I am so sorry this chapter took so long. Deepest apologies to Turkeyhead987...I know I promised to have this chapter up in two weeks, and that was- what? six, seven weeks ago? Yeah...I lied. Sorry. :(
Thanks again to dragondancer123 for her beta work!
The ghost kid—no, Danny—took a step forward. Gus shrank back against the wall.
"….Gus….don't freak out."
"I'm not freakin' out!"
"It's just me!"
Gus scrambled to his feet. "Yeah? And who might that be? Huh?"
"Is that your name? Or is that the kid you're possessing?"
Danny rolled his eyes. "It's called overshadowing, and I'm not doing that right now. I'm—" He broke off, glancing at the door. His hands were raised, as if surrendering something.
Gus blinked, curiosity edging through his fear. "You're what? What are you doing?"
"I'm…." Danny glanced behind him, dropping his voice to a whisper. "Someone's coming."
Gus heard footsteps approaching, heavy and insistent. He would know those footsteps anywhere, but would die before he tipped his hand to this kid.
Danny turned wide blue eyes on Gus. "Please," he whispered urgently, "don't tell them you saw me."
And with that, he vanished.
The tumblers in the lock clicked, Gus jumped when the door opened. Lassiter's frown deepened when he saw him, crouched in a corner, one arm raised as if to shield himself.
"Guster? What the hell's wrong with you? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Gus was sought out because Shawn, apparently, had found a lead in the case. Through the walk between closet and conference room, the griping never ceased.
"Says he's found a new lead, dug it out from under all the so-called 'evidence' we have. Puh. Spencer couldn't dig a lead out of a paper sack. A wet paper sack. Probably filled with some god-awful candy, knowing him."
Privately, Gus agreed with the detective, but didn't voice his thoughts. His encounter with Danny—or the ghost kid—whichever he was—left him trembling all over. As they rounded a corner, Lassiter glanced sideways—not quite over his shoulder, but enough to let Gus know he was being addressed.
"You all right, Guster? You haven't said a peep since I got you out of that closet."
"What? Who? Me?"
"I don't see any other 'Guster's around here."
Gus attempted a laugh, but it came out sounding like a raspberry. "Nah, I'm fine. Nothing weird going on over here."
The detective stopped long enough to give Gus a sideways look. His eyebrows furrowed, and he seemed to be inspecting every inch of Gus's face, searching for a clue to his strange behavior.
Don't tell them….
Gus didn't know much about ghosts—or ghosts who masqueraded as humans—but something about the way Danny had said those words made him wonder. Maybe he had a good reason for wanting his secret—whatever it was—kept. Maybe he was being hunted by all the hunters at the convention.
Or maybe he was a powerful ghost in disguise who could kill Gus if he breathed one word to the SBPD.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Lassiter turned, straightened his shoulders, and continued on his way. "Stupid conference. All this ghost talk is giving me the creeps. You know one of 'em asked me if I wanted to speak to my grandma?" He huffed. "As if I didn't hear enough nagging while she was alive, 'Carlton, wear a sweater. Carlton, eat your peas. Carlton, stop scrubbing the toilet with my fuzzy slippers'."
Lassiter pretended not to hear. "Damn crazy, that's what these guys are…."
Gus let the rest of Lassiter's monologue wash over him like cold water over a paper cut. But the memory of what he'd seen tore at his throat, and it was all he could do to keep his mouth shut.
Juliet shook her head as if to clear it. "Holowhat?"
"You know those… things that look like people, but aren't. They're not solid but look that way…."
"You mean holograms?" Lassiter offered.
"Yes! That's exactly what I mean!"
Lassiter slapped his palm against the table and stood. "That's it. I'm out."
Juliet caught his sleeve and pulled him back into his seat. "Come on, Carlton, at least hear him out." When her partner was sitting again, she turned to Shawn. "Seriously, Spencer? That's your lead?"
"It's….not really a lead. More of a hunch. And, being psychic, I think it's safe to say my hunches are better than the average Joe's. Or Lassie's, in this case."
Lassiter leaned forward, lowering his voice. "I don't operate on hunches, Spencer, especially not ones as ridiculous as this!"
"Hey, at least I didn't say 'aliens'!"
"Maybe you should've!"
"Boys!" Juliet banged her fist on the table. "That's enough! Now, Shawn, would you please make this….hunch sound more, I don't know…."
"Believable?" Gus spoke for the first time, sliding into a seat near his friend. Shawn looked at him, and he looked away.
"Dude, something wrong?"
Gus shook his head. "Oh, nope. Everything's fine."
"He's been acting that way ever since I got him out of that closet."
"Maybe he's seen a ghost." Shawn laughed at his own joke, but Gus silenced him with a glare.
"Maybe I'm sick of this conference that somebody dragged me to against my will."
Shawn patted Gus's head. "Poor wittle Gussy. Scared of some ghosty whosties?" He sat back a bit. "Huh. That rhymed better than I thought it would."
"Can we please get back on track?" Juliet said.
"All right, all right." Shawn threw his hands in the air, dropped them, and cleared his throat. "Jules. These ghost hunters have insane technology, right?"
"It is more advanced than what most people use," she said slowly.
"So…what's to say they haven't developed the technology for those holothingies?"
"Spencer, McNabb's team has been over every display in the building, and they haven't seen anything remotely similar to a hologram."
"Maybe they're hiding them from us," Shawn said with a shrug. "Because I strongly sense somebody is keeping a secret."
"Nobody's keeping a secret here, Shawn."
Shawn tapped his temple. "The psychic-ness doesn't lie, Gus. I sense it, it's happening."
Juliet rested her elbow on the table, digging her hand into her hair. "But….seriously, holograms? Could you be any more ridiculous?"
"I still could say aliens."
Lassiter stood and gripped the table with one hand, using the other to shake a finger in Shawn's face. "Listen, Spencer. I've half a mind to call the Chief and tell her you are making a mockery of this case."
"That'll be tough, since you didn't actually hire me."
"I can still have you arrested."
Shawn gave an incredulous laugh. "For what? Trying to help? Giving you a lead that doesn't involve the undead?"
A knock cut off Lassiter's coming lecture. With a sigh, his hand hit the table. "O'Hara?"
Juliet rolled her eyes and opened the door.
"Hey, guys?" McNabb's dark hair was mussed, his eyes wide. "You're never going to believe this, but….The Fentons are gone. All of them."
Lassiter straightened; one hand rested on his pistol. "Well, where are they? How'd they get out of the building?"
"I…I don't know, Detective." He ran a hand through his hair. "They sank through the floor. Something pulled them down."
Gus looked at Shawn. Even he looked surprised.
"And you know the craziest part?" He sent a fear-filled glance over his shoulder and swallowed. "Right before Maddie Fenton disappeared, every ghost detector in the room started beeping."
Lassiter and Juliet emerged from the basement a few minutes later, Jack and Maddie Fenton in tow. Aside from Maddie's tight-pressed lips and Jack's slight limp, they appeared unharmed.
"Jack hit his shin on a packing crate," Maddie explained to the ghost hunters gathered in the conference room.
"It was the ghost kid! He threw it right in front of me!"
Maddie exhaled. "He didn't throw it at you, Jack, he didn't get anywhere near the crates!"
"Well, he knocked it down, anyhow."
Lassiter gave Jack a quizzical look. "Did he have white hair, green eyes, black lab suit with white gloves, about five-foot-six?"
"Who else would it be?" Jack sank into a metal folding chair with a sigh. "Maddie and I've been hunting that kid for years."
"Can you tell us where he went?"
Jack pointed at the ceiling. "I guess it'd be our floor. No telling where that ghost went after that."
Now it was Lassiter's turn to sigh. "If you ever learn where he vanished, could you let us know? He's our prime suspect."
"Figures. That ghost kid's always causing trouble—"
Suddenly, Maddie looked up. "Has anyone seen Danny?"
Ghost hunters glanced over their shoulders and behind friends, while the police officers' faces turned serious. McNabb stepped forward.
"We've been meaning to tell you, Mrs. Fenton….we haven't been able to find your son."
Filled with people, the convention center was easy to navigate. Either follow the crowds to the popular attractions, or duck around them for the more out-of-the-way lectures. If you got lost, you could always ask for directions from the first friendly face.
Empty, navigation was not so simple.
There must have been something about the crowd that made the convention center seem smaller, friendlier. Devoid of humanity, the massive center stretched out in all directions like a maze of conference rooms and twisting hallways. Danny tried to keep his bearings, but he couldn't remember where the lobby was, let alone the conference room where the ghost hunters were.
A quiet beeping caught his attention. Danny spun in a circle, searching for the source, but it seemed to come from all directions at once. Could it be? No—all the ghost detectors were crowded into one room, and that room was on lockdown. The police wouldn't let them out.
Although, there were the hunters he'd found in the bathrooms—Katie Petrinovich and the one in the lab coat. But after his gruesome find, wouldn't they keep all the hunters in one place to ensure no more were killed?
Danny dropped his invisibility and charged his ghost ray. The green light grew, hovering near his palm as he crouched down in a fighting stance.
"Where are you?" he cried. "Show yourself!"
An unfamiliar voice chuckled. "No need, thanks to you."
Danny whirled, searching for his pursuer, and his world went black.