"I'm just curious. What, exactly, was wrong with the last one?"
"Are you kidding me? The bathrooms were like broom closets. The spaces were so tight you'd need an oxygen mask just to stand at the sink!"
Egon Spengler looked incredulous and started to speak, but appeared to think better of it and found a fascinating spot on the sidewalk to study.
Janine Melnitz caught his disbelieving glance and abrupt slide into silence and stopped walking.
"What? What'd I say?"
"Nothing." Egon shifted uncomfortably. "Never mind. Er, isn't this the address?" He nodded toward a stately brownstone with begonias and a "For Rent" sign in the windowsill.
Janine glanced over and then checked the newspaper she held.
"Spacious walkup, pre-war construction, on quiet, tree-lined street. Must-see," she intoned. "Yeah, that looks like it. But it's 75 years old, Egon -- I'm sure it'll still be there in another five minutes. I know that look ... what is it?"
"It's simply ..." Egon paused to consider his words. "You said bathrooms. Bathrooms, plural."
"Yes. There was more than one. I can count. And?"
"It's just a little odd for someone who has to share a rather small bathroom with three people and a ghost to hear a complaint about an apartment containing two bathrooms being unacceptable."
"You call them bathrooms; I say they were shoe boxes with indoor plumbing. Besides, at least Slimer's housebroken, which is more than I can say for that Shar Pei we saw next door."
But she sighed heavily, combing her hair away from her face. "Do you really think I'm being unreasonable? Should I have taken that place?"
"Not if you didn't like it. I was just wondering, since it seemed to have so many other attributes you found agreeable."
"Like those windows. Great exposure. The breakfast nook." Her chin wobbled. "God, what've I done? I should've taken it!"
"Janine, I --"
"I'm such an idiot!" she wailed, burying her face in her hands. "You're right! Two bathrooms! And a breakfast nook, Egon! A nook!"
"Janine, it isn't --"
"What if I hate that place?" She inclined her head so sharply toward the building Egon feared her neck might snap. "What if the neighbors are loud? What if the heat doesn't work? What if somebody was murdered in there?"
"Hmmm." He unearthed his PKE meter from the pocket of his coveralls and pointed it at the building. He was a bit disappointed when the instrument stayed silent.
"Well, on the bright side, I doubt any sort of violent act ever took place here."
Janine looked at him with raised eyebrows. "Do you go anywhere without that thing?"
"I ... um." He flushed and put it away. "We had just finished a bust before we left. I did want to get changed, but you said we didn't have time."
"The job ran a half-hour later than I expected. What is it about imps that keeps you guys out so long?"
"The settings on the throwers have to be just so, and when they went into the customer's septic system, things became somewhat ... complicated."
"Yeah. Good thing our ventilation system isn't ... complicated. Poor Ray." Her nose wrinkled. "I thought about canceling, but I've been rescheduling these appointments nearly a week and didn't want to risk putting it off another day. I hate apartment-hunting."
"It is rather nerve-wracking," said Egon with a short nod. "I remember seeking housing during my early days at Columbia. There were a few times I nearly came to blows."
"Oh yeah?" She sounded amused. "Was it somebody trying to steal the place right out from under you?"
"No, it was mainly that Peter always insisted on taking the spot right by the window."
Egon smiled when Janine laughed and hooked her arm in his again. It was almost the first display of good humor he'd seen from her since they'd set out, newspaper in hand, to tame the rental wilds of Brooklyn. He had not exactly relished trudging up fifth-floor walkups and inspecting closets, but he enjoyed spending the afternoon with Janine. Work had been unusually busy for them all in the past few months, and Janine's decision to depart her current apartment for bigger, and perhaps, better things, had co-opted her lunch hours and had severely curtailed their off-hours time together.
He colored when his empty stomach suddenly gurgled, and he tried to disguise the sound with a cough. Janine glanced over at him with a smile and gave him an affectionate squeeze around the waist.
"I know, I know. This'll be the last one, I promise. Then I feed you. Anywhere you want -- you deserve it for putting up with all of this, and I actually might find a nice place to live, thanks to you."
He looked puzzled. "Janine, except for testing that substance we found in the kitchen of that one co-op and confirming that it was, in fact, mouse droppings, I haven't done much in the way of assisting your search save for just accompanying you."
"Exactly! I can't tell you how much that's helped. I was going crazy!"
His brow webbed. "How does my presence help, exactly?"
"Just playing a hunch," she said. "I've seen eight apartments in the past week, and all the landlords gave me a hard time. If they were men, they spent two seconds showing me the around the place and then the rest of the time they'd be telling my boobs how much they'd like living there. If they were women, they weren't too impressed with a single girl wanting a place to herself. One old biddy asked me if I got paid hourly, and when I told her sure, and sometimes I got overtime, she had the nerve to tell me 'This is a respectable building'! Seems like her idea of a 'professional woman' was a lot different from mine."
"Ah ..." Egon reflected that while he would have had little recourse to rescue Janine from the busybodies, he did have access to a nuclear accelerator and a shovel, which would have done for the ogling male landlords.
He was sure, however, that Janine didn't have that in mind when she'd asked him for his assistance.
"I talked to my friend Karen and she said she used to get the bum's rush, too, but then she started bringing her used-to-play-college-football cousin with her. She said it was just like going with a man to a mechanic. They'll try to give you the business if you go alone, but if you have a man with you, it's more likely you'll get good service at a good price." Janine sniffed in derision. "As much as I hate to think it, it's still a man's world. Typical."
"I have little doubt of the truth in that," Egon said, "but I have to admit that during our previous visits, I didn't notice anything in the way of preferential treatment."
"Yeah, but I noticed that the people showing us around weren't giving the sales pitch to my cleavage or telling me that I had to receive all 'gentleman callers' in the parlor," she said. "They just took us around, gave the rundown and gave me their card. No fuss, no muss. That's all I want, and this is the first day I've actually gotten that."
Janine stretched up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. "You're amazing, Egon."
"Er, well, I ..." He blushed as his mind presented him with possible scenarios for further displays of affection if Janine actually found an apartment she liked that day. "Perhaps this residence will be more to your liking."
Janine eyed the building skeptically. "I'm not sure. I think I might take that last one. It did have a lot of nice features."
"You don't even want to view it? This one may even have three undersized bathrooms."
"Ha, ha." She smirked as they traversed the small walkway. "Okay, we take a quick look. If it doesn't knock my socks off, I'll cut it short. Then we eat."
"That sounds fine, but there's no hurry, really."
"Egon, I'm sure the firehouse'll be aired out by the time we get back. Ray's probably burned his uniform by now."
"I should hope so." He shuddered. "But, ah, that's not exactly what I was thinking. Our scheduled appointments have been taken care of, and barring any pressing emergencies, it looks to be a quiet afternoon. I see no particular need to rush back to the office."
"We've been out an hour already." Janine looked at him as she pressed the doorbell. "Lunch might last awhile."
"Considering I had only half a stale bagel for breakfast, I think that's likely to be the case," he said. "I thought that afterwards, perhaps, we could walk around. It's a very nice day, and a good opportunity to get to know your new neighborhood -- wherever that may be."
Janine met his eyes. "What about Dr. V? He might have something to say about that."
"I'm sure he might, but since we won't be around to hear what it is, I don't think it really matters."
She was smiling faintly, but her eyes had darkened noticeably. Egon felt his pulse jump.
"Egon Spengler ... you rebel." She wrapped her arms around his neck. "I don't want to be accused of having a bad effect on you."
"Oh, I'd say you're having quite a good effect on me," he murmured, gazing at her. "Particularly at this moment."
Janine cupped his face in both hands and pulled him in, and Egon stared at her mouth, willing it to take a trajectory a bit past his cheek. His eyes slid shut when the touch of her lips on his confirmed that he'd gotten his wish --
-- And his eyes just as quickly opened again when the doorway widened and a grey-haired woman in a business suit stepped out. They broke apart hastily, squirming under the woman's mildly disapproving gaze.
"Oh! Hi." Janine discreetly smoothed her skirt and held out her hand. "I'm Janine Melnitz. We spoke earlier this week about the two-bedroom? I'm here to see it."
The woman made no move to shake her hand. "Melnitz? ... Oh, yes. I'd almost forgotten."
The woman's eyes swept over Egon, and he was uncomfortably reminded of the gargoyle statues that adorned certain buildings. All the woman would have needed to complete the effect was water spurting from her mouth.
"Are you with her or do you have an appointment?"
"We're together," affirmed Egon. "I wanted to have a look, as well, of course."
The woman turned back to Janine. "I don't think you mentioned a husband, Ms. Melnitz."
Egon felt Janine stiffen beside him. "Well, that's probably because I don't have one."
"Oh?" The woman frowned, fixing Egon with an appraising look. "Then just who are you?"
The blond was caught off guard by the bluntness of the question, and for a terrifying moment, his mind went completely blank.
"Well, I --"
"Hey, wait a minute!" Janine stepped forward. "I don't think that's any of your business." Her voice had a jagged edge to it, and the glare she aimed at the other woman was just as sharp. "Now, can we see the place or not?"
"Janine, it's all right." Egon saw the woman's eyes start to spark dangerously. She was being unaccountably rude, but he didn't want to take the chance that they were on the threshold of Janine's dream apartment. He knew firsthand how difficult it was to find affordable, attractive housing in New York. Manhattan was all but impossible and it was becoming increasingly difficult in the boroughs.
"I, er, I'm Dr. Egon Spengler. It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. ... er, Mrs. ...?"
"Delacroix. And it's Miss." Her forehead creased. "Spengler ... Spengler ... why does that name sound familiar?"
"Dr. Spengler is one of the Ghostbusters," said Janine tightly, her hands clenching and unclenching in a manner that made Egon a tad nervous. "Now, if you don't mind --"
The woman's eyes lit up and she wheeled eagerly toward Egon, the sudden wide smile on her face making her look like a character from a Lewis Carroll book.
"Ghostbusters? At last! You've come to take care of that nasty ... thing in my basement? It's scared off most of my tenants and I can't think of how to get it to leave! I've tried everything! I called your office, Dr. Spengler, and was told that you had no openings for months. Frankly, the girl you have answering the phones wasn't very helpful."
Egon cringed at Janine's outraged gasp. "Why you --"
"-- Must have called when the answering service was picking up." Egon maneuvered himself between the two women and pulled out his best smile. "I apologize."
He felt Janine's eyes on him and suddenly had a strong sense of what being reincarnated as a dartboard might feel like.
"Miss, uh, Delacroix, I took readings of your home. Just, er, to test my equipment, that is." Egon took out the PKE meter and held it out. "There's no indication that you have any spectral ... hmm ..."
The woman's nose quivered. "Hmm? Is that ... a technical term, Dr. Spengler?"
Egon adjusted a dial and studied the instrument intently. "That's odd. There was a brief blip on the meter. Almost as if there were a supernatural presence here --"
"You see? I do have ghosts here!" The woman grabbed Egon's arm and swung herself toward him, forcing Janine to nearly have to dive to get out of the way. "It's in the basement. At first I thought it was the pipes, but I'm certain it's a ghost. I'd stake my own life on it! Oh, Dr. Spengler, you have to help me. Renting out this building is one of my chief sources of income. With that ... that ... thing here, people move out almost as fast as they move in!"
"Something tells me that it's not because of a ghost," muttered Janine.
Miss Delacroix looked over at her, confused. With a shaky smile, Egon interposed himself between them again.
"It could be a malfunction of my equipment, but ..."
"But ...?" Miss Delacroix's voice rippled with excitement. "But ...?"
"But I suppose I don't see the harm in investigating --"
"Egon!" Janine spoke through clenched teeth. "We're here to check out an apartment, not inspect it for ghosts. If Miss Delacroix thinks she has a problem, she's welcome to call the office and make an appointment with the sweet, friendly, and competent receptionist. I'm sure that if she asks nicely, there might be a way to squeeze her in."
Egon saw the woman about to voice a very contrary opinion of that plan, but suddenly her whole manner changed. She now stared at Janine speculatively, her head tilted to the side. A small smile devoid of any humor at all stretched her lips and Egon realized immediately that the woman had an epiphany and had put together just who Janine was.
When Miss Delacroix straightened up and gave Janine her undivided attention and an almost-friendly smile, Egon felt his palms begin to sweat.
"Dear, you're here to see my two-bedroom, didn't you say?" Her voice was all sweetness and light. "My third-floor unit? The one with the foyer and the sun room? Eat-in kitchen and newly restored floors?"
Janine blinked. "There's ... there's a sun room?"
Miss Delacroix's smile widened. "And the bathroom is enormous, though there is a powder room, as well, of course, with all the essentials a lady could want."
"Bathroom ... and a powder room?" Janine's eyes were hazy. "And the bathroom is ... big?"
"Refinished just last year. I thought it would look smashing with a sunken tub and a separate shower. Sometimes you feel like a nice, long soak, and sometimes you feel like a quick shower. I always thought it'd be wrong to force those two separate ideas into one space. Don't you agree ... Ms. Melnitz, wasn't it?"
Janine looked up. "So it's a pretty big place, then?"
"Oh it takes up an entire floor. I did say in the ad it was sizable, and that it was a must-see. A few words on a page wouldn't do it justice," she said. "It was my own home before I decided to move to a smaller home in Kearny."
Janine's head snapped down. "Kearny? You mean ... you don't live here?"
"Oh no. I'm very rarely in the city -- or at least I wasn't until this ghost business. My property manager quit after being scared out of her wits by it, and I moved back here to see what could be done. As soon as this regrettable situation is resolved, I'll be hiring a new property manager who will once again be my representative, collecting rent, arranging for maintenance and so on. I'm not quite cut out for city living."
"I ... see." Janine looked up at the building again. "The apartment covers an entire floor?"
"End to end. I was going to charge a substantial amount for it, but ... I could see lowering the monthly rent significantly for you, Ms. Melnitz, considering that you're such a close friend of Dr. Spengler's." She smiled dazzlingly at him. "That is ... I could see lowering it if, of course, Dr. Spengler and his cohorts could somehow find a way to investigate my problem sooner rather than later ..."
Janine and Egon looked at each other. Miss Delacroix continued to smile.
"And, of course, I'd pay any fee for the investigation itself."
"But ... but you might not have anything," said Janine. "Egon said it could be the meter playing tricks."
"If that's the case, then all the better. The offer stands regardless of whether I do truly have an issue or not," she said. "All I want -- all I've wanted for quite some time now -- is for an expert opinion so that my mind can be at ease. If you say I have nothing, then I'll assume my tenants had other reasons for their abrupt departures and perhaps the noises and groaning I've heard were just someone watching those awful movies they show on television nowadays."
Egon put his hand on Janine's arm. "Miss Delacroix, could you excuse us a moment?"
He smiled and nodded, steering Janine to a quiet corner just out of earshot.
"She's squeezing you," said Janine grimly. "By saying it doesn't matter whether there's something there or not, she's making it seem like you don't have anything to lose."
"Yes," he agreed. "But it's quite true. I think it's too good an offer to ignore --"
"I haven't even seen the place yet!" Her eyes softened. "But a sun room? Egon, I've been wanting a sunroom ever since I was a little girl and we'd go to my great-grandma’s up in Schenectady. She had the most beautiful sun room, and so many plants --"
"It sounds like it could be exactly what you've been searching for, and at very little cost, both in time and money," said Egon. "I do think that the meter may have a short in it, but if she's willing to honor to the deal regardless of what's discovered -- or not, as the case may be -- I think it'd be foolish not to accept."
"She comes off as a hateful old --"
"-- Perhaps, but she's a hateful old ... who'll be residing in a completely different state once she's satisfied that her main source of income is not haunted. The loss of a significant stream of income could be why she's so crotchety."
Janine nibbled her lip. "It could just be a waste of your time."
"If it is something that benefits you, then I'd hardly consider it a waste."
"Egon, that's so sweet." Janine smiled, touching her fingers to his lips. "All right, how about this -- I look at the place first. If I don't like it, no deal. She can call for an appointment and I'll make sure to fit her in somewhere in the next week or so."
"And if you do like it?"
"Somehow, I think I probably won't. Sounds a little too good to be true," said Janine. "Ghost or no ghost, a huge apartment with a sun room, a giant bathroom and powder room in this neighborhood wouldn't be vacant without a reason."
"You could be right. I suppose we'll see."
"All right ... if you're sure. I guess it couldn't hurt." Janine squared her shoulders. "Let's go and talk to the old battle axe -- actually, it might be better if you do the talking."
"Agreed." Egon took her arm as they approached the older woman, who looked a bit anxious. Egon was sure, then, that the woman had not been able to hear any of their conversation.
"Miss Delacroix, we'd like to see the apartment first, if you don't mind. If Janine likes it, then you have a deal. I'll conduct a preliminary sweep of the premises for ghosts."
"Wonderful!" Egon thought for a moment that she was going to tackle him. "This way, this way!"
They entered the building, and Egon was immediately struck by how dark it seemed. He swept the PKE around but it stayed quiet, as did everything else inside. There was a long, twisting staircase that seemed to begin and end nowhere in particular, and doors with ornate, brass knockers, were lined up like menacing redwood trees. Egon wasn't sure if the building was haunted, but on first glance, it looked like the type of place that would be.
As they ascended the stairs, Egon kept his meter out, watching it closely at they climbed higher and higher. Just as they reached the top floor, there was another spike on the meter but gone again before he could blink. Almost too minute to be measured, and yet ...
"Here we are. Apartment 3-A. If you'll just wait a moment?"
There was a jangle of keys and the slight catch of the lock turning. "Please take your time looking over the place, Ms. Melnitz. But watch your step. I just had the floors polished."
The door inched open and Egon saw a slice of sunlight fall across the entryway. Miss Delacroix moved aside so that Janine could enter first. Egon went in after her, and the older woman joined them thereafter.
Egon blinked as he cleared the foyer and got his bearings. Miss Delacroix had not been exaggerating. The apartment was enormous.
Huge windows filtered the sun, which lit the room up as if were high noon. Wooden floors gleamed as far as the eye could see. It was slightly more narrow than he'd expected, but deep, and as much as he craned his neck, he could not see clear through to the rear of it.
He glanced at Janine. Her expression was almost unreadable, and she turned slowly around, like a dancer, gauging the space.
"Can I see the sun room?"
"Of course! Please follow me."
Egon watched the two women retreat down the foyer, take a sharp left turn, and disappear. They came out again almost immediately. They then went into an area opposite the one they'd just left. Egon saw a light snap on and heard running water. There was indistinguishable conversation, but Egon was sure he heard the words "marble" and "whirlpool jets" mentioned.
When she came out again, Janine's expression was unchanged, but Miss Delacroix looked a little anxious. Neither said a word as they walked back into the main living area.
Egon gave the redhead a curious look as she approached him. "Well?"
Janine looked around again before gravely turning toward the old woman.
"Now just where did you say that pesky little ghost is hiding, Miss Delacroix?"
Egon replaced the phone receiver and turned around. "They're on their way."
"Splendid! More lemonade, dear?"
"Oh, no thank you. Two glasses is plenty."
"For you, then, Dr. Spengler?"
"Er, no. No, thank you, I think I've had enough, as well."
His eyes found Janine's as she looked at him over her glass. She sat in a rather fusty chair that seemed to belong to an era before electric lights and running water, and it almost seemed to swallow her petite form. Egon had remained standing in the second-floor apartment Miss Delacroix had been calling 'home' ever since she'd decided to stay and investigate the odd 'disturbances' herself.
Sadly, it did not have a sun room or a foyer, but Egon thought the ceilings were rather nice. And he thought the woman herself was rather nice. After he'd confirmed that there was indeed a presence there, she'd nearly melted in his arms with relief, satisfied at last that "something would be done." Egon suspected the woman's prickliness was directly related to her feeling that she wasn't taken very seriously and was written off as a bitter old spinster.
Janine shook her head. "I can't believe something's really down there."
"Well, the upside is, it's not a very powerful 'something.' I estimate not more than a Class 2 vapor -- if that."
"You can't tell anything more? What's the meter say?"
"The meter is unreliable in this case. That's why I'm asking Ray to bring the spectrometer."
Egon declined Miss Delacroix's offer of ginger snaps with a slight smile and a shake of the head. "Ma'am, the insulation of your wiring is very peculiar. It masked the PKE signature of the ghost almost entirely, which is why I didn't pick up anything outside and barely registered anything once we were indoors. I'd like to study your electrical system and determine how and why it has that property. Do I have your permission to shut off electricity to the building while I investigate? It shouldn't take more than an hour or so."
"Whatever you need to do, Dr. Spengler. I'm just happy to have found a resolution at last." Miss Delacroix sighed happily. "To think -- I almost decided not to rent that apartment at all, and look what happens when I do. It is true that you do meet all types in New York. And everyone needs a roof over their heads."
Her eyes brightened. "Speaking of which, I think I'll call Linda and ask her to come back. She was my property manager. A lovely girl, and so polite and sweet. The tenants loved her. I'm sure you'll get on famously, Ms. Melnitz. If she agrees to return, you'll meet her when you sign your lease. If you two will excuse me, I'll call her right now."
"Of course. We'd better wait outside for the others," said Egon. "If anything happens ... yell."
Miss Delacroix looked puzzled. "Anything like what?"
"Believe me, you'll know immediately if something happens that makes yelling seem prudent. I'll be back momentarily with my colleagues and our equipment."
Egon offered his arm to Janine as she rose from her chair, and they exited Miss Delacroix's small apartment just as she began dialing the phone.
"Wow. What an afternoon. I'm just glad this thing might not be too hard to get rid of." Janine leaned her head against Egon's shoulder. "Thank you, Egon. For everything."
"You're quite welcome. I'm happy to have been some help today."
"Yeah, but this wasn't really what I had in mind. You weren't supposed to do anything except be there --"
"-- In case you ran into any difficulties," he cut in. "And you did -- of a sort. Besides, this will benefit us, too, if we can work out whether the sort of insulation on the wiring in these old buildings has some sort of PKE masking agent. So, in a sense, I owe you a measure of thanks for placing me in a position to make such a discovery."
She shook her head. "Well, I'm glad it worked out, but it's not exactly the position I was hoping to place you in."
Egon did a double-take. "... Pardon?"
"I said it's not ..." Janine's eyes rounded. "Oh my god. I didn't just say ..."
"... I believe you did. Yes."
Her cheeks burned. "That's -- that's not what I meant --"
"Are you certain?"
"No, I --" She broke off with a glare and punched him gently on the arm. "Egon!"
He forced himself to not laugh. "Simply wondering. And you do like the apartment?"
"It's amazing! I can't believe I'm gonna have all that space. And at that price. I owe you ... big time." She looked over at him when they reached the bottom landing. "And with the guys coming, there go our lunch plans."
"Yes, I'm afraid that's true." Egon wondered if Peter still had that bag of Cheez-Its in Ecto's glove compartment.
"So, I guess I'll have to make it up to you some other way."
Before he could respond, Janine was suddenly in front of him, pressing him into a near wall.
"Do you have any ideas on how I could ... do that?"
Egon forced himself to breathe. He could feel her mouth hovering just above his Adam's apple.
"I ... yes." He swallowed hard. "Several."
"I was hoping you'd say that." In the dimness, he could hear the smile in her voice. "Why don't we talk about it over dinner tonight? We could go to the Cuban place around the corner from me. It'll probably be our last chance to eat there before I move."
"But I thought you hated that place."
"They're under new management. I think that expose in the Post really put a scare into them."
She ran a finger up his chest, dragging it right below his chin. "Besides, I was hoping we could go back to my place and you could help me pack a few things. I've got most of it squared a way, but some things just need ... a man's touch."
Egon gulped humid air and felt his pulse begin to migrate south.
"I think I can ... certainly be of service there."
"Oh, Egon. What would I do without you?" Janine murmured before bringing her mouth to his, both of them ignoring for the moment the faint whine of sirens just beyond the door.