This is an amateur, non-commercial story, which is not produced, approved of, or in any way sponsored by the holders of the trademarks/copyrights from which this work is derived, nor is it intended to infringe on the rights of these holders. And so it goes.
"…AND WHEN ZONNAG RETURNS, THERE WILL BE GREAT TRIBULATION FOR THE NON-BELIEVERS! THE FAITHFUL WILL WATCH AS THE HEATHEN WILL WRITHE AND WAIL IN AGONY! THE SKIES SHALL RAIN FIRE! THE OCEANS SHALL DRY UP!"
"Do tell," Janine Melnitz commented calmly from behind her desk, placidly filing her nails while her visitor, the latest in a long line of crazed zealots, continued to rant. This one was admittedly more interesting, she had to admit. He'd shaved his head, waxed his arms, legs and eyebrows and was wearing a real burlap bag. Most of the time the loonies preferred cotton or rayon robes for their spiels.
"ZONNAG WILL STRIKE WITHOUT MERCY! ZONNAG WILL REWARD THE FAITHFUL! ZONNAG WILL…" Just then the phone rang; the ranter paused and looked at Janine. "Go ahead," he said with a nod as he sat down. "I'll wait."
"Thank you." Janine was impressed; it was so hard to find a nutcase with good manners these days. Janine picked up the phone. "Ghostbusters, your one-stop solution for those afterlife problems. How can I help you?"
"Help!" cried a faint, plaintive-sounding voice.
"Excuse me?" Janine said. She pulled her pad and pencil closer. "Can you speak up? I can barely hear you."
"There's no time! They're keeping me prisoner here! They won't let me go! You've got to come over and help me!"
Janine frowned; over the years, she'd developed a knack for divining the serious calls from the cranks, and this one for some reason was falling somewhere in between. "We're booked for the rest of the day," she said. "Can you give me your name and address, and we'll get to you as soon as we can?"
There was a sudden click and the line fell dead. Janine frowned, tapping the pencil against her cheek as she pondered the conversation. She glanced over at the caller ID display and brought up the last call. "New Viceroy Theatre?" she said to herself. "That's weird…"
Any other time, she'd simply chalk it up to a crank and move on. Something about this, though, was raising red flags. It couldn't hurt to have someone check it out, surely. Janine consulted the schedule; right now, the guys were in Queens taking out a band of rabid killer bunnies. They'd be too tired later to investigate a possible dead end. That left one possibility.
"Ahem." Oops, she'd forgotten about Mr. Nutcase. He was rising to his feet, obviously gearing up for Round Two. "Where was I? Oh yes…ZONNAG WILL DESTROY THE UNFAITHFUL…"
"Excuse me?" Janine smiled brightly.
"Would it help if I were to give you a little green stuff for Zonnag's cause?"
"Why, yes!" the fruitcake replied, beaming.
"Thought so." Janine turned around. "Oh, Slimer…" The chubby ghost appeared immediately, smiling brightly and gibbering to itself with glee. "Friend, Slimer!" Janine said, pointing to the now-sheet-white zealot. She watched as he fled the building at top speed, Slimer close behind, then picked up the phone and dialed a specific number.
Charlie Venkman sighed as he looked around the glory that was Times Square. "This is sad," he declared to the world.
His son grinned. "Dad, you are quite possibly the only human being who wouldn't look on what they've done here as an improvement." He pointed over at the Doozy Store and the New Viceroy Theater, about to reopen after an extensive and expensive renovation. "Look at that. No more porn shops, no more peep shows, everything cleaned up…"
"Yeah, and everything homogenized and drained of any spice." The elder Venkman shook his head. "Don't get me wrong, son. This wasn't a nice place by any means, even when I was a kid. You had the street hustlers, the sharks, the hot merchandise sellers, the ladies, the burlesque shows. It wasn't always for the good people of New York, but it was real." He nodded toward the Doozy Store, which was blasting the company's theme song "It's a Hunky-Dorey World For Sure" in every direction. "Now it's the World According to Warren Doozy, in Technicolor."
"Times change, Dad."
"Not always for the better, son." Charlie stared at the New Viceroy. "You know, I can remember sneaking in there and watching the vaudeville shows. The acts I saw…Fred Allen, George and Gracie, the strippers and animal bits…" Another sigh puffed from his lips. "It was a magical time, Pete. Sometimes I miss it."
Peter began to say something, but a shrill alarm emerged from his jacket pocket. "Just a second, Dad." He flipped the cell phone open and sighed. "Janine, this had better be important…" He listened for a moment, glanced over at the theatre, then at his father. "Yeah, it just so happens we're right by it. Doesn't look like anything is going on, but we can take a quick look. I'll call you back when I know something…ho, ho, ho. Maybe you should consider stand-up comedy, Janine." He shut the phone and slipped it into his pocket.
"What's up?" his father asked.
"Not sure," Peter replied. He nodded toward the New Viceroy. "Janine said we got a call from someone claiming to be held prisoner in there. I told her we could check it out." He shrugged apologetically to the elder Venkman. "Hate to mix business on you…"
"You kidding?" Charlie slapped his son on the shoulder. "I'd love to see the Viceroy again. Let's take a look."
Two filched hardhats later, the Venkmans casually strolled through the bustling interior of the theatre. Having made it perfectly clear that they belonged there, no one gave the odd pair more than a moment's notice. Charlie tilted his head back and stared at the just-restored ceiling. "Incredible," he breathed, regretting it instantly as the dust floating through the air got into his mouth.
"They've done a heckuva job, haven't they?" Peter said, nodding knowingly to a few suits standing nearby. "See anything odd?"
"Not yet. You know, though, that this isn't the best place to be holding a hostage."
"True." Peter pointed to a pair of nearby doors; they left the lobby and headed into the theatre proper. Charlie's fingers drifted over the back of an aisle seat and he sighed with remembrance. While there was still a great deal of work being done, it appeared that this area was mostly finished. "Strike two, Dad."
"There's still backstage," Charlie pointed out.
"Why not?" Peter led his father over to the backstage entrance. A sign there sternly warned trespassers that a badge was required to go any further. "Badges?" Peter said with a sly grin on his face.
"Badges?" his father echoed the same grin on his face.
Venkman faced Venkman. "WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' BADGES!" they cried, and hurried through the door.
Peter was surprised at the size of the dark, deserted area; even more surprising, his father led the way around, picking his way around the clutter with a knowing sense of direction. "Dad…"
"You remember how I told you I snuck into the theatre when I was a kid?" Charlie turned around with a mischievous grin. "Actually, I snuck in back here. It was my home away from home." He looked around contentedly. "You know, I remember discovering the peep holes for the dressing rooms. I tell you, I learned more from that than I would have ever learned at school…"
"Yeah, I'll just bet," came a distinctly feminine voice behind them. The two men whirled around to find a pale, almost transparent figure floating there. From all appearances, she was also quite nude, but it was hard to be sure, given the wispy clouds that hid just enough to tantalize. She waited patiently for the Venkmans to finish gawking, a look of amusement on her white face.
"So," she finally purred, "are you two Ghostbusters?"
"I am," Peter said, hesitantly raising a hand in answer.
"Good. So, how does a girl get busted around here?" She studied her visitors carefully, hands planted on her transparent hips.
"Wearing…that," Peter replied slowly, waving his arm in the direction of the wisps, "it shouldn't take much." The ghost laughed, causing the clouds to almost…but not quite…dissipate.
"Wait," Charlie Venkman said, recognition flickering in his eyes. "I know you…"
"Do you now?" the ghost said with a sultry, teasing glance.
"Just a second, just a second," the older man snapped, searching his memory. Abruptly he looked up in triumph. "Sally McCall! The Blonde Bombshell! Queen of the Peelers!"
"Oh my. A fan," she cooed happily. And perhaps it was his imagination, but Peter could swear that her transparent features grew just a bit more opaque at that moment. He blinked a few times and stared a bit more intently, but he couldn't be sure.
"A fan? Who wouldn't be?" Charlie exclaimed. "Who could forget your act, the one with the balloons and beach balls? The ostrich feathers?" Sadness suddenly dimmed his visible joy. "You died?" he said plaintively.
"Honey, I died on stage so many time I set a record for resurrections," Sally said, "but yeah, I died here. Heart attack in '52. And I've been here since."
"Maybe you can help us," Peter interjected. "We got a call from someone who claimed she was being held prisoner…"
"Yeah, and let me tell you, that was NOT an easy stunt to pull," the ghost stated with a sigh. The clouds faded for a heartbeat, then congealed again. "Took a lot out of me, if you know what I mean. So, you ready to take care of business?"
"YOU'RE the one being held prisoner?" Peter's jaw all but fell to the floor.
"Yeah, I…uh-oh. Later, boys." Sally McCall disappeared; seconds later, a group of men in three piece suits, flanked by a team of chisel-featured security guards, came around the corner. None of them looked too pleased at discovering the Venkmans.
"Dad," Peter said as they approached.
"I know, son. Busted."
They were politely herded to an office on the second floor; in contrast to the disarray throughout the theater, this room was impeccably neat, everything perfectly placed. Peter looked around uneasily at the bookshelves, the rich colored carpet and the many plaques on the walls; everything in here screamed I'm very important and I don't like little people wasting my time.
So naturally he flopped casually into a chair and propped his feet on the mahogany desk. "Jeeves," he said to the guard to his left. "A martini, if you please. Shaken, not stirred."
"Very droll, Doctor Venkman," came a voice from behind. Peter didn't even turn to acknowledge it, but his father did, and the old man gasped with recognition. Anyone who read the papers would have known the face instantly, from both the society and the business sections. "I'm Roger Hanley," the ruggedly handsome man, perfectly coifed and dressed in an Italian pinstripe suit, said to his reluctant guests. "I'm in charge of the Viceroy Project on behalf of the Doozy Corporation."
"Pleased," Peter said, lifting his feet from the table and rising to his feet. He offered his hand; Hanley stared at it for a moment before dismissing the motion with a curt nod. Peter gave his father a quick glance that read let me do the talking and sat back down in his chair, a bit more respectfully than before.
"So, Doctor Venkman," Hanley said pleasantly as he sat down behind his desk. "What brings you to the Viceroy? Especially since it's not open to visitors yet?"
"If you must know," Peter replied coolly, "my secretary at Ghostbusters received a call from here earlier today. The caller said that there was a paranormal entity causing a great deal of trouble, and that our services were requested. As the call was on the mysterious side, and I happened to be in the area, I offered to investigate the claim. My father agreed to accompany me."
"Really," Hanley said quietly.
"Really," Peter echoed, taking an even stronger dislike to this man than he had a moment ago.
Hanley turned to his computer--state of the art, if Peter was any judge--and called up a report. "Interesting," he said, rubbing his chin. "We do indeed show a call made to your group about two hours ago. However," he continued, closing the report and bringing his attention squarely on the Venkmans, "I can assure you there are no ghosts here to 'bust'."
"I'd beg to differ on that," Peter replied calmly.
"Would you now?"
"I certainly would. My father and I made contact with the ghost just before you showed up."
"That's fascinating," Hanley said, leaning back in his chair to regard the two men carefully. "My people have been here for over two years, working on the renovation of this theater, and in all that time we've had no encounters with any ghost. Yet you manage to do it on your first visit. I'm impressed, Doctor Venkman."
"Given that the ghost asked us to capture her and take her away from here, I'm not surprised you haven't encountered her," Peter returned.
Hanley smiled thinly. "'She'? Why, Doctor Venkman, I'd almost think you thought of these ghosts as people of a sort."
"They are," Peter retorted. "Occasionally we've encountered spirits that retain enough sense of self from their past life to maintain gender." I don't believe this, he thought to himself. This guy has me so torqued I'm talking like Ray and Egon.
"Be that as it may," Hanley continued, "you're on private property. No one connected to the Doozy Corporation has contacted you about removal of this 'entity', much less given you permission to go traipsing around the premises. I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to leave and not come back."
"You can't do that!" Charlie Venkman shot to his feet, enraged. "You can't keep Sally here against her will!"
Confusion crossed Hanley's features. "Sally?"
"Sally McCall! One of the greatest strippers in vaudeville! She's here, she wants to leave, and I won't let you keep her here against her will!"
"I'm afraid I don't know the name. Before my time." Hanley nodded to the security staff. "A pleasure talking to you, Doctor and Mister Venkman. Time is money, though, and I do have things to take care of, as I'm sure you do. Happy…hunting." He chuckled to himself as Peter and his father were firmly escorted first from the room, then the theatre.
Peter watched as the guards went back inside the Viceroy. "Well, that was unpleasant," he said softly, brushing himself off.
"Son, we can't let Sally down! We have to do something to get her out of there!" Charlie Venkman was practically in tears. "Please! We've got to do something!"
"We will, Dad," Peter said, glaring up at Hanley's office. "We will."
"Sounds like you had quite an afternoon," Winston Zeddemore commented as he handed Charlie Venkman a coffee cup. He joined the Venkmans at the dining table; Egon Spengler was downstairs on the phone, while Ray Stantz was intently occupied at the computer across the room.
"It was something," the elder Venkman agreed. "I don't know what scared me more--the ghost, the goons or the head goon."
"You know, that's the weird thing about it," Peter said, wrapping his hands around the mug and savoring the warmth against his skin. "The ghost, I mean. She wasn't scary at all. Kind of nice, when you get down to it. Most of what we encounter is definitely in the 'not nice' category."
"Most ghosts don't call for their own trapping," Winston reminded him with a grin.
"I don't know if I'd want to trap her," Peter remarked. "Maybe we could just put her somewhere else, some place she'd be happy and left alone."
"What gets me is that Hanley guy claiming no one's seen Sally in all the time they've been there," Charlie Venkman said, a trace of anger in his voice. "I didn't believe him for a minute, son. I know his type."
"You're right," Ray called out, turning in his chair toward the others. "I asked a friend of mine to do some checking in their computers. She found a number of incident reports dating back to the first week. They've all been filed away and the reporters told to stay quiet."
"Let me get this straight," Charlie said to Ray. "You got hold of some hacker kid to sneak into Doozy's systems and snoop around? Illegally?"
"Well…" Ray smiled weakly. "She didn't do anything else, you know. No harm, no foul?"
A big grin spread across the older man's face. "Son," he said to Peter, "I knew there was a reason I liked your friends. They know when to be underhanded." He took a sip of coffee and sighed. "So, when do you guys go in and get Sally?"
"I'm afraid it might not be that easy." Egon came into view as he ascended the stairs, Janine right behind him. "I've been discussing the situation with my cousin to see if there's anything we can do from a legal point of view."
"He has a cousin?" Charlie muttered to Pete. "They're still breeding?"
"Dad." Peter shushed his father. "So what does the esteemed Alanna Wolff, Counselor of the Macabre, believe our best course of action is?"
"To do nothing."
Peter's face fell. "You're kidding."
Egon shook his head. "I only wish I was. The crux of the matter is the determination of whether or not ghosts have the same rights to self-determination as their living counterparts. If the courts should find in favor of Ms. McCall, it could be a pyrrhic victory for us."
"Why's that?" Winston asked.
"If the courts find that Ms. McCall is being held against her will at the Viceroy Theater, they could just as easily rule that we are holding any number of entities against their will in the containment."
"Ouch," Peter winced. "Good point."
"Exactly. She suggested we save legal venues as a final option."
"So what other options are there?" Charlie Venkman demanded.
"At this point…" Egon slowly conceded, "…I don't know."
"I see." The elder Venkman suddenly rose to his feet and rushed upstairs; the Ghostbusters looked at each other in confusion for a moment, then four pairs of eyes settled upon Peter. He smiled weakly. "Okay, okay, I'm going." As he reached the stairs, however, Peter turned around. "Egon?"
"Did your cousin mention me, by any chance?"
Egon looked up over his glasses. "As a matter of fact, she did, Peter."
"Ah." The Ghostbuster bit his lip, then shrugged. "Never mind. I'm sure she's forgotten all about it by now..." He turned to head upstairs, but Egon's voice stopped him.
Egon's smile was almost evil with delight. "No, she hasn't."
Venkman gulped and hurried upstairs.
Charlie was sitting on Winston's bed, wiping his eyes on a shirtsleeve. "Sorry about that, son," he said with a sniffle.
"Dad…" Peter sat down beside his father. "Aren't you taking this a bit personally?"
"Maybe." Charlie sniffled again and rubbed his face.
"Want to tell me why?"
"Because it's wrong, son." Charlie's eyes blazed with anger. "Peter, I'm no saint. I've been a hustler and a con man all my life, but in all that time I never intentionally hurt anyone! I tried to make a living for you and your mom, any way I could, but it was never personal!" He stood up and began to pace around the bed. "But these guys…they know about Sally, they've seen her! They know she's no threat. All she wants is to go somewhere else--and they won't let her! Why cause all this trouble? Because they can--and it's wrong!" His fist thudded against the wall for emphasis.
Peter sat there quietly, watching. "I think it's more than that, Dad," he finally said.
Charlie regarded his son with a fond smile. "Yeah, it is," he admitted. "Son, it was rough growing up. My parents were always working. There was never enough food, and we had to live in places even the rats and roaches wouldn't touch. I had to scramble for myself. The vaudevillians…they liked me. Took care of me. Fed me, sewed up my clothes or made me new ones, let me stay in the theaters. I've never forgotten that, Peter. Never. And now…" The old man sighed. "Now I've got a chance to return the kindness. And one way or another, I will.
"And there's one more reason, to be honest," he finished.
"Which is?" Peter asked.
Charlie Venkman smiled as he sat back down. "Because that Hanley guy deserves to lose, just once."
"Works for me," Peter said with a smile. "Feel better?"
"Yeah." Charlie took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "You know, I haven't cried like that since your mom d…" He abruptly caught himself. "Since your Mom destroyed the most incredible pot roast she'd ever made because I'd accidentally lost the rent money when you were three."
"How did you lose it, Dad?"
"Third race at Aqueduct. Damned horse went lame on the final stretch." Father glanced over at son. "We have to help her, Pete."
"Dad, we all agree with you. But right now, our hands are tied."
"Your hands are tied," he corrected the younger man as he rose to his feet. "Mine, on the other hand, are very much freed and I intend to do something about it."
"Such as?" Peter asked.
"I don't know yet. But first I'm going to pay Sally another visit."
Charlie Venkman played the flashlight across the floor as he crept through the dark recesses of the theater. Despite his efforts, from time to time he collided with stacks of lumber, drywall and other materials, but overall he was quiet as a mouse as he moved deeper into the backstage.
Part of him wondered why he was taking such a risk, another wondered why, if he was bound and determined to do it, he hadn't brought along one of those trap things his son and his friends used. It certainly would have made things a good deal simpler. On the other hand, if he'd gotten caught with one in here, it would have landed the boys in hot water, and Charlie couldn't let that happen, not again. Plus, to be quite honest he still wasn't quite sure how the darn things worked. One of these days he was going to have to pay attention.
"Sally?" he called softly. "You around?"
"Well, aren't you the clever one," came a familiar, sultry voice behind him. Charlie turned around to find the ghost of Sally McCall floating before him. "How'd you get in? Secret door?"
"Nah. I bribed the night watchman with a hoagie and a bottle of whiskey." Charlie looked around with the flashlight and finally found a suitable place to sit down. "How you doing, Sally?"
"Oh, okay. Hey, do me a favor--tell those Ghostbusters I don't need 'em now."
Charlie's eyes widened. "What?"
"Yeah, it's jake now. That Hanley guy came down and called around for me, so I popped up and we had a talk. Everything's okay now." Despite her words, the ghost's face looked sad and resigned, and her torso seemed slightly more transparent than before.
"I've got trouble believing that, Sally," Charlie said softly. "What did he say?"
"Oh, you know," she shrugged. "How I'd made a lotta trouble for him, but he was willing to forgive if I was willing to help him out a bit. And if I did what he said and didn't make any more trouble, he'd think about letting me go."
"You know he's never going to keep his word!" Charlie protested.
"Maybe, but what other choice do I have?" Sally pointed out.
"You could…what do Pete's friends call it…go on to wherever it is you're supposed to go!" Charlie caught his breath and forced himself to calm down. "Sally…my son's buddy Egon says that a ghost sticks around because of unfinished business or a strong attachment. If they're making you unhappy by invading this place and fixing it up into something different, why don't you just move on?"
She smiled sadly at him. "What, and give up show business?"
Charlie froze for an instant, then to his horror he began to laugh, first a low chuckle, building to a guffaw, and finally exploding into a full-fledged belly-buster. Sally regarded him with affectionate amusement and waited patiently until he'd finally finished and regained his composure. "Okay," he gasped, wiping a tear from his eye. "Okay. I get it. So," he continued, his features growing stern again, "what do you have to do for them?"
The ghost shrugged again. "Not much. Pop up every now and then when the crowds aren't expecting it. Nothing dramatic. Quick 'hello-boo-good-bye'. They seem to think having a ghost around here will add to the attraction."
Charlie eyed her critically. "Pardon me for saying this, but you're not exactly what comes to mind when I think of 'Doozy entertainment'."
Sally nodded. "Yeah, I know. That was part of the deal--head and shoulders only. Nothing below to show, he said." She glanced down at her misty chest, which was turning wispier by the moment. "Not that it's going to be a problem at this rate, you know?"
"More's the pity. They'll never know what they missed." Charlie sat back and smiled. "You know, I can still remember every bit of the routine you did here in '27. You made your entrance wearing those incredible long white gloves and the high-heels…"
"…the guys in the orchestra pit playing my theme song, 'Little Baby Bubbles'…those who weren't wiped out on that horrible booze they made behind the piano…" Sally smiled dreamily and began to move to the beat of her imagined music. As she swayed back and forth, her torso began to solidify once more, and the barest outlines of legs could just be made out.
"You had those huge fans," Charlie nodded, eyes closed.
Charlie opened his eyes and gaped at Sally, who was looking more solid than ever. "That was Sally Rand, bucko. My specialty was the big balloon!" As if on cue, a huge white sphere formed in front of her shapely form. "And I'd dance around the stage while the band played, givin' 'em just a hint, never the whole show…off with the left shoe…" She flicked it free from her foot--it instantly dissipated. "And then the right…" It vanished into the darkness. "Oh, the music, Charlie…when I was on stage, I thought I was gonna live forever…"
"Sally," Charlie said tightly.
She stopped in mid-step, the oversized beach ball still cradled protectively in front of her. "What…?" She glanced down and squealed in delight upon seeing her full figure, but almost immediately it slowly started fading once more. "Aw, geez…"
Charlie Venkman was back on his feet. "I've gotta go see Pete and his friends. Maybe there's still a way to make this work…"
Sally folded her arms over her chest and cleared her throat. "You wanna tell me what you've got in mind, Charlie?"
"Not just yet, Sally. Look, I have to go find some people, but I'll be back in a few days. Play along with Hanley, okay? Make nice for now. If this works, I promise you we'll have you out of here in no time!"
"Sure thing," she said wryly. "I got all the time in the world, sugar."
"PETE! PETE! Come on, son, you gotta wake up!"
Sandra Bullock, her sarong, the hammock and the tropical breeze that was making the aforementioned sarong part in breathtaking ways fled Peter's brain, to be replaced by the not-even-comparable sight of his father. The old man was shaking him roughly, his voice a soft hiss so as not to wake the others. "Okay, okay Dad!" Peter growled quietly. "I'm awake!"
"Son, I think I've got a way to help Sally. But I need some help."
Peter rubbed his neck and tried to clear the cobwebs from his mind. "Dad, we've been over this. There's no way those Doozy people are going to let us in there…"
"Son." Peter had never seen such a look of genuine desperation on his father's face. "Please. I…we've got to try. Please."
A long-suffering sigh worked its way out of Peter. "Okay, okay. I'll help. So just what is it you need my help with?"
"I gotta look up some old friends and talk to them. You know how to use that computer thing better than me…"
"Is this about Sally McCall?"
Charlie hesitated. "I can't tell you."
"And why not?" Peter asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Because that way you can honestly say you had no idea about what happened, when it happens."
* * * * *
Roger Hanley looked around with immense satisfaction. Against all odds, he'd managed to meet the grand opening deadline with a day or two to spare. Three crazy, intense weeks of round-the-clock work had paid off handsomely. Best of all, the opening festivities were going off without a hitch. Doofus Dog, Plato Platypus and Gina Goose were dancing around the families in their oversized costumes. The merchandise was flying off the shelves in the gift shop. Everywhere he looked, Hanley saw nothing but smiles.
Then Hanley spotted something that made the smile on his face tighten slightly. "Doctor Venkman," he said smoothly, approaching the Ghostbuster and his party with a confident gait. "I must confess to some surprise," he added as he shook Peter's hand. "Doesn't New York have any ghosts to 'bust'?"
"Far too many," Peter replied. "But luckily, this is my night off. You remember my father, Charles," he nodded to his father, who gave Hanley one of those smiles that made the executive momentarily wonder if his wallet was still securely in his pants. "And my date for this evening," Peter continued, "Miss Dana Barrett, star cellist for the New York Philharmonic. And somewhere around here is her son, Oscar, no doubt harrassing the hell out of Doofus Dog."
"A pleasure," Hanley said to Dana, this time with great sincerity. Beautiful women in stunning dresses brought it out of him every time. She graced him with a polite nod but said nothing.
"Well, Doctor Venkman," he said cordially, "I hope you and your party enjoy our premiere of Doozy's Les Miserables. If you'll excuse me…"
"Certainly." Peter's smile lasted as long as Hanley's back was in sight. "Butthead," he muttered under his breath.
"Now, now, be nice," Dana warned him, sliding her arm in his. "You were the one who wanted these tickets so badly, remember?"
"It wasn't me, it was Dad." Peter suddenly released yet another member of his group had vanished. "Okay, where's the little kid, and where's the big one?"
"Oscar is right over there," Dana pointed to her left. "And your father is talking to that group over there." Peter glanced in that direction; Charlie was talking intently to a dozen or so older men. "Friends?" Dana asked.
"Yeah, I think so," Peter replied. "They look like the guys we dug up, though they sure did clean up nice." The lights flickered three times. "Let's round up the kid and find our seats, okay?"
"Peter," Dana asked quietly, "Is your father up to something underhanded?"
He thought about the last three weeks, how his father vanished every evening at nine, not returning to the firehouse until dawn. He thought about the phone calls, the letters, the trips to various houses, apartments and the occasional nursing home. He remembered his father's words:
"Because that way you can honestly say you had no idea about what happened, when it happens."
He smiled at Dana. "One can only hope."
* * * *
Showtime. The lights dimmed throughout the theatre. The soft murmurs of the crowd slowly died, though the patrons continued to gawk at the incredible beauty of the restored theater. As well they should, thought Roger Hanley. It had been a very long, very expensive process. But tonight was the first of many future pay-offs.
Any second now, the orchestra would strike up the opening notes to "Prisoner's Working Blues", the first song of Doozy's Les Miserables. Another ambitious undertaking, converting the animated movie to a play, but Hanley was sure this would be a winner. He leaned back in his private seat, secure in his immediate and long-term future.
Pity the ghost hadn't popped anywhere. He'd ordered her to make a few quick appearances here and there, the better to allow the audience to capture the historical atmosphere of the place, but perhaps it was just as well. Things had to be perfect tonight, and she would have only caused confusion and chaos…
A single spotlight fell upon the stage.
The music started.
It wasn't "Prisoner's Working Blues".
Hanley didn't recognize it, but that wasn't surprising. He wasn't old enough to remember "Little Baby Bubbles". But the slow ascent of the shapely figure, barely concealed by a huge, barely opaque balloon, registered on him instantly. "What…?" he began.
Sally McCall smiled and waved with her free hand, acknowledging the cheers that floated down from various points around the theatre. Here and there, groups of old men were rising to their feet, cheering and applauding. The rest of the audience was frozen with shock; this certainly wasn't the kind of Doozy entertainment they'd come to expect.
"Peter…" Dana whispered.
The Ghostbuster was staring at the ghostly stripper with equal parts amazement and appreciation. "She never looked that good when I saw her," he whispered. "What did Dad do?"
Suddenly Peter and Dana realized that a) Charlie was missing and b) Oscar was all too present. He was watching the show with rapt attention. Each instantly covered his eyes with a hand.
And now Sally McCall began to dance. The music seemed to swirl around her as she moved with ageless grace across the stage, giving her audience little peeks here and there, but never too much, just enough to shock and keep them looking for more. Her smile shone as she grew more solid by the second, her body filling out completely as the crowd watched, entranced. In his private box, Roger Hanley tried to rise to his feet and found he couldn't. Some unseen force kept him in his chair, helpless to do anything except watch the ghostly stripper's routine.
Left, right, back, forth, pirouette…Sally McCall owned the stage, laughing at the expressions on the crowd's faces. Some were shocked, others were mortified, a few were outraged, but the majority of them seemed to understand the magic of the moment, knew instinctively that they were being blessed with a present from years back, and so they watched and nodded in time to her music.
Charlie Venkman stood by the orchestra pit, tears streaming down his face as he watched Sally McCall's final and finest performance. It hadn't been easy, tracking down his childhood friends and dragging them down here every night, a few at a time, sneaking them past the watchmen and having them talk to Sally and reminisce about the old days. But it had worked; day after day he watched Sally grow stronger, more solid, until she at last had the strength to pull this off.
The music built to its finale; Sally's smile gleamed like moonbeams as she took her final pose. There was a long moment of silence; Charlie Venkman held his breath and crossed his fingers and toes.
The theatre erupted in applause. Sally laughed, and with one motion threw the balloon into the air…and vanished.
Roger Hanley grabbed his walkie-talkie. "Find Doctor Peter Venkman and bring him up here right now," he growled.
Peter brought the rental to a stop directly in front of a crumbling, dilapidated building in a section of town that had seen better days a few dozen years ago. Despite its condition, though, the battered marquee that barely hung over the boarded-over doors made it clear what the building had been used for.
"I figured the Empire'd still be here," Charlie Venkman said with some satisfaction. "It's a historical landmark, Pete. They can't tear it down. If I remember correctly, there's some people in town want to renovate it and operate it again."
"Take a lot of money to do that." Peter retrieved the trap from the trunk and joined his father at what was once the front door.
"Which is why it's still like this." Charlie gave the handle a quick pull; it came off in his hand. "Ooops."
"The repair bill just went up a bit more," Peter grinned. He glanced around to make sure no one was looking, reared back and kicked the door off its hinges. "After you, Dad."
"Thanks, son." Charlie switched on the flashlight and led the way through the debris and shadows. "This was quite a place in its day, Pete. About two stops after New York on the Pantages circuit. Everyone passed through here sooner or later. I caught Fred Allen once doing his 'World's Worst Juggler' routine." A smile crossed his weathered lips. "Good times, son. Good times."
"You think she'll be happy here?" Peter asked as they carefully picked their way through the auditorium to the stage.
"It's peaceful and she won't be bothered. Yeah, I think so. Let her out, son." Peter obliged, stamping his foot on the activator petal. With an explosion of light, Sally McCall flew out of the ghost trap, arms outstretched with bliss.
"Oooooh, yes!" she cried joyfully. Beneath her, Peter and Charlie gaped at the sight of her pale, uncovered body. A quick glance down made Sally squeal with surprise, and within instants she was clad once more in wispy trails…barely.
"Paterson?" she said, looking around critically. "The Empire?"
"Like it?" Charlie asked hopefully.
"Well…" Sally pondered the question for a moment or two, then shrugged. "Sure beats Philadelphia!" She floated down to where the Venkmans stood. "Listen, I can't thank you enough for getting me out of there. Especially you, Charlie." A misty hand tenderly caressed his cheek. "I can't thank you enough, sweetie."
"My pleasure," he said softly, reddening slightly under her gaze.
"Too bad, you know?" she said with a sad smile. "If only you were dead, or I was alive…oh well." She floated above them again. "I had some good shows here. It'll be nice to live here, you know?"
"Sally?" Both ghost and humans turned toward stage left, the source of the new voice. To their shock, several other ghosts were standing there. "Sally McCall? Is that really you?"
"Eddie Smith?" she squealed with delight. "Jack? And is that Janet Adair? Gosh, this is incredible!"
"Dad?" Peter asked.
"Man, I never dreamed so many acts died on stage," Charlie breathed.
"You mean, these are other vaudeville performers?"
"Sure looks like it, son. Wow…" They watched as Sally joined the crowd, acknowledging old friends and talking a mile a minute. "Talk about an all-star revue."
"Charlie?" Sally came drifting into range.
"What is it, Sally?"
"I told the gang what you did for me, and…well, they were wondering if you'd like to see a show. Our way of saying thanks, and…well, you know. For old times' sake."
Charlie Venkman could not speak for the longest time. Finally, in a choked up voice, he managed to say, "I'd love it."
"Okay, guys!" Sally called. "It's showtime!" From out of nowhere a spotlight fell upon the stage, and seconds later two song-and-dance men came tapping into view from stage right.
"I've been thinking…"
"You know, this would be a great opportunity. History, entertainment, you know?"
"No, now hear me out, hear me out. We get a little money and buy the place…"
"Fix it up a bit--wouldn't take much, really, some paint and a few repairs…"
"We open it up, nominal admission fee to meet expenses and a small profit…"
"It'll be great son, just wait and see!"