Peter Venkman raised his head and looked around. When he was satisfied that the noises he'd heard were just the normal morning din of the neighborhood, he went back into the huddle.
"Okay. False alarm. Everybody got their assignments? Ray, you're on lipstick watch. Collar, tie, suspenders. If you spot it on cheek or lips, take pictures. Winston, you keep an eye out for any special deliveries, you know - chocolates, flowers, lingerie ..."
"Lingerie? Peter, are you sure you didn't wake up crazy?"
"I've got a better question. Can we stand up now? My back's starting to cramp up."
"C'mon, Ray. It's the huddle!" Peter slapped the redhead's back, giving a half-apologetic shrug when the other man winced. "We're in the huddle!"
"Peter, we're in headquarters, not in the Meadowlands on the 50-yard line. " Winston unbent himself and stretched. "And Janine's due in any minute."
"Exactly! That's why we've gotta get the assignments set up now." He clapped his hands briskly, regretting that he didn't have a whistle to blow. "So, everybody know what they're doing?"
"Sure, we know what you want us to be doing," said Ray, getting vertical, and massaging the small of his back. "but we don't know how you want us doing it."
"Forget how. Let's go over why." Winston crossed his arms. "Checking the man's clothes for lipstick, Peter? That's jealous girlfriend stuff."
Ray nodded. "Yeah, if Egon and Janine really are seeing each other, there's got to be a good reason they haven't told anybody."
"Like not wanting their laundry rifled or interrogating the mailman."
"Guys, guys." Peter held up his hands. "We're a ... family here, wouldn't you say?"
"And families know each other inside and out, right? Know everything about each other, don't they?"
"No." Winston's voice was firm. "Not everything."
"Oh no?" Peter's tone was blithe. "So, I don't know about that special cologne you use on your big dates, Zed, or that you put on exactly three splashes on -- no more, no less?"
Winston blinked. "You're scaring me, man."
Peter turned to Ray. "And we don't know about those, uh, interesting dreams you have about Vanna White?"
Ray went scarlet. "That was just one time! Okay ... twice, but it was part of the same dream!"
"And we all don't know how many Ding-Dongs it takes to get Egon bouncing around like a split atom?"
"Or that you wanted to get a tattoo of Tom Jones on your shoulder?"
Peter paused. "That was different. That was just a flight of foolish, youthful fancy."
"Peter, that was three weeks ago."
The psychologist cleared his throat. "My point, gentlemen, is that in a setup like this, there can be no secrets. And among friends, there shouldn't be any. Surprises are okay. Surprises can be fun. Hints are also pretty cool. I like puzzles, and puzzles are full of hints. But nothing good ever comes of secrets."
"I wouldn't say that, exactly," said Ray. "They came in pretty handy when were on Dib Devlin's game show."
"That was different. That was a matter of life and death. That was ..." Peter made a face. "Still disgusting! I can't believe you ate that cookie, Ray!"
"Aw, c'mon, I wasn't thinking! And it's not like we all haven't tasted a little slime before. Slimer kisses you on the mouth Peter! And if he uses tongue --"
"Look, can I just say something before this conversation gets even more disturbing?" Winston looked decidedly ill. "First off, I don't know if Egon and Janine have been getting together --"
"You don't know? Are you serious? They were all over each other yesterday!" Peter was incredulous. "Hand-holding, hugging -- and once when I looked over, Egon was almost on top of her!"
"Uh-huh. Could that possibly have had something to do with the fact that the metamorph thing could've fried any of us when he turned into one of the beams?"
He was quiet a moment. "A likely excuse. I'm almost positive they were in that position before the thing even got to them. Not to mention that Spengs crept out of here around 9 p.m. last night and got back in after we all went beddy-bye."
"How do you know that?" asked Ray. "When I got up, he wasn't in bed at all."
Peter's head whipped round, his eyes going huge in almost indecent delight.
"You're kidding! Then it might've been a sleepover ... wonder if he took his nightcap --"
"Peter, cut it out." Ray looked slightly chagrined, as if regretting having let that piece of information slip. "He was probably in the lab or something checking on the transdimensional portal. And his nightcap was on his bed, so ..."
Winston shook his head. "See, you just reminded me of why I don't agree with that 'Secrets, baaaaaaaad' stuff. Some secrets are necessary. Look, say they are together. Janine's our receptionist. Egon's her boss --"
"Uh-uh, hold up." Peter made the time-out gesture. "Technically, I'm her boss. I hired her. I sign her checks. I deny, er, I mean, consider her raise requests ..."
"All right, fine, whatever. But Egon is still one of the owners of the company," said Winston. "That's a tricky power dynamic and I could understand them not wanting to rock the boat during business hours. For what? So that the rest of us could stand around and try to figure out just what they're doing and what they might do next?"
Ray cleared his throat. "Um .. like we're doing now?"
"Exact -- oh, damn. Yeah. Good looking out, Ray." Winston shifted uncomfortably. "Listen, I read somewhere that when employees find out who their boss is sleeping with, they lose something like 85 percent of their authority in the office."
"I could see that maybe in a typical workplace, but most people don't live with the folks they clock in and out with," said Peter. "But Egon's authority here will be the same level it's always has been."
Ray looked thoughtful. "So, slightly above Slimer, but slightly below, say, a moldy Twinkee?"
Peter made a face. "You're a funny man when you're uncaffeinated, Ray."
"In the service, everybody knew about the no-fraternization clauses and the consequences if they got caught," said Winston. "But were there people breaking the rules? Sure. And usually, the women kept quieter about what was going on than the men did, even the ones who weren't involved in anything. They didn't want their professionalism to be called into question. They wanted to be seen as Marines, not as on-base entertainment. Janine's a professional, Peter. She's got an image to maintain, too. She might not want us in her business because she might think we won't take her seriously. She might even think her job could be at stake if things go south."
"C'mon. Big J knows better than that. Fire her? Hell, I'd pin a medal on her! Anybody who could get Egon to loosen up the suspenders a little bit would deserve one."
Peter's smile faded under the unimpressed grimaces on his friends' faces. "Okay, okay. Look. I get what you guys are saying. It's not like I want diagrams or anything --"
"Peter, you want proof of lipstick marks!"
"It was just a suggestion, Ray, geez!" He shrugged expansively. "All right, fine, forget all that. It won't be necessary anyway. Sooner or later, it'll all come out. A kiss when they think nobody's looking. Meaningful glances across the room. Loaded conversations --"
"Man, this is a business, not 'Moonlighting.'" Winston shook his head. "I'll go on record right now and say I don't think anything's going on, but if it is, they're being real smooth about it. I think it's better to keep it that way."
"I'm with Winston," said Ray. "Unless either of them actually says something, I think they're just friends."
"Then what about all the grabby-grabby yesterday?" Peter waggled his brows. "And just where'd Egon go last night?"
"It was a rough day yesterday and we were all rattled," said Winston. "Janine actually saw her double -- that'd be enough to freak out anybody. Egon was just calming her down."
"And he might've gone for a walk last night," said Ray. "He does that sometimes when he's trying to work the kinks out of a new tool. Maybe you were just asleep when he came back."
Peter made a dismissive sound. A walk? Sure. A walk down to the Manhattan Bridge, over into Brooklyn, and into a certain geranium-free apartment.
But Peter sighed silent in defeat. It was clear that Ray and Winston weren't going to go along with his reconnaissance plan and he couldn't be everywhere at once. It had occurred to him to bribe Slimer to keep his eyes open for any developments, but the Spud couldn't keep his mouth shut -- literally.
"Maybe you're right." He shrugged one shoulder. "Who knows? Maybe it's all just a lot of coincidences. I think there's something going on, but ..."
"Pete, if there is, let's not pry it out. Let them come to us when they're ready."
"Knowing Egon, that'll be just before the winter of 2011," Peter muttered. "Fine. You guys win. I'm standing down. But the minute I see a liplock, I expect some apologies and a couple of pizzas. Speaking of which, I wonder if there's of that pie left over from dinner yesterday. Cold pizza: The true breakfast of champions!"
Ray and Winston watched Peter jog up the stairs whistling the theme to "Rocky." When he was gone, Winston laughed softly and knocked Ray on the shoulder.
"Well? What do you think?"
Ray shook his head slowly. "Are you kidding? There's no way there's any left. Double pepperoni-black olive is Slimer's favorite."
"No, I mean about Egon and Janine. D'you think they're ...?"
Ray considered a moment, then shrugged. "I really don't know. I didn't see any of the stuff yesterday that Peter talked about. We had that false alarm in Long Island, then I was working with Egon on the portal, then that copycat mess started."
"Yeah, I was too busy trying to not get my ass handed to me by a comic book character to notice anything, either." Winston glanced up toward the stairs. "Think we were too tough on him?"
"He'll get over it. Besides, you know how Peter is. I think he was kidding about that reconnaissance stuff, anyway. Well, some of it. I hope."
"Hm, I dunno. He had it planned out a little too well for me to believe that, but maybe."
Winston yawned, eyeing the clock. "Huh, it's after nine-thirty. It's not like Janine to be this late."
"Could be a problem on the subway. Janine told me earlier they were doing track work at the Court Street station. Snarls everything up." Ray inclined his head toward the door. "Feel like getting some bagels or something? I think the Spud ate the last of the Frosted Flakes, and I'm getting hungry now, too."
A ruckus coming from the direction of the kitchen made them both look up. The rising sounds of an aggrieved Peter and incoherent blubbering was punctuated by an unsettling squishing noise that usually resulted from a ghost attempting to stuff itself into the refrigerator without opening the door first.
"Sounds like you were right about that pizza," said Winston, grinning. "Sure, sounds like a plan. Maybe something in his stomach will get Pete's mind right."
"Works for me. Y'know, I'm a little surprised at him," said Ray as they shrugged into their jackets. "Egon never really talked about his love life or anything, even when we were at Columbia. He had a couple of girlfriends, but we almost never knew about any of them until the relationship was over. Egon was amazing at keeping that stuff close to the vest."
"Soul of discretion," said Winston with an approving nod, reaching for the doorknob. "Man after my own heart --"
Ray and Winston stopped dead. Blinked. They looked at each other with a mixture of disbelief and discomfiture and blinked again. They ran through that sequence once more and then again turned their attention to the doorway.
For their part, Janine and Egon weren't looking at anything in particular, which made sense, as their eyes were tightly shut. They weren't saying much of anything, either, which was logical, since speech would have required them to unfuse their mouths. They were framed perfectly in the doorway, arms wound around each other's necks in a clinch worthy of a Hollywood film. Complete with sound effects.
Winston cleared his throat dramatically. "Ahem."
There was no response. Well, nothing approximating speech, anyway. There were a series of sounds ranging from squeaks to moans, but Winston was sure they weren't in response to him.
Discomfited, Winston leaned toward Ray. "I think we definitely might have a lipstick sighting," he murmured.
"Boy, I'll say!" Ray's eyes were the size of dinner plates. "Uh ... guys? Hello?"
The conjoined mass that was Egon and Janine shifted slightly, pulling apart with marked reluctance.
Egon's eyes never left Janine's face. "Good morning, Winston. Ray."
"Hi, guys." Janine's fingers were entwined in Egon's hair. "Any calls?"
"Uh, no. No calls yet." Winston's eyes went to Ray, who lifted his hands in a helpless gesture. "We were ... just about to grab some chow."
"Yeah, um, can we get you anything?"
"No, thank you," said Egon, smiling muzzily at Janine. "We've already had quite a substantial ... breakfast."
"Mmmhmmm ..." Janine sounded somewhat breathless. "Quite."
Ray and Winston regarded each other in mild terror.
"We're leaving that one alone," Winston muttered beneath his breath. The redhead nodded vigorously.
"Ah, I nearly forgot." Egon unearthed a red-and-white striped box and passed it over Janine's shoulder in the general direction of the doorway. "Donuts. Quite good. Freshly baked."
Winston took the box in nerveless fingers. "Uh, thanks. You saved us a trip. We were gonna get bagels."
"Mmm ..." Egon's expression clearly indicated that he had about as much interest in bagels at that moment as he had in soap scum.
"Egon ..." Janine's fingers traveled up the scientist's sleeve and came to rest close to his collarbone. "I just remembered; I think we might be out of coffee ..."
Ray frowned. "I don't think so --"
Egon's eyes snapped open wide, and his face took on the mushy quality of a person who'd expected a pair of socks for Christmas but found a pony instead. It suddenly occurred to Winston that he could only see one of Janine's hands.
"Janine, I think you're right. Those donuts are utterly useless without coffee."
For almost the first time, Egon turned his attention to Ray and Winston. "We're, ah, going to get some. Coffee, that is. Yes. We're going to get some coffee." He spoke very deliberately, as if he were having some difficulty remembering how to speak in complete sentences. "From the, ah, place down the street. We'll be back ... momentarily."
"Bye, guys." In one fluid movement, Janine reached for the door handle and pulled it to. As the door inched shut, the distance between Egon and Janine's lips seemed to dissipate. The door clanged just as their mouths were making their final approach.
And then all was silence. Blessed silence, devoid of sucking sounds, sighs, or wandering hands.
Ray was the first to speak. "Uh, Winston, did we just see --"
"Yeah, Ray. We did."
"And was Egon talking about that coffee shop down the street that's closed on Wednesdays?"
"Yeah, Ray. He was."
"So Peter was right."
"Yeah." Winston scowled. "I hate when that happens."
"Hate when what happens?"
Ray and Winston spun around. Peter, bespattered with ectoplasm, was walking down the stairs, rubbing his hair with a towel covered in green goo.
"What happened to you?"
"Ugh!" Peter frantically scrubbed at his head rather ineffectively with the sodden towel. "Slimer talked me into arm-wrestling him for the last blueberry muffin."
"Did you win?"
"Technically, yeah. But even winning feels like losing." Peter gestured at his clothes. "And the little goober ate it anyway. Hey ... Janine's not in yet?"
"Uhhhh ..." Ray bit his lip. In his periphery, he could see Winston's head make a quick, negative motion. "Janine was here. She had to ... run a quick errand. She'll be back in a min -- in a ... while."
"No calls yet, huh? Geez, how is it this stuff gets everywhere?" Peter shucked his shirt and tossed it over his shoulder and down into the basement, wrapping the towel around his neck. "Anybody seen Spengs? He's not in his lab, not in the T.V. room, not in the kitchen, not in the bunkroom ..."
"Egon was ... outside." Winston said, glancing almost fearfully at the closed door. "He, uh, was up early, it looks like."
"Oh, really ...?" Peter's eyes were eager. "So did they come in together or what?"
"Uh ..." Ray shot Winston a questing glance, and Winston sent his answer via a tipped eyebrow. "No. No they didn't come in. Together, I mean."
Winston nodded solemnly. Perfectly true. Neither of them had stepped foot -- or any other body part -- inside headquarters. "Nope."
"You notice anything ... incriminating?"
Ray squirmed. "Uh, well ..."
"At ease, Tex." Peter clapped him on the shoulder. "I'm not asking about lipstick stains or anything like that, I swear."
Peter made a short gesture over his heart. "Scout's honor."
"Oh." Ray visibly relaxed. "Well, I guess that answers your question then."
It ... does? "Uh, okay." Peter squinted and looked quickly around. "Where is Egon?"
"Went to get coffee," said Winston. "Said we were out."
"What? We just got coffee. He picked it up himself yesterday."
"Oh, well ... Egon did seem a little ... distracted this morning."
Peter laughed and shook his head. "Sounds like he was up trying to work out the Poincaré conjecture again. You see why I want this man to have a social life?" He looked at Winston. "Hey, what're those?"
"Huh?" Winston followed the line of Peter's gaze and looked down. "Oh. Donuts. Egon brought picked them up." He set the box on Janine's desk. "They're fresh, so get 'em while they're hot, man."
"Shhhh! Not so loud! I want to have some kind of breakfast this morning." Peter opened the box and inhaled. "Ahhhhh ... glazed and jelly! Spengs knows me so well."
"Enjoy, Pete. I'm gonna make some of that coffee we have so much of. I have a feeling I'm gonna need it today."
"You know what, Winston? I think I'll join you," said Ray. "Peter, could you bring the donuts up to the kitchen?"
"I suppose." His voice was grumpy as he envisioned Slimer getting his goopy paws on them. "Think we should save some for Egon? Or Janine?"
"Uh ... I think they've had enough for one morning." Ray said in a low voice. Winston sputtered with laughter but covered it up with a series of coughs.
Peter gave them an odd look but decided he'd rather have another donut than probe it further. Still snickering, Winston and Ray headed for the upper level.
Winston looked down from the stairs. "Hey, Peter?"
"What you said about there being no secrets in this place? I think ... you might be right about that."
Peter grinned. "You rethinking my plan?"
"No." A strange smile crossed Winston's face. "Just an observation."
He looked over at Ray and winked. The younger man compressed his lips and gave the ceiling his undivided attention as they continued up the stairs.
"You'll see!" Peter called after them. "I'll be vindicated. But don't worry. I promise you guys won't be the last to know!"
He frowned at a sudden burst of raucous laughter coming from above. There was a strange thumping noise that sounded strangely like someone rolling around on the floor banging their fists.
"Weirdoes," Peter mumbled and picked up the box of donuts. They were delicious and he snagged another, admiring Egon's taste. The man did know his sweets. Renelli's was one of the best bakeries in Brooklyn, and their donuts were legendary --
Peter stopped in midchew. His eyes snapped on the label of the gaily striped box, the still-warm donuts making the palms of his hands sweaty.
"Hey, wait a minute --"