"Hah..." she sneered. "Perfect timing..."
"Hey, you're the one who's supposed to be Egon's receptionist--so go recept." Venkman said with mock imperiousness.
"I don't think that's a real word, Peter..." Ray Stantz commented, having just downed his last bite of cake.
Janine scratched the back of her head with her middle finger as she left the room. "Just remember, Doctor Venkman, you ain't my boss any more..."
Venkman laughed as she left the room.
Winston Zeddemore nudged Egon Spengler. "So did we surprise you, or what?"
"Indeed..." Egon admitted, looking at the mostly-eaten birthday cake and various presents that were not standard accessories in his laboratory.
It had been rough in the year and a half since Ghostbusters Inc. had been shut down by court order, but one thing that would surprise nobody who knew them that the four members of the team--and their former secretary--kept in pretty close touch.
Ray Stantz had considered turning his Uncle Gaylord's joke shop (which he'd inherited just before the shutdown) into an occult book store, but decided to sell it and used the money to open one in a "better location". Ray actually lived in the former Ghostbusters Central at Varrick and Moore.
Winston Zeddemore had gone back into construction with his father, "Big Ed" Zeddemore. Winston and Ray also augmented their income by appearing in full Ghostbuster attire at children's parties.
Peter Venkman had kind of loafed and lollygagged for a little bit...then parlayed his fame, such as it was, into a television show, World of the Psychic. It was a low-budget show on a local station, but as Venkman often said "Hey, it's a start, right?"
Egon Spengler ended up with perhaps the most ironic job of all: shortly before the Ghostbusters were put out of business, Columbia University's Dean Vanevar Yaeger retired. A more sympathetic new Dean, who had some respect for the Ghostbusters' accomplishments, offered Egon his old job at the Parapsychology Department back.
And Janine Melnitz, not intending to let the man she loved get too far away from her, practically insisted she be hired as his personal secretary. Egon assented, claiming he "didn't want a fight about it" and "her secretarial skills are well proven". Though neither Ray, Winston, or especially Venkman took that as the full story.
"What can I say, Spengs? This is the big Three Oh. A special ceremony was called for."
"Peter, when you turned thirty you insisted we completely ignore it, and that you would kill us if we threw you a party." Egon noted.
"That was different." Venkman replied. "That was me, and this is you."
"I wonder if I should've brought Slimer..." Ray joked. "He sure misses seeing Peter all the time."
"Ray, I say this to you as one of your oldest, closest friends: Bite me."
"Not bringing him was probably the right call." Winston agreed. "I know from personal experience what a bad idea it is putting Slimer and birthday cakes in the same room..."
"Not a problem, Miss....Melnitz, is it?" he replied in a deep voice with some overtones that sounded familiar.
Janine had to blink again. She was having trouble processing what she was seeing. Save for the fact he was a few inches shorter, had square glasses, and sported a mustache, the man was a dead ringer for Egon. Her mind raced rapidly...Egon had mentioned a brother once...Elon? Elliot? No...I remember...
"Janine Melnitz. And you must be Ellis?"
An eyebrow rose in a way familiar to her already. "Obviously, Egon has mentioned me at least once, somewhat to my surprise. Dr. Ellis Spengler, Miss Melnitz, pleased to make your acquaintance."
She noticed that he didn't say anything about having heard anything about her, but that didn't surprise her much. Egon probably barely mentioned her in passing, and anything Uncle Cyrus said about her after their brief meeting was probably not flattering. Still, she was certain she got a point or two in her favor with Ellis by remembering his name.
It was about then that Janine noticed that Ellis was not alone--at her desk studying the phone and computer terminal was a girl of about eight, with long blonde hair and hazel eyes that were taking everything in with a familiar intensity. Egon said something else the one time he talked to me about Ellis...
Ellis coughed with a tad of embarrassment. "Jennifer, come over here and meet one of you Uncle Egon's friends."
The girl looked up, and with a tinge of reluctance did as she was told. "My daughter, Jennifer..." Ellis said. "Jennifer, this Janine Melnitz..."
"Hey there..." Janine replied warmly. As someone who'd spent some time trying to contemplate what a Spengler's genetic offspring might look like, she enjoyed the chance to meet one close up.
"You can call me Jen." the girl told her. "My parents and Uncle Cyrus don't, but my friends at school do...are you Uncle Egon's girlfriend?"
Janine made an effort not to appear fazed by the rather blunt question. "That's an awful personal question, Jen..."
Ellis coughed nervously "Jennifer..."
Janine smiled at Jen. "Let's just say...I haven't managed to convince him that that's a good idea yet."
Jen seemed to like that answer, and gave Janine one of those Spengler half-smiles.
"Um...anyway...getting back to the reasons I came here...is my brother here, Miss Melnitz?"
"He sure is, Dr. Spengler. The lab's a bit of a mess--the other former Ghostbusters are in there, just finishing up his birthday party..."
"Ghostbusters?" Jen said, eyes perking up.
"Lead the way, Miss Melnitz..." Ellis said, his expression neutral.
Perhaps not unexpectedly, the room went from the loud banter of old friends to dead silence as soon as the newcomers entered the room.
"Uncle Egon!" Jen said with some real excitement, and went over and hugged her uncle. Egon returned the embrace with as much of his own feeling as he could manage, having been quite surprised more than once that day.
"Hello, Jennifer. How are you doing?" he asked her.
"Getting A's in school?"
Egon coughed somewhat uncomfortably. "Ray, Peter, Winston, as you might have surmised, this is my brother, Dr. Ellis Spengler, and my niece Jennifer. Ellis, Jennifer, this is..."
"Dr. Ray Stantz, Dr. Peter Venkman, and Winston Zeddemore" Jen answered for him. "Call me Jen...I'm a prodigious fan of yours..."
"Smart kid." Venkman replied. "I've only seen pictures of you until now, but you're a lot cuter in real life..."
"Peter, she's only eight..." Ray elbowed him.
Venkman looked at him with mock hurt. "What are you accusing me of?"
"Just being sure..."
There may have been reasons Ray and Venkman were curiously wary to actually approach Ellis, but Winston didn't have the same trepidation. "Pleasure to meet you, Doctor Spengler. It feels weird, though...Egon comes across as such an only child it was odd the first time he mentioned a brother..."
Ellis returned Winston's handshake. "Well, as he may have already told you, we're technically half-brothers. My mother died in childbirth and I was raised by her family. Edison, our father, married Katharine a few years after that, and they raised him. We saw each other a few times a year, but weren't brought up together."
Ray shook his head, knowing what it was like to lose parents. "That's so sad..." He went up and shook Ellis's hand next. "Glad to finally meet you..."
"Hm. Indeed. Between what Egon says about you and what I'd seen in the media, it is fascinating to meet you at last also, Dr. Stantz."
Venkman finally went over to the man, but there was an edge to his gaze as he shook Ellis's hand. I'm Egon's real brother, mister...you just happen to be genetically related to him was the thought, fair or not, that was floating in Venkman's mind. "Sorry you missed the party, Ellis. We still got some cake, though unless you have Egon's sweet tooth also I have to warn you that it's double chocolate mint and can just about create a sugar coma with three bites..."
"Um...I just had lunch a little bit ago, Dr. Venkman." Ellis answered, perhaps picking up some of Venkman's budding proto-hostility.
"Hey, no problem." Ray remarked. Peter's look hadn't escaped his notice either.
"I want some cake..." Jen said.
"Jennifer, you just ate lunch..."
"I don't think a small piece would hurt, Ellis." Egon said somewhat firmly.
"Oh, very well..." Ellis yielded. "One small piece."
"Let me help with that..." Janine said, and proceeded to cut off a piece that was probably a bit bigger than Ellis was intending.
"Any good?" she asked.
"Sublimely superb!" Jen answered.
"That's good, right?" Venkman asked Ray.
Ellis took off his glasses, and started to wipe them with his handkerchief. "Egon....would we be able to talk privately?"
Egon nodded. "Ray, perhaps you, Peter, and Winston can show Jennifer the ECTO-1...I assume you drove it over?"
Ray looked confused for a second, then caught on. "Huh? Oh, yeah...we did! Jen, wanna see the world famous ECTO-1?"
"Yes!!!" the girl replied, demonstrating a rather un-Spenglerish enthusiasm.
"Peter, Winston, Janine...could I get you to go keep an eye on Jennifer for me?"
Venkman and Janine both gave him a look, but did as requested, following along as Ray led the girl out of the room. Egon closed and locked the door behind them.
"Now then Ellis...why are you really here, then?"
Ellis pulled two bundles out of his sport coat. "Egon, it is your thirtieth birthday, after all. This one is from me, the other is from your mother. Happy birthday, Egon."
Egon opened Ellis's gift first. It was a rather nice set of cuff links. "The Spengler Labs logo..." Egon noted. "Fascinating..."
"They were constructed out of the new titanium-cobalt alloy one of the metallurgists in the inorganic chemistry division devised." Ellis explained, which did seem to pique Egon's interest a level or two higher. "I thought you might find it interesting."
"Indeed..." Egon admitted, turning to his mother's gift. It was a pair of eyeglasses that looked quite similar to the ones he was wearing.
"The latest in polycarbon frames and impact plastic lenses--she said between your previous line of work and your lab accidents, you got through them like sulfuric acid through paper." Ellis explained "Perhaps those will last a little longer."
Egon made a noise dangerously close to a chuckle, and tried on the glasses. "Hm...my mother. The prescription is perfect."
The two brothers then stood for another silent, awkward minute.
"Now that that's out of the way, what is the real reason you're here?" Egon asked simply, crossing his arms.
Ellis inhaled deeply. "Well, I admit Jen is quite the fan of the Ghostbusters, and when she heard that I would be journeying to New York she was very insistent. But that's not the reason I'm here, no. I'm here to make you an offer."
Egon cocked an eyebrow. "Offer?"
"From Uncle Cyrus."
Egon stiffened. "Go on." he said flatly.
"Egon, over the last couple of years the physics and inorganic chemistry departments of Spengler Labs have been growing. He wants to take that to the next level--he wants one of the most brilliant physicists in the world to run it, and one of those men just happens to be his younger nephew: you."
"It's tough for me to admit this, mind you..." Ellis continued. "But I read that last paper you published on dimensional axis theory and some of it made my head hurt. You think that far above everyone else. That's the kind of thinking we need--the thinking that can make Spengler Labs a world leader at physical science theory...."
"You would be given a generous budget...whatever staff and equipment you could ever ask for...and a free hand at devising your experimentation and priorities. Uncle Cyrus says your operation would be effectively autonomous. It's a deal most scientists would kill for."
"And of course...you would be back in Cleveland. Where your mother is, where I am...where your family is."
Ellis couldn't help but be pleased. He'd rehearsed the pitch in his mind several times on the flight out, and delivered it with perfect precision. It was inevitable. And he had to admit, he was looking forward to working with his younger brother. Getting to know him a little better. And maybe, through him, the father he barely knew...
A quiet minute passed.
"Ellis...inform Uncle Cyrus that his offer is extremely generous, probably moreso than I deserve after my last brief employment there. And then inform him that I respectfully decline."
"De..." Ellis sputtered, not believing his ears. " 'Decline?' "
"I am declining Uncle Cyrus's offer."
Only another Spengler would notice that at this point Ellis was furious. "I don't understand this. Uncle Cyrus is offering you a top-line research facility--compared to what? This? A few meager crumbs of a research budget, a second-rate facility--and don't deny it, we know Columbia saves all their money for 'real' scientists."
"I am a 'real' scientist..." Egon retorted sharply, his own emotions beginning to rise.
"I'm not saying you aren't, it's just a comment on the stature of parapsychology in academic circles. Think, Egon--they pulled your funding and threw you out of here once, what is to say it cannot happen again?"
"I will worry about that if it happens."
"And your other job is gone--I just don't understand this, Egon."
Egon turned away from him a moment, scrawling some variables onto a piece of paper. "That's where I went wrong....I had the sign of the quantum spin reversed....now it works..."
"Something I was working on this morning...the error I'd made suddenly occurred to me..."
"I mean about Uncle Cyrus..."
Egon looked him straight in the eye. "There are two answers I can give. One is logical, one isn't. The logical answer is this: I'm in the middle of several series of experiments, and I would lose weeks--perhaps months--or research time if I had to halt them, relocate them to Cleveland, and restart them in an unfamiliar research environment."
Ellis had trouble holding his brother's intense gaze. "And the illogical one?"
"I've been living in New York since 1973--I've spent my entire adult life living in this area; it's home to me in a way Cleveland isn't and never will be again. And my friends are here, Ellis--men I've worked with and fought beside, in a series of crises that most human beings can't imagine and all too many choose not to believe."
"But that's all over now....you were ordered to shut down..."
"Ghostbusters Inc. is no more Ellis, that much is true." Egon replied. "But the Ghostbusters themselves are alive and well."
Ellis sighed, signaling his defeat. "I will relay your answer to Uncle Cyrus. He will not be happy, as I admit I am not..."
Egon nodded. "I know...but for what it's worth, I think you will do fine running that facility without my interference. You are a Spengler, after all..."
They were sitting in the front seat of the ECTO-1. Despite Ray and Winston's best efforts, the car was beginning to look a little ragged, and was having some problems running at times.
Janine, Venkman and Winston were standing outside the car. "You okay, Pete?" Winston asked.
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"Because you're not used to sharing Egon with any brothers other than Ray and me, that's why."
Venkman made a snorting noise. As a trained psychologist, he really hated being figured out so easily.
Janine wasn't talking, but her instincts and imagination were creating a frightening (and actually quite accurate) scenario...Uncle Cyrus is probably trying to take him away from us again....get him back to Cleveland and away from his 'unseemly' friends....I so want to tear that jerk a new ass...
"So where are the proton packs?" Jen asked Ray.
"We can't bring them because we're not allowed to be Ghostbusters anymore." Ray answered.
"A lot of people got mad at us for breaking some stuff." Ray answered, wondering how much to simplify the explanation. She is a Spengler after all... "To keep from having to pay out a lot of money and maybe go to jail, we agreed to not be Ghostbusters anymore."
"But what happens if another Class Seven Metaspectre manifests in New York? Or anywhere? What would happen then?"
Ray had to pause for a few seconds--it was a question that had kept him awake a night or two over the last year and a half. "It hasn't happened yet....maybe we'll be lucky and no more ghosts will appear..."
Whether Jen took that as an acceptable answer or not was made immaterial by the appearance of Egon and Ellis Spengler. Jen got out of the car and went over to her father and uncle.
"I hope you weren't giving your Uncle Egon's friends too hard a time..."
"No problem at all, Doctor Spengler." Ray said truthfully.
"Uncle Ray showed me some of the systemry of the ECTO-1, but unfortunately there aren't any proton packs here...are you all right, Father?"
"I'm fine, Dear...but it's about time for us to go."
"So soon?" she asked, clearly disappointed. "Will Uncle Egon be coming back with us?"
Egon went over to his neice, and knelt to look at her face to face. "I'm afraid not, Jennifer--I have too much work to do here."
Janine had to struggle not to make a war whoop of triumph
"Good." Jen replied.
" 'Good'?" Egon repeated. "I assumed you would be disappointed."
"If you stay here, maybe someday you can be a Ghostbuster again."
Egon Spengler's face formed one of the few genuine smiles it ever allowed itself. "Perhaps so, Jennifer. And if that ever does happen..." he reached into his pocket and pulled out a key. "You may come visit me at the Firehouse. This key will get you in."
The girl took the key, beaming. She grabbed her uncle and hugged him tightly. And he didn't look the slightest bit discomforted by it.
"Now you be careful with that..."
"I will, Uncle Egon."
Egon reassumed a standing posture, and faced Ellis. "I wish you a safe trip back home."
"I wish you luck in your experiments here." Ellis responded. "It was good to see you, and to meet the friends I've heard so much about."
"Same here" Ray said honestly.
Egon and Ellis shook hands. "It was good to see you too, Ellis. Give my regards to my Mother and to Uncle Cyrus."
With that, Ellis led his daughter off. She waved at the Ghostbusters as they left.
Once Ellis and Jen were out of sight, Janine gave Egon a brief hug of her own. He looked a little uncomfortable, but didn't pull away. "That was so sweet of you...I tell you, between Jen and Victor you have quite a way with kids..."
"Any particular reason you notice that, Janine?" Venkman teased.
"Go stick your head in the Hudson River, Dr. Venkman."
"So what did your brother want, anyway? If you don't mind me asking?" Winston queried.
"Uncle Cyrus sent him to ask me to work for him once again." Egon replied. Janine inhaled audibly. "I turned the offer down--I've got too much going for me here to seriously consider such a move. The loss in experimental time from relocation alone would be..."
Venkman adopted his wide grin and put his arm around his old buddy's neck. "Yeah, yeah...we understand...all science."
Egon cocked an eyebrow at him. "Not at all. You four are my friends and colleagues, and if I left...I would be a poor scientist, because I would be too distracted by missing you."
There was a long, awkward silence.
Egon coughed, to break it. "Now...perhaps we should consider ordering dinner...you have the number for West Pier Pizza, don't you, Peter?"
Venkman mocked incredulousness. "After all that cake you inhaled--you're still hungry?"
"That was a snack. Pizza would be a meal."
Venkman rolled his eyes as the fivesome moved back into Weaver Hall...
She handled the key Uncle Egon had given her again and again, as though trying to memorize it's every tiny feature.
"If you stay here, maybe someday you can be a Ghostbuster again."
"Perhaps so, Jennifer. And if that ever does happen...You may come visit me at the Firehouse. This key will get you in."
You will be a Ghostbuster again, Uncle Egon....I don't know how to explain it, but somehow....I just know it. And someday...
A smirk curled into the edges of her young mouth.
I shall be a Ghostbuster too...