, in Spanish, something about Manny dreaming about Rodrigo’s mermaid and maybe he should be jealous.
All Dean can think is fuck. Sam is right on.
Manny scowls with sudden realization, saying, “He still owes me fifty bucks.”
Joe says something in Spanish about a dude, Máximo Gómez, and Dean, sensing an exit, beats off a hasty retreat, only getting away with another sarcastic joke aimed at his expense from Manny. Nice to know that Manny think it’s goddamn hilarious that Dean must be Marcos Flores’s boy toy. Dammit. Why does the person he’s gotta save have to be a jackass?
continued in part three