I had planned to wait and do a second story next year, but several people wrote asking that I now wait, so since I already had a good idea where I wanted the story to go, here it is.
A big thanks to Mary Ann for looking this story over, you're the greatest! And many thanks to all of you who sent feedback on the first story. And I must give a huge thank you to LaraMee for the wonderful picture that she made for me to go with this story.
Vin felt foolish for feeling so nervous. He was after all only returning back to his apartment, his home. The home that he had allowed his friend and boss, Chris Larabee, to convince him to leave on Halloween night using Vin's injuries as an excuse for the Texan to go with him out to his ranch to recover from the concussion's headache and the aches and pain from having half of a ceiling of an old burnt out theater fall on him. JD after all had gone home with Casey and Nettie so that they could keep an eye on the young man since he too had the unfortunate luck to be under the roof when it fell, so it wouldn't seem strange to the rest of the team that Chris had convinced the injured sharpshooter to go home with him.
Deep down inside Vin knew that his injuries were not the real reason the two of them had fled the apartment that Halloween night, the apartment he was now standing in front of. He let his still tender head lean against the door that was badly in need of a paint job, as the memories of that night washed over him.
Chris had brought him home after spending what had remained of the night and all Halloween morning in the hospital. Chris had not liked the idea of Vin being home alone, but Vin had made a promise to the kids of his neighborhood that this year they would be able to go to specially marked doors to trick or treat. The weekend before, Vin had taken a trip to the local Walmart and bought construction paper, colored pencils, crayons, colored markers along with glue and sparkly thingies that the youngest had begged for. Once bought, he had returned to their building and gathered the children so that each one could make their own version of Halloween characters. While the children were occupied, Vin had gone to the many residents who were his neighbors and gathered names of those who would be willing to put one of the markers on their door to show that it was safe to trick or treat at that home on Halloween night. Not only would the children get candy, but each specially marked door would have a variety of foods to ensure all the children received a decent meal that night and end at his apartment to receive a special bag filled with candy made especially for each of them.
Vin's door had just such a marker and he had purchased dozens of bags of candy to ensure that each child would go home happy with their bounty. As soon as they had arrived, Vin had pulled out the candy and emptied several of the premade bags of candy into a large bowl in readiness for his first group of hobgoblins while Chris went into his kitchen to heat up some leftover pizza. Both men had grown frustrated at being forced to stop what they were doing because of pranksters who would knock at his door and run before either man could open the door. Finally, with candy ready and pizza heating, Vin had opened the door and he and Chris had taken seats that allowed them to watch the door. They were sure to catch those who were trying to ruin Halloween for the young ones. Both men had frozen, staring at the door when no one stood in the doorway, yet just as they had heard the night before in the empty theater and at Vin's own closed door, a loud distinct knocking could be heard.
The two men had turned to look at each other in shock only to jump at the shouts of, "Trick or Treat, Mr. Vin!" as several children suddenly gathered in the doorway. Moving mechanically, with a forced smile on his face, Vin had handed out candy. Making sure to speak to each child and praise their costumes before sending them on their way.
The knocking had been forgotten as group after group arrived, their happy smiles and laughter quickly taking their minds off what neither could explain. Almost three hours later, the last group of children had their treats and were sent on their way home and Chris had begun to insist Vin lay down. The constant moving around as well as the loud enthusiasm of the children had caused his headache to worsen to the point it felt as if his head would explode, and the squinting of his eyes were, if you will pardon the pun, a dead give away of just how bad he was hurting. Vin had walked into his kitchen to grab a beer as he tried to remember where he'd stuck the bottle of painkillers he'd been given at the hospital. Chris had followed him into the small area arguing over the mixing of alcohol and pills. Just as Vin grasped the refrigerator door handle to pull it open, a loud knock that seemed to come from inside the refrigerator had Vin jumping back and away. Looking at Chris and shrugging, Vin grabbed the handle again and pulled only to have the door refuse to open. Frustrated, tired and hurting more than he wanted to admit, Vin had kicked the appliance, cursing at it's bad timing to want to stick. Pushing his friend back and into a chair, Chris who had seen this happen before, placed one hand on the side and the other on the handle and pulled with all of his strength. The door had flown open easily, knocking Chris back into the wall with a thud.
Giving a silent curse of his own to Vin's refusal to leave the run down apartment and move into an area that was nicer and had apartments that weren't falling apart; Chris straightened back up and glared at his friend daring him to even snicker. Pulling out a beer for himself and a bottle of water for Vin, he slammed the door shut and then tried to once again open the door which opened easily at his slight tug. Standing up once again, Vin began searching for his jacket that he hope held his painkillers. Several minutes passed with no sign of the jacket and Vin had voiced his decision to just take some aspirin when once again loud knocking came, this time from his bedroom. Chris had glanced at Vin and quietly asked, "You didn't by any chance take off the jacket in your bedroom when you went to get the candy?"
Vin nodded and hesitantly walked to the bedroom doorway and peeked inside. The room was just as he had left it, candy bags littered his bed and his jacket lay thrown over a pile of clothes sitting on a chair and the room was empty of any living person. Chris had followed closely and saw Vin's face turn paler than any living person should be able too. Stepping around Vin, Chris walked into the room and over to the threadbare jacket. Picking it up with one hand, he felt the pockets with the other and was thankful when he pulled out the medicine bottle. Throwing the jacket onto the bed, Chris walked back to Vin and all but pushed him into the living room.
Sinking down onto his lumpy couch Vin looked around his home. For the first time since moving in, he felt fear at the idea of staying there. Chris took two of the pills from the bottle and handed them to him with the forgotten bottle of water muttering, "Take 'em, Tanner."
Taking his own look around the apartment, Chris took a deep pull from his beer bottle before sitting beside his friend. "Ya know, I really don't like the idea of you taking this strong of a painkiller and being alone with that concussion. What if you start to feel sick or something, or wake up sick but too stiff and sore to move. You wouldn't be able to get to the phone to call for help."
Vin had known Chris hadn't been happy leaving him at home to begin with, and with the crazy knocking that was spooking them both, Chris was giving him an easy out to not stay there alone. Afraid that nodding would cause his head to fall off, Vin had whispered a quiet, "Yeah, okay. If'n you're sure ya don't mind."
Helping Vin stand now that the quick acting medicine had left him unsteady, Chris started to walk them back towards the bedroom to grab clothes to take with them. Angry, loud knocking once again came from the direction of the bedroom, had Chris changing directions instantly, grabbing his own jacket and one for Vin off a hook by the door, as they practically ran out the front door. Vin had stopped only long enough to lock the door before allowing Chris to help him rush down four flights of stairs and into his truck. The older man insisting, as he urged the now swaying younger man to move faster, that Vin had plenty of clothes left behind at the ranch and therefore didn't need to pack anything to take with him.
That had been three nights ago and as his body had recovered, Vin had felt the need to return to his home and show himself that there was nothing there to fear. Finally Vin took a deep breath as he straightened away from the door and started to put the key into the keyhole to unlock it. The door however, slowly swung open and Vin once again felt his heart start to race. Stepping inside, he was shocked to see Jarrod Von Brom step out of his kitchenette and into the living room with a gun pointed directly at him.
"Hello there, young man. Or should I say Agent? I was beginning to think you were injured far worse than I'd been led to believe. Come in, come in!" Von Brom motioned with his free hand for Vin to close the door and sit on the couch. "You seem surprised to see me. I assure you I have very good lawyers who easily managed my release on bail. I'd hoped to finish my business venture only to discover that the young hooligans who were suppose to be buying my merchandise were in fact members of one of the teams of federal agents that so rudely interrupted our deal. That made me very unhappy, young sir. Especially as I had plans for spending quality time in that old theater in search of the ghosts that haunt it. That makes you doubly guilty, in my book and therefore you must pay a heavy price for such trickery."
Vin swallowed hard as his mind raced. A part of him was glad that he'd not asked JD for a ride back to his apartment as Von Brom would then have them both, but he was now wishing he'd at least let someone know he was taking a cab and returning home. The only thing he could think of was to stall, but he knew that it would be hours before Chris arrived home and found him gone so he wasn't sure what use stalling would in the end do to help him.
Meanwhile at the Federal Building, Chris Larabee was angry. First thing after his arrival, he'd received a call from the DA's office informing him of Jarrod Von Brom's release from custody on bail, he was glad that JD was safe at the Well's home and that Vin was out at the ranch. Then in the last fifteen minutes he'd had four phone calls that started off with silence and then a tap, tap, tap that had gradually gotten louder. Slamming down the phone after the second call, he'd called down to the main desk only to demand they verify the name on any further calls sent to his office only to be informed that they had not sent any calls to him so far that day. After the third call, he had yelled to Ezra to try and trace the calls. When his phone began to ring for the fourth time, Ezra immediately began a trace, motioning to Chris through his blinds to keep the call going. When the trace information popped up onto his computer screen, Ezra gasped and reran the trace. With the confirmation of the calls origination, Ezra jumped up from his chair and moved quickly to his boss's office.
"Mr. Larabee, the calls are coming from Mr. Tanner's abode," Ezra informed his boss wincing in anticipation of the coming explosion. Instead Chris snatched up the receiver to his phone and began dialing his home as he began to quietly chant, "Come on Tanner, pick up.......Damn it Vin! Pick up the damn phone!" Slamming the phone down as he stood up, Chris pulled his gun from his desk and shoved it into his holster as he motioned for Ezra to follow him out to the bullpen, "Get moving boys, we're heading to Tanner's. He's not answering at my place so the muleheaded idiot musta went back to his apartment."
Racing to the elevators, Ezra felt he needed to point out one strange fact, "Mr. Larabee, if it is Mr. Tanner, and the calls are his way of alerting you of trouble, one fact remains unexplained." He paused as he tried to figure out just how to phrase his next comment, but seeing the impatient look he was getting from Chris he simply blurted it out, "How was he making the calls without going through the switchboard?"
The elevator doors chose that moment to open, and the men stepped in, Chris slamming the garage button as he contemplated Ezra's words and not liking the only conclusion that came to mind.
"So what's yer plan? Ya kill me, yer just settin' yerself up ta be chased no matter where the hell ya go. Ya'd been better off, just skippin' bail and headin' outta town, or better yet outta the country," Vin spoke as he moved to sit on the couch.
"Perhaps, but I simply found my desire to have you atone for my loss of income greater than my desire to leave empty handed. I may not be able to eliminate your entire team, but I do believe that you're death will send a message to future clients that any thought of treachery will not go unpunished."
Vin sighed at the words in relief. Von Brom didn't seem to have plans to harm anyone else on the team. He just started to speak again when he saw Von Brom move from the end of the couch and felt him moved to stand just behind his seated position on the couch. Feeling the cold touch of metal on the back of his head, Vin closed his eyes wondering if he'd feel the bullet as it entered his head or hear the sound of the shot first. Silently he said a farewell to his friends and to Nettie. Suddenly the sound of loud brisk knocking could be heard coming from the back of the apartment.
"Who's here?" Von Brom demanded. He had only done a quick check around after entering the run down but surprisingly clean apartment using his lock picking skills on the locked front door.
Vin shrugged, "Jist got here m'self. Seems like I need ta make some calls ta have the place fumigated though. Appears I've gotten some big ol' cockroaches roamin' the place.....," Vin was stopped from making any further remarks as he was pistol whipped from behind. He threw his hand out to stop himself from falling across the couch, shaking his head in an attempt to keep the blackness at bay.
"Shut up that smart mouth and tell me who else is here. If you have them come out, I may just allow them to leave and not join you in your own death," Von Brom ordered.
Vin couldn't stop his mouth from running even as he knew that his words would most likely bring him more pain, "Well now, make up yer mind. Ya want me ta hush up or tell ya who might be here. Cain't do the last if ya want me ta do the first. Maybe yer related ta m'boss cause he's ferever telling me the same thang."
Von Brom swung the gun once again in the direction of the badly bleeding head, stopping at the agitated sounding knocks coming from beside him. He looked wildly around him, seeing no one and nothing that could make such a noise. "W...what is that! It's some kind of a trick!"
Without warning, Von Brom began shooting wildly around the room, Vin dropping down to the floor in the hopes of evading any stray bullet from striking him. Just as Vin's body hit the ground, the front door was kicked in and five men stormed into the room their own guns firing, but not a one of the men missed their target.
Complete silence reigned, as the five men watched Von Brom slowly look down at the multiple bleeding wounds on his body before raising his head with a look of shock on his face. Nathan was already moving towards the large man as his body sank to the floor, his sightless eyes staring down the hallway where once again a light knocking could be heard. Checking for a pulse even though he knew he wouldn't find one, Nathan shook his head at Chris who stood wrath like with his gun still pointed at the dead man. "He's gone. One of y'all make a call ta the coroner's office," Nathan prompted as he stood and looked around for Vin. It was Vin's hand raising shakily to one of the couches seat cushions to pull himself up that gave his position away. Moving quickly to his side, Nathan pushed the magazine covered table out of his way to make room to kneel down beside the dazed, rapidly blinking Vin Tanner. Chris quickly moved around the couch to the other side of his friend and pushed him back to lay full length on the floor. The lack of argument from the man worried all of his friends.
In his own defense, Vin thought, his head had already been hurting before Von Brom gave him a new lump, he'd not been real excited at the thought of coming back to the place in the first place because of the strange knocking and even though it had possibly helped save his sorry excuse of a life, there was still the fact that the knocking was STILL THERE! A trip to the hospital was going to happen no matter what he said, so why bother arguing and making the drums in his head beat any louder. Plus he'd have an excuse to stay away for a bit longer, and see if JD or Ezra could find out some information on that old theater and get him some idea on what the hell was going on with this dang knocking.
Just as Vin suspected, twenty minutes later found him at the hospital and having a full skull series done. But Doc Em had promised him that as long as there were no signs of bleeding inside his skull, he'd be released into the custody of Chris once again. After being returned to his emergency room cubicle, Vin had made his request to Ezra who promised to contact JD and between the two of them and their computer wizardry, would without a doubt find out the information Vin sought.
It actually was two days that Vin was forced to wait before being given the information. Chris had refused to allow any of the men to visit the reinjured sharpshooter until he could stand to sit up with his eyes open more than mere slits in a lighted room, and could walk more than a few steps before swaying in an attempt to keep his precarious balance. The headaches would take longer to dissipate, and Vin had begun to go stir crazy at having horses nearby and unable to go for a ride as well as the lack of quality television programming during the daytime hours. Knowing this, Chris had finally relented and allowed Ezra and JD to visit, with the promise to not rile the man up or aid in any escape.
Sitting in the kitchen, cups of coffee for Chris and Ezra and milk in the hands of a very unhappy Vin, JD ignored his own glass of milk as he began to tell the story. The first part, Buck had already informed JD the night before the bust. The original owner and Manager of the theater had ten years before discovered his brother and wife in a tryst and had murdered the two. In an attempt to hide his crime, he had set the building on fire and the building had burnt to the ground. Two years previous, someone had purchased the land and rebuilt the theater using its history of a love triangle ending in murder to draw in crowds. On opening night, several fires had mysteriously started and once again the theater had burnt, killing all but a handful of employees who worked concession and selling tickets. One of those who had died however, was a young girl, Tessa Flynn, on a break from working the concession stand and had somehow become locked in a storage room. It was her frantic knocking on the door that had lead to the fire being discovered and allowed her fellow coworkers, one of which was her own boyfriend, to escape the flames. Since then, anyone attempting to rebuild had been scared away by screams and sounds of knocking coming from everywhere yet no where. Stranger yet, no matter how cold the day or night what was left standing of the building was always toasty warm.
Vin and JD looked at each other at the end of the story, each remembering how cool the night had become as they walked several blocks to maintain their cover as gang members. Both had wished that the local gang they were impersonating wore thicker jackets than the jean jackets they had been forced to wear. Yet once inside the building, they had both been sweating. At the time, they had thought it only to be the combination of excitement at being undercover and the worry of something going wrong. Now Vin could only wonder with the knowledge that he was not alone in hearing the knocking in his apartment. Had the spirit of the young girl attempted to save Vin and JD that night at the theater? Had her spirit somehow attached herself to Vin and accompanied him home?
Epilogue.....Six months later.........................
The alarm blared, waking up the exhausted sharpshooter. He had been on stakeout til three in the morning and was still expected in the office by eight. He'd set the alarm for six so that he would have time to shower, stop and gas up his jeep and unless traffic was horrible, still have time to stop and get coffee and donuts for breakfast. That at least was his intention, but only wanting to gain a few more minutes of sleep, he hit the snooze button and pulled the covers over his head. The covers had barely managed to get into a position to block out the light when several insistent knocks could be heard next to his head against his headboard. Sighing, he sat up, "Yeah, yeah.....I know. Get m'ass up." Throwing back the covers, he couldn't stop the smile from appearing on his face at the playful sounding knock he now heard at the bathroom door.
It had taken a few weeks, and setting up some rules....that is if it's even possible to set up rules with his new ghostly housemate, but he had become accustom to having her around. She never let him forget to eat, made sure he missed not a single nook or cranny when cleaning, and if any of the children he allowed to use his home computer attempted to get onto websites not for appropriate for their tender years, the computer mysteriously cut itself off. Even when injured, pill bottles would appear by his bed or on the kitchen counter so that he couldn't conveniently forget to take them. No, it wasn't scary to him anymore. And like Vin, his friends had long ago stopped asking, "Who's that knocking?"