Sam uses Jo as his barometer; the fae calendar Rob cited sounded vaguely familiar even though he could find no texts to corroborate it, but Jo seems content to believe Rob's assertions, and even though it's been years since she last saw him and she's loved and lost again, Sam knows that Dean still owns at least a little corner of Jo's heart. She wouldn't be content to be still if she thought there was something she could be doing or prodding him to do.
So he puts on an apron and works behind the bar; she doesn't pay him a wage but he gets to keep his tips, and he's more than covering the sixth of the room he's renting at the hostel. Plus he can keep an eye on Rob, make sure the guy really is using all of his mysterious connections to figure out what they're up against.
June is the best bartender to share a shift with; he figures that out inside of a week. She has absolutely no interest in him at all, doesn't force him to talk when all he wants to do is try to think things through for the umpteenth time or wonder if it's January 24 wherever Dean is too. And June is quick, neat-handed, performing all of her duties with swift, economical movements that the patrons of Mary Kelly's seem to appreciate more than they would a ready ear or a willing shoulder. June's definitely got a story to tell. Sam just doesn't care to hear it.
The bar, against all odds, is packed on Groundhog Day, and he braces himself to hear the same joke for the thirty-seventh time when a big guy with a shock of Kris Kringle white hair makes his way up to the bar. Rob looks up at Sam from his seat at the corner of the bar just then, distracting him.
The old guy slaps his hand down on the bar and laughs a little at his own forthcoming joke to get Sam's attention. "Hey, you hear if Staten Island Chuck saw his shadow this morning?" Sam dutifully shakes his head, but this guy was apparently expecting a verbal response, and the silence throws him. "Yeah, cause I ran him over last night!" he says, plowing forward anyway, and scowling when his joke falls flat. One long quaff of beer, though, and his good humor is evidently restored. "Never mind, kid," he says genially enough; "you can't help being a little slow."
It's meant nicely, even if no one under the age of a hundred would ever say anything so inflammatory, but it's got the unmistakable ring of truth. He is too slow - can't figure out what had been ailing Dean, can't learn about these weird gypsy fae that are holding his brother, can't do much of anything right these days. It's already the beginning of February, and he still has no idea what the plan is for the equinox, coming up in March.
And shit, but he almost forgot about the hunt that was supposed to be his reunion with Dean - February 3 at Woodstock.
He still has no transportation or weapons, but maybe working for free has earned him enough goodwill that he can borrow Jo's car.
Jo hears him out as he explains the little he knows about the hunt - Dean had most of the details in his head and all the five-year planner says in the two-inch square for February 4 is "Woodstock: musician (guitarist), ghost?, stage. [annual]"
She stands next to him and reads the text herself, squinting at the small handwriting that litters the pages. She traces the outline of the square with a delicate fingertip. "He didn't write if it was an important case or not," she says, voice quiet like she knows the answer that's on the tip of Sam's tongue, that to Dean, all cases were critical, and the only distinction he made was that cases involving kids in harm's way always automatically got first priority.
Jo flips the planner closed, strokes her finger down its pebbly cover, and then tosses it on the couch. "Help me out here, Sam," she says, clearing the coffee table of its knickknacks and detritus, handling the little bud vase that looks like the most expensive thing in the apartment - probably a wedding gift - with care. He stoops to help, stepping back when she finishes and whisks the fringed cloth off the surface; she bends to undo the snaps on the trunk. When she opens it, he sees a rough approximation of the Impala's trunk, heavier on the knives than Dean's collection, but a good selection nonetheless. "Take your pick," she offers, gesturing grandly, a deadly, discount Vanna White, beautiful in her tank top, flannel shirt, and jeans, and he looks at what she's offering and wonders if this is all he'll have when it comes time to save Dean.
"Sam?" she asks, laying a light hand on his arm. He shakes his head, and she winds her arms around his neck, draws him down, and leaves a sweet, fleeting kiss on his cheek. "Close up when you're done here, okay?" she asks, and then leaves him mercifully alone.
He shouldn't be distracting himself with thoughts of Dean; he needs to concentrate on this hunt, on figuring out what he'll need to get rid of the ghost of a Woodstock guitarist. He dashes the water from his eyes and squats next to the open trunk and starts to take careful inventory.
When he's got what he wanted and arranged everything in his duffel bag - each weapon wrapped in its own piece of clothing, just like Dean taught him - he secures the latches on the trunk and heads downstairs. He'll need to leave first thing in the morning, and he forgot to get the keys from Jo before she went back to the bar, so he heads downstairs instead of back to the hostel. "Jo?" he calls as he makes his way down the stairs, keeping the duffel tucked tight and secure against his side. He doesn't see her behind the bar or weaving between the small dark tables arranged in a sine curve against each wall. She could just be getting another case of beer from the basement; he leaves his duffel at the top of the steps and heads down the last flight of stairs.
"Jo?" he says again, and hears a gasp. He gets clear of the stairs and sees Jo on Rob's lap, her hair tumbled out of its sleek ponytail and her face, looking at him over her shoulder, flushed. Rob's hand - it looks enormous on her - keeps stroking up and down her bare back, and his glittering blue gaze pins Sam in place. She looks small and vulnerable compared to him, her pale hair like gossamer and fine as a child's; there's an ugly moment when he wonders if Rob is forcing her somehow. But there's no shame on her face, just lust, and he blinks hard and forces himself to speak.
"Keys," Sam blurts out, rooted to the spot. "I need your keys."
Rob's holding up a shirt for Jo to slip into, and Sam turns away to let her get hastily dressed. "I'll get them for you," she says, her hands pushing her hair back into place.
He follows her up the stairs, the smell of her rose-scented perfume or lotion or whatever heavy in his nose. There are no explanations offered, and they make the trip up to her apartment in silence. She meets his eyes without any emotion but concern when she hands him the ring of keys she's pulled off a little hook on her bedroom wall. "Be safe, Sam," she says, and lets him lead the way back out.
He makes the drive up with a couple of Jo's mix CDs - one an energetic burst of rhythm and sound, the other simply titled "Sad Songs" - for company; his brain has been surprising cooperative about refusing to process what he stumbled across. It takes a few tries to make it to the right place, since he never had Dean's astonishing sense of direction, but he makes it there with plenty of time.
He gets himself a table at the local diner and takes his time over a long, leisurely meal. When he finally goes out to the concert area, he's stuffed full of good food and ready to work.
He's scoping out the area, the stage with special attention, when he becomes aware that he's humming something to himself. He stops and refocuses, listening to what he's humming, trying to place the tune. It's nothing he's ever heard before, and he turns to find the ghostly guitarist walking forward from the shadows, clever fingers plucking out that same tune that's insinuated itself into his brain.
The musician plays steadily for a few minutes, and the volume of his electric guitar keeps ramping up. He's dressed in clothes that look like they could have come from the 60's, though they kind of look more like a costume than actual everyday clothes - bellbottoms, tie-dyed shirt, and a cloth headband for his long yellow hair. Sam just waits; there has to be some reason no one's ever dispatched this ghost before.
Maybe the ghost just wants a little adulation - he's not hurting anybody with a free concert once a year, and it's not like it's at a particularly busy time of the year anyway. Sam claps. "That was great, man."
"Yeah," the ghost says, then launches into another song, grimacing artistically as his fingers fly over the guitar.
Ten songs later, Sam's getting tired of repeating his false praise. "Wonderful. You're very talented."
That was apparently the wrong thing to say. "Then why wasn't I asked to play?" the ghost snarls. "I came and I played for them, and they still wouldn't see that I belonged there." There's a demented light in his eyes now, and his lip is curled over gnashing teeth. "But I outlasted all of them. They're all dead, and I'm still here, playing music they couldn't even dream of."
Dean would know how to talk rock with this guy, how to soothe his ego by naming all the musicians who obviously owe him a debt. Sam's going to have to play this a different way, by appealing to his lust for fame.
He walks forward and the ghost's head snaps up to meet his gaze; long hair falls back and Sam can see an ugly red mark stretched across his throat. "What's your name, man?"
"'Nobody,'" the ghost screams, rage still shrieking through the word. His right hand holds his guitar pic up high. "They said I was nobody." The pic, turned in his hand to reveal a deadly-sharp edge, comes down suddenly at Sam.
He gets his arms up just in time to protect his face; the razor-sharp pic catches on the fabric of his coat, and the ghost plucks it free and makes another play for his skin.
Sam's got long, shallow cuts on his face and hands, and he stumbles for the canister of salt, cursing Jo for not keeping rocksalt shotgun shells in her bag of tricks, and the swirl of white crystals grants him a temporary reprieve. The ghost keeps reappearing, a few steps further from Sam each time, and finally starts to play again. As the last long note reverberates, he raises the pic to his own throat and draws it unhesitatingly across.
Sam stumbles back to the car and wonders when exactly he'd messed this one up so badly.