TRUE BRAVERY

Author’s notes: Frank Dixon is an original character of mine who has made some appearances in my earlier stories as Hellboy's first commander in the field. I've had this plot bunny rattling around in my head for years about their first encounter and decided to let it hop out. In my ongoing WIP, Hellboy's Family, Trevor Broom reminisces to himself about the events of this trip to Argentina. The basic story here follows the frame of that reminiscence. Warning: This contains some minor language and violence.

True Bravery

Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense
Boston, Massachusetts
November 1954

Early one evening, Hellboy lay on the bed in his private quarters. He was just staring at the ceiling, listening to the fuss and bother he heard in the outer corridor. Trevor Broom was obviously planning another trip to South America to check on the Bureau operations against Nazi occultists who were holed up in the mountains of Argentina.

Once again, the nine-year-old felt frustrated. He had been in training ever since age five to one day join his adoptive father in these types of operations. Every time, it was the same thing; Broom would go away for weeks on end, leaving Hellboy in the hands of the various tutors and combat trainers who supposedly were preparing him to ultimately become a full agent in his father’s Bureau.

Bored with the lessons and training, he was tired of waiting; and, even if he didn’t want to admit this, worried every time Trevor Broom went to Argentina that he would never come back. The man he called his father was a brilliant field researcher and strategist; but Hellboy knew he wasn’t a physically powerful man and wanted to be right there at his side to protect him from all harm.

As a younger boy, Hellboy had learned the hard way that constantly pestering Broom was the worst way to change his mind or get him to do something. As tired as he was of nothing but dull lessons and mock battles, he had been throwing himself into his studies; hoping against hope that the next time Broom went to Argentina, he would take Hellboy along with him.

‘Looks like the next time’s now’, he mused, bitterly, ‘and I’m still stuck here.’

Sitting up, he reached over with his normal-sized left hand and switched on one of his television sets. After flipping the channel dial and finding nothing of interest, he turned the television off again and switched off his lights. Rolling himself up in his blanket, he went to sleep.

He wasn’t sure what had awoken him from a now unrecoverable dream. Rolling over, he peered into the luminous dial of his battered Westclox windup alarm clock. As he noted that it was only 4:00am, someone started pounding on his door. He realized that this was probably a continuation of the sound that had disturbed him in the first place.

Heaving himself up from his bed, he went to his door; managing not to trip in the dark over the piles of comic books strewn over the floor. In the glare of light that came in as he pushed open the door, he recognized Paul Johanssen, his father’s assistant.

Stifling a yawn, he raised his left hand to block the light. “What’s up, Uncle Paul? Something wrong?”

Paul, a little breathless due to ongoing heart problems, shook his head. “No, nothing’s wrong, H.B.,” he said, as he caught his breath, “But your father does want to see you.”


A week later
Secret BPRD operations base
Córdoba, Argentina

Major Frank Dixon had been serving in Argentina for close to a month as the liaison between the BPRD agents stationed there and the military personnel and FBI agents sent by the federal government to assist them. Even though Dixon had been debriefed as to the unusual nature of the ‘occult war’ being conducted there and had spoken on the telephone with the BPRD’s liaison to the FBI, he had yet to meet any other Bureau personnel than those stationed in Argentina.

Sitting at his desk, he was listlessly reading through his morning correspondence and reports. He was aware that November weather in Argentina could be warm, but recently it had been unusually humid and he was thankful things had calmed down. He had no urge to be chasing after weird Nazis and the unnatural things they conjured up when his uniform literally felt like it was plastered onto his body.

Dixon picked up an already opened letter from his ‘urgent’ to-do box and scanned over the contents. This was not the first time he had read it, or the first time he wondered how a man who signed his name as ‘Bruttenholm’ could pronounce it as ‘Broom’. Not that he had ever met the man who would be considered his superior in the Bureau; but many of the agents under him in Argentina had met the Professor and quickly corrected his pronunciation of the name.

The letter he was perusing was not directly addressed to him, but to Carl Wilton the BPRD front man in Argentina. Carl and the other Bureau agents with him were posing as archaeologists researching indigenous folklore in the mountains near Córdoba. Even though the correspondence was couched in terms that made Professor Broom appear to be a visiting folklore consultant, Dixon understood the encoded message; Broom would be arriving later that day with a young Bureau trainee in tow.

Even years later, when thinking back on this day, Dixon couldn’t comprehend how something that started out so calmly could degenerate so quickly into a fight for their very lives. He recalled how the transport bearing Professor Broom and his companions pulled up to their fake archaeological digs. Trevor Broom exited the vehicle and warmly greeted Carl Wilton, who had been with the Bureau since its New Mexico days. Along with Wilton were the BPRD agents who were posing as archaeologists.

As Frank Dixon moved to greet Trevor Broom, he stared at the next person who exited the transport. Tall, muscular, bright-red skin, huge stone-like right hand, tail, sizeable horns—this was Dixon’s first inkling that Broom’s Bureau contained any non-human agents. ‘If this is Professor Broom’s trainee,’ he thought to himself, ‘Then I sure hope he has about a hundred more where that came from.’

“Hellboy, it’s great to see you again. You’ve certainly grown a lot since the last time I saw you.” Dixon watched as Wilton shook the normal-sized left hand of this appropriately named individual.

“Nice to see you, too, Uncle Wilt.” Obviously, they knew each other well. Just as Frank Dixon was beginning to grasp that there was a lot more to this organization than he realized, the ‘demonic shit’, as Hellboy would later put it, hit the fan.

Before Carl Wilton was able to respond to Hellboy’s affectionate greeting, gigantic bat-like creatures sprang out from nowhere and shredded him to pieces right in front of Hellboy’s face.

With an inarticulate cry, Hellboy turned away from this slaughter of his old friend and threw himself into Trevor Broom’s arms, burying his face in Broom’s shoulder. As quickly as they arrived, the dark creatures shrieked and darted away. What was left of Carl Wilton, obviously dead, fell to the ground.

There was a startled silence, which was punctuated only by Hellboy’s sobs and Trevor Broom’s comforting mutter. Frank Dixon stooped to examine Wilton’s body and then looked up at Hellboy who was still clinging to Trevor Broom. “So much for thinking this big baby’s going to be any help to us.” He wasn’t aware that he had spoken this thought aloud until Trevor Broom glared down at him.

“My son is only nine years old, Major Dixon. He has never seen a man killed before. I would hardly think that he …” Before Broom could complete his thought, Hellboy pulled away from him, embarrassed that he had broken down in front of these other men.

“Hey, Dix, look up there,” shouted one of the agents. More and more of those dark, winged creatures congregated in the skies above them.

“Everyone, pull back to my compound now,” Dixon shouted, organizing a group of agents to protect the unarmed Trevor Broom as they retreated back to the buildings where his office was located.

While his command was being executed, the rear guard pulled out their guns, shooting at the bat-like creatures that were diving down at the retreating group. These monster bats made no attempt to avoid the bullets. Yet, for as many that fell dead, more took their place.

“Go faster, ” Dixon urged, as he fell back to join the rear guard. He didn’t realize that Hellboy had followed him until he came to stand next to him.

“Look, kid, I don’t have time to baby-sit. Get back with the group.” Dixon pulled out his own weapon and joined in the shooting; wishing the group had rifles rather than just military-issue handguns.

Hellboy brandished a pistol the size of a cannon in his left hand. “My father’s in danger, Major Dixon. I gotta protect him.”

“Fine,” growled Dixon, as he shot down a creature that got too close to them. “But I can’t have you breaking down again.”

“I won’t, I promise.” Hellboy ran to join the other men in the very rear of the retreating group.

“Son! No!” Trevor Broom’s plea went unheeded as the Bureau agents surrounding him pushed him ahead even faster. A few more agents were torn down by the creatures’ sharp claws, but other than that the group managed to hold their own. Unfortunately, they hadn’t expected to engage any kind of enemy on that day and were starting to run low on ammunition while still many yards away from any kind of shelter or building.

“Damn,” muttered Dixon and then stopped short as Hellboy jumped in front of him and crushed one of the giant bats in his huge right hand.

“Thanks, kid,” Dixon grunted, “But why not use your gun?”

Hellboy shrugged. “I’ve got better aim with the hand. That bat was kinda close to your head.”

Dixon gave a short, hard laugh and then turned toward the nearest agent. “Afraid we’re not going to make the compound. Get everyone to turn north. Head up the slope into those rocks. We’ve got to get something between us and these goddamn things.”

It wasn’t hard to notice that no matter how many bats they shot down their numbers kept growing. Dixon was afraid that soon the group would be completely surrounded and then the true slaughter would begin. So far, he had only lost Carl Wilton and three other agents.

When the group at long last reached these sheltering rocks, Frank Dixon finally had some time to think things through. He walked over to Trevor Broom who, even though he was only 38 years old and relatively fit, looked totally exhausted by this time. “Professor, do you have any idea why there seems to be a never ending supply of these creatures?”

Broom spoke in a low, grim voice, “These are clearly not your average bats. I believe someone is conjuring them. If you cannot stop the conjuring, there is no winning this battle.”

“Isn’t there any way we can tell what direction these things are coming from?” Dixon had already calculated how much ammunition his men had between them and knew that unless they cut off these bats at the source there would be no surviving.

“Let me look,” said Hellboy, whose sharp hearing had picked up this conversation. “I’m going to climb these rocks as high as I can get. I might see something.”

“Be careful, Son.” Trevor Broom touched Hellboy’s shoulder. “I know you’re a bit more durable than the rest of us, but remember you’re not indestructible.”

Hellboy clambered up the rocks, not surprised that Frank Dixon insisted on climbing with him.

While Dixon crouched in the shelter of Hellboy’s bulk and picked off any bats diving toward them, Hellboy peered toward the southeast—the direction most of the bats seemed to be coming from.

“Look there, Dix,” Hellboy finally said. “Can’t you see that guy over there waving his arms around?”

Once Hellboy had pointed this out, Dixon could just make out a dark figure in a stand of trees.

Before this man noticed that he was being spied on, Dixon and Hellboy jumped back down.

“Roberts, Callahan, and Martin,” Dixon ordered, “You guys stay here with Hellboy and the Professor. The rest of you are with me.”

“But, Dix,” Hellboy started, before Dixon cut him off.

“You stay and protect Professor Broom. That is the most useful thing you can do right now.”

Dixon suddenly smiled. “You’re doing good, kid. Just remember, never question my orders.”

Hellboy nodded. As Dixon and his men made their way toward the southeast, Hellboy searched through the pouches of his belt and located what few bullets he had left.

If Hellboy thought the struggle they had been through already was bad, things became even worse after Dixon and the other agents departed. He had always thought that the glory of battle would be grand and uplifting like it looked in the movies he loved to watch. It was nothing like that.

The noise of the guns, the chaos, the shrieking of the creatures—it was all so confusing.

No matter how they sheltered in the rocks or how hard they fought, the other men were soon dead. Hellboy ran out of bullets. Shoving Trevor Broom up against one of the tallest rocks, he covered him with his own body, beating back the bats with his bare fists.

Hellboy never remembered passing out. When he came to, he found he was covered in bandages, lying in a not very comfortable bed. Trevor Broom was asleep in a chair next to him and also sported a few bandages of his own.

The creaking of the bed woke Trevor Broom up. “Son, I’m glad to see you awake again.”

Hellboy tried to speak, but he was just too thirsty. Trevor Broom, understanding what was going on, gave him a little water from a pitcher on a table near the bed.

“You okay, Pop?” Hellboy finally managed to get out.

Broom smiled. “Thanks to you, Son, I escaped with only minor injuries. I’m afraid some of these came when you fainted on top of me, but things could have been a lot worse.”

“I guess Dix and his guys got rid of the weirdo in the woods,” Hellboy groaned, as he tried to sit up. He could barely even lift his head. Trevor Broom gave him another drink of water.

“Go back to sleep, Son. You need the rest.”

Hellboy’s eyes seemed to close of their own volition. He didn’t wake again until many hours later.

Trevor Broom was gone. Hellboy hoped he was getting some rest. A small lamp on a table in the corner had been left burning. As there was no light coming in through the window, he knew that it must be night. He felt a lot stronger; but rather than getting up to search for food to fill what must be a ravenous hunger by that time, he turned over and faced the wall.

Hellboy was still lying in exactly that same position the next morning when Frank Dixon and the compound medic came in to check on him. “Go away and leave me alone,” he growled when the medic tried to examine him.

Dixon opened his mouth to reprimand him, but then recalled that he was just a boy who had been through something no boy should have to undergo. “You hungry, Big Red?” Dixon asked, after he had dismissed the medic. “How about some breakfast?”

Hellboy sat up and looked at Dixon. “Big Red? No one’s called me that before.”

Dixon laughed. “Well, it’s better than ‘kid’, don’t you think? You did a great job yesterday.”

Hellboy shook his head. “You were right, Dix, I was nothing but a big baby. I wanted to prove to you guys how brave I was, but after you left me, I was scared. I couldn’t even keep those men you left behind with me from getting killed. I kept pestering Pop to bring me here with him. He should have left me home.”

Dixon pulled up the chair closer to the bed and sat down. “Red, you’ve got no idea how damn glad I am that the Professor brought you here with him. For one thing, you fought like a banshee and saved my head more than once. Second, you were the one who finally figured out where those things were coming from. Honestly, if your father had left you home, we’d all be dead now, including him.”

Hellboy sat up further, scratching at an itchy bandage on his chest. “I didn’t do anything special, Dix. Just what I had to because I was afraid of losing my father.”

“I’m not saying you weren’t scared, Red. Of course you were. We all were.”

Hellboy shook his head, “But you and your men were so brave, going after that guy. Are you saying you guys were afraid, too?”

Dixon laid his hand on Hellboy’s shoulder. “A guy who feels no fear, Red, has no need to be brave. Yesterday, you became a brave man because, in spite of your fear, you did what needed to be done.”

For the first time since he had greeted Carl Wilton the day before, Hellboy smiled. “Has my father eaten breakfast yet?”

“No, he’s been waiting for you to get up.” Dixon got up from his chair. “I’ll get him to bring you a change of clothes.”

“Well, tell him to hurry it up,” Hellboy grumbled good naturedly, “I’m starving to death, here.”

Author's afterward: I understand that some look upon Hellboy as such a quick healer that he would never be laid up after an encounter. Frankly, in my opinion, he is invincible, but not completely invulnerable. In one of my favorite scenes from Hellboy: Animated you see Hellboy laid up in a similar way to what I portray above. Therefore, I see nothing non-canonical in what I wrote.

I also don't see Hellboy's fear in this story as non-canonical. It might not fit with what we see in him as an adult, but he's not an adult here, no matter how physically large he is. He's only nine years old and no amount of training is going to prepare an inexperienced nine-year-old boy for seeing his first death.

In terms of what we see in the prologue to "The Golden Army"--I love that prologue, but Hellboy is too small for being 11 years old. This is not canonical according to the comics. It's not even canonical according to the backstory Guillermo del Toro wrote for Hellboy for the first film. For me, that prologue would have more fit Hellboy at around five years old, but at 11--no way would he be that small.

Thanks for reading. All feedback welcome, Beth Palladio

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