CHARLIE TAKES THE FIFTH

By Fritz Baugh

Chronology: Ghostbusters Omnibus Timeline Year Twenty (2002)
Hollywood, California
"No, no...listen, tell that guy I'm gonna play ball with him on this. I mean, all these imaginary icons of the Eighties---He Man, GI Joe, Transformers, even the damn Ninja Turtles are coming back---why not some authentic Eighties icons?"

"Huh?"

"Huh?"

"Don't worry about them, they need all the money they can get."

He listened for a few more moments. "Okay, they might be the problem. I mean, remember our crappy original contract--Missus S felt really really burned by Ramis and Aykroyd after Two..." A shapely woman entered the room. "Look, Steve, have this Clavet guy send his outline over, and I promise I'll look at it. I gotta go..."

Peter Venkman, Hollywood agent and power broker, turned off the cel phone and reclined in the hot tub. He looked at the woman who entered the room. "Care to join me, Dana??"

"I'll pass, Peter." the former Dana Barrett said, rolling her eyes. "I just got another email from New York...a picture this time..."

"It better not be a picture of his fungus collection again or something. I wish he'd break into Ray's otaku porn files for me like I keep asking..."

Dana rolled her eyes again, and clicked a few buttons on the lap top, setting it close enough to Venkman for him to see it, but not close enough to have much chance of it falling in the tub.

Venkman smirked. The image of two three year olds, both much taller than normal for thier age, were on the screen. Both wore outfits favoring purple and red. The boy, with piercing green eyes and bright red hair, was holding two fingers behind the head of the girl, who had long blonde hair and blue eyes. She was looking the boy's way with a look of resigned amusement. He was grinning with mock innocence.

"He picks up a lot of bad habits from his Uncle Peter..." Venkman grinned. "I'm gonna have to get on Ray for some fresh pictures of Eric...and Winston still owes me a vid of Charlene's grade school play..."

"And you still owe Egon pictures of Jessica from last Halloween so I guess it's fair" Dana retorted.

Another woman entered the room, dressed in a business suit "Doctor Venkman, Mrs. Venkman...they just said on UBN that he'll be in front of the committee in about ten minutes."

"Damn..." Venkman muttered. "Thanks, Shirley..." He got out of the hot tub. "Oscar?"

Fourteen year old Oscar Wallance, Venkman's stepson, was in a nearby second tub, splashing playfully with three teenage girls. "Huh?"

"You heard your Mom...Grandpa Charlie's about to take the stand..."

Oscar shook his head and got up. "You girls gonna come along? Or just stay there and wait for me?"

"It's all politics, anyway, and that's boring." Bunny said. "I mean, do you have to go watch?"

"No." Oscar replied. "But I want to."

"I guess I'll just stay with her..." Cath purred mischieviously. "We can occupy each other's time somehow..."

The fact that Venkman and Oscar left without a snarky comment about taping it only further illustrated how upset they really were.

Peter Venkman ran a hand through his still-thick brown hair. He'd thus far avoided the pattern baldness that had afflicted his father, but being only two years shy of fifty the brown tint to it was...artificially enhanced.

Dad...Venkman mused to himself, as he checked out Ellen MacNeill on UBN

"Oversight committe investigating the alleged abuses of the Enron corporation..." she was saying.

"Granpa Charlie's dug himself in deep this time." Oscar grumbled.

"Is Granpa Charlie gonna go to jail and be sodomized?" the nine year old girl next to him asked. She had wide green eyes, and her hair was the same brown of Peter Venkman's...albiet with a conspicuous curliness that reminded one of the tall woman who glared at her.

"Jessica Venkman, where in the world did you hear something like that?" Dana asked her daughter sternly.

"It's something one of Oscar's friends said. 'Yer granpa's gonna go to jail an' be sodomized'...what does that mean, anyway?"

"I wouldn't worry about that, Jess." Oscar broke in, both embarrassed and fighting uproarious laughter at the same time. "Guys as rich as Grandpa Charlie don't go to those kind of jails."

Peter looked at his children for a moment, and wondered what amazed him most.

I was so proud of him...Venkman thought to himself. I thought he'd finally gone legit. Peter's relationship with his father had been complex for years. As a child, he despised his father for being out on the road constantly..it had turned him against Christmas for decades...hurt inside as he watched his mother cry...and then it had gotten worse. Margaret Venkman died suddenly, and Peter was dragged all over the country for years, never staying in one place too long as to avoid the law or Charlie Venkman's disgrunted marks.

Oscar had two biological grandfathers of his own, of course. Grandpa Barrett they saw often. But Oscar's Grandpa Wallance was even colder and more distant than his son, Oscar's father Andre. If Oscar burned at the attention Wallance gave to Oscar's other half-siblings (the family Andre had formed in Europe after remarrying) he didn't show it.

But then again, Peter Venkman was the one who'd been there for Oscar for practically his entire life, not Andre. So maybe it was just inevitable that Oscar would regard Charlie Venkman, not Wallance, as his "real" grandfather.

And Jessica? Venkman remembered the first time Charlie ever saw his granddaugher...only a day after she'd been born (which, frankly, shocked Peter vastly--he wasn't even sure the messages he'd left telling Charlie Dana was pregnant had even reached him). There were tears in the old man's eyes when he held her for the first time.

"Oh, son...she's...she's..."

"I know." Peter responded, tears welling in his eyes too. "Grandpa, meet Jessica Margaret Venkman."

As a psychologist, Peter was well aware that a person would often try to correct the shortcomings they'd had (real or imagined; though wholly real in this case) as a parent with their grandchildren, and this proved true of Charlie Venkman in spades. Not a birthday went by without a side-splittingly funny card and a lavish gift arriving from Grandpa Charlie for one of his grandkids...and he'd even managed to show up each Christmas. And each year, the presents just got better and better...

Peter could even admit to himself that he envied the two kids a little bit. Not only was his own relationship with Charlie been...difficult for most of his life, he had no real grandfatherly relationship either: his mother's family had died when he was very young, and to be technically accurate Peter had no Grandfather Venkman: Grandma Venkman had been a circus ticket taker who'd given birth to Charlie and his brother Alf on the road (they probably had different fathers and no telling whether Grandma could've picked them out of a lineup)

Peter had to admit to himself that some of the...skills that Charlie had taught him had served him well in life. I could never do what I do now if I hadn't learned the art of the hustle from him...I just never used it so....callously. So obviously our to enrich myself or....just because I could.

But I probably would've ended up just like him, except for my friends. The severe science student who taught Venkman about the value of hard work and education. The goofy occult scholar who showed him that "trust" wasn't just a crutch for the weak. And later...the man who taught him the power of faith. The woman who, by being the one woman he could never intimately know, became the only real friend of that gender he'd ever had--the closest thing to a sister he ever knew.

And the other woman, the woman he nearly lost by being too much Charlie Venkman's son...

"There's Granpa Charlie!!!" Jessica said, pointing to the screen and giggling. Jessica simply adored her rascally old grandpa.

Charlie was raising his right hand. He was wearing the nicest suit Peter had ever seen him in, though if it wasn't the same cheap toupee he'd worn for years, Peter thought that it looked awful bad for someone with Charlies' current wealth to have paid much for.

"Do you, James Charles Venkman, promise to disclose to this panel the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, under threat of perjury?"

"I do, Mister Chairman." Charlie answered.

"Mister Venkman, please state your current occupation..."

"Sales subdirector for the Eastern Region."

"For the Enron Corporation, is that correct?"

"Yes sir."

Peter shook his head, as the Committee Chairman described an elaborate money laundering scheme involving dummy companies named "Hob" and "Gozer". Offshore accounts in trusts listed as belonging to "The New Jersey Parallelogram Reclaimation Fund" and "The Sons of Quetzalcoatl"

"Mister Venkman...is it true that you organized these entities?"

"I assert my Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination"

"And did you launder money through Hob and Gozer at the behest of CEO Lay or Mister Skilling?"

"I must once again assert my Fifth Amendment rights, Mister Chairman..."

It had seemed so much like a dream come true. In the early Nineties, Charlie had called to tell him that an old school chum had gotten him a sales job at a Texas energy processing company. A six-figure salary and executive perks. And he didn't have to cheat and hustle people anymore.

I guess I should've known...

That company was Enron. The company that was now being investigated for every illegal and immoral business practice imaginable.

But who would've guessed he was really moving from small time hustling...to big time hustling???

Peter Venkman shook his head sadly once more as Charlie lied to Congress, and went to the bathroom to wash his face. It was going to be a long night...

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