Author's Notes: This fic was written for the Paranormal Challenge at the NFA Community Forums. Otherwise there's not much to say about this one. Just a good ole' fashioned ghost story, though whether it's any good or not is up to you. The name of the bar featured here comes from a Stephen King book, though I won't say which one. That'd take the fun outta finding out.
I'd also like to thank the Virginia State Police Department for helping with research into old patrol cars. I doubt anyone from there's gonna read this at all, but what the hey.
Disclaimer: I do not own NCIS or the characters contained therein.
With a mighty gust of wind, the Dodge Charger blazed past the road sign in the early morning hours.
"Spunkmeyer never showed, Boss," Special Agent Timothy McGee told his team leader, Supervisory SA Leroy Jethro Gibbs, over his iPhone. The yawn that punctuated this report only testified to how late it was.
"I swear I've heard that name somewhere before," SA Tony DiNozzo said aloud to no one in particular as he drove, his brows furrowed in concentration.
"No, no one ever even came close to the house," McGee continued, ignoring the Senior Field Agent. He listened for a bit. "Not even a mailman. No one went into or came out of the side alleys either."
"It's on the tip of my tongue, God it's gonna drive me crazy!" Tony fussed. For all intents and purposes they were carrying on two different conversations.
"We're on our way back now, should be pulling into the Yard in about…" McGee looked at the time displayed by the radio in the dashboard's console: 2:57 AM. "Three hours."
"First we get a stakeout that goes nowhere, now I'm stuck fighting the grasps of insanity over a name I know that I know!" Tony said, wishing Ziva were here too, so he'd have someone to talk with while McGlade upheld his output schedule of info. In his experience, this kind of situation would yield an answer a long time after he'd moved on to thinking of something else.
"Yeah, we know…Yes Boss…What? Boss I can't hear-" McGee pulled his phone away and looked at it before putting it back to his ear. "Boss my reception's going out. Hello? Boss!" With a sigh he glared at his phone, hung it up, and stowed it away in his coat pocket.
"Boondocks," Tony grumbled.
"Boondocks," McGee agreed, looking out into the black night around him at the miles of grass and nothing.
"Are you sure you've never heard the name Spunkmeyer before?"
"Yes, Tony, for the thirtieth time, I've never heard that name before. Now please, stop asking and just Google it or something when you get back to the squadroom."
The drive continued in silence for awhile before McGee spoke again.
"I'm gonna try and get some sleep," he said, already wondering how Tony planned to ruin that. "Wake me up if you get too tired and need to swap or when we reach the Yard." The stars were shining on McGee that night though, because Tony only grunted an affirmative and kept driving. McGee slouched and huddled in his seat, closed his eyes, and let the hum of the car guide him to sleep's open arms.
McGee didn't know if it was the car jerking, the worrying noises coming from the Charger's hood, or Tony's cursing which woke that up.
"Come on, come on," Tony grumbled, beating his fist against the steering wheel. As McGee's mind fought its way to a wakened state, he wondered what good that would do to fix a problem in the engine. "Son of a bitch, we gotta stop."
McGee blinked and tried to clear the cobwebs from his head (and the slimy taste from his mouth) as he looked out the windshield. "We can pull over there," he said, pointing towards a blob of light approaching on the right side of the road. It looked like a small wooden building with a lightened sign and a small parking lot, most likely a bar.
It was indeed a bar, with a single street lamp casting light over the space between the bar proper and road, the space occupied by the parking lot. The wooden structure looked like it'd endured many years, but it had aged well. The illuminated sign by the road in the dirt parking lot and the neon letters over the front awning that ran the length of the entire building's front declared it to be "The Colorado Lounge." The lights were on and the neon "Open" sign in the window flickering, but on, and the shadows of patrons were visible even at this ungodly hour.
The near black in the night Dodge Charger pulled into an open space near a Virginia State Trooper's patrol car, one of less than six vehicles inhabiting the lot. The Charger actually made five. When the car's lights and engine went dormant, the two agents stepped out into the cool night.
As Tony went around and opened the hood to examine the damage, McGee's eyes drifted up to the neon sign over the building's front. Now it was his turn to feel like something was just beyond his grasp of recognition, because he could've sworn he'd seen that name somewhere before…
"The radiator's shot," Tony growled as he slammed the hood down. "I'm gonna kill the motor pool's maintenance guys whenever I get back to headquarters, oh, I dunno, at six in the morning. I was looking forward to a shower and some sleep tonight, too." He was now beside McGee by the driver's side back door, his eyes on the phone in his hand. "No service. You?"
McGee, his eyes still on the bar's name, withdrew his iPhone from his inner jacket pocket and unlocked it before actually looking at it. "None," he said simply before replacing the phone, his eyes already back on the bar's name. Tony glanced at him with a curiosity-cocked eyebrow before walking towards the establishment itself.
"Let's see if they got a phone we can use. And know somebody with a tow truck."
McGee stood in his spot for a moment longer before finally looking down from the sign and following Tony.
When they walked in the front doors, they were both hit by a smell that betrayed the seedy look of the place, bright and pleasant fumes of brews. The lights over the bar and the stocks and shelves behind said bar were the brightest ones in the whole place. The mirror-back shelves showed shining bottles of liquid of varying colors of amber and gold, an occasional partial face or set of eyes reflecting in between them.
The bar itself, with a clean, smooth, and shiny top lit by the clichéd hanging lamps with cone shades, was directly across from the front doors and ran parallel to the front wall. A few feet to the left of the entryway where Tony and McGee stood was a jukebox with neon gold-yellow and red lights on the frame. It was playing a slow blues tune neither recognized, though Tony thought he recognized the singer.
The bar was flanked by three doors, two side by side on the left under a RESTROOM sign. The third was to the bar's right, marked EMPLOYEES ONLY, probably a broom closet for mops and clean-up materials.
The rest of the walls were lined by back-to-back booths, each made of a single rectangular table between two long cushioned seats. They each had a dim lamp-with-cone-shade over it, but only a few were occupied. Considering the hour, neither federal agent was surprised. As the raspy voice of Bon Scott continued to croon from the jukebox, Tony and McGee crossed the floor to the bar.
"And it's another red light nightmare/OOhh, oohh, another red light street/And I ain't too old to worry/'Cause I ain't too old to diiiee, but I/Sure am hard to beat."
As the two took a seat at the two center stools, the bartender came to stand before and between 'em.
"Awful late for a couple newcomers," he said with a slight Virginian accent. He was an older man with grey, near white, hair under a Washington Nationals cap, and chubby wrinkled cheeks to match his beer gut. The gut itself was hidden under his black t-shirt, which proclaimed "GUNS HAVE 2 ENEMIES: RUST AND POLITICIANS" in white lettering under a detailed outlining of a handgun. The sleeves had been torn off, showing an 82nd Airborne Division insignia tattooed on his left shoulder, no doubt where he'd once sported a matching patch.
"Anything I can get ya?"
"We had some car troubles and need a tow truck," Tony explained. "Our phones don't work, so we were wondering if we could use yours. Anyone we can call to get picked up tonight?"
The bartender pursed his lips and looked off into a corner in thought before nodding with a smile. "Matter'a fact I do," he said. "Ole' Buck Halther lives out of an apartment over his auto shop a few miles away. You could call him up and have him come take yer ride in and have it fixed in a couple hours."
Tony's brows furrowed with slight incredulity. "Would he do that at half past three in the morning?"
"Oh yeah," the bartender nodded. "His wife just left him and he'll take any work he can get, anytime anywhere. It gets his mind off Charla, and he makes his livin' while he's at it. It's like workin' through the loss."
McGee had been watching a man at one of the booths to the right of the bar. He couldn't make him out very well in the lighting, but he looked about the age McGee was when he'd started at NCIS, maybe a little older. He was dragging his middle finger around on the table-top, drawing circles in what appeared to be a dark liquid of some kind. When the bartender had offered the solution to their car troubles, though, he looked straight at the patron.
"Isn't that taking advantage of him or something?" he asked before he could stop himself. He had a pretty good idea the bartender and others might've already done that very thing, and now McGee knew he had probably just gone and insulted him.
If he did, the bartender didn't show it at all.
"Yeah, prob'ly," he simply said with a shrug. "But like I said, it helps 'im work through it, so everyone benefits."
"Alright, what's his number?" Tony asked. The bartender reached under his desk and pulled an old blue push-button telephone from under the bar. With the handset in hand, he dialed up the number and handed it to Tony, who held it up to his ear with one hand and absentmindedly began fiddling with the swirly chord with the other.
McGee's gaze returned to the young man to the right, who was sitting with one elbow on the table and his mouth leaning against his fingers. They formed a very loose, practically open fist, and whatever dark liquid he'd been drawing circles with was dripping from the tip of his middle finger and plopping onto the table below. He didn't know if it was the lighting, but McGee could've sworn it looked like…
The sound of Tony hanging the phone up jerked McGee back to the bar with a snapping turn of his head, just in time to catch Tony thanking the bartender.
"He'll be here ASAP," Tony reported as the bartender returned the phone under the bar. McGee looked back at the younger man, but he'd folder his arms on the table and was using them as a burrow for his face, obstructing whatever view of the mystery liquid he had. "But it looks like we'll be here for a bit." Tony concluded from beside him. McGee returned his full attention to the conversation, dismissing what he'd thought he'd seen as a trick of the light and his own tiredness.
"Want anything to wet yer throats while you wait?" the bartender asked.
Tony and McGee looked at each other pointedly.
"We're still on the clock, Tony," McGee said.
"Yeah, but we're not gonna be back at the Navy Yard for a few hours."
"It's unprofessional, especially because we're federal law enforcement."
"Oh come on, one beer's not gonna hurt anybody! When's the last time you had a nice cold one in a real, legit dive like this?"
Both men knew the answer was "Never," but now the stars were shining on DiNozzo.
"Fine," McGee sighed in surrender. "But only one drink, and nothing stronger than a beer."
"Any preferred brands?" the bartender asked with a smile.
"Dos Equis," Tony answered.
"Keystone Light," McGee added.
"Keystone Light?" Tony asked incredulously as the bartender began digging through the ice chest under the bar for the requested bottles. "I thought you said you were gettin' a drink McLightweight."
The conversation was cut off before it started by the sounds of beer bottles being opened, then coasters flopping on the wooden bar, and then the bottles finding home base on said coasters. The two agents grabbed their respective bottles, which had already begun to accumulate sweat, and knocked back a refreshing swallow.
To the left, the men's room door opened in the wake of a Virginia State Trooper. He took his seat on the stool next to Tony and set a notebook before him, flipping through it and reading whatever he'd written throughout the day.
"You want yer single yet, Hank?" the bartender asked.
"Not yet," the trooper replied without looking up. "Don't worry, Barkeep, I won't leave without having it." Something in the way he said "barkeep" made it almost require a capital letter, as if it was the bartender's name. Most likely it was a nickname used by long-time customers such as Hank over here, both Tony and McGee reasoned.
A few minutes passed with only the jukebox and sounds of quiet drinking disturbing them. The only real conversation was the quiet one coming from a booth against the left wall where two men were telling funny stories to each other under their breath, as if being heard might get them in trouble. Then, laughing outright, the two stood and walked out the door, their payment on the table still. Outside, their car doors shut, and their engine started. Tony's brow furrowed in concern, knowing those two were way too plastered to be on the road.
"Shouldn't you be going after them?" he asked the Trooper, who didn't even reply.
The squeal of their tires was like a woman's shriek of horror, and Tony and McGee both jumped nearly out of their stools. Tony had heard that kind of squeal before, it was the kind made before an accident. But there was no crash, and in fact they could no longer even hear an engine fading away in the distance. It was as if they'd just…vanished.
Tony and McGee shared a concerned look, then both covertly eyed the State Trooper, who hadn't even reacted. Their gazes returned to each others', and then they simply looked toward the shelves, both unsure what to do…or what even had just happened.
It was probably lack of sleep, they both reasoned uneasily. But that didn't seem entirely right, either…
From his seat at the bar, McGee was looking at his eyes in the mirrored wall the shelves of liquor were mounted on and trying to figure out what exactly he was feeling. It was a tightness in his chest, as if something were taking up precious space in his rib cage, and another one in his lower regions. Some guys he'd known back in Johns Hopkins had called that kinda feeling "The Clench," and it was that thought of Hopkins that made him connect the dots: he was feeling symptoms of anxiety.
This made McGee furrow his brows in confusion. Oh he'd felt anxiety before, plenty of times. But these weren't his normal symptoms. When Timothy McGee felt anxiety, it expressed itself through stuttering, and sometimes blushing. But the even more confusing bit was what exactly he was anxious about. He hadn't done anything wrong, so why did he feel like he was waiting for a punishment?
It's probably the beer. McGee thought. Then his brows relaxed and he shook his head in a mild form of self-disgust. Great, you're freaking out over having one drink on the clock. You've hacked the CIA on the job, this isn't even a blip compared to that!
But he wasn't the only one.
Beside him, Tony was pondering why he was suddenly feeling so cold. It wasn't enough to warrant shivering or not finishing his beer, but it was puzzling nonetheless. He took his third swallow, keeping them spaced out and short, but enjoyable. He planned to make it last as long as he could before their ride showed up to the auto shop. He noticed that McGee had barely touched his since the first swig.
"Somethin' wrong, Probie?" he asked, his voice only conjuring a part of the usual tease and fun it normally held with such a question.
"Does something about this place…" McGee started, then stopped to find the right words. McGee kept his voice low so as to not be overheard by the bartender, who had moved out from behind the bar to collect the payment left by the two men who'd left. "Does this place give you the creeps or rub you the wrong way or something?"
Tony, for some reason he didn't know, wanted to agree with McGee and suggest they try walking to the auto shop and meet the guy halfway. What he said instead was, "No, McGee, it doesn't. It's just a dive."
For awhile, they simply sat there. Then, McGee stood and started walking towards the doors. Tony was turning around to ask where he was going when he saw his partner's actual course was to the jukebox. But as he watched, he saw that even that wasn't completely right. McGee was just standing by it to look out the window. Tony shook his head and turned back to face the liquor shelves.
McGee was looking at the stars over the black silhouette of the forest in the far distance. He'd been a stargazer in his youth, and it saddened him at times that the lighting in Silver Springs didn't allow the visibility to take it back up. He sometimes felt it would help deal with things, like his writing.
He was pulled from his thoughts by the sound of approaching footsteps on the hardwood floor. Turning, McGee saw the young man who'd been drawing circles on his table approaching with his head down, focused on getting the right amount of change from his palm. He looked up and jerked, startled that someone he hadn't seen was there.
"Oh, sorry man," the young man said. He had an untidy scruff going, and his hair looked like he hadn't washed it in a few days. He had lines on the side of his face that showed it to have been in a very depressed expression for awhile now. He'd obviously had more than a few, too.
"No, it's alright," McGee said when the young man turned to head back to his table. "I'm not using it." he added, motioning to the jukebox as he stepped aside to allow clear access.
"Oh, thanks," the man said before stepping up and scanning the choices. McGee looked back out the window until his attention was grabbed by what could only be the sound of the young man's finger sliding down the plastic domed window of the jukebox, only his fingertip sounded really wet, making a squeegee like sound in its wake. McGee looked to the jukebox and froze at what he saw, his face suddenly concerned.
There was a trail of thick and bright red blood (Bright, it's oxygenated, oh God he's cut the arteries) that grew longer as the man continued dragging his finger down the window. He didn't seem to notice it, even when he stopped and started inserting his quarters. McGee saw that there were trails of blood all over his hands and fingers, and the coins were bathed in it as they clinked into the machine. The man reached out with his left hand and pushed the buttons to order his song, and as he did McGee watched drops of blood drizzle from his entire hand and splat on the jukebox window. He left bloody fingerprints on the buttons, but that wasn't the worst part.
The worst part was the squirting. Every other second, in time with the man's heartbeat, a jet of blood would squirt from the open wounds in his wrist and splash on the jukebox, running down the window in a red curtain.
"Oh my God," McGee whispered, his eyes going to the man's face and wondering how he was even standing or retaining his color. He didn't seem the worst for ware at all, hell he only seemed drunk.
"Wha?" the man asked, looking to the pale and horrified agent. He didn't seem phased by McGee's expression at all, as if he wasn't even seeing it.
McGee's first thought was Sir, we need to get you to a hospital right now, but what came out was probably the dumbest question he'd ever asked: "Are you okay?"
"Not really," the young man replied. "Nobody listens to my music. I went all the way to Baltimore to play at a club where a few suits were looking for new talent, and I didn't even get a thanks for coming. I'd sold everything I had for the gas money, and now it's all gone for nothing. My dad's freakin' watch…that thing was a family heirloom, man, he had it on him through the whole damn war."
The young man's hand came up into McGee's view as he reached to scratch his face, and when he did McGee couldn't believe what he saw: it was clean. No sign of blood or damage at all. Eyes wide, McGee snapped his head to the jukebox and saw the same story: no blood whatsoever. Just an old, well worn jukebox.
The young man's selection (115, "Beast of Burden" by The Rolling Stones) finally started to play, and he turned and walked back to his seat, his head low and his shoulder slumped, leaving McGee to stand there with a pale face and owl eyes to wonder what the hell just happened.
Tony had been lost in thought and a near doze at the bar, unaware of McGee's conversation and that his friend was now standing by the jukebox with a terrified look on his face. His mind kept going to all sorts of thoughts: the case, women, where the hell had he heard "Spunkmeyer" before, what was that story Ducky told him once about that bar in New Hampshire, they all driveled on and on in his mind.
"Barkeep!" the State Trooper beside Tony called, finally looking up from his notebook and startling DiNozzo in the process. "I'll take that brewski now," he said to the bartender, who was working his way around and cleaning the booths with a wet rag. Putting said rag down, the bartender returned to his spot behind the bar and dug out a Samuel Adams. As the Trooper pulled from his bottle neck and the bartender returned to his booth cleaning, DiNozzo's eyes went back to the mirror behind the shelves.
At just the right angle, he could see their Charger out in the lot, and near it he could see the Trooper's patrol car even better.
Wait a minute…
Tony's brows furrowed as he realized there was something wrong with the patrol car. No, not wrong, just…not right either. It looked like a standard, Virginia State Police car, with a blue and gray paint job that had an orange and black glow to it from the street lamp's light and the light coming from the bar. It was an old model, but otherwise it looked just fi-
That's it… DiNozzo realized. It's too old.
The patrol car appeared to be a Chevrolet Caprice, 1989 if he wasn't mistaken. Virginia State patrol cars had been Dodge Chargers like NCIS's since 2006, and before that they'd used "Slickback" Chevrolet Impalas since 2001. They hadn't used an eighties model car since…well, the eighties. Confused by this, Tony turned to ask the Trooper why he had such an outdated ride when he froze, his eyes wide and his face pale, and wondered if his drink had been spiked.
The Trooper, his eyes still focused on his notebook, suddenly seemed to have a deformation in the back of his head, which DiNozzo only had a side view of. Tony recognized it as the blown outward crater of a gunshot wound, the kind that came from the mouth. The hair around and on the edge of that crater was wet and patted down with blood. As if wanting to show the wound off, the Trooper turned around to face the bartender at whatever booth he was cleaning, leaving the back of his head to stare directly at Tony.
It was indeed the black, cavernous open hole of an exit wound. Tony registered that the Trooper and the bartender were talking, but whatever they were saying was drowned out by the feeling Tony had as he involuntarily stared into that black abyss, his insides tightening with fear and panic. Was he going crazy?
Tony jerked his head back forward to the liquor shelves and started breathing again, never even knowing he'd stopped. He still felt cold, but his forehead, neck, and other places were soaked in sweat. In the mirror, he could see that his face was almost as white at a sheet, and his eyes were as round as tea cup saucers. Had he known McGee was wearing an identical expression, pallor and all, he might've made a joke about them being a sort of Abbot and Costello reject team who'd run into a new horror of the week. It would've been a bad joke though, the kind a person tells when they think they're going crazy and they're just trying to say something that makes the insanity seem less real.
Beside him, Tony heard the Trooper bid farewell to the bartender and stand. Tony didn't want to look at the wound in the mirror as he left, but his eyes went to the mirror anyway, and when he saw the back of the Trooper's head was as whole and well-kept as the back of his own, Tony didn't know whether to feel relief or fear for his sanity.
Just as Tony had not noticed McGee's encounter with that which couldn't be real or sane, neither did McGee notice Tony's. He had lost track of how long he'd stood at the window, but when the front doors closed and marked the departure of the Trooper, he snapped out of his funk and turned back to the bar, where he reclaimed his seat beside Tony. Neither man looked at each other, both of their gazes were elsewhere as they tried to comprehend what they'd each seen. Tony's eyes were frozen on the mirror, and McGee was finding a spot under the liquor shelves very interesting.
After what seemed forever, McGee felt a normal feeling that somehow made things better, because it was normal: he had to go. "I'll be right back," he said without looking at Tony as he stood, and Tony only mumbled a response.
When McGee opened the men's room door, which was the one on the left, he found one of those cinder wall partitions for assured privacy, the kind that you had to walk around before reaching the facilities themselves. Turning to his left, McGee walked around the bend and stopped, his face cringing and grimacing at the sight and smell. He'd handled crime scenes of varying levels of disgusting, but nothing ever seemed to immune him to bathrooms like these.
The floor tiles, which might've been a dull shade of turquoise at some point, appeared brownish lime, with especially dark blots on the floors under the urinals where drunks had found their ability to aim all but gone thanks to the alcohol that made them had to go to begin with. The urinals themselves were yellowed by age and piss, and two of them were marked by an out-of-order sign. The third appeared fine, but as McGee approached he cringed even more at the urinal cake inside. If there was anything Timothy McGee hoped he was never, ever reincarnated as…
Tossing away the disgusting thought, McGee unzipped, aimed, and went about his business. As the walls echoed with the sound of nature's call, he noticed there was, unsurprisingly, graffiti on the wall. One piece was directly before him over the urinal, a simple message scrawled in black:
The joke's not on the wall, it's in your hand.
McGee snorted and shook his head. When the last few drops were gone, he zipped up and pulled the flush handle. Thankfully, it worked, and so he turned around and went to the sinks. They were rusty and cracked, and the mirrors above them were smudged by that black, solid gunk that only seemed to be found on public restroom mirrors. The soap dispenser was cracked and broken, exposing the bag of cleanser inside. It was thankfully full, but McGee had to push the bag itself to squeeze out just enough soap to wash his hands. When the water turned on, McGee half expected brown muck (or blood) and was gracious to see nice, clean and clear water. It was even warm to boot.
In lieu of a paper towel dispenser, there was simply a large roll of 'em standing on one end on the inner edge of the sink, under the bottom left corner of the mirror. McGee had just finished drying his hands and tossing the wet towels into the overflowing garbage bin when he heard the unmistakable thump of a body hitting the floor.
McGee whirled toward the source of the noise, the lone stall to the left of the three urinals, his left hand resting on the handle of his SIG. From this angle he could only see a little under the edge of the stall, but he couldn't see anything. Slowly drawing his firearm, McGee slowly made his way to the door. Carefully, he inched his right hand out and grabbed the edge of the door, bracing himself for what he might find…then he threw it open.
The first thing that hit him was the stench, which actually threw him back into a fit of coughing and gagging. The second was the fact that the stall was actually empty save for the toilet. There was no lid, and the seat seemed to be missing a hinge and was horribly loose. Inside the bowl was a black pond with soggy white bands that made McGee's stomach churn in every possible way. Backing away from the wretched thing, McGee closed the door and reholstered his weapon before turning to leave. He stopped in his tracks when he saw the hooker.
To say Timothy McGee was confused was a gross understatement. The expression on his face couldn't be expressed in words. First, the look of utter startlement, then utter bafflement as his eyes moved from side to side, trying to figure out where she'd come from.
Because he knew that the door hadn't opened. There'd been no change in the air, no sound of the hinges, and no sound from the main bar itself such as the music of the jukebox. It was as if she'd appeared from thin air.
"You got any money?" she asked, and only now did McGee stop focusing on where she'd come from and actually pay attention to her. Her attire (and lack there) left no doubt what her profession was. Her pale complexion, sweaty skin and hair, sniffling nose, and overall appearance of unwellness also left no doubt to McGee's investigating skills that she was probably going through a drug withdrawal of some kind.
"I need some money, real bad," she said as she slowly took a step forward. McGee, to his credit, didn't take a matching step back, no matter how much his head was telling him to.
"Um…I, uh, I- how did you-"
"Slick says I don't give good head anymore," she said, as if he hadn't even said anything. She continued on, ignoring the startled and very uncomfortable look on McGee's face. "He says I ain't good at it anymore, so I gotta pay for my stuff like everyone else. But business been dry lately and…I need money bad." She'd slowly advanced, and by the time she finished she was right before McGee. He'd just opened his mouth to ask her what she was doing in a men's room (and how she got there) when she grabbed his belt.
"Whoa whoa whoa!" he said as he scrambled to grab her hands and stop them. "What're you doing? Ma'am, listen, I-"
"Please," she begged as she kept trying, her hands and McGee's blurring like wasps as they fought over his belt buckle. "I don't care how much you give me, I'll swallow, just let me do it and pay me, please I-"
Her struggles had increased as she rambled, and McGee's escalated in response. Finally, in a climax of desperation, McGee gave her a shove, just a small one to get her off. Before he could blink, her feet came out from under her and her head hit the sink. Somehow, the sound of her skull shattering the porcelain before she hit the floor was louder than any gunshot McGee had ever heard.
For a minute, he could only stare at the unmoving woman as blood began pooling from under her head, filling the minuscule canyons between the tiles and getting under the shards of broken sink littering the floor. McGee found himself incapable of even knowing what to do, and before he could even try to begin and gather his thoughts, the woman gave a might jolt. And then another, and then she was enveloped in a full on seizure. With a sick gurgling noise that made McGee's stomach roll like every boat he'd ever been on, she began vomiting, chunks of bile spilling down the sides of her cheeks and splattering on the floor around her. The sounds she made from choking on it because she was on her back only made it worse.
McGee grabbed onto one thought in the blizzard of his mind like a drowning man in a storm: I need to get her help. So, trying to shove everything aside and lock it in a black closet, McGee started toward the door…and felt his foot go out from under him as it slid in the blood pool like a cartoon character on a banana peel, and then he was falling face first.
The solid crack of his nose breaking on the tile floor only compounded the small explosion McGee felt in the center of his face. Groaning and squeezing his eyes shut, McGee lifted his face off the floor and held it upright, creeks of blood already spilling down the lower half of his face. Opening his eyes, McGee struggled to a sitting position and froze at what he saw…rather, at what he didn't see.
The woman was gone. There was no convulsing body, no shards of broken sink, no spreading pool of blood. In fact the only blood on the floor was from his nose. It was just the same dirty, grimy public restroom he'd seen when he walked in.
Crazy. McGee thought. I'm going crazy…losing my mind…maybe I already am nuts…no…I don't wanna be crazy, I don't wanna be crazy!
McGee scrambled to his feet and turned the corner of the partition when the door opened, almost hitting him in the face. He jumped nearly a mile out of his shoes, which was only a little higher than Tony.
DiNozzo, who'd heard a solid thump in his head more than with his ears, had come to check on McGee and was now wearing a shocked expression at what he saw.
"Tony!" McGee said, almost in ecstatic relief, his voice muffled by the hand he was delicately holding to his bloody, mangled nose. "Tony, I- I don't- we, I-"
Tony didn't need to hear what McGee was trying to say though. He could see it in his eyes.
He's seen it too. Tony thought.
At his post, the bartender was drying a recently washed glass when the two newcomers returned to the bar, one holding what looked like a helluva broken nose.
"Jeezus, what happened?" he asked. He doubted there was a fight, when the older one had gone to check on his friend he hadn't closed the door, and he didn't even have enough time to throw a punch.
"I uh-" McGee started, then faltered as he came up blank.
"Stepped on a shoelace," Tony cut in, saving the day for McGee. "Went down like a tree, hit his nose on the tiles."
The bartender nodded solemnly before disappearing under the bar. Shuffling contents could be heard, then the opening of a fridge or freezer, the shuffling of ice, and before long he stood back into view, wrapping a ziplock bag of ice in a rag.
"This'll help," he said as he handed it to McGee. The agent took it and applied as much pressure as he could stand with it on his shattered honker. The sound of a coaster hitting the bar and glass being put on it drew their attention.
"On the house, if ya want it," the bartender said, indicating the unopened beer bottle he'd set before them. "I hope this little incident doesn't make ya reflect unfavorably on mah establishment." The sound of the phone ringing made the bartender reach under the bar, bring up the phone, and answer it. He listened for a bit, before picking up the base and craying it over to a more private corner.
Tony and McGee stood there for a moment before looking at each other. Without a word spoken, they left their money on the bar and left. Outside in the cool October air, the two stood and waited only a few minutes before a truck with a tow chain arrived.
"What happened to you?" Buck Halther asked McGee, who fed him the same story Tony had fed the bartender. Leaving the conversation at that, Halther set to work.
"Gotta say, I damn near gave mahself an embolism when I saw the number of this place on mah caller ah-dee," he said when he finished as he opened the rear passenger door of the truck for McGee and Tony. "Fact I'm downright surprahsed there's a workin' line here, let alone a phone." McGee climbed in the back and scooted over to make room for Tony.
"Why's that? DiNozzo asked as he put a foot up to climb in.
"You kiddin' me?" Halther asked. "Look at the place!"
So Tony and McGee did, for the first time since walking into the Colorado Lounge. The hulk of an abandoned bar barely resembled what they'd seen when they'd arrived. Windows that weren't covered in dust were missing entirely. Planks of wood were missing in several places, and a corner of the roof was even partially caved in.
"I gotta give ya credit for getting' the balls to look in there, though," Halther said as he closed the driver's door of the truck and buckled his seatbelt. "'Course I'd rather be anywhere but here at three in the God-forsaken mornin', so I'd be desperate enough too."
Tony could only stand and stare for a moment until the truck's rumbling diesel engine roared to life. With an indescribable look on his face, he climbed in beside McGee and shut the door. The cab of the truck was quiet as it drove off towards Buck Halther's shop at 3:25 AM.
In an abandoned bar formerly called the Colorado Lounge in the middle of nowhere, Virginia, the air was so still and quiet, it could only be a place of comfort for things that should be gone.
The shelves and tables were empty, save for one thing on the bar: a single, unopened bottle of beer. For a moment, it was as still and quiet and dead as its surroundings.
Then with a sudden hiss of cool air, the top popped right off.