Saturday, December 1, 2007
Ben's Kosher Deli
209 W. 38th Street
Ben's wasn't usually Ray's choice of dinner location, but after the day Ray had, it was just about the only place he knew well that he felt reasonably certain wasn't
going to play Christmas music at him. He could ignore the usual inane stuff, but looking up and realizing WLTW was cheerfully playing "A Cyclopean Tomb (Down In Deep R'lyeh)" and not
"Home For The Holidays" was more than a little twitch-inducing. "Look! Professor Angell Brings" coming from WPLJ hadn't been much better. "It's Mi-Go!", on the oldies station, had been the last straw. He begged off going home from work with the rest of the guys and ran for the kosher deli as fast as his legs would allow. He didn't bother to ask for a menu or place an order; they already knew what he'd be wanting.
"Hello, Raymond," said his dead grandfather
from across his table of choice. "Bad day?"
"You have no idea, Grandpa," said Ray. "Between work, the flack we're getting from the DMV about Ecto, and all this crap on the radio- ugh."
Maxim shook his head. "Running yourself a little thin, are you?"
"Hey, you try spending twenty-five years on Mythos Earth and see how many of your
nerves are still firing on all cylinders," Ray answered. "... wow. Talk about your mixed metaphors."
"I get the picture. I'm surprised you've held up this long. How come you haven't gone off for about six months of vacation somewhere sunny yet?"
"Haven't been able to get hold of Romana," Ray says. "It's okay. I left her some notes. We'll manage- she's really good about making up for lost time."
Maxim smirked. "I'll bet she- uh oh."
"Uh oh what?" said Ray, twisting in his seat to see what his grandfather was looking at. "What are you- uh oh."
It was Suits- lots of them, men and women both in dark suits suddenly flooding into the deli. One of them was talking to the person up at the cash register, several had pulled aside members of the waitstaff, and one was talking rapidly to the other patrons and gesturing towards the door. Hastily, Ray tried to pull up his collar and pull in his head, but that hadn't worked for him since the Bar turned him into Megatron for Halloween.
"What did you do
, Ray?" Maxim hissed.
"Nothing! Nothing, I swear!"
"Then why is one of them headed here right now?"
"Meep!" said Ray, or something like that. "Ahgahd
"Sir?" came the Suit's voice; it was a woman. Ray looked up from his uncomfortably hunched position. "Are you Dr. Raymond Stantz?"
Maxim had been the one to teach Ray finger-spelling in ASL when Ray was just a boy; Ray caught the flickering of his fingers across the table, spelling out t-e-l-l-h-e-r-n-o
. He swallowed. "Um," he said. "Yes?"
There was a sense under the table of someone not as substantial as he might have liked kicking him in the shins.
"Good. We were hoping you would be here. I'm Agent Branney, of the Secret Service. Who's this?"
"Um. That's my- that's my grandfather, Maxim. He's-"
Agent Branney raised one blonde eyebrow, then nodded. "He can stay," she said. "For now, anyway."
"What? What do you mean, he can stay?" Ray asked. "Where's everybody going?"
"Upstairs, sir. It's a security measure, at least for the moment. The President's coming." "What??"
Agent Branney started to speak into her radio headpiece, then stopped. "What's that waitress there bringing you, Dr. Stantz?"
"It's... a pastrami sandwich... look, why does it matter what she's bringing me?"
"I've been on duty for eight hours straight and I'm starved
. I want one too."
"Go back to the part about the President," said Maxim, but Agent Branney was already talking into her headpiece. A moment later, the front door opened again and a voice Ray knew far better than he had ever intended rang out. "Dr. Stantz?"
Ray swallowed and somehow managed a smile as Agent Branney stepped away from his table. "Hello, Mr. President," he said.
He couldn't have relayed the next few minutes to an interviewer if he tried; mostly what he remembered, afterwards, was wishing he'd just settled for the possibility of being smacked in the ear with a Cthulhu carol instead. There was something about the President being in town for a UN meeting, and an outbreak of dysentery or food poisoning or something at the UN kitchens getting several of the President's other meetings canceled, and a couple of other things, but he wasn't really listening. It wasn't until the words 'and they mentioned your
name' that Ray really looked up. "Excuse me," he said. "Could you repeat that?"
"Of course," said the President. "The representatives from Y'ha-nthlei sent us a very nice letter the other day saying they were tired of subpar ambassadors- very politely worded, of course- and offering a list of people they thought would make acceptable alternatives.""Me?"
Ray squeaked. "Why me?"
"Well, Dr. Stantz, they said something about an encounter in the frozen foods section
of a Seven Eleven
in Ipswitch." The President smiled, interlacing his fingers in front of him. "Seems you impressed the Y'ha-nthlei governor's son. Admittedly, they did
name a couple of other people, but Eugenie Clark
and Peter Raimondi
are a distant second and third..."
Maxim looked from the President to Ray, then back again. "Mr. President?" he said. "Question. How come the State Department didn't just send somebody? Why'd you
show up for something like this?"
"Excellent question, Maxim," said the President. "I can see you're pretty perceptive, for a dead man. I'm here because this isn't just
about the Deep Ones, you see."
"Uh huh," said Maxim, leaning back in his seat. "Ray, you're looking deader than me. Drink something."
As Ray reached for his glass of soda, the President said, "Let's be honest, gentlemen. This country's about to embark on a wider scope of changes than at just about any other point in its history. The Deep Ones are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. I don't know about you, but I still remember events on board the Space Station last year, and the fact that those Mi-Go are still out there somewhere gives me the creeps."
"Wise of you," Ray murmured over his soda.
"Why, thank you. I'm glad you approve. The fact is that between the Mi-Go incident, and the rising of the Deep Ones, and the incident with Dr. Mezga, it's become increasingly
clear that we're sharing our world with all kinds of things none of us are really prepared for, and I for one intend to be proactive about it. We don't just need an ambassador to the Deep Ones, gentlemen. Are either of you familiar with the diplomatic title of 'Ambassador-at-large'?"
Ray shook his head mutely; Maxim looked blank.
"Didn't think so. Most people don't. An ambassador-at-large isn't posted to any one particular embassy. He or she's given a competence ratione materiae
- they're tasked to handle matters pertaining to one thematic problem. We've got a couple at the moment- Ambassador-at-large Borgman's got War Crimes Issues, Ambassador-at-large Losurdo's got Counterterrorism, things like that." He lifted his thumbs a moment, then pressed them back together. "For the creation of an Ambassador-at-large post where the ratione materiae
is 'Non-Human Sentients', you can't really send a State Department flunky."
Ray made a small choking noise. The President leaned over to smack him on the back a few times. "I'm all right," Ray managed. "I'm all right- Mr. President, you can't be serious!"
"On the contrary, Dr. Stantz, I'm absolutely
serious. There is no one else
in the United States of America who's made as much of a practice and habit of interacting with nonhuman beings of every size, stripe, and level of capability as yourself."
"Ghosts don't count!"
"Nope. But Deep Ones do, and so do extradimensional beings, Hortas, little blue things with too many teeth
, big growly things with plasma cannons
, and giant robots."
"I thought Hortas only existed on Star Trek," began Maxim.
"The NYPD begs to differ
," said the President. "That's been checked out very
thoroughly. To cut it all short- we know what you've been doing, Dr. Stantz. We'd like to ask you to do it for your country now. Officially."
Ray stared mutely at the President, the soda in his hand forgotten.
"And," said the President, gesturing to Agent Branney, "I believe
we can make it genuinely worth your while."There isn't enough money in the world,
Ray thought, but the words weren't coming. The President seemed to understand anyway; he said, "I'm led to understand that you're making a pretty fair income off your patents and licensing fees, so money isn't an issue. The rest of the Ghostbusting operation's doing well enough as it stands- we'll have to work something out with that, of course. You won't be called on for anything official until Congressional confirmation, don't worry about that. With the recent changes at Columbia
, I feel it's pretty safe to say that you've got a much wider level of professional recognition than at any point in the past. So we can't offer you that in compensation. What I can
Agent Branney held out a briefcase; the President unlocked it, popped it open, and took out a slim maroon folder with several government logos stamped on it in gold. "-is this."
Ray took the folder in one shaking hand and started to examine the contents. A moment later, there was soda sprayed all over the table.