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2. RAMBLE ON

Novak apparently hates driving, but doesn't mind riding shotgun, which actually suits Dean just fine; his face would be under the definition of 'backseat driver' in the dictionary and he's pretty sure the tenuous relationship he has with this guy doesn't need to be stretched any further by him being pissy at the guys signalling or whatever. He also doesn't object to Dean turning his tunes up full-blast on the drive upstate - not that there was anything on this sweet earth that could stop Dean playing whatever he wanted in his baby, not even Novak's stubbornness. In fact, it turned out he had, if not good taste, a good sense of rhythm; Dean had noticed Novak drumming his fingers a lot when he was thinking, and while it was annoying almost all the time, right now it just blended in with the music.

He carried on like that for the next thirty or so miles, Dean unconsciously adding his own pata-pata in time on the steering wheel, as he thought about how they needed to play this Gallhager family interview. Probably best to let Novak do none of the talking, he had no idea how to play it cool without it being sub-zero.

He was thinking about it right up to when he damn near jumped out of his skin at a very un-Plant voice suddenly chiming in loudly on 'Ramble on!'.

Sure he must be suffering some completely bizarre auditory hallucination, Dean glanced over and lo and behold, Castiel Novak, Mr I-don't-own-a-TV-and-have-never-seen-Star-Wars, he who rarely says anything above the minimum word count to speak, is unselfconsciously belting out the chorus line to Dean's all-time favourite song like he was born to front some Led Zep tribute band with a shitty pun for a name.

Dean is through the looking glass now. Maybe it's time to cut back on the long hours. Like, way back.

Novak, to his credit, carries on gamely for a few bars, tailing off slowly only when his animated singing swings him round to look at Dean looking at him, and suddenly taking on a very uncharacteristic deer-in-headlights expression.

There is an excruciating, drawn-out silence as they gawp at each other, Plant singing on unawares, before Novak coughs and puts his pokerface back on with an 'apologies'.

Dean carries on staring.

Novak pointedly stares dead-ahead, doing his very best impression of someone who isn't horrifically embarrassed, and being betrayed by an obviously subconscious rub of the back of his neck, a nervous gesture if there's ever been one, and Dean can't help but burst out laughing.

It's that saying, right? You gotta laugh, or you'll cry.

Novak rubs his neck again, and looks like he's gonna break the windshield with his mind alone, and Dean can't stop laughing.

He jabs the pause button with a load more force than Dean appreciates, and turns that glass-breaking glare onto him. "I fail to understand what you find so hilarious."

Dean takes deep breaths. Deep, deep breaths. Gotta be serious now. Or at least semi-coherent. "Sorry, sorry man. It's just-- you're fulla surprises, you know that? Never woulda pegged you for a Zep fan."

Novak huffs. "Just because I don't understand your Trekking Wars references--"

"--Star Trek, Star Wars--"

"--doesn't mean I am a complete heathen when it comes to music taste. What exactly did you 'peg' me as a fan of?"

Dean can't help but snort. Hey, it's better than full blown laughter. "I dunno, baroque music? Nothing? No offence, but you come across way too serious to be into singing songs about hobbits." Novak is giving him that 'were you dropped on your head?' look he pulls out every time Dean references something he doesn't understand, and "Seriously? Even Lord of the frigging Rings passed you by? Have you actually been living in a cave the past thirty years? Jesus Christ, you giveth and you taketh away in one fell swoop, man!"

He's doing the neck-rubbing thing again. "Let's just stop talking about this," he says pointedly, and no way, Dean is not letting this little chink in the armour get patched up before he finds out a little more about Novak.

"So, what, you sing a lot when you drive?"

"Nervous habit," Novak responds automatically, jabbing play again on the tape deck like it'll end the conversation fast, but Dean's having none of it, hitting pause again, and side-eying him expectantly. The other man sighs. "Hate driving, hate car journeys, and would rather not go into it. Singing is a distraction, and I forgot where I was." He gives Dean a look that obviously means 'that enough?'

Dean shrugs amiably. "Well, hell, don't let me being here get in the way of your ramblin' on, dude."

20 miles later they're both practically shouting the words to Whole Lotta Love, and Dean thinks working with this guy might not be so bad after all.

* * *

Dean was very quickly proven wrong.

Novak didn't even introduce himself. Who the hell doesn't do that? Granted, when he'd marched down to Dean's desk and demanded his cooperation, he hadn't given the formal 'I'm detective dick Novak, pleasure to meet you' spiel but he'd at least had the excuse of a reputation to fall back on. No one in the PD didn't know who he was, but this was a pair of out-of-towners whose estranged kid had just died, you just don't be rude to those kinds of people.

There's a long awkward moment on the doorstep where he - and obviously the Gallhagers, given that Novak is stood in front of them, looking very official-like - waits for the guy to introduce them, and eventually he internally curses and sighs while making sure his best local friendly cop expression is in place. "Hi, thanks for agreeing to talk to us. I'm detective Winchester, and this is detective Novak."

"Of course," demurs Mrs Gallhager, unsubtly shooting Novak the same kind of dropped-as-a-baby look he himself forms almost hourly around him. "Do come in."

The Gallhagers are obviously pretty well to-do; their place is nice, very neat and filled with the sorts of esoteric nick-nacks you see on shelves in home design magazines. Not that Dean spends an inordinate amount of time reading them, just, he redecorated recently, and there's only so many ideas a guy can come up with on his own, y'know? He notices pictures of the unlucky kid, obviously taken from when he was a lot younger, dotted around the place.

Novak's looking too, a slight movement of his head back and forth, that somehow manages to look like he's paying little attention and scanning the whole layout into his memory bank at the same time. Creepy.

When she offers them a seat, Dean whips out his notebook all official like, and offers her his best reassuring smile. "I'm sure you've already spoken to some other officers, so we really appreciate your time and everything, Mrs Gallha-”

"It's a difficult time for you," Novak interjects woodenly, and Dean kinda wants to slap him, but apparently it's the right words for Mrs Gallhager.

"Yes, it is," she says, softly. "It's difficult for both of us. Andy was drifting away from us, and now-"

"-He's gone," Novak cuts in bluntly. She looks a little taken aback by how short he is, and hell, Dean is gearing up for the punching session, because he's not sure what lessons in detective training covered 'being an asshole to grieving mothers', but there's this little look in the guy's eye that makes him stop short. "Unbelievably, it gets easier to live with."

And damn if Dean doesn't know what the voice of personal experience sounds like.

She gives an involuntary nod, and Dean can see the way her eyes are shining, and thinks maybe they should get the show on the road quick and leave the poor woman to it. Just as he's about to explain what they're doing, Novak pre-emptively blocks him. "We will ask questions the other officers have probably asked you. Act as though you've never answered before, like it's the first interview. It will be a great help."

In order to mitigate how thoroughly uncharming the guy's being, Dean feels the need to interject. "This guy here," he says, with an appropriately low level of enthusiasm, "has an unbroken arrest record. I know it's time-consuming to answer a buncha questions twice, but he likes to know everything first hand."

"I see," she says. "Anything that'll help."

As it happens, she doesn't have anything much helpful to tell them.

What's interesting, though, is the way Novak questions; while he doesn't pause, spouting of questions naturally, the words are carefully picked, and more neutral than any cop interview he'd ever heard, frankly.

Still, the only new detail they seem to get is that Andy was hanging out with some old school friends lately.

"That poor girl who passed away recently," she tells them, in response to a characteristically bland 'do you know who had met with over the past two months?' "He was very shaken up about it, I'm sure that's what made him..."

Unfortunately for Novak's dumb conspiracy theory, it makes the obvious case solution look even more solid, and he tells him so on the ride back.

"It's Occam's razor, dude, the simplest explanation is usually the best one. Kid was already a stoner, his friend dies, and he turns to something harder to get through it. End of."

Novak ignores him, fiddling with the speaker dial - which, Dean being in no mood for it at this moment, leads him to frustratedly shoo the dude's hands away. When Dean doesn't stop side-eyeing him expectantly, he eventually shakes his head.

"You're missing the details. Taking what you've been told and fitting it into a picture that suits you."

"Isn't that what you're doing?"

He shakes his head again, and stares out at the road ahead. "Two months ago, Gallhager starts spending time with someone from highschool. A few weeks later, she dies. Three days ago, he dies. That is the picture I have right now."

"Sorry to break it to you, dude, but that's the most lacking in detail thing I ever heard."

Novak looks at him consideringly. "When you draw, do you start with a detail and build your way around it?"

"Uh, what?"

"When you're drawing."

"Okay, dude, you're gonna need to just come straight out with whatever weird metaphor you're about to give me."

Novak looks more than a little put out that he ain't playing along. Eh, serves him right. "When working through a problem, the best method is to establish first what is known, undoubtably, and then build further assumptions cautiously. When you are drawing, you should start with a broad framework, and add detail sparingly. If you try too quickly to add details you think might look good, you'll become constrained by them."

Dean taps the steering wheel absently. "I don't get why you couldn't just say 'I don't wanna jump to conclusions', man."

"Inaccurate expression. I am jumping to plenty of conclusions, and I will explore all of them, until we can start seeing which details actually fit together."

"All right, so what, my idea sucks because I haven't 'explored it fully'?"

There's something that sounds so accidentally patronising in Novak's tone, that Dean kinda has no choice but to let it go. "Oh, no, you have a very neat idea. Quick judgement is helpful in most instances, just not this one."

"Because you say so?"

"Essentially."

"You know, you're really not winning me over."

"As it should be." Novak steeples his fingers, eyes narrow as he stares straight ahead. "I hope you already see a benefit to my method, though. We learned something not on any original report."

Dean sighs, because, yeah, they'd pretty much rehashed everything that'd gone before, except the addition of a tragedy, but he doesn't actually see how that'd got them anywhere. "So we know he was talking to a girl before it all went down, what's that got to do with anything?"

"It could have everything to do with it. If not, it's a novel anecdote that backs up your argument."

"I think you're reaching, dude."

Novak pins him with a sharp look. "Unlikely."

"Come on, you've gotta give me something here! What's so important about it?"

There's a little gleam in his eye, a hint of the conspiratorial, as though he's about to reveal he knows where a map to Atlantis is, or something equally weird. "Who was she? Why did she die, after weeks of getting in contact with him? Were they friends in school? Did he initiate their meetings, or did she? Were they close? Or did their meeting have another purpose?" He pauses for a breath, though it seems more for Dean's benefit than his own. How thoughtful. "Allow me a jump. I would suggest they attended the same school, but knew of each other only tangentially. I would suggest that he asked to meet her, because of some issue that involved both of them. Given their likely minimal relationship, this issue is related to something recent; and given his altruistic spirit, it's likely something that was a danger to her. I think she's related to why Andy Gallhager is dead, and why someone went to some lengths to make it look a simple issue. I think she may be the R.W we're looking for."

Dean nearly pulls over, because what the hell, the guy goes off on him about jumping to a pretty clear explanation but he comes out with that? "Okay, what the hell? You writing a suspense novel or something? That sure as hell doesn't sound like the 'broad picture' or whatever you were on about. I mean, where the hell did you get the altruism from?"

"Simple deduction. His mother doesn't have pictures of him as an adult around the home, but does have news clippings and certificates. Gallhager himself had copies of several certificates in his van. He has done good things, often, and recently."

Thinking about it, he had noticed the traditional kiddy pictures, but hadn't bothered to look too closely at the paper trappings, assuming they were probably someone's diplomas something. Fine, the guy maybe had picked up on something. "What's the next step then?"

"We prove that conclusion false, and move onto the next one." He makes a nuanced wave. "And to do that, we need to find out who this woman was, and speak to whoever survives her."

"Great," he says, muttering and not meaning it at all. "And how are we gonna do that?"

"Alumni newsletter." Apparently done, he turns the volume up again, and nods appreciatively when Thin Lizzy fills the car up.

If nothing else, Dean can't fault the guy's taste.

* * *

To his surprise, the strike gold pretty quickly.

Rachel Ward, in Andy's graduating year, is an intern at the Mayor's office, and, a few weeks ago, committed suicide.

Novak is practically glowing with it.

It's because of this that they end up at her parents' house, which is a little out of town. Dean charitably lets Novak flick through his tapes, and is pleased when he goes with Metallica; he's kind of in the mood for something with a shitload of guitars in today.

Dean's decided that he's taking the lead in the discussion this time, because Novak seems a little too pleased with himself for coming up with the link for it to come across as properly sympathetic, and when he says something a little less diplomatic to this effect, the guy just nods amicably.

"Thanks for meeting with us," he opens with, and tries to take note in the way Novak had at the Gallhager house. While both Ward's look pretty down and out - and who could blame them, losing a daughter like that? - it's the father that looks the more distraught.

They nod amicably enough, Mrs Ward piping up with "I understand this isn't about Rachel."

"That's right," Novak butts in. "Do you know Andy Gallhager?"

So much for letting him handle it, then.

Surprisingly, they both nod. "Yes, Rachel mentioned him to us a few times. They bumped into each other recently, at the charity she does some work for. He was at the funeral."

Dean asks them general questions about Rachel, since they don't know much more about Andy - she'd been an intern at the Mayor's office, apparently, and had been helping out at Lightbringers because of it. Throughout the interview he can see how shocked they both are about he death, and he can't blame them; by all accounts, she had everything going for her.

Novak excuses himself to the bathroom, which Dean thinks is odd, given how much he goes on about getting information first hand, so Dean keeps them talking, listening to them say about how she'd just been getting serious with a mysterious boyfriend they'd never met, how she'd seemed completely normal all the way up to her death, and he can't help but feel bad for bringing trouble to their door like this, but he notices one thing; at the mention of not having met the boyfriend, Mr Ward looks a little sheepish.

Novak blusters back in before he can follow the train of thought, though, and declares the interview closed.

He looks oddly pleased with himself, despite them not learning anything new.

"So, next stop Mayor's office?"

It's tantamount to how mellow Novak is about whatever he's worked out that he agrees without question, and Dean is suspicious, but there's not all that much he can do about it.

"Actually," he says eventually, about 10 miles down the road, "I was thinking dinner first."



[1. BAD COMPANY | MASTERPOST | 3. COWBOY SONG ]

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