She stopped, leveled the pistol in her right hand, sighted on his retreating back as he crossed the last few yards toward the water, and pulled the trigger. The gun bucked in her hand. The saboteur grunted as the bullet punched through his upper right shoulder, spinning him around. For just an instant she caught a glimpse of his face--of teeth like diamond shards and eyes that flickered with flames--then his momentum carried him into the lake. He hit the water in a tangle of limbs and went under.
"Oh, well done, Stasia," she whispered to herself, staring at the water as it closed over him. "Silly sod."
The gun did not waver as she raced down to the water's edge. Behind her, she could hear Danovich cheering for her and other voices calling out in alarm or triumph. People ran up toward her from camp and down from the mountain ridge, but Anastasia paid them no attention. Her entire focus was on the water. A dark spot formed on the water, then dissipated, and she figured it was blood. But the bullet had only struck him in the shoulder. So where was he? Why wasn't he coming up?
"Dr. Bransfield?" a voice said behind her. "Stacie?"
A hand touched her shoulder, and she shook it off. Weren't these people paying attention? Didn't they understand that this wasn't some local trying to drive them off or a rival hoping to scare them so he could move in and claim their work for himself?
Of course they didn't. They hadn't lived through the things she'd lived through. To read about the supernatural in the newspaper was a far different thing from experiencing it firsthand. Half of them probably still thought Hellboy was an urban legend, even though he'd been on magazine covers and the evening news.
Frank Danovich came up beside her, rifle clutched in his hands.
"Nice shooting, Doc," the engineer said.
Anastasia still felt the ache of the gun's recoil, and it made her want to throw up. Danovich's lightheartedness did nothing to soothe her, nor did the knowledge that the man she'd shot might not be human. She hated guns and hated even more how often in her life they had been necessary.
She did not look up at Danovich, instead continuing to watch the surface of the lake. The concentric ripples of the saboteur's plunge had smoothed.
"What are you staring at?" the engineer asked.
Danovich cleared his throat. "No offense, Stacie, but what the hell are you talking about?"
At last she tore her gaze away. She glanced around and saw clusters of diggers and techs and specialists whispering among themselves. Ellie Morris stood by Professor Kyichu, one hand on the back of his neck, sorrow and sympathy on her face. Ellie was a medical doctor, so perhaps she was just expressing an interest in the man's health, but Anastasia wondered if there was more than a collegial relationship between them. For Han Kyichu's sake, she hoped so.
Professor Kyichu stared at the gun in her hand. Unsettled, Anastasia clicked on the safety and slipped it into the rear waistband of her jeans as she walked toward him. Danovich dogged her steps.
"Stacie," he said in a bad stage whisper.
She frowned and looked at him. The wind whipped her hair across her face, and she put up a hand to push it aside. The late-September night was frigid, and she shivered.
"What is it?" Danovich asked. "What were you looking at in the water?"
Anastasia didn't want to speak of it with so many people around, but she understood the fear in Professor Kyichu's eyes. If this man had been both saboteur and kidnapper, if he had Kora trapped in a cave or hut somewhere--and Anastasia had just shot him--then the girl was as good as dead.
Danovich stayed beside her as she went up to Ellie and Professor Kyichu. The four of them huddled together, and though other members of the team were milling around, the chatter was enough to distract most of them from a few quiet words.
"I don't know if Kora was abducted or not," she whispered, gaze locked with Kyichu's. "But she's a smart girl, Han, so--like you--I can't believe she just drowned. We also don't know if the man I just shot was her kidnapper."
"And now we'll never know," Ellie said, despair in her voice.
"We will," Anastasia replied sharply. "I hit him. He's bleeding. But he's alive. I saw air bubbles on the surface and tracked him as far as I could. He swam out about fifty yards and turned east."
Professor Kyichu stared at her. Their friendship was strained by his fear for his daughter. She could not hold that against him, and yet the grim doubt in his eyes and his voice hurt her.
"Nobody can hold their breath for that long," Kyichu said.
Anastasia held his gaze. "Nobody human."
Professor Kyichu nodded. They'd all heard Xin and the others who'd seen the saboteur describe him.
"You got a good look?" Ellie asked.
"Good enough. Did he do any damage?"
Danovich slung his rifle over his shoulder. "Not this time. I spotted him as he was slinking up toward the temple entrance excavation. He took off at the first shot. Can't believe I missed him. It's not like me."
"He's damned quick," Ellie said.
None of them wanted to follow that train of thought. At length, Danovich spoke again. "So, what now?"
Anastasia turned to look out over the lake. "Help is on the way, I hope. Meanwhile, we keep one team working while the rest of us search for Kora. In the morning, we head for the village, just as we planned. And we stay on guard."
A shout of alarm came from behind her, and she heard the sound of boots pounding the rocky ground. Anastasia turned, snatching the gun from the small of her back at the same time. Before she could even raise the pistol to take aim, she saw lanky, handsome Rafe Mattei running toward them. Several people moved aside to let him pass. One of the other students on the dig tried to reach for him, but Rafe shook his head and kept moving until he stood in front of the half circle made by Anastasia, Professor Kyichu, Danovich, and Ellie Morris. Others gathered around, now, all of them doubtless fearing the worst.
Rafe had confusion in his eyes.
"What's wrong?" Anastasia demanded. "More sabotage? Did he cave in one of the digs?"
The young man struggled to catch his breath, but shook his head. "No, no. Nothing like that."
"What is it, then?" Professor Kyichu asked. "Kora?"
The apology in Rafe's eyes was enough to dispel that hope. Again he shook his head, and then he turned to Anastasia.
"Dr. Bransfield, you asked us to keep working once the temple entrance was cleared," he said. "We've been at it all night."
"All night," Anastasia said, frowning. "I never asked anyone to--"
"No, you didn't. Dr. Conrad did. We've been photographing and cataloging everything in situ, while he's been translating the paintings and writing on the walls and the objects in the foyer room."
A flicker of anger went through her. A specialist in ancient languages--among other things--Mark Conrad was essentially her second-in-command on this project, but not by her choice. He was talented and knowledgeable, but also an arrogant brown noser who pandered to their employers at the British Museum and romanced government ministers at museum events, jockeying for her position. Anastasia might be a hero to some in the British archaeological community, but some of the older, more proper members of the museum's board did not like the publicity she'd received over the years; they found it unseemly. On the other hand, they received all sorts of outside funding because of Anastasia's reputation, public image, and connections. So, while there were those who disliked her maverick nature, no one was willing to hand Mark Conrad her job just yet.
The problem with Dr. Conrad was that he was more than willing to wait and be a sneering little wanker about it in the meantime. Handsome and slick, with his shoulder-length blond hair, he reminded her of an oily James Bond villain.
But he was annoyingly good at his job.
"Conrad found something?"
Rafe glanced around at the others, blinking uncertainly. "Translated something, actually. There's some writing, but mostly it's pictographs."
Anastasia sighed in frustration. "Out with it, Rafe. What in hell are you talking about?"
"The temple, Dr. Bransfield," he said. "It's...well, it's not a temple. That's the thing. Professor Kyichu was right that the temple's here somewhere, or it was, once. But what we've found is not the temple. It's some kind of preparatory chamber."
Han Kyichu moved in closer, almost cutting Ellie and Danovich out, so now it was just him, Anastasia, and Rafe in a tight circle.
"Preparing for what?" the professor asked.
Rafe looked pale in the moonlight. "Sacrifice, sir. Human, child sacrifice."
The thrum of the plane's engines had lulled him to sleep, but Hellboy could not get comfortable in the chair. It had more legroom by far than a typical commercial airliner, but still was not made for someone of his size. Nothing was, really. So he tried his best to stay asleep, even though every few minutes his head bobbed, and he snapped upward, blinking muzzily. He shifted constantly in the chair, like a dog turning in circles in search of a comfortable spot. The filed-down stumps of his horns whacked the window a couple of times, so he tried to keep his head in the other direction, or his chin down on his chest. Breaking the glass at 30,000 feet was a terrible idea.
A couple of times, he caught himself snorting loudly, and finally he forced his eyes to stay open. Hellboy blinked and took a deep breath, shaking his head. No more sleeping.
He felt a bit of drool on his chin and wiped it away. Embarrassed, he glanced around, but nobody was paying attention. Professor Bruttenholm was in the sleeping compartment at the back of the plane. Hellboy would've been much more comfortable back there, but there wasn't room for both of them, and the professor was an old man. He slept little but needed what rest he could get.
Aside from the flight crew, the only other people on the BPRD transport plane were Abe, the chopper pilot, Redfield, and a trio of field agents Manning had insisted on sending along. They were more brawn than investigative brain, but Manning didn't like the idea of sending only three agents and a pilot halfway around the world without any backup. One of them, the thin, pixieish blond girl was called Sarah. A weapons expert and their medic, she didn't look as though she could hurt anyone. Hellboy knew better. She was a pro. And if Sarah Rhys-Hughes vouched for the two men she sat with now, playing poker at the front of the compartment, that was enough for Hellboy. The orange-haired, thick-necked guy had the unlikely name of Meaney, and the soft-spoken, dark-skinned Londoner was called Neil.
Across the aisle, Abe wore his CD Walkman and nodded almost imperceptibly to the music while he read. It was a paperback of a novel by John Irving aptly titled The Water-Method Man. Abe read all sorts of things, but whenever they flew, it was paperback fiction.
The amphibious man noticed Hellboy's scrutiny and lowered his book, then slipped off his headphones. "You can't sleep?"
Hellboy took a deep breath and let it out, settling deeper into his chair, straining his seat belt. "Can't get comfortable."
Most people had a hard time deciphering when Abe was smiling. Hellboy understood. The same thing was true of him. If someone didn't know him, they were more likely to think he was scowling at them. With Abe, a smile was little more than a strange parting of the lips. It wasn't pretty. They knew each other well enough to know the difference.
"What's funny?" Hellboy asked.
Abe tilted his head. "It isn't the chair that has you distracted."
"I'm not distracted."
Abe nodded, as though allowing for the possibility that this was the truth. He started to put his headphones back on, then paused.
"You never told me the story, you know."
Hellboy glanced out the window, wondering where they were. Their destination was twelve hours ahead of Connecticut on the international time chart. The plane had taken off at a quarter past ten in the evening. That meant it was already morning in Tibet. It would take them thirty-three hours to reach the landing strip and several hours more to unload and travel to the site of the archaeological dig.
A day and a half. And Anastasia was waiting.
"You know," Abe said. "All you've ever said was that you and Anastasia met while you were on a case. Why haven't you ever told me the story?"
Hellboy glanced at him. "Liz hasn't told you?"
"You told Liz, but not me?" Abe said, obviously a bit irked.
"Yeah. And she told you she was taking a leave of absence, but not me. We're all such fickle friends."
Abe stared at him, wide eyes almost hypnotic. "You're avoiding the subject."
"You think, Dr. Freud?"
"I'm not going to analyze you. I'm just curious. Never mind. I didn't mean to pry."
And that was it, precisely. Hellboy did not mind talking about Stasia, and some of the digs they went on together during the year and a half that he had traipsed around the world with her playing Indiana Jones, and falling in love. Gloriously, stupidly in love. But the things that were intimate, that were shared only by the two of them, he'd always held close.
But Stasia was just an ex, now, an old flame, and Abe was one of his closest friends.
"I met her in a pub," he said.
Abe perked up. "A pub? You're not serious."
Hellboy gave him an impatient stare.
"Okay, a pub," Abe relented. "But you said you'd met her on a case."
"I did. The case just happens to end with the opening line of a bad joke. 'These two goblins walked into a bar....'"
London, England, 10 June, 1979
Hellboy didn't care much for punk, but there were times he could relate to the directionless anger and frustration that churned in all that sound and fury. For the pissed off youth of England, though, punk had been Camelot--a brief and shining moment. But it was late spring of '79, and Hellboy knew the moment was over. Punk was dead. How else to explain walking into a dark, smoky pub just down from Great Russell Street full of old-timers and museum curators and hearing The Sex Pistols on the little stereo behind the bar?