by Sheila Paulson
See notes and disclaimer on part one.
The searchers spread out in a wide, straggling line that grew uneven as the hunt for Claypool progressed. After Venkman moved away from Jim, Blair cut across and fell into step with his partner. "You picking up anything?" he asked in an undertone.
"I can tell someone's been here without focusing too closely," Ellison replied. "I can see where the pine needles are disturbed; the undisturbed top layer is dryer, the underneath part is moister and darker."
"I'll take your word for that," Blair replied; it all appeared the same to him. "Hey, listen, you've gotta be careful. I think Spengler's little gizmo can pick up on it when you focus."
"What?" Jim craned his neck to stare over at the blond Ghostbuster who was only halfway watching the ground in front of him or the land around him; his attention was focused on the device. "I'm sure you're wrong, Chief. In spite of what Venkman just said, that's what they use to find ghosts. I saw an article about them once."
"Usually, yeah, but right now they're tuned to pick up human biorhythms," Blair explained, fascinated by the concept. "I don't think using your Sentinel abilities would make the gadget beep if they had it set normally, but Egon said just now that he was trying to find extra human readings in case Claypool is lying hurt nearby. He knows how many of us there are here just by what it tells when it's set for biorhythms."
"Biorhythms? I thought it was crazy when Venkman mentioned it. It sounds like something your mom would be into, Chief. Pretty New Age-y"
"She'd love the Ghostbusters," Blair said without hesitation. "I'm gonna get all their autographs for her. But the point is, when you focus your senses, it must affect your biorhythms. I just heard Egon say he couldn't pin down what he was registering because it was too general. If you really have to focus, it'll probably stand out like a neon sign."
"So what do you want me to do, Sandburg, let this Claypool die? Isn't there a way you could distract Spengler from his contraption?"
"Are you kidding, man? I'll give it my best shot, but I know a few guys like him at the university. When they think they're onto a scientific discovery, they're like a bloodhound on the trail. The only way I could distract him would be to smash the meter--or produce a real Sasquatch. And even if I smashed the meter, Ray has one, too. Besides, we might need them to find Claypool."
"I don't think we're going to find him alive," Ellison said thoughtfully.
"But...." Blair frowned. "If he's kidnapped, at least he hasn't seen the kidnapper."
"He's not rich enough to be worth all this effort."
"Maybe it has to do with his job. If he's a big shot programmer for RapiTech, maybe they want him to hack into a computer for them."
"That's a good idea, Chief. If we don't find him, I'll check out the company and see if he was working on anything sensitive."
Blair smiled. "So is this Bigfoot dude still carrying Claypool?" he asked with a gesture at the ground in front of him.
"No, actually, there are two sets of tracks. Claypool's been walking on his own, at least for awhile. I wish they didn't have such a lead on us."
"His wife didn't have any ideas about why he was taken?" Blair persisted.
"If she did, she hadn't thought of it yet. She was genuinely distraught, and she wasn't thinking clearly. I couldn't sense a cover-up in her reaction. Heart rate and breathing were what I'd expect."
"And we're pretty sure those tracks couldn't have been a real Sasquatch." Blair believed that himself; he'd seen all manner of tracks when he'd done fieldwork with primitive tribes. He'd even gone on hunts with expert trackers. He didn't think those toe prints had give separate from each other. Real toes might dig in a little. But that was what real human toes did. He couldn't really remember paying that much attention to Malkovich's plaster casts of Bigfoot tracks, mostly because the few he'd actually examined had convinced him they were nothing but mistakes or frauds. Wanting to believe was one thing, but ignoring the facts in order to believe was another matter. Besides, he was much more interested in the concept of Sentinels, and in the Sentinel beside him, all of whose senses were enhanced, than he was in a being that probably didn't exist. Even if he wished it did.
"No, it couldn't have been a real Sasquatch, Sandburg," Jim insisted.
"You don't smell anything weird?"
"I don't smell anything I wouldn't normally smell in the woods," Ellison continued. "I've concentrated on it a little, but there didn't seem anything unnatural. I've tried to listen, too, in case Claypool is nearby and calling for help. Unless we lose the tracks, I don't want to focus on it so strongly that I might zone out. That wouldn't help anybody, even with you here to talk me through it."
Blair knew his partner didn't want people in general to know about his abilities; at the precinct, only Simon was aware of what he was capable of. Sometimes Jim didn't even like working with Blair on perfecting his understanding of his gifts. He wouldn't avoid using his abilities in the search for the abducted man, but neither did he want to make a public spectacle of himself. He might be able to snow Riley and claim he just had very good hearing or eyesight, but with Egon over there, glued to his meter, waiting for proof of the abnormal, he'd be even less willing to even use his abilities.
"Ray says the meters don't work very well with biorhythms," he reassured Jim. "They have a limited range for that type of thing; they're really supposed to be used for ghosts; the only reason they can do biorhythms at all is because a biorhythm is an energy field. I've gotta say I'd like to have one of those meters to use on you when we're working. I never had anything that could actively measure you abilities before, short of something like electrodes."
"No, and you never strapped me down and attached electrodes either," Jim said a little sourly. "I don't want you to start now. Why do I feel like a guinea pig here, Chief?"
"Oh, hey, man, that's not what I mean," corrected Blair hastily. "It's just that it might be easier for you to fine-tune your talents if we could measure it. You know how you zone out when you focus too hard and it can be hard to snap you out of a zone. If we could take readings at a time like that, I bet it'd really help."
"Well, since you don't have a meter and you'd have to explain too many things if you asked for one, I think it's an area we'll just have to forget about."
Blair wasn't surprised. Sometimes it was like pulling teeth to get Jim to allow tests at all, except in a crisis. "Maybe I can figure out how to get a meter from them. I can tell them since I live here and there might be Bigfoot around, for me to check, and then I could take readings of you while you practice."
"Don't worry about it on my account, Sandburg."
Blair let that go; he hoped he could acquire a meter, but they probably cost a fortune, let alone maintenance costs, and he didn't exactly make a fortune at the university--more like a pittance. "I think you should concentrate on what you're picking up; sight, hearing and smell anyway. See if you can tell if Claypool's nearby. I'll go over and distract Spengler while you do it, unless you think I'd better stick around in case you go into overdrive."
"I'd rather not go that route unless we run out of tracks," Jim replied. "Not in public like this. Daryl is interested in the Ghostbusters. I remember one night I was over there for dinner and he showed me books and articles about them."
Blair grinned, imagining Jim inundated by the enthusiasm of Simon's teenage son. "So you found out more than you ever wanted to know about them, huh?"
"A lot more than I wanted to know. Daryl says they're real scientists, not crackpots. Simon and I weren't so sure, but Daryl had a few real science journals they'd been published in. Even Venkman."
"They do have degrees. Remember I said they have a couple of doctorates each," said Blair wistfully, thinking of the time he'd spent pulling his dissertation into the shape it was in now, and how much more work he had left to finish it--and even that was becoming problematic; how to do it without giving Jim away.
"You'll have yours one day," Jim said with a flash of sympathetic insight, then his voice trailed off on the last word. "Look, they're heading down toward the lake." He angled off hastily in pursuit of the trail only he could see as if he had to follow it before Riley and Zeddemore, who were to their right, might scuff it up as they passed.
Venkman noticed the change of direction. "Hey, you find a clue?" he called and galloped over, Ray in hot pursuit. "Your scuffled up pine needles suddenly went due north?"
"Right through here," Ellison replied, pointing.
The others crowded around and Riley nodded. "I can see it every so often, not much of a disturbance, but someone's been here.
Blair was relieved someone else could spot the markings, even if intermittently. It took the pressure of concealing his abilities off Jim.
Egon waved his meter over the marks as the trooper gestured. "Nothing," he said in disappointment.
"Come on, let's follow them," urged Ray, holding back long enough for the more experienced trackers to go first but planting himself hot on their heels. Egon came after them more slowly, and Blair was glad of that. He was afraid any minute Egon would connect the spiking he was picking up to Jim's sensory abilities.
Falling into step with Egon, Blair said, "Is there any chance of me getting a device like that, Dr. Spengler?"
"For what purpose?" Egon wasn't suspicious, he simply wanted to know the answer.
"Well, we're out here right on the site of a possible Bigfoot encounter," Blair began, only to stop when Egon shot him a very doubtful frown. "What?" he asked.
"Perhaps it's coincidental, but when Peter tells me a tall tale he wears an expression very similar to that one," Egon replied, an edge of amusement in his voice.
"I don't even *know* you, so why should I tell you a tall tale?" Blair demanded righteously. He noticed, to his dismay, that Venkman had edged closer and was regarding him with interest through slightly narrowed eyes, although he didn't say anything. Peter spoiled the effect by catching his foot on a tree root and flailing his arms wildly to catch his balance. Egon took one quick step in his direction and grabbed his arm to stabilize him, and Peter flashed him a grin.
"Nice catch, Spengs. So what's going on here. A little game of conning the great brain?" He eyed Blair expectantly.
Sandburg hesitated then decided to opt for limited honesty though he knew it was a mistake as soon as he opened his mouth. "Because I want to see if I can use it to detect characters like the one Winston knew in Vietnam."
"That wouldn't register on the meter," Peter started only to stop and stare at Egon more closely as the physicist reacted. To Blair's surprise, he swung the meter around so it was aiming right for him, twisting dials and studying the readings with great interest.
"*Me*?" blurted Blair in genuine astonishment. "You think I'm a *Sentinel*?"
"I'm not certain the meter could monitor such an ability in any case," Egon replied, frowning when the device didn't react. Thorough in his science, he pointed it at Jim, who must not have been accessing any of his faculties just then, because he didn't set it off either. Of course Jim had probably heard the entire conversation and was being careful. "Hmm," said the physicist in an abstracted tone.
"Are you picking up weird readings, Egon?"
"No, not now. Peter. Do you remember what everyone was doing when I detected the unusual energy spikes?"
"Yeah, Egon, they were standing around. Ellison and Riley were studying the footprints, Jill was sitting in the car worrying, the campground guy was dithering around like an idiot, Blair was getting a big thrill out of meeting the Ghostbusters, and the rest of us weren't doing much of anything."
"In other words, the spiking most likely came from an external element," Egon reasoned. "Possibly at the extreme edge of sensor range." Blair could have cheered at the theory, but he kept his face neutral and interested. Jim could have read him, but he didn't think strangers could, even when they were as perceptive as Spengler.
"Well, I can't think of anything any of us were doing that would have caused it," Peter admitted. "Unless one of us just has an abnormal brain."
"Well, since you mention it, Peter...."
"Egon!" Peter groaned. "I always knew the word 'ego' was short for Egon."
"That argument doesn't work," Egon said more seriously. "Because all of us are here now except for Carlson and Jill. Assuming one of them caused it, we shouldn't have detected faint, residual spiking as we searched. So either Blair, Ellison, or Riley has periods of unnatural energy or, more likely, an entity is moving through the forest with us, maintaining a carefully discreet distance."
In spite of believing Jim's Sentinel abilities had caused the reading, Blair couldn't help an uneasy glance over his shoulder. "You're talking Bigfoot, right?" he asked. Maybe Sentinel talents were natural enough that they didn't set off the meters, although Jim had been studying the footprints, probably with enhanced sight, when Spengler's meter had reacted the first time. If there really was a Sasquatch in these woods, it would be sure to have readings different from those of humans. But Blair didn't believe it. He was positive Jim had set off the meter, and Egon wouldn't abandon the idea that one of them had done so. It would be no great leap of logic to realize that Sandburg, the anthropologist doing research on Sentinels, was partnered with a cop, and the reason for that might be that he was studying him. Why else make him a police observer? Ordinary criminals and victims of crime never took reasoning to such lengths, but Egon Spengler was a scientist, not a criminal with something to hide nor a victim whose emotions were tied up in what had happened to him, and he knew from Ray's comments that Blair was interested in the concept. He was bound to reason it out.
"I'm not comfortable with the theory," Egon responded. "We already reasoned those footprints were probably a hoax. Unless someone dressed up in a silly costume in order to lure out a genuine Sasquatch, the coincidence would be extreme. Is there a history of localized sightings in this area?"
"No, not really," Sandburg replied. "No more than any other place in the Pacific Northwest. We've had a few so-called sightings, but Dr. Malkovich at the university never really found anything when he examined the sites. He wants to believe, and doesn't."
"He couldn't be behind this?" Peter asked. "Running around in a fur body suit to make himself more believable?"
"Jack Malkovich? No, he'd never pull a stunt like that," Blair defended the older man. "He'd have to be obsessed to do that, and he isn't, really, at least not like that."
"Not even to verify his theories?" asked Peter. "I've worked in academia, and believe me, some characters will do anything to push their pet hypotheses, or have a chance to see their name in print." He grinned. "Give me Ghostbusting every time. It's better than 'publish or perish'. Even if Egon still writes for all those journals."
"I'm hardly the only one, Peter. Who's always sneaking off articles to Psychology Today."
"What can I say? I love being famous. Come on, Spengs, you know perfectly well a professor who is pushed too far just might get a charge in dressing up in a gorilla suit. Weren't you ever tempted to fake a ghost while you were at Columbia?"
"Of course not," Egon denied. "I'm a serious scientist, and one presumes this Malkovich is the same, though he may have an obsession. But he'd hardly kidnap a person to make his point; it's against the law. And kidnapping, unless he meant to kill the victim, would expose the man he kidnapped to a closeup of his costume and might well give himself away. No, if it were Malkovich or someone else acting for such a reason, the last thing he'd do would be to let anyone come too close. He would have let Andy see him and then disappeared into the trees rather than taking Andy with him."
"Yep, you're probably right," Blair said, nodding, glad he'd managed to lead Egon's thoughts away from Jim.
A yell from the others made them all turn, and they saw Ellison and Riley standing on a rocky outcrop that slashed through that stretch of forest. Ray and Winston converged from the opposite direction and joined them, and the other three followed.
"What little track I've been able to detect leads here," Ellison replied. "I don't know if we can pick up anything on this kind of surface."
"Come on, Ellison, you picked up those overturned pine needles," Peter encouraged him.
"It was easier once Claypool started dragging his feet," said the detective. Blair thought it a good distraction, even if it was probably true. He gave Jim an approving look.
"So what's to say he'll stop even here," Riley said with optimism. "Come on, I bet we can find traces if we spread out. I haven't been out this way very often, but I think this rocky protrusion stretches down all the way to the lake. There's a little drop-off there, a small cliff. And off to the west," he continued, waving his hand in that general direction, "the ground rises pretty fast, and I think there are a series of shallow caves in the cliff face along there." The trees were thin and stunted, finding little purchase in the rocky ground, and in the distance, the lake shone blue in the sunshine. In the direction Riley pointed, the land sloped upward abruptly in a series of jagged cliffs.
"Maybe that's where Bigfoot lives," offered Ray wistfully, as if he would have liked to believe it. "After all, I don't remember hearing any legends that Bigfoot every killed anybody."
"Right, Ray," Peter said, shaking his head. "So instead, he decides to invite a total stranger home for tea."
"Well, he could've," Ray said in the tones of one abandoning a theory with great regret. He waved his meter around and picked up no readings at all.
"We have to spread out all along this ridge," Jim decided. "Does everybody remember how it looked where Claypool dragged his feet?"
The group nodded, though Peter seemed a little doubtful about it.
"Good. Because if anyone expects to be followed, he might use this outcrop as a means of breaking the trail. It wouldn't work with dogs, the way wading through a stream would, but it would work with most human trackers. The kidnapper would know we wouldn't have instant access to dogs."
"What do you think he means to do with Claypool?" Winston asked. From the expression on his face, he didn't believe it was anything good.
Jim shrugged. "There are a lot of possibilities, but I can't think of any that would turn out well for him."
"Unless he's in on it," Peter suggested. "You know, part of the prank. Except I don't think much of a guy who would pull a number like that on his wife."
"He wouldn't do it on purpose," Ray objected. "Remember when they stopped by last night. They were really in love."
"Unless he's a jerk," Peter said. "He didn't act like one, but we weren't exactly doing tests on his character. If he wanted to do a bunk, he might have set it up."
"No way, Pete," Winston argued. "Unless he's taking off altogether, giving up the good job, the car, the expensive equipment, all that."
"Maybe he was embezzling from his company and wanted to disappear. He'll show up down in the Cayman Islands, living the life of luxury," Peter theorized.
"There's no basis for any of this speculation," Jim argued. "We can't solve it without a lot more information. Spread out everyone. Let's see what we can find."
"I think we should search the caves first," said Ray. "Or at least work in that direction. If there's a drop-off down by the lake, the odds are they wouldn't have had a boat waiting there."
"Yeah, Ray, every Bigfoot has his own cabin cruiser," argued Peter, but he fell in with Ellison's direction. Once again the party trailed out in a long, irregular line, with Jim working the edge of the outcrop. Blair took the spot next to him to put more distance between him and Egon's meter. He was glad when Peter edged in between him and Egon, too, but whether it was a happy chance or Peter was suspicious of them, Sandburg couldn't tell.
Jim beckoned him over. "If I don't pick up a lead normally soon, I'm going to have to try to see or hear something," he said in an undertone. "I'd rather the Ghostbusters didn't find out about me, but I can't let anything happen to the missing man either."
"I'll give you the signal when they seem distracted," Blair agreed in an undertone. "If you zone in front of them, they're sure to notice, so we'd better work this as a team."
His chance came sooner than he had expected. After a few minutes edging their way across the stony ground, Egon paused, put up his meter for a minute, and went down on his knees to study the ground.
"Find anything?" Blair called.
"Nothing to worry us," Peter called back, a grin on his face. "Egon just has this weird little thing for mushrooms." And it must have been true, because the blond man had pulled out a notebook from his shirt pocket and became engaged in jotting down information about the specimen he'd located, an enthusiastic expression on his face.
Blair nodded at Jim; it was the best chance they'd had so far. He watched the expression of concentration slide across his friend's face, and he cocked his head, listening. Peter chose that moment to give Ray a yell to warn him that Egon had stopped, so the faint beep the meter made was nearly drowned out, but Blair, who was listening, heard its faint ping. Egon's head came up but before he could snatch the meter and use it to pinpoint a direction, Jim jerked and spun around, yelling, "*Get down*!" with such urgency that Blair flung himself flat on the strength of sheer trust.
Whether Peter identified the meter's reaction with Jim or with the danger he warned against, the psychologist's reaction was immediate. He dove for Egon, knocked him flat, and rolled them into a small, rocky gully, just as the bullet chipped stone midway between his former position and Blair's current one.
Out of the corner of his eye, Blair saw Winston yank Ray down behind a protruding boulder and pull out the weapon attached to his proton pack, all in one smooth move. He'd been under fire before; he didn't need to be told what to do twice. Beyond them Riley, rifle in hand, had ducked behind a stunted tree that had sprouted in one of the patches where soil showed in the midst of their stone platform, trying to figure out where the shot had come from, his eyes raking the higher ground.
"Up there," Jim warned, gesturing toward the irregular cliffs to the west. "I saw a flash; probably the sun on the gun barrel." Blair suspected he'd also heard the sound of the weapon about to be fired. Now that he knew where the sniper was, he could focus on that direction and warn them if the man moved. The best part was that Egon was sure to think whoever fired had set off the meter. The only good part.
"Get back, Sandburg," Jim urged in an undertone. "You're too exposed there. Wiggle back when I give the word. I'll cover you."
Expecting a bullet to find him at any second, Blair braced for action. His sunglasses had gone flying when he dropped, and he reached for them but his fingers missed them by inches. When Jim yelled, "Go," and jumped up, firing in the direction of the sniper, Blair had to abandon his shades, scuttling on his hands and knees until he dropped into the lower area where Peter and Egon had come to rest. The physicist had left his meter behind, and it was all Peter could do to keep him from bursting from cover to retrieve it.
"Listen to me, Egon, Janine's not gonna like it if I bring you back full of bullet holes. 'sides, I hate the sight of blood. Stay low until we know what's going on. Let the cops handle this." Not trusting his power of suggestion, he took a healthy grip on Egon's upper arms.
"But the meter's reacting. We might be able to tell about the person shooting at us." Egon gestured at it futilely.
"Peter's right, stay put," Blair added his argument. "Don't make it any rougher for Jim." He watched in alarm as a flurry of shots in Ellison's direction made his partner drop to the ground, wiggle sideways into the temporary shelter of a fallen log, and pop off another shot. Riley tried to cover him. Even though he hated guns and didn't as a rule want anything to do with them, Blair wished he had one now and wondered if Jim would offer him his spare. He felt pinned down and threatened. This was one part of working with the police that he'd never liked.
Another shot rang out, this one thudding into the tree where Riley crouched, causing the trooper to yelp and try to make himself as thin as possible.
"What's the range of your weapons?" Jim called over to Peter.
"Not that far," Peter said. "Not with any accuracy anyway. We can give it a shot, though."
"No, wait. That means all of you."
"Hey, big guy," Peter said to Egon, pressing himself up against the ridge that shielded them. "You think whoever is shooting at us is with Bigfoot?"
"I'm not certain what I think," Egon remarked. "We may have been watched all along. You'll notice there were no shots until we were out in the open, and now we're pinned down without decent cover. If there are more than one of them, one can keep us here while the other circles around."
Obviously Jim thought the same. He worked his way along the slope until he could drop into the trench, and then ran, bent low, to join them. "We have to get off this rocky surface," he said. "There's no cover here. I've been checking, and your other two friends and Riley are pinned down where they are. They don't dare risk pulling back unless we can distract whoever is firing. It's only one man, and he has to reload periodically. From here, you have a clear run down to the trees, once you work past the angle in this ditch. So you head back there when I give the word."
"Leave Ray and Winston?" Peter objected as if he couldn't believe his ears. "Listen, pal, the Ghostbusters are a team. We don't run out on our buddies."
"What can you do to help them if you stay? You're out of range to lay covering fire. Riley and I will have to cover them; they can move when he reloads."
"And how are they supposed to know when that is?" Peter asked sourly. Clearly he could understand Jim's reasoning, but he didn't like it.
"Because I know guns and I'll tell them," Jim replied. It was a fair answer, if not the real one. "Sandburg, you go with them."
Blair opened his mouth to object, but Jim leveled him with a stern frown. "I mean it, Chief. Here." He pulled his spare gun out of the holster at his ankle and handed it over. "If anybody jumps you, you know how to use it, and they have their blasters. I want you to head down into the shelter of the trees, away from those cliffs." He gestured in a southeasterly direction. "I'll meet you down there."
"I know you, man, you're gonna try to jump him," Blair objected, taking the gun reluctantly, a grimace on his face.
"Yeah, and I'll take Riley with me. Come on, Chief, you're not a cop. You know more than the ordinary civilian and you have great moves, and the Ghostbusters aren't really ordinary civilians either. We don't know if there's more than one of them in the area. I want you to keep an eye on the Ghostbusters."
Peter frowned, his mouth open to protest his ability to take care of himself, but Jim held his ground. "Fine, if you want to be arrested for obstructing justice the minute we return to town."
"Listen to him, Peter, he's right," Egon replied. "We're not trained for this. We came along as a search party. Besides, there was that drug dealer whose body was found near the Claypools' campsite. Maybe instead of the Sasquatch we've wandered into a war between rival drug gangs."
"Yeah, and they just happen to frolic through the woods dressed up in fur," objected Peter. "The up-and-coming look for any drug dealer."
"Never mind that now, go," Ellison urged, gesturing for Peter to take the lead. The brown-haired Ghostbuster hung back reluctantly until Blair edged in behind him.
"Right behind you, Peter."
So Venkman shrugged and started down the slanting trail, Blair hard on his heels. He could hear movement behind them and knew Jim was edging Egon on. Once they were safe in the tree line, he could work around and give cover to Winston and Ray.
A sudden burst of profanity from Jim made Blair whirl, especially when it was followed by two quick shots. Peter spun around and tried to force himself past the anthropologist, but Blair flung himself into Peter's path to stop him, realizing what had happened. Egon had gone for his P.K.E. meter.
"Spengs, I'm gonna brain you," Peter yelled, even as Jim grabbed the physicist by the ankle and yanked, just as a bullet whizzed past, so close that if Jim hadn't acted, Egon would have taken it full in the head. As it was, the bullet grazed his hair as he fell, doing no damage other than startling the physicist, who landed on his stomach, his arms cradled around the meter.
"Dammit, Egon!" Winston bellowed, and Ray cried anxiously:
"Egon, are you hurt?"
"I'm uninjured," Egon said, his voice rising in surprise as he made a sudden and unexpected slide over the lip of the shelter, yanked there by Jim, with enough force for the physicist to hit hard on his proton pack and gasp in a futile attempt to catch his breath.
"Egon!" Peter nearly crawled right over the smaller Blair in his need to reach his friend, but Jim raised a hand.
"He's not hurt. He had the wind knocked out of him, that's all. I'll give him a minute to catch his breath and send him after you. Now *go*!"
"Better come," Blair said, tugging at Peter's arm to attract his attention. "When Jim uses that tone of voice, he *means* it."
Peter hung back a minute, watching his downed friend, then he muttered a few very annoyed words under his breath about scaring people and getting what he was asking for, before he turned and hurried down the trail. Blair had a pretty good hunch Peter wouldn't budge once they reached the shelter of the woods, not until his buddies arrived.
When the trees closed around them Blair heaved a big sigh of relief. He'd never adjusted to being under fire in all the time he'd worked with Jim and, although no bullets had traced their path here, that didn't mean they hadn't been watched. At least they were in shelter for the moment, and Jim would know if anyone tried to circle around and warn them. Holding the gun with what he hoped was an appearance of confidence, he braced himself to wait.
"Where's Egon?" Peter worried. He braced himself to go back. "I hate this," he muttered. "Your pal better send him along pretty quick, and pull Ray and Winston out of there."
"You guys have been a team a long time, huh?" Blair recognized the symptoms. He hadn't been sure of Jim right at first and even now there were differences between them that pulled him up short, but he didn't like leaving Ellison up there any more than Peter had liked leaving his friends. He and Jim had become more than Sentinel and Guide. They were friends, and nobody liked to see friends in danger."
"I've known Ray and Egon since college," Peter admitted, craning his neck to see better. "And Winston for about ten years. What's keeping him? I'm gonna slug him for that hare-brained stunt. Who cares about a stupid P.K.E. meter? He has another one back home. I know he's going on about those dumb readings--hell, he's gotta have it figured out by now; your pal's one of those Sentinel characters. Every time he paid special attention to his tracking the meter went off, and you sure tried to mislead us." He saw the horrified expression on Blair's face and went on, "All it means is that Egon and Ray will be like kids in a candy shop and want to take a zillion readings. Don't worry. They're not gonna call the nearest tabloid and sell the story."
Blair opened his mouth to deny it when abruptly a hand came down hard on his shoulder, a big hand.
"Hey, que pasa?" Peter blurted, jerking and starting to turn as he was grabbed in return.
"Jim!" Blair started to yell, only to choke on the word when he was yanked from his feet so abruptly the gun shot from his hand and fell to the ground. Beside him, Peter gave a startled squawk, and then whoever had grabbed them towed them backward so fast he had to run to keep up. Just then a flurry of shots rang out, bullets rattling through the pine needles where they'd been standing only seconds before. The anthropology student saw a long, hairy arm but when he tried to crane his neck for a better view, he was shaken roughly. He could sense Peter struggling, too.
Peter squawked, "Let me go, you big lug. Egon! Winston! R-" before a similar shaking stunned him to silence, but his breathless voice hadn't been loud enough to carry to his friends. As the Sasquatch maneuvered the two men further and further away from their friends, Blair could only hope Peter's abortive yell for help had been loud enough to reach the ears of a Sentinel.
"Head down that way, Dr. Spengler," Jim instructed, pulling the man to his feet, a hand on his shoulder to keep him low. "And you'd better take this if it means so much." He placed the meter in Egon's hands. "Wait with the others; I'm going to work up the hill a little and give your friends cover, then they'll join you."
"I understand," Egon replied. "I'm sorry about the meter, but it might be very important. Something's going on here that I don't understand, and we'll need all the information we can."
Jim gestured impatiently down the slope. The blond man started a scuttling run, bent low, but had only gone two steps when Jim heard unexpected motion further along the cliff face. He had been focusing his senses on that particular area. "Get down, Dr. Spengler!"
Egon dropped obediently. Behind him, Ray and Winston yelled anxious questions, but a second later new fire rang out, aimed not at them but at the trees where Sandburg and Venkman had vanished. At the sound, Egon pushed himself up on his hands and knees and bellowed, "*Peter*!" The shout nearly drowned out the much fainter sound of Venkman calling his friends' names.
"*Down*!" Ellison repeated. He could hear two of them now, up on the cliff, and when he focused he could see the second man, clearly human and not a Sasquatch, wearing jeans and a lumberjack shirt, aiming a high-powered rifle. The handgun Ellison held didn't have the range to take him out, but Riley's gun did. "You stay right there, Spengler, and don't move."
"But Peter...." Egon said, then he must have seen the same worry he felt for his friend in Ellison's face and his words trailed off.
"I said, *stay put*, and I mean it. You'll only be hit if you move, and that won't help them any. Don't you think I want to be down there as much as you do? The best way I can help is to take out that sniper."
Egon's mouth tightened. He was dangerously close to mutiny, but he must have recognized the sense in Jim's words, because he nodded once, curtly, and proceeded to take another reading, in Peter's direction. "His biorhythm is fading," he said. "Intact, though. He's moved back out of range of the gunman." That fact and that alone kept him from disobeying Jim's instructions and racing for the forest. Peter had taken shelter; he didn't appear to be hurt.
"Riley." Jim pitched his voice so it would carry to the trooper and no further. "Along the ridge; do you see a lone pine with a crooked top?"
"Got it," the older man returned.
"Below it, about six degrees to the right, just under that big stone. Drop down midway along its length," Jim instructed. "See the underbrush there?"
"Clear as I see you."
"Then put a shot into it. I think we can flush out our second man." He added, "When he fires, I want you two Ghostbusters to move down here where I am, fast as you can. I'll give covering fire the minute Riley shoots. Am I clear?"
Winston gave him a thumbs' up and Ray nodded, his eyes wide as he stared up at the cliff face. He may have encountered all kinds of ghosts, though Jim still didn't quite believe that, but he'd probably never been under this kind of fire before. Winston had. Ellison suspected he'd served in Vietnam; there was a certain attitude he had come to recognize in men who had been under enemy fire before; it might not show up in daily life, but put that man in a perilous situation and the old habits returned automatically. Jim could tell Winston was prepared to watch Ray's back.
The trooper raised his rifle, and fired. A startled yelp echoed from the cliff face and a figure staggered out of the bushes, clutching his arm. The others would see form and movement but Jim narrowed his vision on the man as the rifle slipped from his hand and slid over the edge, where it continued to drop, spiraling through the air. The gunman sat down shakily on the lip of the drop, and there was blood at his shoulder. Riley's blind shot had been a lucky one; he'd wounded the man and made him lose his weapon.
Ray and Winston arrived beside Jim in a scuttle of pebbles, a few quick shots from the first man nipping at their heels. They reached shelter unscathed, and hurried down without further direction to join Egon, who had regained his footing and was taking readings impatiently but with fascination.
"More of the spiking, much sharper this time, but there's another reading I've never seen before. It's...possibly not human and it's moved away into the trees."
"Well, those guys with rifles aren't exactly human in my book," muttered Winston, but Ray gave an eager cry.
"I doubt that, Raymond. Besides, those readings are fading even now. The other ones are much closer at hand."
"We have to make sure Peter's okay," Ray insisted.
"Yes," Egon agreed. "Because Peter's moved away, too."
"Omigosh, what if Bigfoot grabbed him?" Ray blurted, eyes worried. He started to move but Winston restrained him, one hand on Ray's arm while the other clutched his particle thrower.
Jim heard that even as he was trying to pin down the location of the first gunman; he had much better cover than the second man had but he had to be behind a rock in a clump of brush near what might be the opening of a large cave. When Riley arrived at a dead run, bullets chasing him all the way, Jim was able to spot the gun barrel; it withdrew when Riley dropped into the small defile, but Jim had seen it. There was no way to take him out, not from this position. If there were only two men, the escape was safe enough now. The second man was still slumped where he'd fallen, binding an awkward, makeshift bandage around his upper arm in an attempt to stanch the blood.
Egon worked through the excitement of Ray's greeting and flurry of questions and came back to stand beside Jim. "You've got him pinpointed, don't you?"
"Yes, but I can't get a shot unless he moves."
"You'll have a warning if he starts to move, won't you?" Egon asked in a very quiet voice. He didn't have to explain that he had guessed Jim's abilities, and he clearly didn't want to give them away to anyone else. "Because Peter's down there, alone with your friend. I'm picking up very strange readings, and we don't know how many more men there might be around here. They moved off when the shooting started. You think it's drug dealers up there, don't you?" He gestured in the general direction of the remaining armed gunman.
"I think the guys with the guns might well be dealers or part of a gang," Jim concurred. "The man whose body was found here earlier was a newcomer, a new dealer, and the locals don't take kindly to that. I think they killed him and dumped his here. I also suspect he collected his supplies in the area."
"In the woods?" Riley echoed, hearing the latter part of the conversation.
"I can think of a few good ways to do it," Ellison replied. "His supplier flies over in a light plane and drops them out with a small chute. If Wyatt spread it around that he liked hiking, nobody would think it was weird for him to be out here so often, and if anybody was watching him, they'd only see his car unless they hiked in after him. If his supplies came in small enough amounts, he could fit them into a backpack easily enough."
"So you think those clowns with the rifles might be searching for his shipments?" Winston asked.
"Hey, the fishermen! They could have been pulling one out of the lake," Ray burst out excitedly. "Maybe they thought Andy had seen what they were doing and wanted him out of the way."
"Kidnapping him dressed as Bigfoot will win them a lot more attention than they ever wanted," Ellison replied.
"Shooting him in cold blood would, too," Riley pointed out. "A lot of people would write off a Bigfoot sighting and think it was simply an excuse for Claypool to vanish."
"Let's work our way down to the others," Jim said. "Maybe we'll have a clearer shot further down the hill. Or maybe if we move, we can draw him out. Besides," he added with an edge of amusement in his voice that didn't conceal his concern, "I'm not sure what trouble Sandburg will find if I'm not there to keep an eye on him. He has a real knack for it."
"Yeah, we're worried about Pete, too," Winston said knowingly, and turned to lead the way down the slope. He and Ray clutched their particle throwers in their hands, ready to fire if need be, but Egon activated the meter again.
He paused and let Jim move up beside him. "I've filtered out...those spikings," he said. "Later on will be time enough for that. But I did detect strange readings just now, and they didn't come from us."
"Where did it come from?" Ray asked over his shoulder.
"Down there," Egon said, pointing. His face was grim. "Peter's moved off; he's out of range of biorhythm detection, and so is Sandburg."
"Then Peter might be in trouble." Ray quickened his pace, and Ellison did the same. He should have known better than to send Sandburg down there like that, even armed. Jim didn't buy Egon's weird readings, though; Bigfoot wasn't going to be waiting for them when they entered the trees.
No one was. Blair and Peter hadn't waited for them, either. The two men had disappeared without a trace. Jim's spare gun lay abandoned in a patch of pine needles, but of the man who had held it and the missing Ghostbuster only scuffmarks remained to point out their direction.
"Maybe they just ducked back when the shooting started," Ray suggested, staring at the ground in hopes of a vivid trail or maybe a message. He raised his voice and bellowed, "*Peter! Blair!*" No one answered.
Egon shook his head. "They retreated further than that. When I first realized I couldn't pick up Peter's reading, I was afraid he'd been hit, but unless both men had been killed instantly, the readings wouldn't have stopped, and as it was, they simply faded. Biorhythms have short- term residuals and limited range. I realized they'd moved away, deeper into the forest. That's when I realized the other readings had moved in the same direction."
"You mean that weird spiking stuff?" Winston asked, crowding up beside Egon and peering over his shoulder. "Man, I knew that was trouble."
"No. This was entirely different. Anything living produces a biorhythm, but the distinction between a human and a bear, for instance, is quite marked. The new readings were far closer to human than animal, but they weren't normal human."
"So couldn't it have just been whatever made the spiking, only closer?" asked Ray, excited. He would love it if they discovered Bigfoot.
"No," Egon said flatly. He'd reasoned out those readings and they didn't have anything to do with the disappearance of the two men. "I believe I've come to understand that, and I'll explain it later. Right now, we have two more urgent problems."
"The drug dealers and your missing friends," Riley said.
"That's it," Jim agreed. "I called for backup, remember? There are going to be a ton of people following after us very soon now. So many of us moving will leave a better trail than the one we followed, and a search party might already have heard the shooting and be on their way here. The men on the cliff will know that and expect trouble. They might try to cut and run."
"So are you going after them?" asked Winston.
"There's a chance another of them made off with Sandburg and Venkman," Ellison replied tightly. "We have to find them first and make sure they're safe. We can always arrest the dealers later."
Egon shook his head. "No, Detective. Whatever 'made off with' them was not a normal human being like one of us. While I've given little to no credence to the Sasquatch legend until now, my only prior experience with such a thing being a traveler from another dimension rather than a genuine Bigfoot, I'm forced to conclude a being with abnormal readings is lurking in the forest and it moved in that direction. While you made me wait, some creature abducted Peter."
Although Egon was really angry at being restrained while Peter might have been in danger, underneath that he was desperately worried. He knew that essentially Ellison had been right in keeping the rest of the party together once the second sniper appeared. But Peter was hotheaded and from his own observations and a few things Ellison had let slip, Blair could let his youthful enthusiasm get the better of him. Short of Ray, who would have plunged into a possible encounter with glee, Egon couldn't think of two men he'd less want to confront a Sasquatch.
Ray cut in hastily before Jim could say anything to defend his proper actions. "Gosh, Egon, if it wanted to kill them it would have done it when it found them," he said. "I always thought Bigfoot was supposed to be a gentle creature. Maybe he took Peter and Blair away to save them from the drug dealers. After all, the bad guys were shooting at them."
"Why should it assume that one set of humans is bad and another good?" Riley scratched his head as he considered it. "If there really is a Sasquatch living around here, how would it know who the good guys were? All humans would be a threat and a possibility of discovery. You'd think it would be happy to see humans blasting at each other and want to avoid us rather than jumping in to help."
"Maybe it's smart enough to decide that people who shoot from ambush are bad guys," Winston offered. "Who the heck cares right now? We can worry about that later. Let's go find Pete."
"And Blair." Ellison concentrated his senses. Egon realized what he was doing and waited anxiously. After a second, the man began to sneeze and his eyes watered.
"Allergies?" Winston asked sympathetically. "Pete's got them, too. Every spring, or when he's around the wrong kind of plants."
"No, I just got a whiff of something weird," Ellison replied shortly.
Ray stared at him in surprise and sniffed energetically. "Yeah, there is an odor, but it's so faint I can barely tell it was here." Of all the Ghostbusters, Ray had the best sense of smell, but it wasn't abnormally acute, just very high normal. He had none of the Sentinel abilities Blair was studying.
"Bigfoot," Egon said with certainty. "Can you track it?"
Ellison eyed him warily. "I'll give it a shot," he said.
Egon fell into step with him as he studied the ground. His meter was still in his hand but it wasn't reacting to anything but the fading residuals now. "I know you'd prefer to keep your abilities a secret, Detective," he said in an undertone. "But I think Peter's life and the life of your friend are more important than preserving secrecy. I know a small amount about Burton's theories, not as much as Ray, because that would tie into his studies more than mine, though in the long run, possibly more Peter's than either of ours. I do know enough to remember the concept of a mentor or protector to work with the Sentinel in case of an overload of sensations or in case he became too absorbed in his sensory reactions to come out of them on his own. I assume Sandburg serves in that capacity with you."
Ellison nodded uncomfortably. "The subject doesn't usually come up with strangers; it wouldn't with you if your instruments hadn't detected what they detected." He added with a flash of reluctant amusement, "Sandburg will knock himself out trying to wheedle one of those meters out of you."
"I won't give you away," Egon said. "And I'll make sure the others don't, either, though, in exchange, I would value the chance to take readings while you use your abilities." When Ellison's face hardened, he said quickly, "Not in a lab setting, but now. You do realize it's essential you continue to use your abilities now. We have to rescue Peter and your friend. My readings indicate an abnormal presence. It doesn't register in the general animal range. While I've been hesitant to give credence to Bigfoot legends, I'm forced to conclude that something paranormal is here and that it may have either taken Peter and Blair or lured them away."
"Yeah, I'd taken it that far, too. I've been thinking, maybe the people Mrs. Claypool saw in the boat were really trying to retrieve a drop of drugs from the lake. I suspect they realized Claypool had seen them."
"So they dressed up as Bigfoot...." Egon began, then his voice trailed off. "No. Perhaps the entity perceived a threat from them and rescued him before he could be gunned down."
"A benevolent Sasquatch?" Jim asked and shook his head. "This feels crazy to me. It makes more sense than drug runners wearing fur suits, though." He frowned. "All right, Dr. Spengler, I'll have to trust you. Sandburg can find trouble with his eyes closed, and I have a feeling your Dr. Venkman is the same way."
"Not quite as much as Ray would be, but he's quick tempered, and I think that's a bad survival quality in a situation like this. Do I need to talk you through the process? I seem to remember the Sentinel in the article Ray had required supervision while he focused his senses."
Ellison hesitated, then he spoke reluctantly. "No, I can focus fairly well, and I won't need all five senses. I'll start with sight-- footprints--and hearing, in case they're close enough to make a noise. Sometimes when I concentrate very hard, I get caught up in it. Sandburg calls it 'zoning out.' Don't let me go in too deep. Shake me out of it, talk to me, and if it seems like I'm taking too long, don't wait. I can probably do this without a coach; Sandburg's always wanting to run tests, but he's helped me control my gifts. I don't want to let him down. So watch me."
"And the readings," Egon replied. "That will tell me, I think, if you go in too deep. I'll have to tell my team about this later; I think Winston and Ray might have figured it out already, and I wouldn't be surprised if Peter already knew. He's a lot quicker than he wants people to think." He nodded encouragingly. "Go ahead."
Ellison closed his eyes, and an expression of extreme concentration slid across his features. Egon raised the meter, keeping one eye on it while he listened to the Sentinel's breathing, hearing it grow deep and regular as if he were asleep. The meter squawked once and he hastily adjusted the sound down, then studied the screen. The spiking was far more pronounced than it had been earlier, steady and consistent; it was different from psi readings, but it registered as an energy display. Although the ability was there, total mastery had not been achieved. Sandburg might know how to coach him through the experience, but Egon could only watch and wait.
After a minute or two, Ellison's eyes opened and he focused on the wooded landscape in the direction Peter and Blair had gone. Egon could almost imagine his eyes fine-tuning on the trail, focusing past the other men who were spread out in front of them. He stared for a long time, then he closed his eyes again as if the sun was far too bright. Cocking his head, he listened. Egon made one final adjustment of the meter, to cancel the sound element completely.
"If you can focus out my breathing and heartbeat, do it," he said in a low, soothing tone, the same voice Peter used when he tried to hypnotize a subject. "Concentrate beyond the range of your immediate surroundings."
He wasn't sure if Ellison heard him or not, and he didn't want to say anything else for fear it would distract him. Watching carefully, the physicist noticed the man seemed to be in a deep trance and, after hesitating briefly, he caught Ellison's arm and shook him lightly, then, when there was no reaction, slightly harder.
Ellison blinked, then he reached like lightning, grabbing Egon's wrist and forcing his hand away, starting to twist him around before he caught himself and let go. "Sorry." He shook his head a couple of times.
"Did you see or hear anything."
"Traces of footprints, a few twigs broken off branches, enough to indicate they're traveling in a fairly straight line in that direction." He pointed. "I don't believe they're within range of my hearing, even enhanced." He hesitated. "I appreciate your backup."
"Anything to find Peter," Egon said. "Let's go."
They hurried on again and as they passed Ray, the occultist caught Egon's eye and nodded slightly. He'd seen and understood; after all, he was the one who had recognized Sandburg's name and read his article about Sentinels. From his excited expression, he would have liked to question Ellison about it, but he didn't. Finding Peter and Blair was much more urgent.
Concluded in Part Three...