Hellboy: Oddest Jobs Page 15

A distant scream caught my attention. I ran to the end of the block and found two more of the salamanders dragging a woman out of her house by her hair. Another carried an unconscious man over his shoulder, and there were three more salamanders roaming nearby. All their eyes turned toward me. Ah, crap.

They rushed me as I drew my gun. Unable to get the gun up, I introduced the face of the first opponent to my fist. The second dodged and knocked my gun from my hand with his coral staff. He followed that with a thrust to my gut. Something slammed me in the back of my head. My knees buckled and then they were on me. I may be tough, but a whack on the head is a whack on the head. I saw stars between the salamanders. Blows rained down on me from all around. A row of shark teeth slashed the back of my jacket. One of them kicked my gun and it skittered along the gutter.

I took their hits and gave back in kind. I felt teeth shatter and ribs break. A back kick to one of their knees produced a satisfying crack. The first two didn't go down easy, but they went down hard. The one with the ruined knee limped away.

"Where you going, Limpy?"

The remaining three backed off, surrounding me. They started shouting gibberish. I got the feeling they were interrogating me as they circled.

"No comprendo, amigos."

One of them leaped on my back. I snagged his wrist and yanked him down. He hit the pavement with a satisfying sound and rolled around screaming. A thrust kick across the chin put him out. I straddled him while his brothers charged. One got a good whack on my shoulder, but once I got a hold of their collars and smashed them together a few times, the fight went out of them.

Limpy was gone by then. I found my gun and brushed the grit off. The town came alive with more screams. Someone fired a shotgun. There was no second shot. Ugly croaks punctuated the violence.

"Let's see what you guys are up to."

The Atlantic shore was only a half mile away. It seemed like a good place to get started.

An SUV squealed around the corner. I held up a hand, shielding my eyes from the headlights. The driver slammed on the brakes and the SUV screeched to a halt. I could just make out the terrified driver at the wheel as he caught sight of me and screamed. Then he shifted to reverse and drove away. It wouldn't have done any good to tell him I was the good guy. That's the downside to being in the middle of a monster attack and looking like I do.

With a little luck, nobody would take a shot at me as I walked down the street. With even more luck, I'd still get those pancakes when this was over.

A few blocks later, I heard more salamander gibberish. Hugging a wall, I peered around the corner and saw another group of them surrounding a handful of frightened townspeople in the street. One of the salamanders held onto a young boys arms. The boy, maybe eight years old, cried. A woman I assumed was his mother was being held back by two men. A third man was pleading with the creatures. One of the salamanders kept pointing at the boy and the surrounding houses. I stepped around the corner. "Hey, fish face! Let the boy go." Several heads, human and salamander alike, turned in my direction. Half of the monsters fanned out, brandishing their primitive weapons. I held my gun loose at my side. They released the boy and he tumbled into his mother's arms. Their leader barked something at me. His tone was quizzical. Again with the interrogation?

I paused, resting my thumb on the hammer of my pistol. I was confused. Sure,

I could take out a few of them before they got to me, but was that the right thing to do? I felt they sought answers more than blood.

The salamanders shuffled closer. My thumb itched to pull back the hammer, but I refrained. Abe and Liz were always better at the thinkin' and talkin' part of the job. Me? I just pound on Big Bad Things. Against my instincts, I returned my pistol to its holster.

"This would be a lot easier if you were just a bunch of slavering piranha men."

Two of them unfurled a large kelp net.

"You know what? Good idea. Take me to your leader."

I let them close the distance. When they threw their net, I put up a token resistance and earned a few whacks. Like their comrades, they couldn't do any real harm to me, but that didn't stop me from handing a few bruises back. Then I let them snare me, and let them pull me along. They snarled and pushed, but at least they stopped hitting me.

The salamanders herded the captives ahead of me. We walked to the edge of town, then onto the beach and along the surf for a couple hundred yards. The new moon left the beach cloaked in darkness, but something glowed in the distance — a blob of phosphorescence that dissolved into several blobs, and then into a cluster of glowing orbs.

I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw the army of salamander men standing around them. There had to be fifty at least, and more burbled in the darkness and splashed in the tide. Human women and children sobbed all around us. Most of the men cried along with them.

We came to a halt. I saw three men laid out in a row on the sand. Two were still breathing. The third wasn't. Probably because the side of his head had been bashed in.

A pinched croak sounded from the group, and the salamanders fell silent. Our handlers moved us to one side. The crowd parted as one of the creatures approached. He was taller than the others, and his shell armor was streaked with a bright yellow and red pattern. The largest pearl I'd ever seen dangled from a cord around his neck.

"You must be the fearless leader," I said.

He warbled back at me.

"Listen, pal, you best get your butt back into the ocean and take your goons with you. The National Guard's going to roll in here any time now, and I don't think either of us wants to deal with that."

A murmur ran through the human captives. The leader looked past me at something in the distance. I glanced over my shoulder in time to see the town's lights flicker and die. The salamander man said something else. I swear it sounded smug.

"Not bad," I said. "I guess if I were smarter than the average newt, first thing I'd do, too, is cut off communication when I brought my invasion ashore."

. This was getting nowhere fast. Time for a show. I tore a big hole in the kelp net, and then ripped another section to pieces just because I could. After all, it was just seaweed. My guards jumped back, but Fearless Leader held fast.Burble-burble-something-something

"We done playing around, now? Can we talk like big boys?"

Crrooak. He thrust a slate shingle in my face. There was a pictogram on it, something that looked like a circle with a blob in it. He pointed to it, emphatically, and made a few gestures.

Charades. I hate charades. One wrong gesture and we'd officially have an Inter-Species Incident on our hands.

"You are looking for this?" I pointed at him, at my eyes, and then at the shingle. "What is it?"

He put his hands together, as if cradling something.

"I'll be damned. It's an egg, isn't it?"

He blinked at me.

"I will find this, if you give me all of them." I pointed at myself, my eyes, the egg, then at him, my cupped palm, and the prisoners.

He responded with some pointing of his own. The town, the egg, himself, the people, and me.

"I think we understand each other." I nodded.

Fearless Leader waved off his goon squad. I started to turn but he grabbed my arm. This time he did more pointing at me, the egg, and himself. Then he held out a flat hand and slowly raised his other fist from below it to above it. He finished with a stabbing motion at his chest and pointed at the people.

It took me a second to process.

"Find the egg by dawn or the villagers die. Right. Guess I better get started."

It sounded easy enough at the time. As I walked back to town, I felt confident I'd find it in some jerk's living room or kitchen. Then I'd bring it back to the salamanders and they'd be on their way.

Then I'd get some pancakes.

Best-laid plans ...

Little did I know how big a haystack this particular needle was hiding in. An hour into the job I'd barely cleared a block. I searched garages, refrigerators, closets, and under beds. I checked sheds, cellars, attics, and even a doghouse. All without luck. It didn't help matters that I didn't have a very good idea of what I was looking for. Maybe I should have asked if it was bigger than a breadbox.

Around three, I thought about getting help, but the salamanders had sequestered most of the townsfolk, so I couldn't just recruit people.

By four, the salamanders had set up a perimeter around the town. They commandeered a sheriffs patrol car and pushed it just north of town, blocking the road. I guess living at the bottom of the ocean, they didn't know how to drive.

There was no sign of the deputy. The National Guard wasn't coming. Neither was the army or the FBI or Black Lodge or any of the other alphabet-soup agencies.

At five, I wondered if negotiation was the wrong tactic after all. Maybe I should have just fallen back on instinct and kicked their asses. I probably could have saved some of the people, right? Had to be better than skulking around in the dark on this scavenger hunt.

At five-thirty, I considered just sucking it up and calling the Bureau. I could be long gone by the time anyone showed up. Of course, the townspeople would be long gone, too.

I had about forty-five minutes to sunrise. I reloaded my pistol and wondered if maybe taking out Fearless Leader would get the rest of them to bail.

Then I heard shouting.

"This can't be. None of this should be here. None of it!"

A male voice. Young, by the sound. I followed it.

"You fish-eating sons of bitches! Get back here and finish the job. You hear me?"

I found him stumbling down the center of Main Street, yelling at the rooftops. He aimed a large flashlight at the homes and buildings. In its backlight, I saw that he had long, black hair and a dark complexion. He might have been twenty-five. He wore a denim jacket and jeans, and his cowboy boots clattered on the asphalt.

My hooves were louder.

"Something wrong?"

He turned his flashlight on me.

"Sweet Lucifer," he gasped, crossing himself with his free hand.

"Afraid you've got the wrong guy," I said.

"You've come to punish me."

"That all depends." I held my hands up, trying not to frighten him any worse than he already was. "You're an Indian, aren't you? Or, wait, how does that go these days ... an Indigenous Person,' yeah?"

He nodded briskly. "N-native American."

I studied him. "Croatoan descent?"

Another nod.

I could almost hear Liz's voice: Now you're thinking, HB.

Roanoke Island couldn't have been more than ten or fifteen miles down the coast. If I hadn't been too busy tearing through people's bedrooms, I would have put it together sooner.

Stop me if you've heard this one. Back in the sixteenth century, Sir Walter Raleigh attempts to establish a colony on Roanoke Island, just off the coast of North Carolina. John White, the guy in charge of the colony, sails back to England for supplies and gets delayed by the war with Spain. When he finally returns, the settlement is deserted. All of the colonists have vanished. The only thing he finds is the word Croatoan carved into a tree — the name of an Indian tribe on another island. Roanoke becomes known as the Lost Colony, and the fate of those missing colonists remains unknown.

The frightened man spoke. "May I go?"

I glanced upward. The sky was turning gray and orange. Time to get a move on.

"Where's the egg?" I asked.

"They don't have it yet?"

Roaring, I rushed him. He screamed and tried to run, but I slammed him up against the wall.

"The boiler room," he blurted. "At the grade school!"

"Show me. Fast." N-no.

I slammed my stone fist through the wall beside his head.

"Um, okay." He blinked brick dust from his eye.

I shoved him down the street, keeping a grip on his collar so he couldn't rabbit. "What's your name?"

"W-will Talon."

"How'd you know about the egg?"

"My ancestors have always known. Once a generation, the mermen lay their eggs in the shallow coastal waters to be nourished by the warmer water and the sun. My grandfather knew many tales about them."

"So you stole one? Framed the townspeople like the Croatoan did back in 1590?"

"No! That is not true, I stole one, yes. But not ray people. The white settlers found the eggs and tried to farm them, destroying many in the process. The Croatoan tried to warn them, to stop them, but they wouldn't listen. When the mermen returned, they were enraged, and they destroyed the settlement. As usual, the white man sealed his fate with his own greed and ignorance."

"Is that what this is about — teaching the white man a lesson?"

"My father was a crab fisherman. A good one. But when he fell on hard times, the government took his boat. He couldn't find work. My mother took sick, and we couldn't care for her. Shortly after she died, my father hung himself."

I nodded, encouraging him to continue.

"That was five years ago. Ever since then I've been watching the shallows, waiting for the mermen to return. When they did, I stole an egg. I thought they would come looking for their young and destroy this town."

I could hardly wait to spring the surprise on him.

"You condemned a town full of innocents to death because your father committed suicide? That sounds more like petty revenge to me."

"No, it's punishment. Nobody should have to go through what my father went through! Did my mother deserve to die because we couldn't pay for her surgeries? Because we didn't have the same health insurance as white people?"

"Things are tough all over, kid."

"Five hundred years ago, my people could fend for themselves. Villages thrived on the land. Then the white man came with his concept of property, with his banks and his money. He stole the land and parceled it out, made it so nobody could live there without his say so. It's those concepts that destroyed my people. This town is an example of the punishment due."

"Who are you really trying to convince, me or you?"

"You couldn't understand. You have red skin but you are not one of us."

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