The argument against was that he had his own agenda to pursue and an uncertain timetable within which to pursue it. Still, he wasn't rushing in blindly, on impatience and instinct. He would first confront the witch(?) with Dean watching his back so that he could assess how big of a threat he was and then, if necessary, he would return on his own and complete the interrogation on his own terms.
Right now, the advantage was all in the witch(?)'s corner. He had anticipated them, he knew at least some grapevine-translated lore about them. He had the high ground. Sam wasn't even sure he was a witch. He could be a demon, perhaps the demon from which their suspect, the last Huntsman son, had gained the power to cast his curse or summon his monster. Perhaps, considering the inscription on the knife, he might even be a god or the acolyte of a god.
Sam googled Widdlesworth Seminary and found the witch(?) and priest's photo top and center on the faculty page. Father John Notaras, allegedly aged sixty-seven years. Notaras was a Greek surname of some minor historical interest. Further digging uncovered that John Notaras had a facebook page and a bank account and credit-card records and a mortgage on a beach house and car payments. If he was a witch or a god, he was a fiscally responsible one who did his taxes. Or he was possessed. He'd resided in this state and this town and this seminary for seventeen years and there wasn't a shadow of a hint of where he'd been before then. He had no relatives, none that he kept in touch with electronically anyway. His facebook friends were just that.
Widdlesworth Seminary had been around ninety-three years without being the sight of any reported strange phenomena: the only associated fatalities google and the archived town paper could find were among the elderly faculty, aside from the entirely mundane suicides of two students nearly fifty years apart.
Dean was wasted and passed out and snoring and Sam still had four more hours until daybreak. He was restless, physically and mentally. He felt caged and he wasn't supposed to feel this way anymore.
He went out the door, walked along the perimeter of the motel parking lot, long fingers of cottony vapor reaching through the trees, clinging around their trunks and roots. The night sky overhead was surprisingly clear, pristine black showing a sliver of moon but a glittering array of constellations. He set off walking along the exit ramp and then along the shoulder of the highway, past strip malls and fast food chains, rising and falling along the hilly terrain, neon signs and streetlights overshadowed by the still proudly looming trees. You were never entirely out of the woods around Bethany's Cove, even out on the water you still fell under the muddy green shadow of the hills. It was a twenty-minute walk to the Sundown River Casino; there he stalked the densely tree-shadowed edge of the parking lot until he cased out a blue Subaru of sufficient years to have an easily tricked locking mechanism and no alarm.
He went for a drive at just five over the limit, heading towards the shore. The night was fading to a dull gray, a lightening that wasn't light but was more like an absence of darkness. He pulled off the road at a one table picnic area, perched on a cliff overlooking the docks. He walked on the shoulder of the road along the cliffside for a while and then he went inside a diner for breakfast. It was just opening and it smelled like fresh-baked bread and fresh-brewed coffee. The only waitress on duty had a plain and pointed face, dishwater-grey eyes and barely a thing going on below the neck. An open collar and a chunky silver cross hanging from her scrawny neck. She saw him looking.
"That's pretty," he said. It was something he might've said, before, to cover up that he was looking at her small, sagging breasts. If he was being nice. But there was nothing to pretend for, really, he had no interest in fucking her and she'd already served him coffee.
"Oh," she said with a tired smile. She hooked her thumb under the chain and zipped the cross around on the end of it. "Thanks. I've had it forever. Are you a Christian?"
"I guess you could say I'm more spiritual than religious," he said. "Though I do believe in angels."
"So do I!" she said. A genuine smile, her face opening to him like a spring daisy. "I believe that God assigns an angel to watch out for every one of us. I even believe," (she lowered her voice, a shy tremor in it), "some of us have got the second sight and can see 'em. When I was real little, just for a few years, I thought I could see mine."
"What did he look like?"
"She. It was a she and she was beautiful...she looked kinda like a Barbie that was the last thing my mom gave to me before she...She had the big swan wings, y'know, and she had silvery hair all shimmery like tinsel and..." She stopped and stared at him. "You putting me on?"
"No," he said, clasping his hands palm-to-palm. "I swear to God," (he checked her nametag), "Laura, I'm not putting you on."
She grinned and said, "Yes you are. You're yukking it up on the inside, I can always tell. Maybe I've got a bit of that second sight too. Well you just go ahead and laugh, mister, 'cause she was real and she took care of me and I get to keep the memories all to myself. Bet you're just jealous."
"There must've been something very broken in your life," he said, "if a creature from a whole other species had to be the one taking care of you."
He watched her small face close up like a steel trap. It wasn't just what he'd said. It was that he'd let any pretense that he cared about her feelings drop from his voice. Still, he knew all he would have to do to slide under her defenses again was to put on a hangdog frown and tell her he was sorry, it was just that he'd been a lonely kid with a hard home life and a friend nobody else could see, and he'd thought maybe she was the same.
He sat there and looked at Laura. Outside, he heard a car speed into the parking lot and scrape through a u-turn and drive back out. There was no music or radio playing in the place, the only ambiance the cook banging away at the grill as if an army of customers was about to pile in for sweet potato hash browns and fried kale and gluten-free waffles. It was a shame he didn't want to fuck her. It would be so easy. All he'd have to do to get her to spread her legs for him was be nice to her for an hour or so. She'd be so grateful. Candy from a baby.
"Sorry," he said, without pretending to be sorry at all. "That was overly familiar."
He drank his coffee and Laura mumbled something about not minding because she was the one who'd brought it up, so he guessed she was used to guys carelessly trampling over her feelings. He looked out the window for a while. There were still no cars in the parking lot and there were no cars on the access road going past the diner and in the distance the sodium arcs loomed over the empty onramp and the quiet interstate and the quiet coastline.
He dropped the Subaru off at a mini market and then he jogged back to the motel. He got back at seven am. Dean was up, red-eyed and somehow looking more worn-out than the night before, crumpled like a used-up diner napkin, but still faintly thrumming with nervous energy, pacing. He just rolled his eyes at Sam, back from an early morning run. It was a relief almost like pleasure to look at him and feel so little, to not feel he had anything much at stake in Dean's well-being. Sam showed him the card. "Get this," he said.
"What the fuck," Dean said. "Is this guy for real? I mean literally, does he legally exist?"
Sam told him what he'd found on Father Notaras.
"Fine," Dean said. "Let's have words with him."
"We could tail him, try and nab him when he's not expecting us on his home turf."
"It would take a while to stake him out and we've got no idea what he is, what kinda juice he's got anyway. Besides, if he really wanted to ambush us he could've just not let on that he knows who we are. Hell, he could an ex-hunter or a part-timer, another Pastor Jim, just heard about us on the hunter grapevine."
"If that's all there is to him, he could've just introduced himself to us properly the first time around."
"Yeah, guess you're right. We just gotta bet on that he's not expecting all that we'll be packing. Lucky that we already got witch-killing bullets made in bulk."
They drove to the seminary that morning. It was forty minutes of winding interstate inland and at a high elevation; with great billowing sheets of fog floating amidst the mountains, it seemed to be perched half in forest, half in clouds. It was a handsome building of four stories made of shale grey stone and glass, studded with many windows, with a six-gabled roof and three turrets. They went in the front door, stood in the lobby, a floor of glossy tiles that looked like black-and-white checkered marble, white plaster Jesus and angels looking down on them from alcoves in the walls. The woman at the receptionist's desk looked askance at them over her tight-lipped smile (wearing a soft angora cardigan that revealed just enough that Sam decided that, her, he would like to fuck), but when they said they had a meeting with Father Notaras, she directed them to the third story, the corner office to the right.
Dean didn't knock and he turned the doorknob briskly, like it might be wired to explode and he wanted to get it over with. The door swung swiftly inward. Sam knew at a glance that Father Notaras had seen them coming. It was the way he was sitting, not behind his desk but in a chair turned to put his back to a wide curvate window triptych with a wide curvate view of the space between mountains, the fog floating across that space, the shadow of the woods tinging it the color of wet moss.
"A pleasant surprise," he said and his voice was high and thin and soft, like mountain air. "I thought you might try to ambush me somewhere other than on my home turf. Might I hope that you have decided to grant me the benefit of the doubt?"
"I wouldn't bet on it," Dean said.
"Close the door," he said, "if you please. Yes, you will find protective wards on it, but if you study them closely, I'm sure you will be able to tell they are not intended for keeping anyone in."
Sam turned around and recognized the wards, derived from ancient Greek characters and drawn in fresh powdery chalk. He pushed the door closed. Dean was side-eyeing him.
"Nice work," Sam said to Notaras, glancing around the office, finding nothing but tasteful furnishings with a Scandinavian accent and paintings of sparrows and a lake. Books were overflowing their shelves, but no titles jumped out as incongruous with a Presbyterian seminary. On the edge of his desk was a reader of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, its pages stuffed with yellow sticky notes.
Notaras himself was as elderly and frail and kindly in expression as he'd seemed at first sight. Whatever mask he wore, he was not yet ready to peel it off.
"I'm afraid I must take the liberty of the opening inquiry," Notaras said. "Did you discover a boline knife at the sight of...at the crime scene? Is it currently in your possession?"
"It's safe," Sam said.
"I'm afraid it will never be safe," Notaras said. "It's not in the nature of an artifact with so much power to lie dormant.''
"What are you?" Dean said, his stance defensive, hand hovering over his gun. So transparent, Sam thought.
"Your kind and your persistent obsession with labels. You want to know how to kill me, is that it? Labeling and killing: they go together for you, don't they?"
"Oh, don't fucking play the monster-persecution card. I've gotten enough of that lately."
Sam put on a discretely hurt and offended expression, in case Dean looked his way. Dean didn't.
"So you assume I'm a monster, just like that. Just because I seem to know too much." Notaras sounded, if anything, amused by this.
"You sure like to give off the impression that you know a lot," Sam said.
Yeah," Dean said. "We'd like to see if you can back it up already, Deep Throat."
"Sit down," he said. "I'm a storyteller by nature. I can't perform without an engaged audience. And--" he stood and he lifted up the edge of the Turkish rug he'd been sitting on so they could see the devil's trap painted underneath --"I will at least let you rule one possibility out."
A moment's stalemate, one obligatory shared look in which Sam couldn't read what Dean was thinking, and they sat down. The chairs he'd placed for them were very comfortable. A little too comfortable to be trusted, a little too carefully contoured to Sam's body, feeling almost as if he were in his favorite chair back in the bunker.
"I'm a witness," Notaras said, speaking still softly and calmly but now with animating hand gestures. "A witness to a great many things. I'm a confessor, of sorts. You have no reason to believe this and sometimes I doubt it myself, but I do try to be a good person. The boy whose corpse you found yesterday was a student and a friend of mine. His name was Thomas. He was special in more than one sense of the word. He came here at the age of eighteen, seeking refuge. I knew at once that he would require special care because his soul was crying out and I was the only one who could hear it. I speak, as I believe you might already have uncovered, of child abuse. I will not detail too much. I believe even those who are no longer with us deserve the dignity of confidentiality. I will tell you that I labored for all his time here to unshackle him from the loneliness and the hate and the stifling fear that he had learned to wear like armor. I tried to show him that he did not need the armor. He had always been strong. He had to have been, to survive what he had with any part of his heart intact. But there was another layer to this psychological drama. Thomas had a special talent. It was no less powerful for being so latent, in fact, I believe it might've been more so. I was the only one he had ever trusted enough to let his gift manifest. I took that trust very seriously. I became his tutor and I tried to return that trust by trusting him with the potential I saw in him, the raw power, the near-endless possibilities. Well, you already know how that story goes. He was lost to me. I have lost him."
Sam knew a tale like this should strike a deep chord with him, and he was very careful to maintain the rounded shoulders and knitted brow and compressed mouth, the pensive and brooding hunch and frown of someone experiencing empathy. It was tiresome as it meant he couldn't give the facts of Notaras' story his full concentration as they applied to solving this case.
"Could you be a bit more specific," Dean said. "What exactly did boy wonder do?"
"As yet, I cannot tell. Like I said, his potential was large in scope. I don't even know what he intended to do. He never seemed to hold any grudge against Annie--his sister--and yet hers was the third killing and nearly the bloodiest. Perhaps it wasn't all intentional. Perhaps he was only trying to balance the scales, to get justice at last and he found vengeance instead. That can happen. It often does. Whatever it was he channeled or summoned or perhaps even conjured, it was savage and voracious and I cannot believe it is done with this world yet. I know better. And I can feel it, permeating the woods, lurking on the edge of civilized life. Perhaps you can too."
He was looking at Sam when he said those last words, not fully and obviously, but there was still some social instinct in Sam that could sense his scrutiny.
"So what exactly can you offer us besides a sadsack origin story for our dead perp?" Dean's gruffness had a hoarse edge, frustrated but also covering for being unnerved.
"I mean to uncover the truth about these crimes and put their author to rest," he said, "with your assistance."
"With all due respect," he said. "Yes."
"What, you think we're gonna have a crossover team up with you, creepy magic man we just met?"
"It might be a little optimistic to think we will become a happy threesome. But come, this is far from the first time you have become reluctant allies with someone of a similar nature to mine."
"It's a selective club, pal."
"Is it? You have an interesting criteria, then."
"It would help," Sam said. "If you could give us a bit better of an idea of what you are. Because right now, you're the one who gets to put a label on us. The ball's in your court."
He sighed lightly, his eyelids drooped half shut, then he said, "I'm a priest. I mean that sincerely. I am a student of theological matters. I seek to be closer to the divine, in all its many forms. I am also a natural-born witch. I have never robbed or bartered for my power. I have never needed to." He looked Sam squarely in the eyes. "I am older than I look, but the face I wear is a real as yours. I am also the author of a series of historical mysteries, published under a pseudonym as I fear certain of my colleagues in the clergy might misunderstand their occult elements."
"We find out you're lying about any of this, we won't ask questions twice before we put a bullet in you," Dean said.
"You put a high premium on honesty in others," Notaras said, "for men who work under a thousand aliases and puts on a false face even to those closest to them." He rose from his chair and walked to the door. Sam and Dean rose too. "Come with me now," he said. "I can imagine you must be wondering where you can find my secret magic lair and I am going to gratify your curiosity so we can move along with our investigation with some baseline of, if not trust, at least understanding of one another."
They exchanged looks behind his back, looks that Sam was pretty sure meant they both thought they would probably regret not shooting him now, and then they followed him out.