Hellboy: Oddest Jobs
One of the Wednesday Men had got away and was oozing back toward the breach and our world, mouth wide in an unheard roar of frustration. "Hey, Soupy,"
I shouted. "Regards from Baron Saturday!" I pulled the pin and threw the hoodoo-egg grenade.
I'd never seen half the colors that explosion made and I hope I never see them again — they hurt my eyes something fierce and made my brain all itchy. Not only did the blast seem to close the breach, it blew the clock itself to fragments and started big pieces of roof beam falling down as well. It was all I could do to crawl out into the post-midnight darkness before the walls themselves started to collapse. The last thing I saw before I passed out was the lighthouse tower shiver and then crumble, falling down into the ocean in big white chunks.
Albie Bayless found me in the morning. He stared at the ruins like a kid who's not only seen Santa Claus but been given a supersonic ride to the North Pole strapped onto the runners of the fat man's sleigh.
"I held the pass," I told him. "Its closed now."
I groaned as I sat up. "I'm not sure. That's why I've got one more thing to do." I limped over to the spot at the edge of the property where I'd left my last little surprise. I ached all over, and judging by the worried expression on Albie Bayless's face, I must have looked pretty bad, too. It hurt even to lift the lead box, which was about the size of a tool chest. Normally I could have picked it up with a finger and thumb.
"Something we're going to leave behind." I led him back to the wreckage of the Monk's Point house and picked a blackened patch of open ground. I dug a hole and put the lead box in it. I tried not to read the stuff scratched on it. My friend in New Orleans had said it would work and that's all I needed to know. She's a smart lady.
"But what is it?" Albie asked, as I kicked dirt over it.
"That box contains the mortal remains of a man named Albert Dupage," I said. "Killed half a dozen men because he claimed they were cheating him at cards. Killed his family too, wife and kids, but that was another time. Killed a sheriff and a deputy, and the local circuit preacher as well. Meanest, craziest man in all of St. Bernard Parish, everyone says. When a posse finally tracked him in the swamp and shot him down like a mad dog, he was buried at the crossroads just to keep his evil spirit from finding its way back home." I smiled. Even that hurt. "I figure we'll leave him here to guard this crossroad, just in case those Wednesday boys get an idea about coming back. They'll have to get through Albert, and I don't think it'll be easy."
There was one more part of the Monk's Point story. As I was recuperating the next afternoon in the sunshine of the front yard at Albie Bayless's place — Albie himself was in the house, putting raisins or some other damn thing in his chili — I heard a rustling in the bushes and looked up. The figure standing there wasn't naked any more. It was wearing somebody's pink bathrobe stolen off a wash line, but the new garment was a little too small to conceal the Y-shaped autopsy scar. This time, though, he was looking right at me, and there was an intelligence to his face that hadn't been there last time.
"Rufino?" I asked. "That you?" I asked calmly, but I was a little worried in case it was one of the Wednesday Men who'd got out before the breach was shut.
"Roof," he said. "That's what everyone calls me." The boy shook his head slowly. "Used to call me. 'Cause I'm dead now."
"So I heard." I beckoned him over. "Sit down. How are you feeling?"
"Not too bad. I don't like the sun much, though, so I think I'll stay here in the shade. It makes my skin feel bad — makes it smell, too. Kinda like bad bologna. You know what that smells like?"
"Yeah, 'fraid so. What brings you here?"
He shrugged. He was still a teenager, just a dead one. "I don't know. You saved me, kind of. I mean, I got out of that place when you blew up the door. Found my way back into my body, I guess."
"Ah. So they were sort of — holding you prisoner?"
"I guess. It's all kind of confusing. One minute I was looking at the old haunted lighthouse, the next minute I get, I don't know, sucked out of my body, and I'm in some kind of dark, windy place listening to these weird noises. It was like going to a really, really slow Day on the Green concert. On bad acid, even. Then a bunch of really weird stuff happened, and there was you, and an explosion, and I got out ... and I was back in here again." He frowned and shook his lank hair out of his face. "But look what those doctors did to my body! I don't even have blood any more."
"Yeah, that can't be fun."
"Thing is, you're leaving, right?" He looked at me with the most hope I've ever seen on a dead person's face. "I want to go with you. I already hated this place when I was alive. Can you imagine how messed up it's going to be for me now I'm dead?"
I thought about it for a moment. "You know, I think the folks at the Bureau would be willing to give you a place to stay, Rufin ... Roof." I nodded. "Just hang around for a little while, then Bayless can drive both of us. I've got a private Bureau plane waiting for me." I smiled. "It's not like you've got a lot of stuff to pack."
"No," he said seriously. "But there is one thing I gotta do first. Can you come along?"
"I need to say goodbye to my dad."
You haven't heard a houseful of drunken rummies scream until you've heard what happened when Roof showed up at his dads house in mid-party, bloodless, scalpless, and very obviously dead. The few who could keep their legs (and bladders, and sphincters) under control long enough to run outside all ran into me, which probably didn't help their state of mind, either. Albie told me later that about half Bobby Gentle's friends sprinted straight to town after this life-changing experience and threw themselves on the mercy of Jesus, care of the nearby Monks Point Presbyterian Church.
"I told him he ought to get his act together," Roof said as he rejoined me. I could see his dad lying slumped in the doorway of the house where he'd fainted, a beer still clutched in his fist. "I don't think he'll listen, though."
"Don't underestimate your powers of persuasion," I said as we walked away. I could hear some of the guests still shrieking inside. "You may have a future on the religious circuit, kid."
I took him back to Albie's place and found him some duct tape so he could stick the top of his head back on until we could fix him properly back at the Bureau.
"Wow," said Ted. He looked a little pale himself. "I mean ... Jeez. That's pretty ... So what happened to the kid?"
"He stayed with us for a couple of years. Worked a few missions for the B.P.R.D., but his heart wasn't in it. So to speak." I smiled as I thought of Roof. He had been a slacker before the word existed — he just happened to be a dead one. The last thing he wanted to do was spend his afterlife working an office job. "Last I heard, he was in Yakutata, Alaska, surfing year round. He likes it 'cause it's real cold there, and nobody ever asks why he always wears a wetsuit."
"And the Thursday Men?" asked Liz.
"Haven't heard from them — or their woeful buddies. But I can't help worrying about it sometimes."
"Whys that?" Liz smiled at me. She thinks I think too much. She's probably right.
"Well, if those two dimensions just happened to run smack into ours, what about the others? What about the rest of the days of the week? Why haven't we heard anything yet from the Monday Men or the Tuesday Men?" I leaned forward. "They're probably already here and we don't even know it. In fact, you could be one of them, Ted. It would explain your singing voice." I slapped my hand on the table.
"Now, who's playing cards?"
* * *
* * *
Bertha knelt by the shelf that held up the packages of cottony white toilet paper and listened to the slow clop-clop sound, like horses made. She peered under the shelf, but didn't see any horses. Instead, she noticed a snaky, scarlet-red thing that drew her eye just as surely as if it were a screaming fire engine racing down the road.
She knew this because just such a thing had happened that very morning while she'd been strapped inside her car seat watching the world rush by the car window. There had been three men in yellow hanging from the back end of the truck, their fluorescent-striped arms tied to their sides by equipment and the onrushing air. She didn't know why, but the experience had tickled her fancy more than anything she could remember. She'd laughed out loud and pointed with a sticky finger (she'd just eaten a marshmallow) at the fire truck as it disappeared around the corner and out of sight.
It had been an eventful morning.
Now, here she was, the cold floor biting into her knees, staring at something that might very well turn out to be even more interesting than the fire truck. She got down on her elbows, the cold floor biting them, too, and reached her hand into the small space between the floor and the grocery-store shelving unit. It fit with a little bit of room left over. Having gotten her whole hand into the space easily enough, she pushed the rest of her arm — right up to her shoulder — inside, as well. She stretched out her fingers, extending them as far as they would go. Angrily, she realized that her reach wasn't going to be long enough: she was still much too far away from her prey even with the lip of the shelf pressing painfully into her shoulder blade and her fingers stiff as fish sticks.
She made a weird sound that she had never made before low in her throat — it reminded her of the sound Henry, her kitty cat, made when she tried to touch his fur, and opened and closed her hand in frustration. It seemed that no matter what she did fate was gonna keep her from reaching her goal and it made her mad!
Bertha peeked under the shelf again. The red snaky thing was all the way in the next aisle. No way her arm was gonna reach that far. Sometimes she could be so silly.
Suddenly, fate put another crimp in her plan.
She watched in horror as the rubbery red thing began to move away from her, sliding down the next aisle. If she didn't do something now, it was gonna be gone forever!
She kept her cheek pressed against the floor, her eyes locked on the disappearing red thing, its slinky redness like a silent Pied Piper beckoning her to follow. She began to crawl along her own aisle, the polished floor like ice, hoping she was fast enough to keep pace with the swishing red thing.
At the end of the aisle she came to an abrupt halt, daunted by the vastness of the space that loomed above her. The grocery store hadn't seemed very scary when she was safe back in the aisle, or even when she had originally come into the building with Esmeralda, but now that it had opened up in such a strange manner — the shelving replaced by gleaming basins of silver into which piles of brightly colored fruits and vegetables had been piled — the whole thing frightened her terribly.
Too scared to move forward, she sat back on her haunches, her little legs splayed out in front of her. She put her fingers in her mouth and chewed, hoping the sweet repetition of sucking would calm her down.
When she felt a little better, she got back onto her hands and knees, and took a tentative crawl forward. That's when she caught sight of the red thing again, but now it was further away than before. It was hiding behind one of the big tables that held up the basins of fruit, just peeking out enough to make her drool with anticipation. She moved forward, ignoring the feet and other obstacles she encountered in her path.
She decided that when she finally caught the thing, she was gonna put it in her mouth and chew it until it fell apart like her teething ring had.
Then the red thing moved again, sliding behind the fruit table and disappearing, making Bertha want to cry with frustration. Instead, she just kept crawling toward the place where she'd last seen her prey. She slid along the glossy floor, her knees and hands beginning to hurt, but when she reached the fruit table and turned the corner, the red thing wasn't there.
She flopped down and pressed her body into the cold floor tiles, her eyes shut tightly in rage and frustration. She began to cry. The tears coursed down her face, pooling on the dirty floor.
Her wails grew in pitch and fervor until they began to draw a crowd, gawkers that just stood there like dollies instead of helping her out, instead of finding the glorious red thing and bringing it to her to chew on!
Suddenly, she felt something strong and warm curl around her, sliding her across the floor. Then a huge hand picked her up, like she was a dolly. She opened one eye and looked up at her savior. The face that greeted her was strange and wonderful. She reached out a plump finger and poked it into one of the man's red cheeks. The man raised an eyebrow, an inscrutable look on his face, making Bertha giggle.
"Whatcha got there, HB?"
It was a woman's voice. Lower than Esmeralda's, but just as soft and melodious. Bertha tilted her head so that she could see the owner of the voice. The woman was thin and beautiful with twinkling eyes and cherry-colored lips. Bertha instantly liked the look of the dark-haired lady ... but she liked the man with the thick red face more, so she turned her attention back to him. He was wearing a long dark coat and had two stubs on his head like round, thick pancakes. They looked like they were broken, and she wondered if they hurt. She reached out to touch them, but he gently lowered her out of reach.
"I don't know, Liz, but it's in the produce aisle so it must be edible."
There was a shout from across the room, and Bertha heard the hysterical lilt of Esmeralda's broken English getting louder as the old woman rushed toward them. Bertha watched, fascinated, as Esmeralda reached them, her eyes filled with a terror that Bertha realized could only be directed at the big, red man. She stared as Esmeralda made the sign of the cross before holding out shaking arms to take her. The red man gave up his prize easily, and Bertha found her body instantly folded into the old woman's expansive bosom, her face pressed against Esmeralda's collarbone.