"This is my one phone call, so donít hang up on me, Peter. Iím in jail, in Los Angeles. But donít worry, Iím not calling you for bail money."
Peter Venkman felt his muscles stiffen. Of course his father wasnít asking for bail money. He never actually came right out and asked, but he was always confident he would get it when he wound up in jail. Peter was such a sucker that he sprang for it more often than he should. "Not much youíre not, Pop."
"No, seriously. Besides, Iím innocent and theyíll figure it out any time now. Never mind that. I want your help for my friend."
"If I wonít raise bail for you, what makes you think Iíd do it for some sleazy con man I donít even know?"
That question made Egon Spengler arch an eyebrow. The two Ghostbusters were the only ones home while Ray and Winston attended a science fiction convention in Baltimore, and had been spending their time together in their separate ways, Peter lost in a Dewey LaMort western and Egon buried in a weighty tome entitled The Secret Life of Spores. Reference to Peterís father had made the physicist lower his book; now he arched a questioning eyebrow at Peter. Peter grimaced.
"Because heís dead," Charlie Venkman said from his distant jail.
He had to give his Pop credit for originality. "How can I help him if heís dead? Bust him?" His grimace expanded into a wry grin. He rolled his eyes at Egon.
"He doesnít know heís dead, Peter. Heís as solid as you or me, but heís dead. I know he is. I heard about it through the grapevine."
"Yeah, which could be wrong. Or even a rumor he started so he could get the heat off his back, did you ever think of that?"
"Not only is he dead, he was buried with honor in two separate countries."
Peter held the phone out away from his ear and stared at it before he took it back. "Are you drunk?"
"Well, really only in one," Charlie admitted. "Itís a great story. Iíll have to tell it to you one day. But for now, I need you and your buddies to come and find out why heís hanging around. Personally, I think itís about his son. Unresolved issues. A father knows these things."
Man, his pop had the sincerity routine down pat. "How many psych books did you skim to come up with that one? Give me a break. What do you really want me to do?"
"I want you to fly out here to talk to the guy. Then I want you to talk to his son, and bring them together. Nobody better to handle it than you, my boy."
"Lay it on a little thicker, will you? The first sledgehammer blow didnít quite flatten me."
Egon closed his book and joined Peter on the couch. He had never trusted Peterís father, and he made no secret of his suspicion, but he was always there, quietly supportive, if Peter found himself dealing with father issues. Egon had endured his own, although different, parental crises, and he possessed a knack for reading Peterís moods better than Ray or Winston could. He didnít speak, but his body language announced that he was ready to do whatever he could, even if Peter only needed a sounding board.
Charlie was unimpressed by Peterís sarcasm. "Itís not a con to admit Iíve got the greatest son in the world. Listen, Peter. I need you here in the worst wayóand not for bail, I swear it. Daniel saved my life in Ďeighty, and I never had a chance to pay him back. A man remembers a thing like that."
"Who is he, another con man?"
"A prince of con men, one of the classiest acts in the world. Makes your old man look like a sleazy door-to-door salesman. He got sick last year, I heard. He told me he wanted to tell his son the truth before he died. Seems like heíd wound up in jail just when the boyís mother was pregnant and his son was given up for adoption. When he got out, he finally tracked him down, but he didnít have the guts to tell him the truth, so he went the mentor route insteadóthey ran cons together until his son went legit. Then, last year when he was dying, he finally broke down and told him the truth. I guess Harry was royally pissed off at first, but then he came around a little."
"Then why are there still issues?" What kind of cock and bull story was this, anyway?
"Frankly, Peter, I think thatís when he died. With a lot of things still unsettled. Heís pretty vague about what happened next. But I remember you told me once that sometimes ghosts hang around and donít even know theyíve croaked."
"Whoa, Pop, your sensitivity amazes even me. Croaked?"
"Bit the big one," said Charlie, unrepentant. "Anyway, will you come, son? I know you think Iím scamming you, but for once Iím not. I really mean this. I owe Daniel my life. I pay back that kind of debt."
The thing was, his dad was probably as sincere as he ever got. It didnít mean he wouldnít take advantage of Peter in the process, at least to the cost of a plane ticket to L.A. but Peter had to admit his old man had thrown in the one argument that might work. He knew heíd never pass up a chance to put things right between himself and his father, and he could bet that the unknown Harry had issues, too, poor guy. Peter was a lot more likely to see the sonís side of it than he was to see the fatherís.
"So, how do I find this Harry?" he asked, resigned. One of Egonís eyebrows lifted.
"Do you need me to come, Peter?" he asked in an undertone.
"Just a second, Pop." He put his hand over the mouthpiece. "Dadís locked up in L.A. with a ghost. He wants me to help the guy come to terms with his long-lost son so he can disperse peacefully." He gave a shrug. "Itís probably just another scam, but you know me. Iíve got sucker written all over me when it comes to my old man."
"When it comes to someone in trouble, perhaps," Egon replied. "We donít have any busts scheduled while Ray and Winston are away. I doubt the ghost will prove dangerous, but I will come with you."
Peter hesitated. Drag Egon into his dadís trouble? Never mind how much better it would feel to have a friend at his side, it wasnít fair to Egon. "You sure?" he asked.
Egon must have sensed Peterís doubt, for he never hesitated. "Positive. Besides, I confess to curiosity. A ghost has been arrested?"
"You think they could fingerprint him?" Peter asked. Okay, Egon was hooked. Or at least heíd found a reason Peter could accept for his presence so Peter didnít have to feel like heíd asked him to come along and hold his hand. "Thanks, Egon," he said fervently, and returned to the phone.
"Okay, Pop, you got me, and Egonís coming, too. So tell me where to find this Harry, and weíll go talk to him when we get there, once weíve had a chance to take readings and make sure this Daniel guy is really dead."
"Well, he doesnít go by the name Harry these days," Charlie admitted. "I told you he went legit. These days heís a private detective with a fancy office and a fancy name to match. When you get here, you just look up Remington Steele."
** *** **
"Daniel Chalmers," the ghost said. He would have stuck out a hand to Peter to shake if he werenít behind a security wall in the visiting area of the jail. "Itís an honor to meet Charlieís son at last. He talks about you all the time, even more so once you became a Ghostbuster."
Peter had to say that Chalmers was a lot classier act than his old man. Charlie could do "smooth" but his was the kind of "smooth" that picked up ladies in bowling alleys. Chalmers could probably mingle with the jet set, fit right in at Monte Carlo. Prison garb didnít even sit unkindly on him. You saw this guy on the street, you wouldnít automatically think "con artist". You might think "banker" or "Wall Street bigshot", but you wouldnít think of scams.
"Popís got a big mouth," Peter said wryly. Behind him, Egon played with the P.K.E. meter he held under the counter so Chalmers couldnít see it. Heíd turned the sound down so it wouldnít go off. Getting permission to bring it into the jail had proven a major production, but the Ghostbusters were known even out here in La La Land. Peterís hastily fabricated story about the possibility of ghostly contact between Chalmers and a spook they were out here to bust might have been lame, but the guard proved to be a groupie, and once he and three other guards played with it for five minutes and made sure that none of them were ghosts and that no mysterious entities were about to stage a jailbreak, they allowed the meter. Peter and Egon had brought proton packs to California with them, but they didnít even try to bring them into the jail. Peter might have learned fast-talking at his fatherís knee, but he knew he wasnít that good.
"How do you do, Mister Chalmers." Egonís voice would give nothing away to the prisoner, but Peter heard an odd note to it. So the guy was a ghost. There wasnít even a shimmer around the edges. He must be one heck of a determined ghost to manifest so solidly. "Peterís father claims the two of you are innocent."
"Quite true, Doctor Spengler. Quite true. We were simply two old friends exchanging reminiscences in a bar when the long arm of the law grabbed in error. Charlie wasnít even in town at the time of the crime in question. Fine jewels. Iím not saying I wouldnít have been tempted, but I had no plans to make off with them and, Peter, Iím sure you know your father has never been into that line."
"That I know about," Peter said wryly. Who knew what the old con man got up to when Peter wasnít around to keep an eye on him? He could hardly trail around after Charlie all day cleaning up his messes.
"Take my word for it, he hasnít."
"Yeah, right, I should take your word. Pop says you didnít tell your own son you were his father for years. Iím sure youíre the first person Iíd want to trust."
"Peter," said Egon very quietly, half reproach, half understanding, the way Egon managed so well.
Daniel flinched. "I deserved that," he said. "But I wasnít sure Harry needed a father. No, thatís a lie. I was afraid he would reject me as a father, so I settled for what I could get."
"You know," said Peter thoughtfully, "Iím not surprised youíre a friend of my old man. He takes the easy way out, too."
That won him a second flinch. Peter felt a little mean, but he couldnít quite stop. "Dad told me a little about your son. Did you call him to make bail?"
"No!" There was naked panic in the cry, so unexpected that not only did Peter feel the urge to back off, but the guard in the room behind Daniel turned to stare at him through narrowed eyes. Fear, fleeting and not quite understood, flashed in the old con manís eyes. He might not know consciously that he was a ghost, but he must know at some subconscious level. Did ghosts have subconscious minds? Ray would be sure to insist they did. Peter had to say that they probably did, if they had conscious awareness. Maybe fixed repeaters who had no awareness of their surroundings and followed the same patterns night after night only possessed a subconscious mind.
Donít bother with that, Peter. Quit stalling. Get down to business.
"Why not?" Egon asked mildly.
"I...donít know why I said that," Daniel admitted. "But Harryís an upstanding citizen these days, working on the side of the law. If I claimed him publicly, it might damage his reputation. He has a new life now, a wife, a home, the things heís always wanted. He will do far better without me."
Suddenly, Peter felt a surge of sympathy for Daniel Chalmers. Probably the guy was running a con, playing on his sympathy, but Peter knew what it felt like to love someone when everything about it went wrong. He couldnít trust his own father not to use him, and while he was cool most of the time, there were a few choice moments when it hurt like hell. This guy knew his son had become trustworthy; did he worry that Harry, or Remington Steele as he was now, would turn on him? Charlie had said thereíd been some reconciliation, but Peter would bet half his fortune that Harry still had issues. He might be glad on one level to know who his long-lost father was, but on another, there was sure to be a ton of resentment that heíd had to squash away and pretend he didnít feel after Daniel died. Poor guy. It would all bubble up to the surface if he saw his fatherís ghost.
Yet Daniel was still here, solid, not quite able to admit he was dead, so he had issues, too. Peter was a Ghostbuster, but he was also a psychologist, and ghosts like this always fell to him to deal with. The other guys understood a lot of it, but if it was complicated and psychological, who better than Peter to handle it? Let Egon have his physics and Ray his occult lore. Winston could design their battle strategy. But when it came right down to good old human motivations, Peter was the man.
Too bad this case poked around in his own closet full of bad memories.
Egon let his hand rest for a moment on Peterís arm. He didnít have to say anything, just be there for him. Peter flashed him a quick grin before he turned to Chalmers.
"Listen, Daniel, maybe you need a private eye to clear your name. I know Iíd like someone to prove my dad was innocent. Iíd like to talk to Harry about it. My dadís got a record, and he says youíve done time, too, so you can bet nobody in the LAPD is going to think youíve been falsely accused or worry too much about proving youíre innocent. So how about I go and hire the great Remington Steele to prove you and my dad didnít do it?"
Daniel Chalmers gnawed on his bottom lip, then he heaved a sigh. "A part of me wants to refuse, but thereís another part that would love to see Harry one last time." His brow crinkled at his phrasing and a disconcerted shadow darkened his eyes. He fought it off. The guy must need to see his son pretty badly to do that. "Yes," he said. "All right. But more for your fatherís sake than mine."
Peter left him his pride. "Iíve hauled that old con man out of more jails than I can count. Whatís one more?" He grinned. "Come on, Egon, weíve got a job to do."
** *** **
"Boss, youíll never believe whoís here to see you."
Remington Steele arched an eyebrow at his secretary. Mildred wasnít the type to get her knickers in a twist over a new client, but the glint in her eyes held an element of hero-worship. Here in Los Angeles, movie stars were thick on the ground, and Mildred had never given the slightest indication of being a groupie for any of Tinseltownís heroes. After all, sheíd worked for the IRS. Sheíd seen everything.
His Laura, pert and perfect, shared a twinkle with Steele. How did she do that, pick up on his every thought? And how had he been so lucky as to wind up with her as his wife? When heíd assumed the identity of the fictional Remington Steele, heíd never dreamed it would be a part that would come to fit him so well, that it would become real. Heíd been drawn to Laura Holt from the first, but domesticity had never been his plan.
Well, the secret of success had always been the ability to redraw oneís plans to meet the current need, and his current needónot to mention the need for the rest of his lifeówas to have Laura at his side.
"Who is it, Mildred?" he asked. "An international spy, out to pass a secret code? Luke Skywalker fresh from blowing up the Death Star?"
"Itís two Ghostbusters."
That was the last thing Steele had expected. "Ghostbusters, Columbia, 1984. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd. Bill Murray wants to hire us?"
"No, boss, itís the real Ghostbusters. Two of the ones they made the movie about. Peter Venkman and Egon Spengler."
"The movie is true?" How had that unlikely fact managed to elude him? "Surely you donít expect me to believe that a giant marshmallow man stomped through Manhattan."
"Itís true, Mister Steele." Laura always called him that in the workplaceóand sometimes, even, in the bedroom. But this was hardly the time to indulge in fond reminiscences. "A friend of mine from the Hayvenhurst Agency has her own agency in Manhattan. She wrote and told me all about it. She actually saw it, and insisted that it couldnít possibly be a hoax. She saw a taxi that was stomped."
That would take some contemplation. It was almost too bizarre to accept, but Laura was not the type to be easily duped. He frowned. "What do they want?" Ghosts? There had been a strange occurrence or two in his checkered past that just might have been supernatural, but he didnít recall ever coming face to face with an actual spook or specter.
"To hire you." Mildred wasnít above being impressed, he could see. Was she a closet spiritualist? Impossible to imagine.
"This could be interesting," Laura said.
If his Laura thought so, then who was he to disagree. "Send them in."
The two Ghostbusters didnít look a thing like Murray or Ramis, except that Venkman had brown hair and Spengler had glasses. Venkman didnít have that moldable, lived-in face that Murray sported, and Harold Ramis was no Nordic blond with a hairstyle that would be the nightmare of anyone with the slightest fashion consciousness. Whatís more, Spengler compounded the stylistic faux pas with the addition of red suspenders over a pink shirt, and he carried a small device mounted on a hand-grip. Some technological Ghostbusting gadget? All he was missing was a plastic pen holder in his pocket. Steele felt an urge to send off posthaste for the fashion police. Venkmanís jacket was Armani, and he carried it off, but it didnít distract Steele from the complex array of emotions that lurked behind the suspicious green eyes. Steele didnít think Venkman was suspicious of him, per se, just that he had a wary nature. Steele could relate.
Laura stiffened fractionally. She was good at reading people; she always had been. Sheíd probably known that Steele loved her long before heíd been comfortable admitting it to himself. He wondered what that was about.
What do the Ghostbusters think when they see me? Steele wondered. He cultivated an elegant appearance he liked to think suited his personality as well as his very nature. Yet he had the idea that Venkman wasnít comparing Armani jackets. Too many secrets in those shadowed eyes. Even more complicated, Spengler had withdrawn into a subsidiary role, that of support and bolster, and planted himself at Venkmanís side rather than assuming an equal partnership. Steele recognized the stance. So had Laura stood at his side in times of troubleóand he at hers. It was the way people who cared watched out for each other, and such actions were still new enough to Steele that he couldnít help observing them. Too many times in the lonely, pre-Laura years had he stood on his own. Sometimes Daniel had been there, too.
Steele drew a censoring line through those thoughts and turned his attention to the two men who stood before him. Behind them, Mildred hovered, fascinated, ready to listen for all she was worth.
It was Venkman, for all his tension, who noticed her. The expression on his face demanded privacy, and Steele gestured her out. She went reluctantly, and he knew sheíd ply him and Laura with questions the second the Ghostbusters departed.
"Gentlemen," he said when the door closed behind her, "Iím Remington Steele, and this is my associate, Laura Holt."
"How do you do, Mrs. Steele," Spengler said. So they had come here armed with knowledge. Like Han Solo in Star Wars, 20th Century Fox, 1977, Steele had a bad feeling about this.
"What can the Remington Steele agency do for the Ghostbusters?" he asked. Laura waved them into chairsóSpengler parked his gizmo on his kneesóbut chose to perch on the edge of Steeleís desk. He let his eyes linger warmly on her for a second before he got down to business.
Venkman chose to be the teamís spokesman. "I want to hire you to prove my father is innocent of theft."
That was the last thing Steele had expected. And yet, the name Venkman had stirred his memory. "Father? Not Charlie Venkman?"
Venkmanís eyes flashed. "I suppose you know the old conman," he said in tones of strong disgust.
Lauraís eyes narrowed. "Iíve never heard of a Charlie Venkman, only you," she told Venkman the Younger.
Now that Steele thought about it, there was a trace of resemblance; same nose, same chin. This one had a better hairline, though. The difference was that Charlie Venkman had a scammerís smile, too bright, too insincere, and a glint in his eyes that would warn the wary to back off. Peter Venkman looked like an honest man. Of course the secret of pulling a successful con was in sincerity. Once you could fake that, you were on your way. Steele had lived by his wits for too many years not to have a feel for a man. Charlie might be disreputable, but he didnít think Peter was.
"I knew him before I joined the agency," Steele admitted.
She would know how to take that and, of course, not to say anything about it in front of their clients. "You say your father is accused of theft, Mister Venkmanóor should that be Doctor Venkman?"
"Peter," he told her smoothly. Steele recognized a conditioned response when he heard it. "Yes, he and a friend were arrested for a jewel robbery. They were sitting in a bar at the time, and both of them claim they were innocent. My dadís a lot of things, but heís no jewel thief. Heís a lot happier selling the Brooklyn Bridge door to door. Heíd say he was innocent even if he still had the jewels hanging out of his pocket, but this time I donít think he did it. But heís got a record and the police arenít going to work overtime to find somebody else when theyíve hauled in a couple of suspects."
There was something he wasnít saying. Steele wasnít sure how he knew but he had the feeling Venkman wasnít leveling with him.
Laura jumped in. "If you could give us some information about the robbery...."
Spengler took over the explanation. "It was the Hibbing Collection," he began.
"Five perfect rubies of exceptional size, a twenty-six carat diamond, three emeralds," Steele said automatically. "The collection was on display at the Gemological Institute."
Laura gazed at him sharply, then a faint smile touched her lips. She would have known he would have been interested, even if he had not had the slightest intention of going anywhere near it. He really was legitimate these days. "It opened two nights ago," she said. "I saw nothing in the newspapers about a robbery."
"And there was nothing on the news," Steele agreed.
"Thatís because when they arrested Dad andóand his friend, they didnít have the gems on them," Peter explained. "They think the police want to lull any potential allies into complacency. But I think the police arenít really sure. Pop doesnít have that kind of police record, and he sure doesnít have the skill to break into a place as secure as the Institute."
"We can get a little additional information and see where we are," Steele offered. "Mildredó"
He didnít raise his voice. He didnít have to. The door opened. "Yes, boss?"
In spite of his peculiar mood, Venkmanís eyes lit with humor at the proof that the secretary had been eavesdropping, and he shared a twinkle with Spengler. Amazing. The blond manís eyes lit with matching humor. Steele would never have pegged him for that.
"I want you to find out all you can about the arrest of Charlie Venkman andó" He arched an eyebrow at Venkman. "The other manís name?"
Venkman and Spengler exchanged another glance, but this one held no humor or amusement. Venkman appeared reluctant to speak. He glanced uneasily at Mildred as if he didnít want to give the name in front of her.
"Ms. Krebbs is completely in our confidence," Steele said.
"Itís a personal thing," Venkman admitted awkwardly. The man might be a lot of things, but "awkward" wasnít a word Steele would have applied to him.
A light went on in Lauraís eyes. "Do you mean to say the other man is someone known to Mister Steele?"
He should have expected that. One of Danielís old cronies, perhaps. If Daniel had known Charlie Venkman, why not Charlieís accomplice as well? Steele ran through a mental list.
Peter nodded. "This isnít easy to say. It might be better in private."
Laura nodded at Mildred, whose brow wrinkled. Steele was sure sheíd simply plant her ear against the door. She would need the information eventually anyway. "Yes, Mildred, Iíd better listen to this." He wouldnít ask Laura to leave. Laura knew the truth about his past. Besides, if it recalled incidents with Daniel, he would as soon have her here. When the door closed, he turned to Venkman. "Just tell it."
"Egonís holding a P.K.E. meter," he said. "It can detect ghosts."
Steele felt his brow wrinkle at the evident non sequitur.
"I recognized it," Laura said. "But itís obviously detecting none here."
"No," Spengler said. "There are no ghosts present in this office."
"Let me, Spengs," Peter cut in. "My pop started all this. Iíd better. Besides, Iíd knowó" He didnít finish that. "Pop called me last night and told me he was in jail. I thought he was calling for bail money. Heís been known to do that, or to cash in on being related to me." That fact hurt him; he let it show. Steele had the feeling he was generally a lot more private with his emotions, and Spenglerís understanding expression confirmed it.
Inexplicably, a knot formed in Steeleís stomach. "Go on."
"Pop said he didnít want bail, he wanted help for the man he was arrested with. He said the guy was a ghost, but he didnít know it, and he was so solid that the police didnít know it either."
Lauraís eyes widened. "Is that possible? I should have thought that while a ghost might seem solid, it couldnít be fingerprinted, for instance."
"In general not," Spengler confirmed. "But there have been rare cases where a ghostís need is so great that it is able to assume solidity. To do it for any length of time doesnít necessarily indicate the classification or strength of the spirit. But it can indicate the reason for the manifestation."
"Egon means that not everybody turns into a ghost," Venkman said quickly. He must have seen Steeleís eyes glazing at the explanation. "Usually a guy puts on a sheet because heís got unfinished business, or heís a victim of violence."
"Ghosts of human beings are either Class Threes or Class Fours," Egon explained. "Peterís fatherís cellmate is a Class Four."
"Okay, Egon," Venkman said quickly. "Steele, you wonít like this one bit. I sure wouldnít, if I were in your shoes. But the ghost is Daniel Chalmers."
There had been enough build-up that the words shouldnít have been a surprise, but they still hit him so hard he flinched. Lauraís hand fell upon his arm. He couldnít tell if she believed this cock-and-bull story or not.
"You unconscionable liar!" he exploded.
Spenglerís face hardened at the slur to his friend. "We can go over to the jail and you can see for yourself."
Venkman didnít even take offense. "Itís true, and Iím sorry as hell. Pop told me he was your father and said youíd just found out the truth when Daniel died. I never met him before today, but I talked to him."
"But Daniel didnít die of violence." Lauraís voice was soft, understanding. "He died of an illness and he had a chance to admit the truth before he died. My husband was angry at firstóanyone would have been. Heíd been denied all those years of having a real father. But he did accept Daniel. So as for unfinished business...."
Venkmanís face was all too knowing. "Laura, sweetie, death can be the ultimate abandonment."
Steele stiffened and tried to tell himself it was because of the endearment Venkman directed at his wife. But he knew it was because the man was right. He still felt a lot of bitterness and resentment mingled with his grief over Danielís death. All those years he might have knowingly had his father at his side.... What right had Daniel had to decide to keep the truth from him? Why did he get to choose to be a mentor instead, safe and uncommitted? When it came right down to it, he hadnít wanted to bother. If he hadnít become ill, heíd never have said a word and Steele would still be ignorant. Now two Ghostbusters showed up and told him Daniel was a ghost. Of all the bizarre and unlikely things he could ever have imagined this was the strangest. His stomach hurt, and his heart hurt worse. The only part of him that was warm was the flesh beneath Lauraís fingers.
"What does he want?" he said coldly. The question didnít mean he believed this rubbish. It was obviously a scam. Venkman was as big a conman as his father. Charlie Venkman wasnít that good at it, actually; heíd never make it on the international circuit.
But there was a lot more awareness and intellect in Venkmanís eyes than Steele had ever seen in Charlieís, mingled with sympathy and understanding. His old man was shady. Heíd probably have a better idea than most. Like Steele, he enjoyed a mild celebrity. Spenglerís sympathy and support indicated Venkman had his share of father issues.
"To make peace with you."
Well, yes, that seemed obvious. Daniel wasnít walking the battlements like Hamletís father, to warn his son heíd been murdered. He hadnít been. Did he know how much resentment Steele had felt for losing him at such a moment? The only thing Steele could feel good about was that he had come around enough to talk to Daniel about their past capers before he died. Surely Daniel knew he was beginning to accept. So why would he linger now, months after his death?
Because he knew Steele hadnít entirely forgiven him?
Did Steele want to see him?
Lauraís fingers rubbed his arm. "Weíll have to clear his name," she said.
"Clear his name?" he echoed foolishly. Clear it when Daniel had pulled off his share of capers over the years? Yet he found the idea distasteful that, in death, Daniel be condemned for a crime he couldnít have committed.
Or had he? If he were solid and physical enough that the police could arrest him, who was to say he hadnít managed this one last caper as a way of getting his sonís attention? Maybe Charlie Venkman had even helped him.
"Are you sure theyíre innocent of this crime?" he asked.
Venkman stared at him. "My dadís a lot of things, including a liar who is willing to use me when he wants to, but heís never been a jewel thief." His eyes narrowed.
Spengler touched his arm with as much understanding as Laura had shown to Steele. "Peter?" He evidently didnít put it past the elder Venkman, not for one second.
Then Peter shook his head. "No, heís got a look, even when heís conning me. Iíve overlooked it a couple of timesówhen I tried to send him back to Iowa after he loosed Hob Anagarak on Manhattan, for instanceóand he did exactly what he wanted to. But he said Daniel saved his life in Nineteen-Eighty and he wanted to pay him back. This would be his last chance. Maybe Iím the worldís biggest sucker, but I believe him." His eyes challenged Spengler. "Come on, Egon, thereís got to be times when I can trust him."
"Iím sure there are, Peter, and itís true that your father has never been involved in this type of crime. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to investigate the actual theft. There might be evidence to prove neither of them did it." Whatever the case, Spengler was offering his support to Venkman. His encouragement was palpable. He tightened his grip on Peterís arm before he let go.
Steele looked at Laura. His wife returned his gaze, her eyes full of encouragement. "I think this is an ideal case for the Remington Steele agency," she said. "Iíll have Mildred track down the particulars of the crime."
"My dad probably has some other scam running," Venkman offered. There were too many Venkmans in this, Steele thought; maybe he had better start thinking of his fellow sufferer as Peter.
"We wonít give it away," Steele offered. "At least not unless itís such a minor offense that it wouldnít lead to major jail time and it proves an alibi for him." He raised his voice. "Mildred!"
The door opened before he could finish, and the secretary entered. "Itís true, boss," she said sympathetically. "I checked. They do have Daniel Chalmers, or at least someone using that name, and he fits his description. I have a call in to the Gemological Institute to find out what I can about the robbery."
"Thank you, Mildred. Let us know what you find out."
** *** **
The robbery at the Gemological Institute had taken place the night before last at approximately midnight. The jewels were kept in an inner room with modern security devices in place: motion sensors, plates in the floor to detect weight and pressure, invisible laser beams that would go off if someone walked through them and broke the current. The thief or thieves had gotten in through a barred window near the ceiling. It had an alarm built into it but it had been deactivated using a control device at the exact frequency, which spoke of inside knowledge or extremely high-tech equipment, neither of which Charlie Venkman should have. The bars of the window had been cut with a laser tool, quick and clean. The thief had then projected a cable across the room, high above the sensor equipment, climbed out onto it and lowered himself by an intersecting cable. Apparently he had other technological gadgetry to reveal the intersecting laser beams and perhaps to nullify the motion sensors.
Steele seemed to understand some of that, and Egon appeared fascinated by the technology, but he shook his head over the idea that Peterís father could have anything to do with such a break-in. "Not only would he be required to have access to such equipment, heíd need more dexterity than he possesses to carry it off." He frowned. "There is, of course, a way for them to have carried out the robbery, but that would negate the need for the rope and the equipment to open the high window."
Peter knew where he was going without the slightest difficulty. "Ghosts donít set off sensors," he said. When Steeleís face darkened, Peter held up a hand. "I donít think he did it, either. I donít think heís got a clue that heís a ghostóalthough he is a conman and could have been conning us when he talked to us. But I donít think so. Anyway, if heíd done it, it could have gone down like this. Ghosts canít carry things through solid wallsóat least Slimer canít. So he walks in, right through the walls; doesnít set anything off. But the only way to get the stuff out is to have somebody up above lower a rope; he ties a little bag with the jewels on the rope and it goes up. Heíd be able to see where thereíd be a path through the lasers and the jewels might be too small to set off the motion detectorsóotherwise theyíd go off if a moth fluttered through the room. So Popís up above with the rope." He grimaced. "If anybodyís able to figure out how to use a ghost to break the law, itís my dad."
"Thatís absurd." Steele didnít want it to be true. "Completely and utterly absurd."
Peter nodded. "Yeah, I think it is, too. All that high-tech stuff to cut through the barsóthatís not Popís shtick. I canít see him frolicking around on the rooftop, either. Heís not a kid any more. Besides, heís like me, doesnít like heights. It couldíve gone down that way, but I donít buy it."
"I would agree that Mister Chalmers did not quite realize he was a ghost," Egon concurred. "This is not Peterís fatherís typical scheme, either."
"Daniel would be more inclined to set up an elaborate charade, should he choose to steal jewels. Heís not a cat burglar. But if he had a vague idea that he had...crossed over, he might choose to attempt it." Steele frowned. "Damn it, Laura, itís possible."
"As a means of getting your attention?" she suggested.
They all considered that. Steele shook his head. "No, I donít think so. I donít say Daniel wouldnít have wanted to steal the jewels. He might find the temptation almost overwhelming. But I donít believe heíd do it in this particular way."
Peter didnít think his father would dream up a scheme like this, either. "So where do you go to find out who really did it?" Winston, the detective novel fan, would know, but that wasnít the kind of book Peter enjoyed. Give him a good western any day, not that a western would help here. The villains in the Dewey LaMort books he loved went in guns blazing rather than employing subtlety or fancy plans.
"Check with known felons," Laura said. "Find out what the rumor mill says. I have a source or two, and so does Mister Steele."
Peter figured Steeleís were probably contacts from his pre-legitimate days who thought his detective work was part of an elaborate charade. Stool pigeons, thought Peter, whose crime vocabulary was culled from gangster films. Jimmy Cagney. "What do you want us to do?"
"Our clients usually wait while we do the legwork," Laura said. She studied Peter. He tried to restrain himself. He wanted to do something, not just twiddle his thumbs while someone else saved the dayóor saved his father from jail. As a Ghostbuster, he was too used to being the doer to be comfortable accepting a passive role. Maybe she saw that in his face, or maybe she had another purpose he couldnít guess at. Did it worry her at all that her husband meant to contact old buddies from his Harry days? Did she even know about his Harry days? He hoped she did. It would be a heck of a marriage if not. But she knew about Daniel, so she must.
Laura exchanged a glance with Steele, the kind shared by two people who know each other too well enough to need words. "Weíll split up," she said. "You go with Mister Steele, Peter. Egon, you come with me."
Steele did not appear enchanted with the offer. Peter jumped in before he could voice any objections. "I might know a couple of people myself. Pop has contacts all over the place and I use some of them when I need to reach him in a hurry." It was one of his fatherís Los Angeles friends who had tracked Charlie down when Peterís mother was dying. At least that had enabled Charlie to arrive in time for her funeral.
He thought about it. "Is Max Fields still in town?" he asked. "He might have information about all this?"
Steele opened his mouth to protest, shut it, and stared at Peter. "You know Max Fields?" One elegant eyebrow lifted.
"My dad does. Iíve met him. Heís a finger-on-the-pulse-of-trouble kind of guy."
"Fine. Weíll go see him. Laura?"
"Iíll take Egon to see Roy Hunter. I know heís a retired detective, but heíll still remember who might be capable of pulling off a heist like this."
** *** **
Laura took Egon off in the office limo, Fred at the wheel. Steele thought Peter might be disappointed not to be chauffeured, but they needed to see various people, and there was no point in trailing along in a body when they could split their tasks. Hunter was a lot safer for Laura than some of the other contacts she might have suggested, and while Steele knew she could hold her own, he was glad sheíd chosen the way she had. He might have been more comfortable with Spengler, who didnít look at Steele as if he could read his soul, but it might be useful to have someone else along who knew Fields. The old conman was a devious bastard who would think nothing of lying just for the lieís sake.
"Fathers!" Peter muttered under his breath. The word almost sounded like a curse.
"I wouldnít know," Steele said stiffly.
He was conscious of Peter watching him, but he kept his eyes on the road. Driving in L.A. was an art and required attention. Of course, Steele. Avoid the issue.
"Yeah, you would."
Damn him. He wasnít going to let it go. The guy was supposed to be a psychologist. That was all Steele needed.
He didnít answer. Let the freeway take all his attention, or seem to.
Peter didnít need an answer. He said, "I talked to the man. He didnít tell you he was your old man, and thatís a crummy thing, but he still was. Sounds like he was there for you a lot more than my dad was for me."
Tricky. Venkman was tricky. The old I-know-how-you-feel line was clearly intended to get him talking. He and Laura had investigated a shrink once, and Steele had posed as a new patient. Counseling technique number twelve.
"How well do you know Max Fields?"
"Well enough." Peter wasnít about to let it go. "Your job is to figure out who pulled this Ďheistí." He grinned faintly as if he liked the sound of that word; Steele could hear it in his voice. "Mine is to help Daniel to disperse peacefully."
"Disperse?" Steele frowned. "What does that mean?"
"Usually a ghost will do the haunting number because heís got unresolved issues. If we can help him to resolve them, he can pass on to whatever afterlife there is, if you believe in that, or simply go. Being Ghostbusters doesnít give us any leads to what happens after that. We had a ghost once who was hanging around because he wanted to tell his niece he loved her one last time. He didnít know he was dead, either, but he was a lot more insubstantial than Daniel and a lot more vague. It takes them all differently."
"Ghostbusting One-oh-one," Steele said.
"I donít blame you for not wanting to go there." The sympathy in Peterís voice was nearly visible. At least he didnít mingle it with pity. "I wouldnít, either. Iíd like to take Charlie and shake him till he rattles. He uses me, he gets me in trouble, he leaves me with the bill. I practically had to mortgage my life to pay for the damage he caused to Madison Square Garden last year." He sucked in a deep breath. "But if he was dead and haunting me, Iíd move heaven and earth to help him."
"He didnít betray you," Steele said involuntarily. He would rather have cut out his tongue than admit that. Not even Laura fully understood how bitter he felt about Danielís secrecy. If only heíd known sooner. If only he could have been glad.
"You think he didnít?" Peter frowned. "Heís conned me, heís used me, heís let me down. Heís never there when I really need him or when it matters. He comes around when it suits him, or when heís in trouble, or when he needs money. Never betrayed me? He does it all the time." The pain in his voice was achingly real. He wasnít making up a story to trick Steele into accepting Daniel.
"And youíre still here?"
Although he never took his eyes from the road, Steele could feel Peterís gaze upon him. "Heís my dad," Peter said simply.
"And he always was. He never lied to you about that."
"No, I canít share that particular betrayal with you." Another deep breath. "Egon says I have three choices: I can accept him as he is, I can try to change him, or I can sever all ties with him. The third choice isnít an option, so I go back and forth between the first two. Setting myself up half the time. I know I do it, but itís hard to stop. I donít want to break off with him."
"Daniel and I.... We ran some great scams together. We had a wild time, over the years." He was silent, focused on his driving. The exit he wanted was coming up. As he put on the turn signal, he heard himself blurt out, "If only heíd told meó"
"He wishes the same thing," said Peter. "Thatís why heís here, why heís a ghost. Because he didnít tell you. Think how bad he has to feel about it. He probably expected there would be timeópeople put off things they think might be difficult. Then he found out he was sick. He had to tell you then, but it scared him. He was afraid heíd lose you altogether, not just because he was dying but because he thought youíd turn on him."
"I nearly did." God, this hurt. Why the hell was he letting Peter talk to him like this, make him relive it?
Because Daniel was here in Los Angeles, in jail, a ghost. It couldnít be possible, could it? This had to be a scam, someone posing as Daniel. No, Mildred had verified the story. The police would know who he was.
He pulled off the freeway. Not long now to Fieldsí place.
"He said you made peace with him before he died, that youíd reminisced about your experiences together. That meant everything to him. But he was afraid it wasnít enough, that youíd hate him because heíd waited too long to tell you."
"He waited too long and then he died," Steele spat. "How could he do that? We never had a real chance to make peace with each other. Damn him. He let me down all over again."
"Heís here to make up for that," Peter said softly. "Maybe he even set this up to look like he was guilty just so youíd find out. He might not realize heís dead, but subconsciously heís got to know somethingís wrong. Why else would he have talked to me, a complete stranger? Heís trying to get back to you."
"Heís got a peculiar way of doing it."
Peter nodded. "Thatís for sure. He may be a lot classier than my Pop, but theyíve got that in common. Pop might use me, but if I was really in trouble, the bad kind, heíd come. I know that."
"He hasnít been drifting around invisible, watching me?" Eerie thought. He shuddered.
"I donít know. I donít think so. I donít think heís taken it that far." He grimaced. "Itís different for me than it is for you. Dad always wanted me to go the conman route, to run scams with him. I never would. He used me for his schemes a couple of times when I was a kid, and Mom came down on him for it. She talked to me and I knew sheíd be disappointed if I ever went with that. It was the first time I realized how bad she felt about Charlie. But even then, there was a feeling inside me, a feeling I didnít even get right away, that didnít want to do that. Pop said once that I was shamefully honest." Steele glanced over at him as they stopped at a traffic light, just in time to see him flash a grin. "Thing is, I learned to talk the talk. I had my own kind of dishonest gig, not to let people see the real me. I could fast talk with the best of Ďem, but it was more for protection than anything else. It took the guys to make me glad I was an honest man. They saw through the false frontóand they liked what I was. It was aó" he hesitated. "A revelation. I bet it was like that for you with Laura."
Steele hesitated. Laura was the first woman who had ever made him want to be an honest man. Long before he believed he could be one, before she even allowed herself to believe it, he had found himself trying to live up to her expectations. Murphy had never for one second believed he could do it, but heíd been in love with Laura himself before heíd left the agency. Last time heíd visited, heíd admitted that Steele had surprised him. Steele had never expected Michaels to acknowledge that.
An honest man with a shady past. All for Laura.
Had Daniel considered that a betrayal?
"Yes," he admitted to Peter. "It was."
Peter grinned. "He wonít hold it against you, you know."
"What are you, a mind reader?"
"No, I just know where youíre coming from. Donít worry about it. All our cases are confidential."
"Cases? Itís not as if weíre paying you."
"No, this one is a freebie. Daniel saved my fatherís life once. I owe him."
Steele shot him a skeptical glance.
"Well, I do," he said. "But I want to clear Dadís name. Fair trade? Egon and I do the ghost stuff and you and Laura do the P.I. routine. The barter systemís great."
Steele threw back his head and laughed. It was a "deal" even Daniel would have appreciated.
** *** ** n
"Thanks for seeing us, Roy," Laura told the retired detective. Hunter was grizzled and portly; heíd let himself go to seed in his retirement, but the glint in his eyes proved heíd cultivated his mind as well as his garden. They stood amid rows of burgeoning tomatoes, a tray holding glasses of iced tea standing on a picnic table at the edge of the plot. As Hunterís wife retreated to the house, he gestured them toward the refreshments.
"What is it, Laura?" the old man asked as he passed her a glass. "A troublesome case?"
She nodded at Egon, who had tucked away his P.K.E. meter after presumably ascertaining that Hunter was not a ghost and that none lurked nearby. Laura hid a smile at the idea of a ghost daring to trouble someone as phlegmatic as Roy Hunter. "This is Egon Spengler. Heís here representing Charlie Venkman, the father of his business partner."
"I remember Charlie Venkman," Hunter said obligingly. His mouth quirked in a tolerant, amused smile. "What con is he running this time?"
"Heís been arrested for a high-tech jewel heist," Egon said. The word "heist" sat oddly on his tongue. Laura would have thought it more a part of Peterís standard vocabulary than Egonís.
Hunterís eyebrows migrated north. "Venkman has? Thatís never been his game. Heís a conman, pure and simple, not a cat burglar. Youíre not talking about the robbery at the Gemological Institute? I heard about that, heard theyíd arrested somebody for it but hadnít retrieved the missing jewels. Venkman is the last guy Iíd finger for a caper like that. I thought they arrested two men, though. Maybe he was a lookout for the other one. Who was it?"
Laura took a deep breath. "Daniel Chalmers. My father-in-law."
"Chalmers? I heard he was dead, that heíd died in Ireland. Your father-in-law? Now that I never heard. Steeleís mysterious past coming back to haunt him?"
"In more ways than one," Egon replied drily.
"Spengler...." His brow crinkled into a series of deep furrows. "Youíre one of the Ghostbusters. I heard Charlie Venkmanís son was one of your team. I met him onceóthe son, I mean. A good man."
"Yes." A pleased smile lit Egonís eyes. "A very good man. In fact, Peter and I are here in California because Charlie called us in."
"I imagine Charlieís son has posted bail for him more than once over the years."
Egonís mouth quirked faintly, but not as if he found anything amusing. "Yes, he has. But thatís not the issue. You were right about Daniel Chalmers. He is dead. The police donít realize they have arrested a ghost."
Hunterís mouth dropped open. "Oh, now, this is crazy. You donít think LAPD would know the difference between a living man and a ghost?"
"Not always," Egon said. "Sometimes a ghost is so solid that he appears real. Usually that happens when the ghost doesnít know he is dead. If he were constantly in the presence of an officer, it might gradually become apparent, but instead heís in a cell. Peterís father knew, partly because heíd heard of Danielís death, and partly because heís been around ghosts more than most. He says he met Daniel in a bar and they were having a drink when they were arrested. He claims to be innocent." Egon held up a hand before Roy could refute his claim. "Of course he would claim that, but even you said that this crime is not Charlieís usual modus operandi. I donít trust Charlie Venkman, but I would not have expected this particular crime from him. I believe that he is innocent this time. He might have served as accessory or lookoutóbut Daniel is a ghost. Even if he were not, I think the real criminal observed him without realizing he was dead and tipped someone off. We want to find out who might legitimately be behind this. Er, perhaps Ďlegitimatelyí is a poor choice of words."
Dimples appeared in Hunterís plump cheeks. "I take your point. Chalmersí history makes him a possible suspect, although his would never be the high-tech end of it." He rubbed his chins, all three of them. "If you want my opinion, I think Max Fields is behind it. Heís been wanting a big score for a long time. Heís likely to be behind the scenes, scoring the equipment necessary and recruiting a small teamóprobably not more than two people. Iím out of touch these days; I donít know who heíd use. But I think itís his type of caper."
Laura sucked in her breath. Remington had gone to Fields to ask about the robbery. Would Fields simply lieóand if so, would her husband know it? He knew Fields well from the old days, but was out of touch with him. That didnít make him a fool. Heíd know to be wary. Heíd have to.
Egon must have sensed her mood because he frowned. "Do you believe Peter is in danger?"
She pursed her lips, considering. "He could be, if Roy is right and Fields canít talk his way out of it. He isnít given to violence as a rule, but he will fight if corneredóand Mister Steele will be angry on Danielís behalf." She checked her wristwatch. "They wonít have arrived yet. They had further to go than we did."
"In what direction?" Egon was not from Los Angeles. He would have no concept of transportation time.
She told him.
"Hmmm," he said. "I believe I have an idea."
** *** **
Peter Venkman had met Max Fields once, and he had not been too impressed with the guy. Under the surface smoothness and charm he wore to scam the marks flowed a river of hardness. If Fields wanted to help Charlie and Daniel, heíd bend over backward to do it. If he didnít, they wouldnít get a thing out of him. Peter was afraid Fields might know who had pulled the heist and would feel more loyalty to them than he did to his father and Steeleís.
"You trust this guy?" he asked as Steele pulled the car up to Fieldsí house, a sprawling Spanish hacienda with a fountained courtyard and the inevitable palm trees. It was the kind of place that could have once been owned by a Thirties movie starówho might still haunt it. He raised the P.K.E. meter heíd brought with him. Egon had insisted in bringing two to Los Angeles and had given Peter one to carry. No trace of a ghost, though. The meter fluttered faintly; there might be distant ghosts in the vicinity or it might just be ambient energy, surface clutter. He tucked the device into the inner pocket of his jacket without bothering to switch it off. Spoiled the line, but heíd had the inner pockets designed big enough to carry meters and other equipment. You never knew when youíd have to take readings at a society party. If any ghosts haunted Fieldsí hacienda, Peter could use the resultant beeping to distract the man.
"As far as I can throw the Hollywood Bowl," Steele replied. "Heís devious, but he was Danielís friend. If it doesnít hurt him, heíll help us."
Peterís eyes narrowed. "How could it hurt him?"
"He might be behind the heist himself, or have closer ties to whoever did it than he did to Daniel and your father. Also, he wouldnít like to be known to be a stool pigeon. He might help us if he were certain no one would find out he had done so."
"Figures. Thatís the kind of guy Charlie would know, all right." He heaved a sigh. There were times when he felt a tug of pity for his father, who didnít have what Peter did, the loyalty of the best friends known to man. Would his father have been different if heíd had people he could trust in his life?
There was Mom. He could always trust her. It just didnít work the other way round.
They got out of the car. "Some spread," he commented. "I bet the taxes on this place are right up there."
Steele arched an elegant eyebrow. "Surely you donít imagine Fields pays taxes?" he asked wryly.
Yeah, a guy like that would know how to tiptoe through the tax laws. He had to have a lot of money coming in. The rich knew how to hold onto their money. It was people like Peter and his friends who got stuck with high taxes. Not to mention power bills that could bankrupt a small country.
"Come on," he said. "A part of me figures Pop deserves to sit in jail for a while, but if heís really innocent...."
It was that "if" that got to him. While the heist wasnít Charlieís usual crime, Peter couldnít completely believe he was innocent, not after Egon had offered up the ghost-as-cat-burglar scheme for Peter to run with. But that relied on Daniel scamming everybody who encountered him into believing he was aliveóand the meter had proved he hadnít faked his death in Ireland to get himself out of whatever hole heíd dug himself into. Steele wouldnít trust the meters. Peter was sure he was wondering if Daniel had managed to falsify his death, even though heíd been there, seen the body. No, Daniel was dead and Egon had proved it. Death hadnít stopped him being a conman, though. So it was possible the robbery was his idea, with Charlie providing backup and lowering a rope.
If you did this, Pop, you can stay in jail until you lose all your hair.
Max Fields opened the door himself. No butler to add to the illusion of affluence? He didnít look like a conman any more than Daniel Chalmers did. He was probably Egonís height, a good three inches over six feet, with snowy white hair belied by a youthful face with a suntan George Hamilton would have killed for. The Izod shirt and plaid shorts suggested he was ready to head for the nearest course to play eighteen rounds of golf. When he saw who was there, quickly suppressed surprise flickered in his face and he went bland. Peter was used to Charlieís less-subtle attempts to conceal his feelings, and his own, so he knew the guy was probably astonished, even if he didnít want to show it. Was there more to that flicker?
"Harry," Fields said. "Peter. Now you are a pair I never expected to see together. Did you meet at the door or is this a joint delegation?" He stood aside to allow them in.
The entry hall was big enough for a game of badminton, tastefully filled with blocky, mission-style furniture and an abstract painting or two. Probably genuine somebody-or-other, maybe even stolen while an expert copy hung unrealized in a museum. Even the parquet floor beneath their feet spoke of money.
"Itís a joint delegation," Steele admitted. "And Iíll wager you know exactly why we are here."
"In fact, I do," Fields admitted. "But come in. Let me offer you refreshments, and then we will talk." He led them down a corridor, past a series of open doors that revealed his wealth and his consistent love of mission style. They passed no one along the hall, but as they reached a door that opened onto a wide, sunny patio, a Hispanic man in a white jacket appeared as if Fields had snapped his fingers to conjure him up. "Mister Fields?" He sounded surprisingly British.
"Iced tea, Raul. Weíll have it on the patio."
"Of course, sir." He vanished unobtrusively in the direction he had come.
They stepped out onto the patio. A high fence separated the property from the surrounding houses; Peter could see the edge of one roof through the trees, but that was all. They might almost have been in the country. An Olympic-sized pool lay just beyond the grouping of chairs on the terrace, the water smooth and blue. Drying patterns along the near side suggested someone had been swimming recently, and a glance at Fields proved his thick white hair was still damp. He probably swam laps every day to keep himself in shape.
Fields gestured to a pair of scarlet and white striped lawn chairs. "Have a seat." He waited until they were seated, then he balanced on the edge of a recliner beside a glass-topped table with an umbrella that matched the chairs. The recliner had a canvas pocket mounted on its arm that sported a couple of magazines. One of them was the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated. Peter craned his neck for a better view.
With a smile, Fields settled himself on the chaise longue. "So, your fathers are in jail together and youíve formed a delegation of two so that you can free them. Perhaps that will prove difficult. If they are guiltyó"
"Come on, Field, you know this isnít Popís shtick," Peter objected.
"In truth, I do. Not Charlieís style at all. A man like Charlie has his place in the scheme of things, and it is not a part of high-tech cat burglary. Heís far better at wheedling people out of their life savings than doing anything that involves the slightest degree of personal risk."
Peter bristled. Fieldsí claim was perfectly true, but he didnít like it. It sounded as if Fields were calling Charlie Venkman a coward. It wasnít cowardly to know oneís limitations. Besides, Charlie had once saved Peterís life by pushing him out of the way of a speeding car. Heíd acted instantly and instinctively and had wound up with a badly bruised hip and a sprained ankle for his pains. Peter, then about ten, had been awed by his fatherís courage and the knowledge that his father had risked his own life to save him. It was only as he grew older that he realized how much easier it had been for his father to perform that one instinctive act of heroism than it had been for Charlie to be there for him in any way that counted. Charlie might not be a physical cowardóbut there were other kinds. He glowered at Fields.
"You donít like that, but you are an honest man. Yes, I know that. Charlie would often bemoan the fact. A Ďwhere have I gone wrongí attitude. He always claimed you would have made the ideal partner, gone further than he ever could. But it wasnít to be. You are an honest man. Iíve seen you on television. You can talk the talk like a pro, but thatís all it is, talk."
Peter grinned weakly. It made him uncomfortable for a man like Fields to see through him like that.
"This isnít Danielís area of expertise, either," Steele said quickly. Peter didnít know if heíd done it because heíd seen how uncomfortable Peter was or if he simply wanted to get down to business.
Raul appeared with a tray containing a pitcher of tea and three glasses full of ice. "Sir," he said to Fields.
"Thank you, Raul, I shanít need you again this afternoon. Tell Lou. You may take the rest of the afternoon off and return by six, please."
"Of course, sir." Raul hurried away. Peter couldnít tell from his poker face if he were delighted with the unexpected freedom or not.
When he was gone, Fields poured them each a glass of tea and passed them to his guests. There were little tables beside each chair for the glasses with built-in coasters. Peter sipped the teaóit was excellentóand set the glass aside.
"No," said Fields as if Raul hadnít interrupted. "This isnít Danielís style, either. He might want those stonesóin fact I am certain he would have wanted them very much. But I canít quite see him breaking into the Gemological Institute. You and he together, in the old days, with someone who knows the technology, yes, but you, too, are legitimate now. Interesting. Marriage has been the breaking of you."
"Or the making," Steele purred in a voice that made Peter glance at him in surprise. In spite of his bland face, Steele was angry. Peter could sense it.
Fields did, too. "Ahh," he said, "I see," and left it to their imaginations to understand what it was he saw. Peter had a feeling Fields was a lot more perceptive than he wanted people to guess. Heíd read them without much effort. Peter wasnít nearly as subtle a man as he wished he was. Steele might be, but Peter wasnít sure what signals he was picking up.
"So," said Fields bluntly. "What is it you wish of me? To prove your fathers are innocent of the crime of which they stand accused?"
Steele flinched. "You knowó"
"That Daniel is your father? Iíve known it for years."
He couldnít have chosen anything to say that would wound Steele more, the knowledge that the secret so long withheld from him had been common knowledge among Danielís friends. Whether that were true or not wouldnít matter. Fields knew, and however heíd learned it, all he had to do was let Steele believe that Danielís friends had known all along and had discussed it among themselves, to drive a further wedge between Steele and his ghostly father.
What wedge would he use for Peter and Charlie?
"I doubt that," Peter said quickly.
Fieldsí eyes hardened into pebbles. "Indeed? I could tell you stories about your own father that would make you sick to your stomach."
Peter squared his shoulders. "Yeah, you probably could. Iím not sure why you want to, though. Pop thinks youíre his buddy. Heís probably wrong, but then he never had good judgment."
The eyes grew harder and colder. So he could be wounded in return. "You came here asking favors of me," Fields said. "You want to know the truth about the jewel heist. What makes you assume that I know it?"
"Because you claim to have your finger on the pulse," Steele pointed out. "If anyone would know, you would. Yet you set out to alienate us."
"Itís hardly my fault youíre sensitive about your paternity. I should have perceived that. Perhaps I am not as all-knowing as you would believe." He spread his hands in a careless gesture. "Suppose I told you I hadnít a clue who had stolen those gems. Would you believe me?"
"I mightóif you said you didnít know for certain. But the great Max Fields without a clue? Iíd never believe that." Steele struggled to rein in his anger, to appear calm, sophisticated, in control. Did Fields know? He evidently didnít know Steele as well as he thought he did. Laura would have recognized the condition in a heartbeat. The only reason Peter did was that he was equally pissed at Fields. The guy didnít give a rap that two innocent men were in jail. The fact that heíd known them both for years didnít inspire him to offer potential solutions that would see them freed.
But he didnít seem to know that Daniel Chalmers was a ghost, either. If he did, it would show. He must know Peter was a Ghostbuster, but Peter wasnít wearing his jumpsuit and didnít have his proton pack on his back. Too bad about that. A proton pack at minimum power and just the right setting could deliver a stun charge, knock a guy right out.
Where are you going with that, Peter? You think the guyís gonna pull a fast one on you?
Well, he is a conman.
"Of course I have my theories. How could I not? I do know who has the ability to pull off such a heist, and I know who was in town two nights ago who could have done it. But if I tell you, then Iím betraying friends."
"If you donít, youíre letting my dad take the rap," Peter said. He heard the resentment in his voice. If Egon were here, heíd mutter, "Easy, Peter." To calm himself, he took a gulp of iced tea. It didnít help. He set aside the glass in disgust.
"So youíre asking me to choose? Worse, youíre asking me to give information to the police. First of all, the police and I are not on speaking terms. Second, they wouldnít believe anything I said to them. Third, I donít feel that it is my responsibility to make choices between people I know, who may or may not be the criminals in question. Youíve come to the wrong place."
"No, I donít believe we have." Steeleís eyes matched his name. "You know something, Max. Iím not asking you to go to the police. But I am a detective. Tell me. Let me solve it. No one has to know you talked to us."
"Someone always will know, Harry. You realize that, or you wouldnít have come here. No, thereís nothing I can tell you. I think itís better if you go now."
Peter watched Steele, saw the squashed resentment, the determined patience in his face, and he stomped down his own need to yell at the man to tell them the truth. He had a wary feeling this could explode in a very bad way if they persisted. There might be others who knew the truth. Maybe Fields was buddies with whoever did it. Heck, maybe heíd organized it himself. Maybe they should leave.
That wouldnít help Charlie.
"Maybe," Steele conceded. "But you and Daniel were friends. Whoever set this up knew how much he would have wanted those jewels."
Calculation at lightning speed was going on in Fieldsí eyes. "The thing is, Harry, most people thought Daniel was dead. The rumor went around a few months ago that heíd died in Irelandóand that you were there. I take it that was a scam to get him out of trouble, get pursuit off his back, am I right?"
Steele and Peter exchanged glances. For two men so different, they were reading each other awfully well. Suspicion was right up there at the top of the list. Fields knew a lot. He might even have masterminded the heist. If he realized they suspected that, they could be in deep shit.
The only way to get answers was to throw the man off guard.
"No scam," Peter said with a carefully amused grin. "He did die."
"What crap is this? Heís in jail. I got the word yesterday. Last I heard, the police donít arrest ghosts."
"Maybe you heard wrong." Peter struck his most cocky pose. "Iím not only Charlieís son, Max, Iím a Ghostbuster. Egon and I took readings at the jail. Heís a ghost, all right. Have sheet, will travel."
"You shouldnít try to run scams, Petey boy. You havenít the knack for it." He was so patronizing Peter wanted to deck the S.O.B.
"The thing is, heís telling the truth," Steele admitted. "Maybe thatís why you donít recognize it as such. The truth must be terra incognita to you. Daniel is dead. I was there when he died." His fingers traced idle patterns in the condensation on his iced tea glass.
The truth of his claim shone out of his eyes. He might be nearly as good a scammer as Daniel had been, but only an idiot would refuse to believe the combination of grief and resentment that twisted his mouth and shadowed his eyes.
Ignoring the sudden doubt in Fieldsí face he plunged on. "Daniel is a ghost. He couldnít have committed the robbery." He was careful not to meet Peterís gaze as he made that claim because both of them knew a ghost could have done it. "He isnít here about jewels. Heís here to make peace with me. You probably donít understand that because it has to do with sentiment, but I assure you, it is quite true. You do know he didnít commit the robbery, though. I can see it in your reaction."
"Yeah, me too," agreed Peter. "What did you do, mastermind it yourself?"
"I donít have to take insults from you, Venkman."
"Now the truth is an insult? Well, yeah, maybe it is for a guy like you. A word in the right ear just might reopen the investigation." He stood up. "Come on, Steele, weíre not going to learn anything here. We might as well take off."
Steele set aside his iced tea with a little click and rose in a graceful, elegant motion that Peter envied but knew he could never emulate. A guy like Steele shouldnít be sipping iced tea. He should twirl a martinióshaken, not stirredóin one careless hand.
"Peterís right. Weíre wasting our time here," he said.
"I think not." Fields slid his hand into the magazine rack and brought it out with a gun in his hand. Peter wasnít right up there with hand guns; Winston knew more about weapons than Peter did. He thought it might be a Beretta, but that was as far as he could take it.
"Yikes," he blurted. "Put that away. Somebody could get hurt."
"That, Doctor Venkman, is the point. I canít have you rushing to the police to lay evidence against me. Yes, I could probably laugh it off, claim you were using me as a scapegoat to free your fathers. I could even relay your pathetic ghost story to discredit you. But I see in your eyes, both of you, that you are both persistent and loyal to your fathers, whether or not they deserve such loyalty. Therefore, I think it better if you simply disappear."
"People know we came here," Peter said. Was that a mistake? Would his claim endanger Egon and Laura?
"No doubt. I shall tell themóvery convincinglyóthat you left. Iíll give them names of likely suspects. They must believe that is what you came to me for. They will investigate further, or the police will. The suspects, having something to hide, will take poorly to questioning. I may fall under mild suspicion, but I can ride it through. The two of you, however, will never be found."
Sounded like heíd been planning it all along. Heíd sent away the houseboy, so he couldnít testify of anything beyond their arrival. "Tell Lou," Fields had instructed. Peter didnít know who Lou was, but heíd bet major bucks the guy was hired muscle. Probably ready to help Fields blow them away.
If Egon and Laura had come here, they might even have bought Fieldsí act, but Steele knew him fairly well and Peter had been raised by a conman. Fields meant to kill them and conceal the evidence. The house was set on a wide lot, and was that little gizmo on the barrel of the gun a silencer? It looked like a gadget right out of a spy movie.
Fields raised his voice. "Lou! Now, please."
Peterís back muscles tightened between his shoulder blades in expectation of a bullet. This couldnít be happening. He was a Ghostbuster, not a gangster. People didnít shoot at him, he shot at ghosts. If only he had his thrower. A P.K.E. meter was no match for a gun, assuming Fields wouldnít blast him if he went for it. Very carefully he held out his hands to prove he was unarmed. His gaze slid sideways and met Steeleís. That elegant suit was so well tailored a gun would have disrupted its smooth lines the way the P.K.E. meter did Peterís. Unless he had one strapped to his ankle or tucked in the back waistband of his trousers, Steele was unarmed.
"Lou!" Fields called again. A flash of resentment in his eyes boded ill for the absent henchman. He should have been lurking in wait for a summons. What the heck was going on?
"Iím sorry, heís a bit tied up at the moment."
Steele flinched as if heíd been shot and the color spilled from his face. "Daniel," he breathed.
In Peterís pocket, the P.K.E. meter beeped frantically, and he felt the antennae tug at the fabric as they tried to rise.
Fieldsí knuckles whitened on the gun and, for an instant, Peter thought it might go off. He glanced at Peter in surprise. "Beeper," he muttered, then he calmed himself. "So. It was all a scam. Heís already out of jail. How much bail money did you have to pay, Harry?"
"Not a cent," said Daniel Chalmers as he walked toward them. Peter wondered if Fields noticed that his feet barely brushed the ground as he went through the motions of walking. Steele noticed. His eyes were shocked and enormous. "You might say I bailed myself out, without benefit of a bondsman. In fact, Iíve staged the greatest jailbreak of my career." He glanced at Steele and his eyes warmed. "Hello, Harry."
"Daniel," he said cautiously. "Is it true?" He must have entirely forgotten the presence of Max Fields and his gun. One eye rolled toward Peter, who patted his pocket to still the beeping meter. Steele understood its reaction. Proof. Proof that his father was dead and a ghost.
Anguish ran across Danielís face. "Yes, son, it is true. I didnít even know it, not until Spengler proved it to me and told me you might be in trouble. Then I realized I had always known and simply refused to acknowledge the fact of my death." A faint smile touched his lips. "Had I admitted it to myself, what scams I could have pulled. It would have been beautiful. Iím told I can levitate, make myself invisible, even alter my physical form. A ghost is an ideal conman, Harry. Ideal. I could even have pulled that heist, just walked through the sensors and motion detectors, and as long as the jewels themselves didnít trigger anything, I could have done it."
The longing to attempt just such a caper shone in his eyes. No wonder Charlie Venkman had liked him.
"You would love that, wouldnít you?" Steele asked. Peter could tell from the way he spoke that he was utterly at a loss. He didnít know how he was supposed to feel. Put Peter in his situation and he wouldnít either.
"We can discuss that later, my boy. Right now, you seem to have got yourself into a nasty pickle." He glanced over at Fields. "Hello, Max. Youíre threatening my son. I donít take kindly to such behavior."
"Drop this ghost nonsense, Daniel. Too bad you had to show up. Now Iíll have to deal with you, too, and quite frankly, Iíd rather not. We were friends once."
"No, Max. If you mean to kill my son, we were never friends. And I need to say one thing. It isnít ghost nonsense." An expression of concentration wrinkled his brow, and suddenly he was gone without a trace.
Steele sucked in a shocked breath, but Fields let out a yelp of disbelief. "Itís a trick!" He waved the gun wildly. Peter ducked as it swung around to point at him, then flung himself flat as Fields fired. He missed, and the glass of the tabletop shattered, sending the pitcher of iced tea crashing to the cement floor of the terrace. Peter felt glass slivers prick the side of his face.
Steele let out a startled yelp and clapped his fingers to his left arm. Blood oozed between them.
Daniel materialized with an outraged yell, not six inches in front of Max Fields. He was twice as big as normal, and he spouted horns, fangs, and deep blue scales. You coached him pretty good, didnít you, Egon? thought Peter. Way to go, Spengs!
Even as the transformed Daniel knocked the Beretta from Fieldsí hand, the criminal reeled away from the monstrous apparition. Who would have thought he could produce such a high-pitched scream? His heel caught on the ridge that ran around the swimming pool, his arms windmilled, and he pitched over backward into the pool. Water surged up and splashed them all. Only Daniel didnít get wet.
Hastily, the ghost reverted to his natural appearance, then he drifted over calmly and retrieved Fieldsí gun. "I think Iíd better hold onto this for now." He turned to Peter. "You might want to haul him out and tie him up. Thereís rope just inside the house, left over from tying up his thug."
"How did you get the drop on him?" Steele asked. He prodded at his sleeve with cautious fingers.
"The same thing I did to Max. Itís amazing how easy it was to startle him into lowering his guard." Daniel smirked. "This could be useful, Harry. What I couldnít accomplish!"
Peter retrieved the rope before he gestured Fields out of the pool. The master criminal came reluctantly, as far away from Daniel as he could get, and actually submitted tamely to being bound. Peter secured the knots, his attention on Steele and his father.
"Did he get you?" Daniel asked. He drifted closer, then when Steele flinched, he caught himself and walked normally.
"A flesh wound," Steele admitted. He peeled off his jacket and pushed up his shirt sleeve.
Peter craned his neck to see. Yep, a flesh wound all right, a little slice, less than two inches long. Steele pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of his suit jacket and mopped it. Daniel took it from his hand.
Steele endured the treatment in silence. His face was full of anguish that had nothing to do with the slight wound. After a few minutes of silence, while Peter finished binding Fields, he finally spoke.
"You waited till the last possible second to tell me. Would it have been so awful for me to know before, when it would have mattered?"
"And if you had rejected me, Harry? Then what? I couldnít die without telling you, but we had good years. I was always your friend. You were a man by the time I found you. You needed a friend more than you needed a father." He drew an unsteadyóand unnecessaryóbreath. "I was a very good friend."
Steele sighed, too. "Yes, you were. But you knew. You knew how much I wanted to find my father, to find out who I was, to find out my real name. Imagine going through your whole life and never knowing who you are."
"But you were always yourself, Harry. You were Harry for years, and now youíre Remington Steele. Lauraís husband. A private investigator. Thatís a path I could never have steered you along. Donít you see, Harry, anything I could have given you would have stopped you from becoming what you are. This is what you were meant to be. This is where you belong. Iíve always been your father, even when you didnít know it. But Iíve been your friend, too, letting you find out for yourself who you are, letting you make your own life."
Peter had to admire the patter. Daniel was damned good at it, knowing just what to say and exactly what level of sincerity would work best. But this time, everything he was saying was true. Over the years he had probably convinced himself this was best in a selfish attempt to have what he could get without any responsibilities. Or he might have been afraid to take that final step, fearing rejection. But the one truth Peter recognized in the midst of the manís patter was the same blessing he had, in the midst of his disappointment over his fatherís failings and betrayals. Like Charlie, Daniel had always loved his son. That was why he was here now.
"Damn it, youíre good," Steele said.
Peter knew exactly where he was coming from. Heíd been there too many times himself. Heíd learned to take the good with the bad, to snatch what was worthy out of the lies and value it.
"Every word is true," Daniel said. He didnít try for a dramatic proclamation, he just said it in a sad, level voice.
"He means it," Peter put in. "Sure, there was a lot of self-interest in there, but the one fact youíve gotta hold on to is that he loves you. He always has. Thatís why heís here now, because he couldnít pass on without resolution."
"He doesnít want to pass on. He wants to go into the ghost con business." Steele flinched but Peter didnít think it was because of anything Daniel was doing to his slight wound.
"That wouldnít have kept him here," Peter argued. "He didnít even know he was a ghost."
"But he knows now. Perfect timing. That argues for a lot more awareness than heís willing to admit. Another scam."
"No way." Peter shook his head. The side of his face stung a little. He touched it and was surprised to feel the sticky wetness of blood from the glass cuts. That would have to wait. "I bet you fifty bucks the reason heís here is because Egon told him the truth and sent him after us. Somehow, he and Laura found out Fields was behind it all."
"Laura sent him to rescue us?" Warmth touched the bleakness of Steeleís face.
"In fact she did, son." Daniel knotted a bandage around Steeleís arm. "Doctor Spengler explained the, er, facts of death to me. He told me what I could do with my ghostly powers. I did not want to believe him, not even when he used his device to prove I was indeed a spirit. But it was Laura who reminded me of Ireland, who spoke to me of the logic of the situation, who made it clear to me that I could remember my death, and that I had pushed aside those memories. One certainty became clear to me as they talked to me, that you and I had not quite finished resolving our situation, and that was what had brought me to Los Angeles. Once I accepted thatóand it was not easy, Harryóshe told me you were in danger. Spengler explained that I could come here through an act of will. I had to want it badly enough, he said.
"The next thing I knew, I was here."
Realization trickled into Steeleís eyes, the understanding of how much of a shock his father had sustained when confronted with the truth. It must have been quicker for Egon and Laura to get to the jail than to drive all the way out to the Valley.
Definitely Egonís idea. He had great timing. Peter grinned faintly. Thanks, buddy.
"What will happen to you now?" Steele asked in a very quiet voice.
"Iím not sure. I canít go until I know you forgive me."
Steele hesitated. "All those years, you didnít tell me the truth. You knew. Fields said he knew, that heíd known for years. Did all your cronies know the truth but me? Did you laugh about it among yourselves?"
"No." Danielís voice was tight. "Fields guessed. He certainly knew I was searching for my son, years ago. I think he put two and two together. I never confirmed it. I didnít want to give him ammunition to use against you. Surely you donít think Iíve gone around telling everyone the truth but you? Never mind I wanted to shout my pride in you from the rooftops. You knew I felt it, didnít you?"
"Yes. I did know that. But you didnít tell me. Not until it was too late. Iím not sure I canó"
"Forgive me for it?"
Steeleís fingers played awkwardly with the bandage. "You knew how much I wanted to know the truth. You knew."
"As time passed, I feared you would turn away from me if you found out. Conscience made a coward of me, Harry. Can you understand that? Have you never kept a secret from someone you loved?"
Steeleís mouth twisted. Who hadnít? It was human nature.
Peter hadnít told Egon for a long time that his father was a conman. He was afraid Egon, with his affluent, respectable background, would scorn him for it. He should have trusted more. Once Egon found out, Peter discovered how mistaken he had been. Egon would never judge him by his fatherís actions. That was the day Peter realized how much he could trust his friend, how lucky he was to have such a friend. Out of the fear of pain and loss had come a special moment.
He said softly, "You wouldnít have turned on him, would you, Steele?"
"I did turn on him, when he told me," Steele admitted without raising his eyes.
Aha. Toss a dollop of guilt into the mixture. "But you resolved it before he died, didnít you?"
Both man and ghost smiled faintly, so automatically and in such perfect timing that for the first time Peter saw a resemblance between them that went beyond a dapper air of style. "Yes, for a few moments," Steele admitted. "If only weíd had more time."
"We have some time now," Daniel said gently.
He put his hand on Steeleís good arm. Peter saw Steele realize how solid it felt.
"I think Iíll haul Fields out of here to wait for the police," Peter said and dragged the criminal to his feet. "Come on, walk. Danielís solid enough to use the gun."
Fields glanced nervously at Chalmers and averted his eyes.
Peter marched him across the terrace to the house. At the entrance he paused and glanced over his shoulder.
Daniel was definitely solid enough to hug his son for all he was worth.
Steele hugged him back.
** *** **
Egon was outraged at the sight of Peter, with blood all down the side of his face. The drive to Fieldsí house had seemed endless even if Laura had urged Fred to set a new land speed record en route. The chauffeur had emulated Ray at his most exuberant. It would probably be better to keep the story of the drive from the youngest Ghostbuster.
Be in time, Daniel, Egon had encouraged the ghost all the way here. When they finally arrived and rushed up to the door, Peter himself opened it. He was on his feet, intact. But he was bleeding. Egonís stomach knotted at the sight of it. "What have you done to yourself?" he demanded. Had Daniel arrived in time? How could he have done so when Peter was injured?
"This? Itís just a few little cuts from flying glass." Peter gestured at it dismissively. "Donít worry, Spengs, Daniel made it in time. You did good, big guy. Iíll go clean up in a few minutes, once the police get there."
"We heard sirens. Theyíre just behind us." Peter certainly sounded fine, but he could be operating on adrenaline. Egon resolved to make certain he was all right.
"So Fields was guilty of the jewel heist?" Egon asked. He put his hands on Peterís shoulders and steered him to the nearest chair in the entry hall.
Peter let himself be shoved down. "We pretty much figured that out when he pulled a gun on us. I donít know if he was actually there or if he just masterminded it, but one way or another, heís got to be guilty."
"Whereís my husband?" Laura caught Peterís arm. "Is he all right?"
"Heís fine. He just got a little flesh wound." When Laura paled, Peter said quickly, "Hey, no biggie. A couple of band-aids will handle it. My word on it."
"Where is he? I want to see for myself."
Peter slid his arm free of her grip and caught her hand instead. "Heís with his dad," he said. "Better give Ďem a few minutes. I think theyíre making up for lost time."
Lauraís face softened. "Theyíre resolving it?"
"Well, it sure looked like they were," Peter said. "Theyíve got a lot to talk about. You can wait a few minutes, canít you, sweetheart?"
"If thatís what Remington needs," she agreed. "Whereís Fields?"
Peter let go of her so he could point. "Heís tied up in the living room, along with some thug who was gonna shoot us in the back. Daniel got him. I had to gag them both; you should have heard the language they used. Even one word Iíd never actually heard anybody say before." He grinned, then arched his eyebrows at Egon when he produced a handkerchief from his pocket. "What are you doing, Egon? I told you it was okay."
Egon mopped gently at the blood, then he lifted the cloth. "You may have a few small pieces of glass imbedded here, Peter. I am going to telephone the paramedics."
"Iím not going to any hospital."
"I doubt youíll need to. But you have lost some blood. At least stay sitting down." He glanced around, spotted a telephone, and made the 911 call.
Sirens announced the arrival of the police, and in spite of Egonís advice Peter bounced up to usher them into the presence of the two bound men. When the police took off Fieldsí gag, he resumed his cursing with a fluency that impressed even Egon. Read his rights, he was taken away, still shouting. Egon corralled Peter and guided him to the chair while a couple of police officers with a search warrant checked out the house.
The paramedics arrived before Steele reappeared, and went to work on Peterís faceóthey took out three tiny glass fragments, one from his left temple and two from his cheek. The one in his temple had missed his eye by less than an inch.
"Not gonna have any scars, am I?" he asked. "I wouldnít want to do anything to mar the Venkman good looks."
"Honestly, Peter," Egon murmured, but the question itself reassured him.
"Not for an injury this minor," the paramedic replied, and Peter relaxed.
His clothes had protected him from any more serious injuries, although a few other cuts didnít have glass in them. Egon watched his treatment carefully. Peter had a definite knack for trouble. Perhaps it was simply that he had a knack for jumping into trouble to protect his friends. In the entire history of the Ghostbusters, he was the one who had been injured the most.
When he said so, Peter grinned wryly. "What can I say, Iím a universal target."
"Certainly when it comes to being slimed," Egon pointed out, and Peterís face fell.
"Only one of these cuts needs a dressing," the paramedic was just saying when Steele appeared in the doorway. His face was unhappy, his mouth twisted tightóbut there was a glint of satisfaction in his eyes, as if he had achieved an important victory. Peter saw it, and his own eyes lit up in realization. He looked both sorry and happy for Steele. Peter was capable of far more complex emotional responses than those who knew him casually would ever realize.
"Way to go," Peter muttered under his breath, to the surprise of the paramedic. When the man finished his small dressing and would have gone to examine Steeleís arm, Peter shook his head. "Give him a minute," he urged. "Itís barely a graze. Right now he needs his wife more than he needs a band-aid."
Laura went to Steele and put her arms around his waist as if she understood the tangle of his emotions. He encircled her and bent his head to rest his face against her hair.
"Danielís gone," he said.
"Gone? Do you mean he dispersed, like Egon said?"
"We talked for a long time," Steele admitted. "And in the end, we made peace with each other. When that happened, he said he wasnít bound any longer."
"What did he do? Just fade away?" One hand slid up to stroke the dark hair.
"Yes." His mouth quirked. "Rather like the Cheshire Cat, Laura. The smileólingered. In a sense, I can still feel it."
"Because you got him back," Peter said softly. "In every way thatís possible."
Oddly, he sounded faintly wistful. Hardly because Daniel was a ghost, a spirit now moved on to wherever ghosts go in the afterlife. Then, Egon knew. Steele had resolved his issues with his father. Peter might never reach that point.
But at least Peterís father was alive and well, and he cared for Peter. It might not be everything, but in the light of the combination of grief and happiness in Steeleís face, it was quite a lot.
Egon let his hand rest on Peterís shoulder. Peter turned and grinned at him, and Egon knew he was glad of what he did have. "We did good, didnít we, Spengs?" he asked.
"Yes, Peter, I would say so," Egon replied as he watched Laura organize the paramedics to treat her husbandís minor injury. "A most satisfactory bust, all things considered."
** *** **
Steele and Laura came along with Peter and Egon to the jail to arrange for Charlie Venkmanís release. It helped that the jewels were discovered in Fieldsí safe. He still wasnít talking and hadnít named his accomplices, but the police had several leads. Of course they were still perplexed over the disappearance of Daniel Chalmers from the jail cellóbut the fact that no less than two guards had witnessed his instantaneous disappearance made the authorities more willing than they normally would be to believe that Daniel had been ectoplasmic.
Bureaucracy and paperwork took their time the world around, and LAPD was no exception to the rule. The two Ghostbusters and two detectives talked idly as they waited.
But nothing takes forever. Peter was regaling Steele and Laura with exaggerated tales of some of their more unlikely busts, insisting on confirmation from Egon, who was cheerfully prepared to let Peter ramble on. It was clear that the Steeles were reluctant to believe the stories, and Egon couldnít blame them. Peter did have a knack for gross exaggeration.
"And so then I went out in a small boat and confronted Nexa face to face," Peter explained. "I had to rescue the guys. I knew they were like Whosit, in the Bible, who got swallowed by the whale, and all I had to do was trap Nexaónever mind he was bigger than a high riseóand make him let them go. You should have heard me." He beamed. "And you can, if you like. There was a reporter who got it all on tape and Iíve got a copy."
"More like seventeen copies," Egon murmured.
Peter ignored him. "Iíll send you one," he promised.
"Really, that isnít necessary," Laura began.
That was when Charlie Venkman burst into the room and gazed around wildly for his son.
"Peter! They said you were injured! What happened? Did they get Fields? Did he really pull the caper? Are you all right?"
Peter and Steele both stared at Charlie. Steeleís arm tightened convulsively around Lauraís shoulders, and she held on as if she understood completely. Egon certainly did. Steeleís father was gone. He wouldnít have a reunion like this one.
At his fatherís desperate demand, Peter he abandoned his "fish story" and produced a big, sloppy grin. Egonís heart warmed at the sight of it.
"Hey, Pop, they finally let you out?"
"They even apologized to me for arresting me. What do you think of that, son? Think I have a case for false arrest? I wonder how much I can get out of it." He glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone official were listening.
Peter groaned. "Youíll never change, Pop," he said and batted away Charlieís fingers as they checked out his cuts.
"Maybe not, but I was right."
"Right?" Peter asked warily, as if his father were holding an unexploded bomb. "Iím not sure I want to know." He exchanged a doubtful glance with Steele, who might be expected to know what weirdness Charlie would come up with next.
"Well," said Charlie Venkman with a grin as wide as Peterís, "I said I wouldnít ask you for bail money, didnít I? And I never did." He puffed up his chest.
Peter gave a sputter of laughter. "No, Dad, this time you didnít," he admitted. "I guess that makes this one for the record books."