The wind howled, and the branches outside the windows creaked and cracked under the strain. A whistle of escaping gale snatched at the room through a hole in the boards over a broken pane of glass, and the rough canvas curtains snapped about on their string hangers in response. Tyrone Earl jumped violently, jerking about to stare at the window. He had been convinced, for a moment, that there had been somebody there; somebody watching him through those half-covered windows.

"You're jumpy tonight." As collected and cool as ever, Jonathon Chase was the epitome of relaxed nonchalance. Tyrone glared at him.

"There's a storm brewing out there the size of a coastal hurricane. If we're not careful this whole shack is gonna become airborne, and we, my dear professor, are going to be visiting the Tin Man in the Land Of Oz." He scowled at the smile he received in reply, and turned back to the game of cards spread out on the crate between them. "Whose turn was it?"

"Yours." Jonathon watched dispassionately as his old friend laid down a card, but seemed not to notice its clear resemblance to the card already lying next to it. He jumped as Tyrone merrily shouted 'snap!', and seemed momentarily surprised to see his opponent rake in half a deck of cards in consequence.

"Yes!" Stacking his new acquisitions under the cards already in his possession, Tyrone reached for the cracked mug beside him, and took a swig of lukewarm coffee. "Come on, bud, where were you? This is like playing against a ventriloquist's dummy."

"Sorry." The Englishman stretched and stood up, walking stiffly about the room as though to restore life to sleep-dulled limbs. "I can't seem to concentrate."

"Not looking forward to following the yellow-brick road?" Tyrone grinned, then shrugged and followed his companion to his feet. "I'll get the stove going again. We can make some coffee that's actually hot, and maybe I can dig out something to go with it. What d'you say? In this weather, coffee needs a little something extra."

"Sure, if you like." Whilst his friend headed for the sectioned-off area of the hut, where a primitive but effective gas-stove was stationed, Jonathon wandered over to the closest window. He pulled back the dusty canvas covering and peered through the glass. It was pitch-black outside, and he could see nothing save the nearest of the trees; lashing branches at the outermost perimeter of the forest. Beyond them there seemed to be nothing at all, even though he knew the scenery well. There was a short distance of thickly growing trees, impenetrable to anybody who did not know the path; then there was a river, which cut through the ground, giving life to a few hardy flowers and a bush or two of berries - mostly poisonous. Further on there was a lake, bottomless according to local legend, where more than a few people had met their ends. Its almost unreachable floor was a graveyard; or would have been, had human bones been a little more durable. They tended not to last long, worn by the motion of the water, and eaten away by the fishes and other local life forms. All the same, bodies or no bodies, there was an aura of calm by the lake; the feeling that it was a special place, where people went and did not come back. It felt like a graveyard, but with something else there besides. It felt uneasy somehow, and Jonathon, whose senses were sharper than most, felt it keenly. People had died in those waters; many people; and there was something there warning others to stay away.

"It getting to you too, buddy?" Tyrone came back in from the kitchen, their two mugs in his hands. He handed one to the professor, who smiled his gratitude.

"Yes, I think so. It's all too quiet. Too unreal, somehow."

"Tell me about it." There was a clear shiver in his companion's words, but whereas at another time Jonathon might have smiled at it, here he was inclined to share it. Tyrone did not scare easily, and if this place was bothering him as well, it was clearly time to think about getting out. "How much longer are we going to be here?"

"I don't know." Jonathon turned his back on the window, letting the makeshift curtain fall back into place. "Another day maybe. One more sweep of the lake, and I think we can call it quits. If that body is in there, I should have found it by now."

"You think this is a false alarm?"

"I don't know. Sam isn't the kind of man to jump to conclusions, and if he thinks his son drowned in that lake, he's got to have a reason for thinking that way. I almost hate to tell him he's wrong. At least it would have been an explanation. Not knowing has to be worse than knowing the truth - whatever it is."

"I guess." Tyrone sat back down, kicking at the dusty floor of the cabin. "This place needs a major spring clean. If we're going to be staying here any longer than one more day, you and me are gonna get scrubbing."

"Who says we're staying any longer? We'll have finished tomorrow, and I told you that that's as long as we're staying. We have to get back to the city. I have work at the university that needs finishing."

"Sure, Jonathon. Sure." Tyrone was smiling, and Jonathon glared at him.

"What? What's so funny?"

"You are." The American leant back into his chair, although the creaks that he heard in response suggested that it would be better just to sit still. The furniture was probably of the same vintage as the building, and that made it old.; much older than he generally considered it healthy for furniture to be unless it was properly looked after; which these pieces definitely had not been. "You know as well as I do that if you don't find that body tomorrow you're going to come up with an excuse to stay around here for a couple more days. You want to know what happened to that old guy's son nearly as much as he does."

Jonathon leant against the wall, listening to the howling of the wind for several moments before answering. "Aren't you interested too? People don't just vanish."

"They can if they want to. It happens every day. Maybe he had debts, maybe his girlfriend was pregnant and he was scared of her old man. It happens."

"Not often to men of thirty-five it doesn't." Jonathon shrugged. "There's something weird going on here, Ty."

"Isn't there always?"

"I'm serious." He glared at his companion. "You don't know Sam the way I do. He's solid as a rock. I haven't even heard from him since I left university, and now suddenly he's calling me with this. He's really worried."

"He's got a right to be. His son has just disappeared." Tyrone shrugged, somewhat noncommittally. "Why assume that he fell in the lake though? Couldn't he swim?"

"Like a fish, apparently." Jonathon began to pace. "But you haven't been in those waters, Ty. They're like nothing I've ever experienced before inland. They could drag down a seasoned professional. That's the weird thing. David grew up around here, and he should have known how dangerous the lake is, so he wouldn't have gone swimming there. He must have fallen in."

"Now you're talking like he's really down there." Tyrone shook his head. "Jonathon, I know you like this Sam guy - I like him too, really - but can't you see what's making him tick here? His son has gone off without telling him, so right away he hits the panic button. Why assume he fell in the lake?"

"Because." Jonathon joined his friend, sitting down in another of the worn and wobbly old chairs. "David is all Sam's got left. His wife and other son died, about fifteen years ago. They drowned in the lake. I don't know for sure what happened, but I think the kid went swimming and got into trouble. His mother went in to try to help him, and they both went down. Some hikers saw it, or something, but there was nothing they could do." He shrugged. "Ever since then, Sam's been blaming the lake for everything. Every time somebody else dies in it he goes through losing his family all over again. It stands to reason that that's what he'd think has happened to David." He sighed, sipping at his coffee, which had already lost the edge to its heat. "I suppose I am indulging him rather. It's just that I owe him a favour or two. If this helps him, I'm not going to argue."

"And when it turns out that this guy isn't at the bottom of the lake?" Tyrone was staring at his friend, his expression showing more amusement than any suggestion of a challenge. "Are we going home then?"

"We'll see." Jonathon smiled a dry smile. "Sam saved my grandfather's life, Ty. They were friends for years. I can't just abandon him when he's feeling like this. The man's at his wit's end."

"Yeah, I noticed." Letting out a heavy sigh, Tyrone glanced around at the simple wooden walls, which were beginning, he noticed with some trepidation, to bend and sway in time to the rhythm of the wind. He hoped that it was just his imagination, but somehow doubted it. "Ah well, I suppose it could be home, with a little imagination."

"That's the spirit." Jonathon closed his eyes, tipping his head back to think who knew what thoughts. Tyrone knew better than to disturb him. It was late, and they were both tired. Jonathon especially had been working very hard in order to scan the lake for signs of David Boyser. Quietly the American rose to his feet and headed towards the camp beds in the cabin's other room. Provided the wind let him sleep, he was going to welcome the night's rest a very great deal.


They awoke to a lull in the wind which was more than welcome. The ground outside the cabin was strewn with leaves and branches dislodged in the storm, and the way to the lake was more awkward than normal. The pair scrambled over the second fallen tree in as many minutes, and Tyrone scowled at it.

"I swear these things fall down just to get in our way."

"Probably." It was all that they said as they walked, and the lake came to them in the midst of its customary silence. Tyrone walked to the edge, staring out across the waters with an expression of deep foreboding.

"I really do not like this place," he commented, casting a sidelong look back at Jonathon. "I hate to think of you going down there all on your own."

"Well if you feel up to transmuting into a freshwater trout, you're welcome to join me." Chase smiled at his friend. "It's okay. It's actually not all that bad once you've made it past the eddies. Towards the deeper parts everything settles down, and then it's just muddy. Visibility is just a few inches, but I can live with that. I have pretty good night-vision, especially when I'm in another form."

"Well good luck all the same." Throwing himself down onto the grass at the side of the lake, the other man stretched, and tried to look comfortable. "You've got about another three hours before Sam comes out to bring us lunch, so be back by then, bud, or we'll have some explaining to do."

"I'll be back." Jonathon wandered down to the edge of the water, watching its deceptively innocent lapping around his feet. A lone splash hit the toe of one shoe, spraying a little grey water onto his sock. It felt cold, and strangely forbidding, and he mentally scolded himself for letting it get to him so much. It was just water; it couldn't do anything to a man who, in many of his almost limitless forms, could breathe comfortably beneath it. All the same, he knew that he wouldn't even be there were it not for Tyrone. If his old friend had chosen to remain back in New York, Jonathon would have given up on the first day. He hated the place, with its forbidding nature and graveyard atmosphere. It was the kind of place where you could truly imagine seeing the dead walk again.

"I'll make a noise if you're not up before noon." Tyrone shifted his position, trying to convince himself that he didn't mind being left alone on the lakeside. Jonathon nodded.

"Fine by me." He grinned. "Just so long as Sam doesn't bring us any more of those tuna fish sandwiches. Professional courtesy, you understand."

"Yeah." Tyrone grinned back, watching as his friend began to prepare himself for the transformation. He seemed to be concentrating, his muscles showing signs of strain as they began to ripple and change shape beneath his skin. Patterns chased themselves across his body as skin gave way to scales, and in a sudden, violent motion, Jonathon Chase was gone. A fish, large and silver-coloured, leapt in a spectacular arc towards the deeper water, then vanished from sight beneath the surface. Tyrone breathed a gentle sigh. It was always remarkable to watch one of the professor's transformations, but some were more impressive than others. Before they had met, Tyrone had, like many of his fellow human beings, taken animals rather for granted. They were there to look nice, and to be eaten when appropriate. In the intervening years, however, he had come to see them in an entirely different light. He saw their beauty now; recognised their strength and power. Whether it was the grace of a falcon or the balletic poise of a cat, it all meant rather more to him now than it had done before; it seemed even fishes had a majesty to be admired.

Beneath the surface of the water, Jonathon dove deeper and deeper down, avoiding obstacles with a natural sense of timing born from his unusual talents. He moved easily through the tangle of weeds, struggling occasionally with the currents, but otherwise making good progress. He moved quickly through the waters that he had already searched, seeing no need to scan them again. A body would not have such freedom of movement that it was necessary to continually check and recheck old ground. Instead he concentrated merely on reaching the section that he had not so far examined, and tried not to think of the unpleasantness of moving through that murky water, inches from a possible dead body, never knowing what he was about to find. His only source of reassurance was his current disguise; he didn't think ghosts bothered much with harming fishes; or at least he hoped not anyway.

Time passed, although there was little way to tell that it did so. Little of the light from above managed to filter down through the mud-tinted water and the thick, choking weeds, and it was only the innate sense of timing born from the animal instinct of his chosen form that allowed Chase to realise that several hours had passed since his submersion. He scanned the lakebed one more time, anxious to find something, even if it did turn out to be the remains of David Boyser. He felt that he owed it to Sam to come up with something; a piece of clothing perhaps, or a personal item of some kind. Perhaps a watch, or a tie pin; anything that might hint at the fate of the old man's beloved son. All that there appeared to be was mud, thick and rich in the kind of microscopic life forms that made this forbidding piece of water into a remarkable thriving community. Even through his relative anxiety, Chase was not above casting more than a passing glance at his fellow swimmers. They were not exactly colourful, but what they lacked in beauty they made up for out of sheer tenacity. He couldn't help thinking that, if he were a fish living in this lake, he would have packed up and moved out long before he reached the age of consent.

Come on, Chase. Find something. The words echoed in his head, resounding about inside a brain that, whilst no longer the same size as a human's, remained human in every aspect. For all his thoughts, however, he could find nothing. There were one or two things that he saw; one old and very rusted piece of metal that had very likely once been a belt buckle; but it had clearly been under the water for years. It could not have belonged to David, or anybody else who had gone swimming in the lake during the eighties. He sighed, swishing his tail to send himself off into a new direction, and casting valiant looks this way and that. He was certain now that David Boyser had not drowned - at least, not in this lake - but something kept him beneath the surface, still searching nonetheless. He heard a commotion from somewhere indeterminate above him, and realised that his time must more or less be up. Tyrone was warning him that Sam Boyser would be along at any minute, bringing lunch to the troops. He was expecting to see Jonathon Chase scanning the surface of the water with equipment gained through his university links; not floundering about in the depths in a body that was clearly not his own. Possible explanations chased each other through his mind, but he could not smile in response; not in this form.

Five more minutes, Ty... He changed direction again, diving down into a dip, where the water was several feet deeper than elsewhere. It was dark here; so dark that he could see nothing at all. The water felt even colder, although that was very likely his imagination. He pushed on. He had scanned this area before, nearly an hour previously, using touch where he could no longer use sight, and wishing that he had proper hands. Fins were no substitute for fingers when hunting through tightly packed pebbles and twisting reeds for something that might only be the smallest of clues. He pushed his agile body through a clump of reeds, this time pressing himself deeper down than he had done before, skimming the lakebed with his chest and sending clouds of silt flying into the water around and above him. He felt a strange urge to sneeze, although he was not altogether sure if fishes were capable of such an action, and was just about to give up and head for the surface when he felt his tail brush against something hard and solid. He twisted about. There was something there, half-buried in the silt, invisible in the non-existent light but clear to his sensitive scales. He pressed against it, putting all the strength of his small frame into a valiant effort to shift it. It moved, and he pushed harder, this time succeeding it freeing the object and causing it to move back up the slope towards the clearer water. He pushed onwards, and finally he was able to get his discovery into water that was clean enough for him to see what it was.

A briefcase! He wanted to say it aloud, to try and dispel the eerie silence which had swamped him during every second of his submersion, but could make no sound at all save the bubbled rush of his breathing. He returned to pushing the trophy, giving up only when he had reached water that would more or less be shallow enough for him to reach it on foot later. He slid up, his head breaking the surface for long enough to see that Sam was not in sight; and also to see Tyrone standing anxiously at the water's edge, scanning the lake for any sign of his overdue companion. He rose up, reverting to human form even as he was moving forward, his body throwing itself back into its native shape as though relieved to escape the restrictions of the last few hours. Tyrone breathed a sigh of relief, and Jonathon walked towards him, striding out of the shallow edge of the lake with pond weed still hanging from his arms.

"I thought you were never coming back." Tyrone shook his head, exasperated. "What did you find to keep you down there for so damn long? Atlantis?"

"Nothing so interesting I'm afraid." The professor was just about to elaborate when he heard a yell of greeting, and turned to see Sam striding towards the pair. He stopped as he came closer, clearly surprised to see Jonathon standing up to his ankles in the lake, water running down his clothes, his hair soaking wet.

"What have you been doing?" The ageing local hurried closer, looking Jonathon up and down. "I told you this lake was dangerous, damn it. You don't want to go taking risks in this water, Jonathon."

"It's okay, Sam. I was being very careful." Chase waded back to dry land and sat down beside the fire that Tyrone had thoughtfully started. Although the day was far from cold, the water was of such a low temperature that he was chilled to the bone. Sam frowned for a few moments more, then shrugged and sat down, handing across a rucksack.

"There's a flask of coffee in there," he said, his tone suggesting that he thought Jonathon should drink some straight away. The professor grinned, obeying the unspoken demand and taking a few mouthfuls of the hot beverage. It was almost uncomfortably strong, and had far too much sugar in it, but he smiled nonetheless.

"Thanks Sam." He stifled a yawn and leant back, feeling extremely hungry, but too tired to be very enthusiastic about food. The older man watched him for several moments.

"You find anything Jonathon?" He asked his question quietly, as though afraid of the answer, and Jonathon was silent for a second.

"Nothing," he said finally, smiling sadly at his grandfather's old friend. "There's nothing down there. David isn't in the lake."

"He... isn't?" Sam seemed to be mulling this over in his mind, the implications clear to him. "Then he's vanished."

"It doesn't have to be bad news. Maybe he just... wanted to get away." Tyrone sounded bright and cheerful, but Sam merely shook his head.

"No. Thanks for the effort, Tyrone, but... well that just isn't like my boy. David wouldn't vanish without a word. He'd know it would make me worry. And what reason could he have for needing to up and leave like that? He's not in any trouble at work, he's got a lot of friends." He sighed, turning his head to look across the stretch of water that he had hated for so many years. "This was the only thing I could think of. Where else could he be? What else could have happened to him? If he's been hurt, or killed, it might be years before I can find his body in these woods. You boys were my last hope."

"I'm sorry." Jonathon offered the flask over to Sam, hoping that a drink from the coffee, which was clearly laced with something much stronger, might cheer him up. The old man merely shook his head, climbing slowly back to his feet.

"No thanks John. I'll be going now. I'll, er, I'll see you before you leave, yeah? Drop by before you go. I'm sorry that I've wasted your time."

"You haven't." Jonathon rose to his feet, gripping the other man's hand and shaking it firmly. "It was nothing, Sam, really. I'm just sorry that I couldn't be more help to you."

"Yeah, me too." The old man gave a bitter smile and turned to head away into the trees, back towards the path which would take him to the town. "Be seeing you both."

"Bye." Tyrone watched as the old man vanished, then sighed, shaking his head. "Poor old guy."

"Yeah..." Jonathon stared after the departing figure, then took a sandwich from the bag and headed back towards the lake. He was still wet enough for it not to matter, so he strode straight into the water and, sandwich in one hand, munching merrily away, he felt around for the briefcase. He hoisted it up.

"What's that?" Tyrone took the case as soon as his partner was back, and they sat down together by the fire to examine it. The American rubbed at the leather surface of the case with his sleeve, revealing a black, new-looking frame and a four-digit combination lock. There was something inscribed on the case too, and he squinted at it, scraping at some stubborn mud in an effort to read it. "It says... DM Boyser." He frowned. "I thought you said you didn't find anything."

"I didn't know whose case it was." Jonathon shook the case, rewarded with a thudding sound. "Well he can't be in there."

"No, but the reason he disappeared might be." Taking a sandwich and jamming it into his mouth, Tyrone took the case back and held it tightly between his ankles. Alternating between bites of cheese and ham in whole-wheat bread and less than patient thrusting with his knife tip, he managed to break open part of the lock. Brute force did the trick from there onwards. The case opened in his hands, and several packages flew out, landing heavily in the dust at his feet. Jonathon pounced on one. It was wrapped in clear packaging, and was tightly fastened, evidently made to be waterproof and safe from the elements. Through the plastic wrap he could see something white, which looked suspiciously like powder. His eyes met with Tyrone's.

"It isn't washing powder," the New Yorker told him, and Jonathon nodded slowly.

"You can say that again. There must be nearly a million dollars worth of merchandise here. Do you suppose David knew it was in there?"

"I think it's a pretty safe bet." Tyrone sighed. "Life just got way too complicated, man. I say we throw it back."

"You don't mean that?" Jonathon turned the package over in his hands, and Tyrone smiled.

"No, but I wanted to." He sighed, picking up one of the other packages. "I do think it's time we asked for a little help though. Brooke?"

Jonathon stared at the package he was holding, thinking about Sam and his devotion to his son; and about how much this was going to hurt the old man. There was more at stake here than an old man's feelings though, and he knew it. A grim smile crossed his face. "Brooke," he said softly, then turned to stare out across the lake.


Brooke McKenzie leaned back in her chair, gazing at the mass of paperwork on her desk. It never seemed to shrink, no matter how much work she did, and she was beginning to lose interest in all of it. A pile of forms, all needing to be filled in in triplicate for some reason that she was not aware of, rested by her left hand. A pile of similar forms, but from a different department, lay by her right hand; and all the space in between was taken up with arrest reports, witness statements, leads which had yet to be followed up, and cases which hadn't even been started on as yet. She remembered Dragnet, and Ironside, and all of the other shows which had enthralled her in her youth. Joe Friday hadn't spent his life signing government issue forms with colour-coded pages and indecipherable lines of numerals representing departments nobody had heard of, and people that nobody knew. Ed Brown had seemed to spend his entire career being terribly exciting, and getting into all manner of scrapes. He had never had to write a report about it later.

"Thinking about Chase?" The voice was amused and Brooke turned towards it, smiling at Lieutenant Nick Rivera - or more correctly at the cup of coffee that he handed to her.

"Maybe." She tried not to blush. "Actually I was wondering what they're up to. Can't be much going on in an out of the way place like that."

"You're kidding? With a name like Gloom Woods?!" Rivera sat down on the corner of her desk, sipping at his own coffee with the expression of a man whose taste buds had long been broken in to the less-than-edifying taste experience of police precinct machine coffee. It didn't so much taste of coffee as of something that he had long ago given up trying to identify. "Sounds like they'll be up to their necks in charming little local legends of ghosts and wicked apparitions." He smiled. "Might be fun to go down there, see what's about."

"I did find some stuff about it in the newspaper records." Brooke toyed with her half-empty cup. "That lake, the one that they've gone to search, is right in the middle of the woods. Apparently it's just about the gloomiest place in the country, with more legends about it than the rest of the state put together. The locals swear it's haunted, and nobody goes near it except kids looking to impress their mates. Nine out of ten people who swim there are reckoned to wind up dead, and the legends say that not all of them drown. There's supposed to be a curse."

"Sounds like a great holiday destination for all the family." The telephone on the desk between them began to ring, and the lieutenant stood up. "It's Friday, Brooke. They'll be back tomorrow; and I'm willing to bet they haven't seen a single ghost." He sounded almost sorry.

"More likely they've uncovered some international spying ring. Those two could get into trouble on a school outing." Brooke reached for the phone, speaking her customary salutation into it without waiting to hear what the person at the other end was trying to say. The sound of Jonathon's voice surprised her.

"Jonathon? I thought you were coming back today. What's up?" She listened intently, her eyes fixed on the rapidly departing back of Lieutenant Nick Rivera. "Sure, I can be with you by the end of the day. I've got a long weekend coming up, and we're not exactly busy at the moment." She tried not to see the mound of paperwork. "I'll get on the first plane I can find. Er, Jonathon?" She paused, listening to him as he spoke again, faintly amused by the correctness of her earlier joke. They really could get into trouble absolutely anywhere. "You will be careful, won't you? Yeah, I know, I know. Just don't take any chances. I'll see you as soon as I can." The line went dead and she hung up the receiver, staring at it for several moments as a smile began to grow across her face. She glanced over the paperwork once more, then shrugged and stood up. This new case sounded much more important than keeping the relevant departmental secretaries happy. She drained the last of her coffee, now barely lukewarm, and threw the empty cup into the nearest wastepaper basket. Then she grabbed her coat and headed for the door. Suddenly Gloom Woods sounded extremely inviting.


"This is quality stuff." Dabbing a fingertip into the packet of white powder before her, Brooke touched it to her tongue and grimaced at the taste. "Must be worth a fortune. And you say it was just lying at the bottom of the lake?"

"Half buried under all the mud." Jonathon leaned back in his chair, listening to the ominous creaking as though unconcerned by the risk of suddenly being thrown to the floor by collapsing furniture. "It's David Boyser's briefcase, no question of that. We just need to figure out whether he knew about the stuff, or was just a stooge."

"Why'd he throw it in the lake if he didn't know he had it? This is all well waterproofed." Tyrone toyed with one of the packages. "My guess is the heat was on somehow - maybe somebody found out what he was up to - so he hid his consignment and disappeared. He'll be back for this little lot as soon as he's sure that the heat is off."

"Could be." Brooke sighed. "Okay, we're going to need to know who he works with, who else might be in on this. Does his father know about it?"

"Sam? You're kidding?" Jonathon shook his head, his face showing his firm belief in the old man's integrity. "I'd trust him with my life. He thinks the world of David, and this is really going to hurt him. I'd like to think that he wouldn't need to find out."

"Little chance of that." With a sigh Brooke rose to her feet, secretly glad to be free of her less than stable chair. "Where's the nearest police department?"

"There's nothing in town. Nearest place is about twenty miles away, from what Sam said." Tyrone frowned. "Ideal place for a set-up like this. No overt authority, nobody snooping around. With the way that the locals feel about this lake, they're not going to come within five miles of it given half a chance. This could have been going on for ages."

"Boyser gets the drugs, by whatever means, he dumps them in the lake, then his contact picks them up later. Or vice versa." Brooke nodded. "Certainly feasible." She looked up at Jonathon. "What do you know about this man? Have you ever met him?"

"Once." Jonathon frowned, trying to remember. "It was... 1960, or thereabouts. I was seven." He smiled. "I haven't seen hide nor hair of him since. Even back then I didn't know him very well. He was twelve, built like a mountain ox, and he hated being in Britain. Thought it was cold, and boring. To be honest I thought he was a bit of a twit, but things might have changed."

"But you didn't like him." Brooke frowned. She had learned to be very trusting of Jonathon's instincts, although he usually played down their importance himself. "Alright you two. How do you want to play this one? Do we put the briefcase back, and wait to see what happens to it, or do we go to the local police, and leave them to deal with it?"

"No." Jonathon shook his head, staring at the packets of powder. "I owe Sam. I'm not going to leave him floundering in this; strangers ransacking his son's house, probably his as well; not telling him anything. He'd want this to stay amongst friends."

"Fine." Brooke was rather pleased. She was ready to welcome a new challenge, and the prospect of closing down another branch of the country's drug problem was always a welcome one. "So we put the case back?"

"No problem. I'll watch the lake, and follow whoever comes to make the pick up. You two can stay back out of sight, and when we know who we're after, we can decide what to do next." Jonathon began throwing the packets back into the briefcase. "We'd better get moving. We don't know when they're going to be making their move."

"In that case let's not forget that we don't know who we're dealing with here. These people could be dangerous." Brooke smiled. "Make that very likely are dangerous. If they even suspect that we're on to them, they could make life rather unpleasant."

"Hey, you don't need to tell us twice." Tyrone yawned. "What do you want to do, bud? Start watching the lake now, or wait until it's dark?"

"They won't come here in daylight, if they're coming at all." Jonathon closed the briefcase with a click, and slid it into the rickety dresser which helped to break up the monotony of the drab cabin. "I'm going into town to talk to Sam. Can you two entertain yourselves here until I get back?"

"I'm sure we can think of something." Tyrone smiled at Brooke. "Maybe we can count cockroaches, or guess how many more gusts of wind it's gonna take for this place to finally come down."

Jonathon raised his eyebrows in a look of patient sarcasm, then shrugged into a coat and headed out of the door. It wobbled in his hand, and for a moment he almost thought that it was about to come off its hinges. It steadied itself, and he made good his exit whilst he still could. Brooke laughed, turning to Tyrone as the third member of their little group vanished into the trees.

"Just why are we living in this five star hotel?" she asked. Tyrone smiled.

"It was the only place going. Half of the townsfolk wouldn't give us rooms when they found out we were here to look over the lake. They really believe all that curse stuff. The other half didn't have any space. Jonathon's friend Sam lives in two rooms that aren't in much better shape than this place is. It ain't Beverly Hills."

"You can say that again." She wandered towards the sectioned off kitchen area, and began to see about lighting what was proving to be rather a moody stove. Tyrone stayed where he was, kicking his heels against the beaten floor of the cabin. Something was bothering him, but right now he wasn't altogether sure what it was.


The town was mostly deserted, with just a few people walking along the main street. They exchanged whispers with each other as Jonathon strode into view, and he smiled, imagining the structure of their conversations. He had lived in small towns in the past, and knew exactly how strange faces were often viewed by locals. He ignored them all, heading for the tumbledown building lived in by Sam Boyser. The old man was in the porch, puffing on a long pipe that smelt dreadful, and which sent clouds of thick black smoke into the sky. He smiled as the younger man approached, and immediately extinguished the pipe.

"Sorry," he said, sounding honestly apologetic. "Everybody tells me how bad this stuff is, but I'm not about to change the brand of my tobacco after sixty years." He grinned. "Did you come to have a drink?"

"Not really." Jonathon led the way into the threadbare front room of the old man's house, looking about at the collections of exotic souvenirs from a long life spent travelling the world. His eyes were drawn to the mantelpiece, where a collection of photographs showed the development of David Boyser's life from infancy to adulthood. There were pictures of Sam with Jonathon's grandfather too, and even one taken in 1960, of a young David with an even younger Jonathon. Sam, then still black-haired, was standing in the background. The young Englishman stared at the pictures for several moments, wondering how to start off the conversation. Sam did not seem to have picked up on his guest's awkwardness, and strolled over to the mantelpiece, noticing Jonathon's interest.

"This one here is my family," he said with evident pride, and picked up a black and white photograph in a heavy pewter frame. "My wife Lisa and my younger son, Paul. He would be your age now. I don't think you ever met him."

"No. He was ill or something when you came to Britain. Couldn't make the trip." Jonathon tried not to sound too distracted. He looked politely at the photograph, seeing a woman in her late twenties, very pretty although evidently having lived a hard life. David Boyser stood beside her, clearly recognisable through his sheer size, even though he looked barely ten. Beside him was his brother, much smaller in build, with bright black eyes and a round face. There was something uncomfortably poignant about the picture, knowing as he did about the fate of the woman and her youngest son. It was clear from all of the other pictures how much Sam had devoted himself to the one remaining member of his family. He took a deep breath.

"Sam, I... I have something to tell you."

"You've found something?" There was mild interest in Sam's eyes, but not the anxiousness of earlier. Jonathon nodded.

"David's briefcase. It was in the lake, right at the bottom. Pretty deep."

"It would be. That's one deep lake." Sam frowned. "I wonder how the case got in there."

"I think David put it there." Jonathon took a deep breath. It was rather, he decided, like having a sticking plaster pulled off. It was far less painful to do it quickly, and all in one go, than to take time and be gentle. "The case was full of drugs. Cocaine at a guess, but I'm no real expert. It had been wrapped up very well, as though somebody knew that it might be spending some time underwater, and--"

"Now wait a minute, Jonathon." Sam was frowning. "If that briefcase was David's, there's a perfectly good explanation." He gestured to the back room. "My boy came home, about three, four hours ago. I'd have gone to tell you, but I thought you'd be on your way home yourself by now. He was off visiting friends, he said; never meant to make me worry. So why don't you come with me right now, and we'll tell him about these drugs you say you've found. If it's his briefcase being used, he'll want to know. It could get him into trouble, if the wrong people were to find that sort of thing."

"David's here? Now?" Jonathon's eyes travelled to the doorway, wondering if Sam's son had heard anything of the conversation which had been going on so close to where he waited. "Well look, I don't want to get in the way of a family reunion, Sam. Maybe I'd better be going."

"Nonsense." The voice was clear and easygoing, and Jonathon pressed a smile onto his face, automatically switching his mind on to yellow alert. He stepped forward, finding himself face to face with the man from the photographs. David Boyser was as large as memory had suggested, and stood several inches above six feet. Pale green eyes glowed softly as he looked at Jonathon. "You're Jonathon Chase. My father told me that he had asked you to drag the lake. He's a little morbid, I'm afraid."

"Just worried." Jonathon shook the offered hand, recognising the slight pressure of a hinted challenge. "I appreciate the chance for a little fieldwork now and then, so it wasn't all for nothing."

"Glad to hear it." Boyser released his hand, a ghost of a smile failing to completely reach his eyes. "I thought that I heard something about drugs?"

"Jonathon found your briefcase in the lake. It had drugs in it." Sam headed for the nearby counter, beginning to go about preparations for making coffee. "Somebody must have stolen it."

"Yeah, that'll be it." Boyser shrugged. "I was wondering what had happened to that case; lost it about a month ago. And it had drugs in it?"

"Cocaine. Close to a million dollars street value." Jonathon's eyes narrowed. "You say that the case was stolen?"

"Probably. It went missing anyway. Vanished out of my car one day, and I never did see it again." He shrugged once more, a trifle too carelessly. "Damn shame. Had a couple of my favourite cassettes in it."

"I'm sorry." Chase glanced towards Sam. "I, er... I'd better be going. It's pretty dark out there already, and my friends will be worrying."

"Friends?" There was a sudden sharp edge to Boyser's voice, which fortunately his father seemed to have missed. "I thought it was just you and one other guy out there. What did you say his name was dad? Earl?"

"Tyrone Earl, yes." Sam did not look up from filling his kettle. "Nice boy."

"There were just the two of us, but we were joined by another friend a few hours ago." Mentally Jonathon kicked himself. "She had a long weekend free, and we decided we'd stay here a few more days. Tyrone likes to think of himself as a bit of an ornithologist, and we've seen a lot of birds since we arrived."

"Birds, huh." Boyser smiled. "Yeah, there are a lot of birds in the woods. You want to watch out, though, Jonathon. A lot of people think there's something going on out there. Something... supernatural, you know? People vanish, without a trace. You wouldn't want to risk that happening to your or your friends, would you."

"I don't think it's going to." Chase kept his voice even, but he thought that he had recognised the hint of a threat in those words. "We won't be here for very much longer, and I doubt we'll be going near the lake all that often."

"Good. That lake is dangerous." Boyser smiled, and Sam's own expression mirrored his son's as he finally set the kettle onto the battered old stove in the corner.

"You'll stay for coffee, won't you Jonathon?"

"I can't Sam, I'm sorry. I should be getting back." He glanced towards the door, as though wondering whether or not to speak further, then smiled at the old man. "I'll drop by again before we leave."

"It's real dark out there John. Be gone midnight before you make it back to the cabin. Maybe you'd better stay here tonight." Sam sounded hopeful, and Jonathon hated to disappoint him, but he smiled and turned to leave.

"I can be back sooner than you think, Sam. I can move pretty fast when I want to."

"I'll walk you out." Boyser was at his heels before he could decline the offer, and Jonathon made no comment as the older man followed him out into the street. It was becoming more and more deserted as the dusk deepened past evening into night. The pair hesitated at the door, and Boyser glanced back into the house.

"My father is an old man," he said, staring straight into Jonathon's eyes. "He thinks things, and he says things, that maybe he shouldn't. Gets these ideas, you know? I'm sorry he called you out here on a wild goose chase, but now that you know I'm safe there's no reason for you to stay here. You and I both know there aren't many birds out there that are of any real interest."

"To you maybe. Tyrone likes birds of any kind, and I study animal behaviour. Woods like this, with no overt human presence, are fascinating." Jonathon smiled. "Goodnight, Mr Boyser."

"Hold it." A heavy hand fastened itself around the professor's shoulder, jerking him back as he tried to step away. The young Englishman swallowed a momentary burst of anger, and allowed the other man to turn him forcefully around.

"What do you want?" he asked. Boyser smiled, letting him go with an expression that suggested he had never laid hands on the other man at all.

"Nothing." He shrugged. "But I just wanted to be sure that you were clear on a few things, Mr Chase. This is my town. I don't mean that because I live here, I mean it because it's the truth. I'm the only one around here with any money, and you'd be surprised how loyal to me the locals are. Secondly, you mentioned drugs. Cocaine I believe? Well illegal drugs mean dealers, and they're a nasty bunch. I wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of a gang of dealers. They do all kinds of unpleasant things to people who get in their way; such as people who take their merchandise, and maybe are thinking of handing it over to the police. If I found some cocaine, I'd put it back where I found it, and I wouldn't go back there again."

"Maybe you're right." Chase forced a smile, a thin imitation of his earlier attempts. "For your information, Mr Boyser, we plan to throw those drugs back. We have no need for them, and my friends certainly have no intention of going back to that lake. I'm inclined to think that that shows very good sense on their part." He turned to leave again, this time finding no barrier to his progress. "Goodnight."

"Goodbye, Mr Chase." Boyser stared after the slight young man as he strode away down the road, heading back towards Gloom Woods. A frown passed across his face. He had no reason to disbelieve the claim that the drugs were heading back to the lake, but all the same it bothered him. He didn't like the fact that they had been found at all, particularly in his own briefcase. He folded one hand up into a fist and tapped it thoughtfully into the palm of his other hand, then he turned about and headed off down the street. There was somebody that he wanted to see.


It was dark, and was rapidly growing colder. In the irregular patch of moonlight beside the lake, nothing moved. All was dark, all was quiet, and all was, thought Jonathon somewhat irritably, more than a tad boring. He stretched, keen to avoid getting cramp, or - what was even worse - having all of his limbs go to sleep beneath him. An owl hooted somewhere close by, and he managed to keep from jumping. An owl was not going to be at all interested in a wildcat, even an extremely sleepy and unimpressed looking wildcat.

The crack of a twig caught him off guard, and this time he did jump. He heard a rustling in the bushes some distance away, and heard something large pushing its way through the trees, down by the far side of the lake where the vegetation was too thick for many men to bother trying to penetrate. Jonathon moved closer, keeping out of sight in case his visitor turned out to be a hunter. Instead of a man, however, a large bear forced its way out of the woods, lumbering down to the lakeside to take a drink. A very disconsolate wildcat headed back into its hiding place. Much more of this and he was going to call it a night. He was cold, hungry, and considerably less enthusiastic than he had been when he had welcomed Brooke into the party just a few hours earlier. Boyser having heard about the find complicated matters, and the threats had been implicit in his words, although carefully guarded. There had been clear hints, too, in his suggestion that the whole town was on his side. They might not know about his exact line of business, but if he really did have them in his pocket that wouldn't need to matter. He could call on them at any time, and his would-be adversaries would be taken out of circulation.

Chase sighed, chastising himself for allowing the darkness and the silence to play tricks with his imagination. It was stupid to assume that Boyser could have that many allies in the area, and the townspeople were not necessarily prepared to risk everything to help him. Why should they? It was his neck on the line, his drugs, his money. What interest could they possibly have in killing three complete strangers, who had not so far even threatened their self-styled chief?

The smell of burning awoke Jonathon from the half-doze into which he had sunk, and he pricked up his ears, listening to the sounds blown in on the breeze. He could hear crackling; a distant noise coming roughly from the east, irregular and growing in volume. He stood up, his lithe body unfolding itself, quivering slightly at the smell of ash. A thin wisp of grey smoke rose up above the trees, and one thought jumped into his mind; the cabin.

He moved with a speed that surprised himself, and ran through the woods as fast as he could. The trees and bushes which hampered his progress as a human were not nearly so much of an obstacle to him now, and he reached the cabin before the fire had taken much beyond the front wall. Even as he reached it he was reverting back to his human shape, and he struggled with the door, unable to touch it to open it due to the growing heat.

"Damn." He shouted for Tyrone and for Brooke, then headed for the nearest window. It was too small for a human body, but for him that was no problem. As a snake he slid easily up the wall and through the window, then changed quickly back, running for the beds.

Tyrone was coughing, struggling to wakefulness with a sluggishness that suggested at smoke inhalation. Brooke was unmoving, and Jonathon shook her. She was breathing, he saw with relief, but she did not wake up. Tyrone tried to sit up, blinking at his old friend through eyes that were beginning to stream.

"Jonathon!" He could barely speak, so dry was his throat, and Chase glanced towards the door. The fire had taken hold of the entire wall now, and was spreading fast. Already the roof above their heads was beginning to catch, and the flames were reaching out for the furniture.

"Take it easy Ty." Taking a deep breath, Jonathon wiped the sweat from his forehead, his strength sapped by the oppressive heat. He could feel the smoke taking a hold in his lungs, and knew that he needed to so something whilst he was still able. He closed his eyes, visualising an animal with a larger lung capacity; and thicker skin.

"Way to go, Jonathon!" Excited at the sudden mutation into a gorilla, Tyrone grabbed at the bags lying on the ground beside his bed. The gorilla caught Brooke up into its arms as though she were a doll, then picked up the sleeping bags almost as an afterthought. It glanced across at Tyrone, lowered its head, and charged at the back wall of the cabin.

The wall gave way easily, collapsing into broken planks and shards of supporting stone. The huge animal hesitated long enough to heave Tyrone through the gap, then dragged both its human friends away from the fire, dropping them unceremoniously onto the ground. Tyrone went immediately to Brooke, checking her pulse and her breathing. She was already beginning to revive as Jonathon, once more in his human form, collapsed onto the ground beside them. He seemed drained.

"You okay buddy?" Tyrone's voice was filled with concern, and Jonathon smiled.

"Just fine. How about you?"

"I'll be okay just as soon as I can get a proper breath." Tyrone glanced down at Brooke as she began to stir. "The cabin isn't looking too healthy though."

"It isn't, is it." He wanted to stand up; to go towards it and to check for the clues that he was sure were there. The fire, he was certain, had been started deliberately; but somehow he didn't seem to have the strength to move. "Never mind. We've got our sleeping bags, and our food."

"And a tent." Tyrone gestured with a heavy arm towards his bag, which was currently serving as a pillow for Brooke. "I brought one along."

"Nice going." Jonathon sighed. They would get up soon, he told himself, and put the tent up. At any moment both of them would struggle to their feet, and begin hunting for the tent pegs, to erect the canvas shelter. At any moment. But soon sleep overtook him, and his thoughts were no more than half-dreamed ideas. Soon all three of them were fast asleep, and the cabin burned on until there was nothing left.


"I feel less than confident." Brooke stood by the roughly square-shaped heap of ashes marking the place where the cabin had stood. "This wasn't an accident, was it."

"Not unless one of you was playing with some petrol." Chase gestured to a can lying beside the heat-singed bushes close by. "I rather think that somebody is trying to tell us something."

"You reckon?!" Tyrone sighed. "Okay, I vote we go somewhere else to put the tent up. Say about a mile further into the forest?"

"Yeah." Chase went to the pile of bags lying where they had been dropped the previous night, and picked up a couple. He threw the others to Tyrone. "We'd better get moving. Something tells me that somebody will be along to check out their handiwork before very much longer."

"You think Boyser did this?" Brooke followed on as Chase began to lead the way deeper into the woods. Jonathon shrugged in answer.

"I don't know. I'll bet that he's behind it, but he probably got somebody else to do the dirty work. One of the townspeople I'd guess. He made a point of telling me that they're all well and truly behind him."

"Then we can't go back into town." Tyrone scowled, kicking at the hard earth with his boots as they walked. "We're running pretty low on food, and we've lost the stove. We need supplies."

"Not badly enough to take those kinds of risks." The professor shrugged. "We can get food where we need it out here. It's only forest; it could be worse."

"Yeah. It could be jungle." Tyrone smiled, the little exchange seeming to improve his mood greatly. "And it'll only be for a day or two. When we get back, mind, I'm going to want nothing less than a fine steak, large and juicy, at the best place in our half of town."

"It's a date." Jonathon grinned back at him, striding ahead with a confident step. "About a half a mile further should do it. Find a good place for a camp and I'll join you later."

"Huh? I thought we were in this together?" Brooke sounded more than just worried, but Jonathon held up his hands to silence her.

"I'm going to circle back to the lake to see if the case has gone. Somebody could have taken it last night while we were preoccupied. I'll be back in half an hour."

"Famous last words." Tyrone laughed, moving up to take Chase's place at the head of the trail. "Take care buddy."

"You too." With no more pause for parting words, he was gone, and Brooke stared after him.

"Wonderful," she said, her voice filled with more than a note of sarcasm. "He invited me out here, and we haven't spent five minutes together yet, except when we were asleep. Am I supposed to take some hint from this?"

Tyrone grinned.

"Grow a silky fur coat and you'll never get rid of him," he commented. She scowled at him, then broke into a smile.

"Sometimes I think about that one myself. Maybe pointed ears and whiskers? A nice tail?"

"Sounds about right." They exchanged a grin, then strode on together. In all of the silence and general peace, it never occurred to either of them that they might have been followed.


Jonathon reached the lake before the morning was entirely complete. All was silent and disturbingly still, and he wandered down to the water's edge with a feeling of unpleasant foreboding. He had come to hate this simple stretch of water, and everything about it still screamed danger to him. Maybe it was nothing more than superstition, coupled with the local legends and Sam's feelings towards it; but he knew that he would not miss the place one iota, once he had finally managed to escape it. Even visiting Sam in the future would not encourage him to come back here.

The sound of voices disturbed his moment of reflection, and he glanced up quickly, seeing the shapes of distant figures between the trees. They were too far away to have seen him, for he knew that the place where he stood was invisible to them, coming as they were from the north. He did not hesitate a moment longer, but strode boldly into the lake. The cold water was already up to his waist before he changed, and the small, lithe shape of a fish darted away into the reeds. He hung close to the surface, his bright, attentive eyes fixed on the approaching figures.

They came soon, three of them all moving fast. One was Sam Boyser, and the professor puzzled over the presence here of his old friend. Sam hated the lake, and did not go to it lightly. Another of the men was David Boyser, his son and Jonathon's newest enemy. The third man Chase did not know, but he recognised the type; muscular and tanned, with little in the face to suggest great strength of character or overwhelming brain. Hired muscle, no doubt. He walked like a gorilla, with one hand resting on his belt where a gun clearly lay. The ghost of a frown passed across the watching fish's largely emotionless features, and Jonathon edged slightly closer to the bank. He did not like the presence of this third man. For Sam and David to take a stroll together was not exactly bad news, but this third figure smacked of sinister undertones. Whereas David Boyser bore his size with a certain grace, this man was clearly present for no reason other than violence, or the threat of it.

"I don't know what you want, son." There was a plaintive hint to Sam's voice, and, had Jonathon had fists just then, they would have been clenching and unclenching in ill-contained rage. "I only asked Jonathon to come here to look for you. I don't know why he decided to stay on."

"They came here to investigate me; don't deny it. That man works for the New York Police. He's some kind of an unofficial advisor, and that means he has links where it counts. You knew I was up to something, so you called him in. Right?"

"No. I told you, I was scared. You were seen near the lake the day that you disappeared, and I was scared. I thought you were drowned, like--" His voice faltered, and Jonathon felt for him. Sam recovered himself quickly, however, his old reserves of strength serving him well. "Like Lisa and Paul."

"I'm not fool enough to die the way they did." There was a measure of disgust in David's voice. Jonathon moved closer. He had no idea what he could do, but he was resolved to help Sam if there was any way that he could. He wished that the old man could know that a friend was near. "And I'm also not fool enough to fall for any more stories. Chase and his friends aren't here for bird-watching, they're here to find out about my operation. Why else would they have sent for a cop?" He nodded at some facial reaction of Sam's that Jonathon could not see. "Yeah, that's right. I spoke to Gary at the bar. He said Chase was in there to make a phone call; that he spoke to somebody called Brooke McKenzie. I checked with the airport at Bremington, and there was a Detective Brooke McKenzie who came in on a flight from New York earlier today." He laughed bitterly. "I had some people rig a little stunt to try and scare them away earlier on, but they haven't gone. I just got a call from some more friends, and they say that McKenzie and that other guy, Earl, are heading out into the woods to set up a base there; and that Chase is on his way back here to check up on the drugs." He glanced about. "We must have beaten him here, unless he's in the water already. If he is we'll deal with him soon as he comes up." He laughed again, this time with a good deal more enthusiasm. "You're a fool, dad."

"So are you, if you really are involved with something like this." Sam was positively bristling, and drew himself up to his full height before his son, staring the younger man down. "How long before you wind up being thrown off a pier somewhere, with your shoes in a block of concrete? Or getting chalk lines drawn around you, after some jogger finds your body down a lonely road somewhere? Nobody wins in the sort of game you're talking about, David. Nobody except some fancy drug-lord down in Columbia somewhere, fanning himself with your money, and paying the local police to leave him alone. What's wrong with you, boy? I thought I raised you better than this."

"Don't mock me, dad. Never mock me." David raised his fist as if to strike his father, then clearly thought better of it. "Why couldn't you just leave everything alone? Why'd you have to call in the cops?"

"I didn't call in the cops! I just called in the grandson of an old friend, to see if you really had wound up at the bottom of the lake the way your brother did." Sam shook his head. "What's the use? You never listened."

"No, I never did." David made no immediate movement, but Jonathon, still watching from his vantage point beneath the surface of the murky lake, saw a change come over the big man's face as though a veil had been drawn across it. A thousand conflicting emotions seemed to lighten and darken his eyes simultaneously, and of all those present, only the watching fish realised the significance of the gun, being raised to point at the old man. He had seen it all before, many times, but this time was different to most.

"No!" He thought the word, rather than shouted it, for he was incapable of human speech whilst in the form of another species. He shot through the water, changing even as he surfaced, floundering in the shallows as his feet skidded on the treacherous lakebed. He stumbled towards the threesome, arms outstretched, reaching for Sam to help him, to get him to move aside, to do anything - but it was all far too late. Even as he was shouting, even as he was emerging from the water, he could already hear the sound of the gunshot echoing in his ears. Even as he struggled to find a footing in the mud and sand, he could already see the body of the old man beginning its fall to the earth. It landed hard, seeming almost to bounce as it struck the ground, the head lolling lifelessly.

"Sam." His voice nothing but a blank whisper, Jonathon crouched beside the fallen man. He was already dead, and there was clearly no point even in checking for the pulse that he knew wouldn't be there. It was all over.

"Chase." Boyser's voice was like ice. He seemed not to care about the sudden appearance of the professor; or even to notice that he had somehow managed to emerge from the middle of the lake without breathing apparatus or gear of any kind; and that he was bone dry from the chest up. "I knew you'd be around here somewhere you little creep."

"You... you..." Words failed him, but actions did not. Coming to his senses and his feet at almost exactly the same moment, Jonathon rose, whirling about. His hands struck powerfully upwards, slamming into the other man's chest and knocking him backwards. Boyser stumbled but did not quite fall, maintaining his balance only by sheer chance. He threw a wild right cross, aimed at nothing in particular, and felt his swing increased by the sudden actions of Jonathon, who caught his assailant's arm and pulled hard. Air and scenery rushed past Boyser, and he felt himself tumble gracelessly to the ground.

"Hold it." Jonathon had not forgotten the other man present, but in his anger had not cared. He felt the other man's hands gripping him by the shoulders, his arms pinned by the other's strength and sheer size. He struggled, but it was to no avail. He watched uselessly as Boyser scrambled to his feet, brushing off a few dry leaves and twigs.

"I warned you," he said, his eyes bright with rage. "I warned you, but you wouldn't stay away. You had to hang around here and get involved where you weren't wanted."

"You killed your own father." Caring nothing for the big man's anger, Jonathon struggled to free himself so that he could confront his enemy on a more equal footing. "He didn't know about any of this! He didn't call me to investigate you. He didn't even know I work with the police. You just couldn't believe him, could you."

"You think I care?" Boyser swaggered closer, a dangerous smile curving his lips. "You think he was the first?" He reached out a large, oddly gentle hand, abruptly increasing its speed as he made a snatch for his prisoner, grabbing Jonathon by the shirtfront. "He won't be the last..."

"Your own father..." Something else was dawning on Jonathon; something else about this man's family, and their tragic history. "Lisa, and Paul...?"

David Boyser laughed.

"They would keep coming here. I tried to tell them that it was dangerous, but they wouldn't listen. Paul was just a kid, but he was one hell of a swimmer. I was already in the business by then, and I was using the lake to make drops just like now. All it needed was that jerk kid brother of mine to see something while he was swimming, and it was all up. So I saw to it that he wouldn't see anything, ever. I didn't intend for my mother to be there too, but she was. That was just unfortunate."

"You're sick." Chase had ceased his struggles to listen to the other man, and he did not bother renewing them now that silence had fallen on their little group. He was still angry; angry beyond measure; but he felt something else now too; revulsion, or disbelief, or possibly a little of both. He did not resist as he was pulled up the bank away from the lake, towards the bushes which marked the start of the forest beyond their little clearing. He could see the hole in the foliage where the bear had pushed its way through the previous night, and could also see the faint tracks in the earth where some other animal had gone in search of water. There were sounds coming from that direction now, but he could tell that they were not the sounds made by bears, or by deer. This was the noise of an entirely different animal; and about five or six of them from what he could make out. They broke through the undergrowth almost immediately after; four men who were unknown to him, although he was sure that he had seen a couple of them in town. Sandwiched between the strangers were Brooke and Tyrone. They looked a little tired, but the marks on their skin and on their clothes were from the fire the night before, and did not seem to be as a result of any rough handling.

"Jonathon!" Brooke made as though to go to him, but one of the men held her back. Chase struggled briefly, knowing that he would be unable to break his captor's grip, but prepared to try nonetheless. The only result was that the thick arms around his shoulders and chest tightened briefly in response, then relaxed as his fighting ceased. He felt the grip change, then at a nod from David Boyser he was flung violently towards his friends. Tyrone helped him to pick himself up, smiling ruefully at his old friend.

"Sorry pal. They grabbed us just as we were about to make camp. We weren't looking where we should have been."

"Don't worry about it." Straightening his clothes, Chase looked back towards Boyser, who seemed to be ignoring the three of them altogether. "I don't want anyone trying anything just yet. He's already killed Sam."

"Nice guy." Tyrone straightened his shoulders as Boyser glared at him, smiling arrogantly back at the drug dealer, who currently seemed to be holding all the advantages. "Do we have a plan?"

"Yes." Boyser stepped forward, joining in with the conversation even though Tyrone clearly had not been talking to him. "Chase; I want you to go and get that briefcase up here. Since you seem to like swimming about in the lake so much, you can save my men the bother of getting suited up to go down there." He smiled. "But don't go and do something stupid like drowning, because if you're not back up here on dry land within five minutes, I'll kill the girl first, and then the guy. Understand?"

"Five minutes?" Playing for time, Jonathon shook his head. He knew full well that he was already living on borrowed moments. "It could take ten times that long just to find the case."

"Hard luck." Boyser toyed with his gun, pointing it directly at his prisoner's face. "Get moving."

"Alright, alright." He headed down towards the water, thinking hard. It would be easy enough to swim down there and get the case, although his transformations might be a little awkward with so many potential witnesses. With a little extra care he could do that much under the water though. The hard part would be deciding what to do next. With luck Boyser would not want to kill them just yet; four bodies would be a lot harder to get rid of than one, after all. There might even be the possibility of escaping, if the three of them could get some time alone. A moment or two would be all that it would take. Heartened, he strode into the water, heading for the place where he had thrown the briefcase. He had been hoping then for a quick ending to all of this; a simple watch and follow procedure that would send David Boyser to jail and leave his father untouched. That hadn't worked, and now everything else seemed to be falling into the same ruins as the rest of his plan. Jonathon fixed his eyes on the sight of the briefcase, the catches glinting slightly in the pale light only a fish's eyes could detect. Soon it would be back in Boyser's hands, and then he would have no further use for Chase or his friends. Jonathon didn't want to think about what would happen then.


David Boyser counted through the packets of white powder, enjoying the feel of the waterproof wrapping on his fingers. To most people it was powder, but to him it was money; money and power. It wouldn't take long before he had converted every packet into cold, hard cash; and with luck it would even be enough for him to stop worrying about his losses, and the trouble he had had to go to just for this one shipment. With the money from this briefcase full of drugs, he would feel paid back in full by Jonathon Chase. It would have been worth everything.

"We got a plan yet?" Tyrone, sitting on the floor at one end of the large, spacious cabin where they had been brought by Boyser's men, shifted his position to try and get a better look at his friend. Jonathon smiled.

"Sort of. It would be a little easier if they'd leave us alone for a minute or two." He looked towards the guards standing by the door. Most of them were watching the space outside the cabin, checking for spies and intruders. All the same, he knew that they were watching him too; as was Boyser himself. He was not going to take the chance on a transformation. Even without the need to keep his abilities a secret, it was dangerous to try something in a roomful of people. Any one of them might panic, and shoot him before he could even get free of the ropes currently hampering his movements with such efficiency.

"Now he's got all his stuff back, he doesn't need us anymore." Brooke spoke calmly and clearly; it was merely an observation, not a warning, or even an indication of panic. "If we're going to come up with something..."

"Yeah, I know." Tyrone shifted his position again, this time managing to catch a glimpse out of the window. "I got a good look at the scenery when they brought us here, and I know more or less where we are. If we can make a break for it, we can make straight for the edge of the forest and get to the main road. We might be able to get a car."

"True." Chase lapsed into silent contemplation, absently testing the strength of the bonds at his wrists. They would be no obstacle to his escape in one of his many more powerful forms, and with the lives of his friends at stake he was willing to take a few risks. On the other hand, if he was killed attempting a transformation now - as could very likely be the case given the general reaction of the unschooled mind when such an inexplicable thing occurred - he would be leaving Tyrone and Brooke with no hope of escape whatsoever, since they were helpless on their own against so many armed men. He kicked at the ground with his feet, hoping to attract Boyser's attention without having to raise his voice. The latter, he knew, was no way to ask for an audience with a megalomaniac such as David Boyser, and to shout at the man would very likely only get him killed; or one of his friends instead.

"What?" The big man looked up from his stroking of the little packets, his large and deceptively lugubrious eyes fixed on Jonathon as though he were a maggot daring to emerge from an apple he was planning to bite into. Chase grinned winningly at him.

"I was wondering if we were going to be kept waiting for long?" he inquired innocently, his eyebrows raised in questioning curves. Boyser glared at him.

"Are you really in such a hurry to die?" he asked. Chase shrugged, the movement driving home to him what an uncomfortable position it was to be in, with both hands tied so tightly behind his back.

"Not really. But it's a little on the dull side, sitting here watching you counting your chickens before they've hatched."

A wave of anger passed across the other's face, and Boyser rose to his feet.

"You think I can't get a good price for these?" he asked, lifting one of the packets and waving it like a flag. "I've sold a thousand of these; a hundred thousand. The money I've got from this business could still be supporting my great great grandchildren a hundred years from now. What do you get paid by the police, huh? A consultation fee?" He shook his head. "All those jungles your grandfather used to wander through, and he never caught onto this idea? Your whole family must be stupid."

"Doubtless." Chase pushed himself to his feet. "But we also tire very quickly. If you're planning to do something, old chap, please hurry up."

"It would be my pleasure." Pushing his chair away with a loud grating noise and a crash, the big man advanced on the threesome by the wall, dragging Jonathon's companions to their feet. "Outside, the three of you. Now."

"Are we going for a walk?" Joining in with the gentle line of insults begun by his partner, Tyrone smiled at their captor. His answer was a look which seemed to be of an intensity likely to melt glass.

"We're going for a swim." Boyser gestured to his men, several of whom came to his assistance and began herding the threesome towards the door. "That lake has taken all of the others who got in my way. Now it's your turn."

"Oh good." Brooke caught Jonathon's eye, a glimmer of worry visible in her face. He frowned, not catching her concern, and it was only as they were finally able to get closer to each other that she could whisper her fears to him.

"What happens if he doesn't push you in first?" she asked him, keeping her voice as low as she could. Even so somebody heard her, and she stumbled under the force of a sudden push from behind.

"Trouble," Chase agreed. This possibility had not actually presented itself to him before, and he frowned. If he were the first to be thrown into the lake, he could be free of his bonds and transformed before his companions were sent to join him; but if one or both of them were thrown in first, by the time that he was able to go to their assistance they could already be in some serious difficulties.

"What are you two whispering about?" A heavy blow landed between his shoulder blades, and he quickened his step, not at all anxious to add another to his rapidly growing collection of bruises. Boyser's men were not at all sparing in their use of violence. A few fast strides brought him up to the head of the group, and he could soon see the glint of sunlight on water up ahead. An animal path provided a rough but serviceable path to the lakeside, and although it was hard to keep his footing with his hands tied, Jonathon was soon standing beside the water. A lone wave splashed against his ankles as he stood in the soft earth at the edge of the lake. He could see marks where unsuspecting animals had slipped there, and very likely fallen in to their doom. It was no wonder that the place had such an air of desolation; clearly even the local wildlife was cautious about it. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and allowed Boyser to lead him towards a small collection of rowing boats effectively hidden by a thick overhang of foliage. He was pushed into one, and the would-be drugs kingpin climbed in after. The others, Jonathon saw, were climbing into two more boats, none of which was really big enough for more than two or three occupants at a time.

"You still in a hurry, Chase?" Boyser was smiling as he took up the oars himself and began to row out into the middle of the lake with long, powerful strokes.

"Not really." Jonathon was scanning the surface of the water, trying to judge the strength of the eddies around them. Not that there was really much variation in them from day to day; but he liked to think that they might be less strong right now than before. "What did you do with Sam's body?"

"What do you think?" Boyser sounded off-hand and uncaring. "He finally got to be reunited with my mother."

"I should have guessed." Chase lapsed back into silence, staring out across the water. He could feel Boyser's eyes on him, and also the stares of Brooke and Tyrone. He had no idea what was going to happen now; and they didn't either. Perhaps he should have taken the chance on a transformation back at the lodge; it would have been easier there in many ways, where the threat to his friends would have been negligible. But it was too late to think about that now. He frowned, his mind already searching for the inner peace that it needed in order to access his secret reserves of extraordinary magic. Or was it magic? He still didn't know for sure.

"Stop here." Boyser threw down the oars and stood up, checking the load in the automatic pistol he wore under his coat. "Stand up, Chase." Jonathon stood, and the other man placed the barrel of the gun against the side of his head. Its cold metal presence seemed to burn a hole into the side of the prisoner's skull, and he frowned. Guns were not a part of his equation.

"Going to shoot me?" he asked offhandedly. "How very crass."

"Why waste bullets when the lake can do the job for me?" Boyser shook his head. "I just want you to enjoy the entertainment first." He gestured with his free hand, before wrapping its fingers around his companion's shoulder. He wanted to keep the younger man still, to watch whatever action was about to unfold.

"You." Rising to his feet as though ordered by some unheard word from his boss, one of the men in another boat pulled Brooke up, leaving her rocking dangerously as the boat began to sway. "Over the side."

"In this shirt? Are you kidding?" She stole a glance towards Jonathon, who was trying not to let his worry show. The man pushed her, hard, and it required all of her strength and balance to keep her footing. "Hey!"

"I said, over the side!" He pushed her again, and this time she realised that she was not going to be able to stay in the boat. With a shout of alarm, she fell headlong over the side. For a second she floated near the surface, before the deadly eddies beneath the water caught around her legs and she was sucked out of sight.

"Brooke!" Caught up in a sudden panic, Jonathon moved as though to dive over the side of his own boat. Boyser's grip tightened around his shoulder, and he struggled to break free.

"Oh no you don't." The bigger man clung grimly on, and Jonathon, his eyes wide with desperation, changed his own tactics, suddenly slamming his body against that of his captor. For a second they swayed, the water rushing backwards and forwards beneath them as the boat struggled with the imminent danger of a capsize; then suddenly they were falling, and the water was rushing up to meet them.

"Help me!" As he surfaced again after the initial immersion, Jonathon heard Boyser's voice from close by. He was calling for assistance from his men, who, unsurprisingly, seemed less than anxious to jump to his rescue. They clearly shared the firm local fear of the lake. Chase glanced towards the other man, who was floundering helplessly, keeping his head above the surface only through sheer strength. He was struggling to get back to the upturned boat, but did not seem able to summon up the reserves of energy that would allow him to break free of the swirling currents. A moment's indecision rushed through Jonathon's brain, but his choice was already made. Brooke had been in the water from the longest time; he had to get to her first. He relaxed his body, letting the water suck him down, then gradually felt his shape beginning to change.

Liberated, he darted forward. The lake was no longer his enemy, and as he picked up speed it became his closest friend, welcoming him into its embrace. His eyes could now see so much more clearly through the murk, and he sped on through the water. Numerous shapes rushed by him in a blur, but it was not until he was some distance from the little group of boats that he was able to identify the shape of Brooke McKenzie. She hung motionless in the water, her body pulled and pushed by a conflict of currents. He wrapped his own body about hers, easing her gently towards the surface.

Their heads broke free of the water at the same time, and for a second he held her there, until he saw her eyes open. He would have liked to have smiled - had he been able - when he saw the quick burst of fear in her face at the sight of a water snake wrapped around her body. Then she smiled and he changed his grip on her, sliding down to bite at the ropes around her wrists. Finally she was free, and he guided her quickly to the upturned boat which had been his earlier perch. This thought brought his mind back to Boyser, but of the other man there was no sign.

"Tyrone." Brooke gasped the word out of a throat dry from lack of oxygen. Jonathon glanced towards the other boats. The people there were all still looking for Boyser, their guard down as they searched the murky water for any sign of their commander. Jonathon gave a rough imitation of a nod, pushing his companion more firmly against the boat so that she would be in no danger of being dragged away by the undertow, then struck out for the closest of the two other boats. The eyes of one of the men widened as he saw the reptile coming towards him, and he stumbled back, away from the edge of the boat.

"Snake!" His voice was filled with panic, and the man in the boat with him pushed him down.

"Shut up, fool! Do you want to have us over?"

"But there's a snake." His companion sat down quickly, the sudden disappearance beneath the surface of Boyser, Brooke and Jonathon convincing him of the danger that they were in. In the other boat Tyrone glanced up at the shout, and caught sight of the long, muscular shape of the snake as it moved silently through the water.

"That better be you, buddy." He barely made a sound as he spoke the words, and the man sitting with him in the boat did not react until the prisoner was already gone, sliding over the side and into the lake. He sank as quickly as expected, vanishing into the cold, dark water without so much as a splash. Moments later, unseen to the men watching, the snake caught him around the waist with its body, and began to pull him towards Brooke. Tyrone relaxed into its embrace, and the pair moved on together through the depths.

"Where's Boyser?" Reverting to his human form, Jonathon swallowed a mouthful of water as he tried to ask his question, and he spluttered. Brooke's eye caught Tyrone's and they shared a quick head shake. Boyser was gone. He had been beneath the water for too long, and there was nothing that any of them could do for him. Even so, they knew that Jonathon would look; and as he swum off once more into the cold darkness of the lake, they settled back to wait for the other members of the gang to depart. That would be their cue to make for the shore, where they could finally be safe.


"Are you folks all alright?" The medic, crouched over the still and silent form of David Boyser, gave up his fruitless attempts at resuscitation. Brooke nodded, wrapping the thick blanket that she had been given more tightly around her shivering shoulders. Its embrace was welcoming, and she was equally glad of the hot cup of coffee the medics had given to her as soon as they arrived. It tasted revolting, but it was hot.

"We're all fine," she told him, glancing towards Jonathon at the water's edge. He had agreed to the blanket only to keep the medics happy, and it hung loosely about him as though unwanted. He had abandoned his coffee too, and the cup stood untouched on a rock beside the lake. She watched the twirls of steam arising from it, then looked questioningly at Tyrone.

"Any sign of the other body yet?" he asked, knowing instinctively what was bothering his old friend. The uniformed policeman who had been wandering about, asking questions of all and sundry, paused to shake his head.

"Nothing. I'm surprised we managed to find this other guy so easily. It's almost as if the lake wanted to spit him back out." He smiled somewhat sardonically. "Can't say as I blame it. We won't be getting that lucky again though. That other body is staying where it is."

"Too bad." Setting his cup down, Tyrone walked over to Jonathon, letting his hand rest lightly on his partner's shoulder. "You okay, pal?"

"I'm fine, yeah." Jonathon smiled a little weakly. "Just sad." He sighed, glancing over towards the body of David Boyser. "Do you think I could have got to him a little faster? Maybe been able to save his life?"

"No." Tyrone was unsure whether his friend was referring to David or to Sam; either way the answer was the same. The trio of divers resting at the edge of the lake glanced up at him, amazed.

"Are you kidding?" one of them asked. "I've seen men in full diving gear get into trouble out there. It's amazing you three even managed to stay afloat long enough to get back to the shore." He laughed. "You have a friendly fish helping you out?"

"Something like that." Tyrone hid his smile, then clapped his friend on the back. "Come on, John, let's get going. There's nothing more that we can do here."

"Yeah, I know." Jonathon shrugged. "But I want to stay, just for a while."

They stayed until dusk was filling the woods with its customary air of ghostly silence. Even the quietest sounds of the day gave the place some suggestion of life; but by night all was empty, and there seemed to be nothing alive for miles. The police and the medics had gone, taking David Boyser's body with them; but of Sam there was still no sign. Jonathon knew that his old friend had gone for good.

"You ready to go yet, pal?" Tyrone asked him finally, aware that Brooke wanted to be gone. There would be questions still to answer, and reports that need filing; and she would want to see if she could help to round up the rest of the gang. He understood that, but right now Jonathon was his first concern. He was surprised when his friend turned slightly to glance back at him, a smile lighting his eyes for the first time since the authorities had arrived beside the lake.

"Yeah, I'm ready." He took one final glance out at the lake before he began to walk away from it. "Feels different here, don't you think?"

"In what way?" Tyrone could not stop a shiver running up his spine. The place was still quieter than the grave; still creepy, still filled with the aura of death and misery. Jonathon shrugged.

"I don't know exactly. Just different." He smiled. "Come on, let's get out of here. Before the ghosts start to walk."

"I'm way ahead of you, pal." They began to walk together back into the forest; but just before the trees swallowed them up completely, Jonathon Chase turned to look his last upon the stretch of grey water. It was true that it had claimed yet another victim; but all the same, he had a feeling that there were a few less ghosts there now. Maybe now Paul Boyser, at least, could rest in peace.

"Goodbye Sam," he whispered to the darkness, then turned about and strode away. And as the moon sailed behind a cloud, and darkness took the lake of ghosts, a mist began to rise from the water.