Hellboy: Oddest Jobs Page 17

That didn't sound good at all. "After?"

"Yeah. Chest cracked and sewn up again. Skull sawed open. Veins full of embalming fluid."

Jesus, That's nasty.

"Imagine how the guy felt who'd just done the sewing."

"And you're sure the coroner's not in on some body-selling scam?"

"Kind of a stupidly vivid story to tell if you don't want to attract attention, don't you think?"

I had to concede that one. "Okay, so the kid goes to Monk's Point lighthouse on a dare, dies standing up, then walks off the autopsy table and runs away. Weird. Anything else?"

"Oh, yeah. You see, I was already doing research as soon as I heard about the boy being found dead. I didn't know him, but I thought it might make an interesting wire-service piece—you know, Old Ghost Story Haunts Modern Murder ..."

"Old Ghost Story?"

"Like I said, everybody's scared of this place ... and it turns out there's good reason. A lot of weird stuffs happened there and in the area just around it, going back as far as I can research, everything from noise complaints to murders, old ghost stories, local kids rhymes and other odd stuff, even some UFO sightings. It kind of goes in cycles, some years almost nothing, other years things happening a few times a month. It began to remind me of some of the places you told me about back in San Francisco, when we were working on, y'know ..."

"I know," I growled. I could hear the frogs outside kicking up their evening fuss, and, dimly, the sound of seabirds. "I think I want to see this place close up."

I stood in front of the gate. The lighthouse was nothing much more than a big dark line blocking the stars like paint. "You were going to tell me something about the guy who owns the place."

Bayless pulled his jacket a bit tighter. It was cold for the time of year. "Grayson Thursday. Its been in his family for a long time. He's hard to get hold of, but he's supposed to see us the day after tomorrow."

"Good enough," I said. "See you in the morning — I'm going to have a look< around."

"Are you sure you want to do that?" He looked upset, but I didn't know whether it was because he was scared for me or he'd been looking forward to the company. "What if you're not back in the morning?"

"Tell the children that Daddy died a hero." I grabbed the top bar and vaulted over the gate. "See ya, Albie."

The local real estate market wasn't losing anything by having the Monks Point property in the hands of one family. It was kind of butt ugly, to tell the truth. As I came around the headland and I could see the buildings properly, my first thought was, So wbat?There really wasn't much to it — the lighthouse, plain and white as vanilla, and a big, three-story barnlike structure with a few outbuildings pushed up against it like they were all huddled together against the hilltop wind. Still, my feelings from earlier hadn't changed: something about the place, as subtle as a trick of light or angle of land, made it easy not to like it. In the dark it had a thin, rotten sheen like fungus.

I stopped on the pathway in front of the barnlike building's front door, figuring this must be where the kid had ended up. I looked around carefully but couldn't see anything that was going to stop someone's heart. The front door was locked but the pockets of my coat were full of remedies for a problem like that. A few moments later I was inside, swinging a flashlight around.

If this Thursday guy and his family had hung on to the house for a while, it looked like it was mainly to keep their old junk. The inside was like some weird flea market with the stuffed heads of deer and other wild animals on the wall and dozens of other examples of the taxidermist's art in glass cases or stands all over the huge front room, even a stuffed, snarling Kodiak bear looming almost ten feet high on its hind legs. The shelves were piled with books and curios, an old pipe organ stood against one wall, and a grandfather clock the size of a phone booth stood against another. Some of the junk actually looked kind of interesting and I strolled around picking things up at random — a model sailing ship, a conch shell the size of a tuba, some giant South American beetles that had been preserved and posed and dressed like a mariachi band. Three quarters of an hour or so passed as I wandered in and out of the various rooms, some of which seemed to have been dormitory rooms for the monastery, all of which seemed to have the same kitschy decorator as downstairs, as though the place had been planned as a museum but never opened. I even walked up the winding stairs of the lighthouse itself, which was as bare as the rest of the place was cluttered. It didn't look like the beacon had been lit in recorded memory — the wires had been torn out, the big lamp removed. I took the long walk back down.

I looked at my watch. A little after eleven. I sat on an overstuffed chair that didn't cramp my tail too badly, switched off my flashlight, and settled in to wait.

I may have dozed off. The first thing I noticed was a glow in the high windows, a sickly, pale gleam, slowly pulsing. It took me a moment to realize what it was — above my head the lighthouse had smoldered into a sort of weird half-life. I started across the room but before I got to the foot of the stairs I heard a rustling sound, as though a flock of birds was nesting in the high rafters. I stopped. The noises were getting louder, not just rustles but creaks, crackles, pops, and snaps, as if the room was a bowl full of cereal and someone had just poured the milk.

I swung my flashlight around. A stuffed seagull on a stand meant to look like a dock piling was stretching its wings, glaring at me. The deer head on the wall behind it was straining to get loose, gnashing its teeth, ratting and bumping its wooden plaque against the wall. Something moved beside me and I snatched my hand back. It was a replica of a Spanish galleon, the sails inflating and deflating like an agitated blowfish.

"Oh, this is just crap!" I said.

Outside the windows the green light was still dim but the pulses were becoming more rapid and the whole room was growing more wrong by the moment — the air had gone icy cold and smelled harsh and strange, full of scents I had no name for. I took a few steps back and something broke on the other side of the room with a splintering crash, then a huge shape came thumping and stumbling out of the shadows. It was the stuffed bear, walking like a stiff-legged drunk, swinging its clawed arms as it went.

"You've gotta be kidding me," I said, but the thing wasn't answering. It wasn't even alive, just moving. One of its glass eyes had popped out, leaving behind a hole full of dangling straw. I stared at this for half a second too long and the thing caught me on the side of the head with one of those swinging paws. It might have been stuffed but it felt like it was poured full of wet cement. It knocked me halfway across the room and I'm no feather. Something other than the latest improvements in taxidermy was definitely going on, but I didn't really have time to think about it too much, since the giant bear was on top of me and trying to rip my head off my neck. It felt like it weighed about twice as much as a real bear, and trying to throw it off was already making me tired. I dragged out my pistol and shoved it up against the furry belly.

"No picnic basket for you, Yogi!" I shouted and emptied the gun into it. Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!'No soap. The thing just kept bashing me. Trying to shoot a stuffed bear — stupid, stupid, stupid.

Eventually, I rammed the thing through the wall and got its head stuck deep enough that I could finally pull myself loose. No sooner had I got rid of the bear than a tiger rug wrapped itself around my ankles and started trying to gnaw off my hooves. The whole place was nuts — the paintings on the wall with their eyeballs bulging, trying to talk, the stuffed animals jerking around like they'd been electrified. I'd had enough of this crap. I kicked the rug up into the rafters where it hung, gnashing its teeth and swiping at me with its claws, then I made a run for the front door. I couldn't help but notice as I ran past that the grandfather clock was lit up from within like a jukebox, glowing and, well, sort of throbbing. And the air around it was murky with strange, colored shadows which were streaming into the clock like salmon swimming upstream to spawn. Every one that went past me burned icy cold and made my skin tingle. It didn't take much to know that this was the center of the haunting or whatever it was. It was pulling on me, too, a strong, steady suction like a whirlpool in dark, cold water. I had to struggle against it to reach the door.

I was happy enough to get outside, at first.

The sickly glow from the top of the lighthouse was barely strong enough to light the long grass waving on the hilltop, but it was enough to illuminate the thin shape standing at the bottom of the path, swaying a little, head hanging down as though in some kind of hypnotic trance. Whoever it was, they didn't have a prayer against that stuff behind me.

"Hey!" I shouted. "Get out of here!" I hurried down the path. If I had to, I'd just throw whoever it was over my shoulder and carry him ...

The first weird thing I noticed was that the Y-shaped pattern on the guys chest wasn't a design on a shirt. I realized that because of the second weird thing — he was naked. The design on his chest was made of stitches. Big ones. In fact, it wasn't a guy In any normal sense at all — it was Rufino Gentle's body, fresh off the autopsy table, standing just about where it must have been found in the first place.

I've seen a lot of creepy stuff in my time, but that doesn't mean you get used to it, you know.

I grabbed at his hair as I got close and lifted his head so I could look into his eyes. No resistance at all. Nothing in his eyes, either. Dead — I'm telling you, dead. Not like you say it about someone who doesn't care any more, I mean dead as in not alive. There was nothing like a soul or a sensibility in that corpse, but it was still standing there, swaying a little in the wind, long dark hair flipping around, a livid new autopsy scar incision stretching up past his navel and forking to both collarbones. When the wind caught his hair again I couldn't help noticing that the top of his skull was gone, too, his brain sitting right there like a soft-boiled egg in a cup. He was clutching the rest of his skull in his dead hand like it was an ashtray he'd made at summer camp.

I'd had a rough night. I don't think anyone will blame me for not bringing Rufino Gentle's body back with me — he looked pretty comfortable standing there, anyway. I hurried down to the fence and Albie Bayless, waiting in his car.

"Did you see the lights?" Albie asked me, wide eyed.

"Well talk about it," I said. "But first I need to drink about nine beers. Do you have nine beers at your place, maybe ten? Because if not I really, really hope there's somewhere open in this godforsaken little town where we can get some."

The Gentle kids body, just ... standing there?" Albie asked again as we got into the car the next morning. This was about the twentieth time. "You really saw it:

I don't think Albie had slept very well. I wondered if maybe I'd told him too much.

"Trust me — I've seen worse things in my day. I have to admit, though, you've developed a few new wrinkles here."

Grayson Thursday was waiting for us in his office, a little storefront place just off the towns main street that looked like it might have been the site of one of those telemarketing boiler rooms. There was a computer — the 1980s kind, so it looked like the mating of a Hammond organ and a typewriter — and a single telephone and that was about it. A notepad sat on top of his desk. Not a file cabinet in sight. Thursday himself was a kindly looking gentleman of about sixty, although his face was a little odd in a way I couldn't entirely put my finger on at first. Like he'd been in an accident and had gone through some cosmetic surgery afterward that didn't quite iron out all the bumps. His voice was a little odd, too, as though he'd been born deaf but had learned to talk anyway. But what really worried me was that he didn't seem to think there was anything unusual about me at all — didn't even look twice when we were introduced. That I'm not used to, and it gave me a bad feeling.

"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting for this meeting, Mr. Bayless, Mr. Boy," he said. "I don't get into town very often."

"Oh, yeah? Where do you live?" I asked him.

"Quite a long way away." He smiled as if he was thinking of something else entirely and adjusted the sleeves of his expensive sweater. "Now, what can I do for you gentlemen?"

"My associate and I want to ask you a few things about the Monk's Point property," Albie told him.

"Is this about the Gentle boy?" He shook his head. "Terrible thing — tragic."

Oddly enough, he really sounded like he felt bad about it. It didn't make me any more comfortable with him, though.

Thursday proceeded to answer a bunch of questions about the house — how long his family had owned it (seventy years or so), what they used it for (storing an old family collection of treasures and knickknacks), and why they didn't sell it to a hotel company (sentiment and the historical value of the property). All very expected, but I was watching Thursday more than listening to the answers. Something about him just didn't quite seem right. He seemed ... distant. Not like he was on drugs, or senile, just weirdly slow and detached.

"I hope that's been some help to you," he said and stood up, indicating that our time was over. "What happened to the boy was very sad, but as I told the police already, it's nothing to do with me. Now I'm afraid I have some important errands to run. Please leave a message with my answering service if there's anything else I can do for you. I won't be back in town until next week."

As we went out into the parking lot, I asked Albie, "Did he say he wasn't going to be back until next week?"

"Yeah, why?"

"And didn't you tell me he made you wait a week for this meeting?" I guess.

"And it just happens today's Thursday. And his last name's Thursday." I'm not following you.

"Never mind. Can you look some stuff up for me this afternoon? I'll give you a list. And before you start, drop me off at Bobby Gentles house."

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