by Sheila Paulson
Summary: When Bigfoot snatches a camper from a campsite where the Ghostbusters are staying, the possibility that the disappearance is tied to the death of a drug dealer brings Jim and Blair on the scene. Crossover with The Real Ghostbusters. Originally published in Compadres 12. Rated PG.
Disclaimer: Blair, Jim and The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly, UPN and Paramount, not to me, alas, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Peter Venkman curled himself deeply into his sleeping bag, wishing with all his heart that the air mattress had not gone flat in the middle of the night. Beneath him the ground was hard and uncomfortable, and a protruding tree root ran across beneath his spine. He should get up and face the crisp, clear morning with vigor and enthusiasm...but Peter was not a morning person, not even when camping in the woods in Washington State. He could hear the other three Ghostbusters talking outside and smell the delicious aroma of bacon sizzling in the pan, but rolling out of the sack now would be giving in and the other three would be sure to tease him about it.
The camping vacation hadn't even been his own idea. Ray Stantz was the one who wanted to camp, and he'd picked the site not far from the city of Cascade, Washington. When he saw the location on a map, Peter had shaken his head and told Ray he didn't plan to trek through the great north woods hunting for Bigfoot. "Besides, we already found him once, the *last* time you dragged us camping."
"That wasn't really the Sasquatch, Peter," Egon Spengler had joined the conversation. The physicist could be relied upon to clarify the point, no matter what the point was, whether anyone actually wanted it clarified or not. "It was simply an entity from another dimension who happened to match our stereotypes of the Bigfoot legend."
"If it looks like Bigfoot, and smells like Bigfoot, and has feet twice the size of the biggest set in the NBA, only you would insist it *wasn't* Bigfoot, Spengs," Peter had complained.
"We're not going after Bigfoot anyway," said Winston Zeddemore. "We're spending time away from ghosts for awhile. No busting for two whole weeks! And Janine volunteered to keep the Spud." He'd nodded encouragingly at Peter, who tended to find their ghostly, green mascot a pain in the neck.
"The best part of the whole plan is no Slimer," Peter concurred. "But I don't think Janine volunteered. I think she was got at." He shot Egon a significant glance. All four of them knew how the team's secretary felt about Egon; what they weren't sure of was how Egon felt in return, though Peter suspected he did care for the redheaded woman. He simply wasn't the type to make a big production out of it when he went on a date, unlike Peter, who enjoyed the triumph of finding another gorgeous woman. At Peter's words his cheeks reddened slightly.
"Aw, I'm gonna miss Slimer," said softhearted Ray, but the other three had outvoted him, and they had arrived last night, mercifully spud-free. Egon had insisted they bring their proton packs and throwers just to be safe, and he never went anywhere, except possibly the shower, without a P.K.E. meter so he could detect ghostly presences and classify them without delay. But Peter hoped they wouldn't need any of the team's special equipment for trapping and containing ghosts. After all, this was a vacation.
He had to admit the campsite Ray and Winston found was worth a gold star in each of their books. On the shore of a small lake ringed with pine trees, with mountains rising up in the distance, the campground had several different campsites, placed so the neighboring sites were not visible unless one went a short distance back to the road that looped through the campgrounds and trekked a little distance. It was fairly early in the season; the place was not as jammed with campers as it would be in July and August, and Peter remembered seeing only one other car on their way to their assigned site. He'd had a glimpse of a young couple in jeans and lumberjack shirts down the next trail, and last night, while they'd been sitting around the campfire, the couple, Andy and Jill Claypool, had stopped by briefly on their way back from a walk. They weren't newlyweds but they admitted they had only been married three months and hadn't had time for a honeymoon then. Peter suspected the real reason they'd stopped by was to ensure privacy for themselves on their delayed honeymoon by hinting off friendly visits from their camping neighbors.
The guys had sat up late, telling stories around the campfire, singing camp songs, kidding each other, planning the next day's activities, and Peter had slept wonderfully, only awakening when he heard Egon emerge from his tent and call a greeting to Ray. Ever since then he'd been pretending to sleep; it would ruin his reputation to appear too early.
He had almost decided the bacon smelled too good to overlook when a high-pitched scream tore through the woods and running footsteps approached, bringing the frantic yells closer and closer. Peter was out of the sleeping bag in a flash, wiggling into his jeans, grabbing for his Reeboks and shoving his feet into them, and pulling his sweatshirt over his head as he undid the tent flap. He joined the others just as Jill Claypool flung herself on Ray, who had run to meet her, and sobbed heartbrokenly.
"Easy, easy," Ray soothed the fair-haired woman. "What's wrong? Can we help?"
"It...it took Andy," she burbled. "It just grabbed him and took him away. You've got to stop it. Get Andy back."
"Omigosh, a bear?" Winston asked, starting for the back of Ecto, where he kept the hunting rifle he'd brought along, not because the team meant to hunt but because there were dangers in the woods a thrower might not handle. He took it out, and proceeded to load the weapon, stowing the box of spare cartridges in his vest pocket.
"*It*," she wailed. "Bigfoot! It wasn't a bear, it was Bigfoot. You've got to save him."
"Bigfoot?" Peter blurted, stunned. "You actually saw it?" Her frantic words were not a hoax; he could tell that much. She had seen *something*, though she might have misinterpreted what she had seen.
"It was huge and hairy, probably eight feet tall, and it just grabbed Andy as easy as I'd pick up a cat. It went into the woods with him; he was yelling at me to help but I couldn't." She eased her chokehold on Ray and stared pleadingly at them. "Can't you use your Ghostbuster equipment and blast it?"
"If it really is a Sasquatch we couldn't trap it, because it would be physical," Winston told her. "But we can take readings and make sure it really is. I want to check for footprints; that might tell us what we need to know. Ray, take the car down to the place where we registered last night. Tell 'em we've got a missing person. They might need police in on this. County sheriff or officers from Cascade, or search parties anyway."
Ray nodded excitedly and ran for Ecto, pausing only long enough for the other three to take out their proton packs and slip them on; it was about a mile to the campground office and driving would be quicker.
"What exactly did the entity look like?" Egon asked practically. "We must be certain it wasn't a bear." He took his ubiquitous P.K.E. meter out of his pocket and activated it, but it didn't respond. The physicist appeared mildly disappointed but merely proceeded to boost the gain and try again, with a similar result.
"No, it wasn't a bear," she said, his calm tones easing her hysteria. "It walked upright the way a man does, and it didn't have a...a pointed snout like a bear. I know a bear when I see one. And it didn't--didn't shamble like an ape. It's arms weren't that long in proportion to its body, either. Besides, it didn't move like an ape."
"You're doing great," Peter encouraged, putting his arm around her shoulders.
"Yes, you're giving us very useful information," Egon concurred. "Did it appear familiar at all?"
She pondered that, trying to give the best answer she could because she realized it was the only way to help Andy. "It...looked a little familiar, but not like any animal I can think of; I was about fifty yards away. I'd been to the latrine and was on my way back. Andy was standing on the lakeshore." She gestured vaguely at the body of water. "There were a couple of fishermen out there, though the fog almost completely hid them. They might have seen it. Andy said he thought they were trying for a big catch. He was hoping they'd come in close so he could see what they'd caught."
Winston strode down to the shore. "Nobody out there now," he said, "but you're right. I saw two guys out there in a boat awhile ago, too. I wasn't paying attention except I thought it must be cold because there was mist on the water; it was too foggy to see the boat very well, but I had a hazy impression of two men. The fog's mostly cleared away now. But I think we're the only ones in this part of the campground."
"The campground doesn't encircle the lake," Egon reminded him. "The fishermen may have landed their boat anywhere. The locals will know where they could do it. We'll return to your campsite with you now and see what evidence we can find, but we'll need to be careful and not obliterate anything useful. And that means watching where you walk, *Peter*."
"Me? Why pick on me? I'm not gonna walk on evidence," Peter defended himself hotly. "How come I'm always the one everybody suspects of everything."
"I simply wasn't certain you were awake yet," Egon replied.
Peter rubbed his unshaven chin and yawned widely. "I'm awake." He smiled at Jill. "Don't worry about that. Egon will take readings and we'll be able to tell if it was anything out of a legend or not."
The campsite seemed deserted. Egon made them stop level with the Claypools' tent rather than approaching the shore, and from that spot, they eyed the surroundings, searching for any evidence of Bigfoot. The campsite was fairly neat; a camp stove set up near the campfire, a Coleman lantern hanging on a tree branch. The tent was modern and efficient, with a double cot inside, the sleeping bag neatly smoothed into place. The Claypools' Dodge Caravan sat not far away, one of the doors open, but that didn't need to mean someone had been in it. Peter and Ray held their proton rifles in case Bigfoot came back, but Egon only held his detection device.
"Is anything missing?" the blond man asked practically.
Jill looked startled, then she started for the vehicle.
"Don't touch anything, just look," Winston called. "And watch where you walk. If you see any footprints, don't step in them."
Peter didn't see any abnormal footprints, or even any footprints at all. The ground was springy and covered with pine needles, not exactly the best substance to retain footprints anyway. Down near the lake might be better, or people who knew what they were doing might be able to tell. Instead of going down to the shore, he turned to Egon, who was playing with his meter again.
"Anything, Oh Great Karnac?" he asked.
"No evidence of ectoplasmic entities," Egon responded as Winston accompanied Jill to the van. "I'm checking for biorhythms now, though I don't expect much. Enough time has passed that biorhythm readings should fade in the absence of whatever it was." He frowned. "I'm picking up four sources, the three of us and Jill. However, in the absence of any PK energy, I shall leave the meter set for biorhythms; it might be useful if we have to search the woods for Andy."
"Nothing's missing that I can see," Jill announced. She was calmer now but her face was filled with desperate worry. And then tears sprang to her eyes. "Only Andy. Oh, god, we've got to find him."
"We will," Peter assured her. "We will."
"Eagle Lake's not within the Cascade police's jurisdiction, is it?" Blair Sandburg asked as he and his partner Jim Ellison drove out of town in Jim's truck on the way to check out the Bigfoot sighting--or as Jim preferred to call it, the crime scene.
"No, but Simon and I both wonder if this might be a continuation of a case I'm already working on," Detective Ellison replied. "The missing person case, David Wyatt, the drug dealer who was reported missing by his wife; his body turned up out at Eagle Lake last week, right about where this man disappeared today, remember? You weren't with me when we got the word. You had a test or faculty meeting or something. He was bound hand and foot, a bullet in his brain. It's possible there's a connection, two strange occurrences in the same spot."
Blair winced at the mental image of the dead man, then he shook it off and grinned, amused at what he suspected was a pretty nebulous connection. "You think Bigfoot's making off with drug dealers now?" The little Jim had shared with him on their way to the car hadn't made it sound as if this particular missing person had anything to do with organized crime. The campground manager had called in to report one of his campers had been carried away by Bigfoot, right out of his campsite, and to make it even more unlikely, New York's famous Ghostbusters were on the scene. When he heard that, Blair had been inclined to think Jim was pulling his leg, but that wasn't the kind of joke the Sentinel played on people. He took his police work too seriously to kid about it although he might banter with Blair about any other subject going, and with such a straight face he could get Blair going before the younger man picked up on what he was up to.
"No, and I don't think it was Bigfoot this time either, Chief."
"Let me guess, man," Blair said with a chuckle, having a pretty good idea of the older man's mindset after working with him for a year. "You don't believe in the Sasquatch legend."
"No, and I don't know anybody else who does either, short of crackpots and tabloid journalists. Unless it's hot shot anthropology students," he concluded, with a pointed glance at his long-haired partner.
"Low blow," Sandburg countered. "Besides, there are people who wouldn't buy your Sentinel abilities for a minute. So as one legend to another, maybe you should give Bigfoot the benefit of the doubt."
"If Bigfoot has been there, I'll know as soon as we arrive," Ellison countered with a smile. "Come on, Chief, think of it like this. They say he has a really obnoxious odor. If there's even a trace of anything that strong in the air I'll be able to pick it up right away without even needing to focus."
"Is that a subtle reminder I need to do the laundry and put on a clean shirt?" Blair challenged, though the idea of Jim sniffing out a Bigfoot appealed to him. He didn't really believe in Bigfoot himself, although a part of him wanted to. There was no credible evidence, no bodies or bones, no footprints beyond the fake plaster of paris molds you could buy at some of the local tourist shops, no clear photos. Believers claimed there was plenty of evidence but there was a Bigfoot expert at the university and he was a confirmed skeptic. He would have liked to believe, just as Blair would, but he claimed that twenty years searching had proven nothing. Blair knew he was on firmer ground with his Sentinel theories. At least he had a lot of evidence of people with one or more enhanced senses, even if Jim was the only person he'd ever met who had all five.
"If the shoe fits," Ellison countered. "Though I have to say your nearly-nonexistent housecleaning abilities--"
"Never mind my housecleaning abilities," Sandburg cut in before Jim could elaborate; Blair had heard it all before and knew he would hear it all again, but right now there was a case to worry about and he didn't need a reiteration of the 'house rules'. Quickly he returned to the original subject. "Why do you think this missing person might be connected to your dead drug dealer? You said he was shot in the head at close range. I'm not fond of the idea of the Sasquatch being armed with a .38."
Jim grinned. "Not my favorite idea either. I don't know if there really is a connection, but first a body and then a missing person in the same location does make me suspicious that there might be a connection. And if it isn't tied to that drug ring, it was probably a bear. There's a lot of them in the woods."
"Where *we're* going?" Blair didn't care for that, though he'd done enough field work in remote jungle locations to realize nature wasn't exactly safe for the layman. Meeting a bear would certainly ruin his day, unless it kept its distance, and he'd encountered a few wild animals when he was researching primitive tribes. He hoped he wouldn't encounter any today.
"Do you expect to find Bigfoot?" Jim teased.
"No, and I don't think you're gonna find drug dealers either. They wouldn't hang around especially if they know somebody called the police. I wonder what the Ghostbusters are doing there."
"Searching for Bigfoot?" Ellison suggested. "After all, it's a crazy legend. Maybe they're investigating it."
"Bigfoot isn't a ghost," Sandburg pointed out. "Besides, the Ghostbusters don't run around after crackpot theories; they bust ghosts."
"You believe in ghosts?" asked Jim, a little amused.
"I don't not believe in them," said Blair thoughtfully. "I never saw one, but there's a lot of cultural tradition on the subject that's interesting and fairly consistent. I've come upon ghost legends whenever I've done fieldwork, not to mention what everybody knows or claims to know, so maybe there's something in it. Hey, I wonder if *you* could see ghosts, Jim. Maybe your sixth sense is heightened, too. If we worked on it, maybe you could see ghosts, too. We never did any tests on it."
"And we're not going to, Sandburg," Jim insisted stubbornly. "It's a lot of crap, anyway."
But I want to meet the Ghostbusters. I don't think they're crackpots. Three of them have Ph.Ds." Knowing the work he'd so far had to put into obtaining his own, he was willing to grant anyone who'd achieved one the benefit of the doubt.
Jim shook his head sententiously. "Well, they have to be weird to do that kind of job, whether they have Ph.D's or not. After all, when you have yours, it isn't automatically going to make you hang up your shirts when you take them off, or not leave your empty pizza boxes on the table in the loft, or go off half cocked when you hear a weird legend. Running around blasting so-called ghosts with ray guns doesn't sound very professional to me."
"Well, I run around with a Sentinel--I don't think finding you and helping you focus your abilities is 'going off half cocked', and I bet a lot more people believe in ghosts than in the Sentinel concept."
"That's because most people don't know about it," Jim defended himself, then frowned. "And I'd prefer to keep it that way, Chief. I don't want you to mention it to the Ghostbusters."
"Hey. I haven't done the talk show circuit about you, have I?" Sandburg defended himself, a little hurt to think Jim believed he'd reveal his friend's secrets to total strangers, no matter who they were. "You know I'm not going to run up to them and tell them about your abilities. Have I ever gone around blabbing about you? Not once." "I don't want the Ghostbusters to hear about it," Ellison said. He preferred to keep his abilities secret; Simon knew about them, but the others at the precinct didn't. From the tone of his voice, he was sorry he'd said what he had. "They're all over the media. Who knows what they'd let slip."
"So tell me about this drug dealer," Blair prompted quickly; he didn't intend to discuss Jim's abilities with the Ghostbusters or any other strangers and Jim ought to know it. "Who was he, anyway?"
"Wyatt was a newcomer to the area, he'd only been in Cascade a couple of months. The theory was that the local boys didn't think much him moving in on their territory or they wanted to grab his supplier for themselves. He wasn't killed at the lake; his body was dumped there afterwards. He was probably killed in Cascade, though we haven't found the spot yet."
"Then he probably doesn't have anything to do with Bigfoot," Blair replied, disappointed.
"I think you can bank on that, Chief."
Peter had time while they waited to wash and shave and grab a cup of coffee to finish his wake-up process. By the time he returned to the Claypools' campsite, he heard Ecto-1 returning. Ray came back with the man from the campground registration, followed by a State Trooper in his own car, a middle aged man named Ted Riley, lean and compactly built, possessed of a wiry energy. Taking out a rifle as a precaution he cordoned off the area and went down to examine the shoreline for footprints, though he wouldn't let any of the Ghostbusters accompany him. His arrival was followed in about ten minutes by two men wearing civilian clothes. At first sight Peter doubted they were cops because the shorter of the two had very long curly hair--maybe he worked undercover--but the other appeared almost military with his short hair and his professional manner. He talked to the trooper in the manner of one who expects answers--maybe he was a cop after all--while the shorter man gazed around the site in wide eyed fascination, then charged over to the Ghostbusters as if he couldn't wait to meet them. "Did you see it?" he asked, intrigued. "Did you actually see Bigfoot?"
"We saw nothing. Mrs. Claypool is the one who reported what happened," Egon replied. He gestured toward the woman, who was sitting despondently in the back of the state trooper's vehicle, staring into space.
"And you are..." Peter prodded expectantly.
"Blair Sandburg. I'm a police observer, but I'm also an anthropologist from Rainier University. That's my partner, Jim Ellison from the Cascade Police." He waved a hand at the taller man.
"We're the Ghostbusters," Peter introduced and rattled off their names, always quick to make it clear who they were so they could claim what rights their identity gave them. He loved being famous. They shook hands all around.
"So what are you, the local Bigfoot expert?" Winston asked. "The local police have a Bigfoot specialist, or what?"
Sandburg shook his head. "No, I'd bet money they don't. I've done a lot of work with primitive cultures, but nothing as primitive as Bigfoot would be, if he even exists. I'm working on my doctorate but not on the subject of Bigfoot."
"So you consult with the police on subjects with anthropological implications?" Egon asked, interested, though he was still playing with the P.K.E. meter.
Without stopping to greet the Ghostbusters or the distraught Mrs. Claypool, Ellison went down to the shore, where the trooper had marked off the footprints he'd found. He and the uniformed man conferred over the markings, the short-haired man frowning over them and squinting down at them as if he could see the being who had made them. About to answer Egon's question, Sandburg said, "Excuse me for a minute," and hurried over to join him, edging up beside him and speaking to him under his breath. He slid on a pair of sun glasses.
"That's odd," Egon said, frowning.
"What, that he didn't enjoy our shining personalities?" asked Peter, surprised at Sandburg's abrupt departure.
"What's odd, big guy?" Winston prompted.
"I picked up unusual readings just now, a very slight surge on the meter." Egon gestured with the device, and pointed at its screen.
"Surge?" Ray asked eagerly. "What kind of surge? Just because there are more people."
"No, it was a reaction I hadn't seen before. It went away immediately. It wasn't another presence. The meter still adequately reflects the number of people who are here and that didn't change. It was as if...as if a biorhythm abruptly changed and then returned to normal."
"That can't happen, can it?" Peter asked, gazing around as if he thought one of their colleagues had suddenly sprouted antennae.
"Not without a cause. If a person were injured the readings would change, but they wouldn't spike in such a manner. It vaguely reminds me of the readings I took of that young woman Winston dated who had precognitive powers. The reaction from the meter then didn't register like these readings, but they changed, too, when she used her gifts."
"You saying one of the people here is a psychic?" Peter asked, eyeing the small group with interest.
"No, I don't believe so. Psi has a distinctive signature; I've learned to recognize it, the few times I've encountered it. Precog, telepathy, psychometry, all of them spiked in a similar manner, which leads me to believe psi consistently accesses the same part of the brain, whatever the talent. I've rarely had opportunity to study the subject; I did at Columbia, of course, but we didn't have functional P.K.E. meters until toward the end of our time there, and you worked more with ESP and other psi powers than I did, Peter. But this isn't psi. It's something entirely different."
"Hey, you think Bigfoot might be nearby and you're picking him up?" Ray theorized, staring at the trees in growing excitement in hopes of spotting a shaggy creature lurking in the shadows. "He'd be sure to have different biorhythm readings than humans would. Wow, this is *great*!"
"Ray, if there were a Sasquatch close enough for me to detect spiking, I would also detect readings to indicate a creature that was not human. While the biorhythm field is not exact or strong enough to measure over any distance, it's strong enough at maximum gain to detect anything close enough to cause this spiking."
"So what's your theory, big guy?" Peter asked. He got a kick out of Egon in his fascinated scientist mode and always encouraged him like crazy until Egon's vocabulary grew incomprehensible, then he started discouraging him.
"It's too early to postulate a theory, Peter," Egon chided. "I don't even have enough for a working hypothesis. I'll simply have to leave the meter activated and see if I can detect a pattern if it happens again."
"Then let's go see what they've figured out," Peter suggested, pointing at the men by the shore. He led the way down with careful confidence as if to deny any possibility that he and his team lacked the right to be there.
"I've seen tracks," the trooper was saying as the Ghostbusters approached. "Animals have a different way of walking; the weight distributes differently."
"He's right," concurred Sandburg. "Picture yourself walking. The heel lands first, and you push off with your toes. So the heel and toe or the toe and the ball of the foot should make the deepest imprint."
"Entirely correct," Egon said. They all stared down at the huge, heavy footprints that ran along the shore. They were far broader than human footprints, with wide, splayed toe marks. Of all the Ghostbusters, Egon had the biggest feet, but these were much bigger than his, though Peter doubted they were big enough to support a creature eight feet tall. "However, I see what Sandburg is getting at. Yes, there's a weight shift, so it wasn't a prankster using plaster of paris foot molds strapped to their feet, but I'm not sure there's enough of one for this to be anything but a fake."
"The toe marks are pretty deep," Ellison said quickly, squatting down and touching them carefully as if he could feel minute changes in the angle of the prints.
"Yes, but they're almost too even," argued Ray. "I wish we *could* find Bigfoot, but this might be specially made to be worn over a pair of ordinary shoes or boots. The heaviest distribution of weight is too far behind the toes."
"As if they didn't have any real give on their own," said Sandburg, eyeing the Ghostbusters with interest. "Just a little flexibility."
The trooper nodded. "That's what I've been thinking. And I don't believe the stride is long enough to indicate a Sasquatch. A tall man made these tracks, but he was no Michael Jordan."
Egon took a stride and measured the distance with his eyes. "Taller than me, but not much taller, and I'm six feet three. Of course carrying an adult human might shorten his stride, but I couldn't say from looking at these tracks that they're anything but human wearing large false feet over his shoes."
"So it's a hoax?" Ray's face fell in disappointment. He'd really wanted to find Bigfoot. Then he brightened. "I didn't really think Bigfoot would kidnap anybody. I never heard any stories like that."
"You believe in the Sasquatch?" Ellison asked him, his eyebrows lifting as if to imply it was no more than he'd expected from the Ghostbusters.
"Hey, bunky, we've seen a lot of weird things I didn't believe in before I started busting ghosts," Peter challenged, stung, as he always was, by the scornful attitude of skeptics. "I've gotta say I'm not sure about a Sasquatch legend; not enough physical evidence, and Egon's meter didn't pick up anything like a Bigfoot here." He saw where that argument was going. "Okay, so this was a hoax. But that doesn't mean there couldn't be a Bigfoot."
Ray gave Peter a happy smile. "Well, if this isn't Bigfoot, then a crime's been committed," he said. "Have there been any other similar disappearances, Detective Ellison?"
"People snatched by a supposed Bigfoot? No. Missing persons cases, or people lost in the woods, occasionally," the detective replied.
"Not enough to make a pattern," the trooper said. "In fact about a month ago a school tour was up here on a field trip and one of the students got lost, but she showed up later that day in perfect health and would only say she was lost."
"Why should she have said anything else?" Ellison demanded, frowning slightly at the excitement that lit Ray's face.
"Because when they found her, there was a terrible smell that nobody could recognize," the trooper explained.
"Bigfoot," cried Blair triumphantly.
"So you're saying Bigfoot goes around rescuing lost hikers now, Chief?" Ellison slanted an amused glance at his partner.
"No, but I think it would be interesting. Why don't I give Professor Malkovich at Rainier a call? He's done a lot more research on Bigfoot than anybody around here."
"No need," Ellison replied. "We've got a fake Sasquatch. A character in a Bigfoot costume snatched the missing man, and went to a lot of trouble to make it resemble Bigfoot. That's closer to my line than yours. We have a missing person, actually a kidnapped person, though we don't know if it would be for ransom. Is money involved? Are the Claypools rich?"
"Well, their equipment is expensive," Egon pointed out, gesturing around the campsite. "And their van is new. It still has the sticker in the window. So it's possible there could be money."
"I'd better talk to Mrs. Claypool," Ellison said.
"Shouldn't we go after the guy," Winston objected. "We can follow the tracks, but a lot of this ground won't leave a very good impression. I've done my share of tracking, but not since Nam. Any way you could call in dogs?"
"We could but it would take several hours. I just need five minutes with Mrs. Claypool; we need to know if her husband had any enemies, business rivals, the like."
"Business rivals don't usually dress up in gorilla suits to get rid of their competition," Peter objected.
"Yeah, they'd have to know the fake footprints would give them away," said Winston.
"Actually, they're pretty good footprints, as fakes go," Ellison replied. "It's possible they might have gotten away with it."
"Not when all of us could figure it out," argued Ray. "It was kind of dumb--unless somebody wanted to *blame* Bigfoot. And anybody who thinks like that probably isn't going to make the most sense."
"I'll be right back," Ellison said and went over to Mrs. Claypool. The trooper followed him, but the rest of them hung back.
Blair turned to the Ghostbusters. "What brings you guys out here? You're not hunting for Bigfoot, are you?"
"No, just on vacation," Winston told him with a smile. "We have to take a break from busting ghosts every now and then." He gestured around. "I love country like this, and Ray loves camping. Egon doesn't mind where he is as long as he has his P.K.E. meter and Peter was just glad to leave Slimer behind."
"Slimer?" Blair stared at them, fascinated.
"Our tame ghost," Ray explained. "He's kind of a mascot, but he can be really messy, and he loves to slime Peter."
Blair's eyes widened and he stared at Peter as if to find trace evidence of ectoplasm coating his body.
"Yeah, slimed me the first time he saw me and nearly every day since," Peter griped but without a lot of malice. It was much easier to be philosophical about Slimer when the whole width of America separated him from the spud.
"I haven't done any actual research on ghosts," Blair said with regret. "Hey, have you found that certain types of ghosts are regional?"
Egon nodded solemnly, approving the question, and apparently the man who had asked it. "Indeed. Just as certain plants and animals are native to one region as opposed to another, certain ghosts are the same. We encounter a strange kind in New York simply because of the coming of Gozer, a Sumerian demi-god. A local fanatic designed a building that would eventually draw enough power to pull Gozer through into our world, and when that happened, it weakened the barriers between that particular area and the nether regions. So we bust peculiar spirits from time to time. Most of the ghosts we bust were never living people first. In an area like this, it's possible there might be Indian spirits. Are you from this general area? Do you know any legends?"
"I've lived in a lot of places," Blair explained. "In various communes, when I was a kid, and since then I've gone all over doing research and tracking down legends of primitive tribes."
"Primitive tribes?" Ray frowned in concentration. "I thought your name sounded familiar. You did a few papers I read once. I can't remember, it was a couple of years ago, about some theories of Sir Richard Burton...."
"Richard Burton had theories?" Peter cocked an eyebrow. "The life and times of Liz Taylor, or what?"
"Not that Burton, Peter," Egon said repressively. "The Nineteenth century explorer."
"Oh yeah, that Burton," Peter replied in offhand tones. He couldn't remember any such person, but that didn't mean anything. Ray and Egon always knew things no normal being had ever heard of.
Blair stared at Ray, his expression was absolutely delighted. "You've *heard* of me?"
"Well, yeah," admitted Ray. "But it's been awhile. I can't remember what you were writing about. The Sentinel concept, I think."
The anthropologist's eyes widened still further. "You *know* about that?"
"I've heard of it, too," Egon admitted, leaving Peter to wonder why Egon and Ray always had information about such things when he'd never heard of them. He glanced sideways at Winston, who shrugged. At least he didn't know what they were talking about either. That was better than the time all three of the other Ghostbusters had known of the Shimabuku legend and Peter didn't have a clue. Course he knew things the other three didn't. He concentrated on trying to think of a few.
"So what's a Sentinel when it's at home?" Peter queried.
Blair glanced over at Ellison, who was talking sympathetically to Jill Claypool. Maybe he didn't want to be caught talking shop on police time. "Burton theorized that in primitive tribes, one man became the tribe's guardian because of heightened senses; he could hear danger coming, see threats; in fact all his senses would be enhanced to meet the need to warn the tribe of impending danger."
"A tribal genetic imperative? Hereditary?" Egon prompted.
"I'm doing a lot of research on it," Sandburg said. "I'm doing my thesis on the subject. There are a lot of people out there who might have at least one sense enhanced."
"I once knew a man who had abnormally sensitive hearing," Winston volunteered, intrigued by the concept. "It was in Vietnam, and when we went on patrol, Bobby always had the point because he could hear anything, from a long distance away. He even warned us of an ambush once because he could hear the V.C. breathing before we got in range."
"It sounds like he might have had a partial Sentinel power," Sandburg said excitedly. "Before you go back to New York, could you tell me about it? Do you know where to find him now?"
"Think he was from Detroit," Winston muttered, casting his mind back. "Sure, I'll tell you about him. He never made a production of it. But he said even though he'd always had good hearing it seemed to grow stronger in Nam."
"That fits." Blair pulled a notebook out of his pocket and jotted down a few words and numbers, then tore the page out and passed it to Winston. "That's where I live and that's our phone number. Give me a call. This is great."
Ellison returned. "Mrs. Claypool doesn't know anyone who has it in for her husband," he told Sandburg. "They have a good income but she wouldn't consider them rich; her husband's a computer programmer for RapiTech in Cascade, and he's one of their top executives, but he I doubt kidnappers would find him particularly interesting; he couldn't lay his hands on major funds. I want to call this in to Simon." He clarified, "Captain Banks in Cascade. He'll put together a search party, but in the meantime, those of us already here will see what we can find. Mr. Carlson," he beckoned over the campground owner. "I want you to wait here with Mrs. Claypool. There will be backup out here in a short while; it should be safe enough. Mrs. Claypool says two men were fishing on the lake earlier; they were in a thick patch of mist when her husband was abducted and she could barely see them, but they may have spotted Andy's abduction. Any ideas who they are, where they might have come ashore, give that information to the backup. Tell them where we went." He took out his cell phone to in his report, only to frown when he couldn't get a good signal.
"Use my car phone," offered the trooper, and the two of them went off to summon backup.
When Ellison returned to the cluster of men, he noticed the Ghostbusters' proton packs and frowned, pointing. "What exactly are those?"
"They're proton packs, Jim," Blair said in surprise. "Don't you ever read the papers?"
"We're not going after ghosts and we're not going after Bigfoot, so I don't want anyone disintegrated," he said sternly, his eyes falling upon Peter and Ray as if he suspected Ray's gung ho enthusiasm and Peter's nature would induce them to run blasting through the woods.
"Hey," objected Peter. "We don't blast people, only ghosts. But we can set these to a stun setting and I think it's a good idea. More than you can do with your gun. If a dangerous monster or person in a fur outfit comes at us, we can blast it without killing it or even hurting it. These babies are licensed with the Nuclear Regulatory Board, and we have an in with NYPD, don't we, guys?"
"I'm not sure Inspector Frump would think so, but yes, the New York Police Department has called us in as consultants from time to time," Egon explained. He drew his thrower and adjusted the setting, nodding to Ellison to watch and make sure he was doing what he claimed. "At full power, a proton stream can 'neutronize' a human being, in other words, separate his atoms at the speed of light. We've become very cautious when dealing with crowded areas because it would be very easy to kill an innocent bystander. So we take every possible precaution."
Ellison's face was skeptical. "I seem to remember reading that you four clowns go in blasting and knock down chandeliers and destroy property when you're on the job."
"Yes, but we're all better now," said Peter brightly. "Seriously, Detective, we have learned a lot since we started, and we haven't lost a bystander yet."
"I don't want you firing at just anything that moves," Ellison said. "I once spent some time in the Peruvian jungle, and I'm an experienced tracker. You'll search under my lead. And that goes for you, too, Chief," he added sternly to Blair, who glanced up at him and grinned.
"Hey, I've done a lot of work in the field myself. And anyway, I'm not armed. I don't even *like* guns." His expression suggested he'd love to wear a proton pack, and Peter was glad they hadn't brought any spares.
"Just as well. The thought of you running wild through the woods taking potshots at Bigfoot is enough to give me indigestion."
The forest closed around the search party almost immediately. It was quiet amid the trees, the cushion of pine needles deadening the sound of their movement, sending up a crisp, piney odor as they walked. The sunlight that filtered down through the needled branches made dust motes stand out in the still air and highlighted the last of the morning's mist, imparting a fantasy feel to the forest as if a creature from a Frazetta painting could appear around the next bend. Beneath their feet, the ground gave a little, a slightly springy feel that made walking easy, except for the tiny streams they encountered from time to time and crossed by means of jumping or by balancing from stone to stone in the sparkling water.
Peter took deep breaths, enjoying himself more than he'd believed he would. A city boy through and through, he wasn't keen on the great outdoors; it was a nasty place full of bugs and wild animals but today, it seemed peaceful and beautiful. Watching Ray bounce along, fascinated by the search, even if it *wasn't* a hunt for Bigfoot, Peter couldn't help grinning. Winston, too, seemed comfortable here. A few times when they'd been in the woods, Peter had noticed Zeddemore peering over his shoulder more often than normal, possibly a holdover from his Vietnam experience, but gradually, over the years, he'd grown away from that, and Peter had been glad. Egon, of course, didn't care where he was as long as he could do research, and he frequently stopped to investigate an intriguing mushroom or growth of moss or lichen on the trunk of a tree.
Blair Sandburg was having fun; he was the youngest of the group and appeared to possess the most energy, though Ray's joy in living always made him seem as if he'd never tire. Blair was fascinated by everything he saw, but he continued to watch Ellison. Peter wasn't sure if he was searching for approval from the older man or if he was taking his lead from him, since he was a police observer rather than an actual cop.
Ellison himself had given himself over to the search. He stared through the trees as if he had x-ray vision like one of Sandburg's Sentinels, he cocked his head at the sound of a sudden flap of wings when a crow took flight, he was aware of everything around him. Maybe that time he'd said he'd spent in Peru had taught him to give himself over to whatever he was doing in order to protect himself from the dangers that threatened him. Peter wasn't sure he was comfortable with the man; Ellison was pretty stiff and he obviously didn't hold the Ghostbusters in high esteem. But he seemed to know what he was doing in the woods, and Peter could respect that.
As for Riley, he moved with a quiet competence, his grip on the rifle suggesting he was a hunter by avocation. He would be a good man to have at one's back.
They all knew they might not find anything good. Removing Claypool that way had obviously not been to further his good health and happiness. If the perpetrator wanted to blame the Sasquatch for the man's disappearance, then he had something to hide, important enough to make him don a costume to conceal his identity, including pretty good fake feet for tracking purposes. He hadn't taken Andy away for the fun of it. Andy Claypool might already be dead.
Peter didn't say so, though he could tell from the grim line of Ellison's mouth and the hardness of trooper Riley 's face that both law enforcement professionals had already considered the possibility, and he was pretty sure Winston had understood that was the most likely option. Peter would as soon Ray didn't dwell on the chances of finding a mangled corpse--if it happened Ray would know soon enough. Egon? Well, he probably knew it but he was caught up in the whole scene that included his favorite spores, molds and fungi, and he could divorce his mind from any grim realities until such time as they needed to be dealt with. Peter hated the idea that the good-humored Andy might be dead already, and he could tell that Blair had thought of it and was hoping for the best.
The morning air was chilly, the lingering effects of the fog causing the air to cut through their jackets and make them shiver. Peter wasn't fond of that, but he zipped up his jacket and endured it, muttering a little to himself about being in the woods when he could be back in New York cuddled up with a warm and willing girl. That made Ellison shoot him a rather impatient frown, but Blair grinned.
"We're trying to listen for any traces of Andy, Pete," Winston said quickly as if he suspected Peter might challenge the cop.
"We don't know what happened after he was taken from the campsite," Ted Riley offered. "He might be lying nearby, hurt."
They came to a stop, considering. "I doubt that," Egon argued. "Because why go to the trouble to construct a fake Bigfoot outfit if you only mean to carry the victim a little distance. Unless it's entirely a college prank or the work of a demented mind, I theorize Claypool was taken for a reason that is known to the false Bigfoot and possibly to Claypool himself, if not his wife."
"*Could* it be a college prank?" Ellison turned to frown at Blair, as if his link with Rainier University gave him full knowledge of anything and everything the students did.
Blair pondered it. "Possible. There are some pretty inventive kids in my classes. If it was a prank, I don't think they'd hurt anybody. If it is a student prank, we should find Claypool pretty soon. Making a costume might be easy enough, and the kids in Malkovich's classes would know what the footprints ought to look like. Malkovich has plaster molds of Bigfoot tracks in his office that he uses in his classrooms. The kids think he's a crackpot, but he's a harmless crackpot, and not a bad old guy. They like him. So do I. He's one of my advisors on my dissertation. Besides, he doesn't really believe in Bigfoot. He just wishes he could."
"A dreamer," Jim said almost fondly as if he had made the connection between the man and his partner. For the first time Peter realized the two men were friends.
"Nothing wrong with that," he said quickly. "Ray, here, believes in the Easter Bunny."
"Aw, Peter, I don't either," Ray said hastily, reddening.
"Well, anyway I saw him riding a unicorn once," Peter persisted.
"Hey, I was riding one, too. Don't make anything of it," Winston said quickly as if to defend himself from the obvious connection between unicorns and virgins.
"A *unicorn*?" Blair echoed, wide-eyed.
Ellison burst out laughing in genuine good humor. "Hey, Chief, they're yanking your chain. It's a joke."
"Actually it occurred as Peter and Winston claim." Egon's voice stiffened. "It was at The Cloisters. The unicorns came to life and stepped down out of the tapestries."
Blair's expression made it clear he really wanted to believe them, but Ellison only clapped the long-haired man on the shoulder and said, "Let's get back to the search," as if to end the discussion. He strode off, his long legs eating up the distance, his eyes roving over the scene to hunt for clues.
Peter fell into step beside Blair. "Really happened," he said under his breath. "Problem is, people who don't live in New York tend to classify us with the stuff they read in the National Register. You know, aliens shaking hands with the president, two-headed gorillas turning out to be clones of Hitler's mistress, that kind of thing. Only, what we do is real. That doesn't mean we buy all the stuff we read there either. Most of it is made up for the fun of it. But we're legit. Ask the mayor, next time you're in the Big Apple. He'll vouch for us."
"You're having fun yanking Jim's chain, though," Blair replied equally quietly. As if he'd heard that, Ellison turned around and favored his partner with a grin.
"You bet," Peter said. "Skeptics always bug me. I can't resist rubbing their noses in it. Just like I bet you'd like to find somebody to prove that Sentinel stuff you're into is real. You know what, Ray has a ton of old books with weird stuff in them. You ask him about it and he'd be happy to go through them and track down whatever he can find on the subject."
"That'd be great," Blair said, brightening. He nodded at Peter and slid back to fall into step with Ray and soon was seen conversing with him eagerly. The two of them acted like a couple of big kids, both of them eager and excited.
Peter quickened his pace and fell into step with Ellison, who nodded briefly to acknowledge his presence and then resumed his intense scan of the wooded area.
"Good kid," Peter said, nodding back at Blair.
"Yeah," Ellison agreed. "Don't encourage him too much, though."
"I never thought it hurt to encourage anybody," Peter said though he understood what the cop was saying. There were times when it didn't do to give Ray any more inducement than he already had. In some ways Blair reminded Peter of Ray, but not across the board. And a lot of his enthusiasm went along with his youth. He knew his field and was absorbed by it, but he also seemed to get a kick out of his friendship with the older and more restrained Ellison. Blair's emotions were a lot closer to the surface than the cop's were, at least the more casual emotions. On the face of it, they seemed an unlikely pair. But then people probably thought that about Peter's friendship with Egon. You could never tell from the outside anyway.
"Think we're gonna find Andy?" Peter asked instead of pursuing the subject.
"I don't know," said Ellison seriously. "I wish I understood why it happened. What would make a man dress up in a costume like that and kidnap Claypool?"
Peter seriously considered the question, which he suspected had been rhetorical. "Good point. I'm a psychologist, and I've been trying to think of a reasonable answer. And I have two answers. One, because he doesn't want to be recognized and these woods cry out for a Bigfoot so it makes the best disguise. And two, because he's a fruitcake who wants to perpetrate a deliberate hoax, either to mock the fanatics who believe in Bigfoot or because he buys it himself and wants to create a fake to vindicate his belief."
Ellison turned and stared at him in surprise. "A pretty decent summation."
"Well, don't act like you just discovered I was a sentient life form," Peter groused but without malice. "Come on, Detective, you know those are the only two reasons that make sense. The problem is they don't take us much further. If he doesn't want to be recognized, that probably means Andy or Jill might know him if they saw him. So have they got a crooked friend or did they see something without realizing they saw it? And if it's a hoax, how far are they gonna go to make their point? If it's just to make a splash, they'll let him go. If they're trying to vindicate their beliefs, maybe they won't."
"You're right, it doesn't take us very far. I'd come that far on my own. Your friend's detection gizmo, what did you call it, a P.K.E. meter? Will it help find Claypool?"
"Egon set it for biorhythms rather than for ghosts," Peter explained. "So if we come close to Andy, he'll pick up on him. Only problem is, the range for that kind of reading isn't very big because that's not what Egon and Ray designed the meters for. And Ray's is set for normal ectoplasmic readings on the off chance it really is Bigfoot and we're overanalyzing the foot prints. Hey," he said quickly when Ellison shook his head. "It's possible. Sure it's not very likely, but anything's possible."
"I wouldn't go that far," the cop replied. "But I can see why people who aren't used to the woods might think so."
"Are you following actual tracks here?" Peter asked, pointing at the unrevealing ground.
"I've seen disturbance in the pine needles; it's very faint but it's there."
Peter couldn't tell if a Bigfoot or a herd of galloping horses had run through, but if Ellison had spent a lot of time wandering in the jungle he probably knew a lot more about it than Peter did. Venkman had never even been a boy scout and all he knew about tracking he'd learned from TV and from reading Dewey LaMort westerns.
"You go for it, then," he said. "Because I'm used to pavement, not pine trees." He drifted over to Egon, who was working his P.K.E. meter as if it had all the answers. "Anything, Spengs?"
"There's a faint edge of that spiking again, Peter; there has ever since we began the search, but it's so general and indistinct I can't center on it properly."
"You think it might mean the big guy's lurking?" Peter asked, gesturing at the enclosing trees with interest. "Maybe this whole place is his stomping ground? And with feet like his, I wouldn't want to be around him when he's stomping."
"Hmm." Egon found the idea intriguing. "I have to say there's not yet enough evidence to suggest that, Peter."
"So what else is it? A glitch in your meter? Aliens hovering overhead in UFOs? A paranormal field we just haven't run into yet?"
"I'm still attempting to filter everything out, but I don't want to set the focus too fine in case Andy Claypool is nearby, unconscious and unable to call for help."
"Gotcha," Peter said. "Go for it."
Continued in Part Two...