By EGB Fan, Ben King, and Fritz Baugh
GBI Case File GBNY-1997-15/321
The man next to him made a disgusted noise and pinched his face, hiding his green eyes. "Oh, do NOT remind me of that one..." he said in a smooth voice. A bit older than Ray (43 to be exact), you wouldn't know it from his dark brown hair (which, by this time, had to be augmented by dye), Dr. Peter Venkman was dressed in a flight suit of identical cut, though it was brown with bluish-green trim and his pant cuffs weren't tucked into his boots.
The large black man on the other side of Venkman laughed heartily, and gently punched him in the shoulder. "Ol' Pete trapped on top of the car, proton gun in hand, bitching about it all the way. Oh, yeah, I won't forget that one." Winston Zeddemore's flight suit was aqua, trimmed in red. He'd grown a mustache (as he'd had when he'd first met these guys fifteen years before) and his hair sported a couple of white streaks. At 44, he was the oldest man in the room.
"You weren't the one who was picking bugs out of his teeth for weeks afterward." Venkman continued whining. "And do you know how cold it gets going down the Turnpike at 70 miles per hour?"
"The airflow would carry thermal energy away quickly, granted..." the fourth man in the room noted. Professor Egon Spengler was the tallest of the four, had blue eyes with an intense look of curiosity, and sported a strange blond haircut that was beginning to lighten in the back. His flight suit was greyish blue, with pink trim. And he was exactly 40 years old.
It was the occassion of his fortieth birthday that had brought the foursome together after some six years. Janine Melnitz, the Ghostbusters' longtime secretary, had spent weeks secretly calling the other three behind Egon's back, making arrangements and getting schedules coordinated, so that she could arrange the ultimate birthday surprise.
And so far it had gone perfectly. Egon and Janine had arrived back at Ghostbusters headquarters after a lunch date to find Venkman, Ray, and Winston waiting to spring their surprise on their old friend.
Probably just as surprised were Roland Jackson, Garrett Miller, Kylie Griffin, and Eduardo Rivera--the new team of Ghostbusters Egon had hastily assembled a few months before.
And then a call had come in, which Venkman answered. With very little cajoling, he'd persuaded Ray and Winston to go on the job for "old time's sake"...Egon's reluctance was greater (sensing the confusion of his students) but he ultimately relented.
The foursome had kicked ghost ass and taken names, just as they had for years before.
There was a knock as aforementioned Janine Melnitz--a 39 year old redhead who was currently wearing a blue blazer and skirt--walked up the steps into the second floor rec area the four men were currently occupying. "I was wondering if you goons wanted to take a break for dinner. You've been jawing all afternoon..."
Ray looked at his watch. "Holy crap...she's right....we've been up here for like four hours..."
"A lot to catch up on" Venkman noted. "West Pier Pizza still around?"
Janine nodded. "Yeah...but I didn't say I was getting anything for you, Doctor Venkman..."
Venkman scratched his forehead with his middle finger. "You'd think that after fifteen years you'd call me Peter..."
"That would imply that I could stand you or something." she replied, using the middle finger of her right hand to push up her triangular, green glasses.
She left the room to go make the call. Ray, Winston, and even Egon held looks of intense amusement. "Didn't take long for you two to find your groove again..." Ray remarked, chuckling.
"Forget me. So tell me, Spengs, inquiring minds want to know..." Venkman's face assumed it's familiar cheshire grin. "How long did it take you to find your groove with her again?"
Ray and Winston looked at each other. There were several things that they were aware of that Venkman was not--because they knew if he ever did find out, he'd probably explode...
"It was....a recent development. In fact, she interrupted the first class I had with the new Ghostbusters. She was vital in getting the company up and running again." Egon answered.
"What about the non-business part?" Venkman asked, nudging him.
"Peter..." Winston interjected.
"That's quite all right." Egon answered. "That came a little later. I hadn't seen her for six years--I honestly couldn't be certain she still had any...feeling for me. A rather nasty crisis with an insectoid entity ended up putting those fears to rest, and we've been dating regularly since."
"It's always a supernatural crisis for you two, isn't it?" Venkman laughed, and Ray and Winston couldn't help but chuckle also.
"Glad to hear it, Egon." Ray said, patting him on the back. "I mean, you got some catching up to do compared to the rest of us..."
"Pizza will be here in about twenty minutes." Janine broke in, reappearing on the stairs. "I closed the office--it's after five, after all--so he'll just ring the doorbell." She went over to a chair and sat down, stretching her arms. "I gotta admit--I've spent the last few hours wishing I was a fly on the wall...wondering what the heck you guys were talking about..."
"You're as much a part of this team as any of us!" Ray responded. "You should've closed down early and come on up!"
"Would've cramped the story I told about nailing those five mermaids back in '85, but yeah...I could'a not had to get up and get my own coffee..." Venkman said brightly.
"What was it that Fallagar dude called us...'the Five Who Are One'?" Winston mused.
"I think you arrived just in time, Janine." Egon said, putting an arm around her. "I gathered from Ray's last comment before you arrived he was about to pull out baby pictures..."
Ray's face lit up the way only a proud father's could. "You are so so right, Professor..." he opened his wallet and pulled out a photo of a baby, about a year and a half old, who already had a slightly bushy mop of curly brownish-red hair.
"Oh my gosh..." Janine almost squeaked. "He is adorable..."
"Eric Stantz, most cutest little boy in the universe." Ray beamed "Of course, I'm biased..."
"Understandable, and not without justification..." Egon nodded, something approaching a smile on his face. "How's his mother doing?"
"Well, her bosses like to keep calling her away on 'company business'....but I knew she had lots of those obligations when I married her. Fortunately, even those guys give time off for the holidays, so she's home with him right now. Hm...actually, I should probably call..."
"Sorry to steal your thunder, man..." Winston interjected. "But I am going to dazzle them with my pick for cutest kid in the universe...feast your eyes on Miss Charlene Zeddemore..."
"She's beautiful..." Janine beamed. "My gosh, she looks so much like Kaila it's scary..." The girl in the picture was about five, with short dark hair, and was dressed in a yellow jersey.
"Hm...I would have to say that those are definitely Winson's eyes, though..." Egon noted.
"I've got you all beat!!!" Venkman said with mock drama. "You can only subject them to one kid--I have two!!! The pride and joys of the Venkman clan---Lady and Gentlemen, Behold!!!" With that, he dramatically removed the picture and handed it to Janine and Egon.
"Oh, mercy....Oscar is getting so big..." Janine noted. "Power Ranger fan I take it?"
"Hey, he's almost ten, remember? And how did you know?"
"I recognize the t-shirt....I spent '94-'95 working in a day care facility, thinking maybe actually dealing with screaming brats all day might drown the ticking of the biological clock..." She nudged Egon. "It didn't work by the way..." He subtly turned just a little red.
The almost-ten year-old with the dark hair and the Ranger t-shirt was not technically Peter Venkman's son--he was the son of violinist Andre Wallance and celloist Dana Barrett. But Andre had divorced Dana and skipped to Europe when the boy was practically still a newborn, and a few months later Venkman reentered Dana's life. Oscar and Peter had bonded so quickly one wouldn't know they weren't father and son--even though it had taken three more years for Peter and Dana to finally marry.
But he wasn't alone in the picture. Next to Oscar was a girl of about four, with unkempt curly brown hair and both a set of emerald eyes and cheshire smile that could only have come from Peter Venkman.
Janine shook her head, grinning. "And this little girl....I feel pity for her, having you for a father...thank goodness she got more of her Mom's looks..."
"Jessica Venkman..." Egon mused. "I'm sure in about ten years she shall be wrapping boys around her little finger. Though that shirt looks overly large for her..."
"She barely wears anything we buy for her" Venkman rolled his eyes. "She prefers to raid Oscar's closet for his leftovers....heck, sometimes she steals stuff he still wears..."
The door buzzer rang.
"Okay, here's the play..." Janine stood up. "Dr. Venkman distracts Slimer for old time's sake while I go pay for the pizza."
Venkman grumbled, but didn't say no.
Venkman put down his half-eaten slice of pizza. "It would've been before the accident..."
"The accident..." Ray nodded, suddenly looking contemplative.
On what ended up being one of the very last cases the four original Ghostbusters dealt with, a hungry ghost raided a candy store. During the battle, an innocent bystander had been hit by a car...
The innocent bystander happened to be Janine Melnitz, sent out on an errand by Venkman just before the call.
"That's when everything started to go wrong." Venkman said, with uncommon gravity.
Egon shook his head. "The turning point was the incident at Stonehenge with the 'Zodiac Lords'...after that, Earth's flow of PKE was seriously drained...depleted to levels that were frighteningly low. New York's ambient energy throughout much of the Nineties was a few Twinkie crumbs..."
Ray nodded. "According the Order of Hermes, it's been the lowest level of energy since their recorded history started in the Eighth Century."
"That's not what I meant..." Venkman returned. "Maybe the Zodiac thing was what made things go down the toilet for Ghostbusters Inc. The accident is what began to screw things for the Ghostbusters."
Janine rubbed her temples. "It took years before I even remembered the accident...it was the last thing, after I finally remembered what happened before..."
"And none of that makes you angry?" Venkman asked.
"I gave up my anger over that a long time ago, Dr. Venkman." she replied. "I had enough problems of my own making over the last few years to keep dwelling on that..."
"Well, maybe I haven't...maybe it isn't healthy, but I haven't..."
Egon stood up. "Peter, I..."
"Peter, why the hell are you doing this?" Ray shouted, grabbing Venkman's arm.
"Get your damn hands off me, Francine!!!" Venkman snarled, shaking off Ray's grip. "I'm doing this because this little reunion has been so great...the four of us, together again kicking ghost ass...behaving like a family again....and it just brings it all back--how pissed off I am that this asshole could just throw it away like he did!!!"
Egon's jaw clenched. "I told you the reasoning. Our business was dying. There was no reason to keep hemmoraging money the way we were."
Venkman's face contorted into a snarl. "That's bullshit and you know it. We were partners--you, Ray, and me. That decision should've been made by all of us--instead you went behind our backs, called that asshole Tully to draft the document, and we didn't find out until it was a done deal."
"Pete..." Winston said with a tone of warning to his voice.
"Dr. Venkman..." Janine said.
"Let him finish." Egon stated simply.
"You betrayed us. You betrayed this company. And damn it, you betrayed me, and nearly twenty years of friendship! All so you could crawl back into your shell--all because you were afraid of being hurt again. You realized you were dangerously close to enjoying yourself--and found a way out!!!"
Venkman was in Egon's face now. "And then what happens? You get a bunch of f***ing pimply-faced teenagers to be your 'new Ghostbusters'!!! And you don't say word one to any of the rest of us!!! You know how I found out---f***ing Allmusic TV News!!! My...'old friend' couldn't be bothered to call us....but some bubble bleach blonde TV reporter sure knows!!!"
"Peter that's enough!!!" Janine shouted.
"Anything else, Peter?" Egon asked.
"Yeah. This." Venkman snarled.
With that, Peter Venkman delivered a right cross to Egon Spengler's jaw, sending the taller man's glasses hurtling into the middle of one of the half-eaten pizzas, and the taller man himself into the railing of the staircase.
"That is definitely ENOUGH!!!" Winston said forcefully, grabbing Venkman to keep him from continuing any planned assault. Janine and Ray, meanwhile, pulled Egon up, both looking concerned by the trickle of blood coming from his mouth.
"I'm all right." Egon said simply, wiping his mouth with his left hand.
Venkman looked at his own right hand. "Y'know...that wasn't nearly as satisfying as I thought it would be..."
With Egon apparently all right, Janine looked at Venkman, eyes flashing with anger. "You son of a bitch..." she snarled, ready to take a poke at the man herself...
Egon put a hand on her shoulder. "No." he said simply. And walked over to Venkman.
"Peter...did you stop to think for one moment...one moment....what the last six years have been like for me?" There was a tone in Egon's voice none of them heard very often--emotions simmering just below the boiling point. "Every time a wedding invitation appeared in my mailbox. Every time a birth announcemnt appeared. And all I could do was send some congratulatory note--because I didn't feel I had the right to do anything else. Because I was the one who hurt everybody."
"You at least had your wives....your children...and even to some degree each other." Egon's voice cracked. "Oh damn..." he interrupted himself, realizing what was happening. "I had nothing...save this firehouse full of the memories of everybody I drove away...the metaphorical ghosts that laughed, mocked, and tortured me every day and every night"
The emotion was palpable now...his voice was breaking...something even Ray and Venkman were hard-pressed to remember happening before. And none of them had been there in 1993--when a flagged marriage license on his computer prompted Egon to destroy about $500 of his own lab equipment; the last time actual tears had formed in the physicist's eyes.
"You don't think I've spent every day regretting what I did, Peter?! That I didn't regret shutting out and driving away the only real brothers I've ever had, Ellis be damned? That I didn't spend sleepless nights wondering how in Hiesenburg's name I could drive the woman I love out of my life forever?"
Egon inhaled a couple of times, trying--and mostly failing--to collect himself. He shook his head. "There's nothing you could say to me that could come close to what I've said to myself a thousand times, Peter Venkman. And if you never forgive me for what I did...well...that's acceptable...because I will never be able to forgive myself..."
Venkman stood immobile...shocked...his own emotions roiling. Winston let him go--he knew there was no danger of a second attack now.
Ray and Janine had both lost it at this point, and were both hugging their old firend, both in tears. "I forgave you a long time ago, Egon...I didn't understand...maybe I never will...but you're my friend..." Ray managed to say.
"You're family, man." Winston added. "We may never, the four of us, face down any moldy Sumerian gods ever again...but that doesn't change what we mean to each other. And if we didn't believe that...we never woulda come here today." With that, he joined the huddle.
Venkman wiped his eyes, which were beginning to moisten also. "Catharsis..." he said. "Sometimes that's all it takes...for butthead physicists and asshole parapsychologists..."
"Egon...I'm sorry about using you for an impromptu punching bag...I..." Venkman finally lost it too. "I just missed you so f***ing much..."
The five charter members of Ghostbusters Inc. stood in a group hug for a good while, their bond being reannointed in a sea of tears.
Whatever the future would bring, they knew they would never be parted--not in the way they were for the last six years--ever again.
This was fairly standard from Sharon Jackson on a weekday morning. With seven children, it was always a struggle to get them all ready for the school run in time. But at least this morning her husband Phil had left for work early and wasn't complicating matters by looking for his keys or something.
Roland Jackson, Phil and Sharon's oldest son, rapped loudly on his younger sister Tara's bedroom door before daring to enter. Once inside, he picked his way through discarded lipsticks and magazines on the floor and crossed the room to the bed. Tara was there, only her mass of black mini-braids visible as she had buried her face in the pillow and shrouded her entire body in sheets. Roland reached out a tentative hand and shook her, slowly at first but then harder when she showed no sign of budging.
"I'm awake," grumbled Tara. "Kinda wish I wasn't though," she added, clutching both hands to her head and burrowing deeper under the covers.
"Are you hung over?" Roland asked suspiciously.
"Of course not," murmured Tara, not very convincingly. "Can you please ask Mom to phone school and tell them I'm sick?"
"What were you doing last night?" demanded her brother.
"You expect me to remember?" she retorted.
Rolling his eyes, Roland turned on his heel and made for the stairs. He had three pickups to make and he was already late. He almost tripped over his three-year-old brother Joey on the bottom of the stairs, and then collided with his youngest sister Amy who was chasing the little boy with a pair of jeans tucked under one arm.
"Tara's sick," announced Roland, wandering into the kitchen where Sharon was trying to salvage a dropped lunch bag while her sons Marcus, Ryan and Casey were demolishing slices of toast. "Shall I drive Marcus, Mom?"
"That'd be great, honey," Sharon smiled gratefully. "Come on, you three - hurry up and eat that goddamn toast! You'll be late again!"
As happened every morning, all the members of the Jackson clan eventually got on their way despite their efforts to hinder one another. Sharon drove Ryan, Casey, Amy and Joey to school and preschool respectively; Marcus was driven off in Roland's blue Mustang, which was usually how he got to high school when Tara was too rat-faced to walk with him. Marcus didn't like this arrangement much. He was nearly thirteen, and insisted that he could walk to school alone. His mother always retorted to this with, "When you actually are thirteen, then we'll talk about it again."
"Pagan." Kylie's dark-green eyes narrowed on the black-and-white cat snoozing contentedly at the foot of her double bed. "Did you do that?"
"Mrrrow," Pagan returned evasively, opening one eye to look at her.
Kylie knew that as soon as she got out of bed, Pagan would be pawing at her shins demanding to be fed. She rolled over in bed and instinctively put a hand on the large, cold empty space next to her. She couldn't understand why, but suddenly Pagan wasn't filling the void of loneliness that had threatened to open up ever since the death of the one remaining person Kylie loved: her great-grandmother Rose Lockyer. Rose wasn't the only person to go out of Kylie's life: her mother had walked out when she was six, her only friend Jack had disappeared soon after (fortunately he had since been found, but only recently) and even her father, who loved her dearly, hadn't been around much since work commitments dragged him away from home.
After so much heartache, Kylie had vowed never to let anybody get close again. She still had her cat, who had been with her since kitten-hood for about seven years, and she was prepared to risk loving him. People, however, were an entirely different matter. If a person you loved left you, the pain was horrible - Kylie knew. But then why, she asked herself, had she recently taken to lying awake in the darkness wondering if perhaps it was worth the risk not to have to spend every night alone? As much as she tried to deny it during the daylight hours, there was someone she had considered taking home with her a few evenings. He was a good-looking guy: tanned with a good body and a Hispanic accent that was actually quite sexy. It was only natural, Kylie supposed, for her to wake in the dead of night and wonder how it would feel to have him sleeping next to her… maybe even touching her.
Kylie climbed out of bed, showered and then fed her cat. The fantasy seemed ridiculous to her in the morning light. There was a reason why she went home alone every night. Physical attraction was all very well, but she didn't even like the guy. Of course arguably that meant there was less chance of her getting hurt…
Shaking the mutinous thoughts from her mind, Kylie checked the time on her VCR. She wouldn't be too late for Roland if she dressed fairly speedily. She could have something to eat at the firehouse. She quickly ran a comb through her dark hair, climbed into her shabby skirt and tank top and then started on her blue-black Goth-style makeup. Thinking about it, she was sure that none of the people she knew now had ever seen her face as it really was. She was aware that her slightly alarming image was largely her method of keeping people away. She wore her makeup like a mask: people couldn't see her face, and so felt less inclined to try and see beyond it.
Kylie had just reached the curb when Roland drew his car to a halt beside it. She climbed in, buckled her seatbelt and gave her friend a watery smile.
"Sorry I'm late," Roland apologised, pulling the car into gear. "My brothers and sisters were all over the place this morning. There was barely room to move."
"Huh," muttered Kylie. "Wanna switch?"
"Are you ok?" Roland asked anxiously. He knew Kylie lived alone, and he simply could not imagine what that must be like.
"I'm fine," shrugged Kylie, feeling better now that she had another human being to keep her company. "Just wondering how safe my job is."
"It'll be fine," Roland smiled reassuringly.
"Taking the scenic route, aren't we?" asked Kylie, as Roland turned the car.
"Garrett asked me to pick him up from the gym this morning," he explained.
"Whoa, Garrett!" He was suddenly interrupted by Liz, an aerobics instructor he knew fairly well. "Whose face are you imagining that is?"
"No one's," Garrett smiled up at her. "And that's the truth."
"Something on your mind?"
"Yeah. I think I'm about to be ousted."
"Ousted?" Liz echoed confusingly.
"At work," explained Garrett. "Don't you read the papers?"
"Aw, you'll be fine," Liz said reassuringly. "I think in your line of work it's a case of youth triumphing over experience."
"My lift ought to be here soon," Garrett suddenly announced, glancing down at his watch. "I'll probably see you later."
"Do you even have a home?" Liz asked sarcastically.
"Yes, but you should be glad that I never go to it," retorted Garrett. "I probably just about keep this place in business."
Eduardo showered, dressed and ate in under twenty minutes. Knowing what would be waiting for him and his friends at the firehouse, he wondered again why he was still in this line of work. On debating this question, he usually came up with a lot of good reasons. For one thing he knew the job by now; it was certainly an easier way to earn money than trying something new. For another, a lot of the hours involved waiting for calls, which was always valuable do-nothing time. And of course, though Eduardo didn't like admitting it even to himself, the most advantageous part of being a Ghostbuster was that he got to see Kylie every day.
Stepping out onto the metal staircase that led down to the street below, Eduardo was immediately presented with another reason to stay in the business: it was another thing that really pissed his brother off. Carl was climbing the steps, obviously trying to look intimidating as he wore his police uniform and his best scowl. Eduardo would be lying if he tried to convince himself that he was not even a little intimidated by his brother. Carl was tall, muscled and loud. He looked particularly menacing when he was carrying his gun, which seemed to his brother to be most of the time. Eduardo now glanced fleetingly at the holster on Carl's belt.
The younger brother had never really been fond of guns, but he had grown to hate them vehemently ever since his father was shot dead shortly after Eduardo's eleventh birthday. He too had been a police officer, and was attending a bank robbery at the time. It was just so damn typical for a cop to die that way - and even though he hated himself for it, Eduardo couldn't help thinking that in some way they asked for it. Somebody should rule that the police no longer carry guns in the USA. If Alberto Rivera hadn't been brandishing a revolver that day, he almost certainly wouldn't have been shot.
"Where are you going?" Carl demanded sharply.
"To earn my rent," retorted his brother.
"You might as well quit today," barked Carl. "You won't be needed once those old guys have taken over again."
"Get out of my way," Eduardo intoned darkly, his brown eyes narrowing dangerously on his brother's face.
"Stay home," the older brother advised. "They don't need you. It's an even bigger waste of time now they're coming back, so you can damn well stop using that bullshit as an excuse to slack off and find something useful to do with yourself."
"I'm not going to become a cop," Eduardo said evenly, catching sight of Roland's car out of the corner of his eye. "I'm fine where I am."
"That'll soon change."
"Well then you'll have fun gloating, won't you. Excuse me." He said the words entirely without etiquette, attempting to barge past his enormous sibling and make his way down the stairs.
"Hey." Carl placed a massive hand forcefully on his brother's bony shoulder. "If Dad was here he'd soon knock some sense into you. Why can't you do as you're told for a change?"
"You have no right to tell me what to do," snapped Eduardo. "Let me go."
Carl made no move to step aside. Moving nimbly, however, Eduardo did manage to slip past him. He made his way quickly down the metal staircase, always wary of his brother's oversized fists. Carl had hit him before, never too severely, but he had come close once or twice. Eduardo resented the way his brother tried to be their father. Alberto Rivera had been a strict man with old-fashioned ideas on discipline. These seemed to have rubbed off on his older son, so now Eduardo could miss only the good things about his father while the bad things still threatened him virtually every day.
"You'll learn one of these days!" Carl bellowed after his brother. "You're gonna ruin your life, and I'm damned if I'm picking up the pieces when you do!"
The car waiting at the roadside inspired a daring bravado in Eduardo. He threw a scowl over his shoulder and shouted up to his brother, "F*ck you!"
"Jesus," murmured Garrett, as Eduardo climbed onto the seat next to him. "You'll have a frosty reception when you come home. What was that all about?"
"None of your business," Eduardo muttered bitterly, as the car started to move.
"We're late," observed Kylie, glancing at the clock on the dashboard. "They're gonna love that. We'll probably no sooner arrive than get struck off."
"They couldn't and wouldn't do that," Roland said soothingly. "Anyway you guys, haven't we already been through all this when they came back at Thanksgiving? And got over it," he added poignantly.
"Well yeah," Garrett's voice answered behind him. "But we didn't know then that they were back for good."
"You needn't worry." On some level Eduardo was still having this argument with his brother. "It'll nearly kill them. They're all old. They're dads, for cryin' out loud."
"You think?" Kylie asked dubiously. She suffered terribly from hero-worship and felt sure that anything she could do, Egon Spengler and Ray Stantz could do better.
"Sorry!" a cheery voice called brightly, and a moment later the door opened to reveal Ray cradling a cardboard box in his arms. "Morning kids!"
"Hi!" called Roland, climbing out of the car when he saw that there was absolutely no way he could manoeuvre it round all of those boxes. "Welcome back!"
He pulled Garrett's wheelchair out of the back of the car while Eduardo made to follow Kylie into the firehouse lobby. They picked their way through the cardboard boxes, kicking some of them aside to clear a path for Garrett's chair. Peter and Winston both smiled a greeting; they were emptying a few of the boxes into metal lockers, for some reason supervised by Egon.
"It'll never all fit," Eduardo told them dryly.
"You really are a half-empty kinda guy, aren't ya," Peter smiled annoyingly at him.
"Sorry about all this stuff," Winston put in, just as Roland and Garrett entered the room. "We'll have it out of your way as soon as we can."
Abandoning any designs she may have had on using her own locker, Kylie wandered over to Janine at the reception desk. "They look pleased to be back," she remarked, sitting on the desk and looking at Janine over her shoulder. "Boys do love their toys, don't they. There's so much testosterone floating around here it's a wonder you and I don't start growing something."
"Feeling a little outnumbered?" Janine smiled sympathetically.
"Aww, he's adorable!" Roland suddenly exclaimed. Turning their heads towards him, Kylie and Janine saw that he was looking at a picture that Ray was taping to the inside of one of the metal lockers.
"Ah man." Eduardo headed quickly for the sanctuary of Janine's desk. "Anyone wanna go hurl before I do? They're pulling out the baby pictures."
"Baby pictures?" echoed Kylie, marching over to Ray's locker and barging Roland out of the way. "Yeah… cute," she remarked nonchalantly, looking blankly at the small snap of Eric Stantz. So this was what was preventing Ray from liasing with young female students of paranormal science.
Roland had moved on to admiring Winston's picture of Charlene, which left Garrett with Peter's snap of Oscar and Jessica. Kylie really wasn't interested in either of those. She skulked back to the reception desk, where Eduardo was still avoiding having to listen to all the adoring parent-talk.
"I've seen them," Janine was telling him. "Kinda makes a girl broody seeing pictures of her friend's children. Don't you think so, Kylie?"
"They're not my friends and nothing will ever make me feel broody, least of all pictures of other people's ugly brats," snapped Kylie.
"Looks like we finally agree on something," Eduardo smiled dryly. "I saw the way you looked at Ray's picture, Ky. It's not the kid's fault, you know."
"What isn't?" Kylie demanded irritably.
"That Ray's taken. Most old guys like that are - and if not there's usually something wrong with them. You'd do better to stick with somebody your own age."
Kylie just glared at him. There was no point in spitting out the obvious retort: "Like you, you mean?" It was clear to all of them that she, Eduardo and Janine were all thinking it.
Peter retrieved his picture from Garrett and took a moment to look at it wistfully, wondering if occasionally jetting off to New York and leaving his kids behind was actually quite a shitty thing to do. At least he hadn't left for good to join the London Philharmonic Orchestra, unlike some people he could mention. Evidently this was going to require some more thought - but not just yet. He'd been through enough angst for the time being.
Glancing across the room, Peter caught sight of the vehement eye contact being held steadily between Eduardo and Kylie. Smiling knowingly to himself, he nudged Egon in the ribs and murmured quietly, "That takes me back. You could cut the sexual tension with a knife, couldn't you?"
"Could you?" Egon asked blankly.
Winston joined in the conversation. "Sweet," he remarked. "What are they - nineteen? Still young enough not to agonise over it and take forever like you two guys did."
"Right." Peter nodded his agreement. "Let's hope for their sakes they just get on with it."
"You guys are getting way ahead of yourselves," Garrett cut in. "They're still at the hating-each-other, occasional-significant-look stage."
It was at this point that the phone started to ring. Peter, Ray and Garrett all charged to answer it - but Janine was close enough to get there first, shooting them all a hostile look as she put the receiver to her ear. Phones were most definitely her territory, thank you very much.
"Ok," she said, after a long silence while she scribbled frantically on a Post-it. "I'll send a team over right away."
"Here we go," Garrett smiled dryly, as Janine hung up. "Which team will that be, Janine?"
"Work it out between yourselves," shrugged Janine, pushing the Post-it across the desk. "I'm a secretary, not a referee."
"You take it," Kylie offered meekly, blinking pathetically up at where Egon towered over her. "You're the experts."
"WHAT?" screeched Eduardo. "Kylie, no way! Come on!"
"This is our gig now," cut in Garrett. "These guys are only just back and they haven't even unpacked their junk yet!"
"That's a good point, Garrett," Ray chimed in cheerily. "We're going to have to work this out at some point, but for the moment you kids might as well go. We've still got a whole bunch of stuff to unload."
"I've blocked the Ecto-1 in," Roland mumbled sheepishly, reaching into his jeans pocket for his car keys as he wandered outside.
"So have we," Winston pointed out, beginning to move some of the boxes that surrounded the converted hearse. "Won't be a minute, kids, if you wanna get kitted up."
The damn boxes seemed to be multiplying. Kylie and Eduardo had to wade through them to get to their lockers, so annoyed by them that they could think of nothing else - and consequently Garrett found himself having to clear his own path this time.
Retrieving Roland's jumpsuit for him, Kylie again caught sight of the picture of Eric Stantz in Ray's open locker. He was pretty cute, she supposed, and probably better company than a cat. Yikes! That wasn't getting broody, was it? She couldn't help wondering what sort of a baby she might have with Ray. Extremely clever and a bit odd-looking, she decided. She was desperate to get a look at Ray's wife and ascertain his type. Just for closure, she tried to reason with herself. I need to get over these silly crushes and move on. I don't want to hit her or anything… and even if I did want to I wouldn't.
"Thanks, Kylie." Roland grabbed the jumpsuit and started climbing into it. "Are we ready? What happened to Janine's Post-it?"
There was another long delay while everyone hunted for the Post-it, and Egon was led to doubt that this arrangement was going to work. It wasn't the first time a Post-it had gone missing, but somehow three extra people joining in the search seemed only to make it last longer. They were getting in each other's way, arguing about who had looked where and of course Peter didn't need to check under Janine's computer monitor again - Garrett wasn't blind!
"Finally," Peter muttered to Egon, when the team was on its way. "Are you sure they're up to it? A few cardboard boxes never bothered us that much as I recall."
"Yeah, like a Hell Hound," retorted Kylie. "Did you happen to notice that Janine also wrote ‘three heads' on there?"
"Perhaps it was three really big dogs all standing next to each other," Garrett returned sulkily.
"Why are you so cynical all of a sudden?" asked Roland. "Until now we've practically had to restrain you every time we get a call."
"I don't know," shrugged Garrett. "It's just that the old team getting back together has caused so much sensation. It occurs to me that we might not be - well - expected."
"Which logically leads you to assume that this is a false alarm," Kylie shot sarcastically over her shoulder.
"No, not a false alarm," retorted Garrett. "Cry wolf - you know, to get the guys out in public. I'll bet you anything that when we get there we'll find no Hell Hound but a swarm of press photographers. And perhaps a few wannabe actors," he added thoughtfully. "Almost all of the papers made a big deal of Peter's Hollywood thing."
However if any of the people milling around outside Tower Records were press photographers, they were evidently too shell-shocked to whip out their cameras. Relief seemed to flood over the crowd when the Ecto-1 skidded to a spectacular halt and the four young Ghostbusters charged out of the car.
"I'm getting a reading!" Garrett exclaimed, pleasantly surprised.
"A pretty strong one too," observed Kylie. "Come on - let's get in there."
Any lingering doubts that Garrett might have had were soon alleviated. It was only too easy to locate this bothersome dog. As well as emitting an awful lot of psycho-kinetic energy and leaving a trail of chaos in its wake, it was producing bloodcurdling screams from those who, for whatever reason, had failed to respond immediately to the alarm bells ringing throughout Tower Records. The Ghostbusters soon found the creature squatting over an upturned display of Indiana Jones DVD box sets. Kylie gasped when she saw it; Garrett sucked in his breath and Roland even joined in Eduardo's customary squeal.
The squatting dark-grey dog looked at least eight feet tall. Rising to its full height would have added another foot or two at least. It stood on four giant paws that were disproportionate to the rest of its body; they had to be big to support those extremely worrying long, sharp, well-worn claws. But these were barely noticeable with the distraction of the dog's three heads: three huge, snarling, drooling muzzles bearing foot-long smooth, white and dripping fangs.
On catching sight of the four motionless figures, the dog raised it hackles and all of its three heads started barking loudly. The Ghostbusters had to cover their ears, the sound was so deafening, whilst trying to shield themselves with their arms as globules of foamy drool flew threw the air and spattered on the ceiling, the floor, the walls… on them. It felt unpleasantly warm as it seeped through their clothes, and it smelt strongly of rancid meat.
The throaty barks didn't stop until Garrett could stand it no longer and risked exposing his ears to shoot a blast of proton fire at the terrifying animal. The dog yelped, and then howled with pain as the powerful beam hit its middle head right between the eyes. The whole building seemed to shake as the dog sharply turned a-hundred-and-eighty degrees, snarling viciously. Eduardo yelled again and Kylie - not a fan of anything limbless and wriggly - couldn't help but scream when they suddenly found themselves faced with five long and chunky, loudly hissing snakes all bearing their teeth and gums, swaying hypnotically back and forth apparently in midair.
"Those are its tails!" Roland squeaked, in horrific realisation.
Kylie remained frozen with terror for a moment longer than her three companions did. As she stood and stared, seeing nothing but five sets of smooth white fangs, she felt a strong hand on her shoulder - she couldn't tell whose - and she was dragged behind a rack of movie soundtracks. Roland and Eduardo had to duck to be out of sight and hoped that the dog would forget about them. It seemed to do so, apparently more interested in pulling apart one of the cash registers.
"Let's just blast it," Eduardo suggested helpfully, in a low voice (though probably not low enough to fool a dog with six overly large ears).
"It's too big," argued Roland. "Maybe we should call - "
"No!" Garrett interrupted, apparently finding this idea too appalling even to say out loud. "We can handle it. Come on - don't just stand there!"
Kylie was still shaking with fear, but she followed instantly when Garrett wheeled speedily out from behind the display rack and approached the dog. Roland came next, and finally Eduardo. Kylie grabbed the back of Garrett's chair, but he wrenched himself away from her and skidded to a halt beside the beast. It turned its closest head to look at him, yellow eyes narrowing as it growled softly, the turnout of foul-smelling drool from that one mouth rapidly increasing as it salivated hungrily. Apparently undaunted, Garrett sent another blast of proton fire straight at it.
Again the dog howled in pain. Roland, Eduardo and particularly Kylie, who was closest, could now see the effect that this had on the snakes. They hissed loudly, writhing more frantically. Then suddenly one lunged for Kylie, its teeth and jaws seeming to expand and grow as it opened its mouth. She was vaguely aware of a strangled cry behind her as she instinctively raised her left arm to shield herself. By some stroke of luck the snake's elongated fangs missed the flimsy coverings on her hand and arm and punctured her elbow pad. She could feel painful pressure on her elbow as the fangs sunk in dangerously close to her skin.
The pressure subsided, and then for the second time Kylie felt hands on her shoulders. Eduardo swung her round, surprising them all by putting himself between her and the snakes, and then he led her away. "Are you ok?" he asked urgently.
"I think so," Kylie panted breathlessly. "It didn't break the skin."
"Thank God," sighed Eduardo.
"I need to take a breather."
"I think we all should."
"WHAT?" Garrett yelled to them. "Guys, come on! All we need to do is fire at the same time!"
"Well perhaps if we had some warning!" Roland called pointedly to him.
It was at this moment that Kylie realised how utterly ridiculous this all was. Here they were at Tower Records trying to take out a creature that had sixteen fangs - ten of them almost certainly loaded with venom and the other six quite definitely capable of penetrating bone and muscle. That thing could have three of their heads off in one fell swoop, and whoever was left would be the unlucky one if one of the snake-tails decided to finish the job with a quick injection. And, to top it all off, here they were squabbling!
Kylie shook Eduardo off her shoulders and made for the nearest exit, covering her ears as all three of the dog's heads began to bark savagely. She was aware of a throbbing pain in her left elbow, but she couldn't worry about that now. She knew that the bite hadn't got through to the skin. The force of the snake's jaws clamping together had almost crushed her arm, but the injury wasn't fatal and the bone wasn't even broken. She would just have to put up with it. She reached for her walkie-talkie and desperately called Egon's name.
"Kylie!" yelled Garrett. "What are you doing? AAH!" He had to jerk back quickly as a huge, slobbering head came down on him, jaws clamping hungrily together.
"Kylie? It's Janine," Kylie's walkie-talkie crackled. "Are you ok?"
"No!" wailed Kylie. "We need backup!"
"We don't!" shouted Garrett.
"Get Egon over here NOW!"
As she clipped the walkie-talkie back onto her belt, Kylie realised that she had asked only for Egon. She was so convinced that he could deal with anything; make any situation come right, but… sixteen fangs!
"Are you sure you're ok?" Roland asked calmly, drawing up beside her.
"It's just hurting me a little," shrugged Kylie, warding Roland off as he tried to peel away her elbow pad. "It's nothing."
"You shouldn't keep it strapped up like that," Roland insisted.
"I said it's nothing!" snapped Kylie.
It was all falling apart. Kylie, with the pain in her arm to discourage her, was really feeling it, and now so were the others as well. With much encouragement from Eduardo, Garrett realised that he would have to abandon this attempt on the monster and wait for help. Reluctantly they trailed out onto the street, all feeling much too drained to try and take this beast on alone even if any of them believed that they could. Kylie removed the padding and held her elbow in her right hand, swinging it experimentally. It wasn't so bad - probably just needed some air.
"What's going on?" a woman's voice demanded.
Garrett was the first to turn and see that this lady was accompanied by an entire TV news crew. "It's kind of a big one," he told them irritably. "We're waiting for backup."
"Will that be the original Ghostbusters?" the reporter asked eagerly.
"No," Garrett snapped sarcastically. "It'll be the Tooth Fairy."
Eduardo wasn't interested in the news crew. He was watching Kylie out of the corner of his eye as she nursed her wound, and thinking, What if those guys weren't around? Would we have trapped that thing by now? With the other three as well as Egon hanging around Kylie suddenly thinks she's helpless. He glanced at Roland. And he's starting to believe it too.
It was a matter of minutes before Egon, Winston, Peter and Ray pulled up in a taxi and charged heroically towards Tower Records, every bit the life-saving cavalry. The news crew and several press photographers pounced on them immediately, but Peter managed to fend them off with a smoothly spoken, "Interviews afterwards, please, we have a monster to take care of."
"Come on," Ray smiled brightly at the younger Ghostbusters, as he passed them on his way into the building. "We'll need your help, guys."
Garrett went in first, followed by Roland. Kylie made to follow, but Eduardo grabbed her shoulder and asked, with genuine concern, "Are you going to be ok?"
"I want to help," Kylie told him simply.
"Doesn't that hurt?"
"Nah." She rolled her sleeve back down and quickly strapped the pad onto her elbow. "It really is nothing."
She wasn't lying. The arm hardly hurt at all now, and Kylie felt much more confident about facing the monster with Egon and Ray there. When she and Eduardo arrived on the scene the beast was already caught in six proton streams. Eduardo at once added his own, and Kylie wasted no time in positioning the trap.
The creature growled and snarled, hissed and struggled viciously as it was sucked, with excruciating slowness, into the trap. The eight Ghostbusters instinctively shut their eyes against the blinding light, their hearts pounding as they waited in desperation for the growling and hissing to stop. At last it did, and all that lay among the wreckage of CDs, DVDs and videos was a smoking ghost trap.
"You know it?" Eduardo asked dryly, cocking an eyebrow. He was on the front seat between Roland and Kylie; the others had to squeeze into the back with Garrett.
"Only by reputation," shrugged Ray. "I didn't know it was real, but only because I'd never seen it. I guess now I know better."
"Cerberus is from Greek Mythology," Egon added helpfully. "He is the guardian of Haydes - the Greek equivalent of Hell."
"Wonder how he got here," mused Ray. "He must have been scared, being so far from home. I'll bet that's why he lashed out at you kids like that."
Garrett, Kylie, Roland and Eduardo all opened their mouths to retort, but even if they could think of anything to say there seemed little point. Let Ray draw his own conclusions from that little episode. The monster was trapped. It didn't matter now.
"How come we found that so hard and then you guys came along and trapped it in ten seconds flat?" Kylie asked quietly.
"We had help," Winston told her kindly. "We couldn't have done it without you, just like you couldn't do it without us."
Kylie wasn't so sure, but she didn't say anything else. As for Garrett, he was seething with indignation. He had been uncharacteristically silent during the trip back to the firehouse. It really stung that the press hadn't shown any interest in the new team when the Ghostbusters emerged triumphant from Tower Records, and that was only a small part of what was making him angry. Just why couldn't they do that on their own? Even if they were good at this before they certainly seemed to have lost something since the old team came back.
The atmosphere in the car was tense. It had started at Tower Records, maybe sooner, but only twenty minutes or so ago had it started spreading over them like a rash. Now all four of the young Ghostbusters were feeling it: the sense that something they prized was rapidly slipping away from them.