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.
Marie Delacroix groaned softly as she slapped her alarm clock, shutting the annoying buzzer off. A few feeble waves of her arm found the lamp, which regrettably flicked on upon contact. Marie winced at the blaze of light and for a moment or two considered turning the light back off, rolling over and going back to sleep for a little while longer...say noon. But she just as quickly banished the thought and hauled herself out of the warm haven of her bed, then stumbled toward the bathroom and the start of another day.
Twenty minutes later she was dressed and heading downstairs to her pride and joy, Nawlins Donuts. It was the result of long years of scrimping and saving, plus her father’s estate and a generous memorial donation from his brothers in the Perdu Bayou Knights of Columbus. For over sixty years Jean-Claude Delacroix had spent every morning in his shop, whipping up batch after batch of his incredibly delicious donuts and pastries. He had taken only two days off in all that time--the first to witness his daughter’s graduation from college, and the second to bury his beloved wife. When Marie had found her papa still in bed late one morning, she knew instantly what had happened...and what would happen.
She’d had enough of Louisiana, of the bayou and the small-town tedium. She wanted to taste the excitement of the city life, and most of all, she wanted to do it in the biggest city of all. So she sold the shop and the house, packed up her few belongings, and pointed her ancient VW bug not toward the Big Easy, but the Big Apple.
It had taken awhile, she mused as she fired up the coffee makers and turned on the kitchen lights, but she’d eventually found a decent location with an upstairs apartment and merely impossible rent. She had her father’s equipment shipped to New York and installed it herself--Jean-Claude had taught her well over the years--and set to work. Within months Nawlins Donuts had garnered an ever-growing reputation for having the irresistible, delicious donuts around. Business was booming.
Marie sighed and glanced down at her watch. They were late again. If they were coming at all. She’d feared as much when she’d hired them. She muttered a curse and slapped the dough into shape.
If she’d only known how hard it was to get, much less keep, good help. The great workers, who showed up on time and worked their tails off without complaining...well, Marie was still waiting for one to walk through the door in search of a job. The rest...she grunted and shook her head. If they showed up at all, they were late, surly, insubordinate, sloppy, lazy, thieving... Marie tried not think too long about it. It made her wonder what her father would have done.
She knew what her mother would have done.
Unwillingly, Marie Delacroix looked over at one particular book on the shelf. It was dingy, the pages yellowed, crackling and possessing an almost moldy order. The shop was her father’s legacy to her. She didn’t like to think about her mother’s legacy, one almost as legendary but not spoken of during the daytime. Yes, she knew what her mother would do, what her mother would suggest...it would be so easy...no one would ever know, no one would get hurt...she was so tired of trying to do everything herself, it wasn’t fair, all she wanted was some reliable help that would do what they were told and show up when they were supposed to...
As if on cue, the book abruptly tumbled from the shelf and slammed onto the table on its back, the pages falling open to one particular set of pages.
Against her will, mesmerized, Marie Delacroix began to read....
“I hate playing ‘target’,” Winston Zeddemore said as he and Peter walked out of the offices of New Start. “I really, really, really hate playing ‘target’.” While Venkman was almost pristine in appearance, his partner was coated from head to boot in a thick, viscous violet slime that slid off him in huge, lumpy drops. There seemed to be no end of it, either, which was the general case with being slimed by a Class Four, or so their friend Ray Stantz claimed.
“Hey, quit griping,” Peter said, grinning as he held up a smoking trap. “We got the snot. We now get paid. That’s what this is all about, remember?”
Winston flicked a large gob of slime Peter’s way; Venkman laughed and adroitly dodged the missile. “Why can’t you be ‘target’ once in a while?” he grumbled. “It’s gonna take forever to get this off. I’m gonna have to stand outside and have Ray or Egon hose me down while you get to eat, use the shower, and go to bed.”
“Hey,” Peter shrugged. “We each tried to get its attention. You won.” His smile broadened as he approached ECTO-1. “And it looks like you’re about to win again. Good morning, Officer Patterson. What brings you here so early in the day?”
Officer Nikki Patterson smiled...right at Winston. “Protecting your car, diverting any traffic, watching to make sure you don’t blow this place up like you did your headquarters,” she replied brightly. “Same as always.” Winston groaned, his discomfort heightened by the presence of the pretty patrolwoman. She was about his height, slender, with perfect eyes, hair, cheekbones and smooth chocolate skin. She was bright, witty, athletic, and as a cop, she understood the concept of working weird hours. She was everything Winston had ever dreamed about--which made him turn into an instant bumbling schoolboy whenever she flashed those eyes and smile at him. Like now.
And here he was--Snott, The Slime That Walks Like A Man--in all his glory. Great impression he was making. Just great.
“And we greatly appreciate it, same as always,” Peter was saying as he opened the back hatch of ECTO and tossed the trap inside. “You should have seen us in action,” he continued, pulling out a tarp and slamming the hatch shut. “Especially Winston. As you can see, he makes such an excellent target.”
“I certainly can,” Nikki Patterson replied, her eyes twinkling. Winston would have said something clever in reply, but his mouth had inexplicably gone dry and his tongue had swollen to gargantuan proportions.
“Anyway,” Peter said as he opened the side passenger door and spread the tarp against the seat and floor, “As much as we’d love to stay and chat, Officer Patterson, I have an appointment with a shower and a bed, and Winston has one with a hose.” He gestured dramatically for Winston to get inside.
“Well, before you go,” Officer Patterson said with a shy smile, “I thought you guys might like some breakfast. There’s this place I always stop by before going in, and when I heard you were working in my beat, I thought I’d get something for you.” She offered Winston a big paper bag with grease blotches; despite the slime covering his face, he could smell something heavenly coming from within.
Peter snatched the bag away. “No offense, Officer,” he said smoothly. “But you really don’t want him to get anywhere near these until he’s been hosed down. Slime does really terrible things to food, to say nothing of the appetite.” He opened the bag, peered inside, and sniffed. “Wow! These smell incredible! Where’d you get them?”
Patterson shrugged. “There’s a new place called Nawlins Donuts. They cook ‘em Cajun style, lots of spices and stuff. Everyone at the precinct is going nuts over them--you’d be nuts to try and rob that place, as many cops show up there!” She gave Peter a mock glare. “Not one joke, Dr. Venkman. I’m warning you.”
“Perish the thought,” Peter said around a mouthful of warm donut. “Hey, these are great! We’ll have to check this place out ourselves. Well, again, Officer, it’s been a pleasure as usual, but we’ve got to get home.”
“Okay,” Patterson said with a wave. She turned to Winston and smiled. “Hope to see you again...soon?” He nodded dumbly, utterly smitten, and somehow managed to get inside ECTO without killing himself. He stared mesmerized at the cop as she walked back to her car and drove off.
“Nice lady,” Peter commented as he reached into the bag for a second donut. “She likes you, Zee. You ought to ask her out.”
“I would if I could talk without making a fool out of myself,” Winston sighed.
“What’s the big deal? Just because she’s drop-dead gorgeous and has a smile that could electrify New York for a year...a smile, I might add, that is reserved strictly for you, why should you have trouble talking to her? You’ve never had trouble talking to beautiful women before...and I happen to know you’ve got lots of experience in that field.”
“I don’t know what it is,” Winston said. “There’s just something about her...” He sighed and leaned back against the seat. “You know that New Start’s closing down, don’t you?”
Peter blinked. “It is?”
“Yeah. I spoke to Mattie Harris, the director of the program, yesterday. That spook’s done so much damage to their equipment and offices, it’d cost a fortune to restore it. And with Federal budget cuts, there’s no fortune to be had. Shame, too. They did a great job with those disabled kids.”
Peter said nothing for a time, merely stared straight ahead and drove. Then he reached down, plucked the bill for the night’s bust, and carefully crumpled it up and threw it out the window. Then he reached into the bag and plucked another donut out.
“Hey!” Winston exclaimed. “Save some for me!”
“There are two dozen in here,” Peter assured him. “I’m not the one you have to worry about. Figure out how you’re going to keep these from Slimer, especially when he gets wind of them.”
“Oboy,” Ray Stantz said as he watched Winston step gingerly out of ECTO-1. “Let me get the hose hooked up, Winston.”
“Thanks,” Winston said as he pulled the now-purple tarp out of the car and piled it to one side. “You getting the trap, Peter?”
“Yeah.” Peter fished the device out and strolled toward Janine, one hand gripping the trap, the other holding the bag of donuts. “Breakfast is served.”
“For your sake, I hope you’re not talking about the trap.” Janine sniffed the air, then snatched the bag out of Peter’s hand. “Wow, these smell great!” She reached in and snagged one, then bit into it with a vengeance. “They taste even better! Where’d you get them?”
“Winston’s girlfriend got them for us,” Peter grinned.
“She is not my girlfriend!” Winston yelled from the front doorway.
“Well, she could be, if you’d get your act together,” Peter called back. “Imagine that,” he continued to Janine. “Acting like a shy schoolboy, at his age. I’m shocked.”
“You talking about Officer Patterson? She is sweet.” Janine examined the bag. “Nawlins Donuts. Never heard of the place. New?”
“Apparently so. Cops are spreading the word about it.”
Janine peered at Peter over her glasses. “Please tell me you didn’t make any ‘cops and donuts’ jokes to her in front of Winston.”
Peter held up three fingers. “Scout’s honor.”
“You were never a Boy Scout,” Janine snickered as she reached for another donut...but gasped as her fingers found only air. Looking up, she saw Slimer sailing away with the bag of donuts, chattering happily to himself. “Hey! Get back here with those, you little garbage disposal!” But by the time she and Peter got to his last seen location, the Spud was long gone.
“Great,” Peter groaned. “I told Winston I’d save him some.”
“It’s my fault,” Janine said. “Tell you what. You watch the phone, and I’ll go down the street and get you guys something hot from ????”
“All right,” Peter said, flopping down into Janine’s chair. “Too bad, though. Those donuts were out of this world.”
Slimer babbled happily to himself as he landed in a back corner of the basement that was dark and out of the way enough to guarantee some measure of safety. It had become his lair of sorts, with a nest made of empty boxes and crinkled wrappers surrounding his huge belly. Eagerly he pulled a few donuts out of the bag and threw them into his mouth.
A second later, he squealed and spit them back out, a horrible expression on his face. Irked, he ascended again and threw the bag as far away from his hiding place as he could, then returned to his haven, spitting the remaining crumbs from his mouth as he went.
Egon and Ray took the night shift that evening. Winston sat up and watched some TV, while Peter opted for an early bedtime. By the time Zeddemore decided to hit the sack, his partner in peril was out like a light and snoring happily away.
At three in the morning, Peter sat bolt upright, his eyes open but unseeing. Moving slowly, quietly, he got out of bed, dressed and headed downstairs. ECTO was gone; the only light to be seen was Janine’s desk lamp, a welcoming beacon in the thick darkness. Peter shambled to the front door and opened it, then stumbled into the New York night, the same phrase tumbling from his lips:
“Time...to make...the donuts...”
“What a great night!” Ray said as ECTO pulled into the firehouse around 7:00 a.m. “Three repeaters, four free-roaming vapors, and a poltergeist to boot! Winston and Peter are going to be sorry they missed all the fun!” He parked ECTO and whipped the door open, then hurried to the back and retrieved the pile of traps.
Egon yawned. “While it wasn’t a strenuous night, Ray, it was quite busy. I wonder if we’ve got anything for breakfast? Oh, hello, Janine,” he said to the slightly-dazed receptionist who was half-sitting, half slouched over her desk. “You’re in early today.”
“Yeah, I guess I am,” she mumbled through a yawn. “God, I feel like I’ve run a marathon, but I slept like the dead...”
“You do look tired. Perhaps you could catch a quick nap later.”
Janine snorted through a yawn. “As if Doctor Venkman would let me.”
“Who’s taking my name in vain?” Peter appeared in the front door. “Morning, everybody. I’ve got breakfast.” He held up a huge bag. “I went down to that new place Officer Patterson recommended. She wasn’t kidding about how popular it’s become. You wouldn’t believe the crowd down there!” He reached into the bag and pulled out a donut. “Get ‘em while they’re hot!”
Egon went over to Ray’s side; the traps were getting a bit unmanageable. “I’ll grab a few upstairs, after we’ve taken some readings. That was very considerate of you, Peter.”
“Considerate,” Janine echoed. “There’s a term I never thought I’d hear along side Dr. Venkman’s name.” Peter stuck out his tongue but held the bag open for her as he stopped by her desk on his way upstairs. Janine grabbed three and sighed as she bit into one. “Heavenly.”
She was almost done with the first one when something made her pause. “Hey, Doctor Venkman?” she called; Peter paused midway upstairs and peered down at her. “When did you leave, anyway? I‘ve been here since six, and I don’t recall seeing or hearing you leave.”
Peter thought about it. “I don’t know,” he finally said. “I don’t really recall when. You must have just missed me.”
“Yeah,” Janine said with a shrug. “Guess I did.”
“...eventually reach the upper capacity limits,” Egon was saying as he and Ray entered the dining area. Peter’s bag of donuts was sitting in the center of the table. “We’ll have to start thinking about ways to reduce the PKE in the containment, or set up secondary units.” His attention turned to the bag. “Hmmm. They do smell rather enticing.”
“They sure do!” Ray spotted Slimer hovering nearby; to his surprise, the normally-sanguine spook looked positively agitated. “Hey, Slimer! Want a treat?” He reached into the bag, extricated a donut, and tossed it in the ghost’s general direction.
To Ray’s amazement, Slimer retreated. The donut hit the floor with a soft thud. Egon, watching nearby, frowned and retrieved a second donut. This time he approached Slimer slowly, offering the treat in his outstretched hand. Slimer wailed and gibbered fearfully as he floated backwards through the wall. “That’s odd,” the scientist finally said, staring at the green residue.
“Yeah, you’d think he’d be gangbusters for these!” Ray picked up the bag and examined it. “You know, I would’ve thought he’d have made at least one swipe at ‘em, but the bag’s clean! He never touched a one!”
Egon held his donut up to the light, staring critically at it. “Ray, let’s go upstairs and run a few tests on this...”
Winston normally wasn’t one to oversleep, but since Janine hadn’t hit the spook alert yet that morning, he decided to indulge himself this once. When he finally stirred from his bed, he noticed that Peter was still in bed, snoring peacefully away. He chuckled to himself as he made his way to the shower. “Same old Pete,” he said quietly to himself. “Up at the crack of noon.”
He paused at the door to Egon’s lab; sounded like his remaining two partners were hard at work. He poked his head inside. “Morning, guys,” he said to Ray’s and Egon’s backs. “What’s going on?”
Ray looked up and around. “Hey, Winston,” he replied with a bright smile. “Egon thinks we’ve got something strange going on around here!”
“Tell me something I don’t already know.” Winston set his toiletries aside and joined them at the bench. “What’ve you got?”
Egon pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose as he regarded Zeddemore. “Have you by any chance eaten any of those ‘Nawlins Donuts’?”
Winston shook his head. “Slimer swiped ‘em before I could get one yesterday.”
“Good.” Egon shook his head. “I wouldn’t go sampling them any time soon, were I you.”
“Why not? Nikki....I mean, Officer Patterson says they’re great! So do Peter and Janine!”
“Oh, I’m sure they’re quite tasty,” Egon said. “I’ve identified eight discrete flavoring additives so far. Five of them are spices you would find in normal food. It’s the other three I’m concerned about.”
“Say what?” Winston demanded. “What are you talking about, Egon?”
“We’re not sure,” Ray explained. “But it looks like these donuts are drugged.”
“There are trace elements of compounds sometimes found in certain voodoo rituals,” Egon continued. “Compounds that affect the brain, causing susceptibility to suggestion and loss of free will. Anyone eating these donuts...and admittedly, at this point I can’t determine accurately how many it would take to trigger the effect, could conceivably slip into a relaxed alpha-rem state that would render them unable to resist any sort of compulsive command given them.”
“They’d become zombies,” Ray translated.
“Zombies?” Winston sat down on the edge of the bench. “Man. The weirdness never ends...” He glanced down at the dissected donut. “How long does the effect last?”
“A few hours, I’d guess,” Egon shrugged. “There’s just enough for a short-term effect. As for cumulative ingestion and long-term effects...I couldn’t say.”
“We got suspicious when Slimer wouldn’t eat any of the batch Peter brought in this morning,” Ray said. “He must have gotten an initial taste yesterday and sensed the additives. That turned him off to any more.”
“Peter brought some in this morning?” Winston said, incredulous. “When? He’s been sacked out since about nine last night!”
“We saw him come in at seven,” Egon replied, his brow furrowed. “You said Peter had a few of these yesterday...”
“Yeah, so did Janine,” Winston nodded. “And then Slimer snagged the rest and carried them off.”
“That might have been a blessing in disguise,” Egon said. “And Janine was very tired this morning...Peter, too, if he’s gone back to bed. Fascinating.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“So what do we do?” Ray asked.
“Easy--we go to this donut shop, confront the owner and find out what’s goin’ down,” Winston said emphatically.
Egon shook his head. “Not yet. We don’t have enough facts.”
“What do you mean?” Winston demanded. “You yourself told me that someone’s putting zombie drugs in the donuts! What more do you need?”
“Intent,” Egon replied evenly, staring his comrade squarely in the eyes. “Is this a premeditated act performed for some unknown purpose? Or is it being done with ignorance as to the potential harm these drugs could cause? We don’t know for sure, Winston; we merely suspect. And that’s not enough at this point.”
“So--again--what do we do?” Ray said.
Egon pushed his glasses up the long slope of his nose. “We’ll find a way to keep Janine here tonight--it shouldn’t be difficult, given how tired she is. We’ll keep her and Peter under observation and see what happens next.”
“You think anything’s going to happen?” Winston asked.
“Frankly, yes,” Egon replied. He smiled grimly at Winston. “We don’t have enough evidence to prove anything yet, but there’s plenty to warrant a solid hypothesis.”
Fortunately, there were only a few calls that day, and none of them were anything major. That evening Ray kindly offered to swap shifts with a still-exhausted Peter, who accepted gratefully and headed back to bed. Similarly, it took little persuasion on Egon’s part to convince Janine that she’d be better off staying in the guest room that night. After she’d retired for the night, the three Ghostbusters sat in the dining area and waited.
At midnight Winston sighed. “I’m catching a nap on the sofa,” he announced. He woke at one and relieved Ray; Egon, for his part, seemed indefatigable, spending the long quiet hours tinkering with his PKE meter. When Ray awoke at two, he joined his partners at the table, sipping at his coffee and tossing pretzel bits at Slimer.
At three a.m., the Ghostbusters heard the guest room open. A blank-eyed Janine stumbled past them, her clothing apparently thrown on haphazardly. Upstairs they could hear someone nearing the stairs; seconds later, Peter came into view, his own gaze as blank and unseeing as Janine’s. Side by side they descended the staircase, followed by their friends.
“Five’ll get you ten I know where they’re going,” Winston whispered as they followed the entranced pair outside.
“That’s not the point,” Egon replied quietly. “It’s what happens when they get there.”
Several blocks later, Peter and Janine joined a rather large crowd outside Nawlins Donuts. A tall, slender black woman stood in the doorway, examining the crowd critically. “You,” she said, pointing to one dazed fellow in a nightshirt and sweatpants. “You,” she said to a pretty petite blonde dressed in Danskins. “You.” She gestured to a man Winston instantly recognized as the Yankee’s left fielder. “You.” And Winston immediately recognized the attractive young woman who’d been chosen--a young woman who was about his height, slender, with perfect eyes, hair, cheekbones and smooth chocolate skin.
“Nikki,” he breathed, and without realizing it started toward her. Ray and Egon lunged forward and grabbed him, pulling him back into the safety of the shadows. “Lemme go!” Winston hissed, struggling against his friends. “She’s done something to Nikki!”
“Winston,” Egon said while tightening his grip on his friend’s arm, “we have to stay here and watch. We can’t help her now.”
“Anyway, remember Peter and Janine were okay this morning,” Ray reminded him. “I don’t think this woman’s going to hurt her.”
“She better not,” Winston growled as he ceased struggling. “Cause if she does, she’s got me to contend with.”
“Shhh,” Egon ordered; he was peering out of the alley. “Something’s happening.” Something indeed was happening; the remaining crowd was dispersing, shambling off in all directions. Janine and Peter were stumbling back the way they came, their eyes still glazed over. “Fascinating,” Egon whispered as he watched the odd couple pass.
“All these people in her power, but she selects only a handful each night,” Ray said. “I wonder what for?”
“Only one way to find out,” Winston said, nodding toward the donut store. “Let’s go.”
“Not yet,” Egon said, shaking his head. “Wait until they’re open for business.”
“Why?” Ray asked, surprised.
“I have my suspicions,” Egon said with a grim smile.
* * * * *
It seemed to take forever for the “OPEN” sign to flip over. Once it had, Egon insisted on waiting further, until a few customers had come and gone. Winston was just about ready to pitch teamwork and planning over his shoulder--along with Egon--and storm in when the scientist finally nodded and stepped out of the alley. Ray and Winston followed him to the storefront and inside.
Winston tried not to gasp as he found himself face to face with Nikki Patterson. She was dressed in a simple maroon uniform and had a paper cap perched atop her lovely hair. “Welcome-to-Nawlins-Donuts-can-I-take-your-order,” she said in a soft, empty monotone. He waved his hand directly in front of her face; the lovely officer did not so much as blink in response.
“Nikki?” Winston said to the entranced counter girl. “Nikki--it’s me. Winston.”
“Oh, man,” he groaned softly. “This is crazy.”
Egon and Ray had crept behind the counter and were peering into the back room. “As I suspected,” Egon nodded. “Slave labor.”
“Wow,” Ray said. “I know things are tough for businesses with the unemployment rate so low, but this is ridiculous!”
“Welcome-to-Nawlins-Donuts-can-I-take-your-order.” Nikki was still staring blankly at Winston, who looked utterly wretched. “What do we do, guys?” he asked.
“Order something,” Ray suggested.
“No, I’m serious. If you don’t, she may be programmed to sound an alarm or something. We don’t want to raise that woman’s suspicions just now.”
Winston glanced over at the trays. “Give me a half dozen, you pick.”
“Very-well.” She shuffled over to the donuts and mechanically selected six, dropping each into a bag before selecting the next one. Then it was back to the counter and the register. “That-will-be-four-dollars.”
“Thank-you-have-a-nice-day.” Her unseeing eyes left his, drifted over his shoulder at the door in anticipation of the next customer.
“Let’s go,” Egon said quietly. “I think we’ve seen enough.”
“But what about Nikki?” Winston pleaded.
“We can’t take her with us,” Egon pointed out. “It would alert the woman who put her under this spell. I don’t think any harm will come to her, Winston. But we have to leave--now.”
“Come on, Winston,” Ray said, squeezing his shoulder. “She’ll be okay, and we’ll take care of this once and for all.”
“All right,” he said slowly. But he couldn’t help but take one last longing look at Nikki Patterson’s entranced features as they left the store.
He knew he shouldn’t do it. He knew it was a crazy thing to do. But Winston ignored the pounding of his heart as he called one particular police precinct and asked for one particular officer.
“Patterson,” came a soft, sleepy voice a few minutes later.
“Nikki? Winston.” His throat had suddenly gone dry. “Winston Zeddemore. The Ghostbuster?”
“Winston!” There was unmistakable pleasure behind that single word. “How are you? What’s up?”
“...nothing,” he finally stammered. “I...was thinking about you...”
“You were?” she said happily.
“Yeah...I was...just wanting to make sure you were...okay. You know?”
“I’m fine, Winston,” she laughed. “Just a little tired. Would you believe I overslept this morning? Not only that, but I was so tired last night I fell asleep in my clothes!”
“Really.” Winston closed his eyes tightly, at a loss to explain why he felt so blasted angry. He wanted nothing more than to go down to that donut store and close it down with a few well-placed proton streams. This wasn’t right. She was being used. It wasn’t right.
“Winston...are you okay?” There was a tender concern in her voice. “Is there...anything else you wanted to talk about?”
The “Spook Alarm” mercifully chose that moment to go off. “I’m sorry, Nikki, we’ve got a job. Can I call you later?” he said hurriedly.
“I’d like that,” she said softly. “Good-bye, Winston.” He hung up the phone and raced for the pole, knowing full well he was wearing an utterly idiotic grin and not caring in the slightest.
“Let me get this straight,” Peter said from his chair. Beside him stood Little Red, the Banzai Institute’s head nurse and Janine’s cousin. She had an iron grip on his right arm and was swabbing it generously in preparation for an impromptu blood donation. He was working had at ignoring her work, focusing his attention on his three partners instead. “You are telling me that Janine and I have been drugged-out zombies, and it’s all because we ate some donuts?”
“That’s it exactly,” Ray nodded. He was sitting at the computer; his diligent research and a few hacking skills had provided a wealth of information on Nawlins Donuts and its owner.
“If this is a joke, you’ll notice I’m not laughing.” He glanced up at Little Red. “This isn’t going to hurt, is it?”
“Of course not,” Red replied sweetly.
“Okay, but you better not be lying. I have a very low pain tolerance, you know.” He returned his attention to the other Ghostbusters. “So what is this blood test going to prove? And why aren’t you sticking Janine as well?”
“We want to see how much of the zombie compound is still in your system,” Egon explained patiently. “Our suspicion is that it should be mostly out of your bloodstream, but there might still be trace elements that could place you under this woman’s control. And as for why you and not Janine,” with this he glanced over at the secretary, who was sitting back in her chair with a smug grin, “it’s because she ate three donuts this morning before we could stop her.”
“Sorry, Doctor V,” she said with not the slightest trace of sympathy.
“Hmmph.” Peter slouched in his chair, his right arm still extended. “I still say this sounds like OWW!” He shot a burning glare at Little Red, who was extracting his blood from a nice big vein. “I thought you said it wouldn’t hurt!”
“I lied.” She withdrew the needle and placed a gauze pad on the wound. “You know the routine, Venkman. Arm up, maintain the pressure. Here you go, Egon.” She handed him the vial containing Peter’s blood.
“Thanks. Ray, let’s go upstairs and run some tests. This should be very enlightening.”
“And then what?” Winston demanded, rising from his chair. “This lady is using people to make a quick buck, and we’re just sitting around drawing blood and playing doctor! What are we gonna do about this?”
“We’re going to make some final confirmations,” Egon said evenly. “And then, we’re going back to Nawlins Donuts tonight...and put a stop to things once and for all.”
* * * * *
Marie Delacroix shivered as she lit the candles and stepped into her area of power. She hated doing this; the very idea of enslaving innocent people for her own ends was anathema to her. Unfortunately, she’d learned too late that once power was wielded, it was very difficult to put it down. It called to her every night about this time, a seductive siren that was surely leading her soul to damnation. But she could not stop.
She sat down and closed her eyes, inhaling the sweet incense that wafted around her. In her mind she reached out, pulled at invisible strands connecting her to the people who’d unwittingly become her slaves with just one bite into a donut. The power hummed around her, through her, filled her, sweet and intoxicating, overwhelming...
The power abruptly faded. Marie’s eyes snapped open to find that someone had blown the candles out. Three men stood before her; the one in the forefront, a tall, skinny man with unruly blond hair, looked particularly angry. “Miss Delacroix,” he said quietly, “I think it’s time you stopped doing this.”
“Who are you?” she demanded, shame and outrage making her cheeks bright red. “How did you get into my house? I demand you leave immediately!”
One of the others, a handsome, dark-skinned fellow, stepped forward. His features were tight with anger. “Lady, you’re not in much of a position to demand anything.”
“Peter, how are you doing?” the leader asked the third member of the party.
“Slightly buzzed in the head, but still here. I just talked to Ray--Janine’s still in the bathroom and mighty steamed.”
“It’s for her own good. It’s the one place in the firehouse she can’t slip out of.” The blond turned toward her. “Miss Delacroix, you’ve been using voodoo to bring people here and work for you, haven’t you?”
“I...” She tried to summon her powers, but they’d left her completely along with her pride. “Yes,” she finally said. “I have been. I’m sorry,” she added as an afterthought.
“We’re not the ones you should be apologizing to,” he pointed out. “Well, maybe Peter here...”
“You have to understand!” Marie burst out. “I tried to get help--it never worked out! They came in late, they wouldn’t work, they’d leave early...day in, day out! I was exhausted and getting nowhere! I didn’t want to do this, but...after the first time, it became so much easier...”
“Occult magic is like that,” he nodded.
“I felt terrible about it, but things were getting done! I wasn’t so rushed, so desperate! And I made sure I never used people more than once a week, made sure they remembered nothing but a good night’s sleep--I even donated their wages to the Church as penance! Don’t you understand? I had no choice!”
“There is always a choice, Miss Delacroix.” But his voice seemed to falter under the weight of her sobbing. She heard someone say, “Hey, Egon, lighten up a little, okay?” but could not see the speaker through her tears.
“All right,” she finally said quietly. “I’ll close the place and go back home. I’ll never touch the magic again. I’ll do anything you say. I’ll even go to the police and tell them what I’ve done.”
The one named Peter--she recognized him now, he was the cute one who’d manned the mixer a few night back--knelt down beside her and grinned. “Well, there’s a little problem with that,” he said. “Think about it. You go and tell the cops you’ve been putting the whammy on people--including them--and forcing them to make donuts. What do you think they’re going to say?” He nodded sagely. “Yeah--they’ll put it down as ‘looney tunes’ and do nothing. Now, the way I see it, you did something that wasn’t too cool, but no one really got hurt by it. What we want is to make sure it stops. The way to do that, as I see it, is to make sure you get workers by normal means. Am I right?” She nodded. “Okay, then. What if I were able to get you a group of good, dedicated, loyal people who may need a bit more supervision and patience on your part, but who won’t let you down, will give you eight solid hours and who need a break themselves at the moment?”
Marie smiled weakly through her tears. “You...can do this? You’d do this? For me?”
Peter nodded. “I’m pretty sure I can. There’s a really nice lady named Mattie Harris who runs a place called New Start. We’ll call her in the morning. I think that she’ll be happy to help.”
“All right.” The woman gulped back her tears. “But...the magic. It’s...powerful. It wants to be used. It’s hard to resist.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to deal with that yourself,” Egon said.
“On the other hand, you’ll be so busy with your new help, you won’t have time to even think about doing any hoodoo,” Peter added with a wink.
Marie nodded, but reached down and offered Egon her mother’s old book. “Take it,” she said. “So I won’t be tempted.”
The Ghostbuster glanced down at the grimy old tome and read the cover. His eyes widened and the color drained from his face. “All right,” he finally said in a hoarse voice. “That...may be wise.”
“But what do I do now?” Marie asked, rising to her feet with Peter’s help. “I open in three hours, and I don’t have anyone to help!”
“That’s not quite true,” Peter smiled. He flipped his cell phone open and punched in a number. “Ray? Yeah, everything’s fine. Look, let Janine out--it’s okay now--and get yourselves down here. It’s time to make the donuts!”
* * * * *
Nikki Patterson closed her eyes and sighed. Graveyard shifts paid nicely, but there was a price--the way you felt watching the sun rise after a long night. She wanted nothing more than to grab a bite to eat, go home and get to bed. And right now, a few donuts sounded perfect to her growling tummy.
She pulled up to Nawlins Donuts and got out of her battered old Chevette. To her considerable surprise, Winston Zeddemore was standing in front of the store, a big bag in his hand. “Hi,” he said, smiling.
Nikki found herself smiling back. “Hi.”
He walked up to the car. “Heard you were working last night.”
“You heard right.”
“I did too.” He held up the bag. “You know, I hear the sunrises at Battery Park are something to see. I’ll bet they’re even better with some OJ and donuts.”
Her smile broadened. “Only one way to find out.” She nodded toward the car. “Get in.”
“Yes, Officer.” She jumped back into the car and unlocked the passenger door. Winston slipped inside, and they pulled away from curb, driving off into the dawn of a new day.