Hellboy: Oddest Jobs Page 19

"Yeah. And your job is to show up here once a week after the damage has been done, when your Thursday dimension opens into ours, and pay off the victims or their families. To keep them quiet, or just to ease your own consciences?"

"Please." He actually looked pained. "We encourage silence, of course, but I am here only to repair, in a small measure, the harm we have done." He shook his head.

"We did not mean this to happen, but we no longer have the power to move our former servants to another place. They have grown too strong, too canny — we could never trick them again as we did the first time."

"Well, isn't this just sweet," I said, and looked at Albie, who was busy scribbling notes. "Why are you bothering, Bayless? You'll never be able to print this story."

He looked shocked, his face suddenly old and helpless. "What do you mean?"

"Well, leaving out the fact that you'd get put in a nuthouse, let's not forget that you called in the B.P.R.D., and this is now government jurisdiction. But we've got a bigger problem, anyway." I turned back to Grayson Thursday. "Do you want to make up for what you've done? End this problem once and for all?"

"Of course, but it cannot be done ..."

"Hey, buddy, in our dimension, we never say cannot. For one thing, we use contractions." I stood up. "I'll tell you what you need to do." I grabbed Albie's pen and handed it to him. "You'd better write this down, because I'm guessing your dimension goes back out of phase with us at midnight, so we won't be seeing each other for a week. If you get this wrong, we're all in big, big trouble."

"Like what?" Albie Bayless asked.

I would have liked to reassure him, but I wasn't in a reassuring mood. "Like end-of-the-world trouble."

It was Tuesday morning when they flew me back into Sonoma County Airport. Albie was waiting for me. He was definitely looking old and tired, like maybe he was wishing he'd taken this being-retired thing more seriously. Getting a glimpse of what squirms under the rock of everyday reality can do that for you. I definitely wasn't going to let him get any closer to the lighthouse than I had to.

"How was your trip?" he asked.

"Connecticut, what's there to say?" I told him. "The guys at the Bureau say hi. A bunch of them still remember you from '69."

"That's nice," he said. "And how was New Orleans?"

"Even freakier than usual. I did get to spend a nice night on the town." I have some good friends in New Orleans, and there are a few places I can go and eat red beans and listen to music where nobody bats an eye at me. I like that.

"And your ... shopping?"

"Good, I think — I hope. We'll see. There's no recipe book for this stuff — we kind of make it up as we go along."

It was a pleasant-enough trip west to the coast and Caldo Bay — you could smell and see spring on the way — but I wasn't really looking forward to visiting Monk's

Point. As he drove, Albie filled me in on what had been happening, not that there was much news. The only excitement in town was that Bobby Gentle was spending what he called his insurance money like it was water, and there was a permanent twenty-four-hour party going on out at his house, with all the local rummies and freeloaders prominently represented.

"I can't help thinking about that poor kid — or at least his body," I said. "The Wednesday Men must have squeezed his soul right out of it, then kept the body running until they got bored or lost control over it. You never saw anything so empty and so lost."

Albie shuddered. "Come on, don't."

When we arrived chez Bayless, I opened my two suitcases and started spreading stuff out on the table. Albie watched me with wide eyes as I counted and sorted. "What is all that?"

"Fighting gear," I said as I shoved things into a knapsack. "And some other tricks. Its how we're going to take it to the Wednesday boys, basically."

"How's that going to work?"

"You mean, how do I hope its going to work? I'd rather tell you after I live through it — if I manage. It'll be less embarrassing that way." I wasn't feeling all that confident, to be honest. "You got a beer?"

The afternoon ticked away in small talk and me packing and repacking my knapsack and coat pockets about a hundred times. At one point I was making Albie so nervous I got up and took a walk along the headlands above the ocean. The lighthouse at Monk's Point stuck up like a warning finger. I turned my back on it and concentrated on the dark-green water and the white chop kicked up by the rising wind. Seagulls banked and keened. It was like standing at the edge of the universe. Which, if I thought about what was going to open up in a few hours just half a mile away, was pretty much the case.

So much for putting my mind at ease.

After dark had come down good and solid, I let Albie drive me up to the bottom of the hill at the edge of the Monk's Point property. "You go home now," I said. "Don't get any stupid ideas about coming to help me, no matter what happens — you'll wind up doing the 'Thriller' dance alongside the Gentle kid. Come back at dawn Thursday."

"That's more than twenty-four hours from now!"

"I'm aware. If I'm not waiting for you then, go home and call the Bureau."

Albie shook my hand and tried to smile. "Second time, damn it," he said.

"Second time what?"

"First Zodiac, then this," he said. "Second time I've been sitting on the story of the century and both times you wouldn't let me write it."

"Oh, you can write it," I told him as I got out and headed for the fence. "Feel free. You just cant show it to anyone."

Inside the house I picked a spot just a few yards away from the grandfather clock, which was almost ten feet tall and as ornate as a baroque chapel. Once I'd got my equipment set up, I hunkered down to wait. About ten minutes to midnight, with the wind blowing hard outside and the breakers crashing below, I turned on the special lights. They didn't make the place any brighter, of course — they weren't that kind of lights. But when I put on the blue quartz goggles the boys at the Bureau had whipped up for me, all of a sudden I could see all kinds of things I couldn't before, including how the air seethed and glowed around the big clock, and how the thing itself didn't look much like a clock anymore, but like something a lot less ordinary and a lot more complex.

"We put it there to keep the fabric of the wound in space-time from getting any larger," Thursday had told me. "We can't close the hole back up, but the clock construct will keep it from getting any worse."

Based on what he could tell me, I'd had the Bureau's tech boys and girls get to work, and so, with my special lights and special goggles, I was actually able to see what was happening as midnight came and the Wednesday dimension opened into our own.

It wasn't pretty.

The clock began to strike midnight. On the twelfth toll, the space around the clock — there's no other way to put it — split open. What came pouring out was light like a bad bruise and wisps of something smoky yet as liquid as dripping glue that nevertheless had the shape of living creatures, with limbs and a depressing bump where a head should be. Their eyes were empty black holes, but they were holes that melted and ran like the yolks of soft-boiled eggs. Flapping, ragged mouths gaped beneath them, and I was grateful I couldn't hear the noise they made, because I could feel it vibrating in my bones and even that was sickening. Some of them floated off to occupy the stuffed animals, but the rest headed straight toward me, figuring maybe they'd force me out of my body like they'd forced the Gentle kid out of his. Just thinking about it made me really angry.

I turned on the "brass knuckles," as the technicians had named them, which looked like a couple of glass-and-wire watchbands, one of them big enough to stretch over the Hand of Doom. For a moment I felt the vibration they made, then my hands just ... weren't anymore. I couldn't feel them at all. I hoped that meant that the Wednesday Men would. I stepped toward the clock.

"You're not going anywhere, Sloppy Face," I told the nearest of them as he came at me. I took a swing. There wasn't much in the way of a satisfying impact, but a kind of snap and sizzle like an electrical shock. The thing flailed backward, its nasty mouth all hooty and shocked. I grinned. "Didn't like that, huh? Well, come and see what we're serving on Wednesdays around here from now on!"

I waded into them. It was the donnybrook of all donnybrooks and it went on for hours. It was like flying all the way to Asia with in-flight entertainment by the

Spanish Inquisition. I could only touch them with my hands, but they could climb into the bodies around me and hit, scratch, and bite. But the gloves put me partially on their plane, I guess. Sometimes they grabbed me and it burned, burned bad.

It went on and on. First they'd push me back, swarm over me until I thought I was done, but I'd keep slugging until they started to cry. Then for a little while they'd retreat and huddle in the glowing depths of the clock, just inside the gap into their dimension, and look out at me like eels hiding in the rocks, whispering to each other in a deep, soundless rumble I could feel in my teeth. That would give me a few minutes to rest before they broke out and tried me again. Like I said, hours went by, and I had only one thought: Keep 'em here till Wednesdays almost over. Don't let 'em past.

I had a few other weapons from the tech boys, but I knew ultimately I wouldn't be able to push them all back by myself. I just had to hang in and keep them in the vicinity of the clock until the rest of the plan kicked in. When I absolutely couldn't make it another moment without rest, I chucked one of my precious supply of vibration-augmented grenades at them, which disrupted them and probably hurt them like hell, too — in any case, each grenade sent them flapping and slurping back into the breach for a bit. Then they'd get back their courage and come at me again.

It was pretty much like the Spartans at Thermopylae. I had to stop them and keep them here. As long as they were busy trying to kill me, either in the bodiless form that I could only see because of the goggles, or occupying the various stuffed-animal corpses, we had a chance. If they got beyond the perimeter, we were in trouble.

And, yeah, they used everything — stag and boar heads jumping off the walls, gouging and biting, stuffed ferrets breaking loose from their pedestals to run snapping up my trouser legs. Even the giant Kodiak bear made a reappearance about six in the morning, at a moment when I was feeling particularly exhausted. Still, after about half an hour rolling around with it I managed to break off its arms, then let out all its stuffing with a Gurkha knife.

Things got a little quieter as the sun rose Wednesday morning — the W. Men didn't seem to like the light very much — but I couldn't afford to turn my back on them and I certainly didn't dare sleep. I popped a few amphetamine tablets I'd brought with me and did my best to pay attention. I walked around the place beating the random crap out of anything alive that shouldn't have been, trying to keep all activity confined to the area around the clock. I did have time to down a sandwich in the middle of the day, which was nice. I'd brought a sack lunch, including two packages of Twinkies. It's the little things that make fighting for the survival of our dimension worthwhile.

Damn, I was tired, though. Things began to ramp up again as the sun set on Wednesday night — the things might not have understood who I was or what I was doing, but they were clearly getting frustrated as hell. As soon as the dark came they were all over me again in earnest. I can't really tell you what happened for the next several hours. I just fought to stay alive, using my vibration-enhanced hands and weapons on the things themselves, using the clubs and knives I'd brought with me to beat the unholy bejabbers out of any of the stuffed corpses that they hid themselves in the way hermit crabs used seashells.

The last hour before midnight was the worst. I think they'd begun to get an inkling that I meant to do more than deprive them of their fun for a single week, and if I thought they'd fought hard before, I hadn't seen anything. I wished for about the hundredth time I'd brought more help from the Bureau, but I hadn't wanted to risk anyone else. I still had no idea what was going to happen at the end — for all I knew, we'd wind up with a scorched hole a mile wide where the town had been, or something even worse, like a smoking rip in the space-time continuum.

At the end, they finally got me. I was boneless as a flatworm, exhausted, battered, sucking air but not catching my breath, and to be honest, I couldn't even remember why I was fighting. A bunch of them charged and pulled me down, then they swarmed over me like giant moaning jellyfish. That was it, I knew. All over. I was too tired to care.

Then, from what seemed like a hundred miles away, I heard the grandfather clock begin to chime, a surprisingly deep, slow sound, and suddenly the light around me changed color, from purple-blue to a bright reddish-orange. The things on top of me slithered off, buzzing in surprise, as a host of new shapes burst from the clock. These didn't look a thing like human beings, but they didn't look like the Wednesday Men either, and I knew that Grayson Thursday had kept his word and brought his friends. The cavalry had come.

"Pull them back in!" I shouted, although the Thursday folk probably couldn't understand me or perhaps even hear me. Nevertheless, they knew what to do. The orange, glowing shapes grabbed my attackers and all the other Wednesday Men and began to drag them back toward the shimmering lights of the big clock. Not that the moaning jellyfish-things went without a fight — people were dying here, that was clear, even if they didn't look like people.

It seemed to go on for an hour, but it must have happened during the twelve times the clock struck. At the end, the last of the glowering Wednesday shapes had been pulled back into the breach, and one of the Thursday Men looked back at me with his face that wasn't a face.

"Thanks, buddy!" I shouted. "Now I suggest you all duck!" I pulled out the egg grenade. I'd saved it for last, saved it carefully. Not only was it set to the same vibrational field as the Wednesday Men, and that of their entire dimension, but I'd had one of my friends down in New Orleans prepare it for me, so the grenade itself was taped to a black hen's egg full of serious hoodoo powder. See, hoodoo magic is crossroads magic, and if a place where one world runs into another isn't a crossroad, I don't know what is. I'd gone to see the folks who knew how to deal with such things. Gris gris gumbo ya ya, baby.

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