The Real Ghostbusters
"Can I help you?" Janine peered over the tops of her glasses and asked the rather large man who stood before her. He stood over six feet tall and was very muscular. His tight fitting tee shirt insured anyone seeing him would know he worked out. Anyone else might have been intimidated, but Janine Melnitz had developed her attitude of bored impassivity to an art form.
"Yeah," he replied, placing his hands on his hips and flexing his muscles. "I'm lookin' for Pete Venkman. He here?"
"Who may I say is calling?" Janine responded.
"Name's Monroe. Chip Monroe."
"And what is this visit in regard to?"
"I'm an old friend of his," Monroe answered impatiently. "Is Venkman here or not?"
"Wait here. I'll check," Janine replied, pushing slowly away from her desk. She walked toward the stairs in no particular hurry while Peter's visitor was left to pace and fume. Janine had taken an instant dislike to this guy, and she didn't feel inclined to be too helpful, even if he did prove to be a friend of Peter's.
With the Ray and Egon gone to a scientific conference, Winston visiting his parents and Slimer away on his morning garbage run, Peter was the only member of the Ghostbusters at home. He had cheerfully informed Janine earlier that he was just going to relax for a change. He wasn't hard to locate.
"Doctor V?" she called from the doorway of the television room. Lying on the sofa, Peter dropped onto his chest the issue of Playboy he had been perusing and looked up at the secretary/receptionist.
"What's up, Big J?" he asked.
"You got a visitor."
Peter perked up immediately. "Is she a blonde, brunette or redhead?"
"He's a blonde," she replied. "Says he's an old friend of yours."
Sighing in feigned disappointment, he tossed the magazine on the coffee table. "Did he happen to give you his name?" he prompted.
"Chip Monroe," she replied.
Peter's whole body suddenly stiffened. Janine noticed.
"You want me to tell him you're not here?"
He looked like that was exactly what he wanted her to tell him, as the whole gamut of emotions played quickly across his face. Janine saw his shock replaced by fear, which immediately gave way to anger.
"Just tell him to get lost!" he replied.
"Tell me yourself, Venkman!" cried the man in question who had appeared behind Janine. The secretary spun around and glowered at him.
"What part of 'wait here' didn't you understand? They're both one syllable words!"
"Butt out, honey. This is between me and Venkman."
"Listen, you jerk...."
"Janine," Peter interrupted quietly. "It's okay. I'll handle this."
Janine took an appraising look at Monroe's physique, then at Peter's skinny frame. "I'd be glad to call the cops to throw this guy out," she threatened.
"That won't be necessary. Thank you, Janine."
She hesitated a moment longer, looking from Peter to Monroe and back again. The two men were engaged in a staring contest from which neither of them seemed willing to back down. Men! Throwing her hands up in the air, she moved past Monroe and disappeared back down the stairs.
"I'm surprised, Petey," Monroe sneered. "You used to hide behind whatever skirt was available. The teachers, your mother.... Guess mommy isn't available, huh?"
Peter took a threatening step toward him. "My mom passed away a few years ago," he replied, and was amazed to see a strange expression briefly flash on Monroe's face before his features hardened again. "What do you want, Chip?"
Monroe grinned. "Want? Why, Petey, I'm surprised. I saw you on tv the other day and just thought I'd look up my old friend Pete and see how he's living the high life, rakin' in all those big bucks. Ghostbuster! Some scam you got here. Maybe you shoulda been called 'Chip' instead of me. You're a regular chip of the old con man, aren't ya?"
"Listen to me, ass hole," Peter's voice ground out from between his clenched teeth. "We aren't friends. We've never been friends. All you ever were was a stupid jock and a bully."
Chip smiled. "But the chicks liked me."
"Only the trashy ones," Peter replied, and was pleased to see by Monroe's expression that his words struck a nerve. He prepared himself to counter Chip's punch, but it never came. Instead, the infuriating painted on smile returned to his face.
"Funny," he said as he walked around Peter, checking out the room in which they stood. "But you sure don't look like you're living the high life. What is this? A front? You got all that money stowed away somewhere?"
"What do you want, Chip?" Peter asked again.
"Well, like I said, I saw you on the tube, and I got nostalgic for the old days. You remember?"
Peter remembered them all too well. Chip Monroe had been the biggest bully in PS 53, and despite his implications, Peter had never backed down from him. Unfortunately for him, at the time, Chip hadn't seemed much smaller than he was now, while Peter had been a skinny, gangly kid, all arms and legs. Chip had taken great delight in demanding money from and beating up on the smaller kids, and especially Peter, mostly because he wouldn't be intimidated. As a result, Peter was beaten up a lot. His teacher, Mrs. Claybourne, tried to help, but the school principal had been just as afraid of Chip and his cronies and the children, and had refused to do anything. That is, until the day Monroe went too far.
No, whatever Chip wanted, it wasn't to be "friends."
"I remember you got what was coming to you," Peter replied.
"Not everything that was coming to me!" Monroe shouted. "You owe me, Venkman. You snitched and I ended up in reform school!"
"You put me in the hospital!" Peter shouted back. "Even old man Bradshaw couldn't look the other way when that happened. You should be grateful. If you hadn't been stopped then, you'd have ended up killing someone. Then you'd have gone to prison. I think that's where you belong."
Chip leaned toward Peter until his face was only inches from the psychologist's. "You'd like that, wouldn't you, Venkman?"
"Yeah, I would," Peter replied.
Unexpectedly, Chip laughed. "Still don't know when to back down, do ya, Petey?"
"You stupid neanderthal! I've faced demons who can turn you into a crispy critter with one look! I've gone up against Class 11s that make you look like a crawling rodent! You may still be able to break every bone in my body, but not before I turn that ugly face of yours into raw meat!" He laughed. "And that would be an improvement!"
Chip stared at him for a moment. "Come on, Venkman. It would be so much easier if you'd just give me what I want."
"You haven't told me what you want!" Peter cried. "And to tell the truth, I don't care! The answer is 'NO'!"
"Come on. Just a little bread. No long term thing either. One time and you'll never see me again. I'm just a little short, and you owe me!"
Peter turned and walked away from him, shaking his head and laughing. "Some things just don't change." He faced Monroe again. "Back in grade school, it was my lunch money. How much you want this time, Chip?"
"Ten grand," Monroe replied. "Peanuts to a high roller like you."
Peter's jaw dropped. "Ten thousand dollars? What do you think? That I've got ten thousand dollars in my pocket? Or maybe I'll write you a check? You know, I don't think you'd be able to get to the bank to cash it ahead of the cops. Or maybe you take plastic. Amazing! Goons-Are-Us takes American Express! Don't get robbed without it!"
"You can get it."
"No, I can't," Peter replied. "You really think this is just for show? Yeah, we make a good bit of money when we've got a lot of ghosts to bust, but we get slow times, too. It takes all the money we make to pay the bills. We got lots of overhead here, bunky. I don't have ten thousand dollars." He stepped closer to his old nemesis again. "And if I did, you wouldn't see a dime."
Monroe stood still, fists clenched at his sides, except that Peter could see he was shaking with anger. Not good, thought the psychologist. I'm gonna get it now. Man, Peter, he's right. You haven't learned, have you? What do you think you're doing, egging him on? Shoulda let Janine call the cops.
"You're lying to me," Monroe accused.
"Nope. Sorry," Peter forced a smile. "All this threatening for nothing." God, he thought, I don't know when to quit. I'm gonna get it now.
But amazingly enough, Chip just stood there. If Peter didn't know better, he's swear that wasn't anger in his tormentor's eyes, but... fear. He decided to press his advantage.
"Get out, Chip. Pack up the gorilla suit and hit the road!"
"I need that money, Venkman."
Peter shook his head. "God, are you dumb! Read my lips. I don't have it! What the hell would you do with ten thousand dollars anyway?"
"My wife needs it."
"Wife? Someone actually married you? Man, she must have really been desperate. What did you do, Chip, get drunk and marry a hooker?"
After all the insults he'd flung at the man without any sign of physical retaliation, Peter had gotten too confident. He didn't even see the blow coming. But, boy, did he feel it when it connected with his jaw. The force sent him sprawling into the bookcase behind him. When he bounced off and fell to the floor, a shower of books followed him. For a moment, he thought he was going to lose consciousness, but gradually the room swam back into focus. The first thing he saw, however, did not reassure him. Chip loomed over him like a mountain.
Okay, I'm dead, he thought.
"Oh, God, I'm sorry."
Wait a minute, Peter thought, trying to clear the cobwebs from his jarred brain. What was that? Did I say that? No, he realized. He hadn't.
The man who had just come close to knocking his lights out stood above him with an expression of pure horror on his face. "You're right. Everything you said about me was right. I'm stupid. I'm just plain stupid. I just didn't know what else to do. You're the only guy I know that has money. And I thought... I hoped if I... God, I can't believe I hit you. I swore, I'd never. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." He moved away and sank down on the sofa, dropping his face into his hands.
"Peter!" Janine's cry from the doorway drew his attention away from the unbelievable site of Chip Morton... sobbing in complete despair!
"Peter!" Janine called again as she rushed past Chip to Peter, kneeling down beside him. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I... Owww!" he cried in pain, his hand flying to his jaw. After a little careful moving of the joint, he decided it wasn't broken, but the whole side of his face hurt like the dickens.
"What happened?" she asked.
"I think I finally made him mad," Peter replied more carefully. His eyes sought out Chip again. He was still slumped on the couch, his body shaking with his sobs.
"Am I awake?" he asked. "I gotta be dreaming this."
"Are you sure you're not hurt?" Janine asked, quickly checking his arms and legs for breaks, then running her fingers over his scalp looking for bumps.
"No, I'm... I'm okay, Janine." He couldn't take his eyes off Chip.
"Can you stand up?" Janine asked.
"Sure," he replied, but found it more difficult than he had thought. He was grateful for Janine's support when the room began to spin around him.
"Here, sit down," she said, trying to maneuver him into the overstuffed chair nearby.
"No," he breathed, as the room became stable. Firming his stance, he was glad to find his legs were already feeling a little less wobbly. "I'm all right."
"Well, I'm calling the cops!" She reached for the extension on a nearby table, but Peter caught her hand.
"Wait for what? This guy slugged you."
Chip raised his head and looked at Peter, his eyes filled with anguish. "She's right. I hit you. I coulda... I coulda really hurt you."
"You could have killed him!" Janine cried, her arm still around Peter's waist.
Chip flinched. "You're right. I should be locked up for the rest of my life. I'm no good for anyone. Everything is wrong."
"You sure got that right," Peter remarked. "Maybe you hit me harder than I think, but I'm confused here. You came here either to beat me up or to extort money or both. And now you're sorry?"
"I don't blame you, Venkman. I'm scum like you said. If there was any way I could apologize...."
"Explain it to me," Peter said as he took a step closer to the sofa. "Just exactly why did you come here?"
"I needed money."
Chip shook his head. "It doesn't matter now."
"I think it does."
"Just let the lady call the cops and get it over with."
"Oh, no," Peter told him. "You don't get off that easy. You tell me what this is all about. You owe me that."
Chip took a deep breath. "Okay, I guess I do." He stood up, but immediately moved away from Peter. His back toward the others, he started talking.
"You know what I was always like. I was a bully. I learned that from my old man. He used to drink and beat up on mom and us kids. Then, when I got old enough and big enough, I beat him up one night. He left and never came back. I thought that was the only way to get what you wanted, what you needed. All I ever knew how to do was hurt people.
"Then, I went too far that time and put you in the hospital. And got sent to reform school. Oh, man, I hated you. I spent seven years in that place until I got too old for them to hold me, and I cursed your name every day of it. When I got out, I was gonna look you up and kill you."
"So, why didn't you?" Peter asked.
"Got busted for trying to hold up a liquor store. Went away for five years." Chip turned around and looked directly at him. "Spent most of that time the same way. Bullyin' people. Trying to be the boss in the joint. Then I got beat up." He laughed, with a tone of irony. "Yeah, you know what they say. There's always someone bigger. Well, this guys was a chunk of concrete, and he landed it all on me. By the time I healed up, I'd served my sentence and was released from prison. I went back home, but while I was gone, my dad had come back. One night, he got tanked and beat up my little sister and my mom." He dropped his gaze. "The police came, but it was too late. Mom was dead. My little sister had been put in an orphanage, and with my record, I didn't have a prayer of getting her out of there. I was broke and alone and angry at the whole world.
"Then one night I walked into this mission. Just 'cause they had food. For some reason, which I still don't understand, the preacher gave me a job cleaning up and let me live there." His eyes met Peter's. "Funny thing is, he wasn't afraid of me. First time that ever happened. I think even Big Rudy was afraid of me until he beat me up. It's not like I got religion or anything, but the guy gave me a chance. And he introduced me to this social worker. She wanted to help me. Can you imagine that?"
Peter stared at the man before him. This man was nothing like the Chip Monroe he'd known, nothing like the man who walked in here. "So you got a new start."
"Yeah," Chip nodded. "I got a job, a real job, at this garage. I was always good with cars. I started going to night school. I even graduated. That's where I met Ellen. She was a teacher, but she wasn't any older than me. She saw something in me nobody else ever had. I don't know why or how, but she did. We got married."
"So why aren't you living happily ever after?" Peter asked.
"She got sick. Cancer."
"She needs an operation, and I don't have the money...."
"So you thought you'd get it out of me the way you used to? And here I thought you'd reformed."
"I didn't know what else to do. Everything we'd saved is gone to the hospital bills. I tried everything. Working three jobs. I couldn't get a loan. Even the loan sharks didn't want to do business with me. Bad risk."
"I'm surprised they didn't hire you on as muscle," Peter replied.
Chip laughed. "They knew I'd never hit anyone."
"Excuse me?" Janine injected. "But you didn't seem to have any trouble hitting Peter!"
"It's because of what I said about your wife, right?" Peter asked. "That was outta line. I'm sorry."
Chip shook his head. "No, I'm sorry. I swore I'd never...." He took a shaky breath. "After I got beat up in prison, I almost died. I guess I finally found out what it felt like to be on the other side. Reminded me how I felt when Pop used to wallop me. Then after what happened to Mom..., I swore I'd never hit anyone again. Fact it, the thought of it makes me sick."
"Then why come here and threaten me?"
"I didn't know what else to do? What was I supposed to do? Just ask you to lend me ten thousand dollars? You'd have laughed in my face. And you'd have had every right. I thought if I just came on like a bully... like I used to... maybe you'd give me the money." He laughed. "Shoulda known better. You were the only kid that ever stood up to me."
"So what do you suggest we do now?" Peter asked.
"Call the cops, like the lady wants. I won't make any fuss. I'm guilty."
"And then what happens to your wife?"
Tears welled up in his eyes again. "I... I don't know."
"Just... get out of here," Peter waved toward the door.
"What?" Janine stared at him in shock. "Peter, he assaulted you!"
"Forget it. Just forget it."
Chip was also staring at him. "You'd just let me leave? After what I did?"
"Sure. Why not?"
"But Peter...." He held up his hand to stop her.
"What good would it do, Janine? Go home to your wife, Chip."
Monroe was still staring at him. "You know, Venkman. All those years, I hated you so much. Blamed you for what I'd become. I was wrong. I know that. And I'm sorry for what I tried to pull today. You won't... you won't see me again." He turned and started to leave.
Peter watched him go, still trying to sort out what had happened. For years, he too, had held onto his anger toward Chip. Oh, he rarely thought about it, but it had always been there--an old wound that hadn't been healed. They'd both only been children. Neither of them could have understood what drove the other. He couldn't understand why Chip had wanted to hurt him, and Chip couldn't understand why he hadn't let himself be bullied.
Now, he could see things he never could have then. Chip's lousy home life didn't excuse his behavior, but it shed some light on it. Peter's own dad wasn't going to win any awards for Father of the Year, but compared to Chip's....
Yet, if you believe the story Chip had told them--and Peter did; he'd seen the truth of it in the other man's eyes as he spoke--he had turned himself around. Made a good life for himself and the woman he loved, until fate stepped in and dealt him a bad hand. A very bad hand.
Cancer. Peter shuddered. No one deserved that. Not even Chip.
"Chip, wait," he called just before the man started down the stairs. Monroe turned around.
"Listen, I was telling you the truth. I don't have ten thousand dollars, but I do know some folks at this research center in Brooklyn. I do some counseling there once in a while. They specialize in treating cancer cases, and they have some pretty good programs. There's a fund for char... for patients who can't afford the treatment. I could... maybe... give them a call. See if there's anything they could do for Ellen."
Chip's jaw dropped as he stared at Peter. "Y-you'd do that? You'd do that after.... For... me?"
Peter shrugged, feeling a bit embarrassed. "It's no big deal. And I can't promise anything, but...."
"Please," Chip begged, "anything you could do.... "I... I don't know what to say."
"Just give Janine your phone number." He rubbed at his jaw. "And promise you won't come back and hit me again, okay?"
"Okay," Chip replied with a nod. "Thanks, Peter."
Venkman waved. "Just go home and take care of your wife."
Chip nodded again, then turned and headed down the stairs.
"You sure you're okay?" Janine asked.
"I'm fine," he assured her. With a smile and a shake of her head, she followed Chip out of the room.
Peter sank down on the sofa feeling exhausted, but somehow contented. In a strange way, it felt natural. He'd put a ghost from his own past to rest. Actually, he thought, he felt pretty good, aching jaw and all. If Chip Monroe could turn out to not be such a bad guy, maybe there was hope for the rest of the crazy, mixed up world.
A few minutes later, Janine came back in with an ice pack and a slip of paper containing a phone number. "I thought you could use this," she said, handing him the cold pack which he immediately applied to his jaw.
"Ah, Janine, you're an angel."
"You're not half bad yourself, Doctor V."
Peter smiled. "Good grief! Two miracles in one day! Chip Monroe turns out to be a human being, and you give me a compliment!" He placed his hand on his chest. "I'm not sure my heart can take it!"
Handing him the piece of paper, she leaned over and planted a kiss on his undamaged cheek. "I think you're heart is doing just fine." With that she went back to her more mundane duties.
Peter sat silently for a few minutes, a smile blossoming on his rapidly bruising face, then reached for the phone.
"Dr. Benson? Peter Venkman here. Remember that favor you said you owed me...."
Late in the afternoon, Egon and Ray arrived back from their conference, and to Peter's dismay, Janine related the whole story to them. Just as she was finishing, Winston walked in, and she repeated the events of the morning for his benefit. Peter, of course, tried to make light of the entire thing. Except, of course, that he was more than willing to allow his friends to make a bit of a fuss over his "injury."
"I still think we should take you to the emergency room," Egon told him, using his best lecture tone of voice. "You could have some broken bones in your face."
Peter shrugged it off. "Naw, it looks worse than it feels... almost." He sighed at Egon's stern look. "Okay, if it's not better by morning, I swing by the clinic and have them check it out. Satisfied?"
"We're very proud of you, Peter," Ray smiled at him.
"Hey," Venkman returned the smile. "The guy was sorry. He managed to hold his temper through quite a few insults. I just had to go and pop off about his wife. Stupid remark."
"You didn't know..." Winston began.
"I shoulda known better than to bait him. I was asking for it. But I was just so angry. I couldn't seem to keep my mouth shut."
"I think you more than made up for it," Ray pointed out. "Gee, I hope Dr. Benson can help his wife."
"He promised to do what he could." Peter sat thoughtfully for a moment. "I hope so, too, Ray. If she was responsible, even in part, of turning a guy like Chip around, then she must be some lady."
"Indeed," Egon nodded, just as the phone rang. Winston, who was closest to the extension, lifted the receiver.
"Ghostbusters. Yes, Dr. Benson, he's right here." He handed the phone to Peter.
"Peter, I just wanted to let you know, we've set Mrs. Monroe up for a full work-up tomorrow. I've been in touch with her current doctor, and I think she'll qualify for financial aid."
"That's great, Doc. Now I owe you one."
"Not at all," the doctor replied. "I think it was very decent of you to want to help. Such a shame. A young woman struggling alone with a three-year-old child.... So tragic to lose her husband in the midst of everything else."
"What?" Peter sat straight up in his chair, chills running down his spine. "What are you talking about?"
"You didn't know? Oh, dear. Her husband was killed in a traffic accident two weeks ago."
"You're sure about that?"
"Well, she told me herself, and so did her doctor."
"Uh, thanks, Doc, I'll get back to you."
"All right, Peter, goodbye."
Peter dropped his hand, still clutching the phone, into his lap. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest. Could it be true? If it was, then the Chip Monroe who'd been there that morning....
"Peter, what is it?" Ray asked, staring at his friend in concern.
Peter raised his eyes and looked at them, shock evident on his features.
"Come on, Pete, you look like you've seen a ghost!" Winston remarked.
Peter just stared them, for once, at a complete loss for words.