Author’s note: Timeline of this is now jumping from the 1992 date of Liz’s first arrival to the bureau to 1994. Some of this will be connected to the celebrations of Holy Week (in deference to this past Easter weekend). Reminder: Kate Corrigan is from the original Mignola Hellboy comics.
Chapter Six: Liz Sherman
Fear of Fire: A Tale of Trust and Love—Part Ten
BPRD Headquarters, Newark, New Jersey—Late Tuesday Evening
Hellboy vainly tried to sleep, but just couldn’t manage it. This wasn’t the first time that Liz Sherman had quit working for the Bureau after one of her ‘incidents’; that had already happened three or four times in the past year. However, this was the first time that she had packed up with no warning, leaving them little idea of where she had gone.
Hellboy finally sat up, making the shocks on his old red pickup truck creak. A muffled groan came from Kate Corrigan, who had been asleep next to him on the mattress in the back of the truck.
“Hellboy, I’ve only just gotten back from a six month trip to Czechoslovakia and would appreciate a little more sleep. This is the second night in a row. Want to tell me what’s wrong?”
With an expert heave of his finally muscled body, Hellboy rolled up over the wooden slats on his side of the old truck. He changed out of the shorts he was wearing into his usual leather pants.
“Nothing’s wrong, Katie. Go back to sleep,” Hellboy grunted, as he negotiated his huge right hand into a sleeve on a black t-shirt and then pulled it on over his head. “I just need a smoke.”
Grabbing up a handful of his stubby cigars and one of the lighters from his table, Hellboy pushed them into the BPRD-logoed breast pocket of his shirt. Shoving open the metal door to his room, he pushed it back closed after he walked out. As he had left it slightly ajar, Kate could hear the odd sound of unshod cloven hooves as Hellboy walked away down the corridor.
Kate found it hard to go back to sleep, only partly due to the light from the outer corridor penetrating in through the not completely closed door. For the past almost sixteen years, she and Hellboy had developed a perfectly satisfying, if intermittent, relationship. He had initially been more than excited when she finally arrived to the Bureau after her long absence in Europe.
At first, things between them had never seemed better and the sex had been great; but Kate could tell that something was bothering Hellboy and was certain it had to do with the missing Liz Sherman. She had only met Liz a few times in the past; but it wasn’t hard for Kate to see that Hellboy was beginning to have a more-than-brotherly interest in the younger woman—even if she wasn’t quite sure if Hellboy had noticed this for himself.
Realizing that sleep was now far from her, Kate got up. Pulling on a bright red robe that Hellboy had once given her as a gift and a pair of warm slippers, she went to where she knew she could find him. As she pushed open the fire door that led onto the entranceway roof, the first thing she noticed was the smell of cigar smoke. The night was overcast; in the darkness, she could just make out his silhouette as he sat on the edge of the roof staring out into the dark night.
It hadn’t been terribly cold that day, but neither had it been warm. Earlier that evening, there had been a light rain mixed, at times, with a little snow. It left the night air cold and damp. Pulling her robe tighter, Kate stepped up behind Hellboy.
“We need to talk, Hellboy, but I can’t do it here; the weather’s too unpleasant,” Kate started to say, feeling that more than just the weather was unpleasant right then.
“I don’t need to talk,” Hellboy broke in, “So, why don’t you just go in and let me be?”
Kate sighed, “I’m going to go and sit in the chapel for a while. If you don’t stay out here too long, come and find me there. I really do need to speak with you.”
As Kate turned back toward the fire door, Hellboy ground out the stub of the cigar he had been smoking and stood up. “Wait, Katie, I’ll go in with you.”
Kate had let her dark-blonde hair grow longer while she had been in Czechoslovakia. It reminded Hellboy so much of how she had looked that December back in 1978 when he, along with Abe Sapien, had rescued her from a giant demonic rat. Smiling wistfully, Hellboy reached down with his left hand and gently brushed her sleep-mussed hair back from her face.
“Aw, jeez, Katie, your hair’s all wet. Let’s forget about the chapel and I’ll build a fire in Pop’s office; might even spring for a pot of hot chocolate.”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” she replied with an answering smile.
At the rear of Trevor Broom’s office, there was a series of leather couches and comfortable chairs that were placed close to that side of the fireplace in the center of the office. Kate found herself curled up next to Hellboy on one of these couches, silently nursing her mug of hot chocolate. After having insisted that he speak with her, she was finding it hard to say what she knew she needed to say.
Taking another sip of her hot chocolate, she took a deep breath. “Hellboy, I’ve been offered a really great special assignment by the University of Pittsburgh. The whole idea intrigues me that they’re actually willing to finance research on there being goblins and ghouls infesting abandoned coalmines. I know it’ll mean being away from NYU for some years, but it’s too good an opportunity to pass up.”
“How soon will you be leaving?” Hellboy took another drink from his hot chocolate, trying not to show the confused emotions her news was stirring up.
Kate shrugged, “This is an open invitation that I’ve been considering for a long time. I don’t need to bring much with me as I’m being offered a furnished apartment on campus. Since I’m in between research assignments at NYU, now would be a good time to go, especially given that both NYU and Pitt have slowed down for the coming of Passover and Easter. So, I’m going back to my apartment early tomorrow morning to pack what I need to bring. I’d like to catch a late afternoon flight.”
Hellboy couldn’t figure out how he felt about this. On the one hand, he was used to Kate not always being around; but on the other hand, she was usually away for only a few months, not a few years. Yet, even though he found the news disturbing, for some reason he couldn’t quite fathom, he almost felt oddly relieved that she wanted to leave New York; wanted to leave him.
With little warning, red-hot anger was the emotion that swam to the surface of the current jumble that Hellboy was feeling. Kate’s head snapped up as his mug of hot chocolate crashed into the round fireplace spewing its contents over the raised hearth.
“And you were planning on telling me this when, Kate?” Hellboy growled, “Was I supposed to just wake up tomorrow and find you gone?”
“Of course not,” Kate sighed, as she got up and retrieved the remnants of a mug she had once brought Hellboy from London. “I hadn’t completely made up my mind until just now,” she said, tossing the broken mug into a nearby waste can and using some napkins to wipe up the spilled liquid.
She sat back down on the couch and gently turned Hellboy’s averted face back toward hers.
“Hellboy, I’ve been a consultant for the Bureau since the mid-eighties and a professor at NYU for even longer than that; but NYU is willing to grant me a temporary hiatus from my duties and Abe is more than capable of taking over a good portion of the research I’ve been doing here. I think it’s time for me to move on, both professionally and personally.”
Hellboy wasn’t quite sure what further things he was planning to say, when the usual raucous alarm went off announcing another paranormal crisis that needed taken care of.
He got up from the couch. “Will you be here when I get back?” he asked, finding himself anxious over what the answer to this might be.
“No,” Kate replied, still sitting and looking at the floor, “I don’t think I could go through this again.”
Hellboy turned away without a word; agitation obvious in the unconscious thrashing of his tail. Stalking toward the front of the office to depart for the briefing room, he hadn’t realized that Kate had gotten up and hurried after him.
“Hellboy, wait,” Kate gently touched his shoulder just before he walked out, “Let’s not part like this.”
Stopping short, he shook her hand off his shoulder. Kate really thought he was going to continue on; but he surprised her by turning back, gathering her tightly into his arms. “You know, Katie ” he said with a little laugh, “I never could stay angry with you for very long.” He bent down and gave her a deep, lingering kiss; and then buried his face in her hair for a long time.
“Funny thing,” he mumbled when he finally lifted his head again, “Your hair still smells like peaches.”
Kate grinned up at him. “I stopped using that shampoo years ago, Hellboy. The stuff I’m using now is supposed to smell like apricots.”
“Peaches, apricots; guess it all smells the same to me.” Hellboy bent down and kissed her cheek, “Have a good life, Katie; you’re making the right decision, you know. I’ve always thought that hanging around me too much wasn’t really the best thing for you.”
Letting go of Kate, Hellboy turned and pushed open the left-hand golden-oak door to Broom’s office. “Take care of yourself,” he said as he walked out, not looking back.
Kate stood unmoving as the door swung closed. ‘If it’s the right decision, why do I feel so damn bad?’ she thought. Blinking away tears that she refused to let fall, she left the office; making her way to her guest quarters to pack up her belongings. Somehow, the fact that Kate was planning to remove everything that she had left in these quarters over the years of her tenure with the BPRD made her decision seem even more irrevocable.
Portland, Oregon—Wednesday morning
“Trevor’s going to kill me when he finds out what I’ve done, Red,” Walter Carlton groaned as he landed a chartered private plane at the Portland-Hillsboro Airport.
“Well, it’s too late to worry about that now, Walt,” Hellboy replied, as he looked around at the small airport his friend had decided to land at; figuring that it would be more private than one of the area’s larger airports. After deplaning, Walter and Hellboy, now buried under a cloak, made their way to pick up the rental car that Walter had already arranged to be delivered to the airport.
As Walter drove Hellboy into downtown Portland, he looked over at the large cloaked figure seated next to him in the front of the car. “Red, are you really sure that Liz has ended up returning here? You tell me that even the FBI and Trevor haven’t been able to trace her this time.”
“At least some of her training seems to have paid off,” Hellboy grunted, “Just not the right stuff.” Looking out of the car at the scenery going by, Hellboy sighed, “I just had to look somewhere, Walt.”
The twelve hours that Hellboy had allotted for trying to turn up some hint of Liz’s current location turned up nothing. Walter Carlton did a lot of the actual legwork while Hellboy waited in the car.
Hellboy had left the Laurelhurst theater for last; hoping against hope that they would turn up something at the location Liz had mentioned to Hellboy as a favorite hang-out when she had been living on the Portland streets in the past. All they discovered was that screen number four, the screen that Liz had mentioned was always showing cheaply priced classic movies, was showing the first Charlie Chaplin talkie, The Great Dictator.
If there was one thing that Hellboy loved, it was the idea of one of his favorite comedians coupled with a film that spoofed the ever-hated Nazis. He talked Walter into letting him stay to see the film; enjoying it so much that he didn’t even mind having to sit covered by his cloak. Many of the people who hung out at this theater were homeless or indigent and couldn’t have cared less about someone who hid himself like that.
For Hellboy, it was worth it to feel that just for once he was watching a movie in a real theater, munching on hot buttered popcorn, sitting next to a friend—just like other people would do. It almost helped him to forget about Liz—almost, but not quite.
BPRD Headquarters, Newark, New Jersey
Thursday of the Catholic Holy Week—Morning
Hellboy made his way into the main entrance of the Newark Bureau headquarters; considering what plausible excuse he could give Trevor Broom for his abrupt and lengthy disappearance after the end of Tuesday’s late night mission. With an uneasy sense of déjà vu, he noted that rather than the lone guard at the desk at the far end of the palatial lobby there was a whole band of Bureau agents.
As Hellboy walked in, the guard at the desk spoke quietly into his intercom link; but Hellboy couldn’t quite pick up what was said. He also noticed that even though the other agents tried to look calm, they were obviously nervous, steadfastly refusing to look him in the face. His gut-wrenching sense of déjà vu increased even further. He knew that something was not right; knew it as surely as if he was reliving some horrible day from a far past life.
Hellboy placed himself on the platform elevator and waited for the guard to send him down into the Bureau’s underground facilities. The fact that this was done without the typical banter and conversation made his stomach turn flip-flops the whole way down.
Ignoring the fear that was building up in his gut, Hellboy decided that the unusual reception he had received was related to his going AWOL Tuesday night. Thinking it would be best to face his father’s disapproval right then and there, he went directly to Trevor Broom’s office. He was surprised upon entering that it was empty. Unless there was some paranormal crisis to deal with, Abe and his father would usually be deep in research by this time of the morning.
“Red, where the hell have you been?” Looking up, Hellboy saw his partner Abe Sapien descending down the spiral staircase that was one of the ways into the office from his private quarters.
“I, um, went to visit with Walt and …” Hellboy hesitated; what he was saying wasn’t exactly untrue, but somehow he knew this was not the best moment for prevarication, “Walt took me to Portland to look for Liz,” he finally admitted.
“Portland to look for Liz,” Abe sighed, “I should have known, but my mind was on other things after you had gone missing.” Usually Abe kept his ability to project what he was feeling under a tight rein; but this time Hellboy could sense a definite undercurrent of fear and grief. It did not help his sense of inevitable doom when Abe gripped his shoulder, encouraging him to sit in one of the large leather chairs in the office designed for his bulk.
“Hellboy, I’ve got bad news. That creature we had banished so easily in Rutherford Place Tuesday night was a mere decoy. Just after I realized that I couldn’t locate you in the park, another much more powerful demon sprang up out of nowhere. Two agents died almost immediately, but the Professor managed to subdue and banish the entity.”
“Good,” Hellboy felt like he could breathe again, but his anxiety returned as Abe shook his head.
“I wish I had better news, Red. The Professor isn’t a young man; he suffered a massive heart attack right after he cast out that second demon. He was rushed to Beth Israel Hospital, which was the closest Manhattan hospital to Rutherford Place. He’s in a coma; even though he’s under the care of one of New York’s most prominent cardiologists, at this time he isn’t expected to survive until Easter.”
More to come…
Author’s afterword: Sorry this has take so long to write. Along with rehearsals for two different concerts I have coming up soon, there was also the whirlwind trip to NYC of my niece from Chicago and three of her friends. You can believe I spent weeks whipping my house into shape for a visit that lasted only one night. But it was a nice time.
Rutherford Place is a near a small park in Manhattan. It is also the location of St. George's Episcopal Church, which is the location of one of the choral societies I sing with. Whenever I attend rehearsals, I can see Beth Israel Hospital on the other side of the park.
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