Originally published by Agent With Style, 2006
Song of Creation
The package was one of several that were the types of gifts that some fans send to rock stars, half of which was utter junk. The rest demanded responses ó at least as far as the fans were concerned ó requests for autographs, for meetings, even, recently from one obsessed fan group, for a sperm donation. Eddie Plummer shook his head. He could imagine Whitneyís reaction to the thought of him becoming a sperm donor for a collection of Midwest fans. His wife would put them right in a heartbeat. At least this package was small and light enough to hold in one hand. It was addressed to Eddie in care of his agent, Malcolm Wyatt, and had been forwarded with the last bunch of mail that was waiting when the band returned from a European tour.
Eddieís secretary, Nina Corey, handled the fan mail, but she often sent along the packages after she had checked them to make sure they didnít hold anything that might explode, contaminate, or haunt the rock star. The first two were normal secretarial duties for anyone in the public eye, but the third required a shift of mindset, for Eddie Plummer possessed a type of magnetism for the paranormal that he had never asked for and would have happily ceded. People claimed such a predilection ran in his family, for his real name was Edgar Spengler, and he was one of the same family that had produced Egon Spengler of the Ghostbusters. Several ancestors had encountered witches or dragons, while the modern, scientific branch of the family tended to look down upon forays into the world of the weird...especially Eddieís father, Cyrus, who controlled the environment of Spengler Labs so rigidly that no spirit would dare to appear there.
Spengler Labs had been Eddieís birthright, but music had been his soul. After teaching physics for a couple of years at Ohio State, far enough from home in Columbus to be able to ignore his fatherís demands that he return to Cleveland and work in the family lab, Eddie had decided he could resist his inner calling no more. When his band finally came together with the right female vocalist, he left physics behind and went where his spirit had long pulled him. Eddie ate, breathed, and slept music. His wife Whitney, gifted with a beautifully pure soprano, was the other half of him, and lately their son Cy, now four months into the terrible twos, was trying to sing in a baby soprano. Too soon to see if he would follow his parents into their line of work...or whether he might take after the paranormally oriented Spenglers and grow up to be one of the next generation of Ghostbusters.
Eddie rattled the package. He and Whitney had reached New York the previous evening following the six-week tour, and the couple hoped to journey up to Segue, their mid-Victorian house up the Hudson, to reunite with Cy by the weekend. There was always much to do when they came back from a tour. No concerts were planned in the next month, but they were putting together the songs for a new album, and that took a lot of effort, and there was an upcoming television special to work out. Eddie was still putting the finishing touches on a new song that he thoughtóhopedómight turn into a chart topper. Even if it didnít top their biggest hit, Leftover Souls, it might still be a winner.
As he pulled away the paper Nina had loosely taped around the package after her examination, he hummed the tune to himself. Minor key; he liked the tone of it. It had a modal effect, which might sound rather different, almost like medieval church music, Gregorian chants, but he planned to experiment with it. The lyrics were modern, even if the themes were universal. He wasnít sure how it would go over with his fans, but the song would be included in his upcoming special, recorded live at Madison Square Garden, which would introduce it to the world with all the energy that accompanied a live performance. The different modes created different moods, and he had felt the urge to play with the concept for some time now. It might not work, but he rather thought it would, for an energy hummed through the music that caught his spirit and filled him with a near exhilaration. If he could convey that to the fans, then he would have done it right. Whitney thought so, too, and their drummer and Eddieís best friend, Jackson MacKensie, had worked with him on some of the drum parts to make sure the blending was perfect. A little more time on it, and it would be ready for recording.
This morning, he had nothing that needed doing until at least eleven, so Eddie decided he would deal with the mail. Nina always sent the letters she thought he ought to answer personally, and he had read several of them, one from a little girl with leukemia, one from a woman whose son was a mathematical genius and obsessed with musicóthe two often went together, math and musicówanting suggestions of what her son might best do with his gifts, a few others involving various charities. He moved his chair around so the morning sun wouldnít shine in his eyes and sat down at the roomís table. Time to see what a fan had sent him. Insured, he noticed. Did that mean it was valuable or simply that the sender had been determined it would not be lost in the mail?
The outer wrapping paper came away to reveal a box, with a letter folded around it. He opened that first, feeling something light in the box shift with a faintly metallic rattle as he unwrapped the letter and set aside the box. Carefully he unfolded the letter; it was written on what felt like weird old parchment, rough around the edges as if it had been made to look old and impressive, or as if it were really that old.
The writing was in faded brown ink, rough and blotted here and there, as if it had been written with a quill pen using iron gall ink. Eddie arched one blond eyebrow and squinted at the text that was slightly difficult to read, for it had been done in a crabbed hand, old-fashioned enough that the Ďsís resembled Ďfís. John Hancock, he thought vaguely. Interesting, unless, of course, it were an affectation on the part of the writer.
This is meant for none but you, Eddie Plummer. Only one with a soul that breathes music deserves this. Wear it well and with honor, Knight of Musicís Court.
Okay, a little bit weird, but not quite threatening. Had Nina laughed over the message before she refolded the parchment around the package? Did she suspect there might be a crazed fan out there? Whoever sent it had not bothered to sign it, and Eddie could find no return address. It had been postmarked here in Manhattan. That meant the sender could find him if he wished to.
He opened the box.
A medallion on a chain dropped neatly into his outstretched hand, warm and pleasant with a faintly crude texture that made holding it feel rather good. Automatically, his fingers curled around it to keep it from dropping to the floor, but the chain, thicker than most modern link chains and heavier, slid loosely through his grip and dangled swinging back and forth until it stilled.
Eddie opened his fingers warily and studied his gift. Vaguely diamond-shaped and its edges rounded and ridged with metal of a darker shade, more bronze than gold, it was perhaps two inches in diameter at its widest point. The symbol on its face had been worn soft and ill-defined with years, but Eddie could make out a design or logo on it that looked vaguely like the capital letter K. The downstroke was of double thickness, as was the part that moved out to the up and down arms, which ended in elaborate curlicue serifs. Eddie had seen it before, somewhere, and fairly recently. Where? It made him think of music.
He ran his thumb over the design, enjoying the way it rubbed against his fingers. It was beautiful. What was more, it felt so good in his hand, it was sure to feel better if he wore it. Maybe it would be the final inspiration for his song; it was weakest in the last measure and he had been struggling over it for several days, pondering it on the flight home.
Eddie set aside the leaf of parchment to study later, and slung the medallion over his head. The medallion lay right over his breastbone, and it almost felt as if it pulsed out warmth to him. A tingle of excitement spread outward through his entire body, as if he were suddenly more alive than he had ever felt before.
After a second, he tucked the medallion under his tee shirt. He would wear it. Knight of Music? He liked the sound of that. An album title, maybe? Knight of Musicís Court. It sounded good.
Drawing a deep breath, he sang the new song, and the words poured from him with a vigor he had not expected in them even if he had written them. Little embellishments he had not thought of before came to him, and he added them. When he reached the last measure, the answer came to him in a way he would not have considered, and he ended it with a rising inflection as if to suggest to the world that there were answers beyond the song if only the listeners would open their hearts and seek them out. Yes, that worked.
He sang it over again, letting the music pour forth, and the sound drew Whitney from the bathroom, where she had been taking her morning shower. Wrapped in a huge white towel, she paused in the doorway, one hand raised to rub her hair dry. Her newest casual style required no more than a brisk toweling and a few shakes of her head to make it appear as if she had just emerged from Manhattanís costliest salon after hours of skilled work. But she did that without conscious awareness, for her eyes were on Eddie, and they gleamed with delight.
He stopped singing, and it was as if the world echoed his music for a beat or two before it stopped. Breathless and exhausted as if he had run a marathon, he stood, sucking in breath. "Was it good, love?" he asked.
She ran to him and flung herself into his arms. "I have never heard you sound better. Itís perfect. That endingóit works. If youíd told me how you wanted to end it, Iíd have said it would leave them expecting another chorus, but it doesnít. It left me wanting to rush out and do something magnificent. Oh, Eddie..." She lifted her mouth for his kiss.
The towel dropped away, and Eddie concentrated on a different form of music, but in his heart, the song throbbed on, pacing him, warming them both. She paused to touch the medallion before they came together, and he smiled, and then their private harmony led them in an ancient duet.
They had to hurry to get ready for their meeting with Jackson MacKensie, Malcolm, and the TV producers at the rehearsal hall after their lovemaking. But as Eddie dressed, his fingers kept returning to the medallion he wore, stroking it fondly. Knight of Musicís Court. He loved that. It wasnít vanity; Eddie didnít believe he was vain. He never thought of himself as a great singer. He just sang because the music was in him, and to deny it was to deny himself.
When they were ready, they set off together, hand in hand, and scarcely noticed the way the people in the elevator with them stared as they rode down to the ground floor. Fans could have told him it was his very aloof way of not seeking attention that, in part, made him so appealing, but Eddie never courted attention. It surprised him when it came, not unwelcome, but always unexpected.
Knight of Musicís Court. He would tell Whitney about the medallion when they came back from rehearsal. Even though she had seen it and touched it, a part of him wanted to keep it private, to hold it to himself a little longer, not even to share with Whitney. It was his and his alone.
He laughed to himself and put the thought away. They had a busy day ahead of them, planning the upcoming TV special. There wouldnít even be any singing until this afternoon. Until then, he would hoard to himself the thought of his medallion. It was his, and no one could ever take it from him.
** *** **
Peter Venkman was trying to sleep in. Of course, he did that whenever he got the chance so that it had become a kind of game. His partners had grown wise to him since theyíd started the business, and unless the guys believed he had a good reason for sacking out, they would generally do the noisiest possible things not two feet from his bed until he surrendered and struggled up in self-defense. Today, Ray was cleaning out his footlocker, whistling as he worked in a shrill, irritating way, and then compounding the offense with the utter horror of singing the Dopey Dog song over and over. The first time Peter had heard that vastly annoying ditty had been ghastly enough, but to hear it repeated like this... He noted through one squinted eye that Egon and Winston had left Ray to his work and evidently deserted the top floor of Ghostbuster Central. Smart guys. If theyíd known Ray was going to sing about Dopey Dog, theyíd probably have left the firehall altogether. Maybe even the city.
Ray left off singing the Dopey Dog songóthere was a God. But then he started caroling the theme to The Brady Bunch. Peter groaned. Not much to choose between the two. He had loathed that show from the word go, even if Marcia hadnít been too hard on the eyes. Ray evidently knew every single word and sang the ditty happily over and over. "Hereís the story of a lovely lady..." Peter pulled the pillow over his head.
At that gesture, Ray proved he had eyes in the back of his head because he chuckled to himself and went back to Dopey Dog. Louder. Deliberately off key. Hadnít Dante designed a special level of hell for such sadists? There was no hope of sleep. None whatsoever. Heíd get the guys for this.
"Dopey Dog, Dopey Dog, we need you."
"Ray," Peter said in a calm, level voice that he managed in spite of the urge to grit his teeth. That song was worse than chalk screeching across a blackboard.
"Yes, Peter?" Ray asked, oh so innocently. "I didnít wake you, did I? I know you can usually sleep through anything."
"Yeah, Ray, I can. But thereís one thing I wanted to tell you before I go back to sleeping." He pulled down the pillow, sat up, and stared at Ray, keeping his face as innocent as Rayís.
"What, Peter?" Look at that mischievous sparkle in his eyes. Who would have ever guessed a sweet guy like Ray Stantz could turn out to be so sneaky.
"First of all, youíre no Pavarotti. And second..." He let his voice trail off, making Ray work for it. He waited. And waited.
Finally Ray prompted, "Second?" in the tone of a man who knows his doom is about to befall him.
Peter ran his hands through his hair and his tongue around his teeth. They were fuzzy with that nasty morning flavor that comes after a too-convivial evening. He could go over and breathe on Ray, and that might even do him in. Instead, he offered the youngest Ghostbuster a brilliant grin. "If you ever sing that song again anywhere I can hear it, Iím going to eviscerate Dopey Dog. And I will enjoy every single second of it."
"You wouldnít?" Ray blurted.
"Wouldnít I? After all, if you could blast the Easter Bunny, I could do anything."
"You said it wasnít the Easter Bunny," Ray wailed in automatic protest.
"Sure, Ray. The Sandman was putting everybody to sleep for a zillion years. Iíd have let you blast Santa Claus if it had come to that."
Rayís eyes grew huge with horror. "Santa Claus!"
"Heck, Iíd probably have blasted you."
"Well, youíre not nice," Ray retorted. He opened his mouth, maybe to sing the song, but then he grinned with triumph. "Nice to see you up, Peter."
"Arrgh." Peter jumped out of bed and stalked toward Ray, who darted around the other side of his bed toward the firepole, prepared to slide away to escape lethal noogies.
Before either of them could take another step, every alarm in the firehouse went off.
The two men froze, staring at each other in wary disbelief, then Peter said, "Oh, shit," and began to throw off his pajamas and look around for his clothes. No way did he mean to face anything still wearing his PJs that could cause such a reaction from their ghost-detection equipment.
The thudding of footsteps on the spiral staircase announced the arrival of the other two Ghostbusters, Egon Spengler in the lead, a PKE meter thrust out before him the way a fencer would hold an epťe. His red-rimmed glasses slid precariously near the end of his nose, but he merely tossed his head to settle them. "Finish dressing quickly, Peter," he instructed in a grim but level voice. "We have a crisis."
"Ya think?" Peter asked as he struggled into his jeans.
Right behind Egon, Winston Zeddemore wore his proton pack and carried two more. Strong guy, Winston; those mothers were heavy. "Here you go, guys," he said and rolled his eyes, relieved to be rid of the weight of them. As Ray strapped his on, he added unhappily, "I donít know whatís going down, but it doesnít sound good."
"What is it, Egon?" Ray cried, his face alight with excitement even as he automatically checked the settings of his particle thrower. "A major demon? A cross-rip of mythic proportions? Ragnarok?"
"Donít say ĎRagnarokí," Winston groaned. "I hate it when the worldís about to end and everybody expects us to save it."
Peter ran his hand across his jaw. "Egon, do I have time to shave or will the world end when Iím doing it?"
Egon studied his meter, his face so intent in his concentration that Peter didnít know whether he had heard the question or not. Then he gestured vaguely. "Go ahead, Peter. It isnít worsening. Itís leveled off. And no, itís not a demon, Ray. Iíve never seen readings like these before. Iíll need a few moments to pinpoint a location." He glanced up abruptly. "Hurry, Peter."
Peter and Winston exchanged a wary glance. Those were not the words they wanted to hear from Egon, who knew everything there was to know about PKE meters and could interpret every tiny faint blip without even needing to resort to paranormal reference books like Tobinís Spirit Guide or Whoís Who and Whatís That. There were probably seventeen backup alarms set around Ghostbuster Central, any number to announce a leak in the containment unit, others to warn of the presence of marauding spirits, others to announce openings to other dimensions where nasty things lived, such as the Netherworld. A simple class three or five wandering onto the premises would set off a meter, sure, but not all the alarms at once. Egon left a meter active wherever he was. At hectic times when they were busiest and ghosts were thickest, he even carried one with him to the bathroom, and an activated one always lay on the bedside table between his and Peterís beds, which had precipitated any number of sudden and shocking wake-up calls in the middle of the night.
"Wow!" cried Ray as he peered over Egonís shoulder at the meter. A neat trick, as Egon was five inches taller than Ray. "This is great. I canít wait to see what weíre up against."
Peter shared a tolerant grin with Winston. Whatever had set off the meters wasnít here beating down the door, at least not yet. Maybe, just maybe, this time it would be something powerful and benevolent instead of something powerful and nasty, intent on destroying all life on earth and sending everybodyís atoms into separate dimensions at the speed of light.
"Iíll be quick," he said, and darted into the bathroom.
When he emerged, at least he was clean and tidy. He had even foregone his usual hair styling routine in favor of a hasty combing. Maybe when they were out saving the world, the press would assume his less-than-perfect coiffure was due to the stress of the bust. If he could contrive to look battered and noble as they saved the world, the ladies would eat it up. He got a lot of phone numbers that way.
He found his three friends in the lab, Winston at the computer clicking away at the keys and energetically plying the mouse, Ray wading through massive occult tomes with at least three lying open or bookmarked near him, and Egon doing weird things with a meter that had been plugged into two other gizmos. Egon didnít often combine the PKE readings with those of the magnetometer and spectrometer because they didnít often need such unique fine-tuning, but now he had, and the results were playing across the screen of a device Egon had designed out of an old TV set, a lot of Rube Goldberg parts and a ton of things like capacitors and resistors and other -tors that Peter didnít remotely understand, or want to. He wasnít sure if even Ray did, although he had been the one to build the gadget to Egonís specs. A grid pattern on the screen showed little red dots here and there, creating a weird design shaped like a diamond that pulsed ominously in a regular rhythm.
"I donít know what that is, but I donít like it," he said by way of greeting.
Ray raised his eyes from the book and grinned. "I think itís neat," he said, and buried his nose in the text. Whatever his book was, it was very old, with that musty smell you sometimes found in used bookstores. Peter should know. Ray had dragged himóand anyone else who would goóto every single esoteric bookstore in the five boroughs. More times than he liked to count, Peter had played pack-mule for his book-obsessed buddy...and those huge old tomes were heavy.
"You would," Winston told Ray, and grimaced. "Just because nothing else is happening now doesnít mean something nasty didnít just arrive in the Big Apple and decide it wants to take over. Maybe we ought to take down the plaque on the Statue of Liberty, or add a line: No Ghosts Need Apply."
"But then weíd be out of business," Ray said automatically without looking up.
Peter chuckled. "Give it up, Zed. Youíll never change him."
"No, wouldnít want to, either. But I swear, Pete, Iíll never have him figured out."
"If you are finished with your inane byplay, I would like your attention," Egon said, his fingers busy on the dials of his control device. He wasnít being consciously rude. It would never occur to Egon to be. He was simply so focused on the wonder of a truly unique reading that he probably didnít even hear how he sounded. In matters of inane byplay, Egon could give as good as he got, and often did. Peter stored away his words to use to retaliate in a moment when the crisis had passed.
"Well, gee, Egon, weíre listening," Ray retorted. He stuck a bookmark in the page he was reading, closed the book over it, and folded his hands in his lap like a good student in a third-grade classroom. "What have you got?"
Winston nodded, grimacing in Peterís general direction. Idly passing his thrower from hand to hand, Zeddemore glanced around the room to make sure nothing was oozing through the walls, then gave his attention to Egon. That military training of his keyed right in. Peter knew the signs: a state of hyper-alertness, braced muscles and balance, readiness to turn in any direction at the slightest hint of trouble, and a heightened team-consciousness like Larry Bird on the basketball court, as if he would know at any second where any member of the team was and what his condition was. Peter understood the latter state because he shared it, even without the background of Nam. A result of growing up on the mean streets of Brooklyn? A lesson from his old man? Natural talent?
As for Peter, he simply nodded at Egon, conveying his readiness to play Egonís game and willingness to follow wherever Egon led, even if was into the wilds of the Netherworldóor worse. Egonís eyes met his in understanding, and the physicist gave a nod in return.
"What we have here," he began, and Peterís mind added, is a failure to communicate, but he didnít say it. Egon wasnít the type of guy who would welcome a tension-breaker at the very start of his lecture. "...is an unknown power surge of a paranormal nature, yet without the standard PK valences, either positive or negative. These readings match no entity of any class we have ever encountered, not even a class eleven mega-specter." He tapped the TV screen. "As you can see, Iíve been able to identify a configuration, a definition, yet I do not know what it defines. It is power, evidently a power that has been inert or inactive until now. But this morning, something brought it to life."
"Like a spell?" Ray asked with a gesture at the stack of grimoires and books of magic that lay on the table in a perfect example of symmetrical book stacking.
"Not precisely," Egon replied. He gave his glasses an impatient shove into place and looked at each man in turn. "Nor is it a cross-rip. There has been no opening into another dimension. We have encountered enough of them for me to quantify them, to define the various types, and to understand something of their function, even, on occasion, to close them or drive entities back, as we did Gozer, and seal them after them. This is not a case of a powerful entity transitioning through from somewhere else. It is more the activation of something already here."
"Wow, like a talisman?" Ray asked. He gave a little bounce in his seat. Look at him. The world might be about to end, and Ray was ready to rush out to meet the cause, a grin on his face. What a guy.
"Possibly." Egon wouldnít want to commit himself this early in the game. He would never offer concrete answers without full data; it would be theories or hypotheses, with all sorts of reasons for everything he suggested. Yet in a crisis, he could fling that aside and act as decisively as anyone Peter had ever known. He would trust Egon with his life and with his very soul, and that was the bottom line.
On the other hand, it didnít do to let him get away with vague hints, either. "Oh, come on, Spengs. Youíve got some kind of idea, donít you? You know what this is about."
"Actually, Peter, I donít. I am able to pinpoint the epicenter of the disturbance. It is here in Manhattan. Midtown, most likely, perhaps as far north as the Park. It has become quiescent now, but it has not ended. Perhaps I could trace it to its source with the aid of the meters, but I am reluctant to do that without an understanding of the nature of the threat."
"So, what did it do when it wasnít quiescent?" Peter asked. A few common-sense questions never hurt in any crisis. "Turn people purple? Make the buildings flip upside down? Bring back disco?" He feigned an elaborate shudder. "Anything but that."
"Oh, come on, Peter, I remember that party you went to dressed as Travolta in Saturday Night Fever," Winston said with a huge grin. "You werenít anti-disco then." He gave Peter a poke on the arm, without for a second losing his alertness.
"Yes, I was, but Marlie wasnít, and she loved that movie." Peter shrugged. "Wonder what sheís up to these daysówell, if she hasnít turned purple anyway. Come on, Egon, what is our little red gizmo on the screen actually doing?"
"As near as I can detect," Egon said very carefully, and paused to twiddle a dial or two, "it has done nothing at all except set off a form of energy I have never seen before."
"And thatís bad, right?" Winston abandoned the computer and came over to stand behind Egon so he could view the monitor screen from a better angle. "Come on, Egon, what does that kind of energy do to people? Is it dangerous?"
"Anything unknown may be dangerous, Winston," Egon said in his lecture voice. "We cannot yet determine the long-term effects of such unfamiliar energy."
"But, gosh, Egon, there must be all kinds of energy floating around out there that science hasnít learned to detect yet," Ray reminded him. He scratched his head as he considered. "After all, until we figured out the meters, we couldnít detect PK energy. Parapsychologists were using other devices like magnetometers, heat sensors and motion detectors and getting readings, but not the thorough, comprehensive kind we get now. And PK energy doesnít necessarily hurt anybody. This might not, either."
"Ray." Winston went over and grabbed his shoulder. "Itís energy. It does something. Maybe it wonít hurt us, but maybe it will. It set off all our alarms. It sure didnít do that because it might make people feel ticklish."
"Precisely," Egon replied. "Even without more information, I think we must go over there and take more thorough readings, pin down the precise location. We shall take all possible precautions. It could be that someone is tampering with magic, someone who does not realize what powers he may have unleashed."
"Like kids playing with a Ouija board," Ray cried. "Gosh, yeah, that could cause trouble. But then it would usually be a demon, and the readings wouldnít match this. Still, there are a lot of people out there who will find old spell books and think theyíre a game and will try somethingóand get in over their heads. And this isnít a demon. We wouldnít have got such a massive reaction if it were, and the meters would show it."
"Nobodyís called about it," Winston said and looked warily at the telephone as if he expected it to ring off the hook at any second.
"No, and as you remember, I specifically asked Janine to let us know if we got any calls that might pertain to the alarms before we came upstairs. Sheís down there with the spare pack and thrower on her desk, prepared to defend herself and the firehall, if need be." Egon frowned. "I must let her know it is quiescent at the moment."
Peter went over to the nearest firepole and bellowed at the top of his lungs down the hole, "Yo, Janine! Whatever it is, itís kinda dormant now. Hold the fort." Imagining her reaction, he grinned widely. With any luck, sheíd come up and read Peter the riot act for yelling at her. A fight with Janine was always a great way to start the day. A heck of a lot better than weird energy that set off all the alarms.
"You know what, Egon?" Ray opened one of his books. "Even if the energy doesnít affect us allóand I think it might have by now if it were going toóI bet it might affect whoever messed with it. Iím thinking of things like the Grundel, and the way it changes kids until they become grundels, too."
"You mean somebody out there is turning into that?" Peter asked, pointing at Egonís screen. "Boy, Ray, we really better beware. I sure donít want any bunch of nasty red dots coming at me."
"That is merely a schematic, Peter," Egon said haughtily, but his eyes twinkled. "Letís go to Midtown and see what we can find closer to the area in question. We need to determine whether the manifestation is stationary or if it will shiftóor grow."
"Grow?" Peter mouthed at Winston, who grimaced in response, lifted his shoulders in a doubtful shrug, and tightened his grip on his thrower.
"A powerful manifestation such as this is rarely a one-time fluke, Peter. We cannot ignore it, in case it should take inaction for carte blanche and return with greater strength," Egon chided. He began to disconnect the various devices, then shook his head and left them connected. "Iíll set the device to record any changes that occur while weíre gone. Ray, if you would bring me another meter to take with us..."
"Here." Ray passed him one.
"Thank you." At once he adjusted its settings. "If this does not happen again today or we cannot pin it down, it does not mean this was not a preliminary foray and that additional effects will not be worse if we canít stop it now."
"Penalty!" Winston waved his hand. "You said Ďworseí, Egon. Five bucks in the kitty."
"Would you rather I left it unsaid and we wake up to find Manhattan has been transformed into a dark realm."
"Like Boo York?" Ray asked. "Wow, Egon. Shall we send for the Peoplebusters?"
"Come on," Egon said repressively. He pushed two buttons on his control panel, accepted the meter Ray held out to him, and rose. "We need to discover what caused this, and I donít mean to wait another minute."
"Egon is ready," Peter said. "Spectral Flight departing from terminal twelve, with destinations Midtown Manhattan, The Twilight Zone, and Hell. Have your tickets ready and make sure your luggage is stowed in the overhead containers and your tray tables are in place." With a grin, he led the way to the spiral stairs.
** *** **
Ecto-1 made its way along Fifth Avenue, Winston at the wheel, Egon beside him in the Ďshotguní position, meter in hand. In the back, Ray held the magnetometer, while Peter watched out the window for evidence of deadly peril. Ray couldnít help grinning at the sight of him. Peter would protect his friends no matter the menace, unless it was so bad they all ran away together. Sometimes running away to regroup was the only sensible option. Dying nobly for no purpose was futile.
He hoped it wouldnít happen this time.
The readings didnít strengthen as they approached Midtown. Instead, they faded, and very quickly. Was that because they possessed no typical valences? Biorhythm readings faded like that, too. Hmm. Had the effect been caused by a human?
Winston must have been considering the meter results, too. "Hey, Egon, how can you detect anything with your meter when you said whatever happened didnít really have standard PKE readings, either negative or positive?"
"An excellent question, Winston." Egon worked on the settings of the meter trying to baby it along to continue detecting the fading results. "Over the past few years, Iíve realized that not everything we encounter could be measured by standard PK valences, and as Iíve made modifications over the years, Iíve added functions that would allow a broader scope. On busts, when dealing with typical ghosts, we donít need such refinements, but in general I leave an activated meter at the firehouse open to the widest possible variant. Once we have a contact, I always quickly focus it down to the appropriate settings for best results."
"All meters can do it," Ray threw in. He leaned forward eagerly. "Itís like using the meters for biorhythms. We get a weaker reading and it doesnít last very long. With ghosts, you can pick up residuals a heck of a lot longer than you can biorhythms. I think this must be even a more rapid fade-off than biorhythms, donít you, Egon?"
"Indubitably," Egon said, his mind clearly on the readout on his screen and not the conversation.
"Indubitably?" Peter echoed, made a buzzing sound, and held up his hands like a referee. "Penalty word, Egon. Nobody says Ďindubitably.í"
"I do," Egon replied simply. "Or, if you prefer I should adjust my vocabulary to your undoubtedly limited one, then certainly, there is a greater fade-off. I donít believe these will last quite long enough for us to pin down anything but the most general of locations. Can you go faster, Winston?"
"Well, I could, but the rest of the traffic wouldnít be happy if I rammed them." He gestured. "I could go up on the sidewalk, but then weíd have pedestrians complaining to the Mayor again, and this new guy doesnít let Pete con him like the old ones did."
"Iíve got it," Peter said with a delighted grin. "Weíll take some of our detection equipment around to Gracie Mansion, and next time this whatsis does its little number, all the alarms will panic him. Heíll let us drive wherever we please."
"Short of that," Winston said practically, "we can take Ecto-2 next time."
"The gyrocopter will only carry two of us," Egon pointed out. "But it is an excellent suggestion. You can fly me to the scene, Winston, while Peter and Ray come in Ecto-1. That way, weíll be able to pinpoint it." He looked around to determine their location. "Crossing 42nd Street. I would think we have at least a dozen more blocks to go."
"The Park?" Peter asked. "No, Iíve got it. Tiffanyís. Our little entity has the hots for diamonds. Maybe that means itís female. ĎDiamonds are a girlís best friend,í" he caroled, wildly off key.
"Must you?" Egon asked, wincing.
"I must." Peter grinned. "So, not Tiffanyís, then. How about the Plaza? All the happening ghosts stay there."
"They would have called us," Ray pointed out. "They were quick enough to call when that ghost tourist moved in back in January and kept calling room service."
"The readings are fading fast," Egon complained. "As near as I can estimateóand I hate to estimateóthe occurrence either happened just within the Park or just south of it."
"See? The Plaza," Peter said, as if it proved his theory. "Anyway, you said it wasnít a typical ghost. So maybe it didnít do anything there that anybody could see."
Winston swung around a stationery taxi and cut in front of another one, calmly ignoring the driver flipping him the bird. Ray saw nothing amiss in such driving. It was the way he drove, after all. New York drivers would eat you alive if you showed the slightest hesitation. "So let me get this straight," Winston said as he zipped through a yellow light. "The energy doesnít seem harmful, at least not in any way we can detect. Might not even be visible unless somebody happened to be right there on the spot. Odds are that maybe nobody even noticed. So thatís why nobody called us. Because nobody even knows about it. Itís not like they have alarms going off the way we do."
"Indeed." Egon didnít raise his face from the meter. His nose nearly touched the screen; youíd have thought it would make his eyes cross. Of course his glasses had slipped so far down his nose that he was looking over the tops of them. "Itís fading faster now. Scarcely a blip." He drew a deep breath. "There. Iím afraid itís gone, gentlemen."
"So what do we do? Go home?" Peter asked brightly. "Thereís a nap with my name on it."
"You will sleep your life away, Peter," Egon said automatically as he straightened and flicked his glasses into place with an impatient finger. "No, we shall proceed to the general area. Hurry, Winston. Itís possible we may yet be able to detect residual readings in the exact area."
"If we knew the exact area," Winston muttered and cut between a limo and a delivery truck with inches to spare. A quick flick of his hand brought the siren to life, and a few cars that had the space actually scattered. One or two of them turned off on side streets. Probably didnít want to keep going in the direction of a possible demon. Just as well. There were always too many rubberneckers at their busts. Peter thrived on them, but Ray always worried that an innocent person could be hurt.
"I can extrapolate and pin it down within a matter of blocks," Egon said. "It may indeed be near the Plaza Hotel. Peter, you talked to the manager in January. You can go in and ask him if there has been any peculiar event this morning."
"This is New York, Egon," Peter reminded him. "Iíd have better luck asking if there were no peculiar events this morning."
When they reached the Plaza, Egon studied the meter hopefully, settings boosted to top gain. Nothing. His shoulders sagged with disappointment. "Rats. I hoped weíd see something now that we were here."
"Haunted horses?" Peter offered, pointing to the row of horses and carriages that gave rides to tourists.
"They look normal to me," Ray said, but he took a reading anyway, without detectable results. "It could be anywhere around here," he said, and Peter sighed, probably disappointed that the horsesí eyes hadnít glowed red. "Want to check Tiffanyís?" and he gestured in its general direction.
"Or the Park itself," Winston suggested.
Ray nodded. "Whatever it was might not even be visible. If somebody was working a spell, they wouldnít do it right here on the street. Theyíd probably be shut up in a room somewhere, or hidden in the park." He craned his neck to look, but all he saw were New Yorkers and tourists going about their business. A whole parade of Japanese tourists emerged from the hotel and stopped to snap pictures of the horses and carriages, crying out in delight and sending their numbers one at a time to pose with one of the horses. Ray grinned.
"So what do we do now?" Peter asked. "Just sit around and wait for it to happen again? Practice twiddling our thumbs? Indulge Ray and go for a horsie ride?"
Ray poked him. You couldnít let Peter get away with remarks like that. He was one of those guys you gave an inch to and he took a parsec.
"We spread out. We have two meters with us," Egon reminded them. "Peter, you come with me. Winston with Ray. Take twenty minutes and walk around the area. At the faintest flicker of a reading, use the walkie-talkies to notify each other. If we can triangulate the spot, we can be prepared for next time."
"And if it was a one-hit wonder, Spengs?" Peter asked. "Or if itís a tourist like those camera addicts and decides it wants to see more of the Big Apple? Nobodyís paying us for this, and you said the energy wasnít harmful to people. So whatís the deal?"
"The deal, Peter, is that we donít know whether it could be harmful or not. Itís much too soon to make such a determination, especially without information. It could have long-term effects. Radiation might not show an immediate result when the human body is exposed, but it doesnít take long for its effects to show. Sometimes, there is only a long-term result, yet not a good one."
Peter grimaced expressively. "So we need those tag thingies that measure how much radiation a person has been exposed to?" From the way his face fell, the idea held no appeal.
"It isnít radiation, Peter," said Egon impatiently. He could only be pushed so far. "I could detect that. That was only an example." Egon got out of Ecto, and the rest of them followed suit, Ray hurrying to make sure Egon didnít walk in front of a bus while he checked his readings. Peter, who always was alert to Egonís meter fixation, gave Ray a nod. "The point, of course, is that whatever it was set off our alarms. It is paranormal in nature, although not a conventional spirit. This may have been a preliminary foray, an opening of a gate of a different nature than any we have previously encountered."
Peter stared at him. "Youíre no fun, Egon, did I ever tell you that?"
"Repeatedly, Peter. Never mind. Letís go." He grabbed Peterís wrist and tugged him off toward the main entrance of the hotel.
Ray shared a grin with Winston. "Guess that leaves us the Park," he said. "Come on. Maybe it is a one-time thing, but we better make sure there isnít anything around here thatís the result of it."
"What kind of result are we talking?" Winston asked as they crossed Central Park South and entered the park.
"Gee, I donít know, Winston. I donít think weíll find anything like instant mutationsóyou know, two headed squirrels or things like that."
"Ray. If I never in my life see a two-headed squirrel, I will still consider myself fulfilled."
Ray grinned, checked the meter, and plunged into the park.
They searched for about ten minutes but picked up nothing to stir the readings except the passing wisp of a class three drifting southward, evidently unconcerned about whatever had set off the alarms. Ray squinted upward and saw the ghost, a faint, transparent outline of a head-and-shoulders spirit with trailing arms and no feet. Typical gooper, paying little attention to the bustling city below. That kind tended to wander about, doing no harm, and the guys were rarely called in to bust them. He pointed it out to Winston, who shrugged when the ghost looked down at them, as if to say he was off duty.
When they met up again with the others, Peter and Egon had found nothing, either, and Peter was starting to make vague and hungry noises about lunch. Without additional readings, the only thing left would be to question people about whether they had witnessed anything unusual. Ray knew from long experience such questions only brought out bizarre and generally useless replies, if New Yorkers could be bothered to reply at all beyond a "Geddouta my face."
So they went back to the firehall. It had been a slow week for ghosts, and there were no busts scheduled for the whole day. Just as well, as Egon said. It gave him time to play with his readings.
They stopped at a Greek take-out place on the way home and got gyros and a big order of onion rings. Ray insisted on buying a gyro for Slimer. "Because otherwise heíll only want ours."
"Ray, the way the spud eats, heíll finish his in half a second and still want ours," Peter reminded him, clutching his bag possessively.
"Well, we ought to bring him one. Shall we get one for Janine?"
"No, sheís having lunch with her sister." Egon always seemed to know Janineís schedule. The rest of the guys shared knowing grins at his awareness that Egon disdainfully ignored. At work, he was the picture of dignity around Janine. How often they saw each other outside of work Egon considered no oneís business but his own. But Winston had told Ray once that Egon had designed a computer program that would remind him of dates, to prevent a crisis like the one that had happened when Egon had forgotten a very important theatre date and had been in Janineís black book for months as a result.
"Donít tell Pete, though," Winston had counseled. "Heíd never let Egon live it down."
Ray hadnít said a word, but he suspected Egon wasnít forgetting about dates any more because he was caught up in his work. He wasnít sure what would be the outcome of Egon and Janine being a couple, but it had not affected the business or the teamís friendship, and that was all that mattered. Janine was a friend to all of them, anyway, even Peter, who would have denied it under torture. He could deny all he wanted. Brothers and sisters always disagreed like Peter and Janine did.
"Think weíll ever find out what this was all about?" Peter asked as they neared the firehall.
"Of course we will," Egon replied and made a determined gesture with the meter, like a knight raising his sword in pledge of his sworn duty. Egon would have made a great knight...and probably would have designed a nifty helmet to allow for his glasses.
"Hopefully before it all goes ka-flooey on us," Ray offered cheerfully, grinning at the image of Egon as a knight of old, clanking around in armor.
"Ray, Ray, Ray." Peter pretended to glare at him. "You are such a pollyanna." He frowned. "So, guys, whatís a pollyanna, anyway?"
"Well, it canít be Ray," Winston fell into the banter. "Itís a girlís name, after all."
Ray ignored that with the skill of long practice. "Egon, what will we do about the readings?"
"Learn as much as we can," he said. "Do you think any of your occult friends will know?"
"They might. Iíll check with some of them," Ray volunteered. "As soon as I get home."
** *** **
Peter watched as Ray made a series of telephone calls to his weirdo buddies in the world of the paranormal: wiccans, fortune-tellers, palm readers, Tarot readers, managers of occult bookshops, and even a sorcerer he knew. Out of the lot, only one of them, a psychic, had any information, and Ray put her on speaker phone. "Charlotte, Iíve got the guys on speaker. Guys, this is Charlotte Paige-Talbot. Tell them what you told me, Charlotte."
"Well, all right. Hello, Ghostbusters."
She had a gorgeous voice, a slightly husky contralto. Peter called, "Hello, Charlotte, and thank you for helping us," in what he fondly believed was a ladiesí man voice.
"That must be Peter, he who imagines the ladies adore him," she replied. "And in truth, some do. Iím a psychic. I should know."
The others turned amused gazes upon Peter, who made a face at them. "Do you ever know baseball scores before the games are played?" He asked hopefully. "We could clean up. I know a couple of bookies, and theyíd never guess where I was getting my tips."
"No, thatís not where my abilities lie. Sorry. No sneaky bets for you. Your bookie will be pleased."
"I donít have a bookie," Peter objected. "I just know some," he added lamely.
"Ignore him. We all do," Ray said. "Go on, Charlie. Tell them what you told me."
She hesitated as if collecting her thoughts. The guys leaned closer to the phone, even Egon, who wasnít really gung ho about psychics. He considered the ones who made predictions for the National Observer a bunch of phonies. "You see, they only predict things about the currently notorious, and nine times out of ten, anyone who knows a thing about such matters could make the same predictions. If any predict something that I would consider totally unexpected and it occurred, then I might believe."
Ray had argued in favor of some of the psychics, although he didnít defend the tabloid variety. "I know some who really can do it," he had insisted.
Was Charlotte one of them?
"Well," she said slowly, "it was yesterday. I was meditating. I try to do that every day. It clears my mind. Suddenly a voice came to me. ĎBeware,í it said."
"Yeah, warnings always talk like that," Peter muttered under his breath.
"Desda is getting serious about you," Charlotte said.
Peterís mouth fell open. "You told her about Desda?" he asked. He wasnít sure he was serious, but he liked Desda, who worked at the U.N. She was from Rome, and had an alluring accent, a gorgeous dimple in her cheek, and wide-set violet eyes. When he took her out, other men turned green with envy.
"Of course he didnít," she replied. "Nor did anyone. Now hush, Peter. This is serious."
He made a conscious display of zipping his lips. "Go on. A voice told you to beware?"
"Yes. And when I asked of what I should beware, not aloud, you understand, but in my mind, the answer was, Ďcreation.í"
"Creation?" the four men echoed, staring at each other doubtfully. That didnít sound very dangerous to Peter. "Creation of what?" Ray asked.
"The gift of creation," she replied. "I do not understand it, but what I was able to gain from my visionósometimes it feels as if someone beyond our knowledge speaks to me, and other times itís simply a voice in my head. This time, it was a voice, as if I had a protector in a different realm. I sometimes think of it as my angel, although not a seraphim or cherubim type."
Egonís brow scrunched as he listened. "What did your angel say about the gift of creation, Charlotte?"
"That such a gift, given without full knowledge, could only lead to destruction in the end. Too much power to one who fails to understand it is a deadly gift, no matter how kind or generous the intent." She drew a breath that came clearly over the speaker phone. "My angel said there was no way to know whether or not the intent was kind."
It sounded pretty ominous to Peter. "You mean some poor sap has been given power he doesnít understand or know how to use?"
"Something like that. It would be like putting a Kalahari bushman in charge of the space shuttle as it came in for landing. No, not even that. It would be like giving something dangerous to someone who fails to understand the danger. If the person has no conscience or sense of morality, he might abuse the privilege."
Well, yeah. Peter could see that. As a guy who had once been Ďgiftedí with super powers, he knew well how quickly it could go to a guyís head. Venk-man hadnít remembered his friendsóand how could he have done that? Without the guys he didnít know where he would be, but it wouldnít be a good thing. The glory had gone right to Peterís head. He cringed, hoping none of his buddies would remember that debacle. Yeah, this could definitely be dangerous.
"That does sound bad," Winston muttered. He didnít seem to be thinking about Peterís fall from grace, thank goodness, but he looked worried.
"It does, indeed," Egon replied. "But we have no way of knowing if Charlotteís vision has anything to do with the readings we got this morning."
"Ray said it happened around ten oíclock," the psychic replied. "And it was at that time I had a sense of impending doom, and my angel told me to beware, and that I might have the ability to help. I canít guarantee the two tie in, but I feel that they do."
"If your Ďgift of creationí is the problem, Charlotte, then you have helped," Ray told her. He grinned at the guys. "At least it gives us a starting point."
"What else do you know about it?" Egon asked her. He adjusted the dials of the meter that was linked to the other equipment. Only Egon could connect a bunch of things like that and get good results. Of course, that was only half the time. The other half, things blew up. Insurance rates for the lab were through the roof...just like some of Egonís deadlier experiments.
"Very little," she replied. "Only that it might be an artifact, imbued with power, and that it might be keyed to one person at a time. Thatís all very vague, but when I felt it this morning, I knew it was what I had learned yesterday, and I realized it had begun."
"Begun?" Winston echoed, his mouth twisting. "Man, that doesnít sound good."
"But you can track it," Charlotte said over the phone. "I see you tracking it. You can use your meters."
"Do you see us stopping it, Charlotte honey?" Peter asked hopefully.
"No," she said regretfully, and added in exactly the same tones Peter had used, "Peter honey." Egonís mouth quirked and Winston turned away, his shoulders quivering as he struggled not to laugh. He sobered immediately. The Ďnoí was more important than the putdown.
"Do you see us not stopping it?" Ray asked before Peter could blurt out the unhappy response her reply evoked. His stomach knotted. How could the gift of creation harm the world? She sure sounded like she thought it could, though.
"I donít see that either. I donít see an outcome at all." She laughed wryly. "It isnít like looking something up at the library. I know certain things, but not all things. Whatís more, I have a feeling this time that what Iíve told you is all Iíll know about itóunless, of course, it turns into a major crisis and everybody knows about it."
"Oh, goodie, another major crisis," Peter griped. "Think we ought to call the Mayor or the Chief of Police and warn them?"
"Warn them of what, Peter?" Ray asked. "We donít know what to tell them to look out for." He gestured vaguely toward the window. "All we got were those weird readings and they faded immediately. Nobody even called to report anything strange, and you know how people will call us if the subway rattles their dishes, or if their cat walks around its food dish to the left instead of the right."
"Widdershins," Egon said dryly. "Counterclockwise. Which could indicate a crisis, but seldom does. We will find out," he went on. "Ray, now that you know this much, your reference material may provide us with additional clues. I hope to correlate my readings and approach it that way."
"Charlie, thanks so much," Ray told her. "Weíll get back to you, and you call us if you think of anything else or have any more psi hints, okay?"
"I will. Good luck, Ghostbusters." She hung up.
The four men stared at each other, considering what she had said.
"Well?" Winston asked. "What do you think it means?"
Peter heard himself speaking before he knew he meant to. "Some poor schmuck got handed power he doesnít know how to use. Donít know whether it was given to him to cause trouble or with good intentions, but it doesnít matter. You know what they say about power corrupting? Well, believe me, it does. Just look at politicians."
"Do we have to?" Winston asked. "But I know what you mean, Pete. A decent person will start out with good intentions. But this isówhat is it, Ray? Magic? Your everyday man on the street doesnít have a clue how to handle that. Even Gandalf, who was a great wizard, wouldnít take the One Ring when Frodo offered it to him. He told Frodo not to tempt him, and that if he tried to wield it, it would take command of him. I canít remember word for wordóitís been about a year since I read the Trilogyóbut there are some things ordinary people arenít meant to have or to mess with."
"Very well said, Winston," Egon agreed. "We all think what we might do if we were given great power, and we assume we would do good with itóbut temptation would creep in."
"Like me being Venk-man," Peter said in a quiet voice before anybody else could bring it up. "Yeah, I hear you. It twists you so you forget whatís important. I donít suppose this is anything like the One Ring, or even what happened to me, but even if itís only a little like that, then we have to find it."
"Find what, though?" Ray gestured at his books. "Iíll have to check them again. If weíre looking for some kind of talisman that gives power, there could be something in my references."
"There is another matter," Egon said. "Even though Charlotte felt whatever it is she felt at approximately the time the alarms went off does not mean what she told us actually applies to this situation. Her report was vague enough that it could apply to many things. I have always been leery of psychics. We have never tested her. Our problem could be something else entirely."
Ray opened his mouth to protest. He could believe in weird things that even little kids who still thought Santa Claus brought them toys would be skeptical of. After a second, he closed it again and frowned. "Well, gee, Egon," he said finally, "Charlieís good. Iíve known her to be right before. And the timing matches. Unless the alarms go off again and give us a chance to reach the site of the manifestation, what else do we have to go on?"
"Hate to admit it, but Rayís right," Winston agreed. He headed for the computer. "Iíll see what I can dig up in our databases."
"Iíll correlate the readings we got with every known reading weíve had," Egon said. "Peteró"
"Hey, I thought I would take a nap." He didnít really mean to, but the tension was thick in the room, and it was fun to provoke the guys, not to mention a good way to make them relax. Maybe this whole thing was a fluke, but even if it werenít, nobody had been hurt yet. ĎCourse, if Charlotte was right and it was a dangerous power handed over to some poor schmuck who wouldnít be able to control it, then it might work up gradually. There might never be another manifestation, and the recipient might not even know why his life was getting out of hand. But the end result could be nasty.
Yet if the first manifestationódonít say "first", Peterówas his initial attempt to use whatever it was, then it could mean every time he tried, it would set off the alarms all over again. They could track him down eventually. Egon could triangulate the readings and theyíd find the guy. Whether heíd give up his powerful artifact was another matter. And where had it come from, anyway? Wouldnít it take a powerful entity to manipulate something like that?
If Charlotte were wrong and it wasnít about an artifact of creation, whatever that meant, or if the power was being used deliberately with full knowledge, then that could mean somebody was about to get a lot of power he didnít have any experience with, and was sure to misuse. Not good. Not good at all.
"You will not nap, Peter," Egon said, but he gave a faint nod to acknowledge Peterís intent. Egon always seemed to understand where Peter was coming from. And from a geeky scientist from a well-to-do Midwest family to a kid from Brooklyn, that was pretty weird, not to mention pretty cool.
"Nap?" Ray cried. "Gosh, Peter, how can you want to sleep at a time like this? You can help me look through the references. Youíll know just what to look for."
Winston looked as surprised at this as Peter was. "He will?" he asked, letting his hands hover idly just above the keyboard.
"Sure he will. Peter, youíre the one who mentioned the Venk-man thing. I hate to remind you of it, but maybe thereís some guy out there about to get into that much trouble and maybe more. You can relate."
Peter could. "Yeah, Ray. Powerís really tempting. Almost like an aphrodisiac, yíknow. Like a drug." He shuddered. He hadnít thought of that at the time, and he was glad he hadnít. Heíd have felt even more like pond scum than he actually had. Never mind there were timesóthankfully few and far betweenówhen he had a wistful thought or two over the lost fame and glory.
But what was a craving for fame and glory other than an attempt to feel valued? Peter was a good psychologist. Heíd had plenty of time to understand his need for adulation. What it gave him was never as good as the respect and friendship he got from the guys.
Rayís eyes softened as if he could guess what Peter was thinking. "Aw, the poor guy. We have to help him."
Egon circled around Peter to fetch another of his esoteric gizmos from a shelf. On the way, he let his hand brush lightly against Peterís shoulder. When he spoke, though, his words were typical Egon, practical and dry. "Considering we donít know if there even is a poor guy, Ray, we are clearly jumping the gun here. Certainly we must research the possibility because even if Charlotteís Ďgift of creationí is not the cause of the meters going off, it is still a problem for someone. We may not be able to do anything about itóbut if it is the cause, then our need is imperative."
Peter gave Egon a grateful smile for the understanding. "But thereís still nobody paying us," he reminded them.
"Well, Pete, we donít have any busts scheduled for today. Egon would probably have us drilling or doing research anyway," said Winston. He squinted at the monitor that displayed a diagram in red against a black background that looked vaguely like the diamond-shaped red dots Egon had picked up before stood out in the center of the screen.
"Yeah, Egon canít stand anybody sitting around relaxing and having a good time," Peter complained, but without genuine heat. "What have you got there, Winston?"
"A simulation, Pete. Iím trying to see if I can figure out what kind of energy weíre dealing with. Iím not sure the database will cover it, but itís worth a shot. No matches so far, but Iím working on it."
"Excellent, Winston," Egon approved. He stroked his dials like a lover. "Iíll come at it from this end." Connecting the weird gizmo to the whole conglomerate, he boosted the power. Nothing on his screen changed. "Rats," he said, and disconnected it.
"Come on, Peter," Ray encouraged with an eager grin. "Iíll give you Daltonís Grimoire."
"I donít do grimoires, Ray," Peter objected, then added suspiciously, "Why?"
"Because itís in English," Ray said. "Not much point in giving you one in Latin, and a lot of them are. Or in a mageís language. Even I have trouble reading those. But this is English. Kind of old-fashioned English. It was originally published in 1795 in England. This reprint came out in the '30s. Itís got a whole section on talismans and charms."
"Itís not bound in human skin, is it?" Peter asked, pulling the book over to him warily as if it might bite him.
"Of course not," Ray reassured him. "They donít do that in the Twentieth Century. Well," he admitted, "there are probably some weird sects who do, but this was published by a respectable specialty press thatís still in business. No human skin, I promise."
Peter opened the book, noting the bizarre designs around the corners of the title page that looked mysterious and vaguely cabalistic. How the heck could a sweet, innocent guy like Ray who slept with a stuffed toy know so much about the nature of evil?
Still puzzling over the dichotomyónow there was a word for EgonóPeter ran his finger down the table of contents, looking for talismans.
** *** **
Jackson MacKensie looked around the office and hid a yawn. Making music was always good; for Jackson, it had been his gift as a drummer that had gotten him out of the ghetto; well, that and basketball until he had wracked up his knee back at Ohio State. But the business end of things he preferred to leave to Malcolm.
Their manager glanced surreptitiously at his wristwatch. It wasnít as if the Eddie Plummer Band was the only group he managed. Making the arrangements for the upcoming special was part of his duties, but the final results, the individual songs and the design of the show, was between the band and the showís producers. Jackson trusted Eddie; heíd never trusted a guy more. Eddie would make sure it went well. But couldnít they wrap up the business and get on to their first rehearsal? Like Malcolm, he glanced at his watch.
"I think weíre ready," Malcolm said. He stuck out his hand to shake David Beckworthís. "Weíre in agreement on the contract. Iíll have it ready for signing tomorrow."
"Iíll come to your office at two," agreed the network rep. He and Malcolm said their farewells to the band and left them with the showís producer.
"Iíve got some ideas for the way we handle the climax," Tad Mayer said when the door closed behind the other two. His deceptively young face masked a shrewd and creative mind. The two didnít always go together, but when they did, the end result could be spectacular. He would produce the show, and was evidently well used to handling rock stars. He hadnít managed to put their backs up yet. "Of course I know you have ideas of your own, but I was thinking of a background montage of the history of the agesóstart with the pyramids and the ancient Egyptian culture and work our way up to the 1990s. We can arrange the lighting and choose what we want to represent, but it would work well with Leftover Souls, and Iíd guess youíll want to finish with that one."
Eddie scrunched up his mouth the way he did when he was thinking about something, and Jackson could tell he liked the idea. "That might work well, if we can time the background transitions with the various lines. What do you think, love?" he asked Whitney.
"I like it. All those centuries of people..." She puckered her mouth in the way she had as she considered it, then offered a delighted smile. "Yes, I think it could be spectacular."
"Jackie Mack?" Eddie turned to him. No one but Eddie ever called him that; it went back to their time in Columbus.
"Iím with Whit. I like it, too. You could even coordinate the color of the lighting to enhance the mood. What about how weíre dressed? I mean, we canít do quick changes in the middle of a song, so I canít see us representing all those centuries."
"Good point." Tad was one of those guys who didnít close his mind to othersí suggestions, which was one reason Eddie had chosen to work with him. "We could have each of you dress in a different style, representative of a long stretch of history. We could see if the designers could work something out. It shouldnít be that difficult to come up with something to suggest an era, or maybe even a millennium. The way the song is laid out, it would even be possible for each of you to have something that would pull away over another outfit. I know it would have to fit so it wouldnít impede your playing."
"We wouldnít want to do it a capella," Eddie said. "Weíve done it that way a time or two, but I like the way the drums enhance the mood, and Whit could either do mandolin or flute, and then they could come in on the choruses. We could use their coming in as a way to cut away from me long enough to remove the outer costume. It would have to be rigged to break away easily."
"It might work," Tad agreed. "Iíll run it past the designers. Iíll send you a set of preliminary sketches tomorrow."
Jackson hid a grin, imagining a sweatshop full of costume and set designers slaving well into the night while Tad cracked a whip over their heads. He wouldnít, of course. Probably had most of it already in hand. Theyíd worked with him once before, and he was good at concepts.
A few more details in place, and the meeting was over. Now they could get to the good part. Rehearsal. Whitney had greeted him with the news that Eddie had solved the problems on the new song, and Jackson was looking forward to hearing and singing it. When Eddie was on a roll, he came up with great stuff.
When they reached the rehearsal rooms, everything had been set in place for the session, and Jackson assured himself that his drums were just the way he liked them, not that he had any doubts. The bandís two main roadies, Mel and Chan, were waiting, having set up the equipment for the session.
Two more unusual roadies were not likely to be found working with any band in the world, and Jackson grinned at the sight of them. Mel was big and blond and looked a bit like a super economy-sized Eddie, although without the glasses and the spiky hair. Chan was black, and wore an Afro, even though that style had gone out of date a couple of decades ago.
To look at them, one would not think there was anything particularly different about them but there was, for Mel Smith was really Melchazat, a demon from the Netherworld, who had once served a major demon who was an obsessive groupie of Eddieís. She had told her followers to serve Eddie, and Mel had taken it literally. He had pledged his life and honor to Eddie, and risked his very existence to save him. Mel considered Eddie his master, and served him with all his heart, assuming demons had them. Eddie didnít buy into the master/servant thing at all. Any servants or employees of Eddieís were friends as well, friends first. But Mel, even now that he had a human wife and a brand-new baby who seemed to be human, since he had been conceived when Mel was in human formówell, at least Jackson assumed, and heíd rather not know otherwiseóstill considered himself Eddieís servant and loyal follower. Sort of like Sam Gamgee to Frodo, Jackson thought.
Chan, too, had begun his existence as the demon Chandarl, a friend of Melís from the Netherworld. When a nasty demon had tried to take the place of the demon groupie after the Ghostbusters had trapped her, Chan had been one of those who revolted against the new demonís cruelty, and as a result, had forsaken demonhood and transformed himself into a human permanently. Jackson, taken prisoner by the nasty demon, had met Chan there, and in the end, Chan offered him allegiance and had come to join Mel as a roadie. When they werenít on the road, he had a place in Chicago, not far from Jackson and his wife, Sharonna.
The pair, especially Mel, still had abilities above and beyond those of normal humans, which had proven useful in the past. Both were good friends.
As the band came in, they greeted them cheerfully, but a slight frown wrinkled Melís brow. He didnít explain it, and he covered it up immediately. Maybe it was indigestion. "Everything worked out for the special?" he asked.
"Well, in rough," Eddie replied. "Tad had a good idea for the finale. Weíll try it out after weíve gone over the new song."
"New song?" The pair brightened. "Love new songs," Mel said. He tended to leave off the personal pronoun about half the time, but was doing better than he used to as he grew more comfortable in the human realm. Chan, who was really human now, had adapted more quickly and had gone out of his way to plunge into his human state and memorize everything he could about human history, tradition, society. He knew more about American pop culture than Jackson did, but once in a while heíd mix his periods up and talk about fads like hula hoops as if they were current or mention prohibition when talking about the sixties. Since a lot of people who had grown up in America didnít have a clue about history anyway, it scarcely mattered, and Chan never minded being corrected. He remembered what he learned, too.
"Itís going to be a winner," Whitney said. "Wait till you hear." She played a few bars on the flute while Eddie picked up his old guitar, the one he loved and babied and fussed over almost as much as he did Cy. He strummed a chord or two, and then did some fancy finger work. Jackson sucked in his breath. Even those random notes here in the rehearsal rooms sounded great, the way it did when he was playing before a live audience, drawing strength and energy from the mood of the crowd. Of course, when Eddie sang, and even when he played, it was as if he went off into a world of his own, where music reigned supreme. The applause at the end of a number always startled him back from that distant place.
Eddie had always been like that, though. Even back in their club days in Columbus, Eddie could lose himself in the music. What really surprised Jackson was that he had actually tried to be a physicist, to the point of receiving a doctorate in the field and teaching at Ohio State for several years before he had abandoned science for music.
"The new song, love," Whitney prodded. "Sing it through for Jackson. Iíll come in on the chorus or with the flute. I want to see if I can weave the flute music around the melody."
The roadies plopped down in chairs across the room and assumed listening attitudes, waiting to be entertained. Chan gave them a thumbs up, but that weird wrinkle still lingered between Melís brows. He studied Eddie the way he would study something on a microscope slide. Jackson looked a question at him, but either Mel didnít understand or he chose not to respond.
Eddie grinned at Mel, and turned to Whitney and Jackson as he slung the guitar strap around his neck. After he had picked out a few more notes, he nodded, laid his hand across his chest as if swearing an oath, and opened his mouth. Out poured pure sound. His fingers flew over the strings, deftly enhancing the spirit of the music. Even Jackson, who was used to Eddieís gift, caught his breath. He scarcely listened to the words, although they registered subliminally, the quest theme, the seeking, the need for wonder, the price that must be paid, the answer. And then the ending, soaring in a curious upbeat that should have felt wrong to western ears, but didnít. It felt right. Perfect. And around the melody line, Whitneyís flute danced and soared in perfect counterpoint. Automatically Jackson snatched up his drumsticks and found he knew exactly the best accompaniment. Almost as if someone else animated him, he beat out the perfect rhythm. Eddie caught his eye, grinned, and went on singing. Jackson found his breathing quickening and his heart pounding. This would be another mega-hit. It might even top Leftover Souls.
When Eddie finished, he played one final chord, and then stood, breathing hard, his face full of elation, his eyes gleaming with wonder, as if he beheld a great vision. "Whoa. I thought I had it all figured out. I thought it was the best it would ever be. I didnít know it could be...more."
"What, love?" Whitney asked him, her rapture lighting her eyes.
"Music," he said as if it should be self-evident. He spread out his arms as if to embrace the world. "Itís a whole new level, somehow. I donít know if itís the song or what, but itís changed."
Jackson glanced over at the roadies and saw them sitting as if stunned. They became more caught up in music than anyone Jackson had ever known, but then it was probably the only good thing theyíd ever had in the Netherworld. Chanís face was alight with it, as if he wanted to run out and start slaying dragons.
Mel, too, had been caught up in the music. Sometimes heíd absolutely shiver with rapture when Eddie sang. But this time, although that reaction was there, another one hovered behind it. Jackson didnít understand because it was almost...unhappy. Weird.
"Did we get that on tape?" Whitney asked. They usually left a tape recorder running for their practice sessions to listen to afterward so they could pick it apart, find faults, remember things that worked and discard what didnít. She ran to check, then nodded. "Eddie love, I have never heard you sound better. Put you before an audience and youíll blow their minds."
"I think I just blew mine," he murmured, and then added softly in an undertone something that sounded like "Knight of Musicís Court."
"What was that, míman?" Jackson asked.
"The title. Not the song, that has to be Quest. But the album."
"Donít be a piker. King of musicís court," Whitney insisted. She flung her arms around him, hugged him hard, and let go.
"Knight," Eddie said. "It feels right. All that ancient chivalry stuff. Not just like knighting rock stars over in England. Itís as if thereís a purpose to this, somehow. I donít understand it, but itís like when you have to give your best, no matter what, because everything relies on it. Iím probably not making sense, but then maybe you donít when you have a revelation."
Oddly enough, that made Jackson uneasy. "What kind of revelation, Ed?" He glanced over at Mel, who nodded faintly, and swallowed hard.
"I donít know yet. Iím going to let the music tell me. Letís run through it again." Without waiting for an answer, he played the intro. This time, the flute and drums worked in perfect sync with the guitar and vocals. Eddie picked out the melody line with flying fingers and never missed a note.
And even though it felt good, and the song was incredible, Jacksonís stomach was tight. He loved it. He would be happy to play it over and over.
But a voice, faint but insistent, shouted in the back of his mind.
This is wrong.
Mel sat like a statue, his huge hands curled into fists, and he watched Eddie as if he had never quite seen him before.
This is definitely wrong.
When he looked again, Mel was murmuring a few quick words to Chan. Then without an explanation, he slipped quietly from the room.
** *** **
"The third pentacle of the sun amulet," Ray read aloud from one of his books. "It can be used to acquire riches and fame."
Peter lifted his eyes from the page in front of him, squinted at Ray, then glanced around the lab as if to share his skepticism with Egon and Winston. "That sounds like a great deal. So how come everybody isnít buying them, Ray? The world would be full of rich and famous people." One skeptical eyebrow lifted. "My dad would be making a fortune selling them door to door."
Ray grinned and spread his hands to disavow himself from the claim. "Probably because most of what you can buy these days is a fake. Cheap junk to make a buck. Your dad would be selling them door to door and raking in major bucks if they worked."
"Yeah, if he was selling real ones and not some tacky rip-offs," Peter said. It was exactly what Peterís father would do, Egon knew. Peter could be extremely cynical about his father, even if he didnít like the rest of the team to be.
Ray flipped a hasty page in his book as if he feared someone would agree with Peter about his father, which would not be good. None of the guys would except in a crisis, but Ray was good-hearted and would rush to forestall a reminder of Charlie Venkmanís con man nature. "A lot of stuff like this has a few grains of truth in it, but a lot more lies. That most of it is a hoax doesnít mean there arenít the odd ones that really do work. Money and fame are things you have to work for. They donít just happen."
"Yeah, like us. Lugging a forty-pound proton pack around the five boroughs, getting slimed, is hard work," Peter muttered. "You think this pentacle whatsis Rayís talking about would set off our meters, Egon?"
"No," said Egon without turning his full attention from his monitor. It was frustrating, but he couldnít tell if he were making progress or not. The readings almost made sense, but not quite, and they matched none he had seen before. If one got into the realm of talismans and amulets, there was a lot of fraud and trickery going on. Some of them might work because the person who had one was naive enough to believe it did. African witch doctors gained much of their power from the beliefs of the people. There were modern-world parallels, too. A hypochondriac patient might believe a placebo would work if he thought the doctor who gave it to him knew his stuff. Hundreds of people believed quack diets would make them not only thinner but beautiful in the bargain. All it took for such things to work was gullibility.
Yet there were some things that did work without the sucker factor, items that had been imbued with power by an entity or even a sorcerer, for although sorcerers were thin on the ground in Twentieth Century America, there were a few around. Ray even knew one or two right here in Manhattan. Egon did not appreciate the power of such spells or workings because he could not quantify and define them through his science, and he could not duplicate them. No true scientist would accept anything that worked without explanation and could not be replicated. One might as well claim ectoplasm could be used to create cold fusion.
Egon faced the others. "A fraud would not set off our meters, Peter, and I do not think the talisman Charlotte referred to would set them off either, per se, at least not to the extent we witnessed this morning. If it is in fact a talisman, what it would do is work in conjunction with its user. In other words, we would be unable to track it at all, unless the user was working with it, activating it. Simply wearing it would likely not emit readings we could detect, but what we picked up last time would be the result of a workingóa spell or magic." He frowned at the very thought. "There would be residuals, as we have seen, but from the working rather than the artifact itself, and they would fade very quickly. I think that is what we have, the use of an object of power."
"Heck of a lot of power," Winston muttered. "So in other words, somebody out there is playing with power, and he probably doesnít have a clue how to control it, unless itís someone who imagines heís a wizard and is trying his wings. We might not get readings but there could be some poor guy out there whoís been turned into a toad, or it could be something worse."
"Worse than being a toad?" Peter echoed. "I donít know. There arenít a lot of princesses out there these days to kiss you and turn you back. Too bad." From the wistful look in his eyes, he was imagining being kissed by a princess. A beautiful one, naturally.
"It wouldnít have to be that, of course," Egon replied. "But perhaps manipulating something for personal gain. Maybe even the Stock Market."
"Or figuring out the winner of the next Yankees game," Peter offered. He turned a page in the book he was studying with no trace of enthusiasm. "Okay, bottom line here. This is all just theories and speculation, right? We donít know if it has anything to do with talismans, not for sure. Nobodyís paying us, and the alarm only went off that one time. Maybe nothing will ever happen again and weíll have blown a perfect April day."
"Gee, Peter, this is exciting," Ray objected with a gesture at all the books. "Iíve found some really neat stuff, even if it doesnít tell us what made the alarms go off. Donít you think itís nifty to learn all these things?"
"Yeah, Ray, nifty," Peter said without a shred of enthusiasm. "I love aggravating my hay fever from reading these musty books, and going cross-eyed because the print was faded before Washington crossed the Delawareóand standing up in a boat, too. Geez. Youíd think the Father of our Country would have had better sense than that. Good thing he didnít drown."
Winston snorted with laughter. "Come on, Pete, if something major is coming down, we have to figure it out. If anybody got hurt, think how youíd feel."
"Okay, okay," Peter agreed. He pushed aside the book he had been skimmingóEgon had to admit the musty odor that arose from it was less than pleasant. Perhaps he could work out a chemical treatment to remove the smell. "So even if all this is true and somebodyís got a nasty talisman that lets them manipulate the known universe, how the heck can we find the guy if the residuals donít last long enough for us to get there?"
As if in answer to his question, every alarm in the firehall went off, just like before.
"I had to ask," Peter murmured, his words nearly drowned out in the clangor of alarms.
Egon pushed several buttons on his meters to record the newest surge, even as Ray jumped up to turn down the volume of the alarms before the team could be deafened. This time, the warning devices ran longer. The first time had been no more than four or five minutes. The guys put on their packs and prepared to rush to the site, once they had a directional fix. This time, while they measured and triangulated, it was closer to fifteen.
"And itís moved," Egon announced when the reduced sound wailed down to a close. "Closer to here than it was before. Somewhere in the mid-40s, perhaps."
"Hey, maybe itís the Library," Ray cried excitedly. "Wouldnít that be neat, the place we met our first ghost?"
"And ran like bunnies," Peter said under his breath as they trooped down the spiral stairs. "Hey, Winston, think weíll have to do that this time?"
"I wasnít there then, bro, but this time weíve got throwers."
"We canít neutronize a person," Ray called over his shoulder as he led the way across the second floor. "And thereís another thing. If itís a magical talisman or amulet thatís causing all this, the owner isnít going to want to part with it, and heíll probably go ballistic if we tell him we need to destroy it."
The alarm resumed, and the four of them stared at each other. This time, whatever was happening continued. Egon frowned. "We must hurry. Perhaps the residuals will linger and grant us time to reach the site, since we donít have as far to go."
"It might not even be residuals if this keeps up," Winston muttered.
"I donít get it, Ray," Peter objected. "If your lady friend is right and this is about creation, how is that terrible? Nothing was hurt last time. Maybe itís helping someone create a painting or something like that, and whatís the harm?"
"We have too little information to speculate." Egon brought up the rear, meter in hand, and trailed the other three down to the first floor, where Janine sat at her desk, proton pack strapped to her back, her thrower drawn and ready. From the look on her face, she half expected something nasty to break down the door in the next five seconds and was making certain she was ready for it.
"I suppose itís the same thing as last time," she said and snapped her gum. It took a great deal to intimidate Janine. Sheíd been the one to take out Proteus, after all. Egon realized she hoped to accompany them on this bust. He would prefer for her to stay safely in the firehall, but if he phrased it like that, she would go ballistic.
"Yeah, but itís closer now," Peter said. "Just think, Janine honey, itís working its way toward the firehouse. First it was up by Central Park, and now itís in the mid-40s according to Egon. Next itíll be in Tribeca, and then itíll arrive, ready to break open the containment unit."
"Egon, can I blast him?" Unimpressed, Janine waved her thrower in Peterís general direction.
Since it was not powered up, Egon made no attempt to remonstrate with her. "Business before pleasure, Janine. Weíre going to see if we can get closer this time before the residuals fade. Then weó"
The phone rang.
All four Ghostbusters looked at it. "Maybe itís about whatever happened," Winston said, and they grabbed for the receiver.
"Oh, no, you donít," Janine snapped and snatched it away from them. "Ghostbusters, whaddya want?" she barked into the phone.
"Sometime," Peter said out of the corner of his mouth, "we have got to teach this lady phone etiquette."
Egon held up his hand for silence, watching Janine. "Oh," she said. "Hi. We havenít heard from you in a while. What..." Her voice trailed off. "What do you mean, wrong?" she asked warily, and her gaze drifted in Egonís direction, alarm in her eyes. "Oh, okay. You can tell him. Egon, itís for you. Itís Mel."
"Mel?" Egon echoed. "Melchazat, you mean?"
"What other Mels do know? Yeah, the one that turns blue. Take it. He says somethingís wrong with Eddie." She thrust the phone into Egonís hand.
Egon stiffened. He was very fond of his cousin Eddie. Was it remotely possible this crisis revolved around him? Eddie had proven to be a magnet for the paranormal, even more so than Egon himself. From the time he had loosed a spirit that had been trapped for centuries in a cursed statue, he had managed to turn himself into a beacon for the weird and uncanny. Not only did he have his own personal demon roadie, he lived in a hauntedówell, formerly hauntedóhouse, and his contact with a rock band of psychic vampires had nearly drawn a Sumerian demon into the world. It made a peculiar kind of sense that the unexplained disturbances might have something to do with him. Eddie must have just returned from his European tour. He hadnít called Egon yet, but there was always a lot for him to do at the end of a tour, and Egon had not yet expected to hear from him.
"Mel," said Egon into the phone. "Egon here. Tell me whatís wrong?"
"Donít know for sure," Mel replied. He always sounded louder on the phone than most people as if he believed he had to nearly shout in order for people whom he knew to be some distance away to hear him. "Chan and I set up the equipment for Eddie and the others so they could work on songs for the special theyíre doing. When the three of them came in, I could feel something different about Eddie."
"Different? How?" Melís demon senses might detect an energy the meters werenít designed to read. Egon had never fully understood the scope of demon sense perception, although Mel had happily allowed himself to be tested on occasion. Commonly, Mel saw peopleís auras, and he could sense evil intent in them when it existed. Eddie wasnít likely to mean anyone ill, however. He was a good-hearted man who cared about his friends and his fans, and always went the extra step for people who mattered to him. His employees were far more friend than workers. Family. Just like the Ghostbusters.
"Aura different," Mel admitted. He drew a vast breath, although demons didnít generally need to breathe. In his human form, he did, of course. He would look quite peculiar if he did not appear to breathe, and people were certain to notice. "Not so golden," he added. "Darker colors in the middle, likeólike old scabs," he concluded.
Not an elegant simile, but the image in Egonís mind was vivid. That sounded serious. "What else?" he asked, ignoring the way Ray hovered in the middle of his field of vision saying, "What? What?" He gestured Ray to wait.
"The band sang Eddieís new song, Quest." He paused, and Egon bit his bottom lip to keep from interrupting Melís flow of thought. Better to let him tell it in his own way. "Beautiful," Mel said. "Best I ever heard. Never heard Eddie sing better. It was like..." He hesitated, unable to think of a comparison, and Egon had just opened his mouth to prompt him when Mel continued. "Like ancient saints," he said surprisingly. "Exalted. I think thatís the word. Read a book about saints, and there was something about somebody being...sort of like he was too good for the world, and lifted up beyond normal life." Egon could almost hear the quotes in his voice. "Like something inside him wasówas changing him. Thatís what it said. What if this is like that? Donít want him to change, not even for beautiful songs. Heís Eddie. Perfect the way he is. Help him, Egon."
"We will help him, of course. Tell me one thing quickly, Mel. Where are you?"
"Rehearsal rooms. West 43rd Street."
Egon caught his breath. Directly in the heart of the area he had pinpointed. "Give me the address, and we will come there directly. Mel, keep Eddie there, but donít tell him youíve called me. Does he know you went to make the call?"
"No. Slipped out. If he asks, Iíll say I went to the bathroom. But hurry. Donít want anything wrong with Eddie." He hung up without bothering to say goodbye. Janine was not, perhaps, the only one who needed to learn proper telephone etiquette.
Egon stood with the phone pressed against his ear, listening to the dead sound. "Neither do I, Mel," he said softly. "Neither do I?"
** *** **
"I donít get it," Peter said when they were once again heading north. Ray was driving in his usual aggressive, I-dare-you-to-cut-me-off style beloved of cabbies, Winston beside him with Egon and Peter in the back. Egon had several different meters activated, measuring different aspects of the residuals. Before they had left the firehall, the alarms had rung out at least once. They would run for several minutes at a stretch, then silence, then resume. Having a location and a general idea of the problem, or at least the focus of the problem, Egon had instructed Janine to turn them off, or at least to dial down the sound so it would register only faintly. "Iíve set up equipment to monitor it," he said. "If it reacts whenever Eddie is singing, which seems to match the patterns we are detecting, there should be continuous alarms for a time with brief interruptions, since heís at rehearsal. If anything changes, weíll call you on the mobile."
Janine had looked wary and left her pack on, and Egon was glad. He would not willingly endanger her. It would be much safer to leave her at headquarters since the problem, if Mel should prove correct, revolved around Eddie and not around an unnamed phenomenon working its way toward the firehall.
"What donít you get, Peter?" he asked.
"What Eddie has to do with it. You think he has some kind of talisman and itís taking over his soul?"
That was not an option Egon wished to contemplate, but Melís description of Eddieís aura had sounded most ominous. Peterís words might be accurate. The readings continued, too, instead of fading like last time. Did that mean last time was the initial attempt to control him and this time it had won? At first it had rung out with periodic pauses but as the team headed north, the pauses faded into a solid blur of readings, which indicated a more complete control. They would know more when they arrived. For a change, Egon wished he could encourage Ray to drive faster.
Peter exchanged a doubtful glance with him, then with Winston, who had turned to look at him. Egon saw Rayís eyes in the rear view mirror.
"I donít think it sounds good," Ray admitted. "Iíd trust Mel to give an accurate report, and he would worry about Eddie like crazy. You know how defensive of Eddie he is."
They all did. But if Mel couldnít prevent what was happening, could the Ghostbusters? Mel didnít understand what was causing it; he only saw the resultant aura shift. Their theories were only theories, based on the phone call to the psychic, Charlotte, and on the fact that the possibility of a talisman, charm, or spell matched what Mel had described. It need not be the only match; they could be wrong. But something had happened to Eddie, and the location matched the meterís readings.
"If Eddie has been affected, either through a talisman or some form of magic, even a curse, how did it happen?" Egon asked, not because he expected the guys to have answers but because the question needed to be put forth so they could speculate on it.
"You mean, did somebody curse him?" Winston asked. "Oh, man..."
"If itís a talisman, how did he get it?" Peter asked. "Did somebody give it to himóyou know, like people send weird stuff to rock stars? Or did he find it himself? Did it come from a demon?"
"Itís not as if Eddie doesnít have a penchant for such things," Egon said thoughtfully. "He has found himself in the heart of paranormal occurrences before, and no doubt will again. But if it was given to him, was its purpose good or evil?"
"Evil," Winston said without hesitation. "If itís messing with his soul, it canít be good."
"We donít know, though." Peter was thoughtful. "It could have been given in good faith. Thereíre a lot of people out there who arenít sensitive to the paranormal. It might be something to do with music that the person thought Eddie would like. Not sure I buy that. If itís doing thisó"
"But, Peter, Charlotte said it was about creation, remember?" Ray slipped in front of a stationary bus, cutting off a panel truck and winning a string of curses from the driver. Ray merely gave the man a placatory wave. "Maybe somebody thought it would help him in his music."
"Yeah, Ray, pass along a powerful talisman just so thereíd be more rock music in the world? Thatís sure what Iíd doónot." Peter grimaced. "Somebody does it in good faith, we can probably fix it easily. Just take it away and maybe stick it in the containment unit. If somebody did it out of malice, then who knows?"
"Malice? Everybody likes Eddie," Ray objected.
"Not everybody," Winston disagreed. "There isnít anybody out there everybody likes. Some people hate rock music. Maybe thereís another musician who resents Eddieís success. Maybe thereís a crazy fan who thinks she can get Eddie for herself if he falls to this. There could be a lot of reasons. And even if he found it in a curiosity shop and thought it was neat, whoís to say it didnít speak to him, and maybe tempt him?"
They thought about that. Whatever it was, it was already affecting Eddie. When had he acquired it? If he had already used it when the band was on their European tour, they would have been out of meter range.
But no, Mel had been on the tour. He would have noticed with his demon abilities. He hadnít called till that morning. Eddie must have been back in New York at least a day. If the talismanóthe putative talismanóhad been waiting for him when he returned from his European tour, he might not have received it until then.
Speculation would not help. They needed facts. Egon frowned at the meter that gave off the clear and unusual reading. Sometimes it would ease momentarily without entirely going away, for perhaps five minutes, then it would resume. What could make it do that? Pauses between songs? Was it stronger when Eddie was singing? Making music was a form of creation after all. What alarmed Egon was that if his theory should prove correct, the gaps between full intensity still held evidence of strong psi energy.
They arrived at the rehearsal hall with none of their questions answered and went in wearing their proton packs and throwers, and Egon carried his meter. People they encountered in the entry hall took one startled look at them, then most of them left the building at once, even the ones who had been coming in. Peter grinned at the sight, even more so when an elegant-looking woman with white-gold hair and a designer outfit glanced his way and smiled before she departed.
They caught the elevator to the sixth floor, the meter gaining strength the whole way. This close to the effect, Egon could fine-tune it and detect clearer readings, but they offered no more answers, only more questions. It had to be a spell or talisman creating the readings. There was nothing ectoplasmic about it, just the bizarre energy they had observed from the first.
Since no one rode in the elevator with them, Egon could speak openly. "Guys, I donít think we should go in and demand to know whatís wrong with Eddie. Itís possible the effect will make him defensive, and he might deny a problem exists. We donít know how long itís been working on him."
"So what do we do, pretend thereís been a bust nearby and we just dropped in?" Peter asked. "How would we be expected to know he was even here?"
"I could have called his agent to find out if he was in town yet," Egon replied. "Iíll do that if need be. If he asks, that will be my answer until we are able to learn what has happened. If you can get Whitney off to the side, Raymond, ask her what sheís noticed."
"Yeah, I could pretend it was about a horror film I saw on the late show," Ray said. He and Whitney shared an interest in such films, the campier the better. Not even Peter, whose taste could not be remotely called elegant, enjoyed the same movies as Ray, but Ray found them endlessly enjoyable, and so, it seemed, did Eddieís wife.
The elevator arrived at the floor and they stepped out. This close, the meter nearly went berserk. Egon turned the sound function off completely; they didnít need to bring everyone on the floor running. As he stood there, he could only hear a distant blur of sound, various types of music, and he realized the rooms must have a decent soundproofing system, or it would be hard to concentrate over the noise of the bands in the next rooms. "This way," Egon said and turned unerringly in the direction the meter indicated.
Ray looked at the detection device. "Wow, look at that. Itís nearly ready to implode."
"I will turn it off before we enter. If we go in with an active meter, Eddie will instantly realize something is wrong."
"You think he knows thereíre readings like this?" Peter asked. "You think he even realizes anything is wrong?"
Egon pondered that. "From what Mel said, I would be inclined to suspect that might be the case. Eddie isnít devious. He wouldnít pretend, not in front of his wife and his closest friend. Unless, of course, it made him and unless he is totally under its control." He shuddered at the thought, and Peter did, too. Peter would know what it felt like to be possessed, and heíd always been the most gung ho of the team since when it came to helping people in that state.
"If he was, wouldnít Whitney and Jackson realize?" Ray asked. "Heís known Jackson since college, just like Iíve known you and Peter. If you were possessed, I might not guess it in the first few minutes, but I donít think it would take me very long to figure it out even without a meter to tell me."
"Theyíre singing in there," Peter said, and Egon realized he could hear music if he listened hard. "Whoís going to notice when theyíre singing?"
"Mel is, thank goodness." Egon switched off the meter. "They wouldnít be recording, not here, simply practicing and working out arrangements. Letís go in." He knocked once upon the door, then opened it and led the way into the room.
The band fell silent when they heard the door open. Jackson sat at his drums, his fingers curled around the drumsticks, his mouth hanging open in surprise at the sight of them. Whitney whirled to see who had come in, then her face lit with a smile. As for Eddie, he cried, "Egon!" and rushed over to give his cousin a welcoming hug. Hardly what Egon would expect of a possessed man.
Egon was not a hugging type of man; it had not been encouraged in his household when he was growing up, except by his mother, but Eddie had always been outgoing, a kindred spirit to Egonís mother. Egon hugged him back. He felt normal. No malicious energy radiated from him, nothing to indicate he was possessed, no shadows in his face to reflect the slightest problem. He pounded Egon on the back gleefully and grinned a mile wide.
"Itís great to see you. You guys look like you had a bust in the neighborhood. How did you know we were back from Europe?"
"I thought you were due back, so I called Malcolm to see if youíd returned yet. He said youíd be rehearsing here this afternoon. Iíd planned to phone you tonightóare you at the Plaza?" It was where Eddie usually stayed when he was in town for a day or two. He and Whitney had talked about getting a place in the city, but they preferred to stay at Segue whenever possible, so if they needed a night or two here and there, they generally went to the Plaza. He must have triggered the problem there this morning. It fit. Egon wished it didnít.
"Yeah, we got in last night. Weíre going up to Segue on Saturdayówe canít wait to see Cy. You should see him, Egon. Heís talking so much more now. Even on the phone when we would call."
"Heís a terrible two, Iím afraid," Whitney said with a laugh. No shadows in her eyes, either. She didnít seem to suspect what Mel had observed and what the meters had given Egon outside the rehearsal room. "But heís smart, Egon. Takes after the Spenglers, I think. Everything that happens, he wants to know why, and he gets mad if we give him a simple brush-off answer. He might not understand when we tell him, but itís like he hates to be patronized. And his energyó" She shook her head. "He can wear us out. I canít believe itís been six weeks since we saw him. Heíll have changed so much."
Jackson greeted the Ghostbusters, too, and his face gave nothing away. If something was wrong, it ought to show in his reaction; heíd suspect why the Ghostbusters had come, but he gave no sign of it. Mel and the meters couldnít be mistaken; certainly the meters couldnít. But Egon speculated whether Eddie could be affected without even realizing it, without his wife and best friend realizing it. That was a frightening thought.
Egon saw Peter studying Eddie stealthily. Usually Peter wasnít very good at being surreptitious, but that could be simply because Egon knew him so well. Eddie didnít, and he wasnít all that used to seeing Peter in psychologist mode. Peterís training and skill might be very beneficial here, as would his unfortunate experience with Wattís possession. Egon arched an eyebrow at him. Peterís shoulders lifted in an infinitesimal shrug, and he glanced at Ray, who was chatting away to Whitney about some movie with a mummy stalking a small American campus.
"So the tour went well?" Egon asked his cousin.
"Great. We donít get to see as much of the cities as we like, but weíll slip out when we can and play tourist. We did Liverpool, so we had to see The Cavern, where the Beatles got their start. Rome was incredible. We went to St. Peterís at dawn before all the crowds came, when there were no tour buses in sight." He grinned in remembrance.
"Iíve been there. Itís an incredible city. So how is the music coming? Any new songs?" If this was about creation, that was the area that might tempt Eddie, even if he knew better. Not that he would sell his soul for a great song, never that. But if the talisman could affect his ability to write a song, he might assume it was just natural inspiration and not the result of a curse or charm. Its power could suck him in before he realized what was happening, and he might only understand when it was too late and the damage done.
At once, all three of the band began babbling about the wonderful new song.
"I never heard Eddie better."
"It just came together this morning." Eddieís face lit with joy. "Iíd been struggling with it for weeks, and it wasnít quite rightógood, but not outstandingóand then this morning at the hotel, it all came together. It might even be better than Leftover Souls."
Oh, dear. That was not good, not good at all. Not that Eddie wasnít entirely capable of composing great songs. Leftover Souls had become a modern classic. Egon had once heard a cabby who spoke next to no English singing that in between his attempts to understand Egonís destination. Once on a bust, their clientís phone had rung with the first line of the chorus. Definitely on its way to becoming a standard. It wasnít that Eddie couldnít improve upon his work. He certainly could, as could anyone. But the timing made Egon uneasy, especially as the first alarm had sounded this morning from the region of the Plaza Hotel. It couldnít be coincidence, not with Melís frantic phone call to go by.
"Another mega-hit," Peter said. "Sounds cool." His face didnít reveal what he was thinking, at least to the band, who didnít know him as well as his teammates did. But Egon saw the speculation flash in his eyes. He caught Egonís gaze, just for a second, and Egon could tell he was worried.
Mel and Chan came over to greet the Ghostbusters then, and Mel looked a question at Egon and nodded at the PKE meter. Egon let his expression confirm it, and great alarm crossed the demonís face. It was a good thing Eddie wasnít looking at him because he would have seen it and known something was wrong, because in spite of several years in the world, Mel had never learned subtlety.
Would it do good to mention the problem to the band? Would Eddie become defensive and resist? Did he even understand what had happened? Egon could see no guile in his eyes. Whatever the possible talisman was, Eddie did not equate it with danger. He might not even equate it with his satisfaction with the new song. To mention it to him might evoke defensive hostility, and that wouldnít help. It might be better to study him. Yet the longer the talisman worked on Eddie, the tighter it might bind him, until the damage became irreversible.
Egon chose to approach the matter obliquely. "Eddie, when we pulled up out in front, our meters detected psi energy emanating from this building. Have there ever been any manifestations here, or any reports of ghosts youíve ever heard about?" At least it would give a chance to take readings in Eddieís presence, and since he seemed so guileless, he might not even suspect. If he objected, Egon would realize he knew what was happening and permitted it.
Eddie stared at him in surprise. "No, never. I think I would know. Iíve been around ghosts and demons and things like that often enough that I think I would. I sensed something when we had a concert at an English castle last year and mentioned it to the owner, and it turned out he was quite proud of the family ghost. Weíve rehearsed here for about five years, and thereís never been anything reported. Have you heard anything, love?" he asked Whitney.
She looked around, her eyes wide as if she thought a whole regiment of lurking ghosts would burst out of the walls in the next moment. "Not a whisper. I was visiting with one of the janitors before the tour, and we got talking about you Ghostbusters. If thereíd been any rumors or if the place had a history, he would have mentioned it then, I think. Class three?"
"No, a different kind of energy," Egon admitted. He watched Eddie as he spoke, but his cousinís face held no trace of dissembling. "You know we generally leave the meters open to detect anything possible and then narrow the focus when weíre on busts and see what weíre dealing with."
"Let me see the readings." Eddieís physicist training came into play. Only genuine interest rang in his voice as he held out his hand. "Sounds interesting. I know some of the other groups who rehearse here, although there are offices here, too, that I donít know anything about. So maybe it has never manifested on this floor. Not that Iíd know without a meter unless I saw something if it wasnít strong, and I never did."
Egon activated the meter. Here in proximity to Eddie, the readings were very powerful, but they were little more than residuals, rather than the fiercely active indicators Egon had been receiving before he had switched off. Interesting. Did that mean whatever was going on could sense the Ghostbusters and power down? Could Eddie be possessed, with the spirit lying low?
Egon kept the sound turned off, but he couldnít hide the blinking lights or the way the antennae stood straight upright. Powerful residuals, but beginning to fade already. Here in close proximity, they would last longeróin another hour they might be completely gone, unless whatever caused them reinstated itself. Yet a faint thread of reading beneath them indicated power that might only be banked.
Could it be the act of singing gave live readings? Creation, Charlotte had said. Making music might well count.
At the sight of the deviceís reaction, Eddieís eyes widened and he snatched the meter out of Egonís hand to study the readout. "Thatís weird," he said. "I never saw readings like that before. Looks like little more than residualsóitís not manifesting now, I donít think?" He lifted his brow in question, and Egon nodded to confirm it. The physicist in Eddie went to work. "I donít think it can be a ghost, not with these results. I canít see any PK valences at all. Could it be... Hmmm, I donít know. Some kind of...magic? I know that sounds like Iím gullible, but Iíve seen enough weirdness to know we donít have all the answers."
No, not a shred of guile. Whatever had affected Eddie must have left him in total ignorance of the power that impacted him. He moved around the room, pointing the meter here and there, and the proximity to him kept the readings the same. Curious, for he was a scientist in his own right although he did not practice that any longer, he went out into the hall and moved as far as the elevator, the rest of them trailing behind him like a gaggle of tourists following a guide. "Itís still fading, but it looks like itís all through the building," he said. "This is strange. Egon, could it be the building itself? Iím not getting any fluctuation at all, no matter where I go. What would make a building be like this? Energy imbued in the very structure? And if so, what would make it manifest and then stop?"
Egon hesitated to take the meter back and move around because pointing it away from Eddie or moving away from him might well reveal the result, and he was, as yet, reluctant to do so. Until he had a clearer idea of how Eddie might react, he did not wish to press until he could gain all possible information. Yet here stood Eddie, safe in the company of his wife, his best friend, and Mel, who would protect Eddie with his life, and who had done as much before. Safe? Not with this much power radiating from him.
"There have been possessed buildings," Egon replied, "but their readings always had clear-cut PK valences, while this doesnít. What weíre seeing here is an unusual reading that matches the result of a spell of power or a talisman of equal strength."
"Spell? You mean like a wizard casting a spell? Thatís crazy..." Eddieís voice trailed off. "Okay, maybe it isnít. I suggested magic, didnít I? After all, you guys bust weird goopers every day of the week, and one of our roadies is a demon. I guess I just never thought about that kind of weirdness being real. Is this anything like the entity I released from the statue?"
"That was a definite entity, although it had been confined through power. Such power does exist. Weíve seen it in items such as The Nameless Book, and other artifacts. They have the power to do great harm."
Eddie was not stupid; the Spenglers generally came from the deepest end of the gene pool. "You mentioned a talisman," he said. "Whatís that specifically? I thought it was a good-luck charm."
"It can be," Ray said. "But it can be any artifact imbued in some way with power, for good or for evil."
"Like an amulet?" Whitney offered. "I read once about an Inuit totem that had power like that." She grinned. The fact that whatever gave the readings wasnít manifesting at the moment had relaxed her enough to tempt her into speculation, although she did glance over her shoulder just in case. "Of course, it was in a comic book, so I guess I canít count that as genuine."
Ray beamed at her. "I donít know, Whit. A lot of comic books are well researched on that kind of thing. The writers look up weird stuff and try to get it rightówell, at least in the best comics, they do."
"This commercial on the educational value of comic books has been brought to you by Stanzo the Magnificent," Peter murmured, and winked at Winston, who chuckled. Yet neither man had relaxed. Egon could see the tension in Winstonís shoulders, and the way he braced on his feet, ready to move in any direction at a momentís hesitation. His soldier instincts remained fully in place. As for Peter, he stood ready with that hyper-alertness that always came to him on a bust and that usually couldnít be penetratedóexcept perhaps by the sight of a beautiful woman.
Ray stuck out his tongue at Peter, then turned back to Whitney. "But amulets and talismans arenít precisely synonymous. Anyway, we think thereís a talisman involved, or a charm, or even a curse, but we donít know where it came from."
"If itís all through the building, does that mean one of the tenants here is a wizard?" Jackson asked. "Like maybe he worked a spell and thatís what you picked up, and now the spellís done, itís fading again?" He looked very much as if he wanted to scoop up his drum set and head for the hills at high speed. MacKensie was involved in the paranormal only peripherally as Eddieís best friend. That friendship had once stranded him in the Netherworld, which meant he knew a little about how such matters workedóand clearly was not happy at a new involvement. Egon knew him well enough to realize he would stand at Eddieís side in spite of that, no matter the risk. They had been friends a long time.
"Not necessarily, although that is a good theory which would fit the information you possess." Egon realized he would need to speak. Eddie appeared innocent, which meant he was being controlled or used without his awareness. Surely he would never have chosen to accept such a spellís domination over him voluntarilyóalthough Egon realized his love of music would create in him a vulnerability. There were some temptations that pushed a personís resistance to the limits.
The Ghostbusters could not help him unless they removed the talisman. If it were a spell cast on Eddie, they would need to take him back to headquarters and see if they could find something to release him, or contact one of Rayís occult friends for help. If it were contained in an artifact, then they could remove it and perhaps lock it into the containment unit, once they had made certain an unbreakable bond had not been formed. If it had, removing the talisman would cause a reaction like a drug addict going cold-turkey, which was never pretty.
"Mel?" Eddie turned to his demon friend. "Can you sense whatever it is Egonís detecting? What about you, Chan?"
The black former demon shook his head. "No, I canít really sense it. Thereís a kind of feeling, like a faint itch in the air, but I canít see anything past that. I felt it more before, but thought it was just because I was excited about the new song. Now itís fading. I donít think I could feel it at all if I hadnít been a demon before."
"I can," Mel said when Chan spread his hands apologetically. "Something bad."
Eddie whirled to study him. "Why didnít you say anything?" he cried. "Whatís wrong? Itís not another demon coming, is it?"
"No demon," Mel said hastily. He hung his head, ashamed that he had not spoken to Eddie directly, no doubt. "Called Egon," he admitted.
Eddieís face went rigid. "You knew there was something wrong here and you didnít warn us to get out? You put Whitney in jeopardy? What the hell is wrong with you? Damn it, Mel, I trusted you to watch out for things like that." He pulled Whitney close to him and encircled his shoulders with his arm. "Weíre leaving right now."
"No," said Egon, even as Mel lunged. He must have realized Eddie felt he had been betrayed, but Egon knew Mel had done the right thing, the only possible thing. He had waited in close proximity to the threat, prepared to assist in whatever manner he could, knowing Eddie would consider Mel a traitor for it. Now he grabbed Whitney away from Eddie, lifting her slender form right up off the ground. Eddie gave a savage shout of protest and lunged for her, and Whitney shrieked, not out of fear but in surprise. Chan jumped over and stood beside Mel, one hand thrust out to fend off Jackson. Brokenhearted, Mel kept Whitney away from Eddie, his head bowed, his broad shoulders hunched as if to ward off his masterís rage.
Ray, Peter, and Winston whipped out their throwers and powered up in almost perfect unison. Egon frowned at them. They could hardly use the weapons against Eddie, yet Mel had acted to protect Whitney. If Eddie were possessed, if Melís vision of Eddieís aura were true, then they might be able to draw off the energy. Such a strange energy; would the usual techniques work? Egon gestured at his teammates not to fire, but he did not urge them to ship their throwers.
"Let her go!" Eddie cried. He gave a sidelong glance at the three, then gasped as he realized the particle throwers were aimed at him instead of at Mel. "What are they doing? Egon, stop him. Make him let Whitney go. Is this some weird demon pon farr?"
"Heís not a Vulcan, Eddie," Ray said very sadly.
"I canít." Egon moved in front of his cousin and gripped his shoulders, conscious of the guys lining up at his back. He was aware of Whitney murmuring protests and writhing futilely in Melís protective grip, but even in human form, the demon was a good few inches taller than Eddie or Egon, and much stronger. She hadnít a hope of breaking free.
"What are you doing, Mel? Let me go."
"Canít," muttered Mel. "Sorry. Sorry. Sorry." He sounded close to tears, but he held on, steadfastly doing what he believed to be right.
"What the hell do you all think youíre doing?" Eddie cried. He yanked free of Egonís grip with a sudden and surprising display of strength and darted sideways to circle around the Ghostbusters.
"Yeah, this is nuts," objected Jackson. "Come on, guys, whatís going on here? Has everybody gone crazy? Weíre all on the same side. Winston, put your thrower down, man. Youíre pointing it at Eddie."
"Eddie, listen." Egon caught his cousinís arm with one hand and raised the meter with the other. "These residuals are strongest right here and right now." He nodded to the meter that aimed directly at Eddie. "The readings didnít change when you were holding it because it was detecting you."
"Me? So youíre saying Iím dead? That I turned into a demon? Give me a break, Egon. I feel perfectly normal, and I havenít been anywhere around anything that could change me. Itís only residuals, anyway. Like maybe something flew past and slimed me. This is some weird effect. Itís not me."
"Is," Mel said. He looked like he might cry. "Eddie, your aura is bad. Changed. Trouble."
"No!" Eddie stared at him, and then, abruptly, the meter gave such a surge of power that Egon gasped. He could feel the device heat up. Before it could implode, he switched it off and flung it away from him. It landed in a corner of the room and put out an ominous puff of smoke.
"Eddie, no," Whitney gasped as if she could see a change in him none of the rest of them could. Egon gazed into his cousinís eyes and gasped, because for a second they flickered red before they returned to their normal blue. An expression of pure malice twisted Eddieís mouth, and without effort he wrenched free of Egon.
"Back off," he snarled, and Egon shuddered because in spite of the venom in his voice, he was almost singing, and the sound was painfully beautiful, the way Eddieís voice could be at its very best. "Leave me alone." This time he did sing.
Mel cried out as if he were in terrible pain and dropped Whitney so he could cover his ears. Instead of running to Eddie, Whitney collapsed to the floor and sat leaning against Melís leg, her arms wrapped around his knee, her face ghost white, her eyes huge and shadowed. She was shaking. Even Chan, who had abandoned ninety-nine percent of his demon power when he gave up that state, looked shaken. He grabbed Jackson and drew him back from Eddie.
"No, man. Leave him to the Ghostbusters."
"Eddie," Egon said in as calm and rational a voice as he could produce, although he heard an involuntary tremor run through it. "Give me the talisman now."
"Go to hell!"
That was probably the first time anyone had ever sung such a threat, and sung it with such incredible beauty. If only hatred, defensiveness, and malice hadnít been woven through each incredible note.
"Talisman?" Whitneyís voice was faint. "He was wearing some kind of pendant this morning. I had never seen it before. I...forgot about it. Could itócould it be that?"
"How dare you speak of it?" Eddie glared at Whitney with pure hatred in his face. "Why have you turned against me?"
"I havenít. I never would. Please, Eddie..." She put out her hand to him, but he ignored it, his eyes glittering with cold rage, his mouth drawn in a tight line. Even though he had not altered physically, he seemed bigger, as if the shadows that had gathered around him had added to his bulk.
"Give it to me, Eddie," Egon urged. "You must. This is wrong. If you think about it honestly, you will know that. You cannot let it control you." He took a step closer. "Give it to me."
"It will never be yours, mortals," Eddie sang. He waved his hand at Egon, who found himself abruptly sitting on the floor with no understanding of the invisible force that had flung him there.
"Egon!" the guys cried, then let out yells that made Egon wince at the pain that rang through their voices. All three of them dropped their throwers, almost flinging them away as far as they could go, and they hung bouncing at the ends of their power cords.
"Hot!" Winston gasped, looking at his hands for evidence of blisters.
Egon collected himself and lunged up at Eddie. If he could grab the talisman...
He collided so abruptly with Eddieís fist that there was no time to duck away from it. It hit the point of his jaw with enough force to pitch him backward, a myriad of stars sparkling before his eyes. As darkness took away everything but the glittering lights that swam through the void, he heard Whitney screaming, Mel roaring, and the guys calling his name, and felt someone grab him as he collapsed onto the floor. The slamming of a door with enough force to shake the floor where he lay with Peterís arm around his shoulder drove away the stars and left him stranded in the void of night.
** *** **
"My fault," Mel whispered as he sat, one arm around Whitneyís shoulders, gazing up at Winston. Peter and Ray fussed over Egon, who had just begun to rouse and who lay, groggy and only partly responsive, propped up in the circle of Peterís arm, while Ray knelt before him. Jackson hovered ineffectually as close as he could get to Whitney, while Chan guarded the door. A better collection of shell-shocked people Winston hadnít seen since Nam.
Eddie had taken off, shoving Jackson into Winston and Ray and sending them tumbling down beside Peter and Egon. Since the readings were still active and very strong, Ray had said they could track him, but they better get what information they could first. Whitney was so shaken that they couldnít leave her, and Egon was half out of it and had blacked out for a minute or two. The guys couldnít leave him, either. What a mess. Winston jumped up and hauled Jackson to his feet, while Ray scuttled sideways over to Egon. Mel stopped Whitney from running after her husband and made her sit down. A quick survey of the room convinced Winston they badly needed to regroup. More than that, they needed a plan. They would have to find Eddie, but when they found him, they had to have at least a vague idea what to do. A simple face-to-face confrontation hadnít worked, not with the power the talisman had given Eddie when it had felt threatened. The problems they faced would take Egon alert and thinking in order to come up with answers.
At Melís guilty words, Whitney said, "Itís not your fault," with a terrible weariness. Winston could hear the horror running beneath the surface of her words, suggesting her universe had turned itself inside out and she didnít know what she was going to do with its unfamiliar new face. She seemed shrunken, as if a vital part of her had trickled away like air from a leaky balloon. "Heís possessed, isnít he? I didnít know. I... I should have known. How could I not have known?"
"You couldnít," Mel consoled her. He tightened his arm for a second in a squeeze of reassurance, and she bowed her head against his shoulder. "No one could; only a demon couldóor the meters."
"Egon, come on, buddy, open those baby blues," Peter pleaded. He sounded as freaked as Whitney. "Heís gonna be okay, Ray," he added. Winston looked down at them, wanting more than anything to be down there encouraging Egon, too, even though he was pretty sure Egon wasnít badly hurt, and Peter and Ray had to know it. Maybe Eddieís sudden burst of power had made the blow worse, and they wouldnít know until Egon was fully conscious. Winston stood his ground with his thrower. If Eddie came back, maybe heíd have to blast him at the lightest setting, and stun him long enough to take the pendant Whitney had mentioned away from him.
Would simply removing it be enough to break the link? Winston didnít have any clue. What if it was so tied to him that removing it would kill him?
"I know, Peter." The same doubt, the same fierce need to believe what he said drove Ray. He looked up at Winston. "Should we call 911?"
"And tell them what?" Peter asked tightly. "That Eddie Plummer punched somebody out? The tabloids would be all over it like cops on a doughnut shop." He tightened his grip on Egonís shoulder. "Iíve been decked like that. Itíll hurt like hell, but heíll be okay. I know he will." He tightened his grip around Egonís shoulders.
"I am awake, Peter," Egon muttered, and the way he held his mouth when he spoke made Winston give a sympathetic wince. "I can speak for myself."
"I know you can, buddy, but youíll feel better when you get some ice on that. Youíre lucky it isnít broken. Eddieís fist will feel a heck of a lot worse than your chin."
"Unless the talisman heals him," Egon replied. He sounded like he was trying to talk through clenched teeth. Heíd have a real beauty of a chin; there was no talisman to heal him. But a jaw was harder than a hand. Heíd be sore and achy, but Eddie was no Mohammed Ali. He couldnít have hit hard enough to do really serious damage, not without breaking his hand. Winston doubted Eddie had ever punched anyone out before.
Whitney slipped out of Melís embrace and went over to a small refrigerator in the corner, returning with a can of diet Coke. "Here, Egon. Hold it to your chin. We donít have any ice. Iím sorry." Winston could tell the apology was not over the lack of ice. Ray accepted it from her with an encouraging little smile and applied the cold can to Egonís bruise.
Whitney knelt in front of him and took his hand. "Iím so sorry, Egon."
"There was nothing you could have done," Ray said quickly to spare Egon the painful need of replying. "You couldnít have imagined his pendant was anything dangerous."
"He said he got it from a fan, but that was all, as if it wasnít important. I got the feeling he liked it, but nothing like this. I donít think he realized it was dangerous. I really donít. It must have just sucked him in. Heíd never have acted like that otherwise. You know he wouldnít. You know, donít you, Egon?"
"I know, Whitney," Egon reassured his cousinís wife, and squeezed her hands. "I know. That wasnít Eddie. It was the talisman controlling him. Weíll find him and weíll fix it."
Doubt filled her face. "Egon, Mel said his aura was different. Itís changed him. Maybe..." She sucked in her breath, and tears spilled down her face. She didnít sob or wail, but only looked directly at Egon as she wept. "What if you canít?"
"He can," Jackson protested. "He has to. Weíve got to get Eddie back." There he stood, feet a little apart, hands curled into fists, scarcely aware of Chan coming up beside him and circling his shoulders with a protective arm. "We should go after him now before it gets any worse. Can you use the meters to track him?"
"We can," Winston reassured him. "But we need to figure out what to do when we find him. We just came to scope it out and look at what happened. It pushed him over the edge. We need to know more before we face him again."
Mel approached the group on the floor and knelt beside Whitney. "Sorry," he said again. "Thought I had to call the Ghostbusters. Didnít know how to fix it. Itís better to wait." He bent his head as if hoping for forgiveness.
Whitney looked up at him, then put out her hand and patted his cheek. "I know, Mel. I realize that now. Eddie will, too, when heís himself again. Heíll be glad of what you did. Heíll know you were just trying to protect him."
"Hates me," Mel said miserably. "Thinks I betrayed him." He hadnít reverted to his demon shape, but a faint blueness had crept over his skin to give him a weird, livid appearance. "Wonít trust me anymore."
"Yes, he will," Egon said. "What we saw just now was not Eddie. It was the talisman, affecting him. In essence possessing him."
Peter jerked abruptly, and his mouth twisted. "Was I like that when Watt was in me?" he asked.
"No, Peter." Egon sat up a little straighter, and took the Coke can from Ray so he could angle it better. "That was different. This isnít so much a conscious entity using Eddieís body as it is a force twisting Eddieís thoughts and beliefs. Heís still Eddie, but Eddie out of control."
"Like he sold his soul," Jackson said, and then looked like he would have given anything to call back the words because Whitney and Mel both gasped, and Egon flinched.
Yet it was Egon who answered. "No," he said fiercely. "That implies a conscious choice." He rotated the can slightly to put a colder side against his chin and let Peterís arm support him automatically. Peter didnít let go for a minute.
Even though Winston could tell Peter was reliving the Watt nightmare and Egon was starting to blame himself for failing to stop Eddie, he could also tell that didnít prevent Egon from thinking or Peter from standing by unflinchingly, putting Egonís distress before his own. Or Ray from being right there with them, willing to do whatever he must. Winston had the greatest team in the world.
"But the way he was acting..." Whitney was still weeping, but now she looked at Egon as if she believed he could offer an answer. "The way he treated everybody..." She bowed her head and added so faintly that Winston could barely hear her. "The way he treated me..."
"To sell oneís soul requires a bargain, one that both sides accept," Egon explained. He was talking more easily now. "Eddie would never have chosen it willingly, not even for music. This was imposed. If the pendant you mentioned was a gift, Eddie would have accepted it without understanding what might happen. I donít know if wearing it was enough to begin its work..."
"No," said Mel suddenly. "Singing."
"Singing?" Whitneyís mouth fell open. "He was singing in the hotel. He...he finished the song. It was so beautiful. I think it was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. When I came out of the shower, he was standing there singing, and it hit me that I had never seen him look so wonderful, or sound so magnificent. It was like he was almost...glowing. Oh, not really. But glowing inside. Music can always make him look rapturous, but this was even more. I thought he was happy because the song had come together, but... Oh, Egon, maybe I should have known."
He handed the can to Ray and gripped both her hands in his own. "How could you have known? To have seen Eddie singing, happy because the song had come together, would have been nothing to set off alarms. You couldnít have known. But music means so much to Eddie that at such a moment, heíd be vulnerable."
"To being possessed?" Jackson asked reluctantly, the words emerging as if they were dragged forth.
"To being...controlled." Egon shook his head. "Thatís not precisely the right word, either. Perhaps open to the power of the talisman." He sat up a little straighter, the need to speculate driving away any lingering dizziness. Peter assisted him to his feet, and he and Ray steered him to a chair. "I need another meter, Ray," Egon said with a gesture at the one that had burned out.
"Iíll run down to Ecto and get one."
"No, weíll all go to Ecto. We need to track him."
"We need a plan," Winston reminded them. "Come on, guys, if we track him down right now, weíll have this to go through all over again unless we blast him, and who knows how that would affect him when heís like this?"
Egon stood up and handed the soda can to Whitney, who accepted it and stood blankly holding it as if she had forgotten what it was. "Iím going with you," she said. "I have to. What am I to tell Cy?"
"Whitney, you canít," Ray told her. He put his arm around her shoulders and held her gently. At that moment, Winston was sure he wasnít thinking of the attraction he had always felt for her, only of her need. Sympathetic guy, Ray. "We donít know what the talisman will make Eddie do. If we have to protect you from its control, we wonít be able to do what we need to do. We might need to draw the energy off him. We might even need to blast him with the throwersónot fatally," he added before she could cry out in protest. "Just enough to stun him. It can be done, but weíll need really precise settings. If weíre guarding you, we wonít be able to give our whole attention to it."
"Ray is correct, Whitney." Egon came back to her, holding the fried meter between his thumb and forefinger as if he still half expected it to blow up. "Listen to me. I want you, Jackson, and Chan to go to the firehall. Youíll be safe there. Itís the last place Eddie would come." He snapped his fingers suddenly. "Wait. Whitney, you said Eddie got the medallion from a fan. Do you know when he got it?"
"He had some packages Malcolm had given him yesterday afternoon, and some mail, and I know heíd been going through it while I was in the shower this morning," she replied. "Why? Do you think it was that?"
"We had no readings before this morning, at what must have been the time he was working on the song," Egon replied. He was steady on his feet, and his mind was working at its usual top speed. "There may have been a letter with it. Failing that, we might be able to take readings of the package."
"Yeah, if the maid hasnít done the room yet," Peter threw in.
"I can call over and ask them not to, in case they havenít," Whitney said. "Iím not sure Eddie put anything in the trash. I think the mail was still on the table, but I wasnít paying much attention to anything but Eddie. The maid probably wouldnít throw that away."
Egon adjusted his glasses. "All right. "Weíll go to the Plaza first and take readings." He looked sadly at the ruined meter. "If there was a return address, we can start there. If not, it still may be possible to learn something. Do you think he would return there?"
"No," said Mel and Jackson in perfect chorus. Jackson gave a faint, wry grin at Mel and plunged on. "He wouldnít go anywhere we might expect him to go. Heís not thinking. I can tell. Heís reacting, and heís defensive as hell, but I never saw him like that, full of ego and convinced everybodyís worthless but him. Eddie was never like that."
"Never," Whitney and Mel chorused.
"No, heís never been that way." Egon was hurting, too. Winston could see it in the way he stood, his shoulders slightly hunched, and the grim tightness of his words. "I want you all to think. You know him well. Where would he go if he wanted to be alone? Thereís a lot of ground to cover, but the readings we got initially were strong enough for us to detect them at the firehall when he was at the Plaza. We should be able to read him."
"But the residuals will fade, Egon," Ray objected.
"No, Ray. Not now." Egon looked around at each of them in turn. "Before, the result manifested only when Eddie was singing, with a faint overlay between songs. He was tying in to the power of the talisman. But when he thought he might lose it, he grew so possessive of it that its power overcame him. The meter overloaded because it stopped picking up the overlay and detected the power at a whole new level. It wonít fade nowónot unless he realizes we can track him and the power allows him to mute it."
"But that would imply total surrender to the power," Ray said reluctantly. "Gosh, Egon, heíd have to blend with it fully, give in to it completely. And if he did..." His eyes grew huge and his voice trailed off. With a wary glance at Whitney, he picked up her horror. "We might not be able to bring him back," he whispered.
"I donít believe it," Egon said fiercely. "I will not." That was pure emotion speaking, not logic and reason, but no one protested his claim. There he stood, his glasses slightly askew, his chin beginning to darken, his hair in disarray from leaning against Peterís shoulder, but he didnít look like a dazed science geek; instead he resembled a knight prepared to ride into battle, only missing armor and a lance.
Whitney stared at him, her eyes wide. "Oh, Egon, you look like Eddie." She gulped and shook her head. "That sounds stupid. We all know you do. But you look like him when heís so caught up in something that he refuses to see obstacles. You look like the song he wrote today, Quest. The seeking, the need for wonder, the perilóI think it must be in the heart of all of us." She caught her breath. "Eddie wrote it. He had all the words and the melody before he ever got the pendant. Oh, Egon, you prove itís true." She hugged him, then drew back so abruptly that Winston suspected it had hit her hard that the man she was hugging, although he looked very much like her husband, was not.
Egon gripped her shoulders. "Whitney, listen to me. We will rescue Eddie and remove the control. You must believe that."
"Is that science speaking?" she challenged.
Egon hesitated, blinked, and looked around at his teammates. "No," he admitted. "But we will do everything we can to bring him back. I give you my word that there is no risk too great for me to take to do it. If science cannot give me answers, then sheer stubborn determination will. Heís my cousin. If it is humanly possible to save him, I will save him, no matter where the path leads, no matter how great the risk."
Peter stared at Egon almost as if he had never seen him before, and his eyes shone. "You tell Ďem, Spengs," he said. "Whitney, honey, listen to me. Egonís the kind of guy who comes back with his shield or on it. He brought us back from Hell, once. If he can do that, he will get Eddie back."
"Hell?" muttered Jackson, adding hastily, "Never mind. I donít want to know."
"We got you back from the Netherworld," Ray reminded the drummer. "Thereís a filk song I like, and one of the lines in it is, Ďimpossible means not yet done.í I always thought that was a good line for the Ghostbusters. If we need something to solve a problem, Egon will invent it and Iíll build it. If we need a way to talk a nasty entity out of tearing the city apart, Peter will fast-talk him."
"Baffle him with bullshit," Peter muttered and offered a faint grin.
"And Winston will remind us we need common sense and to work out a strategy," Ray concluded. "What nobodyís thought of yet is that we need to track down this fan who sent the pendant to Eddie. Did he do it in good faith? Or was he an enemy who wanted to cause trouble? A rival singer? An entity who sensed Eddie sometimes keys in to the paranormal? Where did he get it? How is it cursed?"
"If only we could study it," Egon lamented.
"We can study it later," Winston said. "At headquarters with all the controls weíve got. Come on, guys, weíve got a lot to do. Letís head over to the Plaza and see if there are any clues."
"Iíll call and ask them not to clean the room," Whitney agreed, and darted over to the phone in the corner.
While she looked up the number and placed the call, Egon turned to Mel. "I want you to come with us, Melchazat," he said, and the use of his full name gave Winston the feeling he meant to evoke Melís demon powers. "We might need your abilities, either your demon skills or the strength you possess in your natural form. You can sense Eddie as well as the meters can, I think."
Mel nodded. "Always can. More now. Heís gone north."
Whitney hung up the phone. "They havenít cleaned the room yet, and they say they wonít until we give the go ahead."
"Excellent," Egon said. "Let us depart."
As they started out the door, Jackson fell into step with Ray. "Uh, Ray, whatís a filk song?" he asked.
** *** **
They wanted to take his music away from him. All of them did, even Whitney. Even Mel. They were supposed to care about him, but they didnít. No, they wanted to stop him, to silence him, to take away his power. He would not let them. Better to run. Maybe they would see reason later, and if they did not, he didnít want to hurt them. He would go away, find a place where he could sing, could make music, could be left to live music. There was a place he could go. He knew it. He would be safe there, if he could find it. No one could stop him. The Ghostbusters would be unable to track him down. Shielded and protected, he would be free, and he would live with his musicóand live for his music.
He frowned as he directed the cabby to take him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It wasnít his true destination, but it would bring him near where he meant to go. They would not follow him yet. They would fuss over Egon, who had the gall to try to interfere with him. They would comfort Whitney, poor Whitney, who hadnít understood. She would hold him back. All of them would. He would make his music alone, because no one could compare with him. Alone and safe, shielded, he would be protected. By the time they attempted to reason out the answer, it would be too late.
The cab driver didnít appear to recognize him, and Eddie was glad. He had taken the glasses he traditionally wore perched in his hair and put them on the normal way, then raked his fingers through the spikes of his white-gold hair to tame them. Maybe he could pass unnoticed. New Yorkers didnít always recognize celebrities walking down the street, or even care when they did. He might be safe, unnoticed. If he had come this far without notice, he would be all right. He would reach safety.
"...autograph?" the cabbyís voice reached him, and he jerked alert.
"What did you say?"
"My daughterís a fan," the man said. "Wondered if I could get an autograph for her. Sheíd lord it over all her friends if I brought home your autograph, Mr. Plummer."
Recognized. Just as well the destination was false. "Of course," Eddie said, polite and accustomed to autographs. He accepted the paper the cabby shoved through the slot. "Whatís your daughterís name?"
Eddie wrote, "All the best, Miranda, from Eddie Plummer," and drew a musical note beneath his name, his usual style. The Ghostbusters wouldnít bring in the police to question cab drivers, surely. He would have moved on before anyone might find this man. "Here you are."
The cabby took it back. "Thanks. Iíll be a hero tonight."
"You will," Eddie replied. "Tell Miranda thanks for liking my music."
When the cab let him off at the front steps of the museum, the cabby grinned. "Iíll only ask half fare from you, Mister Plummer. Itís an honor to have you in my cab. Decent guys like you who donít do the drug thing is what our kids need as role models."
Eddie paid him and gave him a sizeable tip. He had never done drugs, and the part of him that lingered inside, unchanged by his newfound power, still believed that was important. "Iím glad that helps," he said, and offered a smile. Then he went up the steps into the museum. Once the cab had vanished into the Fifth Avenue traffic, he emerged and ran down the steps.
Recognized. He had to figure out how to avoid that. Not that it would be needed much longer.
He hunched his shoulders and walked a few blocks north. He was close; he knew he was. Soon he would be safe. They would never find him. And he would be free, free to make music, untouched by the needs of lesser souls.
Lesser souls? Leftover souls?
Eddie frowned. Was something wrong?
No. He was going to make music. That was the only thing that mattered.
He entered the Park and set off across it to the destination he recognized, even if he did not understand how.
No one could stop him now.
** *** **
Peter looked around the Plaza suite Eddie and Whitney had, and grinned wistfully. Money talked, and at the Plaza it talked ostentatiously enough. Peter probably didnít make enough in a year to stay here for a weekend. Look at that massive king-sized bed. There was a refrigerator, and Peter peeked into it to see it was well stocked with goodies, including a complimentary bottle of Dom Perignon. If he were a rock star like Eddie, the idol of millions, instead of a Ghostbuster, the idol of possibly hundreds and that on a good day, he could stay at a place like this and be waited on hand and foot.
On the other hand, heíd had his chance to be a rock star that time Shanna the Banshee had gotten to him. There heíd stood in front of an adoring audience...and heíd walked out on it. Give up busting? Give up his buddies? Fame was nice, but it didnít offer the support his three best friends did.
That didnít mean he would turn up his nose at a little luxury when it came his way. He sank down into an overstuffed chair and put his feet up on a footstool. "Think we could get room service?" he asked hopefully.
Egon glared at him. "Peter, this is serious business."
Not a shred of unwinding there. The usual methods werenít working. "I know itís serious, Spengster." Class-one provocation.
"Must you call me that?" Egon asked without looking up from the wrapping paper and box he had discovered on a table with a stack of mail and several other packages as yet unopened. He held the meter over the wrapping paper. "You sound like that annoying tabloid reporter Benedek."
Peter grabbed at his heart. "Wounded to the quick, Egon. Comparing me to Benny? Thatís unkind." Although he didnít really mind the reporter, it would never do to let Egon think he could get away with such remarks. He abandoned his chair and scooped up a piece of paper that lay beneath the table. Maybe it was a clue. Weird paper; looked like the kind of material they had written the Declaration of Independence on. Old and crinkled around the edges, the writing was old-fashioned and faded as if it had been written a century or two ago. He squinted at it and held it a slight distance away. Didnít mean he needed bifocals; no way. Just that it was such a crabbed hand it was hard to read.
This is meant for none but you, Eddie Plummer. Only one with a soul that breathes music deserves this. Wear it well and with honor, Knight of Musicís Court.
Uh-oh. That didnít sound good. "Egon. Hey, Egon, look at this."
Egon aimed his PKE meter at it instead of taking it, and the antennae lifted slightly. "That looks bad," he muttered and took the paper from Peterís hand, being careful to hold it only by one corner. Did he mean to have it tested for fingerprints? He read it, his lips moving as if he needed to sound out the words. Whitney crowded close beside him and read it along with him.
"Whatís it say, Egon?" Ray cranked his neck to see and reached out for it.
"No, Ray, donít touch it," Egon instructed as he pulled it back. "We may need to fingerprint it."
"Yeah, like giving somebody a pendant is a crime," Winston muttered. "The cops will just laugh at us."
Egon displayed the reading he had gotten from the paper. "This is only a residual, but it is powerful. It has class seven edging, although I do not believe it was actually handled by a demon."
"You think a demon is behind all this?" Whitney asked. "Like the time that demon tried to make Mel come back to the Netherworld?"
Mel froze. He had been sniffing a little as if he could smell evil in the room, and then more closely, sniffing the paper, but now he looked up at Whitney. "Yes, a demon," he said. "But a human touched it after. The demon never touched the package."
"A sorcerer?" Ray suggested. "Wow, Egon, it could be. Working with a demon, maybe?"
"In the Twentieth Century?" Jackson scoffed, but he glanced over his shoulder, and then even went and peered into the bathroom, to make certain nobodyóor nothingólurked there. The meter would have told, unless it was just a person because Peter doubted Egon had set the meter for biorhythms.
"It could just be the demon had a human servant," Winston offered. "You know, because itís hard for demons to go to the post office."
Jackson still looked skeptical. Sometimes that was the way people dealt with crises too large for them to face.
"Oh, yeah, MacKensie, and you and I were cellmates up the river in the Netherworld," Peter reminded the drummer. "You hang with the Ghostbusters enough, and you find out you bought yourself a ticket to spook central. Why not sorcerers?"
Jackson shook his head, not in protest of Peterís words but with unwillingness to embrace the concept. He wiggled his shoulders inside his shirt. "And I suppose there are fairies and werewolves and elves."
"We saw werewolves once," Ray said with a sudden grin. "They were at war with vampires and they were all biting each other. I hate to think what the end result was, unless they canceled each other out and reverted to human. Come to think of it, we never got any more calls about Lupusville, did we, guys?"
"Well, fairies and elves, then," Jackson insisted stubbornly.
"Gee, we never met any elves," Ray said with huge disappointment. "I think elves will have to stay in Tolkien. But wouldnít it be great if we did?" He looked at Whitney, in tune with her distress. "Donít look like that. We havenít forgotten Eddie for a minute. Itís just that this takes some getting used to. We have to theorize to see what answers we can find."
"You donít know how to bring him back, do you?" she asked sadly, her shoulders slumping.
"Not yet," Egon replied. "But this was inflicted. From the residuals the meter detected on the note, it was obviously deliberate." He shook his head. "There is power involved and power in the artifact; we all saw it. But we cannot assume what happened at the rehearsal room was the desired result. Perhaps it was just an attempt to make Eddie write new and brilliant songs. The sender may have been so enamored of Eddieís music that he got carried away, wanting more songs."
"Like the demon who liked his music so much she wanted to take him back to the Netherworld," Whitney muttered. "Astarine. She loved his music. But she wanted it all for herself."
"Whoever sent this must not have minded if he shared," Ray said, then he shook his head. "No. Because the minute we challenged him, it changed. Do you think if we hadnít..." He gave one last look at the note, then he took his PKE meter and scanned the box and wrapping paper. The residuals looked like they were weaker on that than on the note. "The potential for this was always there. I canít guess what the sender meant. He sucked Eddie right in, though."
"ĎKnight of Musicís Court,í" Whitney read, careful not to touch the note. "Eddie was saying that. He thought we could call the new album that."
Egon set the note very carefully in the exact center of the table, then he clasped Whitneyís shoulder. "There is power in this, but we have stopped powerful entities before. We were able to de-possess Peter."
"You said Eddie wasnít possessed," she protested. Any second now she would fling herself into Egonís arms. Ordinarily, Peter would have envied him for it, but not now. This was too crummy for that. Peter liked Eddie a lot. Theyíd had some chances to get to know each other, and it had taken Peter way past the thrill of being buddies with a famous rock star. Shared danger could do that. Heck, Egon had even bonded with Edgar Benedek once on a bust out in Iowa, and since then Egon was much less likely to disparage the guy, although he couldnít help it from time to time. They were simply too different to be friends.
"No, heís not," Egon replied. "Iím merely drawing a parallel. Iíve taken readings when someone is possessed on several occasions. We have a specific procedure in such an instance. Separating out the individualís biorhythms from the readings of the demon, and using a thrower at the setting of each will draw the entity out of the victim. Iím not certain that would work in Eddieís case, although I do have a reading of Eddieís normal biorhythms. Since he is not so much possessed as influenced, our process will need to be different, yet we may be able to draw the psi energy away from him."
"But the influence is growing," Winston muttered. "I get it, though, Egon. Whatís influencing him is not a conscious personality."
"Precisely," Egon approved. He moved around the room, the meter before him, taking various readings. From the look of the detection device, he wasnít learning anything new. "Itís more in the nature of a spell. Spells can be removed if one knows the process or can find a counterspell. Itís not scientific."
"Yes, it is," Ray argued, going over old ground between the two. He grinned wryly at Egon. "Itís like that bit about any sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic."
"Arthur C. Clarke," said Egon. "Yes, Raymond, I know, but when it comes to busting, we are an advanced technology. Spells are unscientific."
"No, theyíre just effects we donít know the scientific laws for."
Peter stepped in and held up a hand in both directions. "Pax, guys. Weíve been over this and over this, and youíre never gonna agree, so letís move on. Spells can work. Never mind you donít understand how, Egon. You donít understand Janine, either, and sheís not scientific, but that doesnít stop you from cozying up to her every chance you get." He ignored Egonís glare and plunged on. "There are just certain things in life that are mysteriousólike the way the Con Ed bill comes due two days before our clients pay their bills. If itís a spell, we can find a way to reverse it."
"Not very easily," admitted Ray reluctantly. He ducked his head. "I mean, Iíve got all those nifty books, but spells can be ultra-specific. If we donít know the exact wording of this one, we might be unable to reverse it. There are some general spells, kind of like skeleton keys," he explained with a quick grin. "But there are some locks skeleton keys wonít work on. Itís like that."
"So what do we do?" Winston asked. He gave Jackson a reassuring pat on the back as if to let him know the team was on the job.
"We learn everything we can," Egon replied. "We do know Eddie went north when he left the rehearsal hall. We thought he was coming here, but the readings are still to the north of us. I would say heís not beyond the northern limits of the park." He played with his meter, aiming it directly north. After a second, he turned slightly east. "Hmm. He is still moving. See." He pointed to the little dot in the grid that represented Eddie, and they all crowded around to look.
As they watched, it blinked out.
Whitney gasped, and what little color she had left drained from her face. "Heís dead," she whispered and clutched helplessly at Mel.
The demon shook his head so fiercely his hair flew about. He had listened silently to all that went on, only nodding when the discussion had gone to spells. Now he gathered Whitney against his chest and stroked her hair. He wasnít blue now, like heíd halfway been at the rehearsal hall, but his face was tight, and Peter got the idea he was working hard not to switch into his natural form. "Heís not dead," he said, gazing down protectively at Eddieís wife. "Heís shielded."
"Of course," Egon cried. "Thatís what it has to be. Because even if he had died, there would be lingering residuals."
"Thatís right, Mister Sensitive," Peter chided when Whitney flinched. "Tell it like it is."
"Oh." Startled and abashed, Egon turned quickly to Whitney. "Iím sorry. I didnít mean it to sound like that. Of course he is not dead. Only shielding would completely block his readings. Since residuals would linger about him rather than an area he had simply passed through quickly, they would be gone once the shielding snapped into place. What remained, simply to indicate he had passed, would be too weak to show on the meter at the settings I have here and at this distance. The reason they lingered here at the Plaza is because he was actually singing, invoking the talisman without awareness of the fact. It was a major manifestation. Walking down the street or being driven in a taxi, unless he were singing as he went, would not leave strong residuals."
Under the barrage of words, Whitney gradually relaxed. She lifted her head from Melís chest and looked Egon full in the face. "So you think he went to the place the note came from?"
"We donít know where the note came from," Egon reminded her. "There is, of course, no return address."
"But thereís a New York postmark," Ray cried, pointing to the wrapping paper. "So it was sent from right here in the city. That probably means the sender lives hereóyeah, Egon, I know it doesnít have to mean that."
"But how would Eddie know where to go?" asked Jackson. He looked like he had given up arguing the weirdness of the situation and was prepared to drift. There were times in bizarre cases where Peter did the same thing while Egon and Ray tossed theories back and forth, until they were ready to start speaking basic English again.
"Part of the spell?" Ray volunteered. "Egon, how close can you pin it?"
"Well, Iíd say it was west of the Metropolitan Museum," Egon said thoughtfully, studying the screen. "Let me superimpose a street map over this." He adjusted two dials. Peter had seen him do that once or twice before, so he didnít bother to watch. "It will be inexact, of course, but it should put us into the area within perhaps four square blocks."
Winston groaned. "Thatís a lot of ground to cover. And if the readings are blocked..."
Ray waved a hand for attention like an eager schoolboy. "I might be able to help. If we pin it down to a general region, I can contact some of my occult friends and ask if they know any players who live in that area. People who tap into that kind of power generally become known in the occult community, and Iíve got some friends who keep what tabs they can on the ones who might have the ability to cause major problems without the restraint to set proper controls."
"Can tell, too," Mel said. "But if itís blocked, Iíd have to be right there, like on the doorstep."
"So what do we do?" Whitney asked.
Egon looked up from the screen. "Iím going to ask you and Jackson and Chan to wait here. I know you want to help rescue Eddie, but it could be dangerous, and we will have our hands too full to protect you as well. Please, stay. Rescuing him is our job."
"Heís right, sweetie," Peter told her when she opened her mouth to cry out a fierce protest. He took her hand and kissed it. "I know you want to go and help, but you have to stay here. Think of Cy. Because of him, you canít rush into danger."
Mention of Cy made her close her mouth and sag against Mel, defeated. Tears sparkled on her eyelashes, but didnít fall. "All right," she said miserably. "Weíll stay."
"Iíll come," Mel said. "You need me. Eddie needs me."
"Yes, he does." Ray nodded. "Weíll definitely need you, Mel. Should I go back for the rest of the spell books, Egon?"
"You loaded the most likely ones into the back of Ecto already. While we search, you can look for a spell that matches the known parameters of the situation. But first, call your friends in the occult community and see if they know of anyone who might be behind this who lives in the area in question." He nodded at the meter screen, and Ray took the device from him and studied it.
"Okay." He grabbed the phone and placed his first call.
Peter looked around the elegant suite and frowned. Luxury didnít protect the people who stayed here, not while weird things could happen to anybody. Eddie was famous and rich, beloved of people all over the world...and he was trapped in a spell or curse he couldnít fight on his own. All the money in the world wouldnít save him. It was up to the Ghostbusters to try.
Even if it wasnít possession, not like Peter had endured with the demon Watt, it was a form of mind control, and Peter hated that. If Eddie had been a total stranger with no money and no fame, even if heíd been the wino in the alley behind Ghostbuster Central, Peter would have gone to the limits to help him. Nobody deserved to have their minds controlled. Nobody.
** *** **
"Taggart," Ray said as they all piled into Ecto-1. "Derek says Jack Taggart lives somewhere around that area. Only more like Central Park West. I think your coordinates would match that, donít you, Egon?"
"Hmmm? Oh, yes, indeed they would. Somewhere in the vicinity of the Museum of Natural History, perhaps, but not much farther west."
Ray settled into the back seat with Peter and Mel, while Winston drove. He could use Ectoís mobile phone to check with his contacts. "Taggart isnít somebody Iíd want to trust with major power," he said. "He might not be involved in this. I never heard he had any interest in music, but then thereís no reason why I would. I donít think heís really a bad guy at heart, but he shouldnít mess with things he doesnít understand."
"Whatís he like, Ray?" Winston asked without taking his eyes from the road.
"Oh, heís one of those guys who thinks nothing can ever happen to him. Heís not what youíd call evil. Itís more like he thinks he can do what he wants and not have it touch him. Not like Aleister Crowley, whose view was Ďdo what you willí, because I donít think heíd really do anything nasty on purposeóbut he doesnít listen to advice, and he really has done a few things that were...kinda out there."
"Dancing with the devil in the full moonlight?" Peter offered with a quick grin.
Ray shook his head. "No, more like pushing spells too far and risking dangerous ones. He wonít listen when wiser people give him advice."
"Just like ninety-nine percent of the people in the world," Peter said. He grinned. "Youíre not convincing me, Ray. My dad pushes it and doesnít listen to advice, but I wouldnít call him dangerous." Mention of his dad made him draw his brows together, and shadows touched his eyes before he pushed them back.
"No, but your dad canít summon up demons," Ray replied.
"Demons," Winston groaned. "Oh, man..."
"Donít even suggest it to him, Ray, or weíll have another Hob Anagarok loose in Manhattan. He does call up demons. Not to mention a koatl. And I donít even want to think about the New Jersey Parallelogram."
Ray grinned. "Your dad fell into those things, Peter. He wasnít trying spells of power for their own sake. Thereís a difference. Besides, I think it was neat going down to Mexico, and we got to use the SKEPTAC."
"The Mexican government was not happy with us, Raymond," Egon said without looking up from his readings. "They do not care for outsiders messing with their archaeological sites. Do you think Taggart is evil or simply takes risks?"
"Risks," Ray said positively. "He knows just enough to be dangerous. But I donít think he would be behind this. It isnít his thing."
"Then why, pray tell, are we going knocking on his door?" Peter asked. He glanced over at the next car, and smiled when he saw it held a pretty woman. As if she sensed eyes upon her, she turned her head, saw the Ghostbusters, and smiled back, then peeled away when the light changed.
"Well, gee, Peter, he does know the neighborhood." Ray made an expansive gesture to indicate all of Central Park West.
"We know it, too, Ray," Peter persisted and heaved a sudden remembering sigh. "We once blew up part of it."
Gozer. Dana Barrettís building hadnít been too far from here. Thereíd been trouble with it six months earlier, trouble that had touched on Eddie, when a band comprised of psi vampires had tried to take over the world. That had actually begun in Danaís oldórebuiltópenthouse apartment. If there was ever a portion of the city troubled by psychic turbulenceóand music, if it came to thatóit was this area of Central Park West. Dana had been a musician, after all, a cellist. One thing they had all learned from their experience with Eddie was that strong ties could exist between music and magic. Ray frowned, and then sat up a little straighter.
"What, Ray?" Egon asked without turning.
"Music and magic, and this neighborhood. You know how we keep testing Danaís old building, and how Derek North actually lived in her former apartment? We thought this might be the part of town where the world-walls were thinnest because of what happened with Gozer."
"Meaning..." Winston encouraged, his voice full of reluctance. "Iím not gonna like this, am I, Ray?"
"I donít think any of us will." Ray was remembering the note. That wasnít the way people talked in the last decade of the Twentieth Century. Knight of Musicís Court. Could the note refer to a specific court? The Unseelie Court of Faerie? No, that was surely a different thing entirely. He might be off base with his speculation. Was there a power that revolved around music, that used the energy created by music? The band, Doomís Electric Moccasin, had fed on the energy of their audience. But this would be another matter. Perhaps there was a force that fed upon music itself, a force that had a specific form, such as an entity, a demon. If there was such a thing, then Eddie would be a prime target. Not only was he a great singer, a guy who lived and breathed his music, but he already had the paranormal link, not only because of his relationship to Egon but because ever since he had loosed Jareníh, the entity in the statue, he had created for himself a kind of paranormal fingerprint. The demon Astarine had simply wanted to possess his musicóand Eddieófor herself. What if someoneóor somethingóout there simply wanted to feed on Eddieís music, and had given him a tool to enable him to create more?
Hastily, Ray explained his reasoning to the guys, who listened without speaking, even Peter. He was frowning, but for once he had no smart remark. Mel sat frowning, his face wrinkled with concentration, his arms folded across his chest, and offered no reply.
Egon was the one who spoke. "An interesting theory, Raymond, and I am willing to accept it as a working hypothesis, with some reservations. If Eddie should become controlled by the talisman as he has, he would likely be unable to perform his music, and the entity you postulate would be unable to feed off it."
"Unless he took Eddie captive and made him sing."
"Heís only a bird in a gilded cage," Peter sang, wildly off key. "I know Eddieís so hipped on singing heíd sing at a high school prom and be happy, but even with this thing working on him, heís not gonna forget Whitneyóno red-blooded man couldóor Cy." Then he shook his head. "Damn," he said under his breath.
"Peter?" Egon prompted, and Ray heard an element of understanding in his voice.
"I was just thinking of me," Peter admitted without looking at any of them. "The Venk-man thing. Me as a superhero. I was so caught up in the fame and glory that I forgot what was important. You guys had to bail me out."
"I believe you might have seen through it eventually, Peter," Egon said quite seriously. He set aside the meter and turned in his seat.
"Yeah, but weíll never know, will we? I think thatís a lesson I wonít forget, but the whole point is, weíve seen this is bigger than a human can control. We donít know the full intention of whoever sent this. If it was just to get Eddie to create more music, then he can do that wherever he is. If it was to sneak in and control him so he could make music only for the one who sent him the pendant, then thatís working, too." He finally looked up. "Either way, whoever sent this wins. And Eddieís enslaved. Itís different from Astarine. She only wanted him captive so she could listen to his music. This thing wants whatís in his soul."
"Canít have his soul," Mel insisted. "Wonít let him, whoever it is." He had listened in silence until now, but he had listened hard, absorbing every word.
"Mel, have you ever heard of anything like Ray has described?" Egon asked.
Mel frowned and shifted in his seat. He took up more than his share of the back seat, but Ray didnít object. "Donít know," Mel said after a minute. "Astarine didnít let us out much." He offered up a crooked grin. "She didnít want us to think, either. She was hooked on Eddie, and loved his music. The only good thing I ever saw in her was that she liked his music. But she wanted to possess him, and that was bad." He shrugged his broad shoulders. "Thereís lots of power in the Netherworld. But itís..." He hesitated, fumbling for the right words. "Raw, beastly power. Not...subtle power, and I think this is. Tolayóyou know himówas all about being powerful and strong and having lesser entities worship him. But never subtle. Maybe this is a...a force, personified." Distress made him shift unhappily, and his eyes filled with sorrow. "It canít have Eddie," he repeated fiercely. Ray knew he would willingly take on whatever threatened them, no matter the risks, in the hope of bringing Eddie back, even if the power behind the control made him think he didnít want to come.
"Force personified? That sounds bad," Winston muttered, and his hands tightened on the steering wheel.
"Very bad," Egon agreed simply. "Yet the meter detected nothing but the energy Eddie was projecting. If there is a major entity in the city, it would have to be completely shielded instead of waiting on the other side of a cross-rip, because we would have detected its opening."
"But, gosh, Egon, Eddieís readings stopped just like that." Ray snapped his fingers. "If he went to a shielded place, maybe the entity or whatever it is was waiting for him in there and now theyíre both shielded. But when the shielding started, it didnít reveal the entity. A door must have opened and closed and we didnít get readings. So either the entity could shield itself personally long enough to let Eddie in or it doesnít give off conventional readings at all."
"And thatís a nasty thought," Peter offered.
"But itís possible," Ray admitted. "If itís powerful enough, it could erect a personal shield or retreat behind additional shielding long enough to let Eddie in."
Egon shuddered. "We must find him quickly. Ray? You donít think Taggart is involved, do you?"
"No, not really. It doesnít sound like something heíd try. But if itís in his neighborhood, he might have sensed something. Heís not a bad guy, not really. Heís justóoh, his ego is a few sizes too big, and he takes too many risks. Iíve always wondered if heíd have a wake-up call one day and turn into a decent guy. I think maybe he can help us. Itís there, Winston," he added, and pointed to a brownstone just ahead.
"Well, then, letís go see." Winston pulled Ecto into a no-parking zone two doors down from the building Ray had indicated. The city let them get away with that on busts, and since the rules were that none of them could drive Ecto on dates, they didnít misuse it. The city hadnít unbent enough to allow the Ghostbusters to park in front of fire hydrants, and just as well. "Weíre here."
"Here" proved to be no more than a block north of Dana Barrettís building. Peter glanced in that direction, and grimaced.
Winston turned off Ecto and leaned forward over the steering wheel to peer up at the building. "Ray, itís the middle of the afternoon. Wonít this guy be at work?"
"He doesnít have to work. Heís rich," Ray said and flung open his door.
"That sucks," said Peter as he unfastened his seat belt. "How come the bad guys always have money?"
"Well, heís not a bad guy, not really, Peter. He just might be able to give us a lead to something weird going down in his neighborhood. Come on." He jumped out of the car and surveyed the street in both directions. The meter he carried didnít give so much as a beep.
"No proton pack?" Peter asked disapprovingly as he reached the sidewalk.
"Donít need them," said Mel as he wiggled out of the converted hearse. "Eddie didnít come here. No nasty power here." He scrunched up his face in a fierce effort at concentration. "Old spells, faded away, and thatís all I can sense. No danger."
Well, not for him. He was a demon, and could shift to his class seven form, erupting from his clothes like the Hulkówell, if he hadnít had stuff designed that stretched a heck of a lot. Mostly these days if he did any bursting out of his garb, it was his shoes, which couldnít be made to give enough to encompass huge demon feet.
"Iíve heard that before," Peter complained. "And it turned out there always was danger. Anybody think weíve got cosmic bulls-eyes on our backsides?"
"That," said Egon as he aimed his meter at the building, "is an image I could have done without, Peter."
"I hope that doesnít mean youíre thinking about my backside, Spengs," Peter joshed.
"Not in this lifetimeóor any other." His eyes twinkled momentarily behind his glasses, then he glanced down at the meter screen, ignoring several pedestrians who tried to see what he was looking at as they edged past. "Ray, Iím detecting nothing at all beyond the cityís ambient energy. The residuals from Eddie have faded completely. If he had come here, I think we might have been able to detect the last remnants, but I donít believe he did." He made vague, shooing gestures at the passers-by, who kept right on staring and retreated no more than a step or two. Ray thought theyíd sneak back the second they considered Egon distracted enough to ignore them.
"He didnít," Mel confirmed. "Iíd know."
The sight of his massive physique daunted several of the rubberneckers, and when Mel gestured at them, they scurried on. The bolder of the watchers retreated to the curb where they stood waiting for something exciting to happen.
The door to the apartment building opened and a middle-aged man with thick glasses and a crew cut came out. When he saw the Ghostbusters staring up at him, he took an involuntary step backward, his mouth falling open. "Ghostbusters!" he cried. "We donít have any ghosts here."
"No," Egon reassured him. "You donít. Go on about your business."
Questions filled the manís eyes, which were weirdly magnified by his glasses. He opened his mouth to ask them.
"Move along," said Mel quite kindly. "Official Ghostbuster business." He shifted a step in the manís direction.
With a little yelp, the guy came down the stairs in a rush and made a beeline for the nearest subway stop. A couple of the gathering crowd followed him. Spotting the ones remaining, Mel pushed up his sleeves and took a couple of purposeful steps in their direction. They gave ground at once, retreating across the street, where they gathered under a streetlight and whispered among themselves. Mel didnít bother to follow.
"Come on," Ray urged and led the way up the steps.
Jack Taggart had the entire top floor of the building. When Ray pushed the buzzer, there was a momentary delay, then a filtered voice asked, "Who is it?"
"Ray Stantz and the Ghostbusters," Ray announced. "Can you give us a few minutes, Jack?"
"Ghostbusters? What the hell? Sure, come on up. Iím not doing anything that canít wait." The inner door clicked open an inch, and Ray grabbed the doorknob and pulled it the rest of the way.
There was no elevator, but the building was only three stories high so it didnít take long to climb the stairs, especially since they werenít wearing their proton packs. The place had been well maintained; the stairs swept, no trace of peeling paint, and a nifty railing that must have come with the building when it was new, because it was shiny with years of use and new polish.
When they reached the third floor, they found themselves in a small foyer where Jack Taggart waited for them. He was a tall man, maybe an inch shorter than Egon, only a lot broader across the shoulders. His hair was shoulder-length and blond, but a suspicious darkness at the roots suggested the color came from a bottle. He had a short beard, neatly trimmed, and a mustache, both, like his eyebrows, darker than his hair; a very high forehead; and deep-set blue eyes under brooding brows. Ray didnít know a lot about his background, but he had a faint accent that might have been Australian. As they came up the last flight, he arched one eyebrow much like Egon did.
"Well, well, the Ghostbusters and their bodyguard."
"Not a bodyguard," Mel said. "Iím a roadie."
"Well, I never expected roadies on a bust," Taggart said with a crooked grin. "What do you do, set up the background music for busts?" Without waiting for an answer, he made an expansive gesture at the door behind him. "Come on in, all of you. You look a little like Spengler, Mister Roadie. Relative?"
"No," said Mel simply.
Taggart shrugged, nodded a greeting to the rest of the Ghostbusters, and ushered them into an elegant room with high ceilings. The ambiance of the original structure had been well preserved, and except for loading it down with as many bookshelves as he could fit into the room, Taggart had chosen furniture that would not have looked out of place at the turn of the century when the place was new. No expert in decorating, Ray was willing to bet most of the tables and other furniture were antiques. A celestial globe stood on a huge desk over near a double set of windows, and on a shelf across the room, a stuffed raven perched on a skull Ray hoped wasnít genuine. Other than that carefully staged bit of Poe, nothing in sight suggested an interest in the paranormal, unless the books on the shelves represented them. The titles Ray could see looked to be modern thrillers: Ludlum, Clancy, Fleming.
"Will you step into my parlor," Taggart said with a twist of a grin.
"Said the spider to the fly," Winston muttered, sotto voce. "Oh, man." The whites of his eyes flashed as he looked around.
"No such thing," Taggart said, and the grin expanded. "I donít think Rayís here as the occult police today. I havenít tried anything the occult community would come down on me for, at least not in the last few months. An encounter with an unfriendly demon made me back off."
"Demons are like that," Mel said drily. Peter elbowed him in the ribcage.
"So, I donít think you happened to be zipping along in your Ectomobile and decided to pay a friendly visit because you were in the neighborhood. If I didnít do anythingóand I havenítóthen you want something I know."
"We donít know if you know anything or not, Jack," Ray said quickly to reassure him they didnít really suspect him of causing trouble. "But I bet youíve got your ear to the ground. Weíre trying to track down a disturbance that happened somewhere in the general vicinity. It might even be in the Park, although we canít pin it down exactly. We donít know its nature, but we know itís powerful."
Taggartís eyes flashed with either interest or knowledge; Ray couldnít tell which. "Sit down. Want something to drink?"
"No, thank you," Egon said and sat on a sofa upholstered in rich brown leather, his body braced to leap up again at the first sign of trouble.
Peter, who had opened his mouth to request a drink, frowned at Egon, and then gave a shrug and abandoned the idea. Winston grinned at him, then went back to looking around suspiciouslyóand checking out the books while he was at it. Ray could tell when he noticed the thrillers because he edged in that direction, his eyes bright, and traced his finger over a couple of spines.
Mel sat down in a chair that almost looked too small for him, and crossed his ankles. Hands folded in his lap, he looked like a good little boy at a grown-up party. Jack Taggart eyed him doubtfully, and his eyes narrowed.
"Thereís been a manifestation," Ray explained as he joined Egon on the couch. Winston stayed on his feet, not far from the nearest bookshelf, but Peter prowled over to a big recliner and dropped down in it. A moment later he had reclined it, and lay back, grinning with hedonistic pleasure.
"Peter," Egon said.
"You take the fun out of everything, Spengs." Obediently, Peter straightened up.
"Manifestation? Today, you mean?" Taggart frowned. "Something happened today. A couple of times. I donít know what it was. Iíve got a meter of my ownóitís your early version, the one you patented. Iíve played a little with it and had a physicist buddy boost it. I like to leave it on, just in case."
Egonís eyes narrowed. He could be very possessive of the meters, but he had to know the early version was in use by a number of parapsychologists around the country. Sales brought in a decent small revenue that Peter claimed was a pittance that didnít make a dent in the Con Ed bill. Still, the early meters would help the folks out there who were investigating simple apparitions or poltergeist activity. But the early meters could only read PK energy, without the later abilities Egon and Ray had worked out. What kind of mods had Jack made on his?
"So you detected something?" Ray encouraged him.
"Yeah, I sure did. This morning, and then again this afternoon. Started out strong, stopped and faded, and then got even stronger. And I think it was moving in my direction. Before I could decide what to do about it, it stopped, just like that." He made a chopping gesture with his left hand. "Nothing left, only the kind of residual energy that fades so fast you canít do anything with it unless youíre on site already. But hereís the thing, Stantz. I never saw readings like that before. Iím no expert like you, Spengler, but Iíve played with the meter a lot. Iíve gotta say itís a real kick."
Egon frowned disapprovingly, but a gleam of shared feeling flashed in his eyes before he banished it. Ray struggled not to grin. Egon would never describe his reaction to the meters as a real kick, but Ray knew it was.
"So, what did you detect?" Peter asked. "You were closer than we were. Could you pin it down?"
"You mean location?" The occultist wrinkled his brow; he must make a habit of that because his forehead puckered in an up-and-down three rows just above his eyebrows. With a twist of his mouth, he said, "Hereís what I think, Ray. I donít know what it is, but itís in the Park. Or maybe even under the Park." He gestured at the double windows on his left that looked out over Central Park. "Iíve got a directional arrow that comes up on the screen. My buddy at Princeton thought it was cool and worked it out for me."
"Princeton?" Egon echoed. "Not Dalton Freed?"
"Figured you might know him, Spengler. Geeks of the world, unite." Jack grinned easily to show he meant no offense, but then, Egon didnít particularly mind being called a geek. He only took exception to being called a bad scientist.
"Precisely," Egon said wryly. "Dalton and I have brainstormed more than once over the meters. He said heíd designed some mods on one of our early versions. I didnít realize it was yours."
"Never mind that, Egon," Peter said. "Under the Park? You mean like in the tunnels. Alligators in the sewers? Or that old TV Beauty and the Beast stuff from a few years back?"
Dalton lifted one eyebrow. "I know there are tunnels and storm drains and such, and even a network of abandoned subway tunnels, but the people who live down there arenít anything like that show. Whoís to say somebody didnít find a tunnel nobody was using and turn it into his own domain? I never gave the possibility much thought. On the other hand, it could be somebodyís basement that branched out under the park."
"Or even an old fallout shelter?" Ray cried. "Gosh, that might work. It would be secureóand shielded. However they designed it might even block the meters. Do you think so, Egon?"
"Itís possible, Raymond. However, if it is shielded, I donít know how we could find it. Mister Taggart, did you note the exact area when your arrow appeared on the screen?"
"I did. It was north of here, but not quite as far as the Museum of Natural History."
"Danaís building?" Peter jumped up and went over to the window to try to see, but unless he stuck his head and shoulders out, he wouldnít be able to see it.
"Dana?" Taggart frowned and his forehead did the washboard number again. "Oh, you mean where Gozer came. Could be. Psychic turbulence and all that. It might attract entities, even now, is that what youíre saying?"
"It was nearly psi null for a while after we forced Gozer back where he came from. Then last fall, it got kind of active again. Itís eased back, but itís not null any more. Now itís got psi potential, and we check it from time to time." Ray grinned earnestly at Taggart. Derek North, who had lived in Danaís old apartment, was currently in prison, and the apartment had been sublet to a middle-aged couple who had absolutely no contact with anything remotely paranormal. "You must know that if you keep your meter going."
"I knew when you busted that ugly green ghost at the Tavern on the Green last month," Taggart admitted with a quick grin. "I was out there rubbernecking with the rest of Ďem. Taking notes. The folk who lived around here when Gozer came are still pretty wary even after all this time. I bet you collected a real audience when you came in."
"We did," Peter said. "Fans," and grinned. He struck a pose that looked silly while he was sitting down. Egon lifted a reproving eyebrow at him.
"Definitely." Taggart smirked in a way that was almost but not quite patronizing. "Anyway, Iíd be willing to bet you get a lot of calls from this neighborhood."
"We do," Winston agreed. "But most of them arenít anything real, either."
"You scare folks with a giant marshmallow man stomping through the streets and theyíre gonna cry wolf," Taggart replied. "Look, somethingís going down and you think itís nasty. You came here because for all you knew, you thought I was involved in it. Not to say I havenít tried a lot of stuff you Ghostbusters probably wouldnít approve of. But whatever this is, Iím not in on it. From the strength of those readings, Iím not sure I want to be." Suddenly he laughed and spread his hands. "Hell, who am I kidding. Iíd give a thousand bucks to be in on the deal." He went over to the desk where the celestial globe sat and drew his meter from the top drawer.
Egon jumped up and joined him, unable to resist. The meter was already active. No sound; Taggart must either have done away with that function or turned it off when Ray rang for admittance. But it was giving off a reading, the antennae extended, the lights blinking.
"Ah, said Taggart, then he glanced at Egonís meter that was calmly and peacefully reflecting nothing more than ambient energy. Curious, Taggart bent over the screen, then walked over to Mel, who stayed seated, looking up at him with a bland expression on his face.
"A demon roadie?" Taggart mused. "No shit?"
"No shit," Mel echoed. Realizing he was busted, he glanced over at Egon and Ray as if for permission, then let himself shift for a second to his blue demon shape in form but not size. Somehow his smile, open and guileless when he looked human, took on a more menacing cast in the blue face.
At the sight of a blue demon sitting politely in one of his best chairs, Taggart let out an involuntary yell and jumped backward a good couple of feet. "Ahhh." He caught himself at once.
"Sorry," said Mel, just like someone who had created a social faux pas at a party. He shifted back at once. "Wonít hurt you."
"What are you? Not a roadie? The Ghostbusters take you around like a living meter?"
"No, we do not," Egon said. "Mel is here because he has a personal interest in the crisis." He didnít mention Eddie, and Ray hoped Mel would pick up on that and say nothing. It would be better to avoid publicity if they possibly could. Shaking his head at Mel, Egon continued. "When we reach the exact location, we hope Mel will be able to detect it, and perhaps understand the energy we detected."
"I hope somebody can," Taggart muttered. "I suppose you set your meters to block out his frequency, so he wonít contaminate or confuse your general readings." Nobody ever claimed Taggart wasnít quick on the uptake.
"Precisely," Egon said. "But thatís not the point. Mister Taggart, itís imperative we find the location of the readings you detected, or at the very least the point where the signal you got stopped. You were much closer to the site that we were, so itís possible your readings were more specific."
"Well, yeah," Taggart admitted. "I went down and looked around, and even took the meter with me, hidden in a grocery sack so nobody would notice. I think Iíve got it pinpointedóup to a point. I was gonna check it out, but carefully. That demon I ran into a couple of months ago made me wary. I figured it if happened again, Iíd triangulate and then call you guys. But now that youíre here, I want to help."
"Uh, no," Peter objected. He bounced up off the recliner. "Listen, guy. Whatever this is, itís probably dangerous. Its readings are off the scale. Weíre not sure the throwers will even work on it. Last thing we need is an untrained civilian running around getting into trouble, especially a Ghostbuster wannabe."
"Iím scarcely a Ghostbuster wannabe," Taggart defended himself, his eyes twinkling. "I want to know about the occult, not necessarily interact with big blue meanies. No offense," he added hastily to Mel.
"None taken." Mel replied politely.
Taggart shrugged his shoulders. "Trouble starts and Iím gone." He grinned around, the grin slipping at the sight of Mel. Mel, of course, grinned toothily back. It was a pity he hadnít stayed in demon form long enough to reinforce the effect. "I just figured that what Dalton did to my meter might be fractionally different from the way youíve modified yours. It might help. I swear, the minute anything nasty is even thinking of coming, Iíll back off. My word on it."
"Ray?" Egon asked. He was still looking at Jackís meter. "I think we should permit him to accompany us, at least to help triangulate the readings. Mr. Taggart, if you would assist us in that manner we would be grateful, but we cannot allow you to face the entity with us."
"Face the entity? You know, I think Iíd rather not face the entity, Spengler. I think Iíd rather contemplate it from a considerable distance." He produced a self-deprecating grin and hunched his shoulders. "The last demon I sawóbefore this one, of course," he corrected with a wary nod in Melís direction, "was not a guy I want to cross. Iím just lucky the pentagram held. It was a near thing."
Ray opened his mouth to give Taggart a stern lecture on messing with powers beyond his control, then decided not to. It looked like the point had been made, and with luck, it might even hold. If this bust proved to be threatening and scary, letting him observe from a distanceólike his apartment windowómight drive the point home fully and completely. "Yeah," he said. "This one might be toughóI mean about as vicious as you can get."
"I just love these little moments of understatement," Peter muttered in an aside to Winston. "Donít mince words, Ray. Tell us what you really think."
Ray chuckled. "Well, those alarms we got at headquarters were pretty intense."
"Yeah," agreed Winston, returning a book to the shelf. "Our neighbors will probably send us the bills from their hearing specialists."
Mel erupted from the chair so suddenly Jack jumped. "Gotta go," Mel insisted. "Gotta find Eddie."
Ray wished he hadnít said that because Taggartís ears pricked up. "Eddie?" he echoed, his eyes alight with speculation. "And youíre a roadie? Seems to me I heard Eddie Plummer was your cousin, Spengler. You wouldnít just happen to be a roadie for the Eddie Plummer Band, would you?"
"Would," Mel agreed. "Gotta find Eddie."
"So this is personal." Taggart studied Egon thoughtfully. "You know, I like Eddie Plummerís music one hell of a lot. If heís in trouble with whatever set off my meter, then Iím definitely in. Whatever help I can give, Iíll give it."
Ray would have been happier with the offer if he hadnít felt Jackís occult interest would sweep him deeper into the mess than the guys wanted. He might want to see what was happening so much he would take insane risks. The four of them took risks like that, but it was their job and they took them with full knowledge and years of their experience to back them. This time it was even more important because Eddie was Egonís cousin, and friend to the rest of them. But Taggartís ego wasnít tamed by his encounter with the demon. It was only damped down. If he came with them, he would be a loose cannon, and during a tough bust that could only be a liability. He should only come so far, just to triangulate readings, and then the team should go on without him.
Egon started to object, to claim there was nothing Taggart could do beyond triangulation, but Peter clapped his hand on Egonís shoulder before the words could emerge.
"Come on, Spengs, let him bring his meter to the party. If it looks like weíre gonna get raided by the demon squad, we can send him home, and we wonít even need a designated driver." He caught Rayís eye. Even without knowing Taggart, he would have picked up on the fact that Jackís curiosity wouldnít let him rest until he knew what was going on. He might scurry for home if it got too hairy, but he might forget himself and push in. Peter wouldnít let that happen, and Winston would back him. At least then theyíd know where he was.
"A meter with a different configuration would indeed be useful," Egon allowed.
"Then letís move," Peter urged. "I donít know about you guys, but it would be nice to wrap this up before dinneróand even if we canít, who knows what kind of trouble Eddieís managed to get himself into? Itís not like he hasnít walked into trouble before."
Egon shot him a hotly resentful look, but Peter only tightened his grip on Egonís shoulder. "Come on, Spengs, we need to get going." He lowered his voice. "And it wonít help to ignore the fact that itís not gonna be fun."
"I know, Peter," Egon replied. "I know."
Ray jumped in quickly, because Egon and Mel both looked worried sick. Peter himself was grim-faced, and Winstonís muscles were tight. They knew they had a bad one on their hands. Since what had happened to Eddie wasnít conventional possession, they might not be able to use the throwers to draw an entity off him. If they could get the pendant away from him, they might be able to free him. But if he were controlled, that would be the last thing heíd permit.
On top of that, who knew what the agenda for all this was? Someoneósomeone capable of addressing a package and mailing it without calling undue attention to himselfóhad sent it to Eddie. A human servant of the entity? The entity itself? Was the purpose simply to make Eddie write and perform beautiful music? Or was the music a key to something far more deadly?
Ray wished he hadnít thought of that.
** *** **
The room where Eddie found himself when he followed the narrow passage to a place beneath Central Park had a weird Goth look to it, with heavy purple drapes and statues here and there of gargoyles, some of them in chains and some of them with stone captives in their claws. The lighting was dim and flickering, not candles but those kind of bulbs that did the flicker number, set into wall sconces that looked like they had come direct from the torture chamber of a medieval castle. Above Eddieís head, the high ceiling sported heavy wooden beams, rough cut and varnished in a dark color, leaving an aged result that suggested they had been there forever. Two huge braziers, set opposite each other, held small fires that gave off little smoke, but the flames danced merrily. They were the only merry thing in the entire room.
From hidden speakers, instrumental music played. It wasnít Eddieís music, but music that matched the setting. He thought the band might be Midnight Syndicate; the music felt like their stuff: spooky and otherworldly. Heíd always liked their sound. It played on an excellent sound system; yes, there were speakers, at least four of them that he could see, scattered here and there around the room, designed to match the rest of the place. Someone was setting the stage.
There was little furniture, and most of it looked handmade and individual, also medieval. A twenty foot long refectory table composed of roughly cut planks had been pushed up against one wall with a wooden stools at either end of it, and a few high-backed chairs along its length. A candelabra that held seven red candles burned there; it was real flame rather than more flame-shaped light bulbs. Beyond the two stools on either side stood massive bookcases that looked as if they had been built into the walls, crammed with giant leather-bound books that resembled Rayís huge collection of occult tomes, spell books and grimoires at Ghostbuster Central. Several books lay on the table, face up and open. Atop the tallest bookcase, three skulls sat in a row. Two were human. Eddie didnít even want to speculate what the third one was, because it had horns, yet it didnít look like an animal skull. A creature from the Netherworld? He shivered at the sight and hoped a living version wasnít the local guard dog.
A hand-carved chair with wide arms stood welcoming, padded with a cushion patterned with an Escher-like design. Eddie crossed the room and sat down. He was here. He had come where he was bidden, away from those who would latch onto him and drain him, who would steal his music.
Steal his music? Whitney? How could he think she would? How could he believe that of Jackson, his oldest friend?
Of course she will. She would be nothing without you. And where would Jackie Mack have been, once his basketball scholarship fell through? Back in the ghetto. They use you, Eddie. Donít let them. Your music has to matter most.
The voice came from inside his head, but he could not tell if it were his own thought or that of another.
"No," he said. "She completes my music."
"She feeds off your music," said someone behind him. He jumped up and whirled, then froze, because the one who stood there was definitely not human. It had to be a demon, because it loomed, massive and scaly, with a triangular head and fangs as long as Eddieís fingers. At its side stood a man who would have looked tall if he hadnít been dwarfed by the hulking monster. What was scary was that the human looked enough like Eddie to be his double.
"Ah," said the creature. "You recognize the golem?"
"Golem?" echoed Eddie doubtfully, trying to think. "Iíve heard that word before."
"Iím certain. Then you know what it is, a being created from inanimate matter, activated by my words of power. I made it in your shape, and your shape it will hold. It will speak with your voice." He took two massive strides over to Eddie, stretched out one taloned hand and traced a faint line across Eddieís brow. It stung, but no more than any scratch would. He flinched, but the demon gripped his shoulder with the other taloned hand to prevent him from pulling away until it finished.
When the creature drew back, its feral green eyes glittering, it studied its talon, now reddened at the tip with Eddieís blood. "Sit," it said and gestured with his other hand at the chair. "This will only take a minute, and I want you to witness it."
Eddie knew he could not physically resist the creature, and the medallion that pressed against his chest pulsed reassuringly. Itís all right. This is what must be.
Eddie sat down. Deep inside him, a current of uneasiness flowed, but the medallionís comforting warmth washed it away, gentle and reassuring, offering him hope and gladness too powerful to ignore. He felt his forehead cautiously, but there didnít seem to be a wound remaining. How was that possible? The warmth convinced him that such matters were unimportant and that Eddie would not be harmed, not here where he was safe.
With a smile that bared far too many of those nasty fangs, the creature returned to the Golem. He traced the talon across the golemís forehead, leaving behind a faint streak of red. "Wait for it," the creature encouraged.
Eddie stared. After a second, a spark of light traced its way along the talonís path, and the blood sizzled, then sank into the demon-made flesh. The demon tapped one taloned foot against the stone floor and gave an esoteric pass with his hand.
Abruptly, the golem shivered, then it moved. The stiffness of its pose vanished, replaced by motions that looked more human and real. "Master," it said, and Eddie gasped because it spoke in his voice.
"Yes, I am your master and you are my creation. What is your name?"
"Eddie Plummer," said the golem.
"Sing for me," urged the monster.
The golem drew breath, opened his mouth and sang Leftover Souls. He sounded like Eddie. Pitch and tone were true. All that was lacking was Eddieís spirit, the inner heart of him that made his music come alive. Anyone could be technically proficient, at voice or instrument. But it took more than an exact duplicate to sound good. Two guitars might look identical in every respect, but perhaps only one of them would sing for its player. Its voice was Eddie on an off day, one that might fool the casual listener but never a true fan. Certainly never Whitney or Jackson. Eddie stared, wondering what it was the demon intended. He wasnít afraid. The medallion reassured him too much to allow fear to reach him. But his mind worked feverishly, wondering what the plan was. Did the demon think to replace him in the world, to explain his disappearance? Or was the purpose of the golem more complex than that?
"Not bad, yet not enough." The demon came back to Eddie, thrust out with his talon, and drove it into Eddieís shoulder, right through his shirt. He felt the sharp claw penetrate the flesh, and gasped involuntarily with the pain. Hot and sizzling it felt, but as the demon withdrew the talon, the pain followed it out, retreating, closing the wound behind it. When the demon was free of him, Eddie looked down at his shoulder. There was a slight rent in his shirt, but a glance inside it proved no injury lingered. Dazed, he fingered the place. He could feel no trace of pain, even when he pressed hard. It had healed itself.
The demon returned to the golem and thrust its talon into the beingís shoulder. With a choked-off cry, it jerked and writhed, then the golden light glowed, and the golemís body fell into more natural lines. It blinked, and stretched.
"Sing now," the creature bade the golem. It sang again, and this time, there was far more vitality in the music. Eddie wondered what would happen if he were to sing, too. Would his spirit be diminished? To see, he opened his mouth and sang with the creature, as if in duet with himself. He let himself take the harmony, then shift to the melody line, and his voice rang out pure and strong, undiminished by what the entity had taken. It responded, shifting to harmony when he took the melody line, as if programmed for it. Programmed? Perhaps it was. But at least what the demon had done had not robbed Eddie of his gift.
"I would not steal your voice from you, nor the inner soul that drives it," the creature said. "That would be a great evil, and I will not do it. You must sing. You must create new music. I know much of you, Eddie Plummer. You would sing if none but you alone could hear. Yet you will still sing for millions, writing new songs."
A flicker of hope ran through Eddie. Was the golem to be his duplicate here, to sing for the creature, while Eddie returned to his life? He wanted that, but the urge was not as fierce as he expected it to be, not if the world would covet what was his. The Ghostbusters had tried to stop him. They would take away his medallion, and he would not permit it. It was his and his alone, to aid him in the creation of beautiful music. Yet Whitneyís face swam before his eyes, and he ached for her. It was not true that she would take advantage of him and use him. They were a team, partners; she was the other part of his soul.
But she would feed on his music...
Eddie shook his head to clear away the confusion and let his voice trail off. The golem, too, stopped singing and stood waiting, as if only music could animate it. Eddie shuddered to see such a blank expression upon a face that was for all intents and purposes his own. This was too weird, too uncomfortable, too unnatural.
"Wait," said the creature, and put his hand upon the golemís head. "Sit."
Moving vaguely like Eddie, the creature lumbered away to one of the stools at the end of the table, and sat there. It moved almost like a B- movie mummy version of Eddie. Would more of Eddieís blood fix that? How much could the creature take before Eddie would feel its loss?
"I will never harm you," the entity said, its rumbling voice meant to sound consoling. Eddie was not entirely consoled, although the medallion soothed him. "You are too valuable to damage. You are not the first I have tested thus. You will not be the last. I will drink music like fine wine, and savor it until naught is left but the dregs. But harm you? I would no more harm you than I would destroy music in the world." He patted Eddieís shoulder the way a man might pat a favorite dog.
Eddie stood, appalled and solaced at the same moment, the conflicting emotions tearing at his gut. Deep inside, he knew this was wrong. It had to be. Yet music was in essence Eddieís god, his raison díÍtre. What would he sacrifice for musicís sake? What could he sacrifice and still retain his integrity?
Were his thoughts even his own? That idea should have terrified him, but it was hard to be terrified when the medallion offered him such peace, and the promise of wonderful music. He could write songs unlike any the world had ever known, and they would ring forth triumphantly, until all would sing them. That didnít matter to Eddie nearly as much as singing them himself. His purpose had always been the music itself and never the accompanying fame. The glory was pleasant, but not necessary. Even in captivity, he would sing, but he did not feel that he was captive.
Should he? Was he?
He looked around the cavernous room and wondered at his placidity. Was this right? Where was his family? Where were his friends? He needed Whitney and Cy. He needed Jackson.
Uncertain whether the question was his own or the medallionís, Eddie hesitated, breathing hard, while the entity regarded him. Then it moved, slowly and reassuringly, and patted his head as if he were a child. Well, maybe that was better than being the demonís dog. "All will be well," it said. "All will be well."
The medallion sent warmth coursing through Eddieís veins. "All will be well," he echoed, and lost himself to the power that swirled around him.
** *** **
"Danaís building, I fear," Egon said, and gestured.
As Peter looked at the familiar entryway, a pang ran through him. Even though he and Dana hadnít worked out as a couple, there had been something so special about her, he had never forgotten her. Almost without realizing it, he compared each new woman he dated to her, and found them wanting. She was out of his life for good now, and even if heíd wished to recapture that particular magic, she was back with Oscarís father, and they seemed to be happy. She had left New York and now played with the Boston Symphony. It was over. Even if he hadnít been remotely ready to settle down at the time, there had been a special magic. All that remained of it were Peterís memories.
Most of the time, she stayed safe and forgotten in a tiny back corner of his mind, but at other times, like now, those memories flared to vivid life. The doorman who warily watched their approach had been on duty when Peter had gone back with her to check out her apartment that first time. Peter remembered that shock of carroty hair and the unexpected contrast of his thick, black eyebrows.
"Yeah," Peter answered Egon. "I kinda figured that."
"Well, gee, Peter." Ray sounded sympathetic. "That kind of psychic turbulence doesnít just go away. It almost did after Gozer, but it came back, and last fall it got strong again. Right now itís..." He frowned and looked at the meter he carried. "Itís not active, but there are residuals. Class seven, I think."
"Indeed," Egon confirmed. "Faint and fading, but there. As if a door had opened and closed again very quickly. We were simply too distant to detect it, if it could offer even a modicum of shielding when the door opened."
"Class seven is a demon, isnít it?" Taggart shifted on his feet, and uneasiness came and went in his eyes. He must have known that already. He was just putting in his two centsí worth. "Okay, youíve got my word Iíll take off when the time comes."
Peter wasnít sure what to make of Taggart. He didnít trust the guy, not for a second, even if heíd been pleasant enough. The demon heíd encountered before must have freaked him, but it hadnít ended his fascination for the occult. He was captivated; it showed in the gleam of speculation in his face. He might be nervous, but Peter was pretty sure his own interests would come before Eddieís danger. He might not track the demon on his own, but with the Ghostbusters and Mel along, he would take greater risks...and cause a lot of trouble in the process.
Ray looked like heíd decided Jack was more sinned against than sinning and was prepared to welcome him, as if heíd completed occult rehab, but Peter wasnít so sure. Intimately acquainted with a con man, he recognized some of the signs in Taggart. The guy said what they wanted to hear. As soon as heíd gotten a handle on what they were there for, heíd played to it. It might only mean he hoped he could tag along, on the fringes of something intriguing, but it might mean he had his own agenda. The only reason Peter hadnít urged Ray to leave him out of it was because Peter would be a heck of a lot more comfortable where he could keep an eye on the guy. Maybe he really was innocent, here because he found the dark side fascinating. Maybe he wanted to score points and prove what he could do. Or maybe he knew more than he was telling. He lived right here, only a block away from where the readings must have left off. His activated meter would have alerted him at the first episode this morning. If so, he sure hadnít bothered to call 555-BUST about it.
"So thereís a demon here?" Winston never looked happy around demons. Of course, he was a practicing Christian, and believed demons were bad guys. It might have even been hard for him to reconcile Mel after all his catechism classes, but heíd learned Mel wasnít evil. Still, as Egon had said on a number of occasions, "demon" was merely a catch-all word for class seven entities, although not all of them were "demons" as the western world viewed them. Those weird little guys at Rayís Aunt Loisís house had been class sevens, but they werenít demons. Peter couldnít remember what they were called, but they had been some kind of Russian spirits.
Mel sniffed the air as if he could actually smell demons. His face was so contorted with concentration that Peter was afraid he would turn blue and "hulk out" of his clothes at any second. Ray caught Peterís frown and gave Mel a warning nudge.
"Have you got anything?"
Mel blinked out of his tight focus and turned to Ray. "Eddie was here," he said. "Went in. Didnít come out."
Egon, Ray, and Taggart at once aimed their meters at the entry to the building. The doorman nearly had a heart attack on the spot. Peter stepped up to reassure him. "Take it easy. Weíre not going to start blasting everything in sight. Youíve been through worse than this before."
The man rolled his eyes and the bushy brows did an up-and-down number. "Youíre Venkman," he said. "I remember you. Gozer isnít coming back, is he?"
"Not that we know of," Egon said without looking up from the meter. It probably wasnít telling him anything particularly interesting; no reaction at all from the antennae. "Weíre here on another matter."
Ray looked a question at Peter, then turned to the doorman. "You havenít seen Eddie Plummer come in here, have you?"
"Eddie Plummer?" Puzzlement showed, then faint recognition. "Heís one of those rock stars, isnít he? I like country. I wouldnít know him from Bruce Springsteen or the Beatles."
Peter grabbed Egon and dragged him over. "Okay, did a guy who looked like this only better dressed and with a punk haircut go in a few hours ago?" Egon arched an eyebrow at the "better dressed" remark. Fine. Nobody ever said their jumpsuits would qualify them for the cover of GQ.
"I didnít see any punk haircut, but some guy about his general size went through. He had a hat on and sunglasses. Maybe it was a disguise so his fans wouldnít know him."
"Excellent," Egon replied. "To which apartment did he go?"
"He didnít say. We donít usually ask people, except at night. He looked like he knew where he was headed, and Mrs. Prentice was going on at me about the lightbulb out in her hall, just like I was the super. Whenever heís doing his own thing and not answering calls, they come to me to bitch about it. The guyís a pain."
"I bet," Peter said. "Did you notice the guy in the hat get into the elevator?"
"Wasnít looking, sorry. But heís not in the lobby, so where else would he go?" The guy gestured around the empty lobby. "See. Not a rock star in sight." He stood aside, holding the door open so the team, Mel, and Taggart could enter. Peter studied the foyer. The place had been redecorated after Gozer had taken the top of the building off, but heíd been there last fall when they had the encounter with Derek North and his band, so Peter had seen the new look. Still art deco, but the colors were brighter than when Dana had lived here. Just enough of a change for Peter to be comfortable with it.
"So what do we do? Go to each floor?" Peter asked. "No matter what you say, Spengs, Iím not walking up. Once was bad enough."
"It wouldnít be my first choice, either, Peter," Egon said with a quick smile, but he sobered quickly. He had to be going nuts about Eddie.
"Well, I donít know about you guys, but if something in this building is shielding those readings, it has to be something definite. Lead-lined walls, for instance." Ray gestured vaguely. "Support girders with cores of pure selenium wouldnít block the meters. They didnít last time."
"Yeah, Ray, most apartments let the tenants remodel with lead-lined walls," Winston objected. He went over to a door that opened off the lobby. "Stairs," he muttered. "Up and down."
"Maybe thereís a sub-basement that opens up into the sewers and runs under the park," Ray cried excitedly. "If Jackís readings are right, then thatís gotta be the way to go."
"The super isnít available," Egon said thoughtfully. "Do you think maybe he might be in on it?"
Mel stepped into the stairwell and sniffed again. He tilted his head to one side and listened, concentrating hard. "Eddie went down," he said. "I can tell. Itís faint, but itís there."
"Then we go down, too," Egon announced, even though his meter gave no clues. He drew his thrower.
Taggart eyed the weapon warily. "If you guys donít mind a whole lot, I think Iíll back off here. I donít know whatís down there, and I donít want to know. My meter isnít giving you anything yours isnít. Demons arenít my bag." He took a reluctant step toward the door.
Peter studied him. He couldnít tell if the guy was really that scared of demons or not. He hadnít freaked to find one sitting in his living room other than that one little startled jump. All the alarms of the day hadnít driven him out to track them down. Maybe he just liked the occult in the abstract a heck of a lot better than in the concrete. There were days when Peter sure did.
"Perhaps that is just as well," Egon told him. "Return to your apartment, or go about your business. You donít have a thrower. You might be in jeopardy down here, and there might be too much going on to protect you."
"Yeah," Ray agreed. "We signed up for this kind of thing. You never did."
"Sorry, guys," Taggart said, and with a wave, he headed for the door.
Egon followed Mel into the stairwell and the others trailed along behind him. "Boy, I thought heíd never leave," Peter said when he was sure Taggart was out of earshot.
"Iím surprised he did," said Ray as he bounced down the stairs. "I thought weíd have a hard time getting rid of him. Heís acting kind of weird."
"You think whatever it is has affected him, Raymond?" Egon asked. "That the power might have influenced him?"
Mel stopped at the landing. "He didnít feel influenced," he said. "I would have known. Think I would, anyway, unless..." He frowned. "A really powerful demon could do it so I couldnít tell. But he was acting...under his own volition. Or at least...at least believing he was." He shook his head and grimaced apologetically as if he knew his answer didnít help. "He wasnít scared, though. I can tell when somebodyís scared."
"Yeah, Iíll bet," Winston said. "This kind of weirdness would scare anybody. If heís not scared, heís crazy."
Mel grinned at him. "Not that. Thatís common sense. I mean panic-scared. Everybodyís scared all the time, really. Can sense it. Scared about their taxes, their spouses, the utility bill, if the carís gonna break down, if their kids are in trouble, if the boss will catch them because they snuck out earlyóstuff like that. I meant the kind of scared where youíre up against something thatís, well, evil, and mean to run."
"Sometimes we do run," said Ray with a grin, urging Mel on.
"Common sense," Mel insisted. "You guys are brave."
Peter stood a little straighter. He knew his team had courage. It was that or run screaming into the night and let the city get eaten by monsters. "So what do you think about Taggart?" he asked Mel as they reached the basement.
"Think I donít trust him," Mel said simply.
"He might be okay," said Ray. "Heís just a little too convinced heís invulnerable. I think heís more afraid there will be a demon and heíll make an idiot of himself than anything else."
"Well, no matter," Egon dismissed the occultist. "Heís gone now. Which way, Mel? Iím not detecting anything beyond extremely faint diffuse readings with no directional fix."
"This way," said Mel and plodded down the hall toward an open door.
Even as they reached it, a guy came out carrying a broom in one hand and a metal stepladder hooked over his other shoulder. He was a couple of inches shorter than Ray, bowlegged, and he wore a white shirt and suspendered pants. A drooping mustache hid his upper lip completely, and retreating grey hair gave him an unnaturally high forehead above a line of black eyebrows. When he saw them, he stopped dead and turned white. "What the hell...?" he blurted.
"Weíre the Ghostbusters, sir," Ray introduced them. "Weíre tracking readings."
"Well, there ainít any ghosts down here. I oughta know. Nobody comes down here without me saying so. And that includes Ghostbusters. Iíll call the owner if I hafta. Last thing we want is you guys trashing this building all over again. I was out of work for six months Ďcause of you that other time. Six lousy months."
"We did not bring Gozer here," Egon defended them. "We got rid of him. Would you rather he had taken over Manhattan, or even the planet Earth?"
"Iídía liked a steady paycheck for those six months, Ďstead of unemployment," the guy said. "Anyway, I ainít seen nothing weird down here, so go on, scram. Beat it."
"What say we call the Mayor and ask his permission?" Peter cajoled. "Heís a buddy of mine. I tell him something big and mean with lots of teeth is about to take over the city, whose side do you think heís gonna take? Come on, Mac, we just need to take readings. If thereís nothing here, weíll take off. How hard can it be? I betcha the owners would rather we caught something now before it got out of hand instead of blowing the place to pieces again."
The super glared at him. "Think youíre a big man, donít you, Venkman. Couldnít even keep your girlfriend safe, could ya?"
Peterís temper soared, but he reined it in with an effort so he wouldnít rearrange the guyís face. "Listen, pal, you gonna argue with somebody who carries a proton pack and thrower?"
"Peter," Egon warned.
"No, let me." Mel took hold of the guy by the shoulders and lifted him effortlessly right off the ground. "Eddie Plummer is in trouble. Gonna find him. You canít stop me." He didnít shake the guy, just held him a good yard off the floor, ladder and all. "Wonít damage anything unless an entity shows up. Promise."
The guy looked at Mel and shivered, but he was made of sterner stuff. "Yeah, well, my lawyer will make mincemeat outta you for manhandling me like this."
"Come on, sir," Ray wheedled. "All we want to do is rescue our friend. We wonít disturb any of your stuff. If your friend was in danger, youíd want help to find him. I know you would."
"Iím not gonna fall for the soft soap," the guy said. He kicked his feet a few times. "Hell, youíll probably call the cops on me, and theyíll back you, not me. I got a job to do. Put me down, Monstro."
"Be good?" Mel asked expectantly.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever."
Mel deposited him on the floor. "Thank you," he said formally, then he forged on past the guyís door. "This way," he said.
"Ainít nothing down there but the boiler room," the super called. "You mess with that and Iíll have your balls."
Mel looked over his shoulder at the little guy. "You can try," he said with beautiful simplicity.
The super stalked away, balancing his ladder on his shoulder, and didnít dignify that with a response. The very lines of his body suggested contempt.
"He was no fun," Peter said the second he was out of earshot. "Egon. Hey, Egon, you think heís part of this?"
Egon turned the meter after the super and studied it thoughtfully. "Hmmm," he said.
Peter tried to arch an eyebrow at Egon, but felt both of them go up. "And that means what, pray tell?" he asked.
"There is a faint class seven residue," Egon replied. "At this range it is not possible to determine if the super has had contact with it or if he has simply been in its vicinity for some time. I suspect the latter. He may simply be disagreeable, rather than complicit."
Mel ignored the reading as he stalked down the hall. "Demonís been here," he said. "Not typical. Stronger than me. A lot stronger."
"Well, thatís not what we wanted to hear," Peter muttered.
But Ray nodded. "Not powerful enough to stop the four of us and you, too, though, Mel. If my theories are right, it may be a manifestation of a force that feeds off music, and then it is possible it could be nearly as strong as an elementalóand we all know how tough they are. But if it has taken form, that would probably limit it a little."
"Okay, Ray, what about this?" Peter asked. "If itís a force that feeds on music and matches these residuals Egonís getting, you can bet it doesnít look anything like somebody who could walk down Fifth Avenue without attracting attention. So who sent the package, then? The Postal Service probably doesnít allow demons to mail letters."
Egon stopped abruptly. "That is an excellent question, Peter. We cannot assume a force such as we have postulated would have instantly assimilated late Twentieth Century culture. Even if it did understand the need of luring Eddie in, it would have to learn where to send the package and how to mail it. It might be able to assume human form, but how much more likely to believe it had a human accomplice. Perhaps even one of Eddieís fans who believed the creature was sending something special to his or her idol."
"Yeah, right, Egon," Peter said as they reached the boiler room. He looked into the place where sat a big, humming machine that vaguely reminded Peter of the outside of the containment unit, even if it was painted a dark blue. There was enough space around it on all sides for someone to walk and perform maintenance, but no other doors opened off the room. "If I wanted to send something to Sandra Bullock, I sure wouldnít send something a demon gave me. If thereís a human involved, heís not Eddieís groupie. Heís on the demonís side."
"But, Peter," Ray protested as he circled the boiler. His voice came to Peter from behind it as he moved, echoing oddly. "Demons are sneaky. Andóand die-hard groupies can probably be conned more easily than that super could."
"You donít think heís the demonís ally, do you, Ray?" Winston asked, and looked down the passage in the direction of the departed super. "Heís belligerent enough."
Ray emerged from his circumnavigation of the boiler, brushing a cobweb from his nose. "Nobody dusts back there," he muttered. "No, I donít think the super is. I think heís just unfriendlyóyou know, a grumpy guy. After Gozer, I think the last thing heíd do would be to pal around with demons. Wouldnít you have gotten stronger readings if he was an ally of the demon, Egon?"
"Most likely." Egon squinted at the meter reading through his sliding glasses, and shoved them impatiently into place. Youíd think there would be an optician out there who could fix that. "But if the demon is lurking around down here, then the super would surely have seen or sensed himóand he would definitely have noticed an ally of the demon passing through his area with regularity and driven him forth the way he tried to do us."
He had a good point. Peter frowned. If there was a demon and the super had gotten in his way, the demon would probably have removed him to make sure he didnít interfere. Demons werenít exactly sterling examples of patience and tolerance, after all.
"Mel?" Ray prompted. "Are you getting anything in here?"
Mel shook his head. "Too far," he said and retraced his steps.
Egon adjusted several dials on the meter. Peter would have thought it was fine-tuned to within an inch of its life, but there were probably tons of different settings for each nuance of reading. When Peter used a meter, it was quick and dirty, checking for standard goopers, but Egon would be more specialized. Heíd probably rather play with the meter than go out with Janine, although that was something none of them would dare to suggest to their secretary. Maybe Egon even took a meter on their dates and recorded the readings of interesting moments. Peter didnít dare ask Egon about that, either, not unless he wanted to wake up some morning and find heíd been turned bright green. Egonís revenge was always...interesting.
"Getting anything?" Ray fiddled with his own meter. He wasnít quite as adept as Egon with it. He was an extremely competent technician while Egon was a virtuoso. Dating Dana had taught Peter that a person could be a skilled musician and yet not truly musical. She had pointed out the difference more than once when speaking of a colleague. Ray could evoke almost anything from a meter, but Egon could draw forth even more.
"Not precisely," Egon said. "The readings are too faint to pin down. These are readings left over from the manifestation when Eddie surrendered to the force of the pendant, with a powerful class seven overlay. The overlay is stronger because itís been here regularly over a period of time. I would estimate several months. Long enough to leave a fingerprint, and to shade the super. However, if he had been in actual direct contact, I would likely have detected more from him...unless, of course, the demon could shield it. Yet if so, why not shield it entirely? I donít know how any human allies managed to get past the guy, especially on a regular basis, but presumably he is often out and about in the building doing repairs, and if he lives down here, the entity is likely not in the basement but under the park." He opened a door to reveal a row of washing machines and driers.
An elderly woman with blue hair let a pink baby-doll nightgown slip from her grasp and gasped at the sight of him. "Oh, my heavens, are there ghosts here again?" she wailed.
"No, maíam," Ray said earnestly over Egonís shoulder. "Weíre just checking. Youíre quite safe for the moment." He hesitated. "But when youíre done folding, go back to your apartment, if you would, just in case."
Egon picked up her nightgown and passed it to her politely. "Janine has one like this," he murmured, then blushed bright red. Peter stored up the moment for teasing purposes later. Not a good time for things like that.
"Come on," Egon said repressively and pulled the door shut behind him. He went to the next door along the passage and opened it.
"Storage," he murmured and stepped back to let them see rows of metal cages with apartment numbers mounted on them. In one of the nearer units, Peter saw a pair of skis, and beyond that what looked like a six-foot miniature of the gold Prometheus statue in Rockefeller Plaza. The meter was unimpressed.
Egon closed that door, too, and went along the hall a distance to the next one. It opened onto a flight of stairs that descended to a sub-basement level. A faded yellow and black civil defense fallout shelter sign clung weakly to the door at a slight angle.
"Ah," said Egon as the meter produced a halfhearted chirp. "This way."
Mel sniffed energetically. That kind of behavior would probably make little old ladies offer him a Kleenex, but Peter was getting used to having a trained psi "sniffer dog" as part of the team, and he merely waited for Melís reaction. "Eddie went here," he said, and without waiting for the guys, plunged into the stairwell.
"Take it slow, Mel," Egon cautioned. "Weíve got the throwers. Better let us go first."
"No," said Mel with an urgent gesture and hurried down.
"Come on," Ray cried, and charged after him.
** *** **
The entity ushered Eddie into a smaller room off the main chamber, with a thick metal door painted to look like wood. He found himself in a place that resembled any rehearsal room Eddie had ever been in, and it came complete with a couple of guitars, although they didnít bear any recognizable brand. One was electric and already plugged in to a modern amp system, the other very old. He picked that one up and let his fingers move over the satiny wood of the surface. No idea where it had come from but he was tempted to label it Spanish, and perhaps several hundred years old. When he strummed it faintly, a wonderful mellow sound emerged that brought a smile of rapture to his face.
Forgetting everything else, he picked out the melody line to Leftover Souls and went through the chorus before he began to sing, accompanying himself with flying fingers, even forgetting the demon who stood in the doorway listening and the golem at its side. When the golem came into the room and began to sing along with him, Eddie stiffened, but the golemís singing had improved, and it was a challenge to Eddie to sing a duet with what was in essence himself, so he let the music rule him, and sang on.
A wave of rapture came from the direction of the entity, so powerful that Eddieís medallion thrived on it. The warmth that flowed through him brought a feeling of sheer joy to his heart and he sang on, feeling the medallionís power thrumming in time with the music.
The golem picked up the other guitar and mimicked Eddieís fingering. Dueling banjos, Eddie thought wryly.
He wasnít sure how long they sang and played together, and the music flowed between them. But suddenly the entity sent a wave of anger through the link and stormed out, and Eddieís fingers fumbled on the strings. The golem stiffened into inactivity like a robot that has been turned off, then he jerked and walked away. There was less of the mummy in his walk, as if Eddieís blood had shifted some of Eddieís energy into him and the effect was growing. That should have worried Eddie, and he wondered why it didnít, but not very hard, not when the spirit of the music they had played sang within him.
The demon returned, its face hard and cold. "Come," he said to the golem. To Eddie, he added in a curiously gentle voice, "Sing a song about the sky," and went away.
The sky? Eddie frowned. He couldnít remember any songs off the top of his head that had anything to do with the sky, other than bits from old songs, and the standard, Blue Skies. Well, why not make his own, about the vast and limitless sky, the pure blue of a tranquil summer day, the turbulence of storm clouds, the glorious golds and pinks of sunsets, the gentle warmth of dawn. Words came to him effortlessly, pulling it all into a theme of freedom and beauty. Not a note went wrong.
Excitement surged from Eddie as words and notes came together flawlessly. He worked out orchestral accompaniment even though he had never composed for violin or cello or any of the horns. It was as if he suddenly knew how. Perfect. This one would need an orchestra behind him. He would do a solo with only Whitneyís flute, pure and clear as crystal, weaving in and out around the melody and soaring in descant, then with the orchestra coming in, its power rising slowly, building until it would strike a glorious crescendo at the climax. He felt no need to write it; the words were in his head, but as he drew breath after the burst of creation, he heard a whirring noise and realized equipment had taped it all, even his mumbled notes to himself about the orchestra. Amazing.
All right. This was here, and heíd use it. Quickly, he described his plans for the orchestra in detail, adding his comments about the various instruments. All went onto the tape. It seemed the entity who hosted him was prepared to accommodate him.
Satisfied with the song, stunned at how quickly it had come together, Eddie sat down in a soft chair in the corner and pondered. Why was he here? When would he see Whitney again? He should be worried at the separation, but he wasnít. The concern niggled faintly at the back of his mind the way the sight of a crooked picture on the wall might make him think of straightening it, but didnít overcome the love of music that flowed through him. Currents of warmth flowed through him like a balm. It was all right. He was free to make wonderful music. He could do whatever he liked.
Except walk out the door and go home?
Why didnít he mind?
His brow wrinkled with thought, he fished the medallion out from the front of his shirt and curled his fingers around it.
Was that what caused it all?
What should he do?
** *** **
The fallout shelter was not locked. At first sight, Winston suspected nobody had been in here since the Cold War. Dust lay thick over everything, and some of the walls had acquired a nasty green fuzz like a rotten peach. Over on one wall, a shelf held neatly stacked cans of food, probably so long past their use date they would kill anybody who tried to eat them. Benches ran around the walls, padded with Naugahyde or something equally unattractive. On a table in the corner sat an old short-wave radio. Winston would have liked to try it to see if it still worked, but he would bet a monthís paycheck it wouldnít. There were cobwebs in the corners. The only sign anyone had been there were the scuff marks on the dust of the stairs. Not a lot of traffic, but someone had come that way and the blurred tracks continued into the shelter. That proof had led them down, encouraged by Mel, who claimed Eddie had left the marks. There were some that crossed to one wall and back, and the more recent ones went over the top of them. Yet to Winstonís trained eye, several people had been there over a period of time because the most recent tracks disturbed the edges of earlier ones. The sender of the package? The demon, assuming human form?
Weird that Eddie had known where to come. The note they had found with the packaging of the pendant hadnít exactly given him directions to the building on Central Park West.
"The haunted fallout shelter," Peter muttered and glanced uneasily over his shoulder. "This is where Dracula would come if there was a nuclear warning. I wouldnít be surprised to see Frankensteinís Monster hiding in a corner, either."
"Well, I sure would," Ray said with a grin.
Egon plied his meter, and Ray, seeing him, copied the gesture. Both frowned. Mel had been unable to sniff through the heavy door, but once it was open, he had nodded and plunged in. If he had expected to find Eddie in here, he was disappointed because there was nothing inside but a few spiders and a big brown roach that scuttled across the floor. Roaches could get into anywhere, but the fact that it was there could mean there might be another way out.
"Very faint readings," Egon replied. "He came here. Or else an opening existed that led to the realm of Rayís putative entity. I donít see another door, however. Look around for it."
Peter prowled along the walls, checking for signs, and Mel went around the room pulling his sniffing number. Winston could tell how frantic he was, and Egon was the same. Ray, of course, was worried about Eddie, but he was caught up in the possibility of his spirit-of-music theory and sometimes forgot, in the midst of his eagerness, that the reason for the search was that a human being, a friend of theirs, had been controlled.
Peter was grim-faced, and Winston could tell this whole experience had brought back a couple of things to him: Wattís possession, and the backlash that had turned him temporarily into a superhero. Nothing he could have done about either happening, and he had finally accepted that about Watt, even though it had taken time. But he had buried the Venk-man debacle deep inside his mind, and this had resurrected it with a vengeance. For a guy like Peter who valued his friends above all, being reminded of a time when he had forgotten that made him squirm. He would risk much to save Eddie. Maybe too much. And then to have the trail lead to the place where Dana Barrett had lived...tough on him.
Winston vowed to keep an eye on Pete.
"Here," said Mel, plowing over to the wall with the canned goods.
"Yeah, I see a door all right," Peter said. "Turn right at the spinach and straight on till morning."
"No, heís right." Ray pointed at the floor. "Look."
A wedge-shaped mark in the dust of the floor indicated something had swung out from the wall; the shelf itself. It had happened recently, for no new dust had settled, and it had happened several times because in the widest pattern were a couple of lesser markings, as if it had opened a few other times but not quite as far. The footprints they had followed led here, too, where they hadnít been tromped on by the team.
Winston and Mel examined the end that had to be hinged, while Peter went to the other side and grabbed the middle shelf to pull on it. Nothing happened.
"Oh yeah," he muttered. "Sort of like pulling Madison Square Garden."
"Maybe it locks from the other side," Ray offered.
Egon frowned over his meter. "I think it must open from this side as well, Raymond. If Eddie came this way, he would have needed a way to get in. We must assume that he was heavily influenced at the very least, and that perhaps the entity was communicating with him, even if it were subliminally."
Peter gave another futile tug at the shelf, abandoned brute strength as a lost cause, and bent to squint at the underside of the shelf. Good idea. Winston knelt before the shelving unit and ran his fingers along the underside of the bottom shelf and then the one above it. When he looked up, he saw something that might be a latch under the next shelf up.
"Got it." He waved them back, then pulled the latch. With a click, the shelf shifted forward from the right-hand edge, pivoting on squeaky hinges in the rear left corner. What had seemed like the wall behind it moved right along; the back of the cabinet, posing as a wall.
Behind it was a door.
Not just an ordinary door, either, but something that would not have looked amiss in Draculaís castle, a ribbed number of heavy wood, with a circular grip of ancient iron instead of a doorknob.
"Wow," gasped Ray and snapped his fingers. "You know what, guys? I bet Ivo Shandor had this made long ago when he designed the building. When they built the fallout shelter here in the Fifties, they covered this up, but whoever planned the shelter must have figured it might be an escape route if the building should collapse, so they just covered up the door. I bet if we could find the blueprints for it, weíd see it."
"You still have the blueprints, donít you, Ray?" Winston asked. "I remember you looking at them when we were in jail that time."
"Hey, yeah. I probably do have them back at headquarters. Now that I think about it, I kind of vaguely remember there was a fallout shelter and a tunnel, but we were more interested in what was high than what was low. Gosh, do you think Shandorís Gozer worshipers used to meet down here?" He bounced on his feet. "There might be all kinds of nifty books and things."
"Yeah, and thereís definitely a nifty demon," Peter reminded him. "Come on, Ray, for all we know thereís a permanently open dimensional passage in there, and if we open this door it will be like opening Pandoraís box."
"Eddie is in there," Egon and Mel said in perfect chorus, reproach in their faces. They looked very much alike in that moment, since Mel had modeled his human form after Egonís cousin.
Peter held up his hands. "Hey, easy. I didnít say we leave him there, guys. I know weíve gotta get him back. Just warning you." He pulled his thrower and checked the settings.
Egonís face softened fractionally. "I know it will be dangerous in there, Peter, but I must rescue Eddie. How can I face Uncle Cyrus if I permit this to continue?"
Peterís mouth twisted slightly. The other three Ghostbusters werenít that fond of Egonís uncle, who had once called in an old promise of Egonís to force him to give up busting. Cyrus had come around, but Winston was pretty sure Peter didnít trust him an inch. That didnít mean the team wouldnít give their all to save his son. "Yeah, Spengs, weíre with you. Just letting you know it probably wonít be pretty."
"We do have Mel," Egon reminded him.
Mel nodded vehemently. "Yeah. Gonna get Eddie backóno matter what it takes." He stood tall and imposing, and that was in his human form. If he shifted, heíd be even more impressive. But could he hope to take on an entity Ray thought would probably be as powerful as an elemental, able to mask his own readings? Mel might be a class seven, but he wasnít at the top end of the seven range. Winston was never very comfortable with demons, although heíd gotten more comfortable with Mel, especially after the time Mel had spent Christmas with the Ghostbusters because Eddie didnít think his father would have been too thrilled to have his son bring a demon home for the holidays.
"Well, are we just gonna stand here?" Ray asked. He tucked the meter into his pocket, drew his thrower, then reached out and grasped the door handle with his other hand. "Ready?"
Winston, Egon, and Peter aimed their throwers at the door. "Ready," they said in unison.
Ray pulled. It was almost anticlimactic to have the door slide open on well-oiled hinges, revealing no lurking demon but instead a long, dark passage dimly lit at long intervals with what must be 25-watt bulbs set in little globes. Some of them appeared to be burned out because the intervals between them were irregular. The floor was concrete, and it looked like water had leaked in over the years because the air was thick with dampness and lichen decorated the walls. Here and there the light glittered off small puddles of water that lingered on the floor. The place smelled like mold and mildew.
Egon stared. Only his cousinís need would keep him from examining the growth on the walls. Who but Egon would find such things fascinating? Other guys might collect baseball memorabilia, fishing trophies, old Playboy magazines. Peter had a collection of his favorite issues in a box under his bed. But Egon went for spores, molds, and fungi. Weird guy, Egon. One of the greatest guys going...but definitely weird.
Mel sniffed. "Eddie," he said with satisfaction and would have plunged into the tunnel in eager pursuit if Egon hadnít thrust out his arm automatically to bar the entrance.
"Wait. I want to take thorough readings first," he said. "Let me test for Eddieís biorhythms."
"We know heís there," Peter reminded him with a nod at Mel.
"We also know," Egon said sternly, "that an entity is with him." He pointed to his meter that was having a hissy fit, if silently. He must have turned off the sound. Just as well. "It is every bit as powerful as Ray suspected it would be. If it is a class seven, it is at the top of the range. It is not quite an elemental, but the difference is minuscule. I donít like this," he concluded unnecessarily.
Winston didnít like it either. That time the water elemental had taken over their television set had not been fun. The throwers hadnít been strong enough to control it, and in the end theyíd needed to draw down lightning to zap it. They werenít likely to find any convenient lightning underground. Could they tie into the power system here? Con Ed would have a fit if they caused a citywide blackout, but if it stopped a major demon, theyíd probably be forgiven, just handed the repair bill.
Easier to think about power bills than the confrontation ahead of them. Whatever was going down, they wouldnít find it easy. Winston shuddered. "So what do we do?" he asked. "Just walk down there and start blasting? We need to develop a plan. And then a Plan B."
"We need more thorough readings," Egon replied. "These indicate the demon has considerable physical properties. The valence shades into the negative. I wish I had brought the atomic destabilizer with us. It would have given us a definite edgeóand from these readings, weíll need one."
"Itís not, by chance, in Ecto, is it?" Peter asked hopefully.
"Unfortunately, no. Itís back at headquarters. We could go after it, but it would take a long time, and I am reluctant to leave Eddie under the demonís control any longer than I can help, for fear the control over him will only strengthen with time." He heaved a depressed sigh and made a gesture with the meter that suggested his frustration. Peter patted his shoulder.
Ray studied his own readings and frowned "Mel, youíre a demon. Can you help?"
Mel looked at the meter Ray held out to him and grimaced. "Can try," he said. "Can shield Eddie anyway. If we can get the pendant away from him, maybe we can break the link."
"We canít do anything if we donít move," Egon said. "Weíll want full streams on this one. Set your throwers, everyone. And be prepared. If we can detect it, it most likely already knows weíre here. We donít understand the full extent of its powers, and if it devised a scheme like this to take Eddie under its control, to make certain Eddie voluntarily accepted its control, then it will scarcely permit us to walk in and take him. Even if we are able to zap and trap the entity without the destabilizer, that may not remove the control from Eddie."
"Donít say Ďifí, Egon," Winston muttered.
Egon glanced at Winston, who saw in his eyes the fear the four throwers might not be enough, even with Melís aid. He frowned. "Mel, I want you to protect him and to remove the pendant. You are strong enough to do it even if he fights you."
Mel braced himself. "Even if he hates me," he said, and Winston could tell the thought of that ate at him like acid. "Eddie needs my help," he said as if that were final.
"Once youíve done that," Egon continued doggedly, "youíll need to stand with us against the demon. Itís the only way to protect Eddie."
"I will." Mel stood, rigid and determined. "Letís go."
They entered the tunnel, and water splashed beneath their feet as they walked. Once they had passed the first puddle, the eerie shadows closed around them, faintly lit by the intermittent lights. Had Ivo Shandor really set this up? The walls looked like they had been tunneled out of bedrock, but Winston wasnít sure if there would be bedrock this high. Subways ran lower than this, after all.
The tunnel sloped steadily downward, and only the fact that it would run level for a space and then descend again gave water places to stand for their boots to slosh through. It was never more than an inch deep, usually less than that, a thin tracing of water over the irregular surface of the floor that made it slippery enough for them to move carefully. It wouldnít have surprised Winston to have a few bats swoop at them, or even to encounter one of those urban myths like alligators in the sewers.
Once, they found a side passage, even rougher, like a natural cave tunnel that led drastically down. No light bulbs illuminated it, but Ray pulled the flashlight from his utility belt and shone it down the passage. Mel sniffed once and shook his head. Eddie wasnít down there.
"Oh, man," Winston muttered. "I donít like that."
"I think itís kinda neat," Ray muttered. "When this is over, Iíd like to see where it goes."
"Iíll tell you where it goes," Peter said melodramatically, and waved a hand. "Probably straight to the Balrogís lair."
Rayís eyes brightened, but he shook his head regretfully. "This is not the Mines of Moria, Peter."
"Well, a Balrog is a demon, isnít it? Like a fire elemental."
"Other than the fact that a Balrog is fictional, Peter..." Egon began, when the sound of running footsteps reached them and his voice trailed off. They could hear the scrape of shod feet against the passage, the splash of water, the gasping of urgent breath. As one, the five of them whirled, and Ray aimed his flashlight to aid the dimness of the light. The other three pointed their throwers.
Eddie Plummer, clad in unfamiliar clothing, his hair tangled, his face streaked with a smear of dirt that might have come from a collision with the walls, his eyes wide with panic, scrambled toward them, pausing only long enough to peer urgently over his shoulder. The whites of his eyes caught the gleam of Rayís flashlight, and he jerked at the unexpectedness of the light, blinking.
"Eddie!" bellowed Mel and ran for him.
Eddie flinched at the stampede of demon and Ghostbusters, then caught himself. "Oh, thank God," he whispered as if he hadnít immediately recognized them. "Get me out of here now before he realizes Iím gone."
"Eddie," Mel whispered. He caught Eddie by the shoulders, then jerked his hands back. "Different," he whispered, his face twisting. "What did it do to you?"
Egon took a hasty reading, and whistled. "Eddie, your biorhythms are severely depressed. Iíve never seen any so badly affected. Are you hurt?" He gripped his cousinís arm, his relief tempered by the fear that there might prove to be nasty side effects to whatever had happened to Eddie. Peter noticed his worry and sidled closer, prepared to help out with whatever was needed. Ray stared at Eddie, relieved, too, but worried, and looked down the passage to make sure nothing nasty was running after him. With a grimace, Winston checked, too. Not a trace of a demon, but then they could be invisible, couldnít they? Wouldnít Rayís meter tell?
He nodded at Rayís meter, and Ray held it up to show there were no approaching readings of anything powerful enough to set it off. So far, so good.
"Egon?" Eddie blinked at him as if he had only just realized heíd been rescued. He ventured a faint smile, but the fear lingered on his face, and he glanced uneasily over his shoulder. "Can we get out of here? Heíll come after me."
"Weíll do that," Egon said. "Are you hurt, Eddie?" He gestured toward the exit, then adjusted the meter and turned it the way Eddie had come. "Itís there. Itís not approaching. We must depart quickly. Can you make it?"
"Iíll carry him," Mel said, and scooped Eddie up into his arms the way a mother would carry a small child, and frowned as Eddie at first stiffened, then cautiously relaxed. Melís frown eased but didnít entirely go away. Could he sense that Eddie might be still controlled in spite of his words?
Was this a trap? Where was the medallion? Was it still influencing him? Once they got him away from here, theyíd have to check, but he couldnít see any trace of its chain visible where Eddieís shirt pulled slightly as Mel gripped him.
"Gently with him, Mel," Egon urged as they retraced their steps toward the fallout shelter. "Heís suffered a severe psi trauma. Thatís the only way I can account for these readings." The frown on his face must have set off alarms with Peter because he hovered close to Egon, his thrower gripped in white-knuckled hands, ready to defend them all. Ray brought up the rear, his meter aimed behind him so theyíd have an instant heads up if the creature pursued Eddie.
"Medallion," Winston muttered in a whisper to Egon.
"I know," Egon replied and held up the meter to indicate there were no readings to indicate it.
"Iím all right, Mel," Eddie said. He was shivering, leaning against Melís chest as if seeking warmth, but Winston could tell his muscles were tense and he wasnít really relaxed. No wonder. "I finally took it offóthe medallion," he explained, his voice vague and unsteady. Had he heard Winston? "Once I did that, I could see clearly. It was controlling me. I knew I had to get away. Can we hurry? If he realizes Iím gone..." His voice trailed off in a shudder. Mel made a distressed sound and hugged him to his chest.
"Heís too cold," he said. "It must have drained him."
"It did," Egon replied. "Now that the medallion is gone, he should bounce back, although it may take several hours." He glowered accusingly at the meter screen. "We must depart this place before we face pursuit."
Egon had a definite knack for stating the obvious.
"Youíre safe now, Eddie," Ray soothed. "We assumed there was an entity and that it was tied to music, somehow. Almost a music elemental. Iíve got the readings. If it comes, Iíll know."
Eddieís head bobbed against Melís shoulder. "It was," he said. "Some kind of music demon. It wanted to steal my music, to make me create music for it." He shivered again. "It let me make musicóand what I wrote was beautiful. I think thatís why I...let it. It was...like a drug high, I suppose. I donít know, really compelling. But even for that I couldnít... It would have taken me away from everything I love. Whitney... Cy..." He gazed at Egon. "I knew youíd come, that youíd try to rescue me, but when I had the medallion on I didnít care. I was afraid youíd take it away from me. But then the truth hit me. I couldnít sing only for him. I love musicóbut the price was too high. I couldnít pay it."
"Of course it was. You must be very strong to have realized that on your own," Egon assured him. "The effort drained you; thatís why you feel so weak now. But biorhythm energy returns when the source of the draining is removed. Weíll take you to safety, and youíll soon feel better." Egon sounded so determined that Winston could tell he was trying to convince himself as well as Eddie.
They reached the fallout shelter and plunged in, and Ray yanked the door shut behind him. The demon had not pursued Eddie. Did that mean it had shifted into another dimension and left him unprotected? No, because Egon had detected readings, and Ray was still getting something, faint and far away, back the way theyíd come.
Did that mean it had gotten what it wanted from Eddie and was willing to let him go?
Or did it mean the demon would come for him againóand take out anyone who tried to stand in its way? Rescuing Eddie couldnít be the end of it. Theyíd left behind a nasty enemy, one who would be out for blood when it realized its captive songbird had wised up and taken off. Or was Eddie still controlled and playing a different game?
Was he meant to lure Whitney and Jackson down into darkness with him, too?
Mel had said he was different. Mel should be able to tell...and look at him. Eddieís pet demon did not look at all happy. He muttered soothingly to Eddie, but his eyes glittered uneasily. His grip was tight. Did he expect Eddie to make a break for it, back the way he had come?
They hurried through the fallout shelteróRay slammed the secret door behind themóand up the stairs to the main basement. No trace of the sour-tempered super to block their way. Quickly they trekked up the stairs to the lobby of Danaís old building.
There, with the shadows of late afternoon reaching for the Park across the street, Eddie blinked at the sudden light like a man awakening from a bad dream. "Put me down, Mel," he urged. "I can walk. Iím okay."
Obediently, Mel set him upon his feet, and after a minute, he found his balance and stood without wavering. "I hurt Whitney, didnít I?" he said as they stepped out onto Central Park West.
"Whitney will understand," Peter said quickly. "Sheíll know you werenít in control." He sounded soothing and sympathetic, but he hadnít let go of his suspicion, either. Winston could hear it in his voice, but he didnít think Eddie knew him well enough to pick up on it.
Winston didnít blame Pete for being suspicious. It had been far too easy. At any second the demon could come boiling up through the very ground and grab Eddie back. Egonís meter remained active and heíd adjusted it to match the readings heíd taken in the tunnel. He was frowning, not at Eddie, not when he hovered so protectively beside his cousin, but at the threat he had not forgotten. Did he wonder that Eddie hadnít apologized for decking him? The bruise on his chin had darkened; Eddie couldnít help seeing it, yet he said nothing.
"We must leave here," Egon said. "I donít trust the demon to give up this easily. It isnít natural." He waved the meter at Eddie again. "These readings are still depressed. Iím concerned that as long as you remain in such close proximity, the entity may be able to drain you."
"But he lost," said Eddie. "I beat him, Egon. I didnít submit to the power of the medallion. He canít come for me. There are rules. He didnít want me to guess them, but I did. He wonít come after me. Heíll be angry, though. He might mean to take revenge, but he canít take it on me."
"So, on us, then?" Winston asked, dismayed. This was not going well. Even with Eddie safely back, that sounded bad. "Or on the city?"
Eddieís shoulders lifted in an infinitesimal shrug. "I donít know. I barely figured out what I did, and when he didnít come after me, I thought I had to be right. Egon, I want Whitney. Can we go?"
Peterís frown deepened. He caught Egonís eye and motioned him off to one side. "Spengs, listen."
Winston and Ray shifted closer, and Mel must have picked up on Peterís intent because he went into a flurry of fussing over Eddie, asking him urgent questions so he wouldnít overhear.
"What is it, Peter?" Egon asked, and the way his mouth drew tight proved he didnít expect a happy response.
"This is waaaay too easy. How do we know heís not still controlled and the demon let him go so he could trap the rest of the band? He said he gave the pendant thingy backóbut we only have his word for that. Or that he doesnít have more of them for Whitney and Jackson. If the demon liked having Eddie as his music slave, think how much more heíd like having the whole band."
"I have considered that, Peter," Egon replied gravely. "Yes, his escape does appear too easy. While it may be true that, in removing the pendant, he broke the bond and rendered the demon powerless to stop him, I am wary of trusting in that. When we saw him at the rehearsal hall, he appeared to thrive under the control."
"Hey, you found him."
The shout made them all turn. Jack Taggart must have been waiting to see what would happen. Having decided no demons were about to follow, heíd risked returning.
Eddie squinted at him doubtfully, and Ray told him, "This is Jack Taggart. He lives down the block, and he knows a little about occult things. We consulted him when we were looking for you."
"Good to see you, man," Taggart told Eddie. He still had his modified meter with him. "The Ghostbusters were pretty worried about you. You look pretty bad."
Eddieís mouth quirked faintly. "Thatís precisely how I feel."
"We need to get you away from here," Egon said. "I would also suggest you see a doctor."
"No." The word came sharply and abruptly. "I donít need a doctor. I need Whitney. Iíll be okay. You said it yourself, Egon, that the biorhythms would improve. Doctors wouldnít understand anyway. Just take me back to Whitney."
Peter caught Winstonís eye and shook his head slightly. Winston inclined his head to let Peter know he understood Peterís doubt. People didnít just throw off demonic control so easily. Even without the medallion, the damage might have already been done. Eddieís insistent need of Whitney might be no more than the fact that she was his wife, he loved her, and wanted to make amends. But it might mean he wanted to take her down to the demonís realm with him. They couldnít allow that to happen. If the demon had sent him out, it might have timed his release with the Ghostbustersí approach to keep them out of its domain.
Taggart took a reading of Eddie with his own meter. "I donít know what a doctor could do," he said. "This is a paranormal thing. You guys must have picked up on these depressed readings. What do you think theyíd do at the ER? Try to stabilize his electrolytesóthatís about all they can do, make sure he isnít dehydrated, do a standard physical, isnít it?"
Winston nodded. That was what they always did when the guys suffered any form of psi backlash: a brush of a thrower at low power, the attack of an entity. It would probably be a good idea to have Eddie checked out, but he was so freaked he was resisting. Or else he was afraid lingering control might be revealed during a doctorís examination. That was nuts. If the meters couldnít reveal it, how could a doctor ever guess? They didnít exactly study demonic possession in medical school.
"It is," Egon replied. He frowned at Taggart. "Your meter is different from ours. Can you detect anything that might cause problems?"
Taggart studied Eddie, his meter aimed at the singer. "Just what I call demon fingerprints. Theyíre fading. See?" He passed the meter to Egon, who studied it. "Fading proof of contact, Iíd say. Itíll keep on fading till itís gone, I bet."
"Hmmm." Egon squinted at the screen, and then adjusted the dials. "Thatís what it appears to be, but I would have expected it to be stronger."
Eddie shook his head. The sunglasses he habitually wore perched in his hair were missing, and he looked strange without them. "No, heís right. Itís fading, Egon. I can feel it. Iím getting better. I just want to see Whitney so I can make it up to heróand Jackson, too. The new songs arenít worth what I did to them."
"Songs?" Ray echoed, but then he shook his head and set that aside for later. "What do you think we ought to do, Egon?"
"Ordinarily, I would take him back to Whitney at the hotel, and continue to run tests, but Eddie was controlled by an entity almost as powerful as an elemental. Iím not sure removing a medallion is enough to fully remove the spell. I suggest we take him back to Ghostbuster Central and run more tests. We can call Whitney from there and let her know we have Eddie. By the time she and Jackson come over, weíll be sure the control is really gone."
"No!" Eddieís voice rang with unexpectedly ferocity. When they stared at him, he spread his hands in a gesture of apology for the sharpness of his tone. "Sorry. I didnít mean to snap. I guess itís just all been too much for me. I just want to go home."
"Yeah, and we donít blame you, guy," Peter said. "But hereís the deal. Wouldnít you rather be sure you arenít putting Whitney at risk before you do that?"
Eddie glared at him as if he thought Peter was refusing him his wife. He took a few deep, urgent breaths, then made himself calm down. "I donít want to hurt Whitney," he said. "I just want to see her."
"I know," Ray soothed. "But letís make sure youíre really okay first."
"Come on, guys. Iím not controlled anymore. I can tell the difference even if your meters canít."
Egon returned Taggartís meter and accepted his own. Switching it from biorhythms to standard settings, he took a reading of Eddie. "The usual indicators of possession arenít showing. But Mel said you were different. Mel? How much of that is from his depressed biorhythms and how much is from what Taggartís meter revealed?"
"Doesnít feel right," Mel said. "Itís as ifóas if he isnít quite Eddie any more. Or heís...less of Eddie. Weird. Donít like it."
"The depressed biorhythms," Ray offered. "Or even a different form of possession. We need to run more thorough tests with the equipment back at the lab."
Eddie looked at Mel in surprise as if he had forgotten Mel still had his demon abilities. He offered Mel a half-smile. "Iím still me, Mel," he said, then turned to Egon, who was pondering the meter. "What are you getting, Egon?"
"Nothing to indicate possession, but a strange fringe reading I havenít seen before. It isnít controlóI think you are correct and the demon is no longer in control. But itís something unusual. It might be the lingering residuals from the medallionís power. Eddie, do one thing, if you please? Open your shirt so we can be absolutely certain it is gone."
Winston nodded. He hadnít been happy taking Eddieís word for it.
Without a trace of hesitation, Eddie undid the top three buttons of his shirt and pulled it back. Clearly, nothing was hanging around his neck. His face tight, he turned out his pockets for them. "See? I wasnít lying about it. Iím not controlled by the medallion. And I didnít bring any more of them so I could possess Whitney or Jackson, either. I know youíre wondering that, but I didnít. I would never hurt them."
That didnít sound anything but utterly sincere.
Mel clasped Eddieís shoulder. "Still feel different," he said. He gripped Eddieís other shoulder and looked down into his eyes. "Want me to go back and fight it?" he asked.
Eddie stared at him in stunned disbelief. "You canít," he said.
"Can," Mel replied. He stood there, big and shaggy and determined, his mouth tight. "Might not win," he added reluctantly. "But I will if you want me to."
Eddie blinked. "You would do that?" he whispered, awed. "For me?"
Mel gave one fierce nod. "Would do anything," he vowed. "You know I would."
Eddie gazed up into the demonís ardent eyes, then lowered his own. His shoulders slumped, and a question filled his face, followed by doubt. His brow wrinkled.
Winston didnít have a clue what he was thinking, but he was probably humbled by Melís loyalty. Mel was, in effect, offering to riskóand possibly sacrificeóhis own life for Eddieís sake. Of course, heíd done that before, but Eddie was really rocky as a result of the demonís meddling, obviously not yet thinking clearly. Melís dedication had stunned him.
"No," he said at last. "Donít do that. I donít want to see it ever again."
And that wasnít anything but true. Winston could tell. Unless Eddie was the new Olivier, he wanted no further contact with the demon, even by proxy. Winston didnít blame him.
"I think we should go," Ray said quickly.
"To your headquarters?" Taggart asked.
Peter looked at him and frowned. "We need to make sure heís safe," he said. "Thanks for your help, but weíll take it from here."
Taggart frowned. "I might be able to help," he offered.
That made Egon turn. "No, thank you. We appreciate what youíve done, and would also appreciate it if you remained here on site, or at least in your apartment, with your meter active, and notify us if there is any change in the readings. If the entity emerges from its underground retreat, we will need to know at once. If you would agree to that, we would be very grateful."
Taggart hesitated, then shrugged. He had to realize he could hardly push his way into Ecto because he was interested in what was going on. At least this would give him an excuse to stay in touch, which wasnít Egonís plan, but which Taggart would believe gave him an in. Encountering a demon a couple of months ago hadnít squelched his interest in the world of the paranormal, just added a thin layer of caution.
"Weíd sure be grateful if youíd do that, Jack," Ray wheedled.
Taggart grimaced. "Sure, why not. But Iím not standing around here in front of this place. Itís gotta be a magnet for trouble, ever since the old days when that Shandor guy was doing his shtick. Iíll head back to my apartment. Anything that powerful will set my meter off even from there."
Egon lifted his eyes from the meter. "Mister Taggart, I appreciate your assistance," he said. "I hope in future for a chance to study the modifications to your meter, but right now determining how best to aid Eddie has to take precedence."
"I understand," Taggart agreed and stepped back, still clutching his meter. If Egonís abrupt dismissal offended him, it didnít show in his face.
They went over to Ecto, and Mel helped Eddie in. He looked around the antique hearse with fascination as if he had never seen it before. Probably he had believed he would never see the world again. Crowded in between Egon and Mel, who mothered him in their own ways, he looked small and fragile, diminished by his experience. If someone dropped a pin, he probably wouldnít jump more than ten feet.
Winston had been to Nam. He knew unexpected and violent trauma could create Post Traumatic Shock. Eddie was shocked enough right now. If only he wasnít too damaged to recover from the experience.
As they headed south toward Ghostbuster Central, Egon took constant readings, his frown deepening as there was no sign of improved biorhythms. Eddie didnít talk much except for a few random comments about writing a new song, down there in the demonís realm.
"He had a sound recording system," Eddie said. "I wish I could have brought the tape with me. I did this song about the sky..." His voice trailed off into a faint whisper. "I think I can remember most of it."
"Youíll remember," Mel assured him, his voice full of urgent need for Eddie to be normal again. "Weíll all help."
"We certainly will," Egon said, and Winston could hear the note of grim determination when he spoke. Egonís shoulders were rigid, his mouth tight. In his eyes, doubt and fear warred with each other.
Had the entity stolen too much of Eddie for him to bounce back? Winston didnít want to think that might be the case, but this was only a shell of the real Eddie. How much had he been drained? Shouldnít he have started coming back by now? There he sat, huddled between Egon and Mel, looking small and weary and hopeless, rocking slightly in his seat, as if the world had grown too big for him. A taxi cut in front of them with a blare of its horn, and Eddie flinched and quivered. A wild look around at the Manhattan traffic made him close his eyes with a helpless moan. Bad. That was bad.
Winston had seen Eddie traumatized before. Once, a demon had created an illusion that his voice was harsh and ugly, and Eddie had nearly given up. At least that had been something specific, something that could be dealt with, and had been.
Theyíd deal with this, too.
They had to.
** *** **
"Send for Whitney," Eddie insisted. "Egon, if you have to run tests, canít you at least bring her here?"
The team plus Mel and Eddie had gathered in the third-floor lab at Ghostbuster Central, and Eddie looked around as if heíd never seen the place before, his eyes wide and doubtful, shadowed with weariness and suspicion. Peter studied him. The guyís elevator wasnít going all the way to the top floor. Whatever the demon had done to him had changed him in more than just meter readings. Peter was afraid heíd been too messed up to come back to normal. In spite of his escapeóand Peter was still waiting for the other shoe to drop on that oneóhe didnít believe theyíd won. Mel must have wondered, too, or maybe he had clued in with one of his demon senses, because he hovered at Eddieís side like a mother duck protecting a sick duckling. With a faint grin, Peter imagined him giving a quack. No, nothing was funny here. Too much could still go wrong.
In a fussy bustle, Egon set up the equipment to run his tests, full of urgent need that showed in the way he moved, tightened knobs on his gizmos, and gazed every few seconds at the rescued singer. All the Ghostbusters liked Eddie, and in the beginning Peter had thought it a real kick to have a famous rock star as a buddy, but he was Egonís cousin, and Egon was fond of him. His worry for Eddie shone so bright they almost didnít need the overhead lights. If only there was a way to reassure Egon, to make certain Eddie could be restored to normal.
Would it help to ask him to sing? In music, Eddie had always found his inner spirit; he would sing and the world would right itself for him, the way Peter had once watched Dana unwind by playing the cello. Now Eddie had made a choice that had thrown away the gift of making spectacular music. Did he regret what heíd done?
Did he want to go back?
Peter considered himself a decent psychologist. Even though he used the side of his training that applied to parapsychology more than he used conventional psychology, he did use it, and in more than just his occasional volunteer work at the free clinic on Delancy Street. His understanding of the human psyche helped the team to deal with certain types of ghosts, and to reassure flustered and panicked clients. It let him know when one of his buddies was over-stressed and needed a sympathetic ear or the right amount of encouragement, and told him when to make a smartass remark as a tension-breaker on a tough bust.
But he simply could not get a handle on Eddieís problem. There he sat, staring around as if he feared the equipment would get up and lunge at him, cringing at the slightest sound, and it should have looked like the kind of trauma that follows a nasty psi experience, but it didnít. Peter had dealt with post-bust stress with any number of clients after a successful bust, coaxing them back to comfort and reassuring them the crisis was past. His awareness let him know when to recommend the client go in for counseling, because sometimes, if the entity in question had been tough enough, the client needed help to come to terms with the incident.
This was different. Peter didnít know how, but it was. Depressed biorhythms could indicate physical harm, yet there wasnít a mark on Eddie. Maybe they should have taken him to the hospital. Even though he had resisted, it might have been the smart thing to do. If Egonís equipment didnít find psi answers, Peter would hold out for that. It wouldnít do to have Eddie keel over and go into shock, not the way his biorhythms remained so severely depressed.
"Eddie?" Peter asked, touching the singer on the shoulder. "Can we hear the new song?"
Eddie looked at him as if heíd lost his mind. So did the other Ghostbusters, but after a moment, Egon nodded.
"Yes, Eddie, can we hear it?" He smiled at his cousin. "Maybe it will help."
"How can it help?" Eddie asked bitterly, then he shrugged as if it didnít matter, and sang.
The song was great. Whoíd have thought something about the freedom of the sky would work out, but it did. What didnít was Eddieís singing. It was as if the heart had gone out of him when he took off the medallion. His voice was still pure and mellow, but it didnít have the usual spirit. A result of the depressed biorhythms?
Yet, Eddie smiled as he sang. That was good. He might be coming back on his own. A quick glance at Egon proved he had seen what Peter had, the hollowness of Eddieís spirit. Maybe music couldnít heal him after all, or maybe it was just too soon.
Eddie finished. "There it is," he said and looked at them almost defiantly.
"Wow, thatís a great song," Ray enthused, but Peter could hear a faint element of doubt in it. Winstonís face didnít reflect worry, but his eyes did. The four of them exchanged glances. It might just be too soon. Peter hoped it was only that.
They stood around awkwardly for a minute, then Egon turned back to his testing. His face was impassive as he worked, but Peter knew him too well to fall for the emotionless Spock number. Egon had a whole series of non-expressions he wore when things bugged him, and Peter had learned to recognize every single one. He caught Rayís eye and indicated Egon, and Ray gave a quick nod. Heíd picked up on how upset Egon was, too. Winston hovered, the way he did when he knew his buddies needed him, ready to jump in and do whatever was necessary to help. The team would stand together and face whatever happened next.
Eddie just sat there while Egon worked around him, staring vacantly into space in a way that sent uneasy shivers up and down Peterís spine. Every now and then heíd say, "I want Whitney," as if heíd been conditioned to remind people. Conditioned? To take her back with him? Even if Egon couldnít detect any of the readings typical of possession, Peter wondered if he were still controlled in a different way. The medallionís power readings had never held PK energy, so why should lingering control reveal itself to the meters? If the medallionís power were crafty enough, willing to lie dormant until the opportune moment, then it could be still influencing him. The only thing was, Peter didnít know if it could lie dormant enough to fool a PKE meter that Egon had modified to include all types of non-PK power.
"Iíll do a scan first," Egon said in a tight voice that was so far from normal that Peter drifted over and gave his shoulder an encouraging pat. He even helped Egon set up his colander electrode gizmo. Egon had originally intended the gizmo to serve as a lie detector, to weed out kooks who claimed to have seen ghosts when they really hadnít, but heíd modified it heavily over the years so it now revealed the shape of possession and the abilities of ESP. A useful gadget.
"Thisíll be fun, Eddie," he kidded. "Egon uses this on me when he wants to calibrate it or test me for whatever weirdness is going down. Itíll give you a bad-hair day, but then, your hair looks like itís won first place in the bad-hair derby already, so no harm done."
He expected Eddie to reach up and settle his hair. Most guys were vain enough to do that, even Egon, whose peculiar "do" could do with a little un-settling. But Eddie just shrugged.
"Itís okay, Peter. Iíll fix it later."
Ordinarily, Peter would have let that go. The guy had been through one heck of a nasty experience. He was probably still too stunned to worry about how he looked, or he would have had a fit at the nerd uniform he was wearing. Why had the demon dressed him in such a boring white shirt and ill-fitting pants? He looked like a Louis Tully wannabe. A means of domination? Had it destroyed Eddieís clothes, ripped them off him down there in the tunnel? And that led to a whole raft of other unpleasant speculations. Peter didnít want to go there, but he stored the thoughts for later.
"This wonít hurt, Eddie." Egon perched the device on Eddieís head, settled it into place, and activated the monitor screen. "It will just alert us to signs of possession."
"Iím not possessed," Eddie said tiredly as if he meant to go on repeating it until the next millennium. "Iím just whacked, and I want Whitney." His voice sharpened. "Is that so hard to understand, that Iíd want my wife? You have no right to keep me from her."
"We can call her and tell her youíre safe as soon as the tests are over," Ray offered in a soothing voice. Nobody did soothing better than Ray.
Eddie remained unsoothed. He lifted a hand to dislodge the colander, but Egon caught his wrist to stop him. "Just for a few minutes, Eddie. We can reassure Whitney better if we know youíre free of the entityís control."
"I freed myself," Eddie said hotly. "You guys didnít get there in time. I did it. Me." He yanked free of the grip and would have jumped out of the chair if Egon hadnít been in the way.
"Eddie!" Mel cried, stricken. "Theyíre trying to help you. Please, you have to let them." He leaned over Egon, took Eddieís hands, and lowered them. At a gesture from Egon, he let go. Probably old Spengs thought physical contact with a demon would contaminate the test, even a good-guy demon like Mel.
Eddie threw them a resentful glare, his eyes hot with annoyance, and he sat rigid in the chair, folding his arms across his chest. Mel hovered, ready to guard him and to make sure he followed through, and Eddie must have realized he didnít have a chance against Melís demon strength, for he stayed where he was, glowering at them impartially. That was so not Eddie. Peter drifted closer to Egon.
Egon turned back to the monitor screen and adjusted the focus.
Peter glanced at the screen, then took a second look when Egon froze. The physicist had told the rest of the team that when he took readings with this device of the possessed Louis Tully, that an image of a terror dogís head had appeared on the screen. This time, there was no terror dog, thank goodness. No demon image, either. Instead, what appeared on the screen in place of Eddieís head was a vague and near formless lump of clay. It held the general shape of a human head, with shadowy indentations where the eyes would be and a round hollow to represent the mouth, but it looked so far from human that Egon blurted out a horrified cry.
Ray paled. In a quick lunge, he grabbed up the spectrometer, which gave special readings of entities, useful in classifying oddities. It went berserk when he turned it on.
"Raymond?" Egonís question was so reluctant, so full of shock Peter almost wished the device hadnít reacted so strongly. Ray made hasty adjustments, fine-tuning as fast as he could, his bottom lip caught between his teeth as he stared at the readout screen.
"Oh, gosh, Egon," he breathed, his eyes huge. "Itís a golem."
"Golem?" Winston echoed, staring. "You mean itís not Eddie? Itís a double?"
"No, that would be a doppelganger," Egon said in a precise clear voice as if he had to work hard at enunciating or the words would not come. "A golem is a creature animated from inanimate matteró"
With a yell, Eddieóthe golemótore the device from its head and threw it at Egon. The projectile hit the side of his head but it wasnít heavy enough to do serious damage. The edge of it sliced a cut on Egonís temple that immediately gushed blood, but Egon didnít stagger, although he jerked slightly. Peter yelled and leaped for Egon. He rarely wished for Slimerís presence, but maybe if the little ghost had been here when theyíd brought the fake Eddie in, the spud would have been able to tell.
Still, if even Mel couldnít...
The golem saw Mel coming, bounded from the chair, and ducked to the side away from Egon and Mel, who had caught Egonís shoulder to steady him. When Ray gave a cry and moved to intercept the golem, it slammed a fist at Ray, who ducked enough to keep it from connecting with the point of his jaw. The blow caught his ear instead, hard enough for him to stop dead and jerk a hand up to the point of impact.
Before the golem could do any more damage, Mel grabbed it from behind, encircled it with muscular arms and lifted it right off the floor while Winston aimed a thrower at the creature. He couldnít fire or heíd hit Mel, too, but the golem probably wouldnít realize that.
Positive the golem couldnít break free of Melís steel grip, Peter grabbed a cloth and thrust it at Egonís forehead. "Sit down, Egon, youíre bleeding like a pig." He manhandled Egon into the chair the golem had abandoned, checking to make sure none of the blood was spurting. It only oozed from the cut and down the side of his face. Not a pretty sight. He steadied Egon as he wiped away slime after one of Slimerís greetings.
"Scalp cuts always bleed, Peter." Egon sagged in the chair and allowed Peter to mop up the blood and press the cloth to his head. His face was taut with strain, but the pain of the wound had been shunted to the background. Peter could tell what he was thinking without benefit of telepathy. I abandoned my cousin to a demon. As if heíd had any reason to think otherwise.
And how the heck had the golem deceived the meters, anyway?
Janine burst into the room, proton pack on her back, thrower in hand, and jerked to a stop at the sight of Egonís blood. With a yell of outrage, she dove across the room, favoring the golem with a fierce, accusing look as she went. She probably thought it was Eddie and that he was possessed, but she didnít stop to ask questions, not when Egon was bleeding.
"Oh, Egon, youíre hurt."
"A cut, no more," he assured her hastily. "Would you fetch the first-aid kit, Janine? We must return to the Upper West Side immediately."
Janine raced for the bathroom and returned with the kit, thrower put away. As the teamís designated medic, Winston holstered his own and accepted the kit from her. "Iíll do it, Janine. No, stay sitting down, Egon." He opened the box and dug in it for supplies. "Ray, you okay?" he called over his shoulder.
"Yeah, fine." Ray fingered his ear. Peter shot him an anxious look, but couldnít see any sign of bleeding, and Ray looked steady on his feet, his eyes clear. "Gosh, the entity must have imbued the golem with Eddieís blood."
Egon jerked away from Winstonís hands as he disinfected the cut. "How much blood, Raymond?" he asked in a voice that was absolutely expressionless. Peter leaned in and gripped his shoulder.
Ray realized how his words would have affected Egon. Peter saw it in the way he jerked in surprise. He had been so caught up in his realization, heíd simply blurted it out without thinking. "Oh, gosh, Egon, not enough to cause Eddie problems. The demon would only take enough that it would give off the readings we got. They werenít depressed biorhythms, after all. It was just enough of Eddieís essence to give us a faint biorhythm and fool the meter. And probably enough for the golem to...well, to sound like Eddie if he tried to sing. It was a trick, to throw us off and get rid of us so the demon could tighten his control on Eddie. That must be why he turned the golem loose."
"It might not even be to fool the meter," Winston offered, a scowl on his face. "For all we know, the demon didnít know about us at all, or hadnít figured out the connection between Egon and Eddie. All the golem had to do was fool Whitney and make her think it was Eddie, long enough to take her down there, too."
"I am Eddie," the golem insisted hotly, even though it had to know it was busted. It probably couldnít be a great thinker, not if the demon had formed it out of clay or mud and animated it, adding a little of Eddieís blood to the mix. Would it have veins and arteries? Peter didnít know much about golems. They came out of Jewish folklore, didnít they? Peter had a vague memory that maybe they werenít supposed to be able to talk. Was that what Eddieís blood had been used to enhance? Or did the demon who had made the thing have the power to give it speech? Without Eddieís blood, the voice wouldnít have fooled them. Golems. Scary thought. There could be golems all over the place, replacing government figures. Maybe that explained Congress.
"Heís not Eddie?" Janine asked, staring. "Are you guys sure? He looks just like him, and he sounds like him, too. I thought he was possessed or something. Whatís going on?"
"Itís a golem, Janine," Egon said hastily. "A replica, created to look like Eddie, and eventually to replace him, certainly to lure Whitney into the demonís captivity first." He nodded to Winston to acknowledge his suggestion. "We cannot determine if it was sent out for that purpose, unaware of our arrival, or if it was meant to serve as a decoy to give the demon more time to control Eddie, one way or another. Eddie, if controlled, might have even told the demon we were after him."
"Oh, Egon." Janine went to him and bent down to him, but she was careful not to turn her back on Eddieís replica or to get in the way of Winstonís first aid. "Youíll get him back."
"Thank you, Janine, I do know we will." He put her away from him, his hand lingering a moment on her shoulder. The poor guy needed reassurance in the worst way, and there wasnít really a lot they could say beyond their willingness to go into the demonís chamber for Eddie. If Janine could comfort Egon, more power to her. "I need you to go back and handle the phones," Egon said to her. "Anything that might tie to Eddieís disappearance, notify us immediately, and anything suspicious reported by or about the occult community, or any calls from Central Park West. If you hear it after we have departed, call us on the mobile at the first word. Will you do that for me?" he begged, his face full of urgent need.
Egon was getting pretty good at dealing with Janine. She smiled at him and nodded fervently. "I will, Egon. But youíll fix this. I know it." With a blazing smile at him, she headed for the stairs.
Peter returned to his unhappy thoughts. Was Eddie still wearing his medallion and making beautiful music down there under Central Park? Could Egonís insistence they were going to get him back be no more than wishful thinking? He had to be wondering how he was going to tell his Uncle Cyrus about Eddieís fate and, more immediately, how he would tell Whitney. Peter was glad they hadnít called her yet. Offering somebody hope and then snatching it away again was cruel.
From the look on Egonís face, he had to be wondering the same things as Peter, and feeling all kinds of guilt because heíd misinterpreted the meter and believed the thing they rescued from the tunnel was his cousin.
But how could he have suspected anything else? The meter had detected biorhythms, even if they had been weird. Mel had said the golem was "different," but he hadnít claimed it wasnít Eddie.
"You are not Eddie," Egon said to the creature, and he managed to look coldly furious and sick at heart at the same time. He let Winston tilt his bruised chin to give him a better look at the cut. At least it had stopped bleeding. Winston was preparing to stick on a butterfly bandage. Poor old Spengs looked like heíd been to the wars. "You are an image of him, a golem, created to deceive us."
"I want Whitney," the golem insisted. "I need Whitney."
"Yeah, to be a prisoner, just like Eddie," Winston scoffed without glancing away from his work. "Youíre planning to take her back down there with you, arenít you? Isnít that what youíre supposed to do?"
The golem grimaced and didnít reply. A dead giveaway as far as Peter was concerned. The thingís persistent demands for Whitney had to mean she was intended as the demonís next victim. Did the demon mean to placate Eddie with his wifeóas if that would work under normal conditions!óor had he killed Eddie and now wanted to do his music-stealing number with Whitney, too? Better not even suggest that to Egon.
Winston finished with the bandage and gave Egon a comforting pat on the shoulder. With a murmured thanks, Egon stood up and went over to the golem, still forcibly restrained in Melís fierce grasp. Mel looked, if anything, worse than Egon did, apart from Egonís cut and the shadowy bruise on his chin. Melís eyes were full of pain, his shoulders bowed, his muscles rigid, and Peter didnít think it would take much for him to squeeze the "life" out of the thing he held so ferociously. Only the hope they might learn something from the golem restrained him.
Egon grabbed the golemís shirt front just above Melís encircling arms, and shook it hard. Because of Melís hold, it didnít exactly shake, but the action was probably satisfying to Egon, anyway. "Where is he?" he demanded. "Where is my cousin? Tell me at once. We know many ways to unanimate you, and I will not hesitate to use them, should you fail to reply."
Peter had seen Egon this angry only a couple of times before: once at Walter Peck when heíd been stupid enough to shut down the containment unit, and again when his idol, Einstein, had been disparaged. But this was different. This was the way Egon got when someone he cared about was hurt or in trouble and there was a clear-cut target for his anger. The golem didnít exactly have a lot of experience in reading human emotions, but it got the message loud and clear.
"Arabas has him."
"Arabas?" Egon echoed sharply, and turned a questioning eye to Ray.
"Iíll check." Ray grabbed Tobinís Spirit Guide off the table where heíd left it earlier, bent over it urgently, and flipped through the pages.
Winston set aside the first-aid kit and drew his thrower. "Might help if you tell us who Arabas is."
"He is a spirit of music," the golem explained, its eyes wild as it stared at Egon and Winston. "He wants Eddie so new music can be created." It hesitated, licked its lips, and tried to shift in Melís grip so the thrower wasnít aimed directly at it. Mel held the creature rigid. It would take more than a little squirming to budge him.
"Will he harm Eddie?" Egon asked. His hands clenched and unclenched, and his face hardened. "We will stop him. Know this."
The golem swallowed hard. "You canít," he said. "Heís too powerful."
"So are we powerful," Peter threw in. He waved his thrower menacingly in the golemís direction. "You were made, and what was made can be unmade, like Egon said. If you value your life, you better cooperate with us."
The golem snorted. "Life? I have no life. I am an image of Eddie, with Eddieís wishes and a little of his ability, but I am nothing. I will cease to be when Arabas is finished with me."
Yeah, right, and it actually wanted them to sympathize? Peter checked out Egon and saw no yielding in his face. Ray glanced over at the golem, and his brow puckered, but he didnít let himself soften, either. Once more he flipped a page, then bent to study the text. Whoever had printed Tobinís Spirit Guide had not worried about causing eyestrain. Peter avoided reading it whenever possible. He was too young to need reading glasses.
"After you deceived us to enable Arabas to complete his binding of Eddie, you can hardly expect us to care what happens to you," Egon said in a voice like ice. "You will lead us to Eddie." The way he stood so ferociously in front of the golem would have made Peter back off. It would probably have made Tolay back off.
"Arabas will destroy me."
"If you do not lead us to Eddie, we will destroy you," Egon insisted. He looked around at the team in an effort to justify the threat. "Itís not a real person; itís made from inanimate material, and what consciousness it has was bestowed upon it, much of it stolen from Eddie." He turned back to the golem. "We will have no compunction about using you to get my cousin back. You were sent out to take Whitney, but that will never happen. Will the demon remain beneath Central Park? Answer."
The golem shivered and huddled in Melís grip. "I donít know," it said. "It can go into other realms."
"Was it in this realm when you left?"
A quick nod. "It sent me to fetch Whitney. It will wait till I come back." It sighed. "I want Whitney. I know I have never seen her, but itís in me to want her."
"That comes from Eddie," Egon said. "What did the demon take from Eddie to make you feel that way?"
When Egon would have lunged at the creature in a murderous rage, it put up both hands to hold him off, at least as far as it could raise them while Mel held it. "Not a lot. It traced a line across his foreheadóand it healed itself. Then Arabas drove a talon into his shoulder, and drew forth blood and energy to feed me. That healed, too. He did not wish to mark Eddie permanently. He told me so. He said I would be a copy. I could sing, like Eddie, but Arabas didnít think so."
"Why not?" asked Winston.
"He said it was not bad but not enough. He took energy from Eddie and I sang better."
"Yeah, but itís more than Eddieís voice," Ray said without raising his eyes from the book. "Itís whatís in Eddie that drives him to sing. He canít help singing. You might be able to copy the tone of his voice and the range, but you canít sing like Eddie because you arenít Eddie. Thatís why you didnít sound quite right when you sang. You donít have a heart, not like real people do. Maybe thereís one in there beating. I donít know if youíre that detailed. But you donít have Eddieís experience, his values, his dedication. Thereís no way you can sing like Eddie."
"I donít understand," the golem said. "I want Whitney."
"Youíre not getting her," Peter snapped. "So back off asking. Youíre gonna take us to Eddie, and anything you can tell us about Arabas, youíre gonna tell us. Thatís the bottom line."
"Bottom line? What does that mean?" Evidently golems werenít designed to be up on American slang.
"He means that is final," Egon said. "Weíre going now. Ray, have you found Arabas?"
"Yeah, I think Iíve got him. It says Arabas or Araban, could be either. Heís a powerful spirit who craves music, and will steal it whenever he can. Sometimes he will drain musicians and then kill them. Look, hereís a picture that is supposed to represent him. A symbol." He gestured them over and pointed to a triangular design with a design on its face.
"Aha," said Peter. "The demon eats Special K."
"It does look rather like a K," Egon said thoughtfully. "I suspect that may be a form of ancient musical symbol, although I cannot remember precisely." He snatched up a small notepad and pencil and quickly sketched the design, then stowed it in his breast pocket.
"You? The old brain is fading?" Peter teased. When Egonís face didnít lighten, he heaved a little sigh. No way would Egon unbend until his cousin was safe.
If they could save him...
"Think this is what the medallion looks like, Ray?" Winston asked.
"It might be. We didnít get to see it, but the pattern on Egonís detector was shaped like a triangle, so I bet it is."
Mel urged the golem over. "Is this the design on the medallion?" he asked, his arm curled tight around the golemís arm.
It stared at the design, then nodded once. "Yes. I saw it. It was beautiful, but Arabas said it wasnít for me. He said I could have one after Whitney came. I want Whitney."
The team grimaced. Broken record time. "No way, Josť," Peter told him. "Go on, Ray. Anything else we need to know about the demon?"
"Well, thereís this little drawing. Itís a reproduction and not very clear, but you can see he looks pretty sinister."
Understatement city. The ugly mother had a head shaped like a triangle, the chin one of the points. Its body was covered in the traditional scales, of course. All the happening demons went the scales route. Whoever had drawn this so long ago had emphasized its talons. They looked big enough to vivisect a guy without even trying. "Never heard of a manicurist, did he?" Peter asked.
"Canít say I like the look of it," Winston agreed. "Anything else, Ray?"
"Well, it says itís made golems before."
"Wait a sec," Peter objected as something else occurred to him. "If the demon has been killing musicians, how come no one ever noticed?"
"Well, it doesnít necessarily kill them with its own hands," Ray said, frowning over the text. "It drains what it can and creates a golem to serve him, and then itíll arrange an accident for the real one, because eventually people would notice they were drained and maybe get suspicious. Itís harder these days now that weíve got better news distribution. The last thing Arabas want would be for people to know itís doing it. Maybe in the old days, the golem would replace the singer, or else it was used to mislead people searching for him. I donít know why. These days, medical science would be able to tell the difference. But if all these singers have been dying over the centuries... Gee, I donít know."
Winston glanced over at Ray, then went right back to guarding the golem. "You mean like heís the reason so many musicians have died in plane crashes? Heck, even as far back as Glenn Miller..."
"Gosh." Ray abandoned the pages long enough to stare. "I never thought of that. I donít know if we can assume that, but I suppose itís possible."
Egon stood utterly rigid. "You mean when heís satisfied with the music Eddieís made and has transferred more and more of Eddieís essence into a golem, he plans to kill my cousin?"
Ray hesitated. "I think so," he said very softly and reluctantly. "Gosh, Egon, Iím sorry."
"Then we must go over there, now." Egon gestured to Mel to release the golem, then he retrieved the atomic destabilizer. "Weíll need this. Iíll wear it instead of my standard proton pack." He glared at the golem. "Weíre going. And if you give the demon even a hint of our approach, you will know what it means to be hit by four throwers at full streams."
The golem gulped, then nodded. Did it want to live, like Frankensteinís monster? Evidently, it wanted to live with Whitney. Peter didnít trust the creature an inch. Heíd watch it every step of the way.
At least until the time came to take on the demon.
** *** **
"Beyond the breath of world," sang Eddie, then frowned and listened. "It would help to have paper," he muttered under his breath. "If I could write it down..."
A drawer opened on its own to reveal a ream of neatly stacked paper lined for music and a pen. Instant gratification. It was like that here. He only had to speak his wishes and they were given to him. Eddie smiled and reached for the paper, then he hesitated.
Not all his wishes.
He fingered the medallion he now wore openly. He had thought of taking it off to see what would happen, but the very idea of parting with it had sent a chill of icy panic pumping through his veins. He had broken out in a cold sweat and the hand that reached for it had trembled. When he let the impulse pass, the physical reaction had faded immediately.
For a moment, he had wondered at that. In spite of the world he lived in, where he could easily have scored any number of recreational drugs, Eddie had never used them and never wished to. He was afraid it would mess with his music. There had been too many musicians who thought doing drugs was a key to opening up their creativity, and had wound up bitter, has-been addicts who believed the new music would come any time. Eddie had always refused to go that route. If he couldnít make the music himself, with his own power, then he didnít want to make it.
The medallion helped him.
It wasnít a drug.
Eddie pondered that a few minutes, afraid it could act with the nature of a drug. How could that be? It didnít inject any illegal substance into his system. Unless it was coated with something that had given him a contact high, he didnít see how it could alter him. No, it was a focus, a method to help him concentrate, nothing to do with drugs. Heíd been crazy to even think such a thing. Ridiculous idea. He shoved it aside.
Why did it keep creeping back?
The words and music came so easily; they flowed from him as if he were a wellspring for the notes and lyrics. Of course, music had come from within him all his life, from an inner source it would be death to deny. He knew he was a gifted singer, but by no means the greatest singer in the world or even close. But he was very good at what he did. Eddie had no vanity about it; the music was in him and he sang. He didnít do it for the fame and the glory, and while he was not rude to his fans, neither did he look down on them. He would have sung just the same if they abandoned him and moved on to some new sensation.
Yet, he didnít create new songs without effort. Whitney and Jackson had input; both of them had written good music, and he valued what they did. The three of them working together could create songs perfect for the band to use. He had long ago suggested they change the name of the band to reflect all three of them, instead of using his name, but neither Whitney nor Jackson would have that. Both insisted he was the heart of the band.
Yet here he was, alone in a mysterious underground room with everything he could want to enable him to make music...except his wife and his best friend.
Why didnít he want them here with him?
Was it a selfish need to create music here alone, where the demon catered to his whims? Or was it a wish to protect them?
Protect them from what? From what the medallion had changed him into? From the demon itself?
No. He wouldnít give it up. He needed it. It opened up a conduit to the inner music he possessed. It enabled him to draw from the true depth of his abilities.
Thatís what addicts claimed drugs did to them, even as they sat and didnít create, or offered up pointless and inane lyrics.
But Quest wasnít pointless and inane. Whitney and Jackson had no medallions and they had loved the way he had improved it once he had the medallion. Song of the Sky would be perfect when he finished it.
Or did the medallion only make him think so? Quest had only needed modification, a slight rearrangement. Sky was new.
Eddie curled his fingers around the medallion. It was his. No one could take it from him. It sent out warm sensations of love, flooding his being with joy and peace, with the certainty of his own powers. He could do anything as long as he had his medallion. He did not need an audience to sing. He never had. He would not need one now. He would make music here, safe and protected, and the medallion would nourish his soul.
She must never come here. A faint thread of the old Eddie prodded him, insisting she remain away. He would not expose her to this.
To expose her meant there was a threat.
No. Everything was perfect.
Then why didnít he want to risk his wife, to share this Nirvana with her?
What would happen if he took off the medallion?
The very thought of that twisted his stomach and made cold dread run through him. He could not part with it. It was his. His own. He would not yield it, no matter what the cost. It gave him music, but more than that, it was his own, and he wanted it. He would never let it go.
He tucked it down the front of his shirt once more, where none could see it, and turned to the paper in the drawer. He would write out the song, and go over it on paper, the way he always did. Once that was done, heíd play it through with the guitar, the old one with the mellow tone. He smiled to think of it, and the medallion sent out a pulsing warmth of approval against his chest.
He was home. The medallion was his own.
The flicker of doubt that ran through his mind was easily ignored. He had everything he needed, as long as he had his medallion.
** *** **
The doorman of Dana Barrettís former building stared when Ecto-1 pulled up in front and the four Ghostbusters, the false Eddie, and Mel climbed out He looked around wildly for signs of ghosts, his brows arching up. "Whatís wrong, Doctor Venkman?" he asked uneasily.
Egon let Peter talk to him, explaining everything in a soothing patter he had learned at his fatherís knee, reassuring the man all was well, and that the Ghostbusters were on the job. While Peter did that, Egon checked the meter readings. The residuals were slightly stronger than before. Did that mean the doorway was open, or that it had opened and closed again since the team had been here last? Had the real Eddie emerged to go after Whitney?
Ray joined Egon and studied the screen. "Wow, it must have opened the door. What do you think that means?" Mel loomed behind Egon, looking over his shoulder. Outside the National Basketball Association, there werenít many men who could do that easily.
"It means we better call Whitney and make sure they didnít get her, too," Winston said, and dove back into Ecto to make the call.
While he did that, Egon adjusted the meter for biorhythms, but all he picked up of Eddie was the faint result from the golem. If Eddie had left immediately after the Ghostbusters, his biorhythm readings would have faded by now, so that proved nothing. Adjusting to non-specific biorhythms here in the city always produced an utter jumble at more than a five-foot radius, so it was better to use the device for that purpose only when an individualís readings were known. Too many people had gathered, some of them pointing at the golem and muttering about Eddie. A police officer arrived on the scene, nodded at the Ghostbusters, and gestured the crowd back a few steps.
"We must go down again," Egon said. Mel nodded vehemently, and edged toward the door. The golem hung back, feet planted, and looked like it would have been happy to grab onto the potted tree in the bucket and never let go if anyone tried to grab it and take it down again to its master.
Peter materialized at Egonís side, causing Mel to hesitate, nearly dancing on his feet in his impatience to go after Eddie. "Yeah, Spengs, I cleared it with the doorman," said Peter. "He doesnít want demons popping up when weíre not here. He says to go ahead and bust it." The manís carroty head bobbed up and down in earnest confirmation.
"Your buddy isnít hanging around, is he, Ray?" Peter craned his neck to study the people who had gathered at the sight of the team.
Egon looked, too, but he saw no trace of Jack Taggart. Just as well. Egon found the man subliminally irritating, although he could not say why. It would be interesting to study the specifications of his modified meter, and for that Egon could tolerate him, but that was for later. Who knew what was happening to Eddie in the meantime? Controlled as he appeared, he must be a willing victim, and that was not good. What damage could the medallion do to him? Even if they retrieved him, would he ever again be normal? Would he crave it the way an addict did a fix? Egonís hand convulsed around the meterís grip.
"I havenít seen him," Ray said. "I donít think we need him. Itís not like he can handle a thrower."
"Heís not here," Mel said. "I looked." The way his brow wrinkled indicated he hadnít liked Taggart any better than Egon had.
"We do have the atomic destabilizer, Ray," Egon reminded him, with a gesture at the pack he wore on his back. "The demon will be powerful. While I did not immediately warm to Mister Taggart, another thrower might be useful, and my standard pack is still in Ecto."
"If we need another thrower, we ought to send for Janine instead," Ray said with a vague gesture southward. "Sheís used them before."
Egon did not care for the idea of exposing Janine to a major demon. On the other hand, Ray was right, and Janine would not care to be protected. She always stood up for herself, and her feisty spirit appealed to Egon too much to overprotect her. "Weíll leave it for her so she wonít be unprotected. Unless you would rather carry it, Mel?"
"Donít need to," Mel said with a grin. He gestured to indicate he possessed powers that would defend him, even without a pack.
Egon nodded. "Very well. It will take her time to get here. The longer we leave Eddie in the demonís hands, the greater the danger. We must go down now."
The golem edged toward the curb, but Peter caught its arm and nodded him toward Mel, who took hold of its other arm with one big hand, and braced himself, to prove he would not let go. The golem shivered, but he did not protest out loud. He bowed his head, but Egon suspected the pathetic image was a ploy to lull their suspicions. It wouldnít work.
"She could come in Ecto-2," Ray said.
Winston got out of Ecto and joined them. "Whitney and Jackson were still at the Plaza," he said. "I told her about the golem, and she and Jackson are coming over. I told her not to, but sheís going to anyway." He looked around. "We better head on down now. She doesnít have that far to come."
Egon made a decision. "Winston, call Janine and tell her to suit up and come in Ecto-2. Tell her thereís a spare pack in Ecto, and to follow us down. Iíll have the doorman give her directions. If she leaves immediately, she ought to arrive before Whitney and Jackson, and she might be able to stop them. We canít wait any longer."
Winston ducked into Ecto and snatched up the mobile again. When he returned, he said, "Sheís on her way. She said if Slimer shows up before she leaves, sheíll bring him with her. He might be able to tell if we have the real Eddie or another golem."
"Yeah, I wondered if he could," Peter said. "Gaah, to think I actually want the spud here. Okay, we ready?" He drew his thrower.
The doorman opened the door for them and ushered them in. This time, they knew the way and crossed the lobby in a body, startling a little white-haired lady about to leave the elevator. Instead of coming out, she stepped back hastily and let the doors close upon her uneasy frown.
Mel tugged the unhappy golem toward the door to the basement and urged him through. They trooped down the stairs and headed for the fallout shelter. The super must be somewhere about his business because he didnít emerge from his domain.
"We better warn him," Ray said. "He might want to head to a safe place." He ran ahead down the corridor to the superís room, where the door stood ajar, and disappeared inside.
"Guys! Get in here!" he yelled a second later.
They ran down the corridor and bunched together around the door, throwers at ready, the golem trailing behind them. Egon didnít know what to expect, but the sight of the super sprawled on the floor, glowering at them furiously over the gag that had been stuffed into his mouth, his hands and feet secured with thick rope, was the last thing Egon had imagined. Demons didnít usually revert to such tactics.
Quickly, Ray pulled the gag free. "What happened to you?" he asked. "Are you hurt?"
"Hurt? Goddamn it, Iím gonna sue that guy for everything he owns. Iím gonna call the cops. Coming in here and pulling a gun on me. Son of a bitch. He made me tie my own feet, and he wouldnít let me make it loose enough to break free." He let Ray undo the knots that held his wrists, while Mel knelt and disposed of the ones around his ankles as if they were made of spaghetti.
"Who was he?" Peter asked. "Did you know him?" He shifted back to the door and braced himself to stand guard, and Winston, already there, his thrower in a tight-knuckled grip, watched the opposite direction. This had to be involved with the whole demon mess. The coincidence was far too great.
"Never saw him before. You can bet Iíd know the bastard again, with his surfer hair and his beard. Looks like he oughta be on the cover of one of those bodice-ripper books my Irma canít get enough of."
"Surfer hair?" Ray echoed, and his face fell. "Omigosh. Taggart. It has to be. Did he have a little gizmo like that?" he asked and nodded at Egonís meter. His shoulders slumped. Egon suspected heíd liked Taggart more than the rest of them had.
"Something like, yeah, but shaped a little different." The superís hostility to the Ghostbusters had vanished, at least for the moment. Because theyíd rescued him? Or was this more of the plan? "Iím gonna go call the cops. I think that guy went the way you did before. The door to the sub-basement squeaks. I heard it. Never heard it squeak again, so he must be still down there." He rubbed his wrists; Egon observed they were chafed from his struggle to free himself. "Iím gonna call the cops."
"Go ahead," Ray said. "But tell them we think thereís a demon under the park. Thereís a passage from the fallout shelter. They better keep people away from there until we bust it."
The superís eyes flickered with fear, then he gave a growl of anger to mask it. "Go bust it, then. This buildingís got a history. Bad enough we had the roof off a few years back and that giant marshmallow thingie stomping around. Now weíve got a demon in the fallout shelter." He muttered savage profanities under his breath.
"Youíre welcome," Peter called after him, but the super only snarled, gestured vaguely, and marched away.
"Come on," Mel urged. "Have to save Eddie."
Egon nodded. "Weíre ready, Mel."
"You lead the way, bunky," Peter told the golem, and nudged it in the back with the tip of his thrower. "You try anything we donít like and your molecules will be taking separate vacations."
The golem shivered. "I want Whitney," it muttered under his breath. Egon almost felt sorry for the creature. It had not asked to be made. It had simply been given basic programming and turned loose upon the world. Did the demon know Eddie was related to one of the Ghostbusters? If Taggart were in league with the demon, had he told it? Was this more than a quest for music? Was it an attempt to capture music and destroy the Ghostbusters, all in one stroke?
They fell in behind the reluctant golem, down the hall to the stairs. The super was right; the door did creak. Egon had not noticed last time, except perhaps subliminally. Down the stairs they went, with Peter and Winston looking hyper-alert, the way they did when they thought someone was out to get them.
Someone was...and he had a gun.
"Donít forget Taggart is armed," Egon reminded them as they reached the sub-basement.
"Iíll go first," Mel said with a crooked grin. "Bullets bounce off me, remember?"
In spite of the tension, Egon saw Rayís eyes sparkle at the thought. But Taggartís meter had detected Mel right away. He would be sure to have told Arabas. He must have gone down right after the Ghostbusters left to take the golem back to the firehall, planning to warn the demon about the Ghostbusters, to let Arabas its plan had worked and warn the demon they would eventually realize they had a golem instead.
Mel stalked ahead of the golem to the fallout shelter and plunged in. No shots were fired, and Mel gestured the others in before going to the shelving unit that opened. This time, it didnít.
"Theyíre prepared for us," Ray muttered. "Mel..."
"Okay." Mel kicked off his shoes and squeezed his eyes shut. At once he grew taller and bluer, and his demon features replaced the pseudo-Eddie look he wore to pass unnoticed among the people of New York. His clothes had been designed to stretch with him, although the sleeves and trouser legs no longer covered full expanse of arms and legs. The golem gave a squawk of terror and cowered away from him. Mel struck a Superman pose and flexed his muscles. It gave him the odd effect of a demon in spandex, and Peter grinned at the sight.
"Aw, I liked the old hulk-out effect."
"Too expensive," Mel said with a smile in response. "Always buying new clothes." He sobered immediately. "Stand back," he cautioned, and grabbed the door. With a mighty heave, he yanked it free, exposing the door to the passage that led under the park. "Too easy," he said, and tossed the door to one side.
"The super isnít gonna like you," Peter muttered.
"Donít care. Letís get Eddie." Mel yanked open the wooden dooróit was not lockedóand plunged into the tunnel. He needed to duck to pass through the door, but once in the passage, he had at least six inches of clearance above his head. Peter gestured with his thrower for the golem to follow. Prepared to duck away at the first threatening movement, it edged reluctantly after Mel.
"You know what?" Ray said as he hurried after them. He looked back over his shoulder at Egon. "I think Iíve got it figured out. Remember, Jack said he ran into a demon a couple of months ago. He pretended it had freaked him, but it didnít freak him enough to throw away the meter and get out of the occult game. I bet the demon was Arabas, and heís had Jack working for him ever since."
"Hey, yeah." Winston came right behind Ray, no doubt to restrain him if he got too carried away in his enthusiasm. "Because we figured the demon wouldnít have known where to send the package to Eddie. I bet Taggart did that. Eddieís just back from a European tour, remember? The demon was set up here in the city, waiting for him to come back and getting ready for the whole thing. There probably wasnít time before the tour."
Egon adjusted his meter quickly to test for Taggartís biorhythms, which he had recorded at the occultistís apartment. Lingering residuals proved he had come this way, but they had faded perceptibly. "Taggart is down here," Egon announced. "The readings reflect it, although his readings never indicated demonic control. Golem, what do you know of Taggartís involvement with Arabas?"
The golem glanced back at Egon. In repose, its face was like Eddieís but none of Eddieís spirit animated it. The alarm it showed now matched nothing Egon had seen on his cousinís face. "He works for Arabas," the golem said. "Arabas controls him and can hide the effects." He sighed. "He canít help it," and added with surprising bitterness, "Just like me."
"Aw," murmured Ray, but then he hardened his heart. "Jack Taggart took risks. He must have tried to summon the demon in the first place and then lost control of the situation. He mentioned a pentagram, but Iíd guess Arabas wouldnít be restrained by one for more than a few minutes. Lots of people in the occult community have warned Jack to be more careful, and I have, too. He didnít listen."
"Yeah, but knowing you, Ray, youíre probably figuring how to rescue him," said Winston knowingly.
"While weíre dodging bullets," Peter added. "Come on, Ray, the guy went into it with his eyes wide open."
"Maybe," said Ray as he splashed through a puddle, his thrower at ready. "But he didnít volunteer to be controlled. Only an idiot would do that on purpose. Arabas is nearly an elemental, after all, probably the most borderline demon weíve encountered. Jack might have thought he was all set up with his pentagram and spells, but he wasnít. Thatís why people shouldnít mess with demons."
"Thank you for that lesson in Practical Demonology 101," Peter kidded, but his face was grim. "Schmucks that demons take over canít help it, Ray. Theyíre just people. They arenít powerful enough to stop it, or they would."
Egon heard the note of urgency in his voice. He would be thinking of Watt, and the way heíd been controlled and had nearly opened the containment unit.
Ray heard it, too. "Gosh, Peter, I know people canít fight demon control on their own. But Watt came and took over. You didnít invite him over for tea and think heíd play by your rules." He frowned. "Jackís problem was his ego. He believed he could handle it, and he couldnít. You would never imagine you could control a demon, because you know better."
"Yeah," Peter admitted. "I sure do." But he was still frowning.
"How much farther, Golem?" Winston asked, and Egon realized he wished to change the subject. This had to remind Peter of several instances, and he needed to be clearheaded because the demon was exceptionally powerful and had an armed human servant. From the way Eddie had behaved in the rehearsal room, it was likely he would stand with Arabas, too. If he could turn against his own beloved wife and then punch out Egon, why not the whole team? Egon fully expected the upcoming fight to be difficult. He was glad of the atomic destabilizer he wore on his back. With demons of such power, there was typically a physical element, and it was easier to zap and trap one if it could be destabilized first. In this case, Arabasí readings had confirmed that. They needed the destabilizer.
"Not far now," the golem replied, looking down the tunnel past Mel. It glanced back, and Egon saw the whites of its eyes in the dim light of the passageway. He looked lost and wistful. After living all his brief existence in the darkness of an underground room, it must have found the outside world as fascinating and full of interest as a child in a toy shop.
"Headsí up, then," Winston called. "Because this is where it starts getting nasty."
** *** **
Peter walked warily, ready to fire his thrower at the first hint of trouble. He wasnít sure what heíd do if Taggart started shooting at them. If they blasted him at full streams, heíd be dead, and even though he had sold Eddie out, Peter didnít feel comfortable with the thought of killing a human being. But to reset his thrower might mean that if the demon came first, there wouldnít be time to set it back. A minimal stream wouldnít even tickle a major demon.
"What do we do about Taggart?" he asked.
Mel glanced over his shoulder. "Iíll handle Taggart," he said grimly, his face tight, his eyes hard and glittering. In his demon form, he had full control of his powers, not enough to take out a demon like Arabas, but enough to handle Jack Taggart with one hand tied behind his back. "Iíll watch the golem, too," he said. "Easy. No problem." The golem moaned, tried to look small and harmless, and walked as far away from Mel as he possibly could in the narrowness of the tunnel.
"Excellent," said Egon, and gave Mel a grateful smile. "That will leave us free to deal with Arabas."
"Yeah, weíll zap him," Ray agreed, but Peter couldnít help noticing the way his forehead wrinkled, and the white-knuckled grip he had on his thrower. Heíd read up on Arabas; he knew how powerful the demon was. Would four streams even be enough? Did Ray suspect they wouldnít?
"Think Eddie will help the demon?" Winston asked. When Egon opened his mouth to protest, Winston held up a hand. "No, listen, Egon. Eddie wasnít exactly on our side at the rehearsal room. We saw how the medallion affected him when it took full control. Heís been down here with Arabas for a few hours. Plenty of time for the demon to make sure of his hold on Eddie. If it can control Taggart, it can control Eddie, too, and thereís the medallion to reinforce it. I think weíll need to watch out for Eddie and make sure he doesnít do anything we canít fix."
"We have to stop the demon first," Egon replied. "Once itís trapped, weíll free Eddie from its control."
The golem made a hesitant sound deep in his throat. "Uh, thereís something..."
Egon stalked up and grabbed him by the front of his shirt. "Then you tell me, right now."
"I...just wanted to ask something. But about Eddie.... I donít know much, but Eddieís blood is in me." It gave a faint laugh and ducked its head. Ir didnít even try to pull away from Egonís grip. "Heís a part of me. I donít want him dead. I donít understand why, but I...I want to help him. And I want.... I want to live."
"And if you believe that, Iíll send my dad over to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge," Peter muttered. Heíd never heard a bigger crock of shit. This guy was made out of clay and had been given blood and energy from Eddie so it could pose as the singer. It wasnít a real person even if it looked like one. As long as something was animating it, it could talk and walk and do the person thing, but once they trapped the demon, for all Peter knew, the golem might simply crumble into dust and blow away. It wouldnít be a pretty sight.
Mel grabbed the golemís arm to keep it moving. Egon released his grip and fussed over the meter for a moment. It was left to Ray to reply. "Gosh, Peter, heís got feelings. Maybe he was made by a demon, and the demonís got him programmed, but..." He hesitated, then gave a perplexed gesture. "When does he stop being just something that was made and start being...real?" Trust Ray to think of him as a person already.
"Oh, yeah, just like The Velveteen Rabbit, right, Ray?" Peter challenged.
All three of his friends stopped walking and stared at him in wide-eyed surprise. "You read The Velveteen Rabbit, Peter?" Egon asked, and his skepticism made Peter squirm.
He felt himself flushing. "My mom read it to me when I was little, just like your moms probably did to you," he said defensively and avoided their eyes. "This characterís programmed to steal Whitney Stone. Itís not some toy that a kid loved enough to make him real."
"I loved that story when I was little," Ray admitted. Of course he would. Knowing Ray, he probably still had a copy of it stowed away somewhere, and maybe even got it out and read it every now and then. "But even if itís not like that, once something starts having feelings, it becomes real. We canít just kill him. That would be murder."
"Thanks, Ray, I needed to hear that. But let me tell you, if it starts attacking us to help the demon, Iím not gonna hold back because it might have feelings. Demons probably have feelings, too, but we blast Ďem whenever we have the chance."
"You once said ghosts didnít have feelings, Peter," Egon reminded him. "But you know Slimer does. We only bust ghosts that threaten people. Weíve been known to help them disperse peacefully, and on several occasions we have left ghosts un-busted because the families they lived with accepted them and wanted them."
"Gotha. But whoís gonna want a golem of Eddie Plummer? I mean, Mel already looks like a super-sized Eddie. So he takes this one on, too, and makes it into another roadie? I donít think so."
Mel looked at the golem then at the guys. "Eddie decides," he said. "Heís the one whoís been hurt. If he says we let the golem go back to being clay, then we do." He gave a faint grin that sat weirdly upon his demon face. Peter had never really been comfortable with those fangs. "But you know Eddie. Heís got a big, big heart."
He did. His people were all fantastically loyal to him, and he treated every one of them like family. He was a sucker for kids, too, and often gave free and impromptu concerts in pediatric hospitals. Fans in genuine trouble would find him generous, although he was no sucker to fall for a hard-luck story from somebody out to rip him off or take advantage of his good nature. For a guy who sometimes couldnít see beyond music, when shaken from his rapture over the latest song, he was the kind of man who would do anything for a friend.
"I know he does," Egon said somberly. "I know he does. We canít plan now, except to work out possible strategies, all of which involve the atomic destabilizer. Mel, you will have to make sure Eddie stands clear when we take the demon out. And the golem must not be allowed to interfere."
The golem hesitated. "I wonít interfere, Egon," it said. "I liked what Ray said about being real. I donít know much, but I do have feelings. I think theyíre mostly Eddieís feelings, but some of them are mine. You could have destroyed me, but you didnít. You werenít happy with me, but Iím starting to understand why." It looked sad and pathetic, standing there with hunched shoulders and an expression on its face that was as innocent as a toddlerís. It could have been a devious ploy, the way it had let them believe it was Eddie and lied to them about taking off the medallion to escape. But the demon had probably programmed it to say that. Had the demon programmed it to pull this pathetic number and win their sympathy?
Peter didnít trust the creature an inch, and he knew the others didnít dare trust him, either. But he couldnít see any evidence of a con job in the thingís eyes, the way he always could in his dadís when Charlie Venkman breezed in with a plan that would endanger Peterís buddies in another grandiose attempt to make megabucks. What Peter saw in the golemís eyes was a lost-little-boy look of something alone against the worldóno, the entire megaverseówith no allies and no hope. It wasnít subtle enough for it to be a con, at least Peter didnít think it was. Eddie wasnít devious, so it couldnít have got any of that from the infusion of Eddieís blood and energy. Maybe it had gotten it from the demon itself.
On the other hand, even if the golem actually meant well, the demon would be able to control it with no more than a flick of a finger. Good intentions were a moot point when the golem was likely to play the demonís game whether it wanted to or not.
"Okay," said Peter. "I think you mean it, but what happens when big ugly tells you to kill us? Youíd have to do it, wouldnít you?"
The golem bowed its head enough for its chin to hit its chest. "Yes," it whispered.
"Oh, man," groaned Winston.
Peter shook his head. "No, listen, guys. It canít help it. Iíve been a demon yo-yo myself, and itís not fun. The thing is, we canít trust what it might do. We shouldíve brought that rope and tied it up so it couldnít do anything. Weíve already got Mel shielding us from bullets and protecting Eddie, and watching the golem. Last I heard, he didnít have three hands."
"Can grow another," Mel offered.
"Can you?" Egonís mouth hung agape.
"Wouldnít work as well as the others. I can get bigger, too, but only so far." He grinned, then, a blazing smile, full of sudden confidence. "But I can do this, too." He put his palm on the golemís forehead, fingers splayed. One of his talons came within an inch of the golemís left eye, and it squeezed it shut.
Blue fire limned Melís hand, and melted into the golemís forehead through his pores, assuming golems had pores. It staggered and gasped. Egon took urgent readings, and the meter shrieked at the power surge. "Wonít hurt Eddie. Wonít hurt us," Mel chanted. "Canít hurt Eddie. Canít hurt us."
The golem reeled and would have fallen, but Mel lifted his hand away and caught it by the shoulders. "Donít like doing that," he said. "But itíll obey me now, until I take it off, or the demon does. Donít think the demon will notice right away."
"I serve you," the golem told Mel and bowed awkwardly to him.
At the pledge, Melís face twisted. "Eddie says itís wrong to demand someone to serve him," he said. "I serve Eddie, but he says if I donít do it out of friendship, he canít accept it. He says heís not my master. I say Iím not yours, Golem. When this is over, Iíll take it away. Promise."
The golem stared at him. "Then I will have no one to serve," it whimpered in a small voice.
"Aww," said Ray again, his ready sympathy jump-started to life.
"Worry about all that later," Egon said. "We canít wait. I fear the longer Eddie remains controlled, the harder it will be for us to free him."
"Yeah," agreed Ray. "It sure might. Come on."
"Weíre nearly there," the golem explained helpfully. "Just around this bend and the door is there. It will be sealed against you."
"Sealed against our particle streams?" Egon asked.
"I donít know how strong they are."
"We do," Egon replied. "Certainly they will not withstand the destabilizer. Come on."
Mel led the way around the bend and stopped so abruptly, the rest of them collided with him in a series of little bumps that would have been funny in a comedy skit, but didnít evoke so much as a smile here under Central Park. When they straightened, they saw a door before them, huge and heavy, made of wood with iron bars to strengthen it. It rose to a pointed arch like an entry in a medieval castle, and Peter would bet good money it was not only locked but also warded against them.
"That does not look good," Egon said, and aimed his PKE meter at it. The meterís reading edged up a notch. "Hmm."
That had to mean the readings were weird and scary, and Egonís tight grimace as he studied the readout screen proved it.
"What, Egon?" Ray asked.
"There is a form of power here that is largely unfamiliar. I suspect the door also functions as a psi force field."
"Wow, Egon." Ray charged forward one step ahead of Winstonís grab for him, and slammed his palm against the door. Peter yelled, half expecting Ray to be incinerated on the spot, but instead he gave a startled gasp and yanked his hand back to stare at his palm. Peter couldnít see any marks of burning on it, or even mild reddening. "It kind of tickled," Ray admitted.
"Thatís a first," Winston muttered to Peter. "Evil energy usually incinerates you where you stand. I donít remember it ever tickling before."
"No, itís not really a force field," Ray said with a quick grin. "Itís a kind of protectionó"
"Yeah, like anybody would stop trying to break in for fear of being tickled," Peter said. "Come on, Ray, what gives with it?"
"Well, I think if you tried longer it would escalate. Let me try one more thing."
"No!" said Peter and Winston in chorus, but Ray grabbed the latch and tugged. Nothing happened. With a stunned gasp, Ray reeled back a step or two. "Yeah, it escalates," he said. "That really stung, almost like getting an electrical shock." He displayed his palm to them to prove he wasnít marked.
Egon took a quick biorhythm reading of him, then relaxed. "Only slight alteration thatís already fading, Raymond, but do not do that again." He sounded very stern, and Ray quirked his mouth into a grimace and nodded.
"No, I will," Mel said. He curled his massive blue fist around the latch and pulled with all his strength, his muscles bunched beneath his stretchy clothes.
At first the door resisted, as if heíd tried to pull the Empire State Building, then abruptly and with a horrendous groan, it opened, inch by reluctant inch. Mel gnawed on his bottom lip with a collection of fangs that would give an orthodontist nightmares, and hunched his shoulders.
When the door sprang fully open it was with such sudden force that Mel reeled back a good five steps, bumping into the golem on the way and knocking it against the wall. He took the door with him, ripping it from its hinges, and it came so close to braining Ray that it caught a lock of his hair and ripped it from his head. Ray yelled and thrust up a hand to investigate the place. His fingers came away bloodied.
Mel flung away the door and came back. "Sorry, Ray," he said, and bowed his head.
"It wasnít your fault. Iím okay."
Mel placed the palm of his hand over Rayís head and concentrated; his face scrunched up and his eyes closed. A hint of gold light flickered between his splayed fingers. Ray caught his breath, and his eyes grew huge.
When Mel lifted his hand, the bleeding had stopped. There was a tiny bare spot about as big around as a dime where his hair had been attached, but it looked like it was already scabbing over. Ray fingered it warily, then gasped, wide-eyed, "Oh, wow. Thanks, Mel."
"When you are quite finished out there," came an ominous rumble of a voice from the room that now stood exposed, "I am waiting for you."
Ray forgot his missing hair just like that, and took up his thrower in a double-handed grip. Egon aimed the meter at the doorway, then abruptly shut it down and flung it away from him. It landed on the tunnel floor, smoke oozing from the seams in its casing.
"Thatís bad, isnít it?" Winston asked Peter out of the corner of his mouth.
"Is the Pope Catholic? Is Slimer ugly?"
"Iíll go first," Mel said and stalked into the room. The golem hesitated, quivering with panic, but then it pushed itself away from the wall and darted in after him before any of the Ghostbusters could stop it. Thrower at ready, Egon charged in next, and the other three followed him. They spread out in a line the minute they were through the door.
When he saw the demon, Peterís heart sank. It was the extra-large, economy-size version, a dark grey color with the requisite scales, fangs, and talons they always seemed to have. Why couldnít they ever be female, pretty, with big blue eyes and a figure that did wonders for a bikini? No, they had to be ugly and halfway look like old woodcuts of the devil. This one resembled the picture in Tobin Ray had shown them the way a cartoon drawing resembles a man, but the triangular head served as confirmation. Dominating the huge chamber that had a ceiling high enough to accommodate its vast bulk, Arabas glowered down at them with glittering red eyes as big as Melís fists, but slitted with catlike pupils. Fangsówhy did it have to be fangs?ólong enough to bite off a guyís head with no effort filled a mouth huge enough to take one in. Not good. Not good at all. Can we go home now?
On the demonís left stood Jack Taggart, gun in hand. Peter didnít know much about guns, but it looked like the kind cops carry on TV, and it was aimed in the Ghostbustersí general direction. Taggartís face was hard and unyielding, and Peter saw in his expression a look heíd seen in the mirror when Watt had controlled him, grim and threatening with panicked eyes that revealed the essential Taggart was trapped and unable to fight what was happening to him. The demon wasnít in him, it just ruled him, and that was bad. He didnít start firing the minute they walked in, which was good, more or less. It might only mean he was waiting till all of them were in the room so he could pick them off at his leisure while the demon shielded him. Peter aimed his thrower at him. He didnít want to neutronize the guy, but he didnít want his friends to get shot, either.
At the demonís right side, Eddie Plummer faced them, his feet braced a little apart, his face wary and suspicious. Peter was pretty sure this was the real one because he was still dressed like he had been when heíd fled the rehearsal room, and the medallion hung openly against his chest. One of his hands had lifted to curl around it so possessively Peter was positive he wouldnít yield it voluntarily. The way he had positioned himself at the demonís side showed where his current loyalties lay. Peter couldnít help wondering what would happen if Whitney arrived before Janine could get there and followed them into the tunnel. Would Eddie see her enslaved, too? Would the sight of her make him realize what had been inflicted on him?
"Come to me," the demon said, and it took Peter a second to realize it meant the golem. Taggart looked up involuntarily and shifted half a step closer to the demon as if all commands would affect him as well as the golem. His mouth twisted but he still obeyed.
Instead of responding, the golem hovered next to Mel, defiance giving its face a strength it hadnít shown before. Somehow its resistance made it look less like Eddie. "I serve Melchazat," it said, and its voice gained strength as it spoke.
"Melchazat, is it? And Melchazat serves Eddie." The demon smiled. It was not a pretty picture. "And Eddie serves me, so you serve me in the end. It shall be as I wish. Come to me."
"No." The voice trembled, but the golem stood its ground. In front of the demon, even beside Mel, it looked small and helpless, pretty good for a being who stood six-foot-three.
"No?" very softly came the demonís question, then it waved a dismissive hand. "No matter. When the time comes, I will return you to the clay from which you have sprung, but for now, witness the true majesty of my power and realize what you have dared defy."
"They all talk like that," Peter muttered to Winston out of the corner of his mouth. "Itís part of the demon code. Thatís why so many horror movies are so hokey."
"Silence," the demon bellowed, and its roar shook the room. It pointed an ominous finger at Peter, who stiffened, ready to duck, in case it chose to fling fire at him.
"Okay," Peter agreed. He saw Egon adjusting the setting on the destabilizerís thrower, and figured it would be better to keep the demon from paying attention. "Whatever you say. Iím easy."
"Soon you will be dead." The demon waved a gentle hand in Peterís direction, and he gasped at the force of it. It didnít knock him from his feet, but it made him stagger. Peter was sure the entity could have killed him if it had used more energy, so he held up an appeasing hand to let the demon know he wouldnít smart off any more...well, at least not until the next time. Besides, it was better than fire. Taggartís mouth twisted. Peter wasnít sure what he was waiting for, not when he had such a death grip on the gun.
"Put the gun down, Jack," Ray urged. "You said you had an encounter with a demon. Maybe you were trying to ask for help. Itís controlling you, isnít it?"
"I am," said the demon. "I can make him kill you all, never doubt it. It amuses me to wait, but I will not wait long. You have already lost, so if you depart now and leave me with Eddie, I will spare your lives."
"Yeah, right," Winston muttered under his breath.
"I wonít leave Eddie to you," Egon insisted. "Eddie, weíre here to free you from his domination."
Eddie only looked at him and didnít reply. Definitely not good. He showed no trace of relief that the cavalry had arrived. Maybe he felt like they were the Seventh Cavalry, and they didnít have a prayer. But he didnít even look worried that Egon might be in jeopardy. Bad, bad, bad.
"Come on, Jack," Ray urged and took a step closer to the occultist. "You know you donít want to do this. Give me the gun, and itíll be okay. We know how to help you."
Taggart shifted slightly as if he meant to give in to Rayís soft plea, but then he jerked as if heíd touched a live wire, and all yielding left his face. "Get back!" he barked. "Iíll shoot."
"And he will," Arabas said complacently. "So now we come to it. You think to take Eddie from me, and you will not do it. You have controlled my golem, and for that you will pay, but since it is replaceable, virtually worthless, your crime is not that great. I can dispose of it with a wave of my hand."
The golem edged closer to Mel, who dropped a massive blue hand on its shoulder. The demon ignored the gesture. "We have a stalemate, I think," it said, and the twist of fanged smile upon its ugly face made Peter grimace.
He risked a quick glance around the room. Heavy on the atmosphere, with purple tapestries, spooky Goth music playing from somewhere although Peter couldnít see any conventional speakers, fake candle light bulbs on the walls and a couple of pots with fire burning in them, like medieval barbecue grills. High above his head the ceiling was marked with wooden beams that looked like they had been hand carved. Dracula would have loved it here.
"Eddie, are you all right?" Egon asked.
His cousin looked at him impassively. "Of course. Iím fine. I donít need rescue, but it was still good of you to come. Hi, Mel."
"Eddie, youíre possessed," Mel told him. "The medallion is controlling you. Thatís not right."
Eddie jerked back defensively, his eyes narrowing, and his fingers curled around the medallion, his other hand thrust out as if to hold them at bay. "Itís mine. You canít have it. You came to steal it. Youíre only pretending to want to help me. Arabas, make them go away."
Egon flinched as if Eddie had struck him across the face. "You donít mean that. You canít be willing to sacrifice your soul to this creature?"
"He gives me music," Eddie said as if it were unanswerable, and smiled with huge fondness, not at the demon, but at the medallion. "I have to have music."
"Yes, but not only with such terms as this. Slavery? Sacrificing Whitney to the demonís power?"
"Iím not sacrificing Whitney," Eddie argued, although Peter thought he saw a brief flicker of doubt in Eddieís eyes before it faded and his face smoothed out.
"No? Then how come your little doppelganger here came out and pretended it was you?" Peter demanded. "All it says, over and over, is, ĎI want Whitney.í How do you think that sounds? You gonna give her to it? The demon made it out of clay to fake her out. Maybe you like being a demon slave and getting to make music, all safe and selfish where there are no critics, no bills to pay, no obsessive fans. But do you think Whitney deserves this? And what about Cy? You gonna forget you have a little boy? Or are you gonna bring him down to the Seventh Level of Hell, too, and have the demon control him, just like heís doing to you?"
Eddie jerked when Peter spoke, and his face tightened, but his fingers kept their possessive grip on the medallion.
"You like that better than your wife and son?" Peter challenged, watching Eddie closely and making sure he kept an eye on Taggart, too, because he was a real wild card here. Egon let Peter do the talking. Off to his left, Ray was taking readings of Eddie and Taggart so he could determine the difference in the readings and filter out the normal ones to detect the psi overlay, and Mel had begun to edge in Eddieís direction. Arabas let Peter talk, too, in spite of its earlier threat, but the smug confidence in its face was hardly an encouraging sight. Taggart kept glancing up at the demon as if waiting for an order. Egon watched his cousin, his face tight with distress and, deprived of a PKE meter, his fingers gripped the destabilizer thrower so tightly, his knuckles glistened in the shadowy light.
"I want them with me," Eddie said, but his shoulders slumped as he spoke. He had to know how wrong all this was. Could the sane portion of Eddieís mind be screaming for help, buried deep inside where it couldnít get out, just like it had with Peter when Watt controlled him? Peter knew how that felt, both from his time with Watt and from Dana Barrettís tale of her possession by Zuul, when Gozer had come. It was like being shunted into a dark corner where you could watch the world but never interact with it, no matter how desperately you fought for freedom.
"Eddie, I know the real you is in there," Peter said. "I know what possession feels like. This is a little different, because the medallionís not a conscious entity, just a tool for control. Itís making you think you want this, but you donít, not really. This isnít you, and you can fight it. If you wonít do it for your own sake, do it for Whitneyís, because old Scaly wants to bring her down here with you. You want Cy to grow up in the Netherworld? No way, Josť."
Eddie only stared at him, and his fingers caressed the medallion. Peter knew he heard and understood the words, and somewhere in the depths of his eyes, a flash of awareness came and went. But he said nothing.
"Talk as much as you like, you who babbles far too much." Arabas sounded amused, which was not a good sign. Its huge mouth curled in a tolerant grin, and it stood as if prepared to listen all day. A suggestive gesture with its fingers hinted it would strike out when its patience lapsed, but it must be confident as hell to let Peter make the pitch for Eddieís freedom without interfering.
Maybe it was even a test to see if Eddie could be reached, so the demon would know whether it needed to strengthen the control or not. But there Eddie stood, almost crouched as if he meant to fight, his hand gripping the medallion so tightly Peter wasnít sure what would happen if it were snatched away from him. Would the control pass to whoever grabbed it? Would Eddie die without the infusion of evil energy? Would he go through the psi equivalent of drug withdrawal? Maybe Rayís meter could tell.
The demon turned its attention to Mel. "Melchazat. I know of you. Word has spread among my kind of the slavish devotion you feel toward Eddie. Eddie, speak to him. Command him."
Eddie looked up at Arabas, and bowed his head. "Mel, I know you donít believe it, but this is what I really want. The power to make music. It doesnít matter where I make music. It never has. You know that. I want you to serve me, here. Make the Ghostbusters go away, because I donít need rescue. I am happy here. Whitney and Cy will be, too." He added in a cold, hard voice, unlike anything Peter had ever heard from him before, "I command it."
Peter watched him closely, looking for any crack in the facade, but aside from that flicker in the eyes so much like Egonís, there was no trace of weakening. At his side, Egon moaned softly and whispered, "Oh, Eddie," in a helpless voice. Peter shot out a hand and grasped Egonís wrist to keep him from doing anything stupid.
At each word, Mel flinched, and at the final command his whole body jerked. He closed his eyes and tightened his hands into fists, and Peter had never seen him look so miserable as he fought his self-imposed compulsion to obey Eddie. Then he opened his eyes and straightened to his full height. "No," he said very softly and his voice grew formal as if to emphasize his decision. "Yes, I serve you, Eddie, but more important, I do what is best for you." He drew a deep breath. "I serve your best interests, not your controlled wishes. I will not serve you here, nor will I bring Whitney and Cy to this place, because the Eddie I love would never expect it." Peter was proud of him.
"Traitor," Eddie snapped, his face full of scorn.
The very word was a sneer that made Mel gasp in pain, but he stood his ground. "Sorry, Eddie," he whispered. "I stand with the Ghostbustersófor your sake."
Arabas rested a gigantic hand on Eddieís shoulder. "I have been remarkably patient," it said in a longsuffering voice. "I have listened to enough of this drivel. I will no longer tolerate it." It raised its hand to drive Mel back. Mel might be a class seven, but the readings Egon had taken of Arabas did suggested it could defeat Mel with one hand tied behind its scaly back. Could the throwers even hope to stop it? Its utter self-confidence proved it had no fear of them.
A flash of golden energy shot out from his hand and struck Mel full in the chest. With a gasp, the blue demon staggered backward, moaning, but he resisted it. The power would probably have turned Peter or any of his friends into a little heap of ash, but Mel had his own strength. Peter didnít think it would be enough. Mel shrank back, yelling with pain even as he fought it, his face twisted and writhing with agony. The Ghostbusters all yelled.
Egon shouted an inarticulate warning and fired the destabilizer right at Arabas. It hit the demon in the belly, and Arabas left off zapping Mel and grabbed at its middle, its mouth gaping open to show off those nasty teeth that no orthodontist had ever touched. Peter grinned vindictively as the taloned hands went right into its stomach. The way it jerked in disbelief would have been comical in safer circumstances. Ray and Winston fired, too, blasting away, and while Arabas could resist their streams, the destabilizer affected it.
"Kill them, kill them!" Arabas cried, and Jack jerked up the gun and aimed it right at Egon. Even as Peter leveled his thrower at the man to stop him, Mel, shaken free of Arabasí blast when the demon grabbed for his belly, imposed himself between Egon and the gunman. Only one bullet missed the blue demon, but it missed Egon, too, although it came so close it nearly parted his hair. Egon yelled and ducked, and stopped firing. Ray and Winston went right on blasting, but without the destabilizer, they had little effect.
"Can you handle him, Pete?" Winston called and nodded at Taggart.
"Weíve got him." As he tightened his grip on his thrower, Peter saw three shots impact on Melís stomach, ripping the fabric of his stretchy shirt. It looked like the bullets penetrated his gut, but Mel barely twitched at the impact. Roaring furiously, he lunged at Taggart and yanked the gun away. As easily as if it were made of rubber, he twisted the barrel and crushed it so the gun was useless. Casually, he flung it away. One, two, three, the bullets popped out of his stomach and hit the floor with tiny plops. Taggart gasped and jerked backward as if he fondly imagined the demon would protect him. Yeah, right. For Old Scales, everybody was expendable. The second Mel moved out of range, Egon fired the destabilizer again, and Winston and Ray maintained their blasting.
Peter made a hasty adjustment to his thrower and zapped Taggart. At the weakest power, a stream would stun a man, and Peter couldnít let the guy run around loose and maybe pull a second gun. Taggart gasped and fell down like a puppet whose master has let go of the strings, and Peter reset the thrower with an urgent twist of the knob. Ray took an involuntary step as if to go to Taggart, but then he shrugged, abandoned the idea, and shifted to get a better angle to fire at the demon.
With a shriek, the demon yanked its hands out of its gut, and before the other three could join in Egonís fire, it snatched Eddie and held him before itself as a shield.
Egon jerked his thrower away so fast he destabilized a tapestry and a portion of the wall before he could shut the power down. Dirt crumbled down from behind it in a mini-avalanche.
About to join in his friendsí fire, Peter pulled his shot, raised the thrower, and aimed at Arabasí head. The demon simply lifted Eddie higher. Ray and Winston tried to get clear shots, too, but the demon moved Eddie around the way a little kid dances an action figure in a game. Even though it had to be partly destabilized, the hand that grabbed Eddie was still solid, and there was no way to destabilize it without destabilizing Eddie, too. Who knew what that would do on top of the control that already drove his actions?
"They say you love music," Ray yelled. "You want Eddie here so he can create music. The medallion gives him the power to bring forth what is in him, faster than he could do it on his own. If Eddie dies, youíll lose that. He has to be more important to you than a shield. Put him down."
"Fine," said the demon. "You make an excellent point." Without letting go of Eddie, it grabbed Winston, who was nearest to him, and held him up as a replacement shield, then dropped Eddie, who hit the ground hard and fell to his hands and knees beside the still-unconscious Taggart. Egon started toward him, but the demon held out its other hand to the physicist, palm outward, the way he had cast fire at Mel, and Egon holstered the thrower with a cautious movement, and went to his cousin anyway, although he kept looking up to make sure the demon wasnít doing anything vicious and permanent to Winston. Bad idea. They needed the destabilizer. On the other hand, Egon was now a lot closer to Arabas, and with luck could get off a better shot from there once Peter and Ray could distract the demon.
"Eddie, are you hurt?" Egon dropped a hand on Eddieís back.
Eddie jerked away from him. "Donít, Egon," he said in a tight, pained voice. "Just...donít."
Egonís hand came away as if he had been scorched, and he knelt there, shoulders bowed, so hopeless Peter wanted to go to him and console him, but he couldnít. They had to stop this demon, and he didnít think Eddie would hurt them, just resist. "Come on, Egon, on your feet," he encouraged. "We can stop him."
Winston looked down from his dangling perch, his face grim, his mouth twisted, and caught their gaze with a look that held absolution for whatever action they might need to take. "Donít worry about me, guys. Take him down. Donít let him get away with this."
Yeah, like they would blast Winston. But Egon pushed himself up, backed off to stand between Peter and Ray, and resumed his tight-knuckled grip on the destabilizer thrower. "He canít protect every portion of his body," he said through tight lips. "Take aim. Peter, the head. Ray, the legs."
"And when you kill your friend, how will you live with yourselves?" Arabas asked mildly as if it had no fear at all. It shook Winston slightly to make the point, and Winstonís thrower, knocked from his hands, bounced on the end of its power cord, just like his head bounced. Peter could tell he was holding himself rigid against the turbulent motion. "Humans have consciences." Arabas sneered at the word. "A very useful attribute, from my point of view. Much less so from your own."
"Is it?" Egon asked, and Peter had never heard him sound so hard and determined. Ignoring Mel, who crept to Eddieís side and knelt beside him, trailed by the shrinking golem who cast terrified eyes up at Arabas, Egon aimed the destabilizer right at Arabasóand Winston, whom the demon positioned to be directly between himself and the point of Egonís thrower. Mel could guard Taggart, too, in case he revived and drew a second gun. As if he could read Peterís thoughts, Mel patted down the occultist as expertly as a TV cop, and shook his head to indicate he had found no additional weapons. Taggart shifted faintly under the search and groaned loudly, but didnít rouse.
"Go ahead," Winston said as Eddie scuttled back away from Mel, the fingers of both hands tight around the medallion. If Mel could yank it away from him...
Mel didnít try. Maybe he was afraid of what would happen if it were removed, or suspected it would turn him against everyone the way it had Eddie. A possessed demon would not be a pretty sight. Instead he chivvied Eddie into a corner of the room where he would be out of thrower range. The golem followed Mel like a lapdog, its eyes wide as it took in everything that had happened, and cast uneasy glances over its shoulder to make sure Arabas didnít try to grab it, too. Peter had seen brief astonishment in the golemís eyes when the demon had used Eddie for a shield. At least it didnít look like he would interfere with what was about to happen.
Ray hesitated, cast an anguished look at Winston, then dragged Taggart over to Mel, who settled him off to one side where he could have him within reach.
"It wasnít his fault, not really," Ray said as he darted back. "He got in over his head."
"And he did it willingly," Arabas said, bouncing Winston around to remind them of his determination to protect himself. Winstonís arms and legs jerked. "Just like Eddie surrendered willingly to the medallion." It sneered down at Egon. "It is far too late to save your cousin, Spengler."
His mouth drawn in a hard, rigid line, Egon made an adjustment to the controls of the thrower he held. His glasses slid down his nose, but he didnít spare a hand to resettle them. He tossed his head to urge them into place, and continued what he was doing.
"Iím sorry, Winston," he said in a grim voice.
"Do what you hafta do, man," Winston exonerated him. "Iím cool. We have to stop this dude." He gave a squawk of pain as the massive hand tightened around his middle.
Before the demonís grip could crush Winston, Egon raised the thrower and very calmly blasted both Winston and the demon at what looked like full streams.
Calmly? His face twisted, and all color left it. Ignoring Rayís yell of astonished protest, he kept on firing, and Peter, who knew Egon had to have a plan, restrained himself with such an effort that it felt like he was twisting his muscles into spasms.
The stream shot out in a huge, enveloping cloud that covered the demon from knees to shoulders, and engulfed Winstonís entire body. With a gasp of shock, Winston went limp in the giant hand, and his proton pack slid free and clattered to the floor. At the impact, Peter winced and ducked involuntarily, but it didnít blow up. A second later, the massive fingers loosened to spill Winston down beside it, where he lay inert and transparent at the demonís feet. From where he stood, Peter couldnít tell if he were still breathing or understand why he didnít sink right down through the floor. Peterís stomach twisted into a hard, cold knot. They couldnít help Winston in a destabilized state. No way to do CPR if hands would pass right through his body.
When Ray would have run to him, Egon said, "No, Ray," in a voice that ached all the way to the soul. "You canít help him. Blast the demon."
Before Ray and Peter could fire, Eddie broke free of Mel and ran toward the demon. To protect it? The golem followed hot on his heels. Ray pulled his shot, taking out one of the ceiling beams. It shattered and crashed down, bringing a bigger landslide of dirt with it that just missed the demon. It jerked toward Eddie, who kept on coming. With a roar of fury, the demon raised its palm.
"If I canít have him, neither can you!" it bellowed. Fire erupted from its palm.
Peter didnít know if Arabas could cast lethal fire destabilized, but two things happened near simultaneously that made Peterís mouth drop open. Mel darted between Eddie and the demonís energy, and it bounced off his chest like water from a garden hose. Eddie jerked back, falling against the golem, who grabbed the chain of the medallion and yanked with all its strength. As Mel reeled backward into Eddie, the singer put up his hand to fend the creature off, and the golem pulled the medallion off with a shout of triumph.
Eddie gave a great and tragic cry and grabbed for him, but Mel broke free of the weakened energy from the demon, and the motion knocked Eddie off balance. Egon lunged for Eddie to stop him or protect him as Mel staggered off toward the golem, and the demonís next blast hit Egon in the side. Without a sound, he dropped to the floor, a broken marionette, and lay sprawled and unmoving, just like Winston.
"Egon!" shrieked Peter and Ray in perfect chorus, then Ray cried, "Blast him!" and his mouth twisted with furious determination. Peter jerked up his thrower and fired with every ounce of power his thrower had.
The two streams hit the destabilized demon with full force, and Arabas squirmed helplessly in the particle beams, bellowing nearly loudly enough to shatter eardrums. With no hands free to clasp over his ears, Peter gritted his teeth and kept on firing. Two destabilizer blasts had weakened Arabas and made it an easier target, but Peter didnít know if the streams could hold it. He could only hope desperately that the lessening of the demonís strength might have been enough to prevent the blast from having killed Egon. As he planted his feet and gritted his teeth for the battle to come, a third stream came in: Mel, sprawled on the ground between Egon and a white-faced Eddie, using Egonís destabilizer thrower, to keep the demon from regaining its energy.
The demon staggered around the chamber, roaring with the same eardrum-punishing roar, battling to break free of the streams. But in its destabilized state, the third particle stream was enough, although it would be close. At one point in its dying struggles, it stepped on the transparent Winston, who never flinched, then yanked backward away from him. Peter and Ray moved with it to keep their lock on it while Mel, who didnít have the luxury of movement unless he towed Egon along behind him, pulled the trap from Egonís proton pack and threw it out at the demonís feet.
"We canít trap him too close to Winston," Ray warned Peter in a quick undertone. "Or heíll be pulled in, too."
Peter couldnít tell if Winston were alive or dead. He could see Egon was alive because the pack on his back shifted fractionally as he breathed, but he must be deeply unconscious. How much damage had the demonís energy done to him? If Winston could come back from what had been done to himóand Peter was betting Egon had believed he could or he would have devised a different plan to stop the demonóthen they couldnít risk trapping him with the demon because that would intermingle their molecules for all time, and Winston would be lost forever. Would Egon?
"Steady," Ray muttered, his voice hard and urgent. In a crisis like this, Rayís strength always shone through. Even though he looked utterly stricken and desperate to run to his downed friends, he didnít have the luxury, so he did his job. "Steady. Ready, Mel? Stand by." The demon yanked backward still farther in a frantic attempt to pull free, but the streams held it. If they could have had four, their task would have been easy, but there was no one to use Winstonís pack and they couldnít be sure it was safe after what it had gone through. Mel reeled back the trap and flung it out again, closer to the demonís new position.
"Now, Mel!" Ray shouted.
Mel hit the trap trigger, and the demon Arabas gave a despairing wail. "No. No. No. Let me go. I must have music." Its scaly form twisted and elongated, its feet vanishing into the trap first, its arms making wild, uncoordinated gestures like a drowning swimmer.
"Have it in the containment unit, then, bunky!" Peter yelled as Arabas lost the battle and slid down into the trap. The trapís doors snapped shut over its screaming form.
The second the trap closed, three throwers powered down. In the silence following the fading whine of their energy, the sound of the Goth music from the roomís speakers seemed obscenely loud, too much like a dirge to satisfy Peter. He lunged for Egon, and Ray for Winston, as if they had rehearsed ahead of time which of them would help which team member, but before they could reach their downed friends, they saw Eddie madly pursuing the golem around and around the room, the medallion dangling from the chain in its hand.
"Give it to me," Eddie bellowed. "I have to have it." Tears streamed down his face, and his breath came in hot and urgent pants. Desperation quickened his pace, and only the fact that the golemís legs were as long as his own gave it a chance to elude Eddieís grasping hands. The singer looked every bit as tormented as Peter felt, not knowing if Egon or Winston would survive.
"Golem," bellowed Mel. "To me."
The golem changed direction and ran in Melís direction. Just before Eddie would have caught it, he darted sideways toward the nearest brazier. Its breath came as hard as Eddieís, and its eyes glowed with a combination of desperation and rapture, as if the medallion worked on it, too. Maybe the part of it that had been animated by Eddieís blood was as drawn to it as Eddie had been. The creature was part Eddie. Maybe the control carried over. If it put it on...
Yet at the last minute, the golemís resolve strengthened. "No," he whispered. "No more." Eyes gleaming with a sudden burst of humanity and determination, it pitched the medallion into the fire of the brazier and flung itself face down upon the floor.
Eddie bellowed and twisted as if it had been he who had fallen into the flames. A second later, blue sparks shot up in a savage rush, the stream of flame soaring nearly to the broken ceiling. In a burst of fire, the brazier exploded outward, sending shards flying like lethal missiles across the chamber, and Mel grabbed Eddie and thrust him behind him, taking the force of the explosion with his own body. Peter lunged for Egon and covered him. A few pieces of the brazier rattled off his proton pack and an ember fell on his sleeve, causing him to jerk his arm wildly to detach it and then to beat at the smoldering fabric to smother the flame. His hand would probably blister, but what did that matter? They had the demon. It looked like the medallion was no more.
But Egon lay unmoving, and Winston was still nearly transparent over there where Ray fussed over him, his meter active. Taggart was rousing, but only enough to make feeble movements, and he moaned helplessly and put his hands over his face.
Eddie stood slumped and broken in Melís grip, his head bowed, the very lines of his body bespeaking despair. Even as Peter pressed urgent fingers against the side of Egonís neck to feel for a pulse, he saw the expression on Eddieís face and knew it for the wish to jump into the shattered brazier after the medallion and perish with it. In that moment, Eddie would have chosen to die. Peterís stomach knotted harder than before. So much had gone wrong here. Would any of it ever come right? Egonís pulse beat under his fingers and he willed it desperately to continue.
"Mel..." Peter said softly and nodded at Eddie.
"I know," said Mel, and picked up Eddie, the way he had the golem when they had first believed it was Eddie. "It will be all right," he soothed in a voice so soft Peter could barely hear it. "It will be all right."
"Peter?" Ray called.
"Heís got a pulse, Ray. It feels pretty strong. Egon, come on, big guy, open those baby blues."
Nada. No response at all. "Heís out of it, Ray. We need paramedics. What about Winston?" He almost hated to ask the question. If Winston died... What would Egon feel if he survived and Winston didnít?
"Heís alive and breathing. Heís coming back, Peter," Ray said, and Peter couldnít tell how much of his claim was real and how much wishful thinking. "Egon knew he would," he insisted fiercely. "Donít you see? The destabilizer effect wears off. Thatís why we have to zap and trap a destabilized demon as soon as possible or it defeats the purpose and the demon turns physical again. Egon set his thrower on a diffuse reading. It was enough to weaken the demonóthatís why its blast didnít kill Egonóbut it destabilized Winston completely. We canít reverse it. Itís not like when Egon was destabilized because that had demon energy mixed in with the destabilizer blast. I suppose we could reverse the polarity of the neutron flow of the destabilizer, but Iíve never had to do that before, and Iím not sure what the settings would be. Iíd hate to risk experimenting on Winston. I could send for the molecular phase amplifier but I really think heíll come back before then." He gulped and swallowed hard. "The meter says heís coming back. Heís not quite as transparent as before." He gestured down at Winston. Peter could still see through him but not clearly. The effect had blurred as Winston solidified.
"You watch him, Ray. Iíll take Egon." He ran his hands over Egonís arms and legs to make sure nothing had been broken when he fell, although Egon had collapsed so limply, the most he might have done in landing was to bruise himself. There seemed to be no swellings anywhere on his head. He hadnít knocked himself out. The demonís energy had done that. He didnít show any signs of going into shock, at least, and that was a hopeful sign.
Peter sat beside Egon and pulled him up against his shoulder. "Come on, Egon," he said very softly. "Come back. Youíre gonna be fine, and soís Winston." Egonís head lolled against his shoulder. Peter tightened his grip and gently chafed Egonís cheek.
"Mel?" he asked. "Howís Eddie?"
"Donít know," Mel muttered. "The medallion had total control. He wouldnít have acted like that otherwise."
"Is it destroyed?" Ray asked.
It was the golem who answered. It sat near Mel, head bent, arms hanging limp, a strange, shambling figure whose resemblance to Eddie seemed less than before. If Peter had first seen it like this, he never would have mistaken the golem for the singer. Was that because destroying the medallion had diminished it? Or was it because Arabas had made it, and Arabas was gone? Would it slowly revert to the clay from which it had been made? Peter grimaced at the thought. They owed the golem for destroying the medallion and ending its insidious power. Heck of a reward for that, to crumble into a pile of dirt.
"Only fire could destroy it," the golem explained. "Arabas said so. He said Eddie would love it and crave it so much, he would never harm it, and that I could never harm it because I was bound to Arabasóand to the medallion."
At that, Eddie lifted his head and looked at the golem. "You mean destroying it will destroy you?" he asked in a voice that was scarcely above a whisper. In the dim and flickering lighting, his face shone as white as a sheet-draped ghost.
The golem nodded. "I still had to," it whispered back. It gazed at Eddie as if no other person existed. "Mel bound me to him. I didnít serve Arabas anymore. I could see the medallion was evil. It only wanted to control." It shuddered. "I have always known control, all my short existence. Control is bad. I had to destroy it."
Melís face twisted. "Golem, I free you," he said and touched the golemís head. A blue glow fluttered around his fingers and faded to nothing. "You are not controlled any longer. You are your own person." He smiled down at the golem. "You acted on your own initiative when you destroyed it. You may have guessed it was my wish, but I didnít command you. So you did what you did a free person."
"Free?" the golem whispered, stunned and trembling. "I am free?"
"You sure are," Ray called. His face held so many shadows, he was almost unrecognizable, but his voice was kind. "No one controls you now."
Taggart sat up but didnít speak. He looked doubtfully around and made no sudden moves, but Peter could tell heíd been listening for a while. The guy had better not try anything. Peter just ached to beat him to a pulp.
The golem smiled, and in that moment, it did not resemble Eddie at all, but a separate person who happened to have the same features. "I am free," it whispered, and the smile expanded to fill its entire face. It faded a moment later. "Egon will live," he said. "I know this." It went over to Eddie and gripped his hand. "Because I am free, I choose to return to you your stolen energy."
Eddie stared at it as if he didnít understand, but the golem went on smiling. It squeezed Eddieís hand tightly, and a golden glow ran from the golemís fingers to Eddieís. Eddie gasped. The bitter despair that had filled his eyes eased, and Peter saw the longing for death melt away. He still looked lost and miserable, his shoulders hunched, his eyes haunted, but his will to live had returned. Deep inside, Peter gave a breath of relief. It might take time, but he thought Eddie could come back from all this.
Then a shudder passed through the golemís body, and its features began to blur and melt, like a snowman on a too-warm day. "I must die now," it said in a voice that slurred as it spoke. "I am glad I lived, even if it was only for a little while. I am glad to die free."
Eddie struggled to break free of Melís grasp. "No. After what youíve done, you have to live," he cried, and a little more of the old Eddie showed in his stance and his determination.
Mel released Eddie and grabbed the golem by the shoulders. More golden light spilled from him in a spate of energy, the way it had when he had healed Rayís little scalp wound, only far brighter. The golem shuddered and twisted beneath the force, and Peter gasped, for under its impact the golemís features shifted and reformed, so it looked a little like Eddie, but no longer a dead ringer. At least it didnít look like it was melting any more. That had not been pretty.
Ray gasped and yanked up his PKE meter. "Wow," he breathed as he studied the readout screen. "Gosh, Peter, I think heís going to live."
Peter nodded, tightened his grip on Egon, and watched to see what would happen next. Egonís breathing sounded steady and regular in his ear, and he shifted slightly against Peterís shoulder. Did that mean he was waking up? "Egon?" Peter prompted, but he didnít respond.
Eddie went to the golem and put out both his hands. He wasnít yet steady on his feet, and he looked like he wanted to go off somewhere and be very sick for about an hour, but he took the hands the golem held out to him and squeezed them tightly. "Thank you," Eddie said. "You saved me. Iím...not sure Iím glad yet, but a part of me is, and I think more will be once weíre out of here."
The golem gazed at him. "I had to," he said, and Peter suddenly realized he no longer thought of the golem as Ďití. "A part of me was bound to Whitney, even though Iíve never seen her, and I couldnít cause her pain."
"Like I did," Eddie said in an aching voice. "Are you still bound to her?"
The golem blinked in surprise. "No," he said. "Iím not. Itís gone."
"That was me," Mel said. "Didnít think that would help. Took it away."
"Ah, Mel, Iím so sorry," Eddie said. He leaned against Mel, who wrapped his muscular blue arms around him. "I didnít know what I was saying. I know youíd never betray me. You were trying to help me all along. Iím sorry."
"I know. The medallion made you do it. Gone now," Mel said simply. Peter could tell he held no grudges against Eddie, that he understood and probably didnít even think there was anything to forgive.
"So is the golem going to live?" Peter asked. He sheltered Egon against his shoulder. They had to get out of here and take him to the paramedics soon. And Winston...could they even move him the way he was? Could Mel bring him back?
Melís head bowed. "He will live," he said. "Human now."
Eddie lifted his face from Melís chest. "Golem, weíll find a name for you. You saved my life. Iíll do what I can to help you."
"Looks like youíve got yourself a new roadie," Peter muttered. "Now that weíve got that settled, can we do something about Egon?"
Mel pointed Eddie at the golem and knelt before Egon. Out came the huge blue hands to cradle Egonís head. Behind him, Eddie came and knelt next to Peter, and scooped up Egonís hand in both of his own. The golem knelt beside him but didnít interfere.
"God, Peter, Iím sorry," Eddie said. "I know he took that blast for me."
"Hey, listen, guy," Peter said. "Demon control isnít exactly something we can shrug off. Been there, done that." Egonís weight against his shoulder was a torment. This was the second time in only a few hours that Egon had been unconscious. Would that make a difference? Yet Peter couldnít let Eddie beat himself up over what heíd done when he was under the influence of a power none of them had ever dreamed heíd need to defend himself against. "Youíre gonna be okay. Itíll probably take a little time, but youíll have Whitney and Jackson in your corner. Theyíre on their way here right now."
"I treated them like shit at the rehearsal room." Eddie bowed his head over Egonís hand.
"Yeah, and I tried to open the containment unit when I was possessed. No point in reveling in how scummy we were. We couldnít help it, either one of us." Come on, Egon, wake up.
"What about me?" asked another voice, and Jack Taggart pushed himself to his feet. He had that same twist of the mouth that Eddie had that spoke of an urge to go and spew. "Iím doomed. Youíre all worried about Mister Made-of-Clay over there, guy who isnít even human, but I havenít got a prayer, and all you do is look at me like I was Al Capone."
"A little less melodrama," Peter told him as he tested Egonís pulse. "You were controlled, too."
"I held a guy at gunpoint and tied him upóand I donít know if you ever talked to him, but I wouldnít exactly call him forgiving," Taggart said. "I shot at you guys. Iím gonna do time for this."
"No." Ray didnít leave Winston, but he looked over at Taggart. "You were possessed, Jack. The demon made you do it."
"Yeah, right, Ray," Taggart muttered. "I donít think Ďthe devil made me do ití cuts any ice before a judge."
"Well, gee, it will if we speak for you," Ray said. "I took readings and I can prove it."
Peter wasnít so sure he was ready to forgive Taggart, who had probably summoned the demon in the first place, thinking he was hot shit who could handle major demons and bringing the whole stinking mess down upon them in the first place. It wasnít right he get off scot-free. But Peter could tell from the way Ray sat there with his meter in hand that he meant to help Taggart. That was Ray for you; he had a heart as big as all outdoors.
A distant shout rang down the passage, then more voices. "Egon!" That was Janine. "Guys!"
Fainter behind her, other voices yelled Eddieís name. Sounded like Whitney and Jackson. At least they hadnít shown up in the middle of the mess.
"Weíre here, Janine!" Ray called. "The demonís trapped. Hurry."
Clad in her pink jumpsuit, Janine led the way into the room, her thrower at the ready in her hands. She didnít have the spud with her, after all. When she saw Egon sprawled against Peterís shoulder, she gave a wordless cry of outrage and panic and flew to his side, only pausing long enough to holster her weapon. Mel lifted his hands to allow her access, and she knelt and fussed over him, kissing his brow and running her fingers through his hair. "Whatís wrong with him?"
"Demon blasted him," Mel said. "I can fix it."
"Fix it, then," she ordered and edged reluctantly back. Even if Mel hadnít wanted to help, the look on Janineís face would probably have convinced even Arabas to help if he hadnít been safe in the trap. There were times when only a total idiot dared cross Janine, and this was one of them.
Whitney, Jackson, and Chan burst into the room like a minor herd of stampeding cattle, and all three of them jerked to a halt at the sight of Egon down, Winston still faintly transparent, Eddie distraught, and Mel hovering over Egon. The golem stood close to Eddie, still looking vaguely dazed, but he turned at the sound of the new arrivals. Peter saw him mouth the name, "Whitney," but the compulsion that had driven him earlier had faded, and the reaction was merely recognition instead of an urgent need to possess her. Just as well. Peter could imagine Whitneyís reaction.
As for Taggart, he blinked up at the other two members of the band, and Chan behind them, and he hunched his shoulders as if he expected them to charge over and start beating on him.
At the sight of Whitney, Eddie gave an anguished cry and blundered to meet her, helpless, despairing, penitent, and desperate. She watched him come, and her face twisted with worry at the pathetic sight he presented. When her face crumpled and she held out her arms, he staggered into them and let them close around him. Jackson came up behind him and rested a hand on his back while Eddie wept against his wifeís shoulder. They werenít the tears of hopeless despair, but the tears of a man who has seen a beacon of hope gleaming through the darkness. Heíd feel rotten for a while, but heíd be okay. At least Peter hoped he would.
Peter watched a moment, until he was sure that neither wife nor best friend would reject Eddie, gave Ray a crooked smile at the sight, then turned to Mel. "Help Egon," he said. "Please."
Mel nodded. "Heíll be okay, Peter," he said, and resumed his grip on Egonís head, his huge blue hands nearly engulfing it so that only the tip of his nose and the curl of his weird "do" showed. Janine edged closer to Peter, and he slung his other arm around her and drew her close. This was one of those moments both would later pretend had never happened. There were rules to their interaction, and both of them followed them religiously. At a moment like this, Peter and Janine were siblings, filled with concern for someone that, in their separate ways, both loved wholeheartedly. Ray would have been there with them if he hadnít had to look out for Winston, just like theyíd have been with him at Winstonís side if Egon hadnít needed them. The Ghostbusters were, and always had been, a family, and they shared their crises according to need.
Golden energy flowed from Melís hands. Had he always been able to do this or was it something he had been developing on his own? Something he could only do in his demon form? Peter didnít know and didnít care as long as it helped Egon.
"Demon energy drains people," Mel said instructively as he worked. "Doctors say electrolytes, but thatís because they donít know about demons. Itís like electrolytes being unbalanced. Messes a person up."
"Like a thrower backlash," Ray called. Peter glanced over at him and down at Winston. You couldnít see through him anymore, and only a vague fuzziness around the edges still lingered. That had to be a good sign. Ray had a hand on his shoulder, and from what Peter could tell, his fingers werenít sinking in. Even better. Hang in there, Zed. Maybe Mel can revive you next.
"Like a thrower backlash," Mel agreed and bobbed his head. "Canít do this with everybody all the time, but Egonís Eddieís cousin, and theyíre alike, in a way. The same blood. Doctor still needs to check him, though." He lifted his hands away.
"Egon?" Peter and Janine pleaded in unison.
Egon opened his eyes.
In the first moment, he looked befuddled and bewildered, then he blinked a couple of times. Peter straightened his glasses without putting his fingers on the lenses, and grinned down at him. "Hey, Spengs," he said. "Welcome back."
"Peter." Pleasure at the recognition made Egon return the smile. His eyes traveled farther. "Janine! You werenít here before." His voice trailed off as memory slammed into him. "Eddie!"
"Heís okay, Egon," Peter said. "The medallionís destroyed, the golemís human, the demonís trapped, and Taggartís feeling like pond scum."
"Winston?" Egon ventured, and he braced himself for bad news. "I had to destabilize him, Peter," he pleaded for understanding. "There was no other way. He will restabilize on his own." He pushed himself up away from Peterís shoulder and looked around. When he saw Winston sprawled unmoving on the floor with Ray hovering at his side, his face grew taut, and he thrust himself unsteadily to his feet.
Peter jumped up with him and steadied him until he found his balance, and then hovered at his side as he made his way to Winston, Janine guarding his other side, her arm around his waist. Mel let them go. Over by the door, Whitney still held on to Eddie, but she was talking to him softly, and so was Jackson. Chan had strode over to join Mel, and Mel gestured toward Taggart. Good. Chan could watch him. Even though he wasnít a demon any more, Chan looked tough enough to intimidate Taggart, who squinted up at him doubtfully and then looked away.
Ray had his hand on Winstonís forehead now. "Heís solid again, Egon. It looks like heíll come back on his own. Heíll be a little woozy at first, Iíd think, but Iíve been taking readings, and heís nearly back to normal." He studied Egonís grim and repentant face. "He wonít hold it against you, Egon. You know he wonít. He told you to do it, remember?"
Egon sat down beside Winston and scooped up his hand. "Heís cold," he said.
"Heís warmer than he was. This is what happens with destabilization. Youíve studied it. You know how it works. He really will be all right," Ray said sincerely.
Peter stood behind Egon and rested a reassuring hand on his shoulder, leaving the other free for Janine to clasp. The four of them watched Winston.
As if he had only been napping, he opened his eyes and stared up at them.
"Winston...." Egon began.
After the first startled moment, awareness filled Winstonís face. "No way, Egon," he said. "You donít take any blame for that. It worked, didnít it? We got it?"
"We got it," Peter said. "The demon zapped Egon, but Mel fixed it. Melís been fixing a lot of things."
"Youíre gonna be just fine, Winston," Ray said. "But donít move yet. I think youíre probably still a little bit neutronized. We wouldnít want you to disappear."
Winstonís mouth twitched. "No, we sure as heck wouldnít want that," he said and caught Peterís eye.
Peter nodded at Egon.
"Soon as Ray lets me up, I swear, Egon, Iíll be tempted to deck you," Winston said.
Egon flinched as if the words were cudgels.
"For that," Winston said. "For wanting to pull a guilt number. What else could you do? I saw you adjusting the power. I knew I wasnít zapped for good. Arabas is trapped. Thatís the bottom line."
"The bottom line," Egon said tightly, "is that I deliberately blasted one of my friends."
"Gaaah," Peter exploded. "What is it with you Spenglers? This bit about always having to be perfect is just stupid, and you know it. Youíre not perfect, Egon, and when you calm down, you can yell at me for daring to say so. We got him, anyway." Suddenly he laughed. "You know what this was like? Keanu Reeves."
Everybody stared at him blankly as if he had lost his mind. "Egon is like Keanu Reeves?" Ray echoed doubtfully and his brow scrunched up as if he couldnít make any connection, no matter how hard he tried.
"Yeah. Well, no, I donít think Egon is anything like Keanu Reeves, Ray. But I meant it was like in that movie, Speed, when the terrorist had his partner and the partner said, "Shoot the hostage," and so he shot his partner in the leg so heíd fall and Keanu could have a shot at the terrorist. It brought the hostage out of danger. And a little temporary neutronizing is a lot better than a bullet in the thigh any day of the week."
"I liked that movie," Ray said with a grin.
"Is there any movie you didnít like, Tex?" Peter asked. "Come on, Egon, you did the only thing you could, and weíre all alive. Eddieís free, and heís got a brand new roadieóand I mean Ďbrand newí literally. All we have to do now is to figure out what to do about Taggart, because our old friend the super is not somebody Iíd expect to do the right thing or have a clue about what possession can do to you."
Egon stared down at Winston, who looked better by the minute. When he sat up with Rayís help, and nothing terrible happened to him, Egon actually smiled.
"We could, of course, tell the super that in order to defeat the demon, I was forced to neutronize one of my best friends," he said. "Perhaps it would give him leave to think about the consequences of his actions."
The image of Egon with his thrower tip-tapping the superís chest as he enumerated the powers of a demon and the reasons a human could not stand against them brought a big smile to the whole teamís faces.
"Yes, that might work," Egon said. "But of course we should need to extract a promise from Mister Taggart that his occult interest in future be limited to books and movies rather than actual participation."
"Sounds like a plan," Peter said. "Ray, weíll leave that up to you and all your occult buddies, and if the cops join the game, you can talk to the judge. Come on, Winston, letís get you on your feet. I donít know about you, but Goth is not my favorite design style and Iím starting to get really sick of the music. Canít somebody shut it off before Vincent Price and Christopher Lee show up? This place would give Dracula nightmares."
He looked over at Eddie. That wouldnít resolve itself overnight, either, but at least Eddie wasnít crying any more, even if he was still holding onto Whitney. Heíd probably need to talk it through with a professional, though, and Peter was pretty sure he was too close to the situation to be the one to handle it. He started running through the list of his psychologist buddies to figure which of them would be the best equipped to deal with a case of demon-induced post traumatic stress.
Peter and Ray hauled Winston to his feet and made sure he and Egon were steady enough to walk out of Arabasí little kingdom.
"What about me?" the golem asked. "What do I do now? I know Iím free, but I donít know what that means. I donít know where to go."
Probably nothing else would have gotten through to Eddie. He murmured something to Whitney, then he turned to the golem. "Iím getting used to taking in strays," he said. "Melís a good example." They all stared at Mel, who had resumed his human form and looked pretty normal except for being barefoot and having three bullet holes in his shirt. Then Eddie faced the golem. "If you want to work for me, Iíll get you a job, and I know how to get you an identity, too. You donít have a name, do you?"
The golem shook his head in a gesture very like Eddieís even if he didnít really look like him anymore. "No," he said. "I donít have anything but being free."
"Being free is the best place to start," Eddie told him, and with every word, he seemed to find a little more of himself. "You can name yourself," he said. "If you want to wait until you know more names, thatís okay, too."
"I know what name I like," the golem admitted. "Can I use it even if somebody else already has?" He gazed at Eddie eye to eye.
Eddie laughed. It was a shaky laugh, but it made Egon smile and lose some of his tension. Whitney beamed at him as if he could do no wrong, and Jackson grinned at him. Mel drifted over. "Eddie will do anything he can for you," he said.
Eddie nodded. "There are more people than there are names, I guess. Lots of people have the same name. What would you like us to call you?"
The golem gestured at Peter. "What he said. It sounded good. Keanu."
Peter would have laughed out loud if Egonís elbow hadnít found his side. "A fine name," Egon said without letting one shred of amusement show in his face or his voice.
"It will do," Eddie said. "Itís good to meet you, Keanu. This is my wife, Whitney, and this is Jackson MacKensie, my drummer and best friend. You already know Mel. This is Chan, another of the bandís roadies."
"Can we go home now?" Peter asked hopefully.
"Thereís a tape in the other room," Eddie said. He hesitated. "I wrote a song while I was down here. I donít know if itís even any good, but I taped it and took some notes. Maybe I should scrap it because it was the medallion that, well, that made me write it. But even if it came from that, it was still music. Iíd like to save it if I can. And thereís a wonderful guitar, too."
"Iíll get them," Mel volunteered. "Keanu will show me where to find them." He caught the golemís shoulder and they went off into a room Peter hadnít noticed, mostly because the door looked just like part of the wall. When they emerged, Mel carried a tape recorder under his arm and the guitar hung from its strap around his neck, and Keanu bore a sheaf of papers and was talking to him eagerly, asking him a series of questions. If there was ever anybody who had a lot to learn about the world, that was the guy.
Taggart hesitated, then he went over to the sound system Peter hadnít really noticed and pushed a button. The Goth music stopped just like that.
Maybe Taggart wasnít so bad after all. "Thank you," Peter said fervently. "If I ever hear Goth music again, itíll be too soon for me."
Taggart gave a tentative chuckle. "Yeah," he agreed. "Me, too."
Egon seemed steady on his feet and Janine had deputized herself to walk at his side, her arm around his waist. She had the right, and Peter backed off and let her, although he kept an eye on Egon to make sure he really was okay and didnít falter. Even if Egon wasnít gung ho about the idea, paramedics would have the final say. Ditto with Winston. Ray hovered beside him and took readings every minute to make sure he was fully restabilized, and Mel kept beside the golem. Keanu, Peter corrected himself. Once he got out in the real world, people were going to think he had changed his name because of the actor. A case of Mel and Keanuís excellent adventure? Peter shook his head. Taggart trailed along with Chan at his side.
"Okay, Eddie?" Peter asked as they headed down the tunnel toward the fallout shelter.
"I donít know," Eddie said honestly. "I think I will be. But a part of me...still wants it. The medallion."
Peter nodded. He had an idea the thing had been more like addiction than possession, but he didnít want to say so to Eddie, who was so anti-drugs. On the other hand, there might be nothing better to give him a distaste for the very memory of the whole incident.
"Yeah," he said. "Getting high is like that. Feels great, then you come down and want it all over again."
"High?" echoed Eddie, and his face twisted like he wanted to barf all over the place. Peter hoped he wouldnít.
"Something like that," he said as mildly as he could. "Itís like somebody dosed you when you werenít looking. The good thing here is that itís permanently gone. It canít affect you anymore." Did psi objects cause flashbacks? Peter hoped not. Heíd get Ray off to the side later and ask him about it.
"You can imagine it as psi control, Eddie, if that makes you more comfortable," Egon said, but he quickly added honestly, "although it does replicate an addiction. In this case, what it gave you was in part positive, a stirring and heightening of your own natural creativity. It did nothing for you that you might not have done on your own, but without the medallion, it might simply have taken longer."
Eddie shuddered, and Whitney tightened her arm around him. "It felt like I could do anything, just like that." He snapped his fingers. "It was as if I was tied into everything in the world, and it was mine for the askingóand what I was asking for was music."
"I wish I could have studied the medallion," Egon said regretfully, and looked back over his shoulder. They hadnít even found pieces of it, for which Peter was glad. "It had an ancient musical symbol on it. We saw a picture of it in Tobinís Spirit Guide."
"I knew it looked familiar," Eddie agreed. He heaved his shoulders in a massive shrug. "I ought to be used to demons playing games with me by now. Is there any way I can remove whatever it is that makes me appeal to them?"
"Not without removing your musical creativity, and I think that is a price you would scarcely wish to pay," Egon said.
"No," Eddie said, and his face grew more serious. "I wouldnít. But if itís going to endanger Whitney or Cy..."
"Neither were harmed this time," Egon assured him. "Perhaps demons will realize those who encounter youó"
"Meet a really messy fate," Winston interjected. He did look a lot better. He was keeping pace with them just fine, and even though he wasnít wearing his packóChan carried it for him at Rayís requestóPeter thought he probably could have put it on without that much effort.
"Excellent point, Winston," Egon agreed.
"Well, I wonít have you giving up music," Whitney said to her husband and tightened the arm around his waist. "It just goes with what you are. Weíll deal with itótogether, the way we always do."
He smiled down at her. "Thanks, love," he said. "It might be tough."
"So isnít that when the Ďfor better or worseí gig kicks in?" She tilted her head to smile up at him, just as he looked down. The two blond heads shone in the light of one of the tacky globe lights, giving the pair of them an angelic cast. "The better always outweighs the worse," she added.
The door to the fallout shelter loomed ahead.
"Come on, everybody," cried Ray eagerly and plunged into the shelter. "Weíre almost out."
** *** **
Two days later, Eddie Plummer sat in the lab at Ghostbuster Central, Egonís brain-scanning colander perched on his head. Peter grinned as he sat down with it, and had taken up Eddieís sunglasses and mounted them atop the gizmo. "There," heíd said. "You look more natural now." He and Ray exchanged silly smiles.
"Oh, yeah, thanks, Peter." Eddie favored him with a wry grin.
"That might corrode the test, Peter," Egon reproached, but he didnít remove them, instead concentrating on adjusting the controls on the device.
Winston smiled. Eddie looked a lot better than he had two days before. There were still memories in his eyes, but they looked like they had begun to ease. Whitney and Jackson had stood with him every step of the way, and so had Mel, just like the guys had stood with Peter when Watt had taken him over. Friends and family; without them, how did anybody get by?
Egon looked better, too, nothing worse than a bruised chin from Eddieís punch and the healing cut on his forehead to remind him of what heíd endured. Mel had mended him from the demon attack so well that the paramedics had found no reason to take him to the hospital. They had instead given him instructions as to what problems he might expectóall of which Peter had later claimed was pure guesswork on their part because he doubted EMTs ever studied Demonology 101 at paramedic schoolóbut Egon, apart from being somewhat tired the first night, had displayed no other signs of trouble.
As for Winston himself, he had to say being dematerialized was not his first choice, or even his forty-seventh, of a way to spend an afternoon. The paramedics had puzzled over him, too, and, to his dismay, had hauled him in for the doctors to examine. The teamís own doctor, Greg Labraccio, had met them at the hospital and shook his head over Winstonís tale of being turned transparent. He fell back on the old standby of unbalanced electrolytes and treated him for that, and let him go home after a couple of hours of observation in the ER with instructions to do nothing strenuous for forty-eight hours. Peter, who would have welcomed such instructionsóand then done whatever strenuous things appealed to him while avoiding anything resembling work like the plagueóhad grinned and made sure Winston didnít overdo. For a guy who loved being babied for nothing worse than a paper cut or hangnail, he made a great mother hen. Fortunately for Winston, Peter divided his fussing equally between him and Egon until Egon drove him off with a threat of coercing Slimer into leaving ectoplasm not only on Peterís sheets but on his favorite Armani suit.
Things returned to normal, or at least what passed for normal, at Ghostbuster Central. Here they sat with Eddie wearing mad-scientist bondage headgear. It wasnít every day that a world-famous rock star graced the premises.
There were two others waiting for Egon to test them once Egon finished making certain there were no lingering aftereffects of the medallion: Keanu the former golem, and Jack Taggart. The latter sat trying to look inconspicuous in a corner of the lab, although he kept sneaking peeks at the books Ray had spread out on the table for research.
Taggart was not in jail, although Winston had been pretty sure the super would press charges, and he had. It had been pretty funny, though. As they came up to the basement level, the guy was waiting for them with two of New Yorkís finest in tow, and when he spotted Taggart, his eyes gleamed with vindictive triumph and a smug smile twisted his mouth.
"There he is," he said, flinging out a dramatic hand at Taggart. "Thatís the guy held me at gunpoint and tied me up. Arrest him."
Ray hadnít hesitated an instant. He pointed right at the super. "There he is," he said, "Thatís the guy who didnít want to let us Ghostbusters bust the demon. He hindered us in the pursuit of our job, officers." With a flourish, he had produced the full trap, which conveniently chose that moment to twitch ominously and emit a faint plume of smoke. Winston wasnít sure even now if Ray had caused that to happen or if it had been pure serendipity, but it made the copsí eyebrows arch and the super jump back two whole steps. "It could have broken out of here and gone rampaging through the whole city, and he didnít want us to go after it," Ray added righteously.
"Yeah, but that guy had a gun on me," the super had insisted. "Better get it away from him before he blows somebody away."
Peter mouthed the words, "Blows somebody away?" and spread his hands as if to win the copsí sympathy for the guyís crummy dialog.
"And here it is." Mel drew the twisted weapon from his pocket and passed it to the nearest officer, who took it dubiously between thumb and forefinger and held it at armís length. Even in human form, Mel was a big, impressive guy with muscles that looked like he had a gold membership at a health spa. He hadnít even looked weighted down by the guitar and recording device he still carried. "I had to keep it from causing any trouble," Mel had added. "Wonít hurt anybody now."
"Officers," said Ray with his own particular brand of sincerity that had been known to disarm muggers and once, even, a small class seven entity, "this man was possessed by the demon. It controlled him and forced him to use the weapon. Iíve got documentation, readings that show him under the demonís control, and can compare them with his normal ones now that the control is gone."
The two cops had studied the trap, studied Ray, and studied Taggart. "Yeah, but he did threaten this guy with a gun," the senior officer decided. "Weíll have to take him in and let the judge decide."
"Okay," said Ray. "Donít worry, Jack. Iíll talk to the judge at your hearing. Once they see my documentationóand the readings of the demonóit should be okay."
Winston didnít know how Ray did it, not when the wheels of justice ran as slow as Peter when he first dragged out of bed in the morning, but here sat Taggart, a dubious and wary cop in attendance who hadnít stopped staring from the moment he arrived. Taggartís fate depended on the outcome of Egonís tests although there would be a hearing, and from the way Winston had heard it, even if he were exonerated of deliberately breaking a number of laws, he had carried a weapon and made threats with it. The best deal heíd likely get would be community service and a fine. An imaginative judgeóand Ray was sure to find oneómight make him swear an oath to summon no more demons. Just as well. They had enough trouble with the ones that showed up on their own.
The presence of Slimer had added to the officerís uneasinessóand Peterís loudly voiced complaintsóbut Ray had laid down the law to the spud, and he had contented himself with sniffing warily at Keanu until Mel drew him off and talked to him in his best demon voice. After that, Mel bore Slimer away downstairs to the kitchen and returned with a package of Goldfish, and from time to time, he would flip one of the little crackers at Slimer as if he were offering doggie treats. Slimer proved remarkably adept at catching them in midair, often with his massive and dexterous tongue. On the other hand, with a mouth as big as the spudís, he had an unfair advantage. The cop nervously watched every move Slimer made, and Winston was glad the little gooper hadnít decided to take an interest in the policeman. For the most part, the NYPD thought well of the Ghostbusters. No point in ruining their record.
Egon squinted at the monitor screen, where they saw an outline of Eddie and no more. Keanu had given weird readings before Mel had done his magic number on him, after all. But this time, the outline matched Eddie. Various colors jutted out at angles, and Egon pointed to them. "Psi spiking," he said. "Fading. Within a few days, it will entirely disappear. Eddie, the medallionís control is completely broken. I believe that happened at the moment of its destruction, although you felt the aftereffects for a time. All that remains is fading residuals." He added, "Itís as if he were drugged, and the influence is gone, but there are still lingering traces in his bloodstream. What little Iím detectingóand you can see how tiny these spikes are and that theyíre fadingówill have no effect upon his behavior whatsoever." He smiled at his cousin. "Youíll be fine, Eddie."
The singer grimaced. "Even a little bit is too much. Iíll be glad when itís gone for good. I didnít exactly shine this time around, did I?"
"Hey, come on," Peter soothed him. "There are some things that are impossible to do. Holding off a class seven, especially a very powerful one, is beyond you. Believe me, I know." He turned to the cop and put on one of Charlie Venkmanís patented displays of sincerity. "I got possessed once. It took the guys to save me. I gave it all I had, but I couldnít do it on my own. Good thing there arenít that many demons with designs on humanity."
"Yeah, whatever you say," muttered the officer and edged a step away from Peter as if he feared possession might be contagious.
"Youíre fine," Whitney told her husband. "Nobody blames you for any of this, remember that." She caught his hand in hers and held on tight. Jackson drifted over and clapped Eddie on the shoulder. Mel, whose loyalty was unshakable, didnít even have to move to let it show. He merely stood there as if at Eddieís beck and call. Eddie found a tremulous smile, and lifted Whitneyís hand to his lips.
Egon unhooked Eddie from the machine. "Your turn, Mister Taggart," he said, and beckoned the occultist into the chair. Taggart sat down with all the enthusiasm of a convicted killer who suspected the next thing he would feel would be a heck of a lot of volts of electricity.
"It doesnít hurt," Peter soothed. "Messes up your hair, though. And the last thing weíd want to do is that. It would be bye-bye to those fees for posing for the covers of all those romance novels."
Taggartís face flushed beet red. Did he actually pose for them? From the way Peter stiffened to attention, he must have thought so. Janine, who had been hovering in the doorway as if in hopes that no one would notice her and send her away, gave a sudden nod and grinned at Peter, who caught her eye and winked. Those two conspiring, even in such a mild way as this, was usually a sign for the rest of the team to run for cover.
Egon ignored the various reactions as he settled the monitoring device and powered it up. "Hmmmmm," he said, the word more drawn out than usual.
"Whatís wrong?" Taggart asked uneasily and tilted forward in hopes of seeing the screen.
"Nothing," Egon said in a voice that was less than reassuring. "Officer, come and observe."
Winston half-expected the guy to say, "Do I have to?" but he didnít. He rose manfully and stalked over, edging sideways past Slimer, who was more intent on the next Goldfish than the odd behavior of the funny man in blue.
"What am I looking at?"
"Psi spiking, just like Eddie had, also fading. Itís a bit more stubborn; we believe Mister Taggart was controlled for at least two months, while Eddieís influence was less than a day. However, Eddieís was concentrated, while Mister Taggartís was a secondary form, not full possession. Because he was exposed longer, it will take longer for the energy to disperse, but it is dispersing. When we compare this with Rayís readings of his biorhythms, we see a much more marked difference. Psi energy is like any form of energy in that it disperses at its own rate. Note the red spikes, here, here, and here. If we were to test again tomorrow, they would have faded to pink. By next week, I believe he will be totally free of them. In his case, a long exposure to psi matters has aggravated the condition and perhaps made him more vulnerable to control." He eyed the officer. "My recommendation to the court shall be that he abandon active attempts to interact with the paranormal world. No demon summonings, no sťances, no Ouija boards, not even a Tarot deck." When Taggart opened his mouth to protest, Egon said sternly, "There is, of course, no telling what a judge will order, and that is beyond my control, but I will appear as an expert witness, as will Ray. Mister Taggart, if you are wise, you will obey, because your experience has made you particularly vulnerable to demon control."
As if he sensed Peterís growing discomfort, Egon looked over at him, and said, "This is quite different from your experience with Watt, Peter. That was totally involuntary. You may have a long exposure to psi through the job, as we all do, but you have never sought out demons except to trap them. You have not practiced arcane rituals. Your readings have never reflected what I am seeing here."
"You sure, Spengs?" Peter asked.
"Conclusively. If not, I would never say so." He smiled at Peter, then turned to the machine. "Iíll print out a sample and an analysis page to offer as evidence," he said, and set the printer humming.
When that was done, he released Taggart, who departed with the police escort as if he couldnít wait to be out of the firehall, the cop as eager as he to make tracks. Ray called after him, "Iíll come around and see you before the hearing, Jack." When their footsteps had faded on the spiral staircase, Ray turned back to the group. "He sure got in over his head. I warned him, but people never listen."
"Yeah, and now heís got you to help him, Tex," Peter said and draped a fond arm around Rayís shoulders. "Weíve just gotta keep the guy away from pentagrams in future."
"Keanu." Egon beckoned the golem over. Winston knew he shouldnít think of him as a golem anymore, because whatever Mel had done to him had changed him. Could it really be a permanent change? Mel was a class seven, after all, even if he lived as a human and actually had a brand new human wife.
Keanu came warily. He cast a doubtful look at Eddie, who nodded encouragingly. Keanu sat down as if even that was new to himówell, it probably was. He was, what, a week old at best? Everything that happened to him was utterly fresh. It would be like waking up with total amnesia. No, not total, because he understood English. But he knew nothing of the world. Every day must be a chaos of new input, until the guy would be ready to go into overload.
Eddie clapped him on the shoulder. "Itís okay. Youíll see. These guys only want to help you."
Keanu blinked up at him. "I donít understand," he said.
"I know, but you will. It takes time to learn things. Mel will help, too. He had to learn all about living here on Earth after he came from the Netherworld."
"Learned good," Mel said. "I donít max out my credit cards anymore."
Keanuís brow wrinkled in confusion. Winston hoped theyíd keep credit cards away from the guy for a long, long time.
When Egon settled the device on his head, Keanu flinched but didnít duck away. Egon turned it on, and everyone stared at the screen.
Instead of the weird formless lump that had been revealed last time theyíd used the device on the golem, it offered a much clearer image, precisely shaped to match the outline of Keanuís head. There was more of the red spiking Egon called psi influence than either Eddie or Taggart had possessed, but it was noticeably fading.
"Excellent," Egon said. "This is better than I had anticipated. Keanu, you will be gratified to know you are fully human, and the psi overlay from the demon has almost entirely dissipated."
"What does that mean?" Keanu asked, and he stared at Egon, adrift in the sea of Egonís uber-vocabulary.
Eddie clapped him on the shoulder. "It means you just joined the human race," he said. "Youíre one of us now."
Mel smiled down at him from his near-NBA height. "Means you are free," he said. "It means youíre going to live."
Keanu heaved a rapturous smile. "Free," he breathed. "I never hoped for that."
"Aw," said Ray, right on cue. "Isnít that great?"
** *** **
"Egon?" Eddie said as Egon dismantled the equipment and put it away. "I have a question."
He sounded so grave that Peter drifted silently closer. Egon gave him a slight encouraging nod as he switched off the monitor screen. At times like this, Peterís insight often helped, even if he tended to offer it in language that would give most ordinary psychologists indigestion. He had helped Egon enough times with a few well chosen words that Egon would always be glad to have him stand by in a crisis.
"What is it, Eddie?" he asked his cousin. The two of them faced each other. The resemblance everyone said existed between them had never seemed as vivid to Egon, who, of course, always saw his own image mirrored, as it appeared to others. He knew people might take them for kin if they saw them together, but their expressions were too different, Eddieís more mercurial moods reflected on his face while Egon was inclined to wear a more impassive mien. But now Eddieís face was wary, careful not to reveal his thoughts. As if he had asked them ahead of time, his retinue drew back to allow him his moment.
"When I had the medallion, I did some modifications on the song Quest, and I wrote another song down in the darkness. We saved the tape and my notes for it, and itís beautiful. Weíll probably record it. But...hell, Egon, I did it under the influence. Itís not really mine. And even if it is..." His voice trailed off. "Whitney insists I have it in me to write such things and that I might have done it anyway, although it would have taken longer. But thatís not the point. The medallion was evil." He drew a deep breath. "Can good ever come out of evil?"
Egon saw Peter open his mouth to reply, but he shook his head faintly and spoke instead. "Iím not sure the medallion was evil in itself," he said thoughtfully. "The control factor was evil, but weíll never know how much of that was Arabas, bending it to its will. Perhaps the medallion was neutral, to be used either way, evilly when the demon bound you against your will but positively when it drew forth the creativity within you."
"Yes, but that might only be an excuse," Eddie insisted, staring at Egon earnestly. He picked up a beaker from the table and played it back and forth in his hands. "Look at all those people who have thought they could do better under the influence, all down through history. All those Sixties musicians who were high on LSD or grass or whatever, writing those psychedelic songs. Thatís like saying the end justifies the means, and I donít want to believe that. I canít believe that. It goes against everything Iíve ever stood for."
"Those people made a conscious choice," Egon observed mildly. "You believed the medallion was a gift and didnít even realize it was drawing forth creativity from you when you first used it. Its power crept up on you insidiously. The song you wrote in the underground bunker could not have been written by someone without the heart and spirit to write it, and you must realize that. Had I been given the medallion, I could never have written a song, because the ability is not in me."
Eddie still frowned. "I really want to know, Egon. I donít want easy answers. Iíve always taken a stand against using drugs. I do those public service announcements for it. Wasnít the medallion like being on drugs?"
"Only in the broadest and most general sense," Egon replied. "And it did not alter your body chemistry or mood the way drugs would. It was an agent that evoked your creativity. Drugs donít really do that; they may appear to, but in the end, the user loses more and more of his creativeness. The medallion might have worked in some of the same ways, insidiously, but it could not evoke from you what was not already there. If anything, it served as a focus for your creativity."
"You wrote all of Quest before you got the medallion," Whitney reminded him. "All you did once you had it was polish the arrangement. You knew it wasnít ready and needed work anyway. You would have come to it on your own."
Eddie shook his head so fiercely his sunglasses nearly flew off. "You said it was the best Iíd ever doneóand it wasnít mine," he admitted.
A lightbulb went off over Peterís head. Egon could almost see it, the way they appeared above cartoon characters who were struck with brilliant ideas. "Okay, hold it," he said, gesturing so urgently that Slimer stopped circling overhead and swooped down to hover nose to nose with Peter. "Gaah, get away, Spud," Peter ordered and waved him off. Mel jiggled the bag of Goldfish encouragingly to tempt him away and Slimer zipped over eagerly, mouth agape.
"Hereís the deal," Peter said. "What do you really want to know, whether good can come from evil, or whether you will ever be that good again?"
"Thatís not fair," Eddie snapped, but he shifted uneasily on his feet. How could he help wondering if he had peaked with the use of the medallion and would never write anything as worthy in future?
Peter positioned himself in Eddieís face, just like Slimer had done to him. "Come on, Eddie, get with the picture. Youíre a decent guy. Everybody in the world who isnít deaf, blind, and stupid or living in a cave a mile under Siberia knows that. Not only that, youíve got a hell of a lot of talent, and a whole legion of devoted fans. Youíll write more songs, and itís not as if you donít perform songs other people wrote. Look at your arrangement of Greensleeves, for instance. Youíre always going to make music because you canít help yourself, the way Slimer canít help eating."
"Not precisely a felicitous simile, Peter," Egon said drily. In the background, he heard Keanu whispering to Mel, "Whatís a felsishsimile?" and Melís quick mutter of explanation. "But you do make your point. And to answer your question, good can come from evil. When things are dire, heroes arise to combat evil, sometimes people who have considered themselves quite ordinary. Their names live in history, but without the evil, they would have gone on living quiet lives and not only would no one have ever heard of them, evil would have been allowed to triumph."
Winston jumped in. "Eddie, you were given a medallion that evidently enhances abilities. You didnít use it to try to dominate the world. You used it to create something beautiful. It did have its bad parts because it made you paranoid and suspicious, but I bet all along you wondered and tried to figure out what to do. Just because you couldnít part with it on your own doesnít mean you failed. All it did was touch the core of music within you, right, guys?"
Ray nodded. "Right, Winston. Eddie, your biorhythms are pretty much normal now. Thereís no lingering influence. The medallionís gone anyway, but I donít think youíd consciously take it back."
"Iíd rather take back last weekís garbage," Eddie admitted.
"Good did come of it," Whitney said and hugged her husband. "A beautiful new song and the final arrangement of another."
Eddie smiled down at her, then grew serious. "Was it worth it?" he asked. "Worth the price? Worth the way I behaved in the rehearsal hall? Worth giving in to a demon?"
"First of all, the demon was too powerful for you not to," Egon said. "And second, itís not a balance sheet. Itís simply what happened."
"Right," said Peter. "When shit happens, you grab what you can thatís good and go on from there. Youíve got a lot of friends, Eddie, and Iím not just talking about your fans. They might not understand any of this, but that doesnít matter." He grinned. "All you have to do is sing."
"No, itís more than that," Ray said.
Peter eyed him narrowly. "Ray, if you say that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, Iím going to have to hurt you."
Ray stuck out his tongue at him. "I wasnít going to say that," he said. "Well, at least not really. Just that we need to do the best we can with what fate dishes up, with what life gives us each day. I guess that is the same thing, but itís still true. I donít mean to sound preachy, but I mean it. It happened, Eddie. You have a new song and a new arrangement, and a new roadie, too." He grinned at Mel. "Keep the songs and the roadie, and be glad everybody turned out okay."
"And next time a fan sends you something weird in the mail," Peter said instructively, "stamp it Ďreturn to sender.í"
** *** **
Front row center, that was what Peter Venkman liked. Especially here at Madison Square Garden where Eddieís prestigious TV special was to be filmed. Eddie hosted the affair, and the band was backed by the New York Philharmonic, which added a heck of a lot of class. Other rock bands had played with major orchestras over the yearsóThe Bee Gees, the Moody Bluesóbut it had always suited Eddie to have such a backup for some of his songs. Leftover Souls was often done a capella, but the sweep of violins and cellos and all those other instruments Peter didnít know much about really worked with Eddieís music.
The Ghostbusters had gone backstage before the program was to start, an invitation that impressed their dates like crazy...well, except for Janine, whoíd been backstage before. Come to think of it, Ray was still dating that assistant to Len Wolfman, who did the Captain Steel comics, and Winston had been with his Keisha for about a month before the last Eddie Plummer concert the band had attended. As for Peter, he changed girlfriends at the drop of a hat, sometimes his idea, sometimes hers. The new girlfriend, Desda, was Italian and did something at the U.N. that involved translation. She was gorgeous, and she was an Eddie Plummer fan. Peter thrived on her reaction to the invitation backstage. Besides, the psychic had said she liked Peter. He couldnít go wrong tonight.
"Hereís Keanu," Mel said, dragging the former golem over to meet the group.
"You couldnít be named for Keanu Reeves; youíre too old," Rayís Kelly said.
Keanu grinned. From the smile, Peter got the idea right away that he had discovered the female of the species and considered women a wonderful invention. He was wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt from Eddieís tour a couple of years back and looked pretty much normal. Certainly none of the dates would realize heíd been shaped out of a lump of clay. Oh, well, so had Adam. "I liked the name," Keanu said. "So I changed mine."
"Hey, now, thereís an idea," Winston murmured. "We could change Peterís to Rip Van Winkle."
"Oh, does he sleep in?" Keisha asked.
"Every morning since he was born," Ray threw in. "How are you doing, Keanu?"
"I think okay. Thereís a lot to learn, but Mel helps."
"Keanu just joined Eddieís retinue last month," Egon explained hastily before Keanu, who had not yet learned guile, opened his mouth to explain his origins.
Mel grinned. "And heís seen every movie Keanu Reeves has ever made. Major fan here."
"Even Much Ado About Nothing?" Egon asked with a grimace.
Keanu nodded. "Itís not really his thing, Shakespeare. But thatís okay." He tilted his head in response to a distant shout from one of the other roadies, and with a murmured excuseósomeone had taught him mannersóhe hastened off to do his job.
Mel smiled knowingly at the team. "Heís coming on fine," he said, and hurried after him.
Yeah, to have learned about Shakespeare in such a short time had to mean something.
Eddie appeared to greet the Ghostbusters and their dates, which made Desda look like she might swoon at his feet. Peter saw her studying Eddie, then looking doubtfully at Egon.
"Close but no cigar," Peter murmured in her ear.
Desda, who was up on any form of slang saying Peter could throw at her, grinned engagingly. "I was not thinking that, cara. Just about variations on a theme. This will be most interesting." She hugged his arm.
"Variations on a theme?" Egon turned and smiled at her. "So I think when I realize how different Eddie and I are. Yet our fathers were extremely similar in both attitude and interests. People often thought they were twins, although my father was two years the older."
Eddie nodded. "Yes, my father is still reeling over my being a singer and not a scientist. It used to break his heart, at least until Cy was born, and now, of course, he wants to raise Cy to be a great scientist. He sends him educational toys and has promised him a microscope for his third birthday."
Peter studied Eddie thoughtfully. He looked a heck of a lot better than he had the day Egon had taken his readings in the lab. Since then, Eddie had been up at Segue for a couple of weeks unwinding and spending time with little Cy, then busy preparing for the special, so he hadnít had a chance to stop by headquarters. Peter knew he and Egon had talked on the phone, and had met for dinner one day the previous week, Egon taking Janine. Egon had reported that Eddie seemed recovered from his experience and that Whitney had taken him aside to tell him she thought Eddie was coming out of it all right. It was she who had produced the tickets for the concert.
"She wants me to take readings when Eddie sings Quest and Song of the Sky," Egon had explained. "So I shall bring my PKE meter."
He had it with him now, and Eddie eyed it knowingly. "Checking up on me?" he asked, but lightly enough.
"Peter will tell you I never leave home without it."
"He doesnít," Janine said with mock sourness. "He takes it everywhere and leaves it on when he shouldnít."
Peter rolled his eyes at her but knew better than to ask. Janine might not bop him here backstage, but she knew better than anybody Peter had ever met how to extract revenge. Egon would no doubt assist her, increasing Peterís risk exponentially. So he laughed and spread his hands. "It went off once at the opera," he said. "I wasnít there. I wonít go to places where fat ladies riding flying horses and wearing horned helmets attack people to carry them off to Valhalla. But apparently the people in the audience thought the meter going off was a major crime, and a fat lady without horns tried to beat him unconscious with her purse."
"That," said Egon haughtily, "is an apocryphal tale, Peter."
"Well, it coulda happened," Peter said, unrepentantly.
Eddie grinned. "Keep the sound off, Egon, or maybe my fans will act like that lady," he said. "But let me know what you get, okay?"
The foursome and their dates returned to their seats, where they were ogled by envious members of the audience. Recognition came and Peter heard the crowd murmuring, "Itís the Ghostbusters." Someone called out in a stage whisper that Egon was Eddieís cousin, and Egon, displaying an unexpectedly hammy nature, rose and gave the audience a formal bow.
Peter at once jumped up. "Isnít he great, folks? The brains of the Ghostbusters." At his side, Desda laughed with great delight.
A perfect night. When the curtain came up, the set was great. In the background was the image of a distant castle, elegant and remote, with soaring spires. Images of a distant battle showed in front of it, morphing from scene to scene, with armor-clad soldiers armed with swords. The lights eased up to reveal the band, dressed in garb that would have suited a Renaissance faire, shirts with flowing sleeves, leggings and boots. Whitney and Eddie stood side by side, and Jackson at his drums was just behind them. The audience broke into a roar of delight.
No need for introductions. Eddie whipped straight into the first song. As his fingers strummed the opening chord on the guitar he had acquired in Arabasí underground hideout, silence fell, just like that. Peter wished he had that kind of crowd-control ability. Usually for him, the crowds watched the whole team, and then ducked away when the ghosts got too threatening. But these were Eddieís fans, and they watched the stage avidly, almost holding their breath. Egon had run tests on the guitar, and announced it clean of any demonic fingerprints.
Eddie sang Quest, its first performance, and Peter found himself spellbound at the lyrics, the peril, the need for sacrifice and daring, the purpose, always the inflection rising, the music sounding both ancient and modern at the same time. Whitney came in for harmony, and Jackson added counterpoint and deft drumwork. When Eddie did his solo of the chorus, Whitney snatched up her flute and offered a gorgeous descant in a flurry of utterly pure crystal notes.
The music built and built, and ended still building, but Peter caught his breathóalong with nearly every other person in the hallóand didnít feel that was wrong. The resolution wasnít in the song itself but in the hearts of each individual person. He wasnít sure how he knew that, but he did.
As the crowd surged to their feet to give Eddie a standing ovation, the Ghostbusters looked at one another.
"Gosh," Ray said beside Peter. "It reminds me of Frodo."
"Frodo?" Peter echoed, still clapping.
"Yeah, in Lord of the Rings. All the way to Mount Doom bearing the Ring, to save Middle-earth."
"I thought of Martin Luther King," Winston said quietly.
Egon smiled. "And I of Einstein, offering his brilliance to the world."
At Peterís side, Desda sucked in a rapturous breath. She didnít say what the song had made her think of, but Peter would have plenty of time to find out.
"What did you think, Peter?" Ray asked.
Peter glanced at the meter, which had sat sublimely unconcerned in Egonís lap the whole time Eddie sang. No lingering aftereffects as part of the music. No sign of demons, no threat of possession.
Then he looked at the team and grinned a mile wide. "Eddie wanted to know if good could come from evil," he said. "How about we all agree that it can, and that it just did, and consider it said."
Egonís smile lit his face, and he waved a hand to catch Eddieís attention. Eddie surged forward to the edge of the stage and looked a question at Egon across the orchestra pit.
The still cheering audience would have drowned out anything Egon might have said, so he replied in the traditional manner, known even in the days of the Arena in ancient Rome. He lifted his hand and gave Eddie a thumbs-up.
Eddieís smile blazed in response. He whirled, caught Whitney up in a fond embrace that brought forth a whole new round of cheers, dragged her over to Jackson for a round of high fives, then he stepped up to the microphone. Peter got a quick glimpse of Mel and Chan hovering in the wings, with Keanu beside Mel. All three of them were smiling.
The audience would have done anything Eddie asked of them, even if he had ordered them to storm City Hall. They quieted at once.
Eddie smiled, and all doubts seemed to have vanished. "Hello, everyone," he said, "and welcome to the concert. Weíve got a great night planned for you, so donít anybody take off."
"Yeah, right," Peter muttered to Ray beside him. "Weíre gonna have to chase them out of here with the throwers or heíll be doing twenty-seven encores."
"Well, at least he can now," Ray said. "Itís over, Peter. Itís really over."
Peter caught Egonís eye and then Winstonís, and the team sat down to listen to Eddie as he introduced the members of the band and then the orchestra. This would be a night to remember.