Um, so, on with the update! (I feel I should mention that I'll be going to my mom's for the holiday tomorrow, and am unlikely to get back online until Sunday night at the earliest. So this is the last update for a few days.)
On the map, the distance between Guitierrez's place and Hell's Kitchen didn't look all that big, but Sam had forgotten, had failed to take into account the way New York threw up resistance against tourists. The sidewalks are cracked and bumpy, littered with garbage and full of natives, people who walk briskly and confidently as they talk on their cell phones and make plans on how to spend the rest of the night. There's no point in saying "excuse me" every time he bumps into someone; they wouldn't hear him in the first place and they'd just look at him like he's crazy if they did, because jockeying for position is a way of life, the only way to get by here.
Harlem melts away around him and he starts taking notice of the storefronts and signs that are coming illuminated as the daylight fades. It seems like every third sign is for a Sammy something - "Sammy's Deli," "Sammy's Nails," "Sammy's Famous Salon" - and Dean materializes out of nothing but memory, clear as day in front of him, wearing that infuriating and comfortingly familiar smirk, thumping his chest and flicking his fingers out in a peace sign to mimic the infamous Sammy Sosa salute. Dean loved to run his jokes into the ground, and that one had stopped being amusing maybe the third time he did it - or at least it would have stopped being amusing had Dean not expressed such genuine glee every damn time.
Manhattan's only eight miles long; he remembers hearing that somewhere, and it feels true because his legs are eating up the sidewalk, and before he even has time to think about what he can offer Joe Connor, if Connor has something useful for him, he's smack dab in the middle of Hell's Kitchen, making his way through lines of people hanging out and waiting to be seated at the restaurants that haven't got liquor licenses, their breath curling into the air as they shuffle and stamp their feet in an effort to stay warm.
He cuts through the lines, ignoring all the "hey, buddy"s and the "watch it, asshole"s he's offered, checking the street signs at every corner to make sure that he hasn't gotten turned around somehow; it's been so long since he's walked in a proper city, a place with homeless people curled up in every spare corner while the streets are jammed with taxicabs and limousines. A white stone building catches his eye, standing out from its red brick neighbors, and a sign informs him that he's found the Columbus Branch of the New York Public Library. If he hadn't slowed down to read the placard, he would have missed Mary Kelly's, two doors down and not doing a lick of advertising.
He has to jiggle the doorknob just to get in, but the warmth inside feels fabulous against his cold, stiff face, and he hastens to seal the door shut behind him. There's a loud chorus of groans coming from the corner, and he looks over, ready to apologize for letting cold air in, when he realizes the men huddled there are exclaiming over a hand of poker - Texas Hold 'Em - and could not care less about what he's doing. There's one seat open, right in the middle, and a beer holding the missing guy's place; it doesn't look like an invitation, so he moves on.
The bar top is wide and shining, and behind it is a girl who looks so supremely disconnected from the world, from the bar, from the card players in the corner and the scattered drinkers lifting mugs of foamy beer and plain shot glasses to their lips, that Sam wonders if she can possibly be for real. She must be living on tips; she has to smile to make a couple bucks. She's not cleaning glasses or wiping down the bar or doing much of anything when he approaches; she just looks at him with a flat gaze. Closer up, Sam can see, even in the cozy, dim yellow light of the bar, her long dark hair, caught up in a ponytail, is a shining navy blue, and there are navy blue lines fanning out from her watchful dark eyes like tattooed crow's feet laid over her clear brown skin. The effect is vaguely tribal, but everything about her discourages any kind of personal comment, so he just walks directly up to her, slings his heavy bag off his aching shoulder, and states his business. "I'm looking for a guy named Joe Connor," he says, keeping his voice pitched low enough that only someone bent on eavesdropping could overhear him.
"Are you." It's not a question, not if the lack of inflection in her quiet steel voice is any indication.
"Yeah. So does he work here? Is he around?"
She turns away to serve one of the customers who's come to the bar, and for a second he suspects her of drawing the guy up there just to have an excuse not to answer him. But she pours another shot and fills a fresh beer glass without even asking what the guy wants, so Sam figures the guy's a regular who doesn't have to ask for what he wants anymore. She moves back to face Sam dead on when she's done, but before he can repeat himself, there's an uproar from the corner where the card players are gathered. The empty seat's been filled by a big hulk of a guy, who must have won that round, given that the others are pushing their money toward him with rueful grins tinged with admiration.
The bartender steps out from behind the bar to bring the card players another pitcher, and from this new angle, Sam can see that her body is chunkier than her face had indicated, a little bottom-heavy, and she's wearing heavy, scuffed boots that look like she's spent her entire life in them; Dean would love this girl. Just the thought of his brother gets him twitching again, and he catches her arm, soft under his fingers, as she heads back to the bar with a tray bearing the empty pitcher. "I said I'm looking for Joe Connor," he repeats, voice a little louder this time, and the guys in the corner stop their card game to look up at him speculatively.
A light, familiar voice speaks up behind him. "Well, then, this must be your lucky day, Sam, because you found me." He spins, and there behind the counter is Jo Harvelle, face flushed and her dark lipstick looking a little smudged. Her smile doesn't quite reach her eyes, and he catches sight of a ring on her left hand when she raises it and runs it through her hair. "What do you want?"