Four Corners, New Mexico Present Day
The Historical Preservation Society of New Mexico had lost their last appeal to get the old deserted town of Four Corners declared an historical landmark. As a lawyer, Mathew Tanner's firm had been the one to handle the litigation. Now as he stood behind the sawhorse barricades watching the demolition crew prepare to raze the town, his failure to save this place was a bitter taste in his mouth.
"You tried Mathew. We all did," said his co-counsel and friend Travis Witt as he indicated the small group of protesters who had gathered to bid farewell to this piece of history from the Old West.
"It's just criminal that this is going to be plowed under to make way for one of those cookie cutter housing developments," Mathew said his arms crossed tightly across his chest as if he was literally trying to hold himself back from charging in and disrupting the demolition.
"That's progress for you," his friend replied. The resignation in his tone was clear.
Mathew snorted. "Don't think my ancestor and his friends would see it that way."
Travis knew that Mathew felt a personal responsibility to the Tanner legacy to keep the town standing. He had moved to the neighboring town of Conerstone when he'd joined Matt's firm and found that Four Corners was a bit of a legend in this part of the state. Travis hadn't believed in all the nonsense about it being haunted but he knew that his friend did, disturbingly so, because of similar non sequitur comments he'd made during their work to save Four Corners.
"Well, next time you talk to them be sure and apologize," he teased trying to lighten the mood.
"Don't think they'll be all that forgiving." Mathew said with complete seriousness. The lawyer's eyes were glued to the members of the crew milling about the main street. He watched as a skinny guy climbed into the bulldozer parked in front of the old saloon and smiled. "We may not be out of options yet," he said cryptically.
Harry climbed into the cab of his bulldozer and did a quick check. He was about to start up the engine when movement in front of the 'dozer caught his attention.
He looked up to see two men standing in front of the shovel. "Damn protesters can't stay away," he muttered to himself. He waved a hand toward the pair and yelled, "You can't be here. You need to get out of the way."
As he spoke, the two seemed to fade slightly, almost flicker, before becoming solid again. "What the hell?" he thought as he blinked his eyes to help focus on what he was seeing. It was then he noticed the way they were dressed - like something out of an old western. The taller man looked like a stereotypical cowboy; wide brimmed hat, checked shirt, a bandanna tied loosely around his neck and a big bushy mustache. The other was clean shaven and wore a bright red coat with a ruffled shirt. The cut of his clothes and the black hat on his head indicated that he was no cowboy.
Harry rubbed his eyes and looked again on the incongruous sight in front of him. "Protesters were really putting on a show," he thought.
"Buck, I do believe this man intends to demolish our saloon using this mechanical behemoth," the red-coated man said.
"Now, that's just plain mean, Ezra," the taller man smirked. "Who would do such a thing?"
"You guys are going to have to leave or I'll get security," Harry threatened. He didn't scare easily and he'd dealt with hippie protesters before. They usually took off once you threatened to call the cops.
"That's odd," Ezra said looking at his companion. "I was under the impression that we were the law in Four Corners. Have I made a grievous error, Mr. Wilmington?"
"Pretty sure we still are." Buck said shaking his head. "Always someone trying to challenge our authority."
"Poor misguided souls," the smaller man confirmed. "I suppose then, it is our duty to remind these interlopers that we are still in charge and it is in their best interest to vacate the premises immediately."
"I agree," Buck said and looked up to address the operator directly. "You need to come outta' there and be on your way. I'd hate for Nathan to have to try 'n patch you up after the explosion." Buck tilted his head toward an African- American man who had somehow appeared beside the cowboy, dressed in similarly old fashioned clothes.
"Never been good with burns, Buck. Best he get down 'fore Josiah drops his cigar," Nathan said pointing past Harry.
Harry looked to his right to see a grey-haired bear of a man standing just out of reach, holding a cigar. "You need to listen to Nathan. I'd hate to see you get hurt," Josiah said smiling congenially with just a hint of mischief in his blue eyes.
"Now wait a minute. Are you threatening me?" Harry was starting to worry. These guys weren't backing down and more were appearing out of - well he wasn't sure where they were coming from. He turned around in his cab preparing to call for security or a nearby crew mate and was startled to come face to face with a grinning young man in an odd little hat who had seated himself on the ledge behind the 'dozer's cab.
The young man just grinned at Harry when he'd jumped in surprise.
"JD get down from there before you scare the poor man to death," Buck called.
The youngster had a sheepish grin on his face as he disappeared only to reappear beside the man who'd called out. "Sorry Buck. I just never seen anything like that machine."
"How the hell had he done that?" Something weird was happening and Harry wasn't about to risk his neck for the job. "I'm going to get security and have you all escorted off the premises," he said trying to mask his fear. He was no longer sure that these men were - well men.
Harry stepped slowly out of the cab, careful not to turn his back on the 'dozer or the figures around it. It was then he noticed a tall blond man dressed all in black who had been standing just out of sight. The man…ghost…whatever…fixed him with an icy stare as he stepped menacingly toward Harry. Something in his manner just screamed eminent violence and the 'dozer operator started to back away gradually not wanting to antagonize him…it.
"This is our town," the gunslinger said. "You and your kind are not welcome here. No one's gonna be knocking any buildings down. Not today, not ever. Am I clear?"
Harry nodded numbly, turned and ran as fast as he could toward the security guards. Behind him he heard the man in black say, "Do it Josiah." Moments later the concussion of the explosion threw him to the ground. When he raised his head to look back, the six men were gone and the bulldozer was in flames.
Somewhere in Arizona - Present Day
Sam looked across the table at his brother. "Dude, do you have to make those noises while you eat?"
Dean looked down at his plate brimming with pancakes, bacon and eggs and then to his brother's fruit plate and toast. "You just don't know how to enjoy food," Dean said and shoveled another forkful of eggs into his mouth. "Mmmm," he intoned loudly.
Sam ignored his brother and caught the waitress's attention for a refill on his coffee. He had his laptop open on the table and he was reviewing some files for their next job.
"So, anything?" Dean asked around a mouthful of pancakes.
Sam had given up trying to improve his brother's table manners at the age of twelve for two reasons: one, it was a lost cause and two, Sam suspected most of it was for his benefit anyway. No sense letting Dean know it annoyed him when he talked with his mouth full.
"Yeah, I think so. Four Corners, New Mexico. It's a town that's been deserted for most of the last century," Sam began. "It was scheduled for demolition two days ago. On the day they were set to start, a construction worker claims he saw six cowboys haunting his bulldozer just before it blew up. No one else at the site saw anything unusual before the explosion."
"The guy crazy or drunk?" Dean snickered. "Or both?"
"Neither. The foreman says they were all under a lot of stress and is blaming the protesters for the explosion."
"The developers have been in litigation for years trying to secure rights to knock down the old buildings for suburban development," Sam continued. "Protesters were trying to get it declared a historical landmark but they recently lost the case."
"Lots of potential for bad blood," Dean said. "What are the local police saying; not that I think they got anything right?" As far as Dean was concerned the police were a bunch of idiots who just made his job harder by getting in the way.
"The police agree with the foreman. They've blamed the protesters for the sabotage."
"Any reason to think they're wrong?"
"I don't know," Sam admitted. "They're still investigating. The bulldozer operator seems very adamant about what he saw. He sounds pretty credible. And not surprisingly, the lawyer for the protesters, Mathew Tanner is supporting the idea that the place is haunted and shouldn't be disturbed."
Dean nodded absorbing the info Sam had presented. "Most of these old ghost town legends are hoaxes, you do know that," he said. "Like a bad episode of Scooby Doo."
"True," Sam grinned in agreement. "But my preliminary investigation has turned up a few other references to similar ghost sightings in the area over the past century. Plus, there doesn't appear to be anyone named Old Mr. Withers associated with the case, so I'm thinking it might be worth our time and we can be there by tomorrow."
Dean smiled. "Ok Velma, let's take a look."
Sam rolled his eyes as he snapped his laptop shut. They finished their breakfasts and were on the road within the hour.
Near Four Corners, New Mexico - The Past
Vin groaned as he swam toward consciousness. His head throbbed like an entire herd of buffalo had decided to stampede across his skull. He grumbled in misery as he tried to open his eyes but the glaring sunlight forced them closed again. A shooting pain, which caused stars to appear behind his eyelids, reverberated up his left shoulder as he tried to raise a hand to block the sun.
He prodded his shoulder with his other hand and winced - dislocated. Damn. Nathan would have to pop it in again. The healer had warned him that continuing to reinjure it would just cause it to dislocate out more easily. Apparently he was right.
Vin smiled as he thought about Nathan. He'd never admit it but the attention from their resident mother hen was always welcome. It was sorta nice to have someone always worried about his well being, which made the man's absence even more curious. Not like Nathan to leave an injured man lying in the dust.
Scrubbing a hand across his face, Vin tried opening his eyes again and found himself blinking up at a clear blue sky.
Mindful not to jostle his arm and with his head still aching in protest, Vin sat up. As he looked around the desert landscape, he saw no sign of the others.
The last thing he remembered before his injury was - nothing. At least nothing that would explain why he was lying alone on the ground with a dislocated shoulder. He reached up to massage his head, trying to jog his memory and felt moisture. As he pulled his hand down to look at it, he saw blood; his blood. Gingerly, Vin fingered his scalp again feeling an indentation and matted hair.
The pattern of the wound suggested he'd be grazed by a bullet. If he'd been shot, he was even more worried that Nathan hadn't made an appearance. Why was he alone?
Ignoring the throbbing that pulsed from his aching head down through his damaged shoulder, Vin forced himself to stand. His eyes roamed across the scrub brush and lonely trees that dotted the rocky terrain of the ravine trying to find something that would explain his current state.
His eyes were drawn to a hint of red, incongruous with the dusty brown of the desert scenery and he staggered toward it. As he approached, the shape resolved itself into a body.
He ran the last few steps as he realized whose body it had to be and skidded to his knees beside the prone figure. "Ezra!" he cried. Slowly he turned his friend onto his back. Vacant eyes stared up at the sky.
"NO!" Vin cried out in anguish. This wasn't happening. He shook his friend but it was no use, Ezra was dead.
His body was trembling as he tried to hold himself together, his brain unable to comprehend the sight in front of him. They'd been through so much together. It was like losing a member of his family. Ezra with his fancy speech and crazy schemes was gone. Vin touched the man's well tailored red jacket with a bit of reverence. Damn fool loved that coat. He found himself brushing the dust off the lapel and then stopped when he realized that it didn't matter any more.
Frantically he looked around. The rest of his friends had to be close and most likely hurt too. They wouldn't have just left Ezra lying here if they were in a position to help. Then Vin spotted the others.
Hesitantly, he moved to the next prone figure. It was JD, the little brother he'd never had, and just beyond lay Buck. He felt the sadness knot his gut as he turned the kid's body over. It didn't surprise Vin to note that Buck had obviously spent his last breath protecting JD. The older man had appointed himself JD's guardian the first day they'd met and he wondered if Buck would continue to protect the youngest of them all after death as well.
Vin allowed him self a small comfort in the idea that even in death they might still be together. He pressed a hand to his forehead forcing back the emotions that threatened to spill out. When he looked up there were more bodies. Was he the only one who'd survived? The idea that all his friends - his brothers - might be gone would not register.
Leaving Buck and JD, Vin moved to find Josiah and Nathan a bit further up the ravine. As he knelt down beside the former preacher, he found his voice. "Help me Josiah. I don't know no bible quotes. I don't - " Vin swallowed. He had no idea what to say. Josiah was always the one with the comforting words.
Frustrated by his inability to express anything for his friends, Vin turned his attention to the healer and closed his unseeing eyes as he'd done for all of them.
He stayed there kneeling in the dirt between his friends with nothing but the whisper of the wind to break the silence. Dropping his head into his hands, Vin just held himself still, waiting for the nightmare to be over. When he opened his eyes again the scene was the same; his friends were gone. A tormented cry reverberated through the ravine. It was only after the echoes returned did Vin realize that the unholy sound was coming from his own lips cursing the powers that be who allowed this to happen, and even condemning himself for surviving.
In the midst of his fury, the memories came flooding back to him of the last morning they were all together. The seven of them were headed out to investigate reports of bandits in the hills but they must have been set up, ambushed. How else could the outlaws have gotten a jump on all of them? He had no memory of the others going down and figured he must've have been the first one hit. He'd survived but the others - hadn't.
Then it dawned on him that someone was missing. Someone his brain would not, could not accept as being dead.
Chris. Where was Chris?. Vin sucked in a deep breath and got to his feet. He looked around wildly trying not to see his five friends silent around him. "Chris!" he yelled.
Their friendship was a bond that surpassed any he'd ever known. As close as any brother, Chris was a part of him in a way neither could explain. They had - have, Vin corrected himself - a connection. Vin's heart was breaking at the loss of his friends, but the loss of Chris might very well break his soul.
Still protecting his useless left arm, Vin started walking, calling his friend's name and tracking the pattern of horse prints in the dust. Another fifty paces up the ravine he found the man in black, their leader, leaning against a lone tree in the shade and he was still breathing.
"Chris. Chris. Chris!" Vin's voice broke as he repeated his friends name like a mantra as he settled in next to the injured man.
Chris gasped a weak, "Still alive," and Vin wasn't sure who he meant.
"Yep. I'm alive. Let me see," he said moving Chris' hand away from the wound in his belly.
Vin's face fell as he examined the damage that he was pretty sure that even Nathan wouldn't have been able to heal. "You're gonna be fine, pard." He tried to sound positive.
Chris chuckled, "Liar," and began coughing. Blood trickled out of his mouth. "Anyone else?"
Vin cast his eyes down. "Just us."
The dying man shook his head and raised one hand to point at Vin. "Just you," he whispered.
"Chris, you can fight this. I'll go get Nathan's bag. Maybe - "
Chris grasped his shirt with a strength that surprised Vin. "Watch over the town. It's just you now," their leader commanded. His eyes looked straight into Vin's soul, demanding the promise.
"I promise. I'll take care of the town and I'll avenge the others," he said, the rage at what had happened still pulsating through his veins.
Chris didn't release his grip on Vin's shirt. "I have your promise. The town comes first," he demanded weakly.
"Of course. What ever you say - what ever you want." Vin struggled to sound positive. If Chris had made him promise to turn back time, he would have figured out a way to do it. Vin would have done anything to keep Chris alive and here with him. "We'll do it together just as soon as I get you patched up."
His friend shook his head and then began coughing again. Vin held him until it passed. "I won't be going anywhere. The town's your responsibility now. I have faith that you'll do just fine without us."
"No. You can't leave me," Vin insisted, not caring that he was sounding a little desperate. "We're a team, I can't do it alone."
Chris stared unflinchingly at him. "Yes you can," he said; none of the weakness in his voice now. "You can and you will." The command was clear and Vin could no longer deny the inevitable that Chris was dying and leaving him alone.
Vin nodded, unable to trust his voice to respond without breaking.
The man in black finally released his grip on Vin's shirt and fell back against the tree. "We did great things, us seven. We took care of people," he huffed out, every word was becoming a struggle.
Vin let his friend ramble as he held his hand. Now that he had extracted Vin's pledge it was if Chris was letting go, allowing himself to die. Vin could no longer hold back the grief that was threatening to tear him apart. The tears were flowing freely as he watched the life of his best friend ebb away. Chris' speech was slurring and slowing as his body fought for every breath.
"Don't let them forget," Chris said, each word a great effort. "Don't forget us."
"Never," Vin promised. "I'll make sure you ain't never forgot."
The hand he was holding went limp. "Chris?" Vin was openly sobbing as he clutched at the lifeless appendage. He lost track of how long he stayed kneeling in the shade, begging Chris not to leave him. But his friend, his brother, was gone and no amount of begging would bring him back.
Finally the pain in his shoulder demanded some attention. He stood and braced himself against the tree. Without Nathan, he'd have to fix it himself. Vin slammed his body into the unyielding wood, a scream escaping his lips as he felt the snap and pop of bone being jolted back into place. He continued to scream, focusing all his rage on the pain in his shoulder.
The emotion flowed out of him until he stood quiet and motionless in the hot sun. His throat raw from his wails of anguish and his eyes rubbed red as he tried to stop the flow of tears. He didn't want to remember his friends this way; cold and silent. He knelt back beside Chris and took out his knife. He emptied a small pouch from his belt and then reached out to cut a lock of hair from Chris' head. Placing the keepsake into the leather bag, he walked back retracing his steps, and repeated the ritual with each of the others.
Vin spoke to each one as he took his token. He wasn't sure why he'd done it but it comforted him to think a piece of them might be with him always. Vin had been a loner before the six of them had become his family and now Chris had made him promise to continue on his own. If he hadn't promised, he wasn't sure he would be willing to even try.
The only horse he could find was Buck's grey and he had no idea where the other animals might be. Talking calmly to the animal, Vin mounted and spared one more glance at the figures in the dust. It was still too fresh; too unreal, but then the finality of today's events would never feel real to him. They were dead and he was alone but he promised he would find a way to keep them alive in his heart somehow.
Later he'd come back with some of the townsfolk and give his friends a proper burial. He spurred the horse into a gallop and headed back toward Four Corners, leaving the best parts of himself behind.
Cornerstone, New Mexico - The Present
"What is it Annie?" Mathew Tanner looked up at the sound of his assistant knocking on the door frame.
"Sorry to interrupt but there are two government agents outside wanting to talk with you," she said.
Mathew looked past the petite brunette to see two tall men in identical black suits waiting in the lobby of his law office. "This has to be about Four Corners," he said. "Send them in."
She turned to leave. "Wait, Annie," he called her back. "What's the status of the paperwork on the injunction against restarting the demolition?"
"Travis filed the motion about an hour ago. The judge has agreed to hear your petition tomorrow," she said.
"That's good news."
She smiled. "Yes it is. Shall I show them in now?"
"Might as well," he sighed. "And Annie, if they arrest me, make sure Travis takes the hearing. This might be our last chance to stop the destruction of the town."
Local cops were one thing but if the government was involved then chances were they wanted to bring him in for questioning, or worse, flat out arrest him. Mathew's group was the one leading the charge to save Four Corners and they'd benefited directly from the delay. He knew that made him suspect number one.
Nodding, she turned and stepped into the lobby, motioning for the agents to enter the office. "Mr. Tanner will see you now."
Mathew stood to greet the men.
The taller one with slicked back hair introduced himself as Agent Campbell. "And this is Agent Raimi," he said pointing to the shorter, stockier man sporting a military haircut. "We're with Homeland Security."
The two flashed badges at Mathew and he glanced briefly at them before indicating that they should have a seat. "What can I do for the government?" He asked smiling as he settled himself behind his desk once more.
"We are investigating the incident at Four Corners as a possible case of domestic terrorism," Agent Campbell explained. "What can you tell us about what happened that day?"
Mathew was unsurprised by this turn of events. Bombs go off and immediately the word terrorism gets bandied about. The lawyer shrugged. "We were protesting the demolition when suddenly the bulldozer just exploded."
"Can you account for everyone in your group's whereabouts during the incident?"
"Agent Campbell, I have no way of knowing which of our supporters were around that day. We are a large group with a loose affiliation."
"What about you?" Agent Raimi asked. "You do any late night touring of the site before the crew got to work."
"Are you accusing me of setting the explosives?"
"Well, you have been very vocal about stopping the demolition," Agent Raimi explained.
"I didn't have to do anything to do with it," Mathew laughed and decided he might as well toss out what really happened though he knew they would never believe him. "The ghosts took care of protecting the town; just like they always have."
"You really believe the stories about the haunting? I find that surprising. You seem like an intelligent man," Agent Campbell said.
"I realize that practical men such as yourselves would never give credence to the idea of the town being haunted but I assure you it is. You won't find any connection to me or anyone in my group for the explosion."
"You have to admit it sounds far fetched. Six ghosts? A little bit of overkill don't you think?" Agent Raimi smirked. "Most hoaxes only need one."
"It's not a hoax," Mathew snapped. He couldn't explain why he felt compelled to convince these men of the supernatural nature of the situation. Maybe he just needed to prove to them that it wasn't anyone in his organization. "Do you know why those men haunt Four Corners?"
The two agents shared a furtive glance. From the looks that passed between the two Mathew figured they'd decided he was crazy. "Why don't you tell us the story?" Agent Campbell prompted. "It might help us understand the mindset of the people involved."
Mathew stared at the two before him. Something was off but he couldn't put his finger on it, but then he'd never dealt with Homeland Security before. Still, it did seem odd that they'd be this interested in a so-called campfire tale.
He stood and retrieved an old photograph from the bookshelf on his right. "This is a reproduction of the only photo I know of taken of the seven." He handed the framed picture to Agent Campbell.
"Seven? But there were reports of only six ghosts," Agent Campbell prompted.
Mathew got the distinct impression the tall agent already knew the story. He apparently wanted to hear it again but for what reason the lawyer wasn't in a position to speculate. "This one," he said pointing to a man with long hair wearing a buckskin coat, "was my ancestor Vin Tanner. He, along with those others, were the law in Four Corners for almost a decade. They protected that town, it was their whole world and then one day they were ambushed. Vin survived but the others didn't."
"You look like him," Agent Campbell observed.
Mathew smiled. "So, I've been told."
"Why do you think they still haunt the town?" Agent Campbell asked. The sincerity in his voice startled Mathew and confirmed his belief that they were far to interested in the local legend for typical Government Agents.
Matt decided he might as well share the prevailing theory in the Tanner family. "According to family lore, Chris Larabee - he was the leader - ," Matt said pointing to the man dressed in black in the photo. "As he lay dying, he made Vin swear to always protect the town which he did until his dying day. I think bond of friendship between my ancestor and Chris reached beyond death and in promising to protect the town, Vin kept their souls from moving on."
"It's a touching story," Agent Raimi said. "But really just a local legend." The guy was trying to sound like a skeptic but Mathew wasn't buying it.
"My family has believed it for five generations." Mathew said quietly as he leaned back against his desk. "So, I guess you'll just have to arrest me because my story won't change. I'll even give you permission to search my house for evidence. I don't care. I know the truth."
"That won't be necessary," said Agent Campbell as he rose to leave. "Do you think I could get a copy of this photograph?"
"Made a believer out of you, did I?" Mathew wondered why the agent would want the photo and why they didn't want to search his house. He was sure he was a suspect. The local police had said as much.
The tall man's face took on a serious expression. "Of course not. I want to compare it to the description the witness gave."
Matt nodded at the logic of that, but he remained unconvinced about their real motivations. "Sure, just ask Annie on your way out."
"You wouldn't happen to know where the six are buried, would you?" Agent Raimi asked.
Agent Campbell glared at his partner. The staring contest between the two didn't seem like normal behavior for government agents and he was beginning to feel like he was watching a very bad play.
The lawyer in him thought about calling them on it, asking to see their badges again but in the end he decided not to push his luck. Instead, he played along with this strange verbal dance the three were engaged in. "There's a small cemetery just south of Four Corners at the crest of the hill. You can't miss it. All seven are buried there."
He was curious to find out why they wanted to know. Maybe he'd head over to Four Corners himself and see if these guys showed up.
Matt ushered them out of the office. He stood leaning against his door frame, watching as Annie made a copy of the photograph. Agent Raimi was flirting shamelessly with her. Matt was too far away to hear the conversation that had Annie giggling as she wrote something on a piece of paper and handed to the Agent. Matt snorted as he realized that she'd given him her number, though not surprising as his assistant had a thing for guys in law enforcement.
He didn't miss the disapproval coming of Agent Campbell in waves at the flirtatious exchange. Matt definitely needed to find out who these guys really were.
Dean loosened his tie as they exited the building. "Don't think we need to interview any one else. Seems like a standard salt and burn if you ask me."
Sam nodded as he opened the door to the Impala. "Maybe." he said with some reluctance.
Dean looked over at his brother. "What's wrong?"
"It seems too easy. These ghosts have been around a long time. How come no one else has been here to do the job?"
"Who knows but don't we deserve an easy one? And speaking of easy ones, we should be done in time for me to give that hot little secretary a call," he said as he waved Annie's number at his brother before depositing it in his pocket.
Rolling his eyes, Sam folded himself into the passenger seat as Dean slid in from the other side. "Fine, we head to the cemetery tonight," the younger Winchester grudgingly agreed.
"An evening of grave desecration; always a fun time." Dean smirked as he started up the engine, navigated the Chevy into traffic and headed back to the hotel.
Neither Winchester noticed Mathew Tanner watching them from his third floor office window.
After stopping at the hotel to change out of their suits and into comfortable shirts and jeans, the Winchesters left Cornerstone and headed fifteen miles due south to where the town of Four Corners stood.
Dean pulled the Impala up the dirt road leading to the small graveyard and parked. When they'd driven by, Sam had pointed out the yellow police tape that still cordoned off the north side of Main Street where the explosion had occurred. Luckily, Cornerstone didn't have the manpower to keep a guard on the site, so they had the place to themselves.
"A marker for the seven?" Dean said indicating the three foot high stone monument which dominated the small cemetery illuminated in the car's headlights.
"Town really must have respected those guys," Sam replied. "That kind of adoration could explain why they haven't moved on."
"Death bed promises can contain powerful mojo, too. I'm guessing we may have to burn Tanner's body too, just to be sure."
Sam nodded and grabbed his flashlight before exiting the Impala. Dean turned off the engine, plunging the graveyard into darkness again.
Supplies and flashlights in hand the brothers trudged into the cemetery.
"This looks relatively new." Sam said as he swept his flashlight across the headstone. The names of the seven were inscribed on both sides. "It's a tribute to all seven and we know Vin Tanner didn't die with the rest."
Dean knelt down beside the monument. "There are brass plates set in the ground here," he said as he brushed aside some debris from the one on the end to reveal the name Ezra Standish.
Sam turned and played his flashlight across the ground illuminating the line of brass plates. "They're all here. Where do you want to start?"
Dean pointed to Standish's marker. "I'll start here. You start at the other end. This is going to take some time." He stood, setting his flashlight on the stone and began to dig.
Sam nodded and placed his flashlight to shed light on the grave of Buck Wilmington.
The brothers worked without talking; the sound of shovel hitting dirt the only noise breaking the silence in the graveyard.
Mathew Tanner had watched the two 'agents' leave in a car no government official should be driving. The old Chevy hadn't been hard to track down in a town the size of Cornerstone. Now, as he stood watching them from the shadows, it was clear the two were impostors just as he'd suspected. Mathew felt his anger rise as he watched them desecrate the graves of the town's heroes.
"Don't do anything foolish, Matt." The quiet voice pierced the darkness and made him jump.
He turned to see the man in black standing next to him. "Chris. I have to stop them."
The ghost shook his head. "We'll handle it. 'Sides it's not the first time some crazy idiots have tried to dig us up."
When Mathew had been a teenager his father had brought him out to Four Corners to share with him the real story of the ghosts that haunted the town. The Tanners, he'd said, could always see them and it was their job to help the six keep the town safe as a testament to their legacy.
"That explosion, Chris. Someone could have gotten hurt," Mathew said. The destruction of the bulldozer was the first time he'd been privy to any violence on the part of the six. Usually it was the spooking of wayward teenagers who drove out to Four Corners to do what ever it was teenagers did in deserted towns. That would start the rumors up again about the town being haunted and keep others away.
"We do what we have to do," Chris replied.
Mathew shivered at the coldness in the ghost's voice. As much as he wanted to see the town preserved, Mathew knew that he couldn't allow the six to hurt anyone. If it came to that, then he supposed he'd have to figure out a way to stop them himself.
"Well, I have to admit that you did get the demolition delayed. Now let me handle it legally. No more explosions," the lawyer begged.
"We won't ever hurt anybody," Chris assured him.
Mathew inclined his head toward the two still working on the graves. "What about them?"
"I think we got this covered." Chris smiled as he looked out toward the graveyard.
Following his gaze, Mathew noticed that the grave robbers were no longer alone. He smiled as he imagined what they must be thinking at the appearance of the spirits. "I can see that," he chuckled and wondered how he'd let himself become such good friends with ghosts.
"Can't a man rest in peace?" The sound of a heavy southern drawl cut through the silence.
Dean looked up from the grave he was digging. "What the hell?" He heaved himself out of the hole, grabbed his salt-filled shot gun and aimed it at the ghost.
The ghost threw up his hands in surrender. "There is no need for violence," Ezra said. "I am simply trying to save you from continuing in the futile effort to desecrate my grave site. I assure you that there is nothing of value to be found."
"Sam," Dean called over his shoulder. "Looks like we found our ghosts." He wasn't sure why he hadn't blasted the apparition but there was no indication that he was in any imminent danger. Maybe they could convince the spirit to move on and save themselves a bunch of digging.
Sam appeared at his side; gun aimed at the ghost. "It's Ezra Standish, Dean. I recognize him from the picture."
The man favored them with a lopsided grin. "So nice to be recognized. Now if you gentleman don't mind, I would prefer it if you would depart from these premises immediately."
"Aw hell! They've been digging at mine too."
The brothers swung around to see another spirit standing beside the grave that Sam had been working on. "Buck Wilmington." Sam whispered as he eyed the big man in the floppy cowboy hat.
"You guys do know that you're ghosts?" Dean asked. He tracked their new arrival with his shot gun as it moved to stand next to Ezra.
The big man gave a hearty laugh. "Course we do, boy."
"So why haven't you moved on?" Sam asked.
"Got work to do," Buck replied as if the answer should have been obvious.
"Guess we do this the hard way then. Sam keep digging," Dean ordered. "I'll cover you."
Nodding Sam jumped back into the hole that Dean had started and proceeded to finish the excavation.
"I am intrigued, Buck. They know we are ghosts and yet they do not seem the least bit perturbed by our presence."
"Think we may be losing our touch?" Buck asked.
Ezra shrugged. "Shall we call for reinforcements?"
"Hi, Buck, Ezra" A young man in a suit and bowler hat appeared acknowledging the other ghosts. "Chris said you might need some back up."
Ezra rolled his eyes. "JD, I was hoping that Mr. Larabee would join us. No offense but he is significantly more intimidating than you."
The young man smiled. "S'okay Ezra. He's busy."
"Busy?" Dean asked.
"Oh hey there. I'm JD Dunne and you are?" He asked holding out his hand.
Dean stared at the proffered appendage but didn't move.
"Now JD, you know he ain't gonna shake your hand," Buck admonished playfully.
"Oh right." The kid pulled his hand back and looked at it before shoving it into his pocket. "I forget sometimes," he said sheepishly.
Ezra stifled a laugh but then frowned as he watched the intruders continue to empty his grave. "I must repeat JD's inquiry. Who are you gentlemen and what do you hope to accomplish in our little graveyard this evening?"
Dean stared at the three and yet found himself answering, "Dean Winchester and that's my brother Sam."
"Just like the rifle?" JD offered brightly.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah, just like the rifle." He'd come across many types of ghosts over the years but one that reminded him of an over eager puppy - well that was just wrong. "Sam, you almost done there. I'm feeling the need to shoot something." His gaze settled on JD.
"Mr. Winchester, I assure you, JD meant no offense," Ezra said "As I mentioned before we simply wanted to save you the trouble of all that physical exertion."
"Well thanks there, fancy pants, but I think we know what we're doing. You're ghosts and you need to move on. We're here to make sure you do just that and don't hurt anyone else."
Buck's eyes grew dark. "No hold on a minute. We ain't never hurt no one."
"Well none that didn't deserve it," JD reminded him.
"Sure." Buck shrugged. "There was some that did but that was a long time ago before this," he said indicating their undead state.
"The clang of metal hitting wood stopped all conversation. Sam laid his shovel along side the grave and grabbed his flashlight. "Uh, Dean this casket is relatively new; certainly not the original."
Dean grabbed his own flashlight and shone it into the hole revealing a modern coffin. "What the hell? Maybe it's not him."
"I assure you sir, that it is me," Ezra said.
"Or what's left of ya," Buck snickered.
JD peered into the open grave from the opposite side. "Gee Ezra, that's a nice one. Do you think we all got such nice ones?"
Buck chuckled. "Nah, kid you know Ezra, nothing but the best."
"Will you dig mine up next?" JD asked the brothers. "I want to see what color it is."
Dean glared at the annoying youth without responding. "Open it up and let's get this over with," he said to Sam.
Sam nodded and pried open the lid. Looking at the contents he sighed. "That's what I was afraid of."
"That don't look right," JD observed. "Is it s'posed to look like that? What happened to the body?"
"You," Dean said pointing at Buck. "Can you shut him up?" He'd had enough of the kid's irritating questions.
"I've been trying to do that for over a century. Can't shut down JD's mouth. It just keeps going-,"
"That's not true. I just got questions Buck. Don't think I need to be told to shut up so much," JD interrupted.
"Kid, you ain't stopped talking since we died," Buck replied. "Think a man could get some peace and quiet when he's dead, but no."
"I ain't a kid no more Buck," JD groused. "Wish you'd stop calling me that."
"I said, shut the hell up," Dean shouted as he fired his weapon and JD dissipated in a waver of smoke.
"Now that was downright unfriendly," Buck growled.
Ezra put a hand on the big man's chest to stop him from charging Dean. "Buck, you must admit that JD was becoming a bit of a nuisance to our guests and if I am correct it was only rock salt." He looked to Dean for confirmation. "Therefore, young Mr. Dunne will return shortly if he so desires. In the meantime, I suspect that these fine gentlemen have a few questions for us."
Dean ignored the ghosts and addressed his brother. "If someone already burned their remains and then reburied them, how are they still walking around?"
Before Sam could answer Dean went flying backwards away from the grave. Sam jumped out to see the ghost of a large African-American man looming over his brother. Sam picked up his rifle and was about to shoot when Ezra intervened. "Please Mr. Winchester let me speak to my companion."
Sam nodded and lowered his weapon.
"What the hell did you do to JD?" the ghost shouted down at the elder Winchester.
"Nathan. Calm yourself. We are attempting to have a friendly conversation with the Winchesters. There is no need for violence." Ezra assured him as he pulled the healer away from Dean. "JD was just being JD," he added as if that explained everything.
"He had no call to shoot the boy," Nathan insisted "And why are you letting them mess with the grave site, anyway?"
"Seems these fellers aren't really bothered by the fact that we're dead," Buck explained. "Little hard to scare 'em off if they won't spook."
"Sam, I am really starting to hate this hunt," Dean growled as he stood, dusted himself off and retrieved his shotgun. "Why don't I just shoot them all so we don't have to listen to any more of this crap?"
Nathan crossed his arms and glared at Dean. "You shoot me and I promise we're gonna have a problem."
"Dean, let me handle this," Sam said as he stepped in to stop his brother from dissipating the only sources of information left to them.
"Finally, a man of reason," Ezra said. He smoothed the lines of his red jacket as if removing ghostly dust. "I am ready to answer any and all of your questions, Mr. Winchester."
"Your bodies. They were burned before?" Sam asked
Ezra nodded. "Yes. They was another man such as yourself many years ago who believed he could rid the town of its protections by burning our bodies. We did not allow let JD come around for that so he wouldn't know."
"Too bad you didn't keep him away now," Dean said. The kid had really gotten under his skin for some reason. To have died so young and yet he seemed so alive - for a ghost.
"Called hisself a hunter. We did get nice new burials after that and the local historical society put up this here marker." Buck patted the monument that he had come to lean against. "Real pretty, don't ya think?"
"That explains the new caskets," Sam said. "Obviously, the hunter didn't stick around to see if he'd got it right."
"Damn sloppy of him." Buck grinned.
"Obviously," Dean repeated as he glared at the big man. "So, how are we going to get rid of them? We can't burn them, they won't go willingly and god knows they won't shut up."
Ezra chuckled. "I see that the truth has begun to penetrate. We will not be displaced. If you had heeded my words in the beginning, you could have saved yourself a significant amount of effort."
"You done yakking Ezra? Because I believe we've been more than polite." Chris Larabee had appeared along with Josiah. JD made his return as well glaring at Dean and fingering the gun in his holster.
"I was simply attempting to explain - "
"Save it," Chris said holding up a hand to stop the gambler in mid sentence. "You boys are finished here." He smiled at the Winchesters but the grin never reached his eyes.
"We just wanted to help you move on," Sam said wary of the newcomer. "It really would be in your best interest."
"You'll find that we won't be moved and we will protect this town," Chris said coolly.
"The good lord has seen fit to bind us to this place and here we will stay," Josiah explained.
"In case you hadn't noticed, town's dead. There's nothing to protect." Dean gestured toward the deserted main street.
"Don't matter," the former preacher insisted. "We will stay until the powers that placed us here are finished with us."
"Dean, we should go," Sam said. There was nothing more they could accomplish at the grave site tonight and he wanted to look into more of the history surrounding the six.
"So what, we're just supposed to leave them here? They may be friendly now but we both know that ghosts don't stay that way. They could hurt someone."
"Hey, you're the one who shot me. How'd you like it if I shot you?" JD said pulling the gun from his hip.
"You're fine. Stop your whining," Dean said dismissively. "You can't shoot me with that anyway."
Frustrated by the truth, JD returned the gun to its holster. "I don't like 'em. Why don't they just leave?"
Buck came up behind the boy and clapped him on the shoulder. "They will. They just have to figure it out for themselves. Seem a little thick to me." He grinned as he pointed to his head.
"I don't know what else we can do here," Sam said. "We should go."
"You can't be serious?" Dean stared at his brother. A silent conversation took place between the brothers as the six ghosts watched.
Finally, Dean nodded his understanding. "Guess you beat us guys," Dean said cheerfully as he began gathering up his gear. "You win, we'll be moving on and leaving you all to your protecting."
Ezra snorted. "Sir, if we were at the poker table, I would have cleaned you out with bluffing like that."
"No way I lose to some fancy pants like you, and where'd you get that fake accent from anyway?" Dean said responding to the challenge.
"Dean what are you doing?" Sam asked. "You gonna play poker with a ghost? We need to go."
"Oh right," He said and looking at Ezra added, "Next time."
"I look forward to what is sure to be an exhilarating experience." Ezra tipped his hat at the Winchesters and disappeared.
One by one the other five copied the gesture until the brothers were standing alone in the graveyard.
"What the hell just happened?" Dean asked.
Dean opened the door to the shabby motel room to see his brother bent over his computer in full research mode. Dropping his keys on the dresser, he settled into the empty chair at the small round table opposite Sam. "Hope you found something because the locals had nothing," he said by way of greeting.
The day had been a bust. The brothers had gone back to Four Corners in the morning, wanting to get a feel for the town in the daylight, but security was in full force because of the news crews. It seemed the fight to save the town had started to receive some big time media attention and no one was being allowed near the crime scene.
Still, they'd seen enough to recognize that the buildings were in unbelievably good condition considering that most had been abandoned for over a hundred years. Figuring they'd come back later when the media frenzy had died down, the Winchesters returned to Cornerstone where Dean had dropped Sam at the library while he'd gone to check out some of the local hangouts. He figured that some of the old-timers might have more information about the legends than books and old newspapers could provide.
Dean had also wanted to talk to Mathew Tanner again, but the lawyer was scheduled to be in court all day. Frustrated, he'd returned to the motel hoping that Sam had found something worth pursuing.
"Did you find anything on our six ghostly friends?" Dean prompted again when Sam hadn't responded.
Sam finally looked up and leaned back in his chair. "Only that they've never actually hurt anybody. Most of the stories involve people simply being scared off. They were telling the truth. They aren't dangerous."
"So say the unnatural spirits." Dean was unconvinced. "But someday they could be and I aim to prevent that from happening. What about their anchor and what's keeping them here? Anything on that?"
"Nothing, but I did find something interesting about the town."
Dean waved a hand in his brother's direction indicating that he should get on with it.
"Two years ago a land developer - " Sam paused to check his notes, "Alex Saunders, appeared on the scene with paperwork indicating that he owned Four Corners, and made immediate plans to demolish it. But I can't find any record of previous owners. At least not as far back as the 1930's."
"So, people were shocked. All the news stories from that time indicated that the locals believed that Four Corners was already a preserved site. Except, I've found nothing to suggest who was responsible for it."
"Tanner? He seems pretty vested in keeping it around." Dean offered.
Sam shook his head. "He's interviewed in some of the articles and seems as shocked as everyone else; he insisted that the town was, in fact, already a historical site. I checked and the state has no record of the land being classified that way. It's weird; like until this Saunders guy showed up the town existed in a bubble. People left it alone and no one questioned anything about it."
"These ghosts have some sort of glamour over the town?" Dean suggested. "Maybe they're the ones keeping it so well preserved and out of the public eye."
"The pristine condition is certainly part of the reason everyone thought it already was a historical site and that was most likely due to the ghosts' presence. As for glamour, I don't think so. Honestly, I think nobody really thought about who owned the land until the city of Cornerstone grew enough that Four Corners' proximity made it a desirable location for development," Sam speculated.
"While this is a fascinating look at New Mexico real estate, it doesn't tell us what's keeping them from moving on," Dean reminded him.
Sam nodded and shrugged indicating that he'd found nothing to help on that front.
Dean scrubbed a hand across the back of his neck trying to find inspiration. "Hey remember that doll we had to burn at your girlfriend's to get rid of the creepy serial killer ghost girl. Maybe there's hair or some other body parts floating around that we need to get rid of, too."
"First, dude, Sarah's not my girlfriend."
"Coulda been," Dean mumbled under his breath.
"Let it go," Sam insisted. "And second, that was a special case because the doll was made to look like her and captured part of her essence. Think about it Dean; people get hundreds of hair cuts throughout their lives. No way you can burn it all and obviously we don't need to or we'd never get rid of any ghosts. And as for body parts, they all seemed to have theirs."
Dean nodded. "Makes sense. So maybe an amulet or some other object that all six are tied to?"
"If there is one, I'd bet Mathew Tanner knows what it is."
"Except that he's unavailable." Suddenly, Dean sat up straighter smiling. "I know who else might know."
Confusion crossed Sam's face as he tried to think of anyone else involved who might have this type of information. "Who?"
"The ghosts." Dean stood and started rummaging through his duffel. He pulled out a deck of cards.
Sam was incredulous. "You're going to play poker with ghosts and hope they tell you the secret of their existence?"
"I can be very charming when I have to be."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Only in your own mind."
"Hey, you got a better idea?" Dean snapped.
Sam dragged his hands through his hair in frustration. "Actually, no."
The town had been deserted when they'd arrived after sunset. It seemed none of the reporters were interested in visiting the ghost town in the dark, so there was no longer any security at the site either.
Dean walked into the darkened saloon. His shotgun held loosely in the crook of his arm as he swept his flashlight around not sure exactly what he was looking for. Suddenly the lights flamed on and the room was illuminated in the soft glow of oil lamps.
"Come to grace us with your presence again, Mr. Winchester?"
Dean swung around to see Ezra holding court over an empty table in the corner of the room. The gambler was manipulating a deck of cards as he leaned back in his chair.
"Call me Dean," he said as walked over to face the ghost. "I bring a peace offering." He held forth a bottle of Jack which he set on the table and then pulled his own deck of cards from another pocket in his leather jacket. He laid his shotgun on a neighboring table but well within reach.
Ezra leaned forward to examine the bottle. "You are aware that I cannot imbibe alcohol in my present condition."
Dean shrugged as he settled into the chair across from the ghost. "I figured it was the thought that counts."
The gambler eyed the hunter with the gaze of one experienced at reading men and uncovering their tells. He leaned back and chuckled. "Last evening you came into my town and desecrated my grave. You barely spoke directly to any of us and you dispatched young Mr. Dunne because he annoyed you. And yet today here you are offering gifts and companionship. I can only surmise that you think me a fool simply because I am no longer among the living."
Dean opened and closed his mouth as confusion lined his face when he realized that Ezra had not actually asked him a question. "I figured you might have some interesting stories to tell," he sputtered out finally. "I've never come across such friendly ghosts and- "
Ezra held up a hand to stop Dean's ramblings. "I see that you are as articulate as my five companions. It appears that the educational system in this time is as sorely lacking as it was in my own."
"Hey. I'm just trying to be friendly here. Make up for - you know - trying to dig you up. I can go." Dean said as he reached for the whiskey in a dramatic gesture indicating he didn't have to stay.
"Now, now - Dean." Ezra said emphasizing the use of his first name. "This visit has nothing to do with you wishing to improve our acquaintance or even the challenge of a poker game." Ezra flourished the deck of playing cards before setting it onto the table. "On the contrary, you wish to learn certain things from me that understandably I have no desire to tell you. Therefore you have to put aside your natural aversion for dealing with the unnatural in order to bluff the desired results from my personage. As I observed yesterday, you sir, can not bluff."
"What hell did you just say?" Dean snapped, realizing that Ezra had totally sussed out his game plan.
A booming laugh came from his right as Buck Wilmington appeared. "That's Ezra. Don't understand half the stuff he says. We just nod and smile most times."
"I feel the same way about Sam," Dean grinned. Ezra might be on to him but he figured he'd make the best of the situation. Never knew what they might let slip
Ezra rolled his eyes as he watched the two connect at his expense. "Buck, I simply observed that Mr. Winchester - "
"Dean - is trying to trick us into telling him how he can remove us from this place. I informed him that I knew what he was up to." Ezra said patiently as he always did when having to translate his more refined speech for his companions.
"See what I mean." Buck smiled a big wide open grin that Dean couldn't help but return. "Even his explanations need explanations." Buck caught sight of the whiskey bottle. "Do you mind?"
Dean made a gesture indicating that Buck should help himself. "But I thought you couldn't drink liquids."
Buck focused and grabbed the bottle. He pulled a glass from somewhere that Dean missed and filled it almost to the rim. "Can't. But it's satisfying jus' ta see it there," he said as he recapped the bottle and pushed it back over to Dean. "Don't get me wrong it's a good after life 'n all but without whiskey and women well - " he shrugged.
"I echo your sentiments, my friend." Ezra sighed.
Dean nodded sympathetically. "Definitely two things necessary to my definition of the good life." He found himself genuinely warming to the big man and Ezra too, even though the gambler had an ego the size of Texas. But then again, Dean had always respected men with confidence.
"So," Buck said as he slapped a hand down on the table breaking their musings about women and whiskey. "You know you ain't getting rid of us?"
"Well it was worth a shot," Dean admitted and wondered if Sam was having any more luck with his investigation at the town's old newspaper offices. "So how about we play some poker, then? You boys can hold the cards right?"
"I shall endeavor to do so," Ezra said smiling.
"Guess that means yes," Buck chuckled.
Sam shook his head as he watched Dean walk toward the Saloon. Not that he had a better plan, but making friends with the spirits didn't seem the wisest move. It was certainly out of character for Dean. He turned on his flashlight and headed into the Clarion Newspaper offices to see if any of the old records had been left behind. He wasn't sure what he expected to find after all these decades.
He actually had to pick the lock on the door to get in. Once inside, he felt like he'd stepped back in time. He'd already known that the town was unnaturally well preserved but this place was in pristine condition. As if the owner of the newspaper would be back tomorrow morning to work on the next edition.
He began opening cabinets and drawers looking for the old editions unaware that he was being observed through the windows by three of the ghosts.
"You gonna tell Chris he's going through Mary's things." JD asked the men standing next to him.
Josiah shook his head. "I think it best we don't bother Chris."
Nathan nodded his agreement. "He's sure to find out soon enough. Don't need to be hearing about it from us."
"So what now?" JD wondered.
Pointing toward the saloon, Josiah smiled. "Now, we find out what the other Winchester is up too."
Sam had spent the last hour going through old newspapers and documents. Finally, he stumbled onto a file that he thought might be at least part of the solution to their problem. He figured since none of the ghosts had made an appearance and Dean hadn't shown up to drag him away that the six must be occupied with his brother in the saloon.
He carefully folded the papers he'd found and tucked them into his jacket and began cleaning up the clutter that he had created. Sam placed the last of the papers back in their file drawers and turned to find himself face to face with Chris Larabee.
"What the hell do you think you doing?" Chris snarled.
Sam threw his hands up in surrender as he backed up against the file cabinets. "Just trying to help. Really." Sam glanced beyond the ghost to see that his shotgun was too far out of reach to be of much help if Larabee turned violent.
"We don't need your help." His voice was low and menacing.
"Right because you were so successful in preventing the town's destruction a few days ago?" Sam suppressed the urge to clap a hand over his mouth in a futile attempt to snatch the words back in. What was he thinking, antagonizing the angry ghost?
Chris' eyes grew darker. "I suggest you collect your brother and leave before I do something both of us will regret."
Unlike Dean, Sam knew when to beat a hasty retreat. "I'll go but I need my things," he said gesturing to his gun and flashlight on the table.
Chris stepped aside but remained coiled like a rattle snake ready to strike.
With a final nod of resignation, Sam collected his belongings and headed out the door to find his brother.
Sam pushed open the saloon's batwing doors and was brought up short by the sight of his brother laughing hysterically along with four of the five ghosts arrayed around the poker table.
JD was standing off to the side, hands on hips and a familiar look on his face. It was the look of a little brother being thoroughly embarrassed by an older sibling and Sam knew he'd worn that expression himself many times.
"That's not funny, Buck," JD fumed.
"Sorry kid," Dean gasped out between barks of laughter, "but that was frickin' hilarious."
"It didn't happen like that," he insisted.
"Well, that's the way I remember it," Buck grinned as he looked to his companions for corroboration.
"Story gets funnier every time I hear it," Josiah confirmed.
JD huffed with frustration and turned away from the laughing men to lock eyes with Sam, who couldn't help but send the kid a sympathetic smile.
He returned the silent greeting and announced, "Sam's here."
Dean swiveled in his seat, "Hey Sammy, join us. I'm winning."
"That is only because I am at a distinct disadvantage in my current state," Ezra said.
"He means because he can't cheat with your cards," Nathan supplied.
"I never cheat." Ezra's claim set off another round of laughter among the men. "You wound me, my friends," he said mockingly as he threw a hand to his heart.
"You may think that JD is awkward with women but Sam there," Dean threw a thumb over his shoulder at his brother, "has him beat. There was this one time when Sam was eighteen - "
"No time for stories Dean," Sam snapped as he came to stand behind his brother. "We need to go."
"What's your rush?" Josiah asked. "Pull up a chair. We'd all like to hear this story."
"Sorry to disappoint," Sam said as he grabbed his brother's arm and tried to pull him to his feet.
"Dude, what's your problem?" Dean said as his yanked his arm away. "Fine, I won't tell the story but I'm not leaving while we're in the middle of a game. Right guys?"
Murmurs circled the table as each man confirmed their desire for Dean to stay.
"You can play with your friends later but Mr. Larabee has requested we leave and I think we should."
"Don't mind Chris. He's not a scary as he likes to believe." Buck assured them.
JD snorted. "So says you."
Ezra studied Sam as he had Dean earlier. "I believe that young Mr. Winchester's desire to leave has little to do with Chris. I suspect that he has found the answer to the question of our continued existence in this place."
"Huh?" JD asked.
"He knows how to get rid of us." Josiah translated as he turned his steel blue eyes on Sam.
The others looked expectantly him and Sam flinched as he watched the friendly mirth drain from their eyes.
"That true?" Dean asked as he stood to face his brother.
"Not here," Sam hissed as he again indicated that they should go.
Dean hung his head, nodding as he huffed out his agreement. Turning back to the table, he plastered a grin on his face. "Seems my little brother is afraid of your fearless leader, so we're gonna take off."
The ghosts returned his fake smile but none of them called him on it. Collecting his things, Dean tipped an imaginary hat to the five and following his brother, pushed his way through the batwing doors to the outside.
"Buck, you don't think...I mean they can't really - " JD left the thought hanging.
"No idea, kid." Buck shrugged as he watched the doors continue to swing. "Let's hope it don't come to that because I like Dean and I'd hate to have to hurt him."
Dean stepped outside and was immediately dragged into the shadows by Sam. The protest died on his lips as Sam silently shushed him and pointed down the street.
A car had pulled up to the yellow police tape and parked. Sam led Dean through the gloom as they moved to get a closer look.
A street lamp flared illuminating Chris Larabee, arms crossed, waiting in the middle of the street for the new arrival. The brothers ducked into the space between buildings.
"It's Tanner," Dean whispered as the man stepped into the circle of light.
In the stillness of the night, the Winchesters were able to hear the voices of Tanner and Larabee as they greeted each other.
The Winchesters exchanged a glance which indicated that they should have suspected that Tanner was involved somehow. Ultimately, they were unsurprised that Mathew spoke with the ghosts.
"Good news, Chris," Mathew said as he approached. "The injunction was granted and we have some time to represent our case. I think with the additional media exposure, we might have a good shot with the state government this time around."
"That's great, Matt, but we have a bigger problem," Chris said as he squashed the younger man's enthusiasm. "The Winchesters were here."
"Winchesters? You mean our grave robbers?"
"Not grave robbers - ghost hunters. And they won't rest until they've exorcised us from this place."
Mathew nodded his understanding. "What can I do?"
"You still have the box of mementos Vin collected?" Chris asked.
Mathew stared at his friend. He was positive that this was the first time he'd ever heard Chris speak Vin's name. Mathew had always wondered what his ancestor had been like; how Vin had fit into the group of seven but the others had refused to talk about him. Josiah had finally told him, in confidence, that he was a 'dead ringer' for their missing member. That was one of the reasons they liked having him around so much, but that he needed to stop asking about Vin. Mathew never brought him up again.
"Sure. It's back at the house," Mathew said finally finding his voice. The box of heirlooms was one of the Tanner family's prized possessions. It contained objects of significance from each of the seven. "Why?"
If Mathew was expecting tales of his ancestor, that was not what Chris had in mind.
Sam watched the two huddle as the conversation dropped too low for them to hear without moving closer and exposing their eavesdropping. "We have to get that box, Dean," Sam whispered. "I'm guessing those objects are what we've been looking for."
Dean nodded and led the way back to the Impala. If they were lucky they might have time to break into Tanner's house and get the objects before Mathew had a chance to hide them out of reach.
Unfortunately, as stealthy as the brothers tried to be, the minute the Impala was fired up, Mathew was alerted to their presence.
Bidding a quick farewell to Chris, he hopped into his car and paced the Winchester's back to his house. The black car was just about to park at the curb as Mathew pushed the button to raise his garage. He watched as the Impala took off.
Mathew figured he had just moments before they formed a new game plan and came knocking at his door.
"Now what?" Dean asked as he watched the garage door close behind Tanner's car.
"We tell him the truth and hope he does the right thing," Sam said pulling the papers he'd pilfered from the Clarions' files from his jacket. Sam had shared what he'd discovered with Dean on the ride back and he just hoped that Tanner would be able to see the big picture.
Dean parked and they approached the front door. It opened before they were half-way up the walk.
"I know who you are Sam and Dean Winchester and I know what you want." Mathew called to them. "I think it's best if you leave now."
Sam stopped at the first step to the porch, Dean right behind him, and held up the papers. "I think you're going to want to see what I found."
"What is that?" he asked.
"A way to save your precious town," Dean replied.
Mathew eyed the documents in Sam's hand with suspicion but didn't respond.
"Mr. Tanner, I promise you this is not a trick," Sam said pulling out his most congenial tone. "It's true, our goal is to move the ghosts on from this plane of existence but I think once you see what I have, you will be willing to let them go."
"Alright, you've got five minutes." Mathew said as he moved to allow the Winchesters to enter and then guided them into the living room.
Sam handed the papers to the lawyer. "These are the deeds to the land that encompasses the town and much of the surrounding area."
Mathew paged quickly through the documents. "These all say the land belongs to Vin Tanner. How do hundred year old documents help my case today?"
"I believe that as the town was dying, your ancestor bought up all the land he could." Sam explained. "He owned it all."
"And?" Mathew prompted, skepticism still infusing every word.
Dean rolled his eyes. Sam always had to be so dramatic. He ignored their conversation and focused on examining what he could see of the interior of the house from where he stood. He wasn't as confident as Sam that Tanner would just turn over the box once they'd presented their case.
"The last pages are a bequest of the land on Vin's part to the state with the proviso that the land be set aside as a national park and historical site."
Mathew flipped to the pages and studied the document. "The National Park service was in its infancy when these documents were drawn up. Still, there's no record of this transaction on file. I should know, we checked with every government agency that might have been involved."
"Exactly. My guess is the proper paperwork never got filed or maybe there was no system to grant such designation in New Mexico at that time. There's no way to know for sure what happened." Sam said.
"My family always believed that the land was a protected site. But if what you say is true then that means… the town…" he paused as realization dawned but still found himself unable to express his epiphany.
"It means because the final paper work was never completed that the land still belongs to the Tanner family," Sam grinned.
Mathew lowered himself to the couch and stared at the documents in his hand. "Travis and I always suspected that Saunders bribed some officials to lay claim to Four Corners but we cold never prove it," he said numbly. "I'd always hoped that we could uncover the corruption but I never suspected…" he trailed off.
Sam came to sit next to Mathew. "The town's yours. These documents should help prove your case and uncover what ever deals were made behind the scenes on Saunders behalf."
"I don't know what to say. I'm in your debt. Chris said you'd been in the Clarion offices; was pretty angry about it too. I would have never thought to look there," Mathew admitted.
Sam cleared his throat and looked toward Dean who encouraged him to get on with it. "Yeah, speaking of Chris, we heard him mention a box."
Mathew had suspected that the brother's had overheard his conversation with Chris. "You want the heirlooms. Vin's collection."
"With you in control of the town, their mission is complete. It's time to let them go." Sam said sympathetically.
Tanner laughed. "I don't have that kind of power. They do pretty much what ever they want."
"We salt and burn those trinkets," Dean explained. "And they won't have a choice. Their anchor to this world will be gone and they will move on."
"But they're my friends," Mathew protested weakly.
Sensing capitulation, Sam gave Mathew his most understanding face and pressed him to agree, "It's for the best. Please go get the box?"
Mathew nodded his shoulders slumped in defeat. "You're right. It would be best before they do something that gets someone hurt."
"Smart man." Dean said.
Mathew stood, left the room and returned with a wooden box the size of a small toaster oven. It was covered in ornately carved Native American Symbols.
Dean reached for the box and Mathew pulled it back. "I want to say goodbye. We do this in the graveyard. They deserve to know the good news about the town and why this is happening."
"That may not be such a good idea." Dean said. "Especially if they don't want to go."
"Then bring your shotguns but we do this my way."
Sam and Dean shared a look before agreeing to Mathew's demands. "Can we see what's in the box, at least?"
Mathew set it down on the coffee table and turned the key to open the lid. He emptied the box, placing six objects on the table: a pocket watch, a wooden cross, a medical instrument, a set of cuff links, a deck of cards and a yellowed picture of a blonde woman and her son. Sam picked up the picture.
"Chris' wife and son. They died in a fire." Mathew said and then grimaced. "I guess they will again when you burn these things."
Sam didn't know what to say as he placed the picture back on the table.
"What about the box?" Dean asked.
"You're not burning that." Mathew said defensively. "Vin Tanner carved that himself. It's a family heirloom."
"It's okay. We don't need the box just these things." Sam assured him.
The lawyer nodded. "I brought you this," he said as he pulled a plastic bag from his pocket and handed it to the younger Winchester. Sam placed each of the things inside.
"Let's go then. Our car's out front." Dean said as he headed for the door.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to drive myself." When Sam made to protest, Mathew added, "Don't worry, you can keep the bag with you. I'm ready to do what needs to be done but to be honest; I'd rather not ride back with you two when it's over."
Chris Larabee was waiting for them as they entered the graveyard.
"He always seems to know when I'm in town," Mathew confided to the Winchesters.
"Matt," Chris said suspiciously. "I told you to get rid of them not bring them back."
"Sorry Chris, but things have changed"
"What have you done?" He growled and stepped forward.
"That's far enough." Dean snapped as he brought up his shotgun. "Matt has something he needs to tell all of you and we're here to make sure you listen."
Chris paused in his advance and was immediately joined by the other five. They arrayed themselves beside Chris. This was not the happy poker playing group from earlier in the evening. "We're here. Speak your piece," the man in black commanded.
Mathew sucked in a breath before he began to recite all that he had learned from the Winchesters. He concluded with the best news. "It means that as soon as I can file the papers, Four Corners and all the surrounding area should officially belong to the Tanners."
The six were dumbstruck by the revelation. Chris continued to eye the Winchester's with mistrust. "You really sure about this?" he asked Mathew.
"Yes. I have no doubt that those documents will hold up in court," Mathew confirmed.
A rare smile broke out across Chris' face. "Well then, 'pears like we have some celebrating to do." He looked to the brothers. "And it seems I owe you both an apology."
"Just doing our job," Sam said.
"That is wonderful news. Now Dean," Ezra called as he walked over to the older Winchester, "I believe we should retire to the saloon so that we can continue our game."
Dean laughed. "I had you beat. You sure you want to go again?"
"I told you that I was not at my best. I assure you that the outcome will be different this time," Ezra said as he threw a knowing smile toward his ghostly companions.
"You saying you let me win?" Dean snorted his disagreement. "Hell no! I outplayed you and you know it."
"I gotta agree with Dean," Nathan teased. "Can't win 'em all, Ezra."
"I find you lack of faith disturbing, Mr. Jackson." Ezra replied and turned to address his opponent. "Shall we, Dean?"
"Dean." Sam hissed. "We don't have time for this."
"Chill Sammy, I need to teach Ezra here a lesson."
"This I gotta see," said Josiah. "Plus didn't you promise us some rather revealing stories about your brother?"
"Sure did. Sam was eighteen and there was this girl…"
Sam nudged his brother, and glared at him. Silently reminding him that there weren't here to play poker or swap embarrassing stories, especially ones about him.
"Seems Sam, don't want you to tell that one," Buck laughed. "So's how about getting to it? Must be a doosey."
"Quiet down everyone," Chris shouted for their attention. "I don't think they came here to celebrate. Sam, why don't you tell us what's really going on?"
"Chris is right. Now that the disposition of the town is settled…"
"The what?" JD interrupted.
Sam smiled and started again. "Now that the future of the town is safe, it's time for you all to move on. You're purpose is fulfilled and you can rest easy knowing that Four Corners is in good hands," Sam explained as he gestured to Mathew
"Move on. Whatcha' mean move on?" Nathan asked.
"The Winchesters are here to send us into the great beyond, my friend," Ezra explained.
"Now wait a minute." Buck protested. "Chris, you okay with this?"
"Give us a minute, will you boys?" Chris said to the mortals as he led the six away for a private discussion.
Dean watched the ghosts in their huddle. "I don't know Sam, are we sure about this?"
Sam started at the idea that Dean wanted to walk away from a hunt. "Dude, are you serious? What about all that talk that they might turn violent?"
"Yeah but - " he shrugged not wanting to admit how much he had been looking forward to another round of poker with Ezra.
"Are you changing your mind?" Mathew interjected. "Because I'm happy to forget this whole thing."
Dean kicked at a pebble by his shoe. "No, Sam's right," he admitted reluctantly. "Never know what could happen in the future."
"I'm sorry Mathew but it's really for the best." Sam added.
"Matt," Chris called and waved him over.
The Winchesters watched as each ghost made their goodbyes to Tanner. "Guess they decided to see it our way," Sam observed.
They waited in silence until finally the seven returned to stand in front of the brothers. "We're ready." Chris spoke for the group.
"Just wanted to say that you guys - well you're the coolest friggin' ghosts I've ever met," Dean said.
"But you are not sorry that you have to do this," Chris countered.
"No," Sam admitted. "This is what we do and sometimes it's not always a happy choice but it's the right one. You should be at peace."
The ghosts nodded their understanding. There really was nothing left to be said. Sam carefully placed the six objects in a small pile on the ground. Dean covered them with salt and lighter fluid, struck a match and dropped it onto the mementos. They went up with a whoosh and the ghosts disappeared at almost the same time.
Sam, Dean and Mathew watched as the fire burned itself out. The Winchesters could hear Mathew snuffling back tears and watched as he swiped at his eyes.
"I'm sorry. I know they were your friends," Sam said.
Mathew shook his head. "More. They were family."
"They're at peace. It's where they belong."
"If you don't mind, I'd like to be alone," Mathew said. "I really don't want to talk about it with you guys. Don't get me wrong, I'm really grateful for what you uncovered about the town but - " he trailed off as he gestured toward the memorial for the seven.
"Sure. We understand," Sam said. The Winchesters gathered up their things and headed down the hill.
Dean paused as he reached the Impala. "I really liked those guys," he said sadly. "Never thought I'd say that about ghosts."
"Yeah, me too," Sam agreed as he folded himself into the passenger seat.
Dean glanced back toward the graveyard. "Rest in peace guys," he whispered as he got into the car and drove away from Four Corners.
Mathew turned to watch the classic car leave the gravel path and head out onto the road toward Cornerstone. When the taillights were lost in the darkness, he reached into his jacket and pulled out the old leather pouch that contained the hair clippings from each of the six that Vin had collected on the day of their deaths. He squeezed it tightly before returning it to his pocket.
Maybe Vin was waiting for them on the other side? It didn't seem fair that his ancestor had spent all this time alone without his brothers. Sighing he realized it was too late now, he'd made his decision. Mathew just hoped it was the right one.
"Okay guys, the coast is clear," he called into the darkness and held his breath waiting for a response.
"Think they bought it?" Chris asked.
Relief flooded through him at the sound of Larabee's voice. "Yeah, they did," Mathew said, finally admitting to himself that he was very glad that the six were still around.
"I am impressed, Mr. Tanner, real tears for us. Truly, I am touched," Ezra said as he came to stand beside the lawyer.
"Real nice performance, kid," Buck agreed.
One by one the others appeared to add their praise for the ruse.
"I did let him win. Y'all know that right?" Ezra insisted.
"Whatever you say, Ezra, we believe you." Nathan chuckled as the others joined in to the gambler's chagrin.
"We never did get to hear any stories about Sam," Josiah lamented.
"Maybe next time," JD added.
"No, there will be no next time," Mathew chided.
"So what happens now?" Chris asked.
"You guys stay out of sight, especially if the Winchesters show up to check on their handiwork," Mathew explained and then smiled. "As for me, I've got work to do."