"Why did the Bride of Frankenstein leave her husband?"
"JD, I'm warning you . . ."
"Come on, Buck! Just guess."
Unperturbed, JD announced, "She found out he had a ghoul-friend!"
No response. He tried again. "Hey, Nathan. What did the ghost buy for his new Haunted House?"
"No idea," he said, keeping his head down and both eyes on his paperwork, trying to block out the persistent young man hovering over his desk.
"Home Moaner's Insurance! Get it?"
He nodded. "Got it. Go away."
Moving on to Josiah, JD said, "You'll like this one, Josiah. What would a monster's psychiatrist be called?"
He shrugged. "Witch doctor?"
Happy to have gotten a response, even a vague and disinterested one, JD told him, "Great guess, but no." He waited, but Josiah did not ask, so he said, "Shrinkenstein!"
The older man grimaced as though he'd smelled something foul.
"No good, huh?" JD huffed in annoyance. Chris and Vin had already left for the day, so he moved on to his final victim. Catching sight of the newspaper sitting on the undercover agent's desk, he grinned. "Hey, Ezra. Why did the vampire subscribe to the Wall Street Journal?"
Ezra sighed and put down his pen. "Do tell, Mr. Dunne."
"He'd heard it had good circulation."
Everyone looked up with expressions of shock, and even Ezra seemed surprised to hear himself laugh. He clapped a hand over his mouth, green eyes wide with horror, but it was too late. JD was positively elated. "I got some more if you liked that one!"
Removing the hand from his mouth, Ezra held it up in protest and said hastily, "Let's not overdo it."
JD grinned. "Yeah, you're right. I'd better save some for the Halloween party." As he clocked out and hastily donned his coat and cap in preparation to leave, he favored Ezra with another bright smile. "See you all Sunday at 7pm. Don't be late!"
The moment he left, three sets of accusing eyes locked on Ezra. "What did you do that for?" Buck demanded. "Now, we're all stuck!"
"I'm sorry!" Ezra said, gesticulating wildly with both hands. "He caught me in a weak moment. And why are you all looking at me? Josiah took a guess at his question. It could have easily been him," he added, pointing an accusing finger at the guilty looking profiler.
"Thought he might leave me alone if I guessed right."
JD had wanted to throw a Halloween party, full costume, party games, creepy decorations and all, but no one had been willing to play along. So, he had made a bet. If he could tell a joke and make one of them laugh, they would all come to the party. If they didn't, he would give up on the idea.
"Well, nothing to be done for it now," Nathan moaned. "What are we going to do? We've only got two days to come up with costumes."
"Even worse," Ezra said. "The bet included everybody, no exceptions. How are we going to tell Mr. Tanner and Mr. Larabee that they're expected to dress up for Halloween?"
Buck stood and grabbed his jacket off the back of his desk chair. "You be sure to let us know how that goes."
"Me?" he squeaked.
Josiah also gathered his things, his grin wide and wicked. "It's all up to you, laughing boy."
"Yep," Nathan said firmly. "And since you're the one who got us into this mess, I think you should also be in charge of coming up with the outfits."
"But . . ."
"No, buts," Buck told him. "I got a feeling I'm going to be buying party food and decorating the apartment all weekend, whether I want to be or not. I'm not going to have time for costume shopping."
Halfway out the door, Josiah called back, "You disguise yourself for a living. I'm sure you can handle it!"
"They'd better be good, too!" Nathan yelled, following Josiah out to the elevator.
"Night, Ezra," Buck sang, laughing as he hurried out.
Ezra winced as the door slammed shut behind his colleagues. As his gaze fell upon the newspaper, he smirked and released another small chuckle. Good circulation. . . he still thought that was funny.
As Nathan Jackson rang the doorbell at Buck and JD's shared apartment, he looked up with a frown. The regular buzzer had been replaced with music, an eerie syncopated rhythm. "What the . . .?"
Next to him, Josiah grinned. "It's the 'Tubular Bells'," he explained. "Theme music from 'The Exorcist'."
He shook his head. "No wonder it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I hate that movie, scared the crap out of me when I saw it."
"How old were you?"
"Thirteen. About the same age as the little girl in the movie. I didn't sleep well for days afterward."
Josiah's chuckle became a full-blown laugh as the door opened for them with a loud rusty-hinged squeal followed by a shrill scream from inside. No one was there to greet them as the door swung open. "JD's been busy," he commented, pointing to a pulley attached to the wall, and the electronic sensor winking in the middle of the knob. JD had rigged the door so that it could be opened by remote control.
The rest of the apartment was done up in ghoul-chic. The furniture had all been moved back and spider webs hung ominously from every corner, black lights and strobes highlighting poster portraits of witches and goblins, assorted chairs had become occupied by skeletons and zombies and what appeared to be a banshee was sitting at the keyboard of JD's computer, silently screaming.
"Place looks great," Nathan admitted, smiling as he caught sight of a fake black cat hissing at him from atop a bookshelf. "They went all out."
"Holy shit!" Nathan exclaimed, bursting into laughter as he set eyes upon Buck Wilmington, who was invisible beneath an enormous furry blue animal costume with little gold horns on its head. "What are you supposed to be?"
Both Nathan and Josiah jumped when their question was answered by what appeared to be a gigantic green eyeball. "Haven't you ever seen 'Monsters, Inc'?" the eyeball inquired. JD's face, painted white to keep it from clashing with the costume, was visible at the top.
Josiah had started to laugh again. "Mike and Sully," he said, nodding his understanding. "Great choice."
"Ezra didn't do too bad by you boys either," the large blue monster commented. Buck's voice was slightly muffled by the mask he was wearing. "May the Force be with you!"
Mace Windu and the original 'Star Wars' era Obi Wan Kenobi clicked their light-sabers together. "Not sure why he decided to go with a multi-group theme," Josiah commented. "You two match, Nathan and I match."
JD suggested, "Bet Chris and Vin will match too, while Ezra will have gotten himself something completely unique."
"That sounds like him," Nathan agreed. "So, did you invite anyone else to this party or is it just the seven of us?"
"Casey, Nettie, Inez, and all four Travises have been invited, plus a few other folks," Buck said.
"Don't know if anyone will make it since this was kind of last minute," Nathan suggested, looking regretful. "We shouldn't have been so stubborn about this. You did a great job."
Somehow managing to sound sheepish even through his disguise, JD said, "Actually, I invited everyone else over a week ago."
"What?" Josiah exclaimed, already shaking his head in admiration.
"Confidence is the key to any successful operation," Ezra said, walking through the still-open door behind them. "JD believed he would be successful in his joke-telling efforts, and so he was."
Buck chuckled at the sight of him. "What are you supposed to be?"
Ezra merely smiled, tucking a stray hair of the carrot colored wig he wore into place. "You'll see, as soon as the rest of my party arrives."
"You did a theme too, Ezra?" JD said with surprise.
"Naturally. I also passed word along to your other guests so that they could form themes of their own if they wished." He brushed at the sleeve of his costume, a voluminous black robe with orange and red silk lining showing at the sleeves and collar. Addressing the others, he said, "I decided to invite the others to be part of my particular theme, anticipating it as the only way I would convince Chris and Vin that they should don appropriate attire for the occasion. Ah, and here they are now!"
Mutterings of admiration and a few laughs rose as Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner, accompanied by Inez Recillos, entered the apartment. Vin and Inez wore robes identical to Ezra's, but Inez had ratted her hair out to gigantic proportions and had what looked like a dictionary clutched to her chest. Vin gave the theme away as everyone recognized the round glasses and lightning-bolt scar on his forehead.
"Harry Potter and friends. I'll be damned," Josiah laughed. His smile widened as all three pulled out slender wooden sticks, their 'wands', out of hiding from their sleeves and grinned back at him. "And, who are you, Chris?"
Chris was dressed in black from head to toe. Even his normally blond hair was covered by a stringy black wig and his eyebrows darkened with makeup. He cast an imperious look upon them all, staring down the length of an expertly applied prosthetic hook nose. Pulling back one sleeve, he showed them what looked like a tattoo of a snake on his forearm.
The green eyeball bounced up and down with glee as JD exclaimed, "You're Professor Snape!"
Abandoning the disdainful expression, Chris grinned. "Ezra did all the makeup for me. I like it. I was expecting a lot worse. Thought he might try and dress me up as Dumbledore."
Ezra smiled. "I wouldn't have dared." Looking at them all, he said, "I hope you all approve of your costumes. I asked JD for suggestions and he came up with a children's book and movie theme."
"But Ezra did all the work," JD said quickly, giving credit where it was due.
JD's costume was the inflatable type, made of the same materials as the popular Sumo wrestler costumes, and he temporarily deflated one side as he picked up a remote control and activated hidden music speakers. The familiar strains of 'The Monster Mash' immediately began playing.
The seven men and Inez complimented one another on their costumes and Ezra answered myriad questions as to where and how he had managed to find such ornate disguises so quickly. He would only tell them that he had his sources.
The'Tubular Bells' sounded again and the door screamed as it opened to admit the Travis and Wells families.
Billy Travis was a charming little Cowardly Lion, while his mother, Mary, towered over him as Dorothy, complete with a small stuffed Toto dog in a basket. Evie and Orin Travis were clearly relishing the chance to step outside themselves to play the roles of Tinman and Scarecrow, respectively.
"That's cool," JD said, pointing to the 'tin' costume and silver makeup worn by Mrs. Travis.
She smiled. "Thank you, dear. I considered being the wicked witch but this seemed more fun."
Eyeing Casey, in her worn gingham dress and a braided wig nearly the same color as Ezra's, a cracked old-fashioned writing slate in her hands, JD gave her a puzzled frown. A glance at Nettie, who wore a similar late 19th century dress and apron, gave him no clues. Finally, he was forced to admit, "I don't get it. Who are you?"
"I know," Mary blurted eagerly. "Anne of Green Gables, right?"
Casey was delighted. "Right!" Pointing to Nettie, she grinned. "And Aunt Nettie is Marilla Cuthbert, the lady who adopted me!"
The women exclaimed in pleasure over them, when all of the men except Chris looked confused. Chris just shook his head. "My wife loved those books too. Don't really know why."
"Chick thing, don't worry about it," Buck said, giving a consoling pat to JD's bulbous costume as he continued to look puzzled.
"Oh," he said. "Okay. Well, now that we're all here, do you guys want to play a game or would you rather we eat first?"
In stereo, a dozen voices said, "Eat!"
He laughed, "Cool. Follow me."
The round figure waddled into the dining area where trays of deli meats, cheeses, bread and assorted condiments waited. Pies, cakes, assorted salads and mini hot dogs were also on display. Befitting his own personal theme, JD had placed a huge platter of deviled eggs with pimento olives inserted in their centers to make them look like eyeballs, set in the middle of all the other food.
Everyone dug in without hesitation, mowing through the large store of food like hungry locusts. As they ate, playful fights broke out with light sabers, magic wands and the glow-sticks JD had used to illuminate the assortment of jack-o-lanterns decorating the apartment.
Suddenly, the doorbell rang again.
"Who could that be?" Ezra asked, looking around. "I thought we were all accounted for."
JD grinned. "Not quite." Hurrying to the door, he opened it by hand this time, and was greeted with gasps of delight by a half dozen boys and girls. The children entered the apartment tentatively, prodded into action by the smiling woman escorting them.
"Hi, kids!" Buck said jovially, standing with hands on hips like a jolly sentry. The kids grinned, recognizing him at once. Their nervousness faded even more as they caught sight of all the other costumed adults, representing stories they knew and loved.
Gesturing to the woman, JD explained. "This is Maria Solomon. She lives downstairs and these are her kids. She has to work every night next week and won't be able to give the kids a Halloween party or take them trick or treating, so I invited them here to share our party."
Ezra bent down to shake hands with a little girl of about nine years. "A pleasure to meet you, Miss."
She smiled. "Hi. You look nice. Ron Weasley is my favorite character in the Potter books."
He smiled back. "Mine, too. Won't you let me get you something to eat?"
The girl grinned as he gallantly offered his arm, allowing him to escort her.
The other men likewise greeted the newcomers, Buck escorting Mrs. Solomon while the rest of the men each took charge of a child. Billy Travis was already in the dining room and he immediately set himself up as host to the other kids, making friends as everyone laughed and helped themselves to the food. Soon all the little ones were completely involved in the party.
"Hope you guys don't mind," JD said quietly, drawing his teammates aside once the other guests were all happily distracted. "I know this probably isn't what you imaged when I invited you to my Halloween party, but they'll only be staying for a little while. Probably just long enough to play some games and collect the trick-or-treat bags I've got ready for them in the back."
Chris smiled. "Not a problem. In fact, if you need any help with the games, we'd be glad to give it."
"That'd be great!"
"This is nice, JD," Nathan commented. "If I'd known this is what you really had planned, I wouldn't have needed a bet to get me here."
"Me, either." Josiah said, then curiously asked, "What would you have done if none of us had laughed at your jokes and you'd lost the bet?"
JD grinned, but only said, "I had a feeling that wouldn't happen." He tried to be circumspect, but his face gave him away as he looked in Ezra's direction. Ezra's twinkling eyes completed the confession.
"The bet was my idea," the southerner admitted. "I've had your costumes on order for weeks. I theorized that if I were the one to force your attendance, you'd probably bestow the title of costume-master upon me and I took appropriate measures."
Vin laughed. "Figures. So this whole thing was a set-up?"
"I knew too," Buck told them. "The kid confessed the grand plan on the way to work on Friday morning. Sounded like fun, so I played along."
"You mean to say that you let us sit through all those horrible Halloween jokes for nothing?" Nathan cut in, voice filled with indignation as he looked at Ezra.
"They're not that bad!" JD protested.
Ezra smiled sheepishly. "Have I ever mentioned that I have something of a weakness for bad jokes?"