Paying off the taxi, the older man started across campus to the building he sought, the box balanced carefully in his hands. It was too fragile to risk breaking this close to his goal.
Dr. Juliana Moorhouse. He had researched her carefully, found her fascinating, complicated, dangerous. Her enthrallment with the occult, the paranormal, didn't make her skeptical in the normal way. She wouldn't buy anything she found suspicious, and if she was more gullible about the paranormal than a rampant unbeliever, she was a shrewd, practical woman. He had prepared himself very carefully for his appointment with her, even choosing the suit he wore with prudence. It wouldn't do to start out on the wrong foot.
Dr. Jonathan MacKensie was the target of his entire plan, but Dr. MacKensie was a skeptic, which was why he had chosen to go to Dr. Moorhouse first. Dr. MacKensie probably didn't even know about the object he carried so carefully under his arm, and if he had heard of such things he would doubt their existence. But it was Dr. MacKensie he needed to listen, and through him, Edgar Benedek of the National Register. His research indicated neither Dr. Moorhouse nor Dr. MacKensie was likely to send for the reporter, but Benedek should already be on his way here. Anonymous tips were useful things.
Reaching the correct building, the man paused to straighten his tie and to check his thinning hair. It felt strange to leave his toupee behind, but he remembered the words of a woman he had scammed two weeks earlier who had told him he looked 'classier' without it. Class was the key to Dr. Moorhouse and if that meant displaying his receding hairline, so be it.
The box he held quivered slightly. This was probably a job for the Ghostbusters but he didn't dare bring his find to them, not after the last time. He was sure they still remembered far too clearly the fiasco of Hob Anagarok, the Arctic entity that had nearly trashed Manhattan, and how his son had had to shell out major bucks to keep him from winding up in jail. Peter had been furious, accusing his father of scamming him. Charlie Venkman frowned. What else could he have done? He couldn't have passed up a promising deal like unleashing the Hob publicly in Madison Square Garden. The entity confined in magic ice had proven to be thirty feet tall and ready to rampage, and it had taken Peter and his buddies to save the city. Watching his profits stomped away by a berserk entity, Charlie had realized he'd pushed Peter too far, though Peter should have been proud to help his old man pull off such a promising scam.
"You'd better not try anything like this again, Pop," Peter had raged at him after he'd paid all the fines. "I don't want to hear another word from you about anything paranormal, not for a long, long time! You got that? You try to scam me or my buddies, you even set foot in New York, and I might just introduce you to the joys of life in our containment unit."
He didn't mean it, of course. Peter always came around, no matter how mad he got at his old man. But he was still steamed because Charlie had taken off for California instead of returning to the family home in Iowa the way he'd promised, and it was better to lie low for awhile. When he found the treasure he meant to sell, and the story he planned to sell along with it, he thought it would be better to let someone else deal with it, and who better than the Paranormal team at Georgetown Institute? The unit often received publicity in the National Register, a paper Charlie perused often, searching for good scam material. Edgar Benedek, the paper's star writer, was none other than Big Eddie Benedek's kid, and Big Eddie was an old crony of Charlie's. He'd met little Eddie years back; the kid was sharp as a tack, and he'd inherited a fine, slightly larcenous bent from his old man. A son to be proud of. Nothing to Charlie's own son, of course, but just what the doctor ordered this time around. The Register would pay major bucks for an exclusive, and Charlie had already dreamed up a great story to account for his finding the object he carried. It was perfect, but first, he had to get past the dragon lady.
Dr. Moorhouse's secretary, an attractive blonde, eyed Charlie up and down with a skeptical and considering eye, and on the whole, seemed to approve of him. The conservative suit had been a good idea. As for his air of sincerity, he'd had years to patent it. He could pull this off. While Liz went to announce him to Dr. Moorhouse, he sank into the persona, preparing himself for the first of his obstacles.
Juliana Moorhouse had an instinctive knack for discovering scams, crooks and schemes, but her first sight of Charlie Venkman didn't set off her inner alarms. She saw a slim, balding man in his late fifties or early sixties, well dressed, composed, poised, regarding her with interest, and she was glad she'd worn her pearls and had her hair done the day before. She set aside the card Liz had brought her and said, "Dr. Venkman? How do you do. Your name is familiar but I can't quite place it."
"My field is psychology," Venkman told her smoothly -- who knows, she might have seen some of Peter's published work and failed to associate him with the Ghostbusters. "I'm in private practice rather than a member of academe, so our paths have never crossed before. I consider myself fortunate they did today. I wasn't sure until recently where to come, but one day last week I happened to pick up a rather shoddy supermarket journal..."
Moorhouse winced. "The National Register," she groaned. "That scoundrel Benedek."
"Benedek was the name," Venkman admitted, glad he hadn't claimed a connection, pleased to know he'd guessed right about Moorhouse's feelings for the rag. "A flashy style to be sure, but he mentioned the fact that the Georgetown Institute had a department of paranormal studies. I'd been aware of the work Duke University had done in this field, but until recently I'd dismissed such subjects as, well, scams."
"Not all, Dr. Venkman," Moorhouse replied immediately, put on the defensive as Charlie had intended. It was hard to attack and defend at the same time; he did a lot of his best work by throwing his marks off balance. Her voice slightly haughty, she continued, "I've done extensive research in the field, and while it's true there are many frauds out there, there is also a hint of the genuine, and that fascinates me."
"Until last week, I might well have disagreed with you." Not too smooth, Charlie, he cautioned himself. Don't go over the top. "But then I realized what I'd found, well, inherited. And when I saw the name of Dr. MacKensie in the paper, I thought it was fortuitous. It was fate." He beamed at her, allowing a hint of deep admiration to peer out momentarily before controlling his expression. Keep her off balance, Charlie.
"Fate?" She cleared her throat and continued briskly, "Perhaps if you'd simply tell me what you've come upon, Dr. Venkman?" He'd been right. She wasn't going to let her guard slip however she might enjoy a little 'sincere' flattery. Actually Charlie discovered he did admire her. She was a classy dame all right. But he didn't let that throw him off his guard.
He set the box on the desk. "Have you ever heard of lucks, Dr. Moorhouse?"
"Luck?" she echoed in surprise, then she corrected herself. "No, you said lucks. Yes, I've heard of them, tokens kept in a family for generations to provide good fortune. They were often ornate items such as dishes or goblets. A legend from the British Isles, I believe. I recall reading of the Luck of Edenhall, a cup from, I believe it was somewhere in Cumberland. Supposedly it was a gift of the fairies. Such things are nowadays considered legends. In fact in this day and age, such old family treasures have often been sold for what their owners can get for them."
"I've heard of that particular luck," Charlie admitted. "I found it quickly when I began my research. "'If this cup should ever break or fall/Farewell the Luck of Edenhall.'" He shook his head. "Quite frankly I thought the rhyme too trite and, well, corny to be believable but, at one time, there was considerable belief in such objects."
The box on her desk shifted fractionally. Dr. Moorhouse pinned it in a suspicious glare. "I assume you've discovered a luck, and that is it," she said. "Nowhere do they report being 'alive', Dr. Venkman."
"No, but it might be possible for one to be haunted."
Moorhouse's eyes held a combination of scorn and interest, as if her fascination for the occult wanted to believe but her common sense fought against it. Charlie decided there was no time like the present to swing into his pitch. "You're correct, I do have a luck," he said. "It was a gift from one of my patients. He suffered from mild paranoia, believed the fairies were out to get him." This much was true. He'd acquired the luck from the psychologist he pretended to be, and he was sure Moorhouse wouldn't backtrack to discover the man's real name. "When he knew he was dying, he decided it was pointless to keep the luck, so he gifted me with it and told its story." Fortunately the psychologist had repeated it two days after Charlie had chuckled his way through a National Register story about the adventures of Edgar Benedek and his university friend Dr. Jonathan MacKensie as they claimed to encounter D.B. Cooper, the hijacker who had parachuted from a plane carrying a fortune. The article was several months old, but that didn't matter. What did was that the name MacKensie was familiar when Dr. Blackpool displayed the dirt-encrusted bowl with tarnished silver overlay and explained in a jocular tone he was holding the Luck of the Clan MacKensie.
"MacKensie?" Charlie had echoed, never one to pass up an opportunity. "I have a friend of that name myself, Doc. A young university professor."
"A distant kinsman maybe," Blackpool replied and told the story. Allan MacKensie was the last of his particular branch of the family, but he, like Dr. Jonathan, spelled his name with an 's' instead of the more common 'z'. It was perfect. The man might even be a distant relation of Little Eddie's buddy. Even if not, it didn't matter, not if he was willing to pay well for such an item. Best of all, Blackpool claimed the bowl was haunted. His patient had been afraid of it, but so far it had done nothing to endanger Blackpool. It moved, he said, on the shelf, and once or twice the doctor had come down in the morning to find it on the floor, curiously unbroken for such a fragile item, or on a nearby table. Charlie described those incidents to Dr. Moorhouse, whose interest was piqued.
"And you came here because you thought our Dr. MacKensie might be connected with the luck?" she remarked.
"Precisely. The object appears to have a life of its own. Where better to bring such an object than a university where it can be studied by experts in the paranormal?"
"Truly fascinating, Dr. Venkman. May I...see the luck?"
She was hooked. Charlie didn't allow himself a moment of glee; instead he retained his businesslike manner. Never shift personas in the middle of a scam, that was his motto. Besides, the way the thing moved made him nervous, especially since he couldn't go to Peter with it. This way he'd have it under proper restraints and make some bucks at the same time.
"Maybe you should call in Dr. MacKensie. If there is actually anything to such legends, the object might be happy to have a genuine MacKensie here for the unveiling." His expression implied that the two of them were worldly enough to doubt it, in spite of the object's movement, but it would do no harm to play along. She was torn, he could see that. She wanted to believe but, because she was not a gullible woman, she hesitated, wanting proof. The object fascinated her, but she had not entirely lowered her guard.
"I'll send for him." She pushed the speaker button on her telephone. "Liz, send Dr. MacKensie to my office immediately. He should be free this period."
Jonathan MacKensie approached his superior's office warily. Unexpected summonses from Dr. Moorhouse frequently led to him being sent off to investigate the bizarre, the unlikely, and the implausible, usually in the company of Edgar Benedek. As time passed Jonathan had discovered he liked Benedek better than he'd once believed possible, but it was frustrating to be torn away from what he considered his 'real' work. He'd managed to discover some unpublished source material from an expedition to Olduvai Gorge and he wanted to work on it over the weekend and see if there was anything in the journals that might help him in his Australopithecus project. He'd planned it very carefully, a quiet weekend steeped in research, and here it was Friday afternoon not too long before he would have escaped home. Dr. Moorhouse had impeccable timing.
"It's not Benedek, is it, Liz?" he asked Moorhouse's secretary.
"No, it's a stranger, a psychologist here from California," the blonde replied. "He's been laying it on a little thick and Moorhouse has been eating it up. He's got a mysterious box that moves on its own."
"I knew it," Jonathan wailed, catching himself and lowering his voice before he could be heard in the inner office. "Couldn't you tell her you didn't find me?"
"She'd only have me phone you at home," Liz pointed out. "I'm sorry, Jonathan. She has a knack for getting her own way."
"Why this weekend," Jonathan moaned, but he squared his shoulders and knocked on the door. Maybe it wouldn't be as bad as he feared. Maybe she only wanted him to meet a visiting professor. Maybe it was someone who had known his father.
The stranger was an older man in a well-cut suit; he didn't appear the type to believe in ghosts and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. Jonathan only had time for one, quick, measuring glance before Moorhouse exclaimed:
"MacKensie. Excellent. Come in. I'd like you to meet Dr. Charles Venkman."
Venkman? That name sounded very familiar but Jonathan couldn't pin it down. Somehow he didn't associate it with natty older gentlemen but with scams -- and with Benedek. Moorhouse wasn't the type to be fooled, though.
"Dr. MacKensie." Venkman had a firm grip. "This is an honor. I've read of your work. That's why you seemed the ideal person to approach when I found the luck."
"The...luck?" Jonathan echoed. That sounded odd.
"A traditional object possessed by a Scottish clan believed to provide good fortune and security to the clan," Dr. Moorhouse put in. "Dr. Venkman has discovered an object which is said to be the Luck of the Clan MacKensie."
"Clan MacKensie?" Jonathan echoed in disbelief. "Do you know how many generations it has been since my branch of the family lived in Scotland? My father was born and raised in London and his father before him."
"That doesn't invalidate the luck, MacKensie," Dr. Moorhouse told him. "I think we need to examine it. The box has been moving on its own."
Jonathan stared at the box in alarm. "Moving on its own?" he echoed. It sounded like something Benedek might spring on him, but Venkman didn't look like one of Benedek's weird friends. "Are you sure, Dr. Moorhouse?"
"I saw it with my own eyes. Dr. Venkman had placed it on my desk at the time, and I would swear he wasn't moving it."
"Let me open it up," Venkman volunteered and began to untie the string that secured the box. When he pulled back the cardboard flaps and drew out enough of the packing peanuts to free it, he lifted the bowl free with gentle hands and placed it carefully on the table, brushing away a few of the bright orange peanuts before he pulled his fingers free.
It was very old. Jonathan could tell that at a glance. Unless it was an incredibly skilled forgery, one didn't see such a lovely patina on modern materials. The smoky, irregular glass spoke of it being hand blown, and the silver tracery that crowned the lip of the bowl was broken in several places and tarnished in the deep and narrow creases. Someone had polished the silver recently but had been unable to reach the fine whorls and swirls. The glass was a translucent blue. Jonathan thought it beautiful; he suspected it was valuable. Whether it was in actual fact the Luck of the Clan MacKensie was another matter.
"Lovely," Moorhouse crooned, enjoying it on its esthetic merits if not for its purported function. She stretched out her hand and stroked the glass.
"Please be careful with it," Venkman said. "It's very fragile."
"Yes, I can see that." She withdrew her hand reluctantly, then her eyes narrowed slightly. "Very well. MacKensie is here. I believe this is the time you intend to, er, make your pitch."
"My pitch?" Venkman echoed.
"Please. Don't take me for a fool. You didn't bring this to us out of sheer altruism. I do know who you are, Mr. Venkman. While you may be a psychologist, which I rather doubt, you are also less than legitimate. You did it well, but then a charlatan would."
"A charlatan? Madam -- "
"I read about the incident with Hob Anagarok, you see," she persisted. "I didn't immediately put the name together, but I have now."
"Hob Anagarok?" Jonathan echoed. It sounded vaguely familiar to him, too, but familiar second-hand as if he'd heard about it as one of Benedek's wild tales.
"A legendary Inuit demon, supposedly sealed in magical ice until discovered in Alaska by Venkman and freed from confinement in Madison Square Garden," explained Dr. Moorhouse. "I suspect he meant to show it from town to town. It got out of hand and he needed his son and his friends to rescue him."
"Son? Venkman?" Suddenly the name came clear; Benedek had dragged Jonathan to meet the Ghostbusters the last time he was in New York. He remembered Peter Venkman. "Oh, no. Benedek put you up to this, didn't he? He lives right there in New York. He knows the Ghostbusters -- he introduced me to your son. What are you trying to pull here?"
Venkman stared at them in alarm, then he must have realized he was 'busted' because he shrugged ruefully. "The bowl really is what I claim it is," he said. "I've got the provenance if you want to see it. It's genuine."
"And you want to sell it to MacKensie for a great price," Moorhouse said as if it were a foregone conclusion.
"It is valuable," Venkman replied with dignity. "And since it once belonged to the MacKensie clan, who better to own it? The fact that I may have made a shady deal once or twice doesn't mean this isn't legitimate."
"Your act wasn't," Moorhouse snapped. "Pretending to be a skeptic, feeding me a line. You're lucky I don't call the police this very minute. How do I know you didn't steal that lovely bowl?"
"I'm not a thief," Venkman said with such quiet dignity Jonathan almost believed him. "You can telephone the man I acquired it from. It's true I came here to sell it to Dr. MacKensie. I have to make a living."
"And I suspect you also wanted to sell your story to the National Register as well," Moorhouse continued. "Or are you in league with Benedek? This does seem his style."
"I haven't talked to Benedek," Venkman swore. "I knew his old man but I haven't seen little Eddie since he was ten years old."
Little Eddie? Jonathan couldn't help smiling at that appellation in anticipation of springing it on his friend when the long series of nicknames Benedek used on him grew too much.
"But this is really the Luck of the Clan MacKensie, Dr. MacKensie," the older man persisted. "It should belong to you. Touch it. See if it doesn't respond to you."
"Respond to me?" Jonathan demanded skeptically. "What do you mean, respond to me?" But he couldn't help his curiosity. It was only a scam, of course, but the bowl was a beautiful artifact; if it weren't a genuine antique, it was an exquisite forgery.
"Go ahead, MacKensie," Moorhouse said sharply. "Prove to this fraud we don't believe his story."
Jonathan reached out his hands and cupped them around the bowl. He could tell from the pure tactile sensation that it had been hand-made. The irregularities caressed his fingertips, making him want to pick it up. It was heavier than he had expected it to be, and the tracery around the lip looked like genuine old silver. Such artifacts were not remotely a part of his field, but he knew enough about them both as a part of archaeology classes and because his father had liked fine old antiques to believe the bowl was genuinely old.
"Don't touch it, Jon-boy," cried Benedek unexpectedly from the doorway. "Put it down -- now!"
Startled, Jonathan nearly dropped the bowl and had to fumble to prevent it from sliding to the floor. As his fingers slid over the erose surface, he felt something stir beneath them, something come to life, and he gasped in stunned surprise when a tingle stung his fingertips, his palms, then ran rapidly up his arms. Drifting from the bowl, a fine mist, damp, shimmering, cold as the grave, engulfed his hands to the wrists. The tingling intensified, surrounding him even as Benedek galloped across the room and wrested the artifact from his grip, dropping it on the desk with a clatter.
"It's possessed," he cried. "Jonny. Back up, quick."
For once unwilling to refute his friend's claim, Jonathan's steps took him away from the desk, but didn't free him from the clinging mist -- or the unearthly chill. Racked by shivering, he rubbed his hands together in a futile attempt to warm them. Deep inside him, something unfamiliar laughed.
"What's going on, Benedek?" Moorhouse demanded sharply, her eyes never leaving Jonathan. Unobserved behind her, Venkman tried to edge toward the door, his eyes wide with shock and uneasiness.
"Oh, no you don't," Benedek cried, pouncing on the con man and hauling him back. "You're staying right here until we get the truth out of you. I remember you. You're Charlie Venkman. My old man said you were a scam artist, and I guess it took one to know one. What did you do to my buddy, Jonathan?"
"Nothing," Venkman denied with heavy sincerity. "I was gonna sell the bowl to him and the story to you. Word of honor. I didn't know it was gonna shoot out mist and surround him like that."
Pushing Venkman into Moorhouse's chair to get him out of the way Benedek spun around and advanced on Jonathan, who shivered with increasing iciness. He felt numb and remote from everyone; although he could see Benedek stop a foot in front of him it was as if a vast distance separated them. Jonathan couldn't reach out across it.
Benedek tried. He thrust his hands forward only to have the mist repel them. He tried again. Once more he was pushed back. The cloud thickened, darkened. Shadows surrounded Jonathan. Though he could still see Benedek, Moorhouse and Venkman, he couldn't see the corners of the room any more. The three watchers stood out against the shadows as if they were the only spots of light left in the universe. When he tried to speak to them, words wouldn't come.
Then the mist thinned again. He blinked, but the gesture didn't feel quite right, as if something outside of himself was controlling his actions. Or worse -- something inside himself. The fog wasn't dissipating, it was sinking into his body, becoming a part of him, pushing the rest of him, the part that could act and think, and defend itself, into a small, remote corner of his mind.
"I got an anonymous tip," Benedek explained hastily. "It said if I showed up here today I'd see something interesting. The caller mentioned the luck. I've heard of 'em, but didn't know about this particular one, so I called a few friends in Scotland to check it out."
"And billed the calls to the Institute?" Moorhouse demanded, glancing uneasily at Jonathan as if she'd realized this was hardly the time to fuss about Benedek's expense account.
The reporter ignored the accusation as unimportant. "What I got sounded wild even to me. Turns out there's this bowl, the Luck of the Clan MacKensie. I was even able to trace it out to California but when I called out there, the guy who was protecting it had croaked. I don't know how Charlie found it or even heard about lucks, but I wish he hadn't brought it here."
"Why?" Moorhouse asked. "That strange mist is gone."
"Yeah, right into Jonny," Benedek replied. "The lucks are traditional protectors of the clans all right. Except for this one. Somebody forgot to tell the bowl it was supposed to bring good luck. The Luck of the Clan MacKensie is a cursed artifact. It's been that way for about three hundred years. So it's never been handled directly by a member of the clan, not since the last time anybody named MacKensie was crazy enough to touch it." He patted Jonathan on the shoulder. "Not that I'm saying you're crazy, buds. You just didn't know any better. I'm not sure if Pop Venkman did or not." He leaned menacingly over the older man. "You're in real trouble now, Charlie."
"I didn't know," Venkman replied, shaken. "I only knew it was old and valuable and supposed to belong to a MacKensie. I didn't know it was possessed, just that I could sell it for a lot of money."
Jonathan doubted he would have cared about curses if he'd been able to take off with a profit before anything happened. He tried to say so, but he couldn't make himself speak no matter how hard he struggled to frame the words. Instead he heard himself laughing although he hadn't meant to laugh, and a cold fear trickled into his stomach.
"It doesna matter," he said, but it was something speaking for him, something overriding all his efforts at control, something with the edges of a Scottish accent. "I'm free, and that's what counts. I've been imprisoned in there for decades and now I'm free."
"I don't think that's Jonathan," Benedek said, his eyes wide with shock. "Whoa. You rented out brain space, Jack. Can you talk for yourself?"
"He canna talk unless I choose to let him." The voice was Jonathan's but the inflection was a stranger's. Jonathan didn't sneer when he talked.
"What's the matter with him?" Moorhouse demanded, peering at him in alarm. Benedek slid in between her and Jonathan, putting out an arm to prevent her from coming closer.
"He's got company up here," he said, tapping his own forehead to make his point. "Just a magnet for trouble, that's our Jonny."
"Is it true?" she asked Jonathan.
"Naturally," he heard himself replying. "You think I relished staying in that bowl for so long? This is much better. I can move, I can talk, I can do what I will." Before Jonathan realized what the entity intended, it gave Benedek a savage jab in the chest, causing the smaller man to rock back on his heels. "And dinna think you can stop me, little man."
"Somebody stopped you before," Benedek wheezed, hovering just out of easy range, keeping Moorhouse behind him. "And somebody will this time, too. Yo, Charlie. You want to call in your kid and his Ghostbuster pals now so we can bust the nasty ghost?"
"I can't," Venkman replied, shaking his head. "They're in Transylvania busting Count Dracula or something. Why do you think I waited to come now when they couldn't interfere..." His voice trailed off as he realized he'd given himself away.
"You are a charlatan," Dr. Moorhouse accused him, peering worriedly at Jonathan over Benedek's shoulder. "You came here deliberately to endanger my colleague."
Venkman shook his head. "No way. I came here to--"
"Rake in the dough," Benedek said. "I know your type. Okay, so the Ghostbusters are out of town. We'll just have to find a way to bust this one on our own." He took a step closer to Jonathan, his hands raised to indicate he wouldn't try anything. "Okay, you've got a story. I'm a reporter. Spill, buddy, and I'll give you the front page of the Register. You got a grievance? Now's your chance to tell the world."
"Why should I bother with that?" Jonathan heard himself sneer. "I care nought about the world. I have a body again." He stretched out his arms as if reveling in the sensation. "I'm alive again. It might not be my own, original body, but it will serve. I've been hungry such a long time."
"Why would I bet big bucks you don't mean for a burger and fries?" Benedek asked warily. There was worry in the back of his eyes but he was thinking frantically. Jonathan knew that expression on his face.
"Blood," purred Jonathan, horrified at the word as much as he was at the caressing sound of it. "Blood. Blood. Blood." His voice rose to a shriek. Moorhouse jumped at the sound and Venkman looked like he wanted to crawl under the desk and never come out again.
"That'll give the coeds a scare," Benedek replied, his tone a lot more calm than he probably was. "Okay, so what are you, McDracula?"
"You mock me!"
"Got it in one, Vampire Breath."
"Don't make it mad, Benedek," Moorhouse snapped impatiently, all the more annoyed because she had no other person on whom to vent her concern and frustration. Softening her tone, she turned her back on Benedek and faced the possessed professor. "Jonathan, can you hear me?"
Jonathan struggled to speak, but the entity wouldn't allow him to utter a word. He could see Benedek watching him with horrified fascination, Moorhouse staring in disbelief, and Venkman trying to edge from the chair. But no matter how hard he fought to respond to Dr. Moorhouse, the words would not come. The entity laughed. "I control your friend. I may have been sealed away a long time, but I am not without power. Now that a MacKensie has touched my prison, I am free at last."
"Do you know anything about this, Benedek?" Dr. Moorhouse demanded, pausing long enough to glare at Venkman. "You shouted at him not to touch it when you arrived. You said the MacKensie luck was bad luck. What do you have to do with all of this?"
"I got an anonymous tip like I said," Benny replied. "It claimed the Luck of the Clan MacKensie had been found and would be turned over to Jonathan today. That rang a nasty bell in my brain so I called over to my buddy in Glasgow, Sandy McTavish."
Moorhouse raised an eyebrow, either at the cliché of the name or as a sign for him to continue. Benny shrugged. "Sandy almost started spouting steam from his ears. Turns out this particular luck has a nasty curse on it. It can belong to a MacKensie, but if a MacKensie touches it with his bare hands, the contact will free the spirit. We all saw the spirit cozy up to Jon-boy. Sandy said he'd check it out for more details and call me here if he finds out anything. I knew I had to stop Jonathan from touching it, but I was too late. So now we're gonna have to play exorcist games."
"Do you know anything about the spirit that was sealed into the luck?" Moorhouse asked.
"Only that the legend says it killed twenty people," Benedek replied. "It might not be as many as that."
"Or it might be more," Jonathan heard himself say.
"Or you might be exaggerating," Moorhouse said. She stared uneasily at Benedek as if the idea of aligning herself with him to deal with the crisis did not sit well, but as if she knew she had no choice.
Jonathan started toward the door. He couldn't control his motions, but neither did the ghost or spirit do it well. He lurched unsteadily like the Frankenstein monster, finding his balance slowly as the entity learned to manipulate his arms and legs.
"Yo, Jonny, no way," Benedek cried, leaping in front of him. "I don't think it's smart to wander around out there when you're haunted by McDrac."
"You canna stop me, little man," the spirit snarled, and before Jonathan could struggle to resist, he felt his hand curl into a fist, his arm draw back and swing, and the impact of his knuckles against Benedek's jaw. I'm sorry, Benedek, Jonathan thought, unable to speak the words. The journalist staggered back into Dr. Moorhouse, and both of them collapsed to the floor. Venkman jumped to his feet, but retreated when MacKensie took a threatening step in his direction. Then, before Jonathan could see if Benedek were badly hurt or not, the spirit made him turn away and wrest open the door.
"No, don't let him go," cried Benedek groggily, still down. "If he kills anybody, the cops aren't gonna buy the possession story, and they'll lock up Dr. Jack and throw away the key."
As if the entity suspected pursuit, he made Jonathan burst out into the outer office, lumbered past a staring Liz before he gained the corridor and lurched down the hall in the direction of the stairs. Before anyone emerged from Jonathan's office in pursuit, he reached the stairway and hurried down, knocking aside two female students as he ran. Their startled shrieks echoing in his ears, he raced from the anthro building onto the campus, feeling the ghost's control strengthen with every passing moment. He tried to fight it but he couldn't resist. The entity was simply too powerful.
Students stared at him in astonishment as he fled, but Jonathan couldn't even apologize to the ones whose books he knocked away as he hastened across the campus as if seeking a place to go to ground. If anyone pursued him, he didn't see them; he only knew he was getting further and further away from help.
With Moorhouse's help Benedek dragged himself to his feet, rubbing his aching jaw. "Call campus security," he told the department head. "Make up a nice story, like Jonny's hypnotized or something. Anything. We've gotta restrain him, make sure he doesn't start a killing spree." Liz poked her head in the doorway and her eyes widened. Moorhouse gestured her out peremptorily and the secretary withdrew.
Moorhouse didn't much like him and she probably liked even less the thought of taking orders from him, but this time she didn't argue. Instead she snatched up the telephone on her desk, dialed quickly, and began to give orders.
"If he can read MacKensie's mind, he'll know that's the first thing anybody would do," Venkman volunteered. "I think he'll get right off the campus."
"Yeah, but he knows this place," Benedek argued. "He might have an idea where he can go to ground. If it can read his mind, it'll want to find a hiding place so we can't catch him and interfere." He stared out the window, trying to spot his friend, but he must have headed in a different direction because the campus scene appeared tranquil and undisturbed. Should a maddened professor, shambling like a monster, have run across this particular scene, it wouldn't be so orderly. "I think he went the other way," he said. "I've gotta go after him."
Moorhouse hung up the phone and it promptly rang again. She snatched it up. "Jonathan?" After a moment, she passed it to Benedek. "Your friend." She didn't seem particularly ecstatic about discovering Benedek had given out her office number.
"Sandy?" Benedek said into the mouthpiece. "Talk to me. We've got a major crisis here. The prof touched the bowl and let the curse free. It took a liking to him."
"He's possessed?" Sandy asked in alarm. "That's bad, Benny."
"How bad? Talk to me."
"Turns out about three-hundred years ago there was a particularly nasty MacKensie by the name of Connor," the Scotsman replied. "He not only enjoyed killing, he had fun dismembering his victims. Some even said he drank their blood. Of course this horrified the rest of the clan. They didn't have modern law enforcement to back them up but they did have a local witch so they went to her. She wasn't strong enough to handle it on her own, so she used the only magical talisman available to her."
"Let me guess, the luck," Benedek said.
"Exactly. She used it as a focus and managed to confine the spirit of Connor MacKensie in the bowl. At least the part of him that was evil. She found a ritual in an old spell book that had passed down over the generations, from mother to daughter."
"I don't suppose it's on the best seller list these days?" Benedek asked.
"There's no word of it. Witchcraft went out of favor. I've no doubt the book was hidden or destroyed centuries ago. I've got feelers out to try to locate it, but I don't hold out much hope. The point is, once she'd done her mystic mumbo jumbo, Connor's body died, but his spirit was trapped. After that, none dared touch the luck, at least none in the clan. It could be moved if handled with gloves, or packed in a box, but if a member of the clan ever touched it, Connor's spirit would be free to kill again."
"I figured that part already," Benedek said without enthusiasm. "Now I've got to go out and run him down. Is there any way to put him back in the bowl?"
"Not without the original ritual," Sandy replied. "I don't think just making him touch the bowl again would do it."
Benedek didn't either. He didn't see how it could be that easy, and Connor couldn't be stupid enough to obligingly handle the bowl. "Try to track down the ritual," Benedek replied. "Maybe what I need on this end is a practicing witch of my own. Maybe there's a similar ritual that would do the trick. Thanks, Sandy. Now we know what we're up against."
He told Moorhouse the story as soon as he hung up. "The only good thing about it is that we know what we're up against," he explained.
"How does that help us if we can't return the spirit to its confinement without the proper ritual?" she asked.
"Maybe it doesn't have to be the exact ritual," Benedek offered hopefully. "Maybe it just needs the right kind of ritual."
"What do you mean, Benedek?" she demanded suspiciously.
"I mean, maybe it's time to recruit a witch of our own."
"You can't mean to rely on witchcraft, Benedek," Moorhouse scoffed. "Superstition won't help us now."
"Superstition is what confined Connor's spirit for three hundred years," Benny pointed out. "It's just what we need. People in Connor's time believed in that kind of thing. If we can't get the Ghostbusters to separate Jonny from the ghost with their proton packs and throwers, then we'll have to do it the old-fashioned way. Unless you want Georgetown all over the headlines." He held up his hands to simulate the headlines he could envision. "'Anthro prof goes on killing spree'. It won't look good, Dr. M."
From the expression on her face, she would have blamed Benedek if she could, but she knew she couldn't. That reminded Benny of Venkman and he turned to the older man. "Okay, bottom line, Charlie. Tell me everything you know about the luck -- right now."
"I don't know anything," Venkman said with a shrug. He wasn't trying to sound sincere; he just seemed worried. "I didn't know it would do anything like that. All the doc said was that it was haunted. It used to move around. I didn't know something nasty would come out of it and take over Dr. MacKensie. I handled it myself and it never did anything to me."
"And it never occurred to you to trot off to the Ghostbusters with it?"
"They're away," Venkman said, adding, "Besides, Peter's still P.O.ed at me for letting the Hob run rampant in New York."
"Yeah, that was outstanding," Benedek said feelingly. "I got a great story out of it. I was there at Madison Square Garden with the press corps when it went berserk. Major chaos." He called himself to order. "Never mind that now. Do you know anything about the bowl that we can use to help Dr. Jon?"
"Not really. The doc I got it from said his patient told him the fairies were after him. He didn't believe any of it; he thought the guy was delusional. But maybe he wasn't. Maybe the bowl tried to influence him. If he didn't know about the curse, maybe he just thought it was haunted. But I bet he did know something. I bet his branch of the family had been its custodians for hundreds of years. And maybe the story got skewed when it was passed along. If the guy was delusional enough, it might've pushed him over the edge."
"Yeah, his elevator didn't go all the way to the top floor," Benedek agreed.
The telephone rang again. Moorhouse snatched it up. "Dr. Moorhouse." She listened a moment, then said, "Thank you, please keep searching." Hanging up, she turned to Benedek. "Campus Security. They were able to trace Dr. Benedek partway across campus, but they lost him. They've spread out to search now."
"Okay, that means Connor has figured out he can't be conspicuous," Benedek decided. "Or he worked out how to fit into Jack's body better. He's probably gone to ground. If he's smart at all, he'll figure he needs to know more before he starts dismembering coeds. I've gotta make a few phone calls, see if I can call in some heavy-duty backup. Then I'm gonna head out there and hunt for him. We can't reverse the curse if we can't find him. I'll check his place first."
"Honestly, Benedek, that's the first place he'd expect us to check," objected Moorhouse.
"You won't need me around any longer," Venkman said, edging toward the door.
Benedek wanted to pounce on him and wrestle him down, handcuffing him to the nearest handy heating pipe but he didn't know what good that would do. Charlie had meant to make a buck, but he hadn't meant this to happen. He'd only be in the way. So he said, "Don't leave town if you know what's good for you. I've got ways to track you down, and if I find you've taken off, I'm gonna run your picture on the front page of the Register and warn my readers you're a con man. I can run pictures every month or so to keep you fresh in their minds. So you weasel out on this, you can wave bye-bye to your career."
Venkman blanched. "You wouldn't."
"You got my best buds in trouble," Benedek told him coldly. "Try me and see."
"I won't leave town," Venkman agreed and hurried out the door before Benedek could change his mind.
The reporter turned back to Dr. Moorhouse to find her staring at him with a peculiar expression on her face. He returned the look. "What?"
"I must say I'm surprised, Benedek," she said. "Can you actually be putting MacKensie before your story? I wouldn't have thought it of you." The worry she felt for Jonathan was clearly visible and now, with Venkman gone, she didn't have anyone handy to blame it on. Benedek felt as if she'd just painted a target on his chest.
"I'm gonna get a great story outa this," Benedek answered automatically. Protective coloration was so natural to him that he could produce it without even thinking of it. But a part of him was angry. "At least if Jonny doesn't ice a few students along the way. Is that what you think of me? That I ride roughshod over him for the sake of a story? He's my best friend. We've gotta get him back."
"I've seen some very questionable articles in the National Register," Moorhouse said. "I've had a difficult task reconciling the trustees to some of them."
"Yeah, but that was different." Benedek waved his hand to dismiss those stories, his mouth drawn in a tight line. "By the time I wrote them, everything was over and Jonny was okay. You aren't usually along on our cases, so don't act like you know everything that goes on. Right now, I've gotta get out there and find him. But first, I've gotta call in reinforcements. Won't do us much good to track down the possessed prof if we can't get rid of the Curse of the Clan MacKensie once we find him. Let me at your phone. Get on my case after Smiling Jack is back."
She stood aside, for once failing to protest when she saw him punching in numbers that were obviously long-distance. When the phone was answered at the other end, he said, "Cassidy? Benny. How soon can you make it to DC? We've got something going down here that'll need your help."
Jonathan MacKensie was very tired and very frightened. As Connor had driven him to race across the campus, the spirit had become more comfortable in his body, so instead of staggering and reeling like he'd been on a week-long bender, he merely ran the way Jonathan normally would, which meant he was out of breath by the time he had crossed the campus.
He could feel Connor prodding around in his mind, getting information, learning things that would be useful and, try as he might, he was unable to stop the entity from plundering his mind, learning where he lived. It was two-way only in that he knew his possessor's name without needing to be told, just as he could feel an edge of the spirit's cold hunger. He did notice the ghost made no attempt to guide him to his car; either the concept of cars was unfamiliar to him or he didn't want to bother. Jonathan let the thought slip away and tried not to formulate it again. Blanking his mind, he concentrated on early man and pre-man, picturing the skeletal structure of Australopithecus and Ramapithecus, focusing on them to the exclusion of all else. It might block the ghost, prevent it from reading his mind.
Instead his action made it angry. He could feel the rage boiling in his head, feel it when the ghost made him plunge up the stairs to his house and let himself inside. The minute the door was closed behind him, the ghost made him slam himself against the wall, so hard it hurt. He reeled away from the wall, unable to raise a hand to his aching shoulder.
"Try anything else against me and I'll make you pay," hissed Connor. "There are ways I can hurt you that won't endanger me, and now that I'm free of the curse, I could kill you and switch bodies whenever I like. Perhaps I could take the body of your friend, the one who came too late to save you. I would like that, I think. I would revel in his anguish at the sight of your broken body, and then, when his guard was down, I would take him, as I took you. Yes, I would like that very much."
What do you want from me? Jonathan formatted the question carefully in his mind. He couldn't let Connor snatch Benedek.
"From you? Nothing. Merely your body for a space. Then I will abandon it and move on, once it has served its purpose. We will not remain here long. They will seek you here. Have you any weapons?"
"I think you have. If nought else you have knives for eating purposes. A sharp knife would be enough to dismember my first victim. Even now I feel the hunger growing." He forced Jonathan to the kitchen and made him open drawers until he found a long, sharp carving knife. "Ah." It was a sigh of pure rhapsody as he forced Jonathan to yank the drawer open so far it came free and hit the floor with a clatter. He chose the biggest carving knife he could find and held it aloft with relish, testing its sharpness with one finger. "This will do. It will do well indeed. Now. Shall we go out to hunt, or shall we hide and wait for darkness? The cover of dark was always good for me before. Yes, we will do that. But we will not wait here. Here, they will search for us. We will go somewhere else. Somewhere Benedek will not think to search for you. Ah yes," he continued when Jonathan gave an involuntary start. "I know your friend's name. How could I not when he is prominent in your mind. You believe he will rescue you. Ah, such loyalty between friends is touching." Jonathan was not a sneering man; it sounded odd to hear it in his own voice. "Never mind," Connor continued, opening more drawers in search of something in which to wrap the knife. "I am not without all human feeling. I will grant you time to say goodbye to your friend -- before one of you dies."
You won't be able to outsmart Benedek, Jonathan thought. He knows more about such things than you can imagine.
"What things?" queried the entity. "Possession? Ah. That will make it doubly entertaining. As for now," he concluded, as he wrapped the knife in a dishtowel and stowed it in an inner pocket of Jonathan's jacket, "we will depart. The back entrance, I think." Suiting his actions to the words, he emerged on the alley and turned left. "Where will he least expect to find me? Ah. A bar, perhaps. A noisy bar."
Jonathan's heart sank. Benedek knew he didn't care for the bar scene; he'd dragged Jonathan along with him a couple of times and Jonathan had found the noise and the people less than entertaining. He tried to erase the thought but Connor already knew. He hurried along, comfortable enough in his possession that no one spared Jonathan a second glance. If one of his students saw him, he'd report it as soon as he knew what happened -- but how could Moorhouse and Benedek spread the story? Who would believe them? If it hadn't happened to him, Jonathan would not believe it himself. Even now he couldn't help wondering if his mind had been affected instead and he had become delusional.
Connor laughed out loud. "I assure you," he said in an undertone, perhaps to avoid giving the appearance of talking to himself in public, "I am quite real. You are not mad, MacKensie, but perhaps you will be, before I have finished with you. I will use you to take my first victim. A young woman, perhaps. Shall I force myself upon her before I kill her, or shall it be one quick thrust with the knife? I will let you feel it as I begin to dismember her. A finger first, then an ear. Ah, the taste of warm blood..."
Sickened, Jonathan shuddered. There had to be a way to resist Connor, but his struggles had proven futile. He couldn't let the ancient spirit kill a young woman, kill Benedek, kill anyone. But he didn't control his own body. He couldn't even call a warning. Maybe, when the actual time came, adrenaline would give him the strength to resist, but he knew he couldn't rely on that happening. Connor would feel the adrenaline rush, too. Until then, it might be best to appear tame and docile. He knew he couldn't present the appearance of a man who anticipated the idea of killings. Connor wouldn't believe that for an instant, even if Jonathan had been able to fake it. His utter horror and distaste would shine through any attempt to dissemble. But perhaps he could appear to be cowed and broken. He didn't quite let any of these thoughts fully conceptualize in his mind. Instead he skirted the edges of them, knowing the one area in which he could outdo Connor was in his mind. Connor appeared to possess a native cunning, but his desire for blood was so great it would overcome rational thought. Jonathan was an intelligent, modern man. Connor would see things that surprised him, even shocked him, simply because the Twentieth Century was new to him. Jonathan would have to take advantage of that.
But Connor was not a stupid man. Jonathan could feel him observing, noticing the cars that passed, the changing colors of the traffic lights, the music that came from boom boxes. He was assimilating the modern world; perhaps he was guessing incorrectly at what he saw but he had Jonathan's mind to seek answers in. As the tools of the 1980s were familiar to Jonathan and he took them for granted, Connor's culture shock was diminished. He still stared in wonder at the sight of automobiles, and he flinched when a jet passed overhead, but he had an iron control over his shock. The bloodlust that drove him was strong enough to override his confusion at the modern world.
He finally took Jonathan with him into a bar that advertised, "Girls! Girls! Girls!" in a garish neon sign. Jonathan groaned inwardly. A strip joint. Benedek would never think to seek him out here, not in such a place, not so far from the Georgetown Institute. And Connor might think to find a victim among the exotic dancers.
What am I going to do? Jonathan thought desperately as he settled into place at a round table near the stage. Benedek, if you were me, what would you do? But Benedek was far away, no doubt planning his rescue, and he couldn't rescue Jonathan if he couldn't find him.
The first show apparently didn't start right away. Connor ordered a beer when the scantily clad waitress stopped to take his order, and Jonathan heaved an inaudible sigh and hoped for rescue.
"The security guards still haven't seen him," Dr. Moorhouse said as she pulled her car to a stop in front of Jonathan's house. "They were able to trace him off campus, but no further than that. He did seem to be coming in this direction though."
Benedek bounded out of the car and hurried up to the front door. His backup wasn't due for an hour, so he'd been able to do what he'd wanted to do all along, hunt for Jonathan. With Moorhouse in hot pursuit, Benny rang the doorbell, finding it hard to believe that for once, he and the Dragon Lady were actually working together. She still didn't like him, and he knew she believed he meant to capitalize on the situation at the first possible moment, but he didn't care. He wasn't even thinking of the story this time. He might later, but that was different. What mattered now was tracking down his possessed buddy before Connor made him do anything unspeakable. Even if he could find a way to prove Jon was possessed and that he was not a murderer, the professor would remember what had happened and, knowing Jack, living with the thought that his own hands had taken an innocent life would be all but impossible. Benny wouldn't like the same thing to happen to him; no one would. But Jonny would be sure to believe he could have done something to stop it and Benedek doubted that was possible.
"It's not locked," Moorhouse said, edging past him and turning the doorknob. She pushed the door open but Benedek caught her arm and went in first. "Yo, Jonny," he bellowed at the top of his lungs. If Jonathan was here, he'd hear them anyway. The shout might call him out. Benedek wondered if Jonathan would attack them, but only silence greeted his call.
"You'll warn him," Moorhouse said impatiently, her eyes moving around the entry and into the living room as if he expected Jonathan to jump out at her from behind the sofa.
"If he's here, he knows we're hot on his heels," Benedek replied. "Might as well put our cards on the table."
"What are you going to do when we find him?" she asked.
Benedek patted the shoulder bag he'd donned. "Try to get him back in the bowl. And if he won't go, restrain him until Cassidy gets here."
"Who's this Cassidy?" Moorhouse demanded.
"She's a spell-caster. Great lady, you'll like her."
"Somehow, I doubt that." Moorhouse looked down her nose at Benedek as if to imply that any of Benny's friends were bound to be disreputable.
"Got a better idea?"
Moorhouse glared at him then began to walk through the house. Benedek gazed after her a minute, then he called, "I'll check upstairs," and hurried up. It only took a few minutes to realize Jonathan wasn't there. He was just about to start down again when he heard Moorhouse calling, "Benedek!" in an alarmed voice.
Taking the stairs two at a time, he raced down, half afraid Jonathan was lurking and about to axe the dragon lady. But when he charged into the kitchen, he found Moorhouse standing there staring at the floor. Following her gaze he saw that one of the drawers had been pulled out and lay on the floor, spilling out silverware -- and big knives.
"Whoa, our boy is armed," Benedek exploded. "This is not a good sign."
"None of this is a 'good sign,' Benedek," snapped Moorhouse.
Benedek thought furiously. Where would Connor head? Where would he take Jonathan? "Okay, here's the deal," he said. "He doesn't know the Twentieth Century, and unless he can take comprehension as well as knowledge from Dr. Jack's brain, he won't think of hopping a plane back to his native Scotland. If he wants to find some poor sucker to slice and dice, he won't hide, unless he's waiting till dark. I betcha dollars to doughnuts he's out there mingling, trying to find victims. But unless he's dumb enough to be depriving some village of its idiot, he won't go any of Jonathan's usual places for fear of being found. So he's messing with our boy's head, trying to find out where he would likely go, and he won't go there."
"So that means he'd go somewhere we would never expect to find MacKensie," Moorhouse said ruefully. Whoa! She'd listened. She'd bought it. This had to be one for the record books. When all this was over, he'd remind her about it but, for now, finding Jonny was a lot more important than scoring points.
"Yeah, and when you've got somebody like Jon-Jon, there's a ton of places you couldn't drag him even if you roped and hogtied him first. But I bet he wouldn't go too far. He doesn't know how to drive -- he might not even get the concept of driving, even if he's seen cars. No, I think the Twentieth Century will freak him major league. He's not gonna put himself into too much he doesn't know."
"Since this is not Seventeenth Century Scotland, I assume there is much he doesn't know," retorted Moorhouse, looking down at the knife drawer. "He does know weapons, obviously, since he's equipped himself with one."
"Yeah, and how's he carrying it? Unless he's got it between his teeth like a pirate, he'd have to wear it in his belt and that'd stick out like a sore thumb. Jon-boy won't have any sheaths for his kitchen knives. It's something people don't usually need."
"We have to call the police," she said.
"Wait a minute. Time out." Benedek put one hand atop the fingers of the other in the classic gesture. "You do that, you pretty much guarantee Jonny's career is out the door. How do you explain it?"
"And how do I live with it if he kills someone while he's possessed?" the older woman replied. "Do you think I want to do anything to hurt Jonathan? I've known him all his life and his father was a dear friend of mine. He's one of the most promising scientists I've ever seen. But I don't believe he would put his career above one human life, and if you are really his friend, Mr. Benedek, then you know it too. I'd like to give you the luxury of time, to find him, to have one of your bizarre friends perform some mystic mumbo jumbo on him and return him to himself, but the clock is ticking. While you're out there going to places you don't think Jonathan would go in his right mind, you could easily miss him. It will be dark in a few hours, and under cover of darkness, Connor might strike. I've already called Campus Security. Even if we get Jonathan back after that and restore him to himself, the trail might well lead back here. I can't let him kill, Benedek. He would never thank me for it."
Benedek heaved a sigh. The worst thing was, she was right. Jonny had an annoying conscience but this was more than that. If Connor killed someone, using his hands, he'd never come to terms with it. He'd know rationally that it wasn't his fault, that he wasn't to blame, but a part of him would wonder if he would have been able to prevent it if he'd been stronger. And the memory of the killing wouldn't just disappear. It would haunt him the rest of his life. Even if they got him off, found a sympathetic judge who believed in possession, Georgetown would have to dump him. Benny wouldn't dump him, and they could still chase shadows, but Jonathan would probably never want to see another 'shadow' again. If they didn't find him in time, it would be the end of everything.
Well, the end of Jonathan and Benedek's friendship, the end of Jonathan's career, possibly his freedom. Benny still had the Register, still had his books, still had his talk shows, but somehow the life he'd lived before he met Jonathan no longer held its appeal. Oh, he still loved it, but it wouldn't be the same. And he'd still have it. Jonathan would have nothing. He might even be sent to prison. Benedek wouldn't stand for that.
"Okay," he said. "You do your cop number. I hope you've got enough sense to be discreet and enough pull to keep them from going in guns blazing. I'm gonna go after Jonny."
"Where will you hunt for him?" she asked, her eyes wide and miserable. She didn't like what she was about to do any more than Benny did.
"You got me. Wrestling matches? Undersea sponge migrations? Strip joints? A-Team revivals?" It was easy to say Connor would go to ground somewhere Jonathan would never go, but Jonathan was a pretty basic guy with a conservative slant on life. There were a ton of places he'd never go, not even if you paid him. Heck, he might even head for Congress and try to take out a Senator or two.
"Undersea sponge migrations?" Moorhouse echoed, one eyebrow lifting in one of the best Vulcan imitations Benedek had ever seen.
Benny spread his hands. "Whatever. Okay, Dr. M. I can see a prof has gotta do what a prof's gotta do. I'm outa here. I'm gonna find him. I told Cassidy to meet me in your office. If I find Jonny, I'll give Liz a buzz and tell her to send Cassidy over."
"A spell caster?" Moorhouse groaned. "Another charlatan like Venkman. What good will that do?"
"What good did an aerobic exorcist do?" Benny countered. "You're the one that wants to believe, Dr. M. So do I." He made himself get serious, knowing it would better Jonathan's chances. "This time it doesn't take that leap of faith. We saw what happened to Jonathan. We know it was a form of magic. How much of a reach is it to believe a form of magic can reverse it?"
"I must be getting old," Moorhouse said wearily. "I almost found that logical." She made an abrupt gesture, then put one hand to her forehead as if to contain the monster headache that must have taken up residence there. "All right. If you find Jonathan before Connor does anything, I'll drive Cassidy to your location myself."
"I'll try to bring him back here," Benedek replied. "If I can get him to come."
Moorhouse hesitated, one hand on the telephone, then she said in an exasperated voice as if it half killed her to speak, "Be careful, Benedek. He's a much bigger man than you are. He could easily overpower you."
"Worried about me? I love it," Benedek said instantly.
As he'd hoped, his irreverent words stiffened her resolve, and she favored him with a near-lethal glare before she picked up the receiver and started to dial.
"I'm outa here," Benny said and headed for the door.
The bar was dimly lit and the jukebox was playing quietly in the background. Jonathan gazed around the place, grateful it was between shows. He'd felt Connor's fascinated disbelief at the sight of the scantily clad women and their erotic dancing, felt the hunger rise in him, both physically and for blood, and he'd sat, hands clenched tight, focusing on the pain as his nails dug into his palms. Connor didn't notice. He was too intent on the women, his eyes sliding over them caressingly, hungrily. It began to dawn on Jonathan that, bad as things were right now, they were about to get worse, much worse. Connor desired the women; he wanted to kill them but first he wanted to play with them, to have his way with them, and Jonathan could not imagine he would bother with anything so simple as kindness or even finesse. Exotic dancers weren't the same as prostitutes but Connor would treat them as such because no woman of his time who behaved in such a way would have been anything but an 'easy woman'.
Connor had been disappointed when the show ended, but Jonathan had been grateful, sitting there taking long, slow breaths, trying to get past the way Connor had felt, the way his physical desire had triggered a reaction in Jonathan's brain. He hadn't wanted to hurt them or kill them, but it was impossible to avoid physical response to the sight of them, what with Connor's emotions clamoring in his brain. He concentrated on the quiet music, the pain in his palms from the digging fingernails and struggled to ignore Connor's chortling delight, his scheming to go backstage and pick out a victim from among the dancers. He had particularly liked a little dark-haired woman who appeared no more than sixteen, but who must be older. The sight of her apparent youth had made Connor more hungry for blood than before.
Jonathan, whose general taste in women was for someone more mature and intellectual, had not been tempted, but he could feel Connor's emotions; they were getting stronger. He had a horrified fear that they would eventually overwhelm his own and that, no matter how hard he fought it, he would be lost in the welter of Connor's bloodlust. He would cease to be Jonathan MacKensie and lose himself to the madman trapped in his brain.
The only shred of reassurance he felt was that Connor had been restrained enough not to attack the dancers publicly. It wasn't a complete reassurance; he could feel the canny, furtive nature of the entity in his brain. Connor wanted to go on killing for a long time, which meant he wanted to do it in stealth and secrecy so he wouldn't be caught. If he could transfer out of Jonathan as he'd implied earlier, maybe he wouldn't care if he was caught eventually. But he didn't want to be stopped until he had a good chance to do his work without interruptions. Jonathan could feel him biding his time.
Would Benedek reason out where to track him down before he acted -- and did Jonathan want him to? Connor might transfer to Benedek -- or he might kill him, reveling in Jonathan's horrified revulsion.
"I like that idea," Connor whispered so softly no one nearby would be able to hear him. "It will amuse me to feel your struggles as I butcher your friend. As I use your hands to wrap around his throat and squeeze, or your knife to vivisect him. Yes, that will be good."
He fell silent as the waitress approached, then raised his voice. "Ale."
She nodded and withdrew, evidently torn between finding Jonathan attractive and finding him weird.
Jonathan sneaked a glance at his watch. It was four p.m. Time was passing and twilight was approaching. He didn't expect Benedek to search for him here and, even if he or Moorhouse called the police, would they spend much time over one missing professor who hadn't been gone more than a few hours or do a systematic search of local bars? Certain Moorhouse wouldn't tell the police he was possessed, he didn't believe they'd feel enough urgency to hunt for him, and he doubted they would accept a missing persons report so soon after he'd fled Moorhouse's office.
"Hey. What are you doing here?" The voice startled him even as Charlie Venkman dropped into the chair opposite him. He appeared different than he had in Dr. Moorhouse's office. The tasteful grey suit had been replaced by one that was plaid, the thinning hair topped by an obvious toupee. Back at the Institute, he had possessed dignity. Now he looked like what he really was, a con man. This was probably the kind of place the older man enjoyed in his off-duty time. "Did it work, then? Did they get rid of the..." As Jonathan felt his eyes narrow and his expression harden the old scam artist's face filled with worry. "Ohmigod, you're still possessed."
Connor made Jonathan grab the older man's wrist. Jonathan didn't work out, but Charlie Venkman must be nearly sixty; though he was lean and wiry, he was no match for someone nearly thirty years his junior. Feeling his fingers digging into the older man's wrist, Jonathan eyed him full in the face. Venkman's expression was stark with fear, and Connor reveled in it.
"Soooo," he purred. "I didn't mean you to be my first victim. I thought one of those abandoned women would be more fun. But blood is blood. Dinna cry out," he added sharply as Charlie drew in a frantic breath. "Or I'll kill you as you sit."
"You don't want to kill me," Charlie soothed. "I know it's been a long time, years, and I know you're hungry. But think of it. People here have seen us together. You'll be remembered. You'll be caught."
"I do not need to stay in this body," Connor hissed. "Only the bowl held me against my will. This modern MacKensie is a host, no more. I can leave him any time I choose. I could enter you -- but I won't," he added as Charlie's face drained of color. "I want someone young, strong, capable of luring in victims." He made Jonathan reach up and touch his face. "This body will do, for a time. But remember this. I care not if it is destroyed once I have left it. I will take you if necessary, but I would rather carve you from throat to gizzard, and rip out your heart while it still beats." He trailed Jonathan's hand down his cheek, then encircled the older man's wrist again.
While Charlie tried not to have a heart attack, the waitress returned and deposited the glass of ale in front of Jonathan. "Your pleasure, sir?" she said to Charlie.
"B-b-beer," he faltered.
"Draft or -- "
"Whatever. Draft. Yes." His voice shook but the waitress paid no attention. She was probably used to people behaving weirdly in here. Her eyes lingered a moment over the hand that still clutched Venkman's wrist, but she wisely didn't remark on it before she turned and headed for the bar.
Jonathan wished he could reassure the old con man, but he couldn't force out words, and Charlie wouldn't meet his eyes. Maybe he was reflecting on his own wrongdoings, but more likely he was trying to concoct a scheme to get away from Connor.
"Maybe we should go now," Connor spoke, causing Charlie to shake the harder. "There's a back way, out into an alley. I examined this place before we entered. I could gut you now." Then before Charlie could die of panic, he shook his head. "No, not yet. Not until dark. And not quick. You will die slowly. Perhaps I will skin you. One can do a lot before the victim loses consciousness."
"Oh god, oh god," moaned Charlie. "You can't mean this. You don't know what you're doing." He tried to bluster. "This is the Twentieth Century. You'll never get away with it. There is scientific equipment that can tell you've taken over Dr. MacKensie. I've seen it. They'll find out, they'll know. My son traps ghosts for a living."
"I am not a ghost," snarled Connor.
"Well, you're a spirit of some kind. Same difference. My boy will stop you. You can believe that. He's the best son a man can have, and he's a Ghostbuster. He'll lock you away in a place you can never break free of, and it's filled with ghosts and demons and entities that will eat you for breakfast. You hurt me and my kid will never rest until he stops you. And he can tell who you are no matter whose body you snatch."
Jonathan felt a tug in his mind and knew Connor was searching for verification of Charlie's words. He had met the Ghostbusters once; Benedek had dragged him down to the headquarters the last time Jonathan had been in New York. He concentrated on that visit with all his being, relieved when he felt Connor's rage. But he also felt Connor's egotism, the belief that no modern gizmos could ever touch him.
"If true," he said, "where is your son now? He is not here to protect you. Very well, I may not kill you. But you will come with me, bound and bleeding, when I take my first victim. I will make it appear that you killed her. They would believe it of you. You're a criminal. I can feel Jonathan thinking you are a dissembler, a trickster. Yes. Far better. I shall kill and revel in the killing, then I shall leave you unconscious at the site, covered in the victim's blood, my knife in your hand."
Jonathan struggled to speak, to resist, but he was unable to force words past the iron control Connor had clamped down on him. How could he reassure Venkman when he couldn't reassure himself? Helpless, despairing, he could only stare at the older man, who grabbed his beer when the waitress set the mug before him, and gulped the contents as if it were water. They were both trapped, Jonathan realized. Time was passing much too fast. It would soon be dark and then someone would die.
Benedek heaved a regretful sigh and left yet another bar. He didn't know where else to hunt for Jonathan but he knew he couldn't stop. Connor might like the atmosphere of a bar, a dark and smoky place where he might hunt for victims without anyone suspecting his intentions. If Connor could read Jonathan's tastes, then the sleazy places Benedek had been investigating might be right at the top of the entity's list of places to go. Of course he may have simply hidden in a public park, or down in the subway. Washington was a high crime city, and there were many areas even Benny wouldn't want to go alone. Jonathan would know what neighborhoods to avoid, and Connor would refuse to avoid them. Benny's task was impossible. He could never find Jonathan in time. Already, darkness was falling.
He'd checked in with Moorhouse half an hour earlier and was dismayed to learn that she had not had much luck with the police. Unwilling to tell them of the possession, she had simply said Jonathan had had a bad shock and might be wandering aimlessly about. The police had agreed to search, but they would only make a passive search; they wouldn't seek him out deliberately, just stop him if they saw him wandering on the street. Benny knew she couldn't have told them Jonny had rented out space in his upper story. The police would have never bothered to search if she had; they would have believed the caller was a lunatic and let it go. She could hardly tell them Jonathan was a killer, not when Connor had -- hopefully -- not killed yet. Still, Benedek had seen a few police cars as he searched, and he'd been glad of them. If Jonathan had not yet gone to ground, they might possibly pick him up. Connor would resist and they'd take him in. It wouldn't be good, but they could pass it off somehow. Much better than finding him bent over a bleeding victim, the kitchen knife in his hand with only his own fingerprints on it.
Benny entered the next bar, whipped out the photo of Jonathan he'd lifted from the prof's house, and waved it in the bartender's face. A disinterested shake of the head was his only response. "Haven't seen him," the man added as an afterthought. "Business has been slow this afternoon. I'd've remembered."
"Thanks. Listen, buddy, this is important. You see this guy, you can't let him take off again. I want you to call Dr. Moorhouse at the Georgetown Institute. He's part of a research project there, and it's pushed him over the edge. He's, uh, something like hypnotized. Made him a few cents short of a buck. So give the lady a call." He passed over one of Dr. M's cards.
The bartender eyed it warily as if it would mutate and attack him, then he set it down on the counter. "Whatever you say, buddy. He breaks up my place, though, and I'm gonna have the cops here before you can say Budweiser."
"Good idea," Benedek agreed.
"Hey," said the bartender as Benedek started for the door. When he paused, the bartender frowned, scratching his head. "Haven't I seen you on Merv?"
Juliana Moorhouse paced. Had she been wrong to send out the luck with Benedek? The man infuriated her. She would have been happy if she hadn't been required to share a continent with him, and she resented each mention of the Institute in the National Register, though Benedek had enough native smarts to keep his stories just the safe side of a libel suit. He was an infuriating, annoying little charlatan.
But he was worried sick about Jonathan. That was the one thing that had shocked her. MacKensie had originally teamed up with the tabloid journalist simply to get through the paranormal investigations faster to have more time to spend on his own research on early man and pre-man. Benedek, in turn, had wanted the prestige of association with the Georgetown Institute. As time passed, Jonathan had gone past his early need to whip through the cases Moorhouse assigned him to something like real friendship for Benedek. She still remembered how devastated Jonathan had been at Benedek's funeral; he had actually cried at Benedek's supposed death.
Until now, Moorhouse hadn't realized the friendship went two ways. She had often found herself angry at Benedek on MacKensie's behalf, believing the idealistic Jonathan to be a victim of his friendship for the reporter. It wasn't until Jonathan was possessed that she realized the friendship was a mutual one. Benedek was flippant, enjoying 'yanking her chain', and she had taken him at face value. The expression in his eyes when he'd set off to find Jonathan had proven there was much more to the man. He was still a fraud, of course, and a very annoying fraud, but he possessed a depth of loyalty she hadn't expected, even if Jonathan was precisely the man to engender such feelings.
As she paced her office, ignoring Liz's attempts to make her relax, she realized there was no one who stood a better chance of finding Jonathan. Undersea sponge migrations apart, Benedek was thinking, reasoning out Connor's motivations. Maybe he'd actually encountered possession before; perhaps the time he'd claimed Jonathan to be possessed by multiple spirits at the Glenbar Hotel was true.
She still couldn't really warm to Benedek; they were simply too different. She would never like him. They would always be at odds. He would keep 'yanking her chain' because it was the way he operated. And she still didn't trust him -- except in one area. She trusted him, she realized, to do whatever possible to save his friend.
God help them all, it would have to be enough.
"Excuse me?" The voice came from the doorway, an unfamiliar voice, unusually deep for a woman's, but the woman who stood there was not ordinary. Behind her, Liz hovered at her shoulder as if she'd had no luck in preventing the stranger from entering the inner office.
The newcomer was nearly six feet tall but well proportioned. Dr. Moorhouse wouldn't have envied her figure in a woman in her twenties, or even her thirties, but this woman was pushing fifty; there was a great deal of grey in her hair. She wore a wool business suit in shades of heather, draped with a wrap-around cape in the same fabric and she carried a huge, ancient book tucked under one arm as if it weighed nothing. The immense tome was balanced by an equally gigantic purse that hung on a shoulder strap, too bulging with odd contents to close. Dr. Moorhouse saw another book there, a pair of garden shears, a partially eaten sandwich wrapped in cellophane, and a small Sony Walkman, earphones trailing by their cord over the lip of the bag. Her face was plain, angular, only lightly touched with makeup, but her eyes were huge and vividly blue. In one swoop her eyes took in the sight before her from the books in Moorhouse's bookshelves to the pearls around her neck. She appeared to approve, which irritated Moorhouse.
"I'm Cassidy," she said. "You must be Juliana." She stuck out a forthright, friendly hand. "Benny's not here, I see. I meant to be here sooner, but even I can't unspell trouble on the rail line." She gave a wry shrug. "Am I in time?"
"Benedek is out looking for Dr. MacKensie," Moorhouse replied, uncertain of how to take this woman. She didn't seem as...garish as Benedek's other friends she'd encountered or heard about from Jonathan, but then she hadn't started casting spells yet either. "We're worried that we might be too late."
Cassidy spread the book out on Moorhouse's desk without bothering to ask for permission. "Let me see," she said. Opening it to a marked page, she bent over it, scanned the text, which appeared to be in Latin, muttering a few words of it aloud. Then she closed her eyes, lips moving as she recited a spell. Moorhouse wasn't sure she believed in spells, especially from friends of Edgar Benedek, but after a moment, Cassidy lifted her head. "I think I've sensed him," she said. "The spirit, I mean. There are still faint emanations here. Is this where it manifested?"
"It sure is," Liz said involuntarily from the doorway.
Moorhouse dismissed the secretary with a jerk of her head. "Yes, it happened here," she said.
"I thought it might. We have to go now."
"Go? We don't know where he is."
"No, but I will recognize the emanations if I feel them again. We will go out into the city. Have you a car?"
Moorhouse found herself nodding in what she knew to be a weak way, and it irritated her. "If Benedek finds him, we'll miss his call," she said tartly.
"No. Have you a cellular phone?"
"I can borrow one." Moorhouse didn't like the way Cassidy appeared to be taking over but, on the other hand, Benedek wasn't having any luck with a physical search. The Washington area was too big for one man to cover, especially when his only guide was his instinct. Benedek was quick on his feet and he did know Jonathan better than Moorhouse had been willing to admit until now, but he wasn't able to detect psi emanations, and this woman evidently claimed she could. The police had come up with nothing so far and probably wouldn't. She couldn't give them enough to make an active search or Jonathan's career would be destroyed. She might have to tell them more once full darkness fell. Even for the sake of Jonathan's career, she couldn't let him kill an innocent victim. If Cassidy presented an alternative, she would have to try it.
"Do you have the artifact?" Cassidy demanded.
"Benedek took it with him. He thought maybe if he met Jonathan he could use it to force the entity back into it."
"Not without a ritual," Cassidy said positively. "Benny should know that. But he must be desperate. I've never encountered him on a case where he was personally involved like this before. I've been worried for him; to know his best friend is in jeopardy..."
"His best friend?" Moorhouse echoed.
The wide blue eyes landed on Moorhouse in surprise. "Didn't you know that? Weren't you here when he called? He was worried sick."
"He didn't appear to be..." Moorhouse started then fell silent. She didn't know Benedek; she'd always accepted him at face value and disliked him accordingly. He was a threat to the Institute, perhaps even a threat to Jonathan, and she had never trusted him. Casting her mind back, she still couldn't read desperate worry into Benedek's telephone call with Cassidy. But then Benedek knew she disapproved of him. He wouldn't put his feelings on display for her. Cassidy knew him well. She might be able to tell.
Moorhouse shook her head impatiently. She would grant him worry. She would even grant him friendship with Jonathan. But she wouldn't put it past him to capitalize on the incident with a front page story in the National Register.
"If Benny has the artifact, we have to go. Borrow your cell phone, give Benny the number. That way, we can be there much more quickly. It's urgent. From what Benny said, the entity might be waiting for cover of darkness. Of course it might be taking time to learn of this century, to understand how to use the modern world to make its killing more efficient. Quickly. Lives are at stake." She snapped shut the huge book. "I've got the grimoire. Let's go."
Worried for Jonathan and astonished by the abrupt directness of Cassidy, Dr. Moorhouse hurried down the hall to borrow a cell phone from another professor. There wasn't much time left.
Charlie Venkman belched. It was not an attractive sound, but it wasn't unexpected, not after the four beers he'd consumed in rapid succession. He sat there shaking slightly, and Jonathan, who could do nothing more than watch him, could feel Charlie's terror. The scam artist knew enough about the spirit world to believe Connor's whispered threats, far more than the average man on the street would. While he might talk of his son avenging him, Peter Venkman was in Europe with the other Ghostbusters, too far away to be of any use to himself or to Jonathan.
"'Nother beer," he called in the general direction of the bar.
The waitress approached reluctantly. As time had passed, she had begun to act distinctly uneasy about the pair of them, Jonathan apparently brooding over his same glass of ale, and the older man frantically drinking as if his life depended on it, or as if the beer could cushion what happened and make it bearable, if only just.
It was nearly time for the next show, and Jonathan could feel Connor's anticipation pulsing through him. He would single out one of the girls this time and, after staking out Venkman in the alley, he would return and lure her out with him. Probably the one who appeared so young, Jonathan realized. He planned to force himself on her, then, when she was shocked and demoralized, he would kill her slowly. He had been reveling in his plans for the past hour. It was all Jonathan could do not to be physical sick at the twisted images that writhed in his brain.
Worse, it was dark enough outside for Connor to do as he'd promised. He'd choose one of the dancers, flatter her after the show; Jonathan didn't delude himself that Connor couldn't do it. He knew the woman would be intrigued at the sight of him since he so obviously didn't belong in a place like this. She'd probably like the accent, too, since Connor had smoothed away any remnants of the odd turn of phrase Jonathan had sensed at the beginning, proof he was from another time. Lately, when he'd contacted Jonathan, he'd apparently assimilated enough from Jonathan's mind to sound completely normal.
Of course there were things he didn't understand, things no one could pick up after a few hours of observation. He might know about cars from seeing them, he might grasp what television did, but he wouldn't take it normally. He couldn't sound completely normal in ordinary conversation no matter how much he preyed on Jonathan's memory.
"Can't you do anything?" Charlie's words were beginning to slur, drink and fearful anticipation making him sound edgy, desperate. "MacKensie -- Jonathan. Can't you fight it?"
"No, he canna fight me," Connor said, letting the Scottish come through as if to remind Venkman who was in charge. "Nae more can you, not if you drink yourself into a stupor."
Charlie eyed the beer in front of him with disfavor. Maybe he thought it would deaden the pain when Connor killed him. Or maybe the old con man was shrewd enough to use it to mask whatever plan he might have. He didn't seem the type to go gentle into the good night. He'd fight, kicking and screaming, all the way. But he was a con artist. It was possible he could find a means of deceiving Connor.
Jonathan let that thought slip back into his mind, not totally conceptualized. Connor may have been aware of Venkman when he was trying to scam Dr. Moorhouse but Jonathan didn't know if he'd been fully conscious, fully comprehending, while he was confined in the bowl. Maybe Charlie could think of something, even if it meant yelling the place down and convincing the bartender to send for the police.
The jukebox died and new canned music burst out, much louder, as an announcer appeared. "Now, what you've been waiting for -- our dancers." He didn't give a fancy intro, simply stood aside for the young women to prance out onto the runway in varying states of undress. They weren't top of the line exotic dancers; this was hardly a top of the line club. The audience, who turned their chairs to face the ramp and edged closer were scarcely sophisticates either. Jonathan had known such places existed but had never dreamed of patronizing them any more than he would have gone to a porno movie house. He didn't think he was a prude, though Benedek sometimes implied he was, but he didn't enjoy crudity or vulgarity, and this place displayed both.
Connor, however, had no such constraint. What 'taste' he might possess was focused on his hunger for blood. As the women started to perform in time to the music, Connor edged Jonathan closer to them, eyeing them with the still-astonished expression of a man who had come from a time when not even a 'bad' woman would display herself so in public. He wasn't shocked; it would take far more than nudity and erotic dancing to shock him. But he acted as if he couldn't believe his good fortune.
His attention focused at once on the dark haired dancer who looked much younger than the others. Sensing eyes on her, she glanced over, spotted Jonathan, and brightened. From that moment, she was dancing for him alone, edging closer, teasing, casting him quick, bright smiles, spinning away and glancing at him encouragingly over her shoulder, turning and moving closer as the gilt and sequined bra was slowly removed. Connor thrived on it, but he thrived so sickly that Jonathan was revolted. He had to find a way to stop the entity. But nothing he'd tried so far had worked.
Maybe if he waited, held back, didn't try to fight, Connor would lower his resistance. Even as he struggled not to conceive the thought, Connor chuckled. "I dinna think you should count on it," he whispered.
I'm going to stop you. I don't know how yet, but I'll find a way, Jonathan thought desperately.
Connor only smiled.
"Anything?" Benedek asked into the telephone. He'd been checking in with Moorhouse every fifteen minutes, contacting her on the cell phone. He'd talked to Cassidy, who had told him the most he could do would be to use the bowl to hold Connor at bay; on its own it wouldn't confine him. Connor could still run, still attack someone else. Darkness had spread across the District of Columbia and he knew he didn't have much time. Waiting for her answer, he crossed his fingers.
"We're heading in your direction," Moorhouse said. "Cassidy feels the entity is there."
"Way to go, Cass," Benny exulted. "Yeah, this is the last place Jon Boy would go on his own. He wouldn't even come here slumming. I'm gonna hit a strip joint next."
"I trust you will try not to enjoy yourself too much," Moorhouse snapped.
"Yeah, right," Benny replied sourly. "Any minute now, Jonathan could start imitating Lizzie Bordon or Jack the Ripper. I'm gonna have a blast."
"It's simply more your territory than his," Dr. M said tartly; it was probably as close as she would come to an apology. "I'm thinking of your friend Boom Boom Molloy."
"Yeah, sorry. Let me talk to Cassidy."
A moment, then his friend's familiar voice. "Benny. I can feel the spirit. It's becoming impatient. We haven't much time. You have the artifact?"
"Right with me. What do you want me to do with it?"
"If you find him before he strikes, try to corner him with it. He will not want to touch it; he won't completely understand the bowl cannot restrain him without the ritual. I have found one I believe will work."
"You have a spell book with you?"
"I have the Aldercott Grimoire," she replied. "It is very useful in cases like these. I've used it to unpossess four people."
"Way to go, Cass." He gave her his location. "Any idea which way I should go?" He could hear her talking to Moorhouse, probably getting an idea of the layout of the city with which she was unfamiliar. She came back quickly.
"Go south, Benny. Hurry. I can feel it stirring. It's very near you, I think."
"Thanks, babe. I've gotta run then. Get here quick, okay? I don't know if Jonny can hold out, and if it axes anybody, he'll never be able to live it down." He hung up and jumped out of the phone booth, gazing south down the street. A neon sign halfway down the block caught his attention. It read simply, "Girls. Girls. Girls."
"Gotcha, I think," Benny exulted and set off for the club at a dead run.
"It is time," Connor said. He grabbed Venkman by the wrist and rose, pulling the older man up to his shaky feet. "Time to set the stage." Jonathan fought fiercely to resist, but Connor only laughed, tugging Charlie toward the rear exit. "If you struggle," he told Venkman, "I'll kill you right here." His free hand reached under Jonathan's coat and he curled his fingers around the knife handle.
"You'd be caught."
"Maybe. Or I might be out the door before anyone awakened from their shock. I am willing to take the risk. Are you?"
"I'd rather in here than out there," the con man muttered, but it was just talk. He wasn't prepared to try anything, and Connor knew it. Jonathan could feel him gloating as he tugged Charlie across the room. No one in the bar paid them any attention; the girls were still gyrating on the stage and every man in the room was giving them their undivided attention. Jonathan realized he had chosen his time well. The waitress might notice, but she was bending over a table, distributing drinks and exchanging wisecracks with an older customer, and she didn't look up as they headed toward the alley door.
Just as Connor shoved Charlie out the rear exit, Jonathan saw the street door open and he tried to hold back in hopes of getting the attention of the newcomer who might not have noticed the girls yet. Then he froze. The man who burst into the bar and started staring around wildly was none other than Edgar Benedek. He was wearing a backpack over his jacket and his face was full of grim determination.
Connor pulled the door shut between them before Jonathan could even try to yell or wave or get Benedek's attention. Here I am, Benedek, he thought desperately, although luring Benedek within range of the knife wasn't a very good idea. He couldn't fight for his freedom at the expense of his friend.
But maybe Benedek knew how to free him from Connor's possession. He curled his fingers around the doorknob in a final attempt to hold back, but Connor laughed out loud and lifted the hand away without effort.
He didn't see Jonathan. Benny looked around wildly, but there was no trace of him. Yet he felt like he was on the right track. That little niggling voice that sometimes warned him of danger had come on like a siren in his mind. Jack had been here.
The bartender studied the picture without much interest, then he shook his head. Benedek's heart sank, even as the bartender spoke. "Him."
"You've seen him?" Benny cried.
"Been here for hours. Him and some old guy. Gotta say I don't care for the type in here, but they wasn't making trouble."
"Type?" Benny echoed, puzzled at the man's tone.
"You know. Gays. He was hanging onto the old guy like they were gonna, you know, do it right here. Then he dragged him out the back; who knows what they're doing out there in the alley right now. I don't want none of that going on here. It's not that kind of place."
"Yeah, your virtuous self-righteousness really gets me," Benedek spat. He yanked off the backpack and dragged out the luck, flinging the pack down on the counter. "Watch that for me. I've gotta go."
"You're gonna attack 'em with a bowl?" demanded the bartender in astonishment but not a lot of surprise. He probably had seen everything in a place like this.
"Or I could always attack you if you give me any trouble," Benedek told him. "Don't cross me, I'm a reporter."
The bartender shrugged and set the backpack behind the counter. "Whatever you say, Mac."
Benedek headed for the pay phone and dialed the number. When Moorhouse answered, he gave her the address. "Get here quick." He hung up and raced for the back door.
Benedek didn't know who the bartender's 'old guy' was but the last person he expected to see when he flung open the alley door was Charlie Venkman. The older man had retreated behind a trash dumpster, his eyes wide with panic, while Jonathan advanced on him deliberately, a huge butcher knife in hand, his face twisted into an expression of pure hunger.
"No!" yelled Benedek. He couldn't let Jonathan kill.
Jonathan turned but there was nothing of Benny's friend in his eyes. Instead he found himself the target of that hot lust for blood, and it was so intense he took an involuntary step backward before he collected himself and slid sideways between Jonathan and Charlie Venkman. Had their meeting been sheer chance or had Connor tracked Pop Venkman down? Come to think of it, this was probably the kind of place where Charlie Venkman would have come on his own.
"He was gonna kill me," Charlie moaned. "He was gonna bring one of the dancers out here and rape her and kill her, and then he was gonna blame me for it."
The two possibilities contradicted but Connor might well have threatened him with both scenarios. Benny gripped the luck tightly and raised it before him like a shield. "You can't stop me, Connor," he said. "See this? It's your prison. You're gonna go back into it real soon now." He took a step toward Jonathan, watching the blade and the man's eyes, hoping for a trace of Jonathan in there. Did Jonathan MacKensie even exist any more? If he did, was he still sane, trapped by a sadistic, deranged killer?
"Keep that away from me or I will slice your heart out of your body. Think you I couldna do it? I can. I have before, with weapons nae as sharp as this." The Scottish brogue intensified. "This is a fine blade, very sharp. One swing and you would be gutted, little man."
"You can't do it," Benny said as positively as he could manage. "Not when I've got the luck."
He could feel Charlie moving at his back, trying to edge away, and said sharply, "Stay there. He'll chase you down if you run."
"And strike from behind," laughed Connor. Just seeing Jonathan's face twist with savage malice hurt Benedek. Jonny shouldn't look like that. He was one of the good guys, one of the white hats. He'd never actively intended malice in the entire time Benedek had known him. But now his expression was full of hate and hunger, and his fingers moved caressingly on the knife hilt. He stood erect and determined, his very posture different from Jonathan's. It was as if there was nothing left of his friend, nothing to fight for freedom, nothing to save.
"Jonny, if you're in there, give me a sign," Benedek urged. "Anything. Don't worry, buds, we're gonna get rid of him. He knows he can't risk the bowl. He won't fight it."
"You lie!" snarled Connor, lunging at Benny with the knife, his arm moving in a savage arc. Benny felt the hot sting of metal across his upper left arm and yelled involuntarily. The pain hit immediately, hot and burning, and the bowl went spiraling out of his fingers, bouncing in a pile of garbage and rolling away crookedly to land upside down just beyond his reach. Grabbing at his injured arm with his other hand, he felt the hot rush of blood under his seeking fingers. A wave of dizziness flowed through him.
"You see? The bowl canna protect you, and your friend can do nought to save you. He is helpless inside, a witness to my actions as I kill you very slowly." Before the injured Benedek could respond, he shot out his empty hand and shoved hard against Benny's chest. The reporter staggered backward and fell as his foot descended on something slippery and went out from under him. He landed flat on his back, the breath going out of him in a whoosh, and for the first moments, the pain of being winded vied with the hot agony of his arm. He could move his fingers but it hurt.
He was still struggling to catch his breath when a piece of garbage flew through the air over his supine body and hit Jonathan full in the chest. Charlie, defending himself with whatever came to hand. A spoiled cabbage followed the first piece, and Connor ducked, laughing, enjoying the conflict. His motion brought him down to Benny, and he knelt beside him, the knife raised as if to plunge it into Benedek's chest. His eyes were hot and hungry, lingering over the blood on Benny's arm. He put his free hand on the wound, gripping it so tightly Benny had to struggle not to scream, then he raised his bloody hand to his lips as if he meant to lick the blood away. For a second, his face twisted with a revulsion that was gone as soon as it came, but Benedek had seen it and knew what it meant.
"Jon-boy! You're still in there," he exulted. "Come on, fight it. You can beat him. His brain is out to lunch. You're stronger than he is."
"No, he isn't. He's afraid to fight me. He knows what I will do to him," Connor replied. The Scottish tones had vanished, though, and Benedek didn't know if it were Jonathan, fighting him, making him abandon control of the voice to retain control over the man or if it meant anything at all. Clutching his wound, he considered his options. A kick in the groin might make Connor back off; it would delay the inevitable, give Cassidy and Moorhouse a chance to show up with the grimoire. But it might do more damage to Jonathan... Benedek waited, tight as a coiled spring, watching Jonathan's face for some trace of Jonathan to surface, watching the hand that held the butcher knife slowly raise for the final plunge down into Benedek's heart. Desperately he tried to kick but he was losing blood and Connor easily evaded the kick so it hit the side of his leg instead of anything more vital.
A scurry of footsteps wasn't rescue, it was Venkman, trying to edge away and flee while Connor's attention was focused so single-mindedly on Benedek. Benny didn't want to give his flight away even if he didn't trust Charlie to go for help.
"Now," breathed Connor, exultant, hungry. "You die."
Benny couldn't throw him off. A strange lassitude had taken over his body and he knew if he didn't act soon, he would be unable to act at all, but he couldn't rouse himself from the creeping weakness that came with shock and loss of blood. He fought as hard as he could, arching and bucking, trying to throw off the bigger man, his eyes on the blade, already stained with his own blood.
The knife reached the top of its trajectory. Jonathan's face twisted, mouth grinning in a hungry rictus, then it tightened differently, his whole face contorting in an agony of struggle. "N-no," he gasped, and it was Jonathan speaking, not Connor.
"Yo, Jonny," Benedek gasped. "You can do it. You can dump him out of you. Go for it. Fight him. You can do it."
"He can't," Connor purred, then Jonathan's facial muscles bunched again. The knife started its downward plunge, but Jonathan's left hand caught the right wrist and struggled to deflect the blow. Benedek jerked and writhed with all his fading strength.
"NO,"cried Jonathan in his normal voice, even if it was a voice full of desperation. "I won't. You can't make me. Not Benedek!" He heaved himself backward. "Run, Benedek," he bellowed. "I don't know how long I can hold him."
Benedek wriggled free of his friend's twisting body, struggling to move the few inches necessary to pull himself to safety. He could see Jonathan waging war, not so much for his own soul, though that was part of it, but for his friend's survival. Jonathan had fought for himself, but because he was Jonathan, he would always put the survival of his friends before his own. For Benedek, he had found the strength to fight, and no matter how it came out, Benedek felt strangely humbled at the knowledge.
Connor's expression ran across Jonathan's face, then Jonathan's, then Connor's again. Benny edged backward until he came up against the dumpster, pinned there by his own weakness and the battle going on inside Jonathan only a couple of feet away. In one of Jonathan's moments of possession, the knife dropped from his hand as if it had scorched him, a moment later, Connor fumbled for it. Uncertain how to help, Benedek thought frantically. He didn't know if he had the strength to get up or even to grab the knife; the only way he could help Jonathan was to convince his friend he was in desperate need of help. So he groaned and sagged back against the dumpster, panting Jonathan's name as if he were at his last breath.
Jonathan went taut, alarm spreading across his face in a wave, driving back the blood-lust of Connor's twisted hatred. "Benedek!" he cried, yanking his hand back from the weapon. Benny wasn't sure how much longer Jonathan could exert control.
A dark shape loomed over his struggling friend, and Benny opened his mouth to yell a warning, then he fell silent as he realized it was Charlie. He had the luck firmly clasped in both hands, and as Benny stared in stunned realization, he raised it as if he meant to crash it down on Jonathan's head.
"No! Don't break it," Benny yelled, propelled upright by sheer adrenaline. He heard yells from the doorway, but he couldn't look away from Charlie as he reversed his trajectory at the last minute and pressed the bowl against Jonathan's back with all his strength.
Connor screamed. Benny knew that wasn't Jonathan's panic but the ghost's as it writhed and struggled to escape the familiar touch of his prison. As if he sensed it would be easier now, Jonathan began to struggle again, his mouth tracing a desperate line as he tried to throw out the ghostly possession.
Latin phrases rang out into the night, portentous words full of meaning that Benny could almost understand. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Cassidy and Dr. Moorhouse, both women holding open the grimoire as Cassidy recited the spell.
Jonathan's shoulder muscles bunched and he threw back his head, yelling confused words. Something about him appeared different, then Benedek realized he could see a glowing mist around him. It wasn't blurred vision because of his loss of blood. It was the spirit, starting to emerge from MacKensie's body. As if he'd been coached in advance, Charlie Venkman held the bowl just above Jonathan's thrashing body, upside down to better collect the spirit when it soared free of the professor.
"Fight it, Jonny, you can do it," Benny muttered over and over like a mantra. He saw the grim determination on his friend's face and knew it was Jonathan's tenacity, not Connor's. Jonathan turned his head as Benedek spoke and his eyes locked with Benny's as if he had found a talisman. Hunching his back, he curled his hands into fists and struggled the harder.
Cassidy's Latin incantation washed over him and suddenly, with an almost audible pop, the mist of Connor's possession slid free of Jonathan altogether and surged upward so quickly Charlie nearly dropped the bowl. But even before Moorhouse could cry out in warning, the con man's grip tightened on the luck just as the mist hit it. Cassidy said a final few words as the mist vanished into the antique bowl, then she let go of her end of the grimoire, making Dr. Moorhouse jerk and sag as she nearly dropped it. The spell-caster snatched the bowl from Charlie's trembling hands and yanked it away from Jonathan, cradling it in one arm as she drew out a silken cloth from the monster shoulder bag she always carried and wrapped it around the luck until it was totally covered.
Jonathan sagged down on his hands and knees, his head dangling, moaning, "Oh, god."
Benedek's adrenaline rush ebbed and it took all his remaining energy to push himself up and edge across the endless two feet that separated them. Raising his good hand, he patted Jonathan on the shoulder, smearing his suit jacket with blood. "Way to go, Jon-Jon," he exulted. "I knew you could do it."
Jonathan's head came up slowly, his eyes huge and hollow as he focused on Benny's bleeding arm. "I'm sorry, Benedek," he breathed in a stricken voice. "I didn't know he was going to do that."
"No way you could, Smiling Jack. But you stopped him when it mattered. I didn't need a second hole in my skin. You saved the day."
Jonathan's face filled with startlement. "You're hurt," he said as if it meant something more than the simple words. Then his eyes rolled back in his head and he went out like a light. Benny tried to catch him as he fell, but the movement jarred his arm unbearably and he slid down on the pavement beside Jonathan, conscious but no longer capable of taking an active part in the proceedings.
"It was a mugging," Moorhouse said firmly, her words cutting through the growing darkness in his mind. "Everybody remember, it was a mugging."
And then Benedek didn't know anything more.
Jonathan's head ached fiercely. He sat in the hospital waiting room slumped in a chair, his hands pressed against his temples, wishing he hadn't wakened up so quickly. The first thing he'd see was the sight of a bloodied Benedek being lifted into the back of an ambulance, EMT's fussing over him while Dr. Moorhouse stood by, a strange woman at her side and Charlie Venkman hovering in the background trying with all his strength to avoid notice.
There were two uniformed police officers present as well, talking to the unknown woman. "...and then he ran off," she was saying. "He tried for my purse and Benny jumped in the way; that's how he got cut. But it gave me enough time to swing my purse around and hit him on the arm. He dropped the knife over there." She pointed to a spot a little distance away, and so commanding was her presence that both policemen followed her pointing finger. "He grabbed it again and nearly hit Juliana in the stomach, but then Charlie came out of the bar so he ran." She pointed to Venkman, who would probably rather face medieval torture than find himself the object of a police officer's attention. "It must have scared him off."
"And what happened to you?" one of the officers demanded of Jonathan as he pushed himself up on his hands and knees.
"This is Dr. MacKensie of the Georgetown Institute," the strange woman said. "He works in Dr. Moorhouse's department. He tried to protect Juliana and the mugger knocked him down." Jonathan glanced up at her in surprise and opened his mouth to refute her tale only to find himself pinned by a pair of very blue eyes. "I don't think he was hit hard; he was only stunned, I believe. You got here so soon you almost ran into the mugger."
"Benedek?" Jonathan asked.
"He's lost a lot of blood, but we got to him in time. It's not a serious injury," said the younger of the two paramedics. "He'll need some stitches and probably a transfusion but he'll be all right."
After that, Jonathan had resigned himself to going with the flow. The EMT's did a quick examination and pronounced him fit and didn't feel the need to transport him, though they suggested he be examined at the emergency room. Dr. Moorhouse concurred, and Jonathan found him in the back seat of her car with Venkman, while the strange woman climbed into the front, clutching the luck wrapped in a piece of cloth.
Jonathan was examined in the ER and pronounced fine, if shaken up by the trauma of the 'mugging'. He wanted to object, to claim it hadn't been a mugging, but he doubted the ER doctor would accept the story of a possession. He wouldn't have accepted it himself only yesterday, but the experience had been too vivid, too real to deny.
When the doctor released him, he returned to the waiting room. Dr. Moorhouse said she'd sent Charlie Venkman back to his hotel. "We don't need him any longer. Cassidy questioned him and he had nothing useful to add. He knows better than to spread the story. I shall call the Ghostbusters when they return to New York, and speak to his son about him. I think we shall have no further trouble from him."
"I know we won't," said the woman named Cassidy. "I talked to him, Juliana. He knows I'm a spell-caster. I threatened to turn him into a toad. He believed me." Her eyes twinkled. "It should be great fun to yank his chain from time to time."
"MacKensie, this is Cassidy," Dr. Moorhouse said quickly. "She's a friend of Benedek's, a remarkably presentable one, if I do say so myself."
"And I return the compliment," Cassidy said, undismayed. She smiled at Jonathan. "You needn't fear residual possession. Connor is back in the luck where he belongs, and Juliana has agreed to store it in the museum at the institute, where it can be monitored until such time as it can be dealt with in a more permanent way."
"Dealt with? How?" asked Jonathan in surprise, wishing his head didn't hurt so much.
"Charlie gave me the idea. The Ghostbusters will come and 'bust' Connor. He can be sealed in their ghost storage facility. I told Juliana to explain Charlie's part in the episode. As a result, I believe there should be no fee."
Jonathan didn't care about fees. He only wanted reassurance it wouldn't happen again.
"Is Benedek all right?" he asked anxiously.
"He will be," Cassidy consoled him. "He had sixteen stitches in his arm. I saw him briefly in the ER. He was talking about what a great story it was, if only he didn't have to change the names."
Dr. Moorhouse opened her mouth to protest only to fall silent again when Cassidy finished. "He isn't going to write this one up?"
"He may, but he won't without Jonathan's permission," Cassidy replied.
"I tried to resist," Jonathan began, still shaken by the whole experience. He could remember the way it had felt to have Connor's warped evil crawling around in his brain, and he knew it would give him nightmares, but that wasn't what bothered him the most. What did was the sight of Benedek grasping his wounded arm, a wound received because Jonathan had been unable to fight Connor off. Benedek could have died and it would have been Jonathan's fault.
As if she guessed what he was thinking, Dr. Moorhouse put her hand on his shoulder. "You weren't in control, MacKensie," she reminded him. "You fought him off when it mattered."
"Then why couldn't I have done it earlier? Benedek didn't need to have been hurt."
"Benny said it happened too fast for you to react," Cassidy said. She favored him with a very understanding smile. "Benny knows about things like this. He's been researching the paranormal for years. He won't blame you."
Jonathan hesitated, knowing that was probably true, though a part of him couldn't help worrying about it. But the main problem wasn't even that. If Benedek chose to hold the injury against him, Jonathan could live with it, but how could he live with failing to save his friend from injury?
As if they knew he was brooding, both women set out to reassure him, and Jonathan listened, nodding when appropriate. A part of him even found it fascinating to realize that Dr. Moorhouse liked Cassidy in spite of the fact that Cassidy was one of Benedek's weird friends. A spell-caster, she'd said. Of course Cassidy didn't look like a spell-caster. She could have passed for another department head at the Institute. Moorhouse probably found her far more approachable than Edgar Benedek.
Benedek... Jonathan pushed away the memory of Connor crawling through his mind, controlling him, threatening him with the lives of innocent victims. But he couldn't push away the image of Benedek, sprawled helpless in the alley, fighting with what little strength he possessed while Jonathan crouched over him, taunting him with a knife he had meant to plunge into his friend's chest.
He heard Dr. Moorhouse talking to Cassidy, her words soft. "...be all right after he speaks to Benedek," she was saying.
"Benny will know what to say to him," Cassidy agreed.
"What...happened to the knife?" Jonathan asked.
Cassidy patted her oversized purse. "It's in here. Don't worry. We wouldn't leave it for the police to find, not with your fingerprints all over it, Jonathan."
"I certainly see the advantages of a large handbag," Dr. Moorhouse responded and the two women began talking again. Jonathan left them to it and sat. He was still staring unseeing at the wall when a doctor came and said Benedek wanted to see him. Then he rose on shaky legs and let himself be led away, uncertain of what he would face.
"Yo, Jack," Benny greeted him as he entered the room, propping himself up as best as he could without dislodging the IV in the back of his hand. When the doctor backed out and left then together, he grinned. "Whoa. All that time on the GI Fencing Team paid off. I've gotta say you're an Olympic class knife man."
Jonathan flinched. Benedek noticed and eased up, trying his best to appear the picture of health, although not even he could will color into his cheeks and energy into his body after losing as much blood as he had. "But not the gold medal," he continued as outrageously as he could manage. "Bronze maybe. Gold and I'd've been skewered." Jonathan's face didn't ease at all, and Benedek heaved a sigh. This was going to be tough.
"I'm sorry, Benedek. I nearly killed you."
"Time out! Back up, buds. Connor's the one who nearly sliced and diced me. He even makes julienne fries."
Jonathan winced. "Benedek, I tried..."
"Tried! You did better than tried, Don Juan. You pulled your shot -- blade, whatever -- at just the right minute." He struck a pose; interesting how hard that was to do lying down. "Okay, so I don't have a body-builder's chest, but even so, I think it looks pretty good the way it is. A knife through it would be bad for my image."
"I'm so sorry," Jonathan began again. Benny heaved a faint sigh. He'd half expected this and it was just the wrong time. He didn't have the energy to deal with Dr. J's scrupulous conscience. Still, what choice was there?
"Yeah, me too, buds," he agreed. "I heard about the luck. I broke every land speed record known to man to get there in time and warn you off, but I missed one too many red lights. Five minutes and you'd have been in the clear. So I guess if I'm used for target practice I've only got myself to blame."
"I'm the one who couldn't fight him off," Jonathan said. He collapsed wearily into the chair beside Benedek's bed and sat there, his expression grimly repentant.
"Course not, that's why they call it possession. If it was something you could take off like a bad suit, then no biggie. That's why they have things like exorcism." Jonathan was listening if he still looked skeptical and very guilty. "Besides, I put it all together. I got an anonymous tip on this one, remember? Or was Connor blocking you on that."
"He could block me talking and acting, but he couldn't stop me hearing," Jonathan replied. "I heard everything everyone around me said. You got an anonymous tip and checked out the luck."
"I think the tip was none other than Pop Venkman," Benny said. "He didn't just want to rake in the bread from you when you bought the luck, he wanted the story to be page one of the Register, my byline, and he wanted Jordy to pay him major bucks for it."
"But the Register doesn't pay..."
"Sometimes they do, but this time they wouldn't," Benny said. "Because I could have got the story, if there'd been one, from you without needing anything Charlie had to say. He messed up. He knew we worked together but he didn't know we were buds. He didn't do his homework. He thought he'd get money from me, from you, and from the Dragon Lady to keep the Institute out of it. He also wanted to lay on the charm and con her into thinking he had fallen for her, because then, she wouldn't make a big fuss. She'd pay to keep quiet. Or so he thought. Little does he know how the mind of Dr. M works. Or anyone else, either."
Jonathan smiled faintly, a good sign. Benny followed up on it. "I'll give Charlie one thing. I don't think he knew about Connor. He knew the luck was haunted but haunting's no biggie for him, not with his kid a Ghostbuster. He's scared to death we're gonna break it to Pete and he'll get read the riot act for what he tried to pull. If you want to blame anybody, blame Pop Venkman, not yourself. You couldn't fight it."
"Because I wasn't strong enough..."
"Dump the guilt trip, Jonny. Nobody's strong enough. That's why it took somebody like Cassidy to finally get rid of Connor. But you're a lot stronger than anybody could've guessed, otherwise I'd've been skewered. Listen to me, Jon-boy. You saved my life. He slashed me before you could realize what he had in his twisty little mind but once you realized you fought it so much harder than he could have ever guessed. I bet you set a record, the most possessed guy I know -- all those characters at the Glenbar Hotel, and now Connor. Those people at the hotel, they were pretty decent types; they didn't want to hurt you and you still couldn't dump them. Because that's how subletting your brain works. But Connor was stronger and meaner, and you fought him enough to save the famous journalist Edgar Benedek. I mean it, Jonathan," he added, his voice suddenly serious. "If I hear you're wallowing in guilt, I'm gonna have to come around and give you a kick in the butt."
There. Jonathan seemed a little better. Knowing him, he couldn't throw it off in a minute, or even a week, but he could get past it as long as Benny kept on poking and prodding in his inestimable way.
"I couldn't let him kill you," Jonathan said. "I wasn't prepared to lose my best friend."
"Aw, Jack, if you're gonna get mushy..." Benedek started, groaning. He could handle laying down the law, but he'd never been good at the sentimental side.
"You could at least let me apologize," Jonathan said, but there was spirit in his voice again. Benny knew he'd have to reinforce it, probably a couple of times, and the best way to help would be to get well and get out of this dump.
"Okay, apologize, but not too hard because I wouldn't have met Nurse Dutton if not for you."
"Nurse Dutton?" Jonathan echoed warily.
"Natural blonde, five feet eight, figure to die for, I swear to god violet eyes. And she's hot for me. She's gonna be in later to give me my bath. I can hardly wait."
"Benedek!" groaned Jonathan.
"And I think she's got a sister." Benedek dangled the threatening words in front of Jonathan like a bullfighter waving a red cape.
"No! I still remember the party you wanted to throw in Hooperville. No sisters. No room parties."
"I thought that might do it," Benedek replied. "Nurse Dutton's nearly sixty, face like the back of a bus." He grinned. "Never mind. I'm gonna get a great story out of this, the way you heroically saved me from the curse of Seventeenth Century Scotland. All you needed was a kilt. I don't suppose you've got a MacKensie clan kilt you could put on for the photo op? It'd go over great with my readers, specially if it was blurry enough that we didn't have to see your knees in sharp detail."
"Really, Benedek!" Jonathan was getting into his stride now. That expression of total disapproval was much more natural.
So he brought in his big guns. "And I've got Dr. M's permission to send for the Ghostbusters the minute they get back from chasing vampires in Transylvania. They're gonna bust the luck; they know just how to draw a ghost out of a haunted object. We'll put the picture of them doing it right next to the one of you in your kilt. Have you got a sporran? Do you know what a sporran is?"
"Of course I know what a sporran is -- "Jonathan began.
"Yep, it's that hairy thing that hangs down between a Scotsman's legs," Benny said, knowing that would get Jonathan if anything did. "Too bad Moorhouse isn't here. She'd just love that description."
"Yes, the way she loves the black death," Jonathan replied. Ignoring the sporran description as beneath his dignity he cast about for an answer, then suddenly he grinned wickedly. Benedek was delighted; it meant the Jonathan he knew was still there, even if a little repressed by the incident. "But that's all right -- little Eddie."
"Oh, no. Charlie told you about that?" He'd spent years trying to live down that particular nickname, patenting his 'Call me Benny, Edgar's for the press' line, so he wouldn't have to put up with 'little Eddie' ever again.
"I'm glad he did," Jonathan replied with a touch of his old savoir faire. "After all, you're so fond of nicknames, I think it's past time I returned the favor."
© Sheila Paulson. The contents of this page may not be copied or reproduced without the author's express written permission.
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