WARNING: Contains non-graphic intimations of college naughtiness. (Non- slash) High PG rating recommended.


By: CindyR

The old leather chair creaked loudly as Peter shifted his position, his pose deceptively - and deliberately - casual. His polite smile betrayed none of the excitement that even now raced like fire through his veins at what old Professor McKenna was saying.

"... saw merit in your work," McKenna droned on, his wrinkled face formed in stern lines. "Of course, your own research will be secondary to the main project, that of investigating the structure and substance of dreams and sleep."

Peter crossed his legs at the knee, again eliciting another squeak from the chair. "That is my main field of interest," he admitted, carefully schooling his features into something akin to professional neutrality. "My Masters thesis revolved around the correlation between sleep disorders and primary psychosis. And may I say, sir, that working with an acknowledged authority such as yourself on this project is quite an honor. Your expertise on the subject is acclaimed throughout the scientific community."

McKenna visibly preened under the flattery. "Well, I suppose I have made some modest contributions in my time." He ran one hand through his thinning white hair and sat up straighter in his chair. "Perhaps we can find time to investigate a few of your branch projects," he relented, "so long as we have results to show in return for the grant money each quarter."

"Understood, sir." Peter hid a smile at how easy it was to maneuver McKenna, though adding to himself that not all of what he had said was precisely flattery - Professor Andrew McKenna was an expert in the field of sleep research. Who knew? Maybe he'd pick up something from the old SOB after all ... or maybe McKenna would end up learning something from Peter Venkman!

"Lab space is of course limited," McKenna went on, shuffling through a stack of papers on his desk. "However, there is space in Weaver Hall, Lab 14. It's small but quite adequate for your part in the overall project." He rose, waiting until Peter had scrambled politely to his own feet before adding, "I'll take you over there myself and acquaint you with the way things work. I'd like to prevent any ... 'incidents' from occurring at this early stage."

"Incidents?" Pete echoed with credible ignorance. "Why, whatever do you mean, sir?"

McKenna paused, studying Peter closely. Peter contrived to look innocent. "Your reputation does precede you even here, young man," the Professor said, his keen gray eyes sweeping Peter from the thick brown hair that curled over his collar, to the dirty sneakers on his feet. "Practical jokes and parties, from what I've been given to understand." He held up a hand, forestalling Peter's automatic protest. "However, your grades are consistently of the highest order, and so long as you maintain a certain respectability when associated with my department, you'll find me more than tolerant of your personal life." He grinned sheepishly, giving Peter a wide view of his yellowed dentures. "Or, as you young people might say, I'm real groovy!"

Peter nodded solemnly while privately hoping the old bird stayed cool - or at least graduated out of the 1960's sometime soon. An inveterate prankster, hellraiser and hard-nose partier, Peter had caught it from nearly every other teacher he'd ever worked with, and only the fact that he was a strictly 'A' student had prevented him being dismissed from Columbia some years before for his more celebrated escapades. He decided he'd take it easy with the old man for awhile - at least until he'd gotten a better scope of the system. Then watch out Weaver! Peter Venkman was here to play!

Peter followed McKenna meekly enough as the two made their way out of the main administration center and across the campus. He breathed deeply, sucking in an interesting lungfull of summer blossoms fused with New York smog; apparently, Manhattan was growing even dirtier despite President Ford's clean air policies. Having been born and raised in Brooklyn, however, Peter dismissed the fact as beneath his notice and resolved to escape to the beach at least one more time before the autumn chill set in.

McKenna chatted amiably as they walked, filling Peter in on the overall goals of his project - that of better understanding the mechanisms which controlled sleep and dreams - then describing the other permanent members of the staff. Some of them Peter was already acquainted with. Sam Cage, for example, was head of the team that investigated the physical structure of the brain, paying particular attention to mapping the areas which controlled the sleep process. A stuffy, prissy man, Peter immediately marked Professor Cage as one to watch - and torment - as the opportunity arose.

Dr. Gainscott was another participant Peter would watch, though her far more gladly. A thirty-one year old bio-chem professor, Marian Gainscott's field was the study of the chemical systems which activated dreams and thought during sleep, working with memory as a necessary side element. She was also, Peter readily admitted, one of the most beautiful women on campus. Her cool intellect had successfully withstood Peter's not- inconsiderable charm when he was her biology student; now that they were on more or less equal footing, Peter expected things to be different and was quite willing to invest a little effort into the alterations.

"Hi, Pete!" someone yelled, interrupting this pleasant train of thought. Peter turned, nodding at the two mini-skirted coed types who were waving frantically for attention. Peter waved back, nearly tripping over the petite redhead who was tapping him on the arm.

"We still on for tonight, Peter?" she asked, not breaking her stride.

"Pick you up at eight, Adrienne!" Peter yelled, watching her trim form disappear into the crowd. He moved on, acknowledging greetings as he and the Professor made their way across the busy grounds.

"You certainly are a popular young man," McKenna commented, stepping back to allow half the football team to thunder by, slapping Peter on the back as they passed. "How did you get acquainted with so many people and still maintain a ninety-six per cent average?"

Peter shrugged. "Hard work and dedication," he answered piously, inwardly adding the words near photographic memory to the equation. Any edges, however, were nobody's business but his own.

Weaver Hall was a venerable building occupying a respectable portion of expensive Manhattan real estate; it housed the University psychology department and assorted associated ventures within its stone walls. McKenna and Venkman made their way through the large front door, took the stairs to the third floor then turned left. Peter's head swung in rapid succession left and right, absorbing every sight, sound and scent of the structure. To think that he, Peter Charles Venkman, son of an ex-chorus girl/waitress and present down-on-his-luck conman, would be walking the halls of prestigious Columbia University heading for his very own research lab! Something tightened in his chest as he remembered the look in his father's eyes when Peter had told him that his son had been accepted to Columbia - the pure pride and open love that made up for all the Christmases the older man had ever missed ... well, almost. Peter's mother had learned to hate Charlie Venkman, her own loneliness turning her bitter by degrees. Peter, however, had learned to accept Charlie as he was - a tumbleweed without roots, an absent father - and a man who loved his only son dearly.

McKenna stopped before a smoked glass door bearing the number fourteen above it in faded gold leaf. It swung open at a touch and Peter got his first look inside. It was a tiny affair, barely twelve-by-twelve, and stuffed full of two cheap desks, several filing cabinets and a shelf of books. One side of the room was partitioned off, giving the illusion of privacy, unidentified clutter barely visible through the glass divider.

Movement from the far corner drew his attention and Peter turned, his jaw dropping at the sight of the tall, lanky man seated at the far desk, a half- eaten donut caught between his teeth. "Who are you?" Peter blurted. "What are you doing in my office?"

Eyes the color of a winter's sky widened at that. The stranger very deliberately replaced his donut on the paper plate, then used a napkin to wipe his powdery lips. This accomplished, he adjusted his gold-wire spectacles higher on his nose and leaned his head back the better to peer into Peter's face. "What is the meaning of this, Professor McKenna?" he rumbled in a not-unpleasant bass. "I don't believe this ... gentleman has been introduced."

Peter closed his mouth, the subtle emphasis on the noun not escaping his notice. McKenna used the brief pause to step forward, both hands raised. "Peter Venkman, I'd like you to meet Dr. Egon Spengler. You and Egon will be sharing the lab." He returned Peter's dismayed look with a frown. "I did tell you that lab space was limited," he said apologetically. "And you are the most junior member on staff. Surely you knew you wouldn't have a lab to yourself?"

Peter clamped hard on his disappointment, schooling his features into a polite mask. Never show weakness, he reminded himself harshly, not unless it was going to get you something. No sense letting these dweebs know something like this was bothering him now. He dredged up a smile for the professor, turning it also on his new 'roommate,' Egon Spengler - Doctor Egon Spengler - even as the man rose from his chair. He was tall, topping Peter's six foot height by a good three inches. Blond hair worn short in the back, long on top, waved over his forehead in a violent curl, a coiffure that would have made Peter snicker had McKenna not been present.

Bristling at the frank scrutiny, Spengler pulled himself up to his full height, adjusting his flawless suit jacket with one hand, smoothing his unwrinkled charcoal slacks with the other. The calculated gesture served its purpose, and Peter felt himself cringe, acutely aware of the battered jeans and red cotton shirt he had donned this morning. Then he spotted it - the little white pen protector in Egon's breast pocket, the heads of several ballpoints sticking up over the material - and Peter relaxed, confident once more. Geek accessories. Of course the guy was a geek. No threat whatsoever except maybe to Peter's reputation once word got out who he was stuck sharing digs with.

"Dr. Spengler joined us last year, a transfer from MIT," McKenna was saying in a rush, obviously sensing the automatic mutual dislike. "He already has one Ph.D. in physics, and he's working on the second one in Ancient Languages. But since M.I.T. doesn't carry a course in parapsychology, Egon was forced to transfer here if he wanted a degree in that area."

"You sound like a brochure," Peter muttered. Then it hit him. "Hey, wait a minute - did you say parapsychology? Since when does Columbia allocate labspace to that kind of mumbo-jumbo crap? I thought we were supposed to be doing serious research here."

Spengler's long face blossomed two spots of crimson over his cheekbones. "Parapsychology is hardly a pseudo-science any more," he reproved sternly. "According to the latest research, the paranormal...."

"Is a bunch of hoke," Peter interrupted, crinkling his nose. "Hey if there's one thing in this world I do know, it's a good scam."

"That I have not trouble at all believing," Spengler sneered, earning a piercing glare from Peter.

McKenna raised both hands placatingly. "Dr. Spengler is here because parapsychological studies come under the auspices of the psychology department, even though his approach is on a purely physical level."

Whatever that means, Peter thought scornfully.

Spengler pursed his full lips thoughtfully. "At this point I'm attempting to discover some of the physical variations measurable in paranormal phenomena, as well as to continue the work of Professor Seldon, who theorized the existence of inter-dimensional nexus with the resultant wide- spectrum particle emission."

An egghead as well as a geek, Peter decided instantly. He forced another smile and took McKenna by the arm. "May I speak to you in the hall, sir? Privately?" As he hustled the older man out Peter couldn't resist the urge to offer over his shoulder one parting shot. "Love the hair," he commented with mild acid.

"Why does this place smell like Eau de Cheap Cologne?" Spengler wondered just loud enough for Peter to hear.

Peter slammed the door. Hard.

The hallway was beginning to bustle as nine a.m. approached, and Peter realized that the Spengler guy must have been in the lab for some time already, judging by the remains of breakfast. He slumped against the closed door, jutting out one hip. "You're not really serious about all this sh-- ... er, malarkey, are you, Prof?" he asked, crossing his arms. "I mean, like, man, that guy is so deep space you could use him for an asteroid."

McKenna leaned closer, waiting until a group of lab-coated students had passed before answering. "Between us, Mr. Venkman," he began in a conspiratorial whisper, "I'm not much of a believer in ... such things, either, though Professor Broadwell, who teaches Folklore, Myths and Legends among his other courses, is somewhat respected in the ... er ... field, and I know Pauline Markowicz, over in Primitive Cultures, personally; brilliant woman. However, Dr. Spengler's research has been confined to physics and higher mathematics, though it incorporates elements of our own discipline. I wouldn't have allowed it in my department at all except...." He spread his hands helplessly. "Dr. Spengler's family is quite wealthy, and wields great influence with the Board of Trustees. I wanted to cooperate so...."

That brought Peter erect, green eyes blazing. "You mean he bought his way in?" he asked, choosing a scandalized tone as one best suitable to the occasion. Privately, he wished he could have afforded to do so and saved himself several years' work.

McKenna shrugged huffily. "Not at all. That was not a primary consideration." I'll bet, Peter thought. "I don't want you to think that Dr. Spengler is anything but a legitimate scientist. I've read his thesis on poly-dimensional physics ... what I understood of it. It's considered absolutely brilliant, opening up several new directions of energy research."

"But he's a geek!" Peter cried, sensing the dispute getting away from him.

Mckenna stiffened. "It's hardly reason to dismiss the man out of hand simply because he doesn't measure up to your social standards. His I.Q. is well above genius level, you know."

Peter wilted, hearing in McKenna's tone the final judgment on the matter. "You're quite right, sir," he agreed heartily, pulling his cheerful facade back into place. "I'm certain we'll get along famously."

That seemed to satisfy the old man. "I'm certain as well," he returned, obviously relieved that the situation was not going to escalate. "Let me know if you need anything to get started. I've already approved your direction of inquiry; you can begin assembling materials immediately." He made to move off, then stopped and turned back. "Oh, departmental review is Friday; that'll give you time to adjust to your co-workers."

Peter smiled again, waving amiably at McKenna's disappearing back. As soon as the man turned the first corner Peter's smile faded into a scowl. Not his own lab after all, he groused, automatically tucking in his shirt before reentering the room, but a shared lab with a shared geek. He squared his shoulders and reached resolutely for the door. "Better show him who's boss right now," he grumbled, "and avoid a hassle later on down the line."


Egon watched the door close, fighting the sinking feeling expanding in his gut. Of all the cretins McKenna might have chosen to pair him with, the professor had had to select the campus clown. Despite his earlier implication, Egon had heard of Peter Venkman - all of Columbia recognized the too-handsome face and cocky swagger on sight. The man had a reputation for fast living, wooing the coeds, throwing the best parties on campus ... but not a word said regarding academic achievement, almost as though it were some kind of well-kept secret. Egon wondered what technique Venkman had used to scam his way into kindly old Professor McKenna's graces - and from there into Egon's lab.

He sighed and dropped his book back to the desk, vowing to return to it as soon as his next class was over. Vodrovski's latest report postulated measurable energy fluctuations on an inter-dimensional scale, speculation which paralleled Egon's own research to an amazing degree. Egon smiled to himself, the words Nobel Prize dancing briefly across the fabric of his admittedly bland imagination. Someday that prize would be his - not to mention proper recognition from a community that had done little save sneer at his directions of research. And if a Nobel Prize didn't satisfy his hard to please father, nothing ever would!

He traced his upper lip with his forefinger, his ears pricking at the low murmur from beyond the door. Venkman's voice was nearly audible even through the smoked glass, a clear, mellow tenor that well fit the humorous cast to his features. Egon sighed aloud. Better establish himself as senior labmember immediately, he thought, and prevent any future complications before they arose. Time to be firm but fair.

He rose to pace the cramped quarters only to turn back a moment later as the door reopened and Venkman stepped back into the room. The two eyed each other warily, predators summing up the opposition. That Peter Venkman was a handsome devil was beyond dispute: rich brown hair waved back from a narrow face and was combed to the side. The man's strong jaw belied the almost-pretty features; that evidence of strength gave Egon momentary pause. Egon found himself staring into a pair of sharp green eyes and stiffened, surprising a spark of intelligence in their depths that he would not have credited the man from his reputation alone. Then it was gone and that fatuous, 'I'm just along for the ride' expression was back in place.

"Looks like it's gonna be you an' me, bro," Venkman drawled, his light New York accent clipping his words short. "Guess we're just gonna have to get used it."

"I'm certain we can manage to stay out of each other's way," Egon replied coolly, determining to establish his authority from the beginning. He straightened, staring down at the younger man from his superior height. Venkman didn't withdraw a single inch. "At this point I'm doing more pen and paper calculation than experimental. Later, of course, I'll be installing some testing equipment that will require additional space."

"Space may be at a premium around here," Venkman retorted, giving the co- joined desks a hearty kick. Green eyes flashed in his direction and Egon felt himself being summed up as well. He ran a hand down his expensive sports jacket, unostentatiously straightening the school tie that had cost his father what to this man would have been a veritable fortune. The intimation was obvious as was the repeated contrast with Venkman's appearance. The implied insult registered as the barest flicker in that deceptively expressive face, and Egon had to withhold the urge to gloat; then Venkman subtly shifted his stance, the muscles in his arms bulging ever so slightly - and it was Egon's turn to deflate. There was disapproval in the other man's unshielded expression; Egon knew how he felt - he couldn't stand Peter Venkman, either.

"I suppose you're going to need to know the directions of my present undertaking," he began by way of a conversational gambit. "I'm striving to measure any confluences of nether-dimensional entities upon the terrain environment...."

Peter, in the act of inspecting the underside of a chair, straightened slowly, incredulity in his expression. "Wait a minute," he protested loudly. "Nether.... Are you trying to tell me you're chasing ghosts?!"

A slow flush worked its burning way up Egon's neck, staining his thin cheeks crimson. "That is only a layman's term," he corrected haughtily, annoyed at the glee shining in his opponent's eyes and even more annoyed with himself for reacting to it. "I can explain some of the equipment...."

Venkman held up a hand, cutting him off. "No need, Casper," he said, strolling to the unoccupied desk and opening a drawer. "'Cause I don't really want to know. I'll need that cubbyhole ..." He pointed to the minuscule glassed-in area in the far corner, at present filled to bursting with Egon's personal reference library. "... and some periodic quiet. I start interviewing candidates for the project's sleep research program next week."

Egon sighed, feeling the privacy he'd come to depend on dissolving in a wash of brown hair and white teeth. "You can have the cubicle," he conceded with bad grace. "You may have to put up with some noise next Wednesday, though; I'm having a computer installed that day. It'll occupy most of the area between our desks."

That won Venkman's attention. "You're own?" he asked, obviously impressed despite himself. "You won't be drawing time in the computer labs?" Egon shook his head. Venkman blinked once before the casual facade slammed down again, wiping away all traces of admiration. "Good," he finished. "That means more on-line time for me." He paused, a bright smile barely hiding the steel. "Looks like we'll have to make a few adjustments, Casper."

"I'm perfectly willing, of course," Egon acknowledged, suddenly realizing what the term 'hell on earth' meant, "providing you stop calling me 'Casper.'" Venkman grinned brightly and busied himself with exploring the modest space, while Egon sighed, resigning himself to a very long year.


The next few days marked the official beginning of the new semester and were busy ones for the two young men. Venkman's first official duty was to attend the weekly staff meeting, scheduled for every Friday. Though the youngest member of the team - and possessor of the newest Masters degree - he immediately took the place of honor near the head of the table, dispossessing an irritated looking Cage, who was forced to find a seat elsewhere. Here, Peter was given a more intensive overview of the goals of each segment of the research team. Approximately twenty people attended the meeting, including the half-dozen men and women who headed their individual sections and explained their roles in the project. Sam Cage went first, tersely explaining his plans to graph the human mind one section at a time. He was using apes at present, concluding with, "... but I plan to graduate to a human brain in the very near future."

Peter very politely mentioned that he would be looking forward to seeing that. Cage sat down, a puzzled frown etching his craggy brows at the low guffaws from the rest of the room.

John Irwin was next, a short, heavy-set man in his late twenties whose published work on phobia generation was one Peter had read often and with real pleasure. Irwin swelled under the praise, then ceded the floor to Marian Gainscott, who accepted center stage with poised aplomb. Peter leaned forward.

"A pleasure to see you again, Peter," she greeted him courteously. "You're aware of my work, I know, so I won't bore you with more than the basics. I've spent the last ten years of my life studying the electro-biochemical stimuli which make up the phenomenon men call thought, particularly with reference to the chemical changes that take place during the sleeping state. I'll require access to the profiles you'll be composing on the subjects, then I'll be running full bio-med scans on them all. I'm working closely with Professor Cage ..."

"Lucky, lucky man," Peter interjected with a smile.

"... and we'll probably be sharing test subjects after you're through with their work-up," she concluded. She seated herself serenely, ignoring Peter's twitching eyebrows. "Any questions?"

"Actually I do," Peter said, pursing his lips. "I've been looking for a bit more information on the chemical processes involved in theta wave production. I was hoping to discuss it with you...."

"I'll interoffice you my latest brief on the subject," Gainscott offered, waving away the offer. "You'll have it within the week."

"But I might have questions," Peter volleyed smoothly. "It would be far more logical if you brought it yourself."

Gainscott sighed, then nodded. "Very well. Brief questions."

As there was nothing more to be said on this subject, the other team leaders followed in close succession, outlining their own research. McKenna was striving for a more coordinated approach than was being carried out on any other campus, and made no bones about telling Peter so.

"It'll mean correlating all information discovered through the main committee," he said, gesturing at the faces girding the round conference table. "That means us. There'll be no room for grandstanding or solo runs so long as you're drawing grant money from this project."

"Of course not, sir," Peter replied smoothly, rising to his feet. "I'm quite adept at pulling my share of the team load." He ignored Cage's snort, fixing his gaze on a tall, afro-haired male chemist in the corner. "As you probably know by now, I'll be keeping the psych profiles on all test subjects, then doing the psychological analyses of any dreams they might have. This should give us some kind of insight on the effect of a man's mental state on dream production ... or vise versa. I'll probably end up running the most of them through intensive analysis at one point or another, too. I want to see what makes these people tick ... before I hand them over to Cage for dissection."

That won some laughs from the audience and an offended protest from Cage. Peter concluded with. "I look forward to working with all of you," then reseated himself, the very picture of professionalism.

McKenna nodded his approval and rose. "Very good, gentlemen. Let's discuss funding...."

Spengler's computer was delivered as promised, a large, ungainly piece that occupied all of the floorspace behind the two desks. Programming, however, was another matter, and he was finally forced to appeal to the computer arts center for assistance. This arrived in the rather unlikely form of Arturo Beneditti, a twenty-five year old electrical engineer whose young face was locked into the stony grain of the perpetually grim.

"Yep," Beneditti had said upon hearing Egon's proposed study. "Computers have come a long way from the old magnetic tape babies of the 50's and 60's, but you still have to be a rocket scientist to operate 'em." He sighed, an expression crossing his face as close to bliss as he was ever likely to get. "Ahhhh, but give us another ten-fifteen years and we'll have programs sitting on grocery shelves for you. Easy word processing, catalogues, encyclopedias...."

"All I'm interested in right now," Egon said, earning himself a disapproving glance, "is one that will allow me to work multidimensional tensors without pretending it's arithmetic." He patted the monitor gently then brandished a stack of papers completely covered with equations.

Beneditti rubbed his hands together gleefully, his muddy brown eyes beginning to glow. "I think I know just the trick, Egon. Hand me that first disk, please...."

Peter found them two hours later, connectors scattered across the floor, gleaming black disks littering both desks. Both men were seated before the monitor, taking turns tapping on the single keyboard.

"... if I want to run a simulation on...." Egon was saying. He looked up as the door opened, offering Peter a polite nod. "Ah, Venkman, you're just in time. Arturo, I'd like you to meet my ... labmate, Peter Venkman."

"'Meet 'cha," Peter grumbled out of habit.

Beneditti glanced up, obviously annoyed at the interruption. "How do you do," he returned, scratching his head roughly. Stiff black hair stood up in all directions as a result, combining with his squat frame and long arms to make him resemble a large orangutan. "Are you going to be running this baby too?"

Peter glanced over Beneditti's shoulder and snickered. "Sorry, man," he said, waving his hands, "but spook spotting just isn't my bag, dig what I'm saying? I'm into, like, more mundane stuff, like real science."

"Spook spotting?" Beneditti asked, shooting Egon an inquiring look. "As in ghosts?" Egon shrugged, and the computer specialist grew, if possible, even grimmer. "I thought you were a scientist. If you're trying to pull my leg...."

"Mister Venkman," Egon interrupted tersely, "is the one who enjoys a good joke. My doctorate is from M.I.T. and it's in physics. Paraphysics is a possible application. And a scientist," he stressed the word, a jerk of the thumb adding further emphasis, "is willing to explore any direction in his quest for knowledge. Isn't that right Mister Venkman? As Professor Einstein once said...."

Peter smirked and wandered over to the grouped file cabinets in the corner. "Einstein," he interjected sweetly, "was a dork."

Egon drew himself straight, eyes flashing. "Professor Einstein was the greatest genius this world has ever known."

Peter waved a negligent hand, though one brown brow rose. "Do tell. But please go on - I have some scientist stuff to do before I start profiling next week."

"Hmph," was Beneditti's only response. Moments later Peter was ensconced behind something called the Minnesota Multiphasic Psychological Evaluation, and the blond and black heads had returned to the screen as though Peter never existed at all.

This state of affairs lasted nearly an hour longer, all three men looking up when there was a tap at the door. "Commmmme iiii-innn," Peter sang, finger combing his collar-length hair into order. There was a pause then the door opened to admit the lush form of Marian Gainscott, wearing a white labcoat and bearing a notebook. Peter leaped to his feet. "Marian! What a wonderful surprise."

Gainscott stared at him, puzzled. "What surprise?" she asked. "You asked me to bring these briefs by. Did you forget?"

Peter smiled. "As if I could ever forget you, Marian. Please come in."

The woman gave the room a cool glance as she entered, her blue eyes sweeping both Beneditti and Spengler once, the moving on. "If you're busy...." she began, tossing back a strand of rich brown hair.

"Never too busy for someone as lovely as you, my dear." Venkman retreated to the glass cubical, returning with a straight-backed chair. This he placed inches from his own, gesturing the woman to it. "Have a seat."

"Thank you." She remained standing, however, looking Peter up and down speculatively. "You realize that you raised a lot of hackles at the staff meeting Friday? I'm still not sure how you managed to appropriate such a large chunk of the grant money for your program, but you have Sam Cage absolutely livid about it."

Peter grinned. "Sam Cage is a squirrel on a trainer wheel. McKenna pulls the strings and he runs like a rodent. Forget him and sit down - I'm sure we have much to discuss. And may I say you're looking particularly beautiful today?"

Gainscott ignored that. She eyed the chair suspiciously, then turned her attention to the remaining two men, who were returning her regard with precisely the same shade of appreciation that shone in Peter's green eyes. "I don't believe we've met," she reminded Peter.

Peter snapped out of his trance, transferring his soppy grin to the men. "Uh ... right. Dr. Marian Gainscott - Egon Spengler, Ar-- ... Ar--...."

"Arturo Beneditti," Beneditti supplied, pronouncing his name with Neapolitan flair. "Very pleased to meet you, madam."

"Likewise." Egon stepped around the short Italian, offering Gainscott his hand. "I've heard magnificent things about your work in the field of bio- chemistry. Your findings are respected in many journals."

Much to Peter's obvious astonishment, the woman students had nicknamed "The Ice Virgin" - though never to her face - smiled prettily, touching her hair in a decidedly feminine gesture. "Why, thank you, Mr. Spengler. I have had some wonderful response to the article on chemical receptors."

"But you're here to discuss new advances rather than old, aren't you?" Peter interjected, forcibly reclaiming the conversation. "The brief?"

Marian's face closed up, her smile turning frosty. "Yes, of course, Peter." She paused to offer Spengler another little look. "Perhaps we'll be able to discuss the article ... another time, Mr. Spengler?"

Full lips parted in a boyish smile. "I'd like that very much. But it's Doctor Spengler," he corrected her gently. "And I'd be pleased if you would call me Egon."

"Egon." Marian nodded then turned away. She pulled the chair Peter had provided back precisely two feet, edging it to the side of the desk, then seated herself, tugging her skirt down over her shapely knees. "As you said, Peter, about that brief. I'd like to get started right away. I've got tickets to the Met this evening."

"The Mets?" Peter asked, frowning. "It's not baseball season yet."

"The Met," Gainscott corrected, rolling her eyes. "The concert? The New York Philharmonic will be performing Bach's Brandenberg Symphony."

"You'll be attending this evening?" Egon asked, interrupting Beneditti without remorse. "Quite serendipitous, Dr. Gainscott. I, too, shall be attending the symphony this evening.

"You like Bach?" Gainscott asked, twisting in her seat until she could see him clearly.

"I like Bach, too," Peter piped up eagerly. "All his ... er ... movements and everything."

"I've always liked Bach," Egon returned, ignoring Peter. "I've had tickets for almost two months for this evening's performance." He cleared his throat, fingering his tie. "I don't suppose you would care to ... accompany me this evening? Perhaps we could get a little dinner ahead of time?"

A becoming flush touched Gainscott's cheeks. She nodded. "Pick me up at seven," she said, her smile not frosty at all. "Now Peter, about that brief...."

"What brief?" Peter grumbled sourly, green eyes promising retribution and fixed firmly on Egon Spengler.