Hellboy: Oddest Jobs Page 8


"People are people, that's the long and the short of it. The Devil always wins, 'cause people want things so bad they can taste it. They're always trying to fill that hole they carry around inside them — money an' fame an' power an' sex an' drugs. They always look like they just might do it, but after you've been filling that hole for a good lifetime you start to realize you'll never get to the top, an' then its too late. Only one thing fills it, only one. And that's the hardest thing to find."

"So you realized how Johnson bought his skill and thought you'd do the same?"

Eubie began to push his way through the wall of swaying bodies filling the hall. "I'm not proud of what I did. I was a weak man. I thought my need overrode anything, even a man's life. I knew in my heart, I guess, but you make an ... accommodation with yourself."

"Who did you kill?"

"Johnson. Not by my own hand — even I couldn't have done that. But I had to make sure he was at a certain place at a certain time, so the Devil could collect his due. It was 1938, August, and as hot as hell. A crossroads out in the country, not far from Greenwood, Mississippi. I guess even the Devil likes his poetry and his balance. Johnson was poisoned by some other sucker who thought the Devil would do him a good deal. Robert Johnson, RIP. Only twenty-seven. He lost what I wanted — eternal life. Never getting any older."

Hellboy winced at the pain in Eubie's voice.

"Yeah, I never did get any older. I just rotted away. My body turned like my black, stinking soul. There's that poetry again." He laughed bitterly. "A zombie. I shoulda read the small print."

Hellboy came to a halt in the middle of the audience. The blues-man had changed to a new song, low, rumbling, dangerous.

"That wasn't the only part of my punishment..." Eubie realized Hellboy was no longer following him. "What's wrong, big guy?"

"Why'd everyone stop dancing?" Hellboy slowly turned to survey the motionless crowd. The music tugged sensations of unease from deep within him.

"That song," Eubie said. "Nobody's allowed to play it round here. 'Hellhound on My Trail.' Robert Johnson's song."

Every pair of dead eyes in the room was fixed on Hellboy and Eubie.

"Uh-oh," Hellboy said. "This can't be good."

There was a hanging moment filled with the full intensity of those desolate gazes, and then the dead moved as one, hands reaching, grasping, tearing. Broken, dirty nails raked Hellboy's head and back. Eubie went down under the weight of bodies.

"Son of a — ! Hang on!" Lashing out, Hellboy drove a path to Eubie. A wave of dead flesh washed hard against him, however much he smashed the bodies back. Ducking beneath the surface, he scooped Eubie up in his arms. The club owner was as light as a bundle of sticks. There's nothing in him, Hellboy thought. A pretend-man. A memory, that was all.

The dead attacked in complete silence. In the background, the blues-man played with mounting intensity.

"It's elevator music for me from now on." With the blows raining off his back, Hellboy bowed his head and shoulders to shield Eubie and forced a route through the crowd. Bursting out near the stage, he allowed himself one glance at the performer. The blues-man gave a small, mean-spirited smile.

Hellboy tore open a door beside the stage and locked it behind him. It bowed with the relentless pressure, but held, though the tearing of nails on wood set Hellboy on edge.

Eubie released himself from Hellboy's grip and dusted himself down. "I shoulda seen that coming. We're getting closer to the real business. People are going to start getting agitated."

"When you say people you don't really mean that, do you?"

A flight of rickety wooden stairs led down through damp, salt-encrusted brick into a dank, mud-floored basement filled with broken furniture, boxes of bottles, rotting drapes, and unused lights and microphones.

"Before all that started, somebody came in through the door after us. I think it was whoever followed us from your club." Hellboy examined a cardboard box of old 78 rpm records. "You going to tell me who that is?"

"Me. Or something that looks just like me."

"Yeah? Some kind of doppelganger?"

"My own personal Hellhound. The part I like to keep locked away, but couldn't on that night I led Johnson to his death. I told you there was another part to my punishment. Its not enough I get to spend eternity slowly rotting away — my shade gets to hunt me down, slicing off a part of me every time he catches me." Eubie held up his left hand; two fingers were missing. "Whittling me down a bit at a time. But still alive, you know? Always alive, however much he removes. Yeah, and I used to be such a good-looking fella." He gave another throaty chuckle, but the bitterness in it made it too painful to bear.

"So that's why you hid away in your club all that time, hiding behind your sigils."

"One of the reasons." Eubie wouldn't meet Hellboy's gaze.

"And after fifty years in hiding, you decide to come out and help me today because I asked nicely? Come on, Eubie. You want those shoes for yourself."

"I could've got them at any time. You're doin' me a disservice." Eubie shuffled into the depths of the basement, calling out Willie's name. Once the echoes had faded, they heard a faint muffled sound.

"Willie was involved in Johnson's murder too?"

"Yeah, we both earned our dues."

"What did he want from the Devil?"

"A plate of beans and some franks."

"What?"

"He was hungry. Hadn't eaten for days. I asked for more, for my eternal soul, but at least he got a full belly. That shows which of us is the biggest sucker."

The muffled sound came from an oily patch on the plaster of one wall. A dark spot was prominent about six feet off the floor. "What's this?" Hellboy touched it gently with his index finger. "Hmm. Soft."

"The tip of his nose." Eubie inspected it closely. "They didn't wall him up. They built him into the wall and plastered over him."

"Fifty years as fixtures and fittings. That's got to be boring. Here. Let me." Hellboy swung his hefty fist at the wall, shattering the plaster and the brick beneath it. A dusty, wide-eyed Willie pitched forward onto the boards.

"Probably take a while to get those legs working," Hellboy mused.

A mewling sound emanated from the prone Willie. Eubie examined him and discovered his tongue was missing. "Guess they cut it out so he wouldn't call for help." Eubie fished inside Willies shirt and removed a straight razor on a thong. "Johnson carried it for defense," Eubie said. "You needed to look after yourself on those lonely country roads, late at night."

"Okay, you got what you need to find the shoes?" Hellboy asked.

"Figures," Eubie said. They stood at a crossroads of alleyways. A brass plaque set into the cobbles was in the shape of a large black dog. There was no inscription.

"This looks like the place." Hellboy checked all four alleys. They were dark, but empty. "Now what?"

As Eubie gradually brought the plectrum and the razor together, they began to glow with an inner light, growing stronger as the two artifacts neared each other. With shaking hands, Eubie touched them and a bolt of force shot down, blowing the brass plaque into the air. Beneath it were a pair of spit-shined black leather shoes, the soles worn thin.

"I'm watching you, Eubie," Hellboy said.

"I tol' you, big guy. I'm as straight as the night is long."

Before Hellboy could pick up the shoes, a deep rumbling began far beneath their feet. It grew louder until the cobbles erupted, throwing both of them back into one of the alleys. When the smoke had cleared, a squat figure with a blazing body was standing in the middle of a ragged, blasted pit. Twin horns curled out of a soot-blackened head in which two yellow eyes burned.

"Ukobach!" Hellboy said. "Keeper of the Devils boilers. What the hell are you doing here?"

"You cannot take the shoes." Ukobach's voice sounded like the clanging of hammers on iron pipes.

"We'll see about that." Hellboy launched himself at Ukobach. Before he made contact, he was hit by a column of liquid fire that rammed him into a wall. Cursing, he renewed his attack. Every time he neared, Ukobach blasted him again, driving him back, superheating the air so it boomed and screamed. A change in strategy was the only way to go. Hellboy hammered the nearest wall so hard it collapsed on top of Ukobach. By the time the demon had clawed his blazing form out from under the pile, Hellboy was standing over him, gently dangling the shoes by the laces.

"Ulp," Ukobach muttered. In a flash of brimstone-reeking smoke, he disappeared.

"I don't know what he was thinking," Hellboy sighed.

Dawn lit the sky silver and scarlet. The clubs were closed, the clientele shambling their way back to their resting places. The sound of a lone horn rose up, filled with jazzy life. A procession wound its way toward Hellboy and Eubie as they perched on a wall in the main square.

"You hanging around for the party?" Hellboy asked.

"I'm hangin' around to see her." Eubie shifted uneasily.

"Who? Clarice? Yeah, she's a real beauty."

"I know."

"You've seen her before?"

Eubie let out a long, low sigh. "I told you — the Devil always wins 'cause people want things so bad they can taste it, and I wanted her. We met when I was playing New Orleans with Kid Ory's Original Creole Jazz Band. I looked up from my solo, and there she was, at the back of the hall, watchin' me like I was a god or something. She was the prettiest, classiest girl I'd ever seen. She's got this quality, right? Everybody sees it. You know you're in the presence of somethin' special. And she was lookin' at me. I knew right then and there my heart was taken."

He beat a rhythm on the wall, lost to his memories. The procession moved into the square, Clarice in her ivory wedding dress at the head of the line. Hellboy thought she probably was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, and the saddest. Her eyes met Eubie's for a long moment.

"That's why she told me to look you up to find the shoes," Hellboy said. "She knew you'd help."

"I quit Kid Ory to be with her, right when they were hittin' the big time. I didn't mind. I'd have done anything for her. For a while, I had everything a man could ever want in this world. We were in heaven."

"What happened?"

"I found a gray hair, and another, and a wrinkle. I got old. And she stayed as young as the day we met."

"That's the thing about immortals."

"I just got obsessed. How could an angel like her hang around with an old, wrinkled guy like me? How would she feel when I was drooling into a cup? I didn't want her to hate me. I didn't want her pity. I just wanted her love."

"She ever say anything to you about it?"

Eubie shook his head. "She loved me. I always thought I was a smart guy. But I wasn't. I should've made the most of the time we had together."

The procession came to a halt. Clarice adjusted her dress and tried not to look at her soon-to-be husband, a grotesquely fat zombie with one eye and a missing rib cage.

Hellboy nodded thoughtfully "You've given up everything you earned to save her. That's a heck of a sacrifice."

"It's too late for me now. My time of doing anything worthwhile is long gone. But she'll always have that ahead of her, even stuck with that dumbass Malecula as a partner. That's how she is — always filled with hope." He stood up and cracked the bones of his fingers with finality. "I'd do anything for her."

He looked for a long time toward one of the shadowy alleyways leading off the square. Eventually a figure emerged. It was Eubie, but this Eubie's face was filled with a fierce hatred, greed, and murder.

"No point running anymore," Eubie said.

"Hang on." Hellboy went over to the wedding party, and as he handed the shoes to Clarice he whispered briefly in her ear. She raised the shoes above her head, and as the sun came over the rooftops and hit the other Eubie, he faded into nothing. Clarices smile was brighter than the dawn, and for a moment Eubie was back in New Orleans, listening to the dying notes of his solo and thinking everything would be all right forever.

Hellboy came back over. "She wants a word with you before the ceremony starts."

"An old dead guy like me?"

"Yeah, there's no accounting for taste."

* * *

Second Honeymoon

John Skipp & Cody Goodfellow

* * *

Sea of Crete

April 22, 1999

9:47 a.m.

It was a beautiful day for the end of mankind, sun high and crisp in the cheerful blue sky. The wind was warm. Brisk. Salty with life. The possibility of lovin'. And the certainty of death.

Watching the light dance across the lazy waves from the wide-open door of the descending cargo plane, you'd almost think that Gunter Herzog was right. That Nature had a hand in this insanity, and had put on her brightest, sunniest face to see them off.

Hellboy wasn't buyin' it for a second.

"You know what I hate?" he said, shrugging on the rocket pack. "This stupid thing."

"They did a lot of work on them," said Roger the Homunculus, already strapped into his. "I think we will fly just fine."

"Uh-huh."

They were scanning the skyline for Herzog and his eco-terrorist cronies: a batch of Earth-Firsters so determined to save the world from humanity that they were willing to do the single stupidest thing imaginable.

Unleash the father and mother of all monsters, set them up on a date, and let nature take its course.

This is what the crew knew going in, based on Kates ongoing brief from HQ: Eight hours ago, a seismic research camp on Mount Etna was raided by a crack paramilitary team. Everyone at the camp was killed. The volcano erupted, grounding carabinieri and Italian-army aircraft. Then it got weird.

The terrorists lifted off under cover of smoke and flying lava bombs with a sixty-ton core sample, towed in an enormous carbon-steel sling by four cargo-lifting choppers, with two Soviet-surplus gunships walking point. Interpol flagged down the B.P.R.D. when the choppers and cargo cleared the coast, and vanished into a hole in the sky.

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