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This is a kind of unusual story for me...by that I mean it's short. It's also a somewhat different perspective, bending canon, warping fanon - enjoy!
So I'm hiding out in my crappy little motel room, I've seen bigger matchboxes, going over the numbers one last time before I try running this scam—making the offer, I mean—and the TV's yammering in the background like always. I'm not really listening when the news comes on, until the cute anchor-girl says "This was the scene, earlier today, when the Ghostbusters—" I look up automatically, and there's my worst nightmare, in full technicolor pixels on the fuzzy screen.
They think I don't care—Egon does, anyway. The others have a little more faith, but they think I don't understand. They're wrong. I get it, I always did, but you can't always act on what you know. Or be what you're expected to be, even what you'd like to be yourself. The world doesn't work like that. There's marks, and there's those that take them, but the line's blurry. You can be the greatest con in the world and still get suckered. And the most honest innocents are the hardest to fool in the end. They'll always find out, sooner or later. Or you'll quit, because everyone has limits, everyone has a point that they dig in their heels and say, 'No, that's going too far, even for me.'
Maybe not everyone. Maybe I don't, anymore. I started to wonder, after the whole mess with the Hob. My boy's brain didn't materialize out of nothing, after all. Not that his mom wasn't one hell of a smart cookie, but I'm no dim bulb either. I can read. They cast me as the trickster, and that sounded good enough to look into. So I did. He figures into mythologies all over the world. The con-man, the practical joker. Sometimes he's the smart guy and sometimes the idiot. Coyote, Spider, Raven, they can be both. Sometimes he can be the hero. I'd like to be Coyote, steal the sun and get the women—if they don't get him first. I'd be Puck, making mischief in service of a king.
I think I'm Loki. He had no limits. And his tricks ended the world.
That's what I see now on the TV screen. Ragnarok in miniature. The camera pans over the wreckage, a war-zone as big as the space of one building. There was a sky-scraper there yesterday. One strut of its steel skeleton is still upright. The rest of it is a pile of rubble two stories high.
Demon, had to have been, to wreak that kind of destruction. Like Hob Anagarok. Hell, maybe it was the Hob. No, the refreeze spell the boys whipped up was too good for that. They've got it sealed somewhere safe now—they wouldn't tell me where. I don't blame them.
So this isn't my fault. It can't be.
That doesn't help one damn bit.
The view switches to the on-the-spot reporter, Frank something. He's jabbering about how awful this is, against a backdrop of hysterical people. Some are screaming, some are crying.
One man stands alone in front, silent, and Frank Whatshisname is shoving the microphone in his face, shouting over the feeding frenzy of newsmen clustering around him. "Any comments, Dr. Venkman? You were the last one out. These people wouldn't have escaped in time if not for your quick action. You're a hero. Any comments, Dr. Venkman? Any comments?"
Peter doesn't anything, not one word to any of them. My boy, always so glib—he got that from his old man—is mute. Standing all alone with the shark reporters nipping and biting at him. Maybe he doesn't know they're there. His eyes aren't seeing anything now.
They're green, his eyes, like his mother's, that impossible emerald. I can't look him in the eye, not for long, because if I do I see her in them. But she's not there now. Nothing is. Why don't they see that? Media morons. Three thousand miles away, with a TV set folk probably watched the first lunar landing on, I can see what the damn reporters can't.
Our boy Frank gives up at last, tires of the mob and goes to bother more talkative people in the crowd. The camera returns to focus on the debris; the lady back at the studio fixes her hair while she narrates the voice-over about the disaster, how many millions of dollars the building was worth, and whether insurance companies consider demon attacks acts of God, and the rescue efforts. Orange-jacketed people with search dogs are scouring the site. There's not much hope, though. She doesn't need to say that; the damage is eloquent in itself.
The camera guy scoots back to Peter, zooming in while she mentions how he sounded the alarm and evacuated the place, so when the walls of Jericho came down, there were only three people still inside with the demon.
What they're not saying is that he wishes there had been four. If he has any wishes at all now. He's standing there like he himself doesn't know what's holding him up, and God, I know that look on his face. I know it so well and I never wanted to see it again. And not on him. Never on my son.
I almost didn't go to her funeral because of that. I loved her, more than anything, more than Peter ever knew. I had to go, one final goodbye, though we'd already said our true farewells years before. But I nearly didn't, because Peter would be there, and I didn't want to see his expression then.
It was better than I thought. His two friends came, getting out of their classes to fly down for the funeral, and they stood one on either side of him while the coffin was lowered into the ground. When he spoke to me afterwards—stiffly, like you'd talk to a distant relative, not your own father—they stayed beside him, Egon gazing down at me coolly through his glasses, Ray just looking sad, and supportive. He'd lost his folks already, I remembered Peter telling me.
I think it bothered them that I didn't seem to be grieving like I should be. I know how angry it made Peter, though he didn't mention it. He thinks I don't notice when his eyes burn. But a con-man's got to be able to read people. I could see every shade of emotion in his mother's eyes, and I can see every one in his as well. Windows to the soul. Even when he believes he's got them shuttered—he did learn that trick well. Besides me, there's only three others who can really figure what he doesn't want to tell.
He was furious then, at the funeral, though he kept it polite. Not that I was there—her family was outraged, but Peter would have been angrier if I hadn't come. But it got to him, that I wasn't even crying.
I couldn't. I'd used up my tears. But I couldn't tell him that. Anymore than I could tell him why I hadn't been by her bedside when she'd died, why I hadn't been there for her in those last few days, when he had. I'm sure he heard her call my name, had to hold her hand and tell her I wasn't there.
I should have been. I know I should have. But I couldn't go. And he wouldn't understand.
There was a time I wouldn't have understood myself. At the beginning, when we met, when I gave her the ring and the best part of my soul. That man would hate this one who stands in his place now, more deeply than Peter ever could.
But he didn't know then what it's like, to look into the eyes of your friends and see a reflection you don't recognize. One by one they go, leaving you with only acquaintances, connections, references. And slowly those trickle away as well, until you're adrift without a tie to anyone. Free. Except for family; blood can't be cut. But it can be diluted, and poisoned, until you're afraid to visit your own son, because the closer you are to him the farther you grow apart.
I love him so much. When he was born, the first year—that was the happiest year of my life. Better than the five before, and I had thought they were unbeatable. But we'd wanted a child so bad. When we finally succeeded...I thought I understood life. Everything was perfect. We had barely enough money to put food on the table, bill collectors at the door. And our baby smiling in her arms would show me all that really mattered.
I look at Peter's face now on the television screen, and I don't recognize my boy. And this scares me worse than any demon he's ever gone up against.
I need to talk to him. Comfort him. Assure him it wasn't his fault.
Like she told me, so many times.
Like I could never believe.
We agreed to it together, she told me, over and again. We made the decision as a family, as husband and wife. We didn't know the truth, and we needed the money badly. It was our mistake. Not yours. Ours.
But I was the one who first met the man, who told her about the offer. And if the mistake was ours, then why was she the only one to pay for it?
It was so simple, what was asked. And we were young, and naive, and desperate. The study ran for only a couple of weeks. They paid us well. And then they disappeared.
We didn't know for nearly a year. When she began to be tired, sick in the morning, we hoped she might be pregnant again. For a month we fooled ourselves. Finally she went to the doctor. Then another, then another, increments of specialists, until the tests were not possibilities but conclusive.
Peter cried all the ride home from the hospital that day. He was only two; he doesn't remember any of it. She was silent as she held him, rubbing his back soothingly, but he wouldn't stop. That's all I remember about the drive, his wails ringing in my ears, and I gritting my teeth as I hunched over the steering wheel, trying to keep my eyes clear while watching the road.
They couldn't give us an exact time, but by their best estimate she wouldn't see Peter in kindergarten. How can you tell a boy that, that the mother he loves so much is an ephemeral gift, that the one he most depends on will be gone before he barely knows her? We didn't. She was determined to be there for him, and I no less so.
The bills were already high, and with every trial treatment they rose exponentially. I took a third job, in the few weekend hours I had between my full and part-time positions—I never regretted not attending college as much as I did then. She worked as well, as much as she could. It helped, but not enough. Not for what she really needed.
We sold the car and moved to New York, that much closer to the clinic that could do the most good. We'd barely been in the city a month when a man approached me with a bargain. An in to more money than we'd need, if I was willing to bend a few laws. Nothing serious. Barely criminal, hardly immoral. I knocked him down the stairwell for his trouble.
In another month the bills were twice as high. And when the man came by again, I invited him inside.
It was so easy. I'd always had a knack for reading people. If I'd trusted my instincts and rejected that offer, two years before...I don't know how many weeks of sleep I've lost to that thought. That if. Eventually I stopped considering ifs. Maybes, possibilities—nothing adds up to anything. Nothing except a sure deal, a guaranteed scheme. Some people can afford to lose a little cash. It doesn't hurt them. It teaches them caution. Not to trust. Got to be careful about trusting people. It's a dangerous world.
Peter learned that. His mother—he had her. Everything else was up in the air. Even me. Especially me.
His fifth Christmas was the first I missed. I arrived late the night of the 25th, after he was already in bed. He had waited up until midnight on Christmas Eve for me. But I'd been in the middle of something big. People are more generous during the holidays, even cynical New Yorkers. The charity had been netting more than we'd made the whole year. It even was legitimate. I really thought I'd done it then. Straight and still in the money. We'll move to a bigger place any day now, I told her that night.
We did move. And again, and again. After the charity dried up, the next one I went to was a little under the level. Someone caught on, sooner than I thought they would. Change of address was enough to get them off track. It worked a couple of times.
I finally decided it was too risky, pulling things off that close to home. Couldn't let it rebound on her, on Peter.
And I was having trouble meeting her eyes by then. They were never accusing. And it wasn't how tired they were. But I could see myself reflected in the blackness of her pupils. I didn't want to see that. In the mirror I looked the same. But not in her eyes.
Peter never knew her when she was well. I mourn for that as much as anything. His mother was always as she was to him, quiet, gentle, frail. Older than her years. But my wife...I remember her young. In my mind, in my heart, she was always the woman I married. Bright and vivacious, confident and gifted, sharp-witted and sharper tongued. I think it would disturb Peter if he knew how much their secretary reminds me of her. We had to sell the piano when he was less than a year old, so he never heard her play. It's a pity he inherited my ear for music, instead of hers.
But he's perfect as he is, my boy. A father couldn't have a better son. Everything I did wrong, she put right in him. I wish I could have been there for him. By the time I tried, it was too late. That summer with the carnies—it only proved that I had been right all along. He was better off without me. I did damage then, and saw how much more I had already done. Enough that even she couldn't quite heal it all. Especially as she was...Peter knew by then, how sick she was. She couldn't argue with him about me; he wouldn't let her upset herself like that.
He's a boy to be proud of—a son to be proud of. I wish I still deserved him.
By the time she died, she had been dead to me already, long enough that I knew I could survive. What was left of me. But for Peter I was terrified, because I knew how much he needed her. How much she gave that I could never give, that he would never accept from me. Maybe not from anyone. I feared he had learned too well at what price love comes.
At her funeral I saw otherwise, and it was for that as much as anything else that I didn't cry. There was a part of me, the father I could never be, that was rejoicing, even if his success had nothing to do with me.
I look at my son's face now, and that last remnant dies. I see Peter, and I see a chasm wider than the three thousand miles between New York and L.A., deeper than the love a mother can have for her son, or a husband for his wife, or a man for his friends.
A bridge is impossible. Nothing could breach that gulf to his island.
I switch off the television. With shaking hands, I pick up the phone and dial.
"Hiya, Ghostbusters Central, you tap 'em, we zap 'em!"
It takes me a couple of seconds to respond, because her tone is far from what I expected. Nor are the noises in the background. Jazzy with a heavy beat—dance music? "Miss Janine?"
"Yeah? Who—hey, wait—Mr. Venkman? Hi! Ya wanna talk to Peter?" Before I can answer, she puts down the receiver and hollers, "Dr. V! It's your father!"
The music is turned down, and then I can make out Peter's voice as he picks up the phone. "--tell you where to put that scanner, Spengs." That's not an argument; Peter's smile is audible, and in the background there's a bass laugh that has to be Egon. I've never heard it before, but it's deep enough.
He usually sounds somewhat wary talking to me. Defensive, or if he's in a good mood, a bit regretful, a 'what have you done now' tone. I don't hear any of that now. He just sounds happy.
"Dad?" Now a little concerned as well.
"What's up? What's the matter?" Now there's suspicion, but tempered by that joyfulness he can't quite swallow. He sounds like his mother. Just like her.
I ignore that, put the boisterousness in my voice where it should be. Old patterns are the easiest. "Why should anything be wrong?"
"It's eleven at night. And you didn't call collect. You on the run?" There's the concern again. Annoyance, too, but he'd come get me if I were. We're family.
"I'm hurt," I protest. "This scheme—uh, this venture is perfectly legitimate. It's profitable for all concerned. It's not—"
"--hurting anyone. I know. I know." Sometimes he'll ask for the details of my racket—he'd never want in, but he's curious, and he'll try to talk me out of the craziest stuff. Though considering his line of work he doesn't have the best position to argue from. Tonight he's obviously got other things he wants to get back to, though. "So why'd you call?"
"A father can't call his own son—"
I sigh. "Nothing. Just saw the news tonight, it mentioned you boys had an accident—"
"Dad." Not concern, but something like it. Compassion. "You were worried about me? They must not have given the whole report—I was fine. Never touched. There was a moment I thought the guys..." He swallows, and I can hear everything in it, everything I had seen in his eyes on the TV. Then it passes. "But we're the luckiest bastards this side of Pluto. Winston knows something about building basements, Egon knows something about proton streams, and Ray knows a hell of a lot more than I would have guessed about pissing off demons." There's a good-natured "Hey!" in the background. "They were stuck under fifty tons of rubble for a few hours," Peter goes on, "but they're fine. Except for Winston, who's threatening to burn Ray's entire Dopey Dog collection if he hears anyone hum the theme song ever again—how's it go, Egon?"
Ray's protest is louder this time, and Peter splutters with laughter as he fends him off.
"I gotta go," I say. He's got good reason to celebrate, and I won't hold him from it any longer.
He hesitates a moment, though. "Thanks for calling, Dad. It's good—it's great to hear from you when you're not in trouble. Yet, anyway. Drop by if you're in the area, okay?"
Before he hangs up, I hear Ray and Janine shout farewells. Then the phone is dead and the room is quiet. I glare at the dark television. Damn box. Should've watched the rest of the broadcast. But I don't mind the long-distance bill, or even the worry. Not really.
Maybe, when this scheme's through, I will drop by the firehall. New York's not that far away. Same continent. They do say the world's getting smaller every day.
Which means there's fewer places to hide. But maybe that's not such a bad thing, after all.
Love to know what you think!
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