Rating: PG - teen!chesters - Gen
Spoilers: General (for all aired episodes)
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
Summary: Hustling pool in the deep south, John drinks whiskey and ponders the adage 'the family that scams together, stays together.'
John liked the way the names of some states rolled off the tongue.
They each had associations, good and bad, like the first names of 48 women he’d spent time with off and on throughout the years. Most let him come and go without a word. Some were content with mutual silence as he burned through the night and never left the main roads. A few others didn’t seem to mind when he stopped to sleep to the sound of freight trucks roaring down the coastal highways and the smell of cold salt air. When the very west and farthest east turned their backs, he knew it was time to turn towards warmer climes until he fell back into their good graces again. Besides, there were some spots on the map that would never turn him down.
Rolling the burn of liquefied brown sugar and molasses in his mouth, he let the bourbon sear down his throat and flame pleasantly in his belly.
Alabama welcomed him with open arms no matter what hour he showed up drunk on the porch.
“How ya doin’?” Dean asked.
“Great.” John said. “Yourself?”
It was odd to engage in polite discourse with someone whose diapers you used to change, but to reach the goal of the evening there was a necessity to force the awkward small talk. In order for any good hustle to work their observed conversation had to appear to transpire between two people whom had never met before. John always forgot exactly how difficult it was to achieve that effect until they were once again in the act of trying.
“How ‘bout this weather?” Dean dug for what was left in the nearby pretzel bowl.
“It sure is somethin’.” John yanked it out from under his hand.
Most folks in the northern parts of the country wanted everything below the Mason-Dixon Line to still look like something that had long since past. There was a palpable wish that the humid sub tropics would all still resemble a turn of the century plantation complete with hospitality, moonshine and just enough of the good old days to provide an experience without the forfeit of current century plumbing. The truth of the muggy cramped bar and the lazy spin of ceiling fans pushing the thick heat through the air was enough for John. If the absence of good ventilation and a fondness for mounted deer heads equaled charm, than he could find that backwater notion of romance on every point on the compass.
“Couldn’t help but notice you had a few twenties in yer wallet.”
“Not too many.” John muttered.
“Got a game going on back there.”
“There’s a couple hundred bucks on the table.”
He’d been following the click of the billiard balls behind him for an hour and he knew precisely how much cash was currently floating in the unclaimed pot. John pretended to be impressed by the sum while raising his empty glass to catch the bored bartender’s notice.
The pool cue tapped on the cement floor to get his attention again.
“You a bettin’ man?” Dean gave him a probing look.
John forced himself not to sigh openly at his kid. The entire discussion had been orchestrated to come off like causal repartee. Not some corndog dialogue from a damn mob movie.
“Not tonight.” He answered shortly. “Sorry.”
“Aw, come on?”
The cocky Mafioso talk shifted closer to something more like when his boy was denied a turn to use John’s most expensive semiautomatics. Nevertheless, the guy at the pool table that they were attempting to fool seemed to remain convinced of the scene’s legitimacy despite the poor script. He cut his son off before Dean could drop any lines about Lady Luck or any other deity of fortune.
“I said I’m not interested.”
The third party playing the game had to be completely oblivious to their association. The other guy’s thoughts had to be so outside of the possibility of a scam that it’d feel like a great idea to lay down large chunks of cash with reasonable optimism of doubling the sum before last call. John forced himself not to turn around and study his son’s eyes for all the signs he was constantly telling him to stow during a con. He didn’t have to look at him to know he was grinning like an idiot and lounging too comfortably at his side to make them perfectly plausible strangers.
However, the pure happiness derived from pulling a fast one was often widely misinterpreted as a great many other things after midnight in a badly lit pool hall. So far no one had taken them to task for the boy appearing a little too cheerful or laughing too much at his own jokes. John always felt like telling him to quit treating it like fun and games but he never bothered getting around to delivering the reprimand. He’d raised his sons with very few family oriented activities but there were some pastimes that they participated in all year round.
Scamming the unwary out of a paycheck happened to be one of them.
“I’ll take it easy on you.” Dean assured him. “I’ll even let ya break.”
John felt his carefully neutral gaze harden when the gracious offer was embellished with a wink. It had never occurred to him that there might be a particular joy in the activity due to the freedom to run at the mouth in any manner the situation may or may not require. The kid had gotten ballsy ever since the summer had left him a few inches taller and even closer to looking his father eye to eye. John knew his son was eagerly anticipating the day there’d be no need to look up at all but he was in no personal hurry to see that wish granted any time soon.
“Fine.” Dean shrugged. “Forget it.”
John approved of the dismissive indifference in the tone. He listened to him return to the pool table and loudly inform the other player what the hold up was.
“Screw that guy.” He explained. “He’s broke.”
The abrupt cut off of the deafening jukebox that had been blasting all night in the corner made John look around for the reason why. When he saw it had been silenced in favor of some live music, he was privately glad. If he had to listen to one more plastered table of hicks righteously sing along with the chorus of ‘Freebird’ he was going to hurt somebody. He shifted his weight in the red padded pleather seat and watched an old man shuffle his way to the bar’s small plywood stage.
Barely able to climb the two steps of the platform, the elderly musician finally settled down behind the microphone. After making sure his beer bottle was safe and a smoldering cigarette was firmly wedged in the corner of his creased mouth, the man got down to business. The deep harmonious sounds that burst from the instrument were a pleasant surprise. It was a little strange how quickly unplugging the canned classics turned all the local truisms upside down. Letting the stuffy room fill with the rasping noise of the slide guitar made the entire place seem different. The sticky floor and the flickering neon beer signs suddenly suited the heavy air and the smell of rain through the rusted window screens. John couldn't deny that the hand picked chords of the blues sure had a way of making a mouthful of sour mash go down a lot smoother.
The mark’s laugh of delighted triumph rose over the music as Dean neatly failed to sink one striped ball after another.
The frail bony fingers began moving across the guitar frets with an ease and animation of the unnatural. John rested the glass to his lower lip and shook his head to himself. All he could see in the honestly miraculous these days was the possibility of the aberrant. While the ability to examine magnificence with the clinical analysis of an X-ray had kept him around for a good many years, it didn’t do much else to enhance his nicely preserved life.
Another voice was at his shoulder.
This time it was the man he’d been waiting to hear.
“It’s just some eight-ball.” The mark with the pit stains urged. “Where’s the hurt?”
John finally allowed himself to glance backwards at the invitation to the green felt tables sitting stark under pools of lamp light. The place didn’t have many people drinking and even fewer taking the battered cue sticks off the rack on the wall.
The mark gave him an encouraging grin and gestured towards Dean with a flick of ash off his smoke.
“This joke is down fifty bucks and I’m feelin’ lucky.”
John made a mental note to tell Dean to work harder on making annoyance and frustration look a lot less like glee.
The whole act faltered slightly when he slid off the tall bar stool. There was no faking the stumble he made over the uneven wooden planks and the messy slosh the newly poured drink made over the thick rim of the glass. He was supposed to be acting the part of an inebriated amateur, not actually becoming one. Dean raised an eyebrow at the half glass of pricey hooch that had ended up on the floor.
John straightened his back and got his shit back together. Sipping single malt on an empty stomach while he waited for his son to groom a mark wasn’t the wisest idea he’d had in a while, but his slip turned out to be right on cue. If the guy had any doubt about the entrance of another player it all vanished with the clear evidence that he had been indulging himself. The beer glazed man was more than happy to hand John a stick and give him plenty of room.
John made sure to scratch the first few shots to keep the smile on the guy’s face.
Like his money, the poor bastard wasn’t going to be keeping it for very much longer.