Authors: Jeff Mariotte
A woman in a crisp green business suit over a gold blouse emerged from a back office into a reception area that was mostly office supply boxes waiting to be unpacked, and an empty desk. She looked professional but harried, with a few strands of honey-gold hair escaping from a clip and dangling around her face. With the business suit, Sam noted, she wore pink-trimmed white Reeboks. “Can I do something for you?”
“We’re looking for the mall manager,” Dean said.
“You’ve found her. I’m Carla Krug. Excuse the mess in here, we’re a little chaotic at the moment.”
“Understood,” Sam said. “We don’t want to take up much of your time.”
“We’re with the
,” Dean said, extending that lie. “I’m Dean, and that’s Sam. We’re here working on a piece about the region outside the park, and thought that the opening of a big shopping center here should be part of the story.” 54 SUPERNATURAL
“It’s a little unexpected,” Sam said, picking up the thread. “I don’t think of the area as being populous enough to support a major mall.”
“It all depends on how wide an area you can draw from,” Carla said. She tucked one of the stray locks behind her ear. “There really is nothing on our scale north of Phoenix, so we have a potential customer base of hundreds of miles in every direction. We expect to draw from Nevada and Utah as well as Arizona.” She settled back against the receptionist’s desk.
“Look at it this way. One of those huge chain stores could have moved in here selling a few brands of clothing and shoes, appliances and housewares, even groceries. Most of it made in China, and all the pro-ceeds would go to Arkansas or someplace instead of staying in the community. They still might come into the area, for all we know. But if they do, they’ll find that we’re ready for them, with dozens of shops offering hundreds of brand names they couldn’t hope to carry. We’ll have national chains and locally owned businesses. We’re creating six hundred jobs that didn’t exist here—ongoing permanent jobs, not counting all the local construction workers we employed to get the center built. Many of those jobs are management positions that build leadership skills, benefi ting the whole region.”
No one had asked for the sales pitch, but she had given it anyway, fast and concise. Now that it was done, Carla took a deep breath and smiled at them.
“I’ve been doing a lot of interviews lately. I guess that just comes out naturally now.”
“I think you’re probably right,” Sam said. “A place like this is bound to be good for the area economi-cally. That’s just the kind of detail we need for our piece.”
“I heard you were around,” she said. “I wondered if you’d come by.”
“Can we look around the mall?” Dean asked. “I’d like to see, you know, what stores are here. And maybe the behind-the-scenes stuff our readers love, like the security office and the back hallways.”
“I don’t see why not. I can take you next door to Security, but after that I’ll have to leave you on your own. I have a million things to do.”
“Of course,” Sam said. “That would be great.”
“Let’s go,” Carla said. She was too busy to waste time looking at their phony ID cards or to interrogate them in any detail, which worked for Sam. She squeezed between them and led the way out into the hall, then opened the door to the security offi ce and held it for them.
“Thanks,” Sam said as he went past her. The security office was darker than hers, with two banks of TV monitors showing scenes from around the property. Three uniformed guards were in the room, two men watching the monitors and the third, a woman, doing paperwork at a desk in the corner. The guy from the parking lot wasn’t there. The offi ce smelled like stale coffee, and the mall hadn’t even opened yet.
“Here’s the nerve center,” Carla announced. “Lady and gentlemen, these two fellows are with the press.
They’ll be poking around for a while, so don’t arrest them unless you have to.”
The guards chuckled at that, and the woman at the desk shot them a friendly grin. “My guys haven’t had a chance to shoot anybody yet, so if you really misbehave, maybe we can use you as an object lesson.”
“We’ll be good,” Dean assured her. “What kind of security problems are you anticipating? The usual shoplifters?”
“Definitely that,” the female guard said. She had short black hair and olive skin, and her uniform was snug on her thick form. “And beyond that, who knows? Pretty much anything that can happen will happen at a place like this.”
“And with those monitors you can keep track of the whole place?”
“There are some blind spots,” one of the male guards answered. “And we don’t have cameras inside the shops, or in the bathrooms. But common areas, and the exterior . . . yeah, we got those covered.” Sam leaned closer to the monitors. The images were black and white, but clearer and sharper than most surveillance camera footage he’d seen. The advantage of using brand-new equipment, he guessed.
He didn’t want to sound overly interested in their security force, but if whatever was coming to Cedar Wells targeted the mall, he wanted to know their capabilities. He hadn’t seen any guns, but hoped the female guard wasn’t kidding about being able to shoot.
Not at him and Dean. Just in general.
“Good pictures,” he said.
“At the right angle,” the male guard said, “I can read a license plate.”
“What’s that?” Dean asked. He was pointing at one of the other monitors, which no one had been watching because they were all watching Sam.
“What?” the male guard asked.
“It was just on this screen,” Dean said. He indicated the lower right corner. “It walked off this way.”
“A person?” the guard asked. “Or what?”
“That’s what I couldn’t tell,” Dean said.
The guard punched some keys and the image changed. “We have more cameras than we do screens,” he said. “I’ll bring up a wider angle.” The monitor flickered and the picture changed.
Sam could see a stretch of parking lot, with a slab in the foreground that had to be the mall’s exterior wall.
more of a stagger
, Sam thought,
he’s been injured
—across the vacant parking lot was what looked like a man in a cavalry uniform.
But a uniform from a hundred years ago.
“Is he wearing a costume?” Carla Krug asked.
Before anyone could respond—although the answer almost certainly had to be yes—the image fl ickered and the man faded out.
, Sam corrected himself mentally.
didn’t flicker. Just the
flickered within the image
The parking lot and the wall stayed on the screen, but the man was gone.
Then he was back, but farther from the camera.
Almost to the edge of the frame. Then gone again.
He didn’t return. The guard at the keyboard brought up a couple of different cameras, showing varying views of the lot, but the guy in the old soldier’s outfi t was nowhere.
“What the hell . . . ?” the guard asked.
“If there’s something wrong with this system, we need to know about it right now,” Carla said. “And we need to get it fi xed.”
“I don’t think it was the system,” the female guard said. “The cameras are working fine. I’ve never heard of a camera losing just part of an image and keeping the rest of it.”
“Like you said, Lynnette, anything that can happen will happen here.”
“I know, but I didn’t mean things that are physically impossible.” She returned to her desk, grabbed a microphone and thumbed its button. “Anyone in the northwest section of the parking lot, or with a visual of it?”
“I can be there in a minute,” a voice came back, staticky but distinct.
“Go, then,” Lynnette said. “You’re looking for a guy in some kind of military costume. Like a Civil War soldier or something.”
More like the Indian Wars
, Sam thought, but he kept his mouth shut.
“On the way,” the voice said.
“I guess you guys didn’t anticipate something like this happening while you were here,” Carla said to Sam and Dean while they waited for the guard’s report.
“You never know,” Dean said. “We see some pretty strange things.”
The radio speakers crackled. “I’m here. Don’t see anybody in a uniform, though.”
The guard sitting at the console brought up a view that showed the guard Sam and Dean had met in the parking lot striking out across the lot, toward the fringe of forest surrounding it. All the screen showed 60 SUPERNATURAL
was his form against a background of black pavement marked with white lines.
But as Sam watched, the image fl ickered again.
One moment the guard was alone in the lot, and the next the soldier had appeared behind him.
And he was drawing his saber from its scabbard.
“Johnny!” Lynnette shrieked into the radio.
“Johnny, he’s right behind you! Do you see him?” Johnny started to turn, his face as blank as it had been earlier. He tucked his chin toward his chest, and Sam understood that he was talking into a microphone mounted at his collar. “I don’t see—oh!”
“Johnny, be careful!” Lynnette cried.
Johnny said something else, but they couldn’t hear him now, only see his mouth moving, in miniature, on the monitor in the dark, silent room where the smell of overheated coffee filled the air. The old soldier still flickered a little, as if he couldn’t come entirely into view. The sword in his right hand looked long and deadly.
“Oh, God,” Carla said softly. “This can’t be happening.”
You’d be amazed at what can happen
, Sam thought.
He slapped Dean’s back. “Let’s get out there.”
“Right behind you,” Dean said.
“Everyone report to the northwest parking lot!” Lynnette called into her radio. “Now! Suspect is armed and extremely dangerous!” Sam and Dean burst through the security offi ce door and out into the mall. Once they got there, Sam realized they still didn’t know their way around well Witch’s
enough to pick the fastest route to the back parking area. They held back a moment and let the two male guards who had been watching the monitors go fi rst, just long enough to lead them to a door that opened onto that lot.
Once they spotted the door, the Winchesters poured on the speed, passing the guards easily. They wanted to be first on the scene.
Not that it would help Johnny.
The last thing Sam had seen on the monitor, before racing out of the offi ce, was the old soldier thrusting his sword through Johnny’s gut, and the security guard—his eyes wide with fright, as he had at last seen his attacker—falling to his knees on the pavement.
Sheriff Jim Beckett wore the same sheepskin coat and white hat he had at the McCaig death scene.
The paramedics arrived in what might have been the same van, roof lights fl ashing bright against low, leaden clouds. As far as Sam could tell, the only new player was the mayor of Cedar Wells, Donald Milner. He had a knee-length black coat on over a plaid blazer in maroon, white, and black, for which he might have mugged a real estate agent. His pants were sharply creased khakis and his loafers had tas-sels on them.
They all stood around a bloody patch of blacktop, from which the paramedics had removed the body of the guard named Johnny. By the time Sam and Dean had reached him, the soldier was long gone—or sim-62 SUPERNATURAL
ply invisible again. Out of sight, in any case.
“You boys aren’t going to say anything about this before the opening, are you?” Mayor Milner asked, fixing Dean and Sam with an anxious glare. “I mean, you’re not with the local press, right?”
“We have a long lead time,” Dean said. “Don’t worry about us.”
“There isn’t anyone else here from the media, is there, Jim?”
The sheriff glanced around. “Don’t appear to be.”
“If I were you, though,” Sam said, “I’d give serious thought to delaying the opening.” Carla Krug blanched. Mayor Milner scowled and bunched his right hand into a fist, like he might start throwing punches. “We’re not delaying the damn opening!” he declared. “This mall opens tomorrow no matter what. There’s too much at stake not to.
Not to mention all the advertising that’s already been done.”
“But if this, and the killing last night, are part of the forty-year murder cycle,” Sam objected, “then it’s not—”
The mayor cut him off angrily. “There is no forty-year murder cycle! That’s nothing but an urban legend. Preposterous claptrap!”
Sam glanced about them. Except for the mall, nothing but deep woods in any direction. About as far from “urban” as one could get.
Dean turned toward Sam. “Great,” he muttered.
Dawn of the Dead
, we wind up in
“Shark?” Sam replied. “I don’t see any shark.” Witch’s