|Chapter One||Chapter Two||Chapter Three||Chapter Four||Chapter Five||Chapter Six||Chapter Seven||Chapter Eight||Chapter Nine||Chapter Ten|
There were a million stories in the naked city.
Winston Zeddemore’s was currently #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
As he leaned back from the autograph table and took a long, well‑deserved stretch, Winston glanced around at the crowded confines of Barnes and Noble and smiled to himself. How many times had he come here to browse, buy the latest mysteries, or even stand for hours in line to get a prized book autographed by the author. And now here he sat on the other side of the table.
It was quite different from anything he’d imagined. For one thing, he couldn’t believe how monotonous signing his name a few hundred times could become. For another, no one had told him about the two‑minute limit on bathroom breaks.
He thought about all those nights he’d poring over the case files and drawing on his own memories of those wild times. All the nights he survived on Ray’s coffee (at least Ray claimed it was coffee), hammering away at Janine’s old word processor. Writing, reviewing, correcting, rewriting ... time had passed so quickly, and yet it had seemingly taken forever to finish his book.
It took Random House about five minutes to realize who he was, what he’d written, and sign him to a contract. And now, here he was signing Who You Gonna Call? at a prestigious book store ... over and over and over and over...
He was beginning to wish he’d been born with a shorter name.
Ah well. Back to work. Smiling politely, Winston leaned over the table and automatically took the proffered book from a smiling, wide‑eyed little old lady with trembling hands. With brisk, practiced efficiency he opened the book to the title page and signed his name, then smiled and handed the book back to its owner. It had taken him two hours to get the hang of it, but now he could keep it up for hours at a time. There was something to be said for repetition.
He took a sip of lukewarm coffee and he’d out his hand for the next book. Without looking up, he took it, set it on the table, and opened it to the title page.
The Plaza Hotel room key sitting atop the page made him pause.
His head slowly ascended, his eyes moving away from the book to examine the owner.
She was tall, exquisitely dressed, and blessed with dark chocolate skin that flowed flawlessly across her perfectly‑contoured body. Her smile was breathtaking. That small portion of Winston’s brain that was still functioning recognized her immediately: page 32 of the latest Victoria’s Secret catalog—he’d flipped through one while waiting for Janine to get off the phone at her office one day.
She was Temptation. Walking, breathing, smiling temptation.
It was the hardest thing he’d ever done, signing his name and handing both key and book back to her. But he nude quite sure she saw him write his unlisted telephone number just beneath his signature. She smiled and winked, then strolled away, undulating to an inner beat that snapped Winston’s heartbeat into instant enslavement. “Oh, man,” he breathed.
“She wasn’t bad, was she?” a voice said from nearby. “Probably nothing but trouble, though. You’re better off avoiding that kind.”
“Shut up, Chloe.” His agent laughed, then peered at the still‑lengthy queue that snaked throughout the building. “Get signing, client. We got ten minutes to make eighty people very happy.”
“Okay.” He grabbed the next book politely from an overweight woman with awestruck eyes and scribbled his John Hancock in the proper place. Then it was on to the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that.
Chloe Markham had been one of the better things to come into his life. She was tall, but not quite slender enough to be completely dazzling. She had a warm, charming way about her that made her clients want to work harder for her, and a quirky wry sense of humor that gave her eyes a constant twinkle. Winston envied her husband to no end.
“Mr. Zeddemore, you are the most delicious looking man I’ve ever seen,” commented a patron.
“Thank you,” he replied with a polite smile, not looking up from his work.
“I’d love to do to you what that museum ghost did to Ray Stantz,’ she continued.
Winston paused to think that one through—oh yeah, the ghost in the Civil War exhibit. Oh yeah. Oh yeah? Wait a second--that voice was awfully familiar.
He glanced up and stared into the twinkling blue‑gray eyes of Dr. Sheila Brown, parapsychology professor at Columbia University and close companion of Ray Stantz. “Sheila!”
“Had you going, admit it,” she teased, her short auburn hair dancing as she chuckled. Just behind her he could see Ray and Peter grinning like Cheshire cats. “I’d bet I’m far from the first lady to proposition you today.”
“You’re right.” He noted with relief that the line had vanished; come to think of it, the store was preparing to close. Chloe was talking to the manager, shaking his hand and no doubt thanking him for permitting them to come in and disrupt their daily routine. Of course, the dozens of his books they’d sold because of his appearance was more than adequate compensation, but niceties had to be followed. “So what brings you three here? Weren’t the complimentary copies enough?”
“More than enough,” Peter said as he and Ray joined them. “Not a bad story, to be sure, but your characterization was terrible. You have me pegged as a thoughtful, considerate individual instead of the cocky, smooth‑talking womanizer that I am.”
“You forgot lazy,” Ray jumped in.
Peter snorted. “You try running a multi‑million dollar licensing organization and holding company, then come back and tell me how lazy I am. If it weren’t for Janine, I don’t know what I’d do.”
Winston cleared his voice. “You still haven’t told me what’s up.” At that moment Chloe joined the party in progress. “Guys, Sheila, this is my agent, Chloe Markham. Chloe, from left to right we have Sheila Brown, Peter Venkman, and Ray Stantz.”
“Pleased,” the spunky agent nodded brightly. “It’s nice to finally meet the people I’ve read so much about.”
“Well, I can scratch any romantic encounters with you,” Peter sighed dramatically. “You’ll think I hide my sensitive nature behind my cocky demeanor.”
“No, she’ll think Dana will kill the both of you,” Sheila retorted. “Which she will, in any case, if we keep jabbering here.”
Winston rested a weary head on a hand. “Any time you’re ready to explain, I’m ready to listen...”
“Dinner party, remember?” Peter reminded him. “We’ve had it planned for weeks. I called you with the details.”
Realization hit Zeddemore. “Oh God, I forgot all about it, with all the fuss around the book!” He glanced down at his suit hopefully. “Am I properly dressed?”
“You look great,” Ray assured him. “We’d better get moving, though. Dana, Egon and Janine are probably there. Peter’s got a stretch limo waiting outside.”
Winston gave his partners a cockeyed stare. “A stretch limo? I was expecting ECTO‑1, knowing Ray.”
“He wanted to,” Sheila assured him, “but Peter said no.”
“I’ve ridden all the rides I care to ride in that deathtrap,” Venkman nodded. He looked at Chloe and smiled. “Ms. Markham, if you don’t have any plans for the evening, you’d be more than welcome to join us.”
“Hands off, Peter. She’s my agent. Get your own.”
“I already have. Dad’s found his calling. How about it, Ms. Markham?”
Chloe considered the idea, then nodded. “Why not? I can finally hear the truth about all these stories Winston’s told me.”
Peter helped her into her coat. “Fine by us, but don’t ask Egon. He’ll insist on telling the truth. No soul to the man, let me tell you.”
“That’s not what Janine says,” Sheila snickered quietly
“Janine is a prejudiced source,” Peter sniffed: “Now then, ladies and gentlemen...you too, Winston ... the limo awaits.”
* * * * *
The management at the Rainbow Room had obeyed Peter’s instructions to the letter, providing the ex‑Ghostbusters with a table secluded enough to permit them to enjoy themselves without interruption. Egon and Janine were already on the dance floor when the party arrived.
“Lord, the man can dance,” Sheila sighed in admiration.
“Janine looks pretty good, too,” Ray nodded.
“Eyes to your date, Stantz,” she warned.
“I figured with enough money and a copy of Dress for Success, she’d do well,” Peter agreed. “Ah, Dana’s at the table. This way, guys.” They picked their way through the aisles, winding their way slowly aver to where a willowy woman with wide brown eyes and cascading dark hair was sitting patiently. Peter gave her a quick kiss as the others sat down. “How long have they been out there?”
Dana bit her lip and pondered. “Let’s see. They came in at 7:00, spent precisely fifteen minutes, twenty seconds engaging in small talk and polite conversation, then went out to dance and haven’t been back since.”
“Very precise, m’dear.”
“Would Egon have it any other way? Hi, Sheila, how are you? And Winston...” A slow smile escaped Dana’s lips. “Who is this lovely lady? Have you been holding out on us?”
“Hardly. This is my taskmaster, Chloe Markham. Chloe, Dana Barrett. And the two out there who can’t take their eyes or hands off each other are Egon Spengler and Janine Melnitz.”
“We have our hopes on that last name changing soon,” Peter added.
“Peter!” Dana gave him a playful smack. “You’ll have to excuse him, Ms. Markham...”
“...Chloe. He’s an incurable matchmaker. Watch him carefully, or you may wake up and find yourself married.”
“Too late,” Winston grinned. “She’s already married.”
“Having two husbands would be bigamy,” said Chloe.
“It certainly would be big of you,” Peter returned.
“All right, enough of the Marx Brothers routines,” Sheila warned. “Chloe, do not encourage them.”
“We’re already incorrigible,” Peter smiled.
Chloe nodded. “So I see.”
Ray smiled evilly and leaned across the table. “Say, Dana ... have you ever woken up and found yourself married?”
“Once,” she ruefully admitted, “but not to the one I wanted. Though,” she said thoughtfully, “I do have my hopes...”
“Geez, I’m hungry,” Peter announced loudly. “Ray, go and fetch the dynamic duo, willya?” He made a grand show of signaling the waiter. “Yo, garcon! This place got any decent burgers?”
“So, Winston,” said Dana over appetizers. “Tell us what being on ‘Arsenio’ was like. Exciting?”
Winston snored derisively; Chloe reached over and patted his arm sympathetically. “There, there, client,” she cooed. “Anything for the book, remember?”
“There are limits to ‘anything’,” Winston retorted. “Dana, it was noisy, I had a headache, and the man was more interested in the other guest than he was me. It was like talking to myself.”
“Wasn’t the other guest Paula Abdul?” Ray asked.
“Might’ve been,” Winston muttered under the laughter.
“Hey, Egon,” Peter grimed from across the table. “Where’d you learn to dance so well? Have you been holding out on us?”
“Peter, maybe that’s not a good topic of conversation,” Ray warned, looking suddenly wary. Spengler, for his part, remained calm and controlled, carefully finishing his mouthful and setting down his fork before replying.
“I took lessons while attending college, Peter. During the time I was dating Sharon Muelhausen. She enjoyed dancing very much, and encouraged me to learn.”
“Do we have to talk about her?” Janine snapped. “This is supposed to be an enjoyable gathering, guys.”
“Hey, I was just asking,” Peter said, raising his arms up in surrender. “I’m a bit envious, that’s all.”
“You’re a magnificent dancer,” Dana said to Egon. “I wish you’d take me out on the floor later.”
“Me too,” piped up Sheila with a mischievous smile.
“Sorry, ladies. Dibs,” Janine declared firmly, wrapping her arms around Spengler.
“I never could figure out how he became catnip to the opposite sex,” Winston aid to Chloe, shaking his head. “Never showed the slightest inclination towards any of ‘em except Janine, and yet every woman we net made a beeline for him within five minutes.”
“Not every time,” Peter protested. “I had my share of encounters too, you know.”
“Other than Dana, they were all over fifty‑five and maternal,” Ray quipped.
“One is all it takes,” Dana smiled serenely. “And when Peter wants to be, he is utterly irresistible.”
“Know what you mean,” Sheila agreed with a fond glance at Ray, who blushed. “That little boy in each of ‘em. No fighting it.”
“So when are you going to settle down, Winston?” Janine asked with a coy wink at Chloe. “You seem to be too footloose for your own good. Your mother can’t like that too much.”
“Tell me about it,” Zeddemore sighed, rolling his ekes towards the ceiling. “Every time I go home, I’m too thin, too tired, and too single. I hear the ‘grandchildren’ lecture one more time ... I don’t know what I’m going to do. And before you get started, Janine,” he warned, raising a finger for emphasis, “Chloe and I are not involved. She’s already got someone.”
“Who will kill me if I’m out past ten,” the subject of the conversation stated. “Jerry understands the care and feeding of writers, but only to a point.”
“Ah, here comes dinner,” Peter noted, watching the team of waiters approaching. “All give thanks to ‘The Real Ghostbusters’, that wacky team of animated characters, whose licensing fees helped make this meal possible.”
“We could put it on Random House’s expense account,” Winston offered.
“Nope. My tax deduction. I claimed it first.” Peter said, attacking his steak.
“You’ve been pretty quiet tonight, Egon,” Ray commented over his chicken Kiev.
“He’s saving his strength for the dance floor,” Janine replied.
“I’m fine ... but thank you for your concern, Ray.” Egon picked at his meal thoughtfully. “Incidentally, did you find any of those tools I asked about yesterday?”
“Yeah ... I knew I was forgetting something!” Stantz snapped his fingers and frowned. “Sorry, Egon. I’ll bring it by tomorrow after classes‑“
“You know, Ray,” Peter commented. “You could afford a real place to live. There’s no reason to stay at the firehouse.”
“Aww, Peter, it’s not that bad. And besides, there’s a lot of good memories there.” He sighed and plucked another mouthful off the chicken. “You know, sometimes I wish that things hadn’t worked out the way they did.”
“You have got to be kidding,” Winston chuckled. “No more carrying those god awful packs on our backs, no more calls in the middle of the night, no more trips to New York General’s emergency ward...”
“ ... no more worrying about how the bills were going to be paid...” Peter added.
“Yeah, I know, but ... well, it was fun, going out and investigating all those paranormal events,” Ray said. “Nowadays, the only exercise I get is on the exercycle Sheila wade me buy.”
“Wise investment,” Sheila pointed out, blowing smugly on her knuckles.
“But life’s so boring these days! I mean, all I do in my classes these days is answer questions from Winston’s book! I just wish there was a little more excitement, that’s all.”
“Speak for yourself. I like boredom, personally.” Winston lifted a forkful of greens. “But if you really want some excitement, Ray, write a book and go out on publicity tours. You’ll get tired of it real quick.”
“Oh, stop your whining,” Chloe declared. “You writers are such a pampered breed, I swear. I make you a celebrity, and all you can do is kvetch about all the beautiful women who make passes at you.”
“And the not‑so‑beautiful women,” Winston grumbled.
“And the not‑so‑beautiful men?” Peter inquired.
“You love it and you know it,” Janine teased.
Dessert arrived just as Egon excused himself. As he headed for the restroom, Sheila leaned over towards Janine. “Everything okay?”
She nodded towards Egon. “He looks a little worn‑out, that’s all. Spending too much time in the lab?”
The redhead nodded. “Though I’ve managed to get him out at a decent hour.” Her smile indicated that she had no problems with any methods of persuasion needed to do so.
After dessert, Egon and Janine politely excused themselves and headed back to the dance floor, followed in quick succession by a reluctant Ray and eager Sheila, with Peter and Dana on their heels. “Don’t suppose you want to dance,” Winston asked Chloe.
“Not really—I’ve been on my feet all day.”
“Well, I can’t dance worth beans anyway.” He leaned back and sipped at his cup of coffee. “Well, now you’ve met them in person—what do you think? Was I accurate?”
“Very,” she nodded. “Dead‑on, actually. Venkman and Stantz both have a boyish charm—one’s a rogue, the other an innocent. But they’re both pretty irresistible. What’s wrong with Spengler?”
“Egon?” Winston shrugged. “Has a lot on his mind, I guess. He never was too into socializing. I wouldn’t read much into it, if I were you.”
“Certainly has eyes only for Janine,” Chloe observed. Winston smiled and looked towards the dance floor, where the couple was obviously in their own private world. “And vice versa. When’s the wedding?”
“Don’t know. She’ll have to probably propose to him. He’ll never think of it on his own.”
Chloe laughed, then checked her watch. “Well, Jerry’s waiting at home, so I’d better get moving.”
“Let me get you a cab.”
“I’d rather have that stretch limo.”
Winston chuckled softly. “I’d say okay, but I don’t know what Peter’s plans for that monster are. Come on, I’ll escort you down to the ground floor.”
* * * * *
“Nice party,” Dana murmured as she snuggled up to Peter. He nodded absently and continued to stare out the windows of the stretch limo as it rolled through Manhattan.
“Liked Winston’s agent. Chloe seems very sweet and very on the ball,” she continued. Peter grunted a noncommittal assent. Dana sighed in frustration and sat up. “All right, Peter—what is it?”
“I dunno.” He stretched and tried to stifle a yawn. “Just a little concerned about Egon, I guess. He was awfully quiet tonight—no quick little comebacks that hit without warning, like he usually does. Looked pretty tired, too.”
“I’m sure Janine will take good care of him, Peter.”
“Safe bet,” he grinned back at her. Then his face grew somber. “There’s something else, too.”
He stared vacantly ahead. “Something Ray said, about missing the old days. I never thought I’d say it, but I kind of miss those times, too. I’d bet Winston and even Egon feel the same way. Stupid, isn’t it? We’ve got everything we ever wanted, ever dreamed of having, and yet we keep wishing for all. The excitement, danger and thrills we went through just to get here.”
Dana shrugged. “It’s not all that surprising, Peter. Let’s face it, being a corporate wheeler‑dealer, such as it suits you, isn’t nearly as exciting as catching things that go bump in the night. It’s understandable that the four of you miss it somewhat. You’re still in a period of transition, really.”
“I guess so.” Peter looked out the window and smiled. “We’re here. Want me to walk you to your door?”
“Why don’t you come in for awhile?” she suggested with a playful smile.
“Because you know that it won’t be for ‘awhile’.”
“Is there anything wrong with that?”
Peter considered it. “Not unless you find something wrong with it.”
“I asked you, remember?”
“True.” Peter gave a great show of turning the proposition over and over in his mind. “What about Oscar?”
“He’s spending the night at Mrs. Faversham’s. I called her at the restaurant and asked if it would be a bother. Frankly, I think she cherishes the opportunity to play grandmother every chance she gets.”
“You think of everything, Ms. Barrett.”
“I learned from you, Dr. Venkman.” She leaned forward and kissed him long and tenderly.
“Okay,” he announced after finally breaking free. “You sold me.” He tapped the intercom button and laughed. “Yo, driver. We’re getting out here. Head on home and give yourself double whatever I’m supposed to tip you, okay?” He smiled and looked fondly at Dana. “You know something? It’s a wonderful life!”
* * * * *
Janine was feeling rather pleased with herself; restraining her impatient curiosity, she had waited until they’d gotten into the cab, away from the others, before bringing it up. “Something’s wrong,” she said quietly. “What is it, Egon?”
“Nothing,” he’d replied quietly, staring out the window at the panorama of the streets. “Everything’s fine. Just a little tired.”
“It’s more than that. Everybody noticed it—even Peter, for crying out loud! Egon, what’s bothering you? Can’t you tell me? I love you, remember? Let me help!”
“I’ve ... just got a lot on my mind,” he lied weakly. How could he explain to her that a stupid, meaningless nightmare from his past was causing all this distress? Ridiculous. “It’s causing me to have trouble sleeping, that’s all.”
“Do you miss it at all?” she asked, a hint of wistfulness in her voice. “All the ghostbusting, I mean?” She smiled thoughtfully. “It’s so obvious the other guys do—I mean, with Ray it’s understandable, but Winston and Peter…they miss it too. You can tell.”
Egon sighed. “Sometimes,” he admitted softly.
“Do you ... want me to stay tonight?” she asked shyly, looking away. “Maybe I could help you rest?”
This was a subject they’d danced around several times before, with increasing frequency of late. Their entire relationship had been built on trial and error, actually; Egon had slowly, painfully learned the dos and don’ts of romance with time and the surprisingly eternal patience of Janine. He took her hand and held it in his, and said, “I think I’d like that very much, Janine, but I don’t know if I’m quite ready for that just yet.”
She nodded, smiling warmly at him. “I know. I just ... I just wish I could help, Egon. I love you.” She snuggled up against him, and the rest of the ride was spent in companionable silence.
* * * * *
“Dr. Stantz,” said Sheila in a voice that stirred terror in the hearts of freshmen, “this place is a pigsty.”
Ray looked around the cluttered environs of the firehouse and shrugged sheepishly. “I’ve been kinda busy lately, Sheila. With my class load, the alumni lectures, and this and that...” He bent over and scooped up a stray sock. “I guess I could clean up before bedtime.”
“I’ll help,” Sheila sighed. She began gathering dirty dishes and glasses. “Fun party tonight, wasn’t it?”
“It sure was.” Ray suddenly stiffened and let go of the pile of clothes he’d been struggling under. “Let me find a note pad—I need to get those tools to Egon tomorrow. Maybe if we took ECTO‑2 to work tomorrow...”
“Aw, c’mon, Sheila! I promise, no stunting...”
“But it’s been so long since I took her up for a ride...”
“Precisely, Raymond.” She dumped her pile of dishware in the sink and turned on the hot water. “We’ll let these soak overnight and pray that the water’s enough to dissolve the mold.”
“Okay.” Ray scribbled a message to himself and posted it on the refrigerator. “Let me go downstairs and start a load of laundry.”
Sheila crept up behind him and wrapped her arms around him. “No, Raymond.”
“But if I don’t do some laundry, I won’t have anything to wear tomorrow...”
“No, Raymond.” Now she was nuzzling the nape of his neck.
“I ... guess you want to go to bed, huh?”
She turned off the lights. “Precisely, Raymond.”
* * * * *
What was it that kept drawing him here?
He wasn’t sure if it was nostalgia or something else, but Winston felt that old twinge of wistful familiarity as his cab rolled past the battered firehouse on Mott and Pell. If he closed his eyes, he could almost feel his hands on the steering wheel of ECTO‑1, guiding the temperamental vehicle down the street and into the main entrance. He could hear Peter kvetching about getting slimed, Ray breathlessly reciting the adventure into the tape recorder for the archives, and Egon quietly fiddling with his PKE meter.
Old times. Good times.
He chuckled to himself, wondering why he’d had the cabbie come this way. From the looks of things, Ray was on the second floor, probably cleaning the place up before going to bed. No one came out this way at this hour of the night; he’d better get the cabbie to move on before Stantz looked out the window, spotted him and invited him in to spend the rest of the night swapping war stories.
Not that it wouldn’t be fun. Truth to tell, he still missed the excitement of those adventures. Writing the book would have been a sort of exorcism, he figured at the time. Now he knew better. It was his way of keeping those memories intact and available forever.
“Let’s go,” he called to the cabbie, closing his eyes again and bidding his past good‑bye.
|Chapter One||Chapter Two||Chapter Three||Chapter Four||Chapter Five||Chapter Six||Chapter Seven||Chapter Eight||Chapter Nine||Chapter Ten|