The ripple of its effects was still expanding, but that was just echoes.

Rain dripped from his trench coat as he entered the pub, carrying a small vacuum cleaner by its handle. The smell of damp metal filled his nostrils, along with smoke and stale beer. With the rain and fog and the lateness of the hour, it was black as pitch outside, but it was hardly any brighter in the pub. He ran his left hand--his ordinary hand--over the stubble on his head, wiping the beads of water away. Then he patted the pockets to make sure he had the little silver box.

The smoke was nearly as thick as the fog had been outside. He started across the pub, the wooden beams of the floor creaking under his hooves. He kept his tail low, though he knew there weren't a lot of ways to make himself inconspicuous. Several of the old duffers at the bar tapped one another and gestured in his direction, and conversation began to diminish as he made his way through the pub. The tables on his left were jammed with university students and professorial types from the museum. One young redheaded woman cocked her head and raised an eyebrow as she watched him pass by, smoke ringlets drifting past her face like clouds across the moon. Her companion, a fiftyish man with a thick beard, knocked back a shot of whiskey. Several people--closest to the door--closed their gaping mouths long enough to stand up and bolt from the pub.

That was fine with Hellboy. He wasn't here for them.

The bartender saw him. Eyes wide, the thick-mustached man bent to reach under the bar--probably for a club or ax handle or something that would hurt if it connected with his skull. Hellboy could see his own reflection in the mirror behind the man and tried to put on as stern a face as possible. His eyes gleamed yellow in the gloom. He figured the cigarette smoke had something to do with that.

Hellboy didn't bother to raise his massive right hand, which held the vacuum cleaner. Instead, he used his gloved left hand to twitch back his trench coat to reveal the huge pistol holstered there. No way would he draw the gun with all of these people around, but all the bartender needed to do was keep his mouth shut for a few more seconds.

A burst of ugly laughter came from the back of the pub. A row of booths ran along the wall at a weird angle so that you had to be almost right on top of their occupants before you could see who was sitting there. Privacy effort or bad floor plan, he'd never know. Despite the fact that the pub was packed, the booths were all empty, except for the last one, the farthest from the door, the one deepest in shadow and wreathed in smoke.

The laughter came again, a deep, snorting, obnoxious amusement that made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end and made him flex his left hand like he was getting ready to hit someone. Much as he'd like to, he was actually hoping to avoid beating the crap out of anyone tonight. Things would get broken. The Bureau might have to pay for that. And some innocent bystander was likely to get hurt.

The vacuum cleaner would be much safer than the gun.

Hellboy strode toward the booth, trying to be as stealthy as someone his size, and with hooves, could be. The snorting laughter continued, now punctuated by slurring voices.

"S'got to be the sweetest score yet," said a gravelly voice. "Didja see the look on that one bloke's face?"

The reply came in a reedy, high, old man's voice. "Silly sod, he was. But, look here, Vaughan, you really think we can get 20 million for them trinkets?"

The low, rasping voice returned. "Oh, we'll get it, Burch. Count on it, mate."

The laughter came again. Hellboy figured it had to belong to the one called Burch. No way was that insinuating giggle coming from the same throat as the deep rumble Vaughan spoke with.

He paused just out of view from the booth and un-spooled the cord from the vacuum. The bartender had both hands on the bar, gripping it with white knuckles while he waited to see what was going to happen. Hellboy beckoned him over. The man paled. With his face so white and the sheen of sweat on him, he looked as though he'd eaten bad fish. Most of the regulars had remained silent, drinking their pints and whiskeys and watching him with open curiosity. Some conversation came from the students and curators, but that didn't surprise him. Certain kinds of people just couldn't stop talking. He didn't mind. The talking was good, white noise. Less chance Vaughan and his partner would notice the lull in the room. Not that they were likely to anyway, as drunk as they were.

The bartender started slowly toward him, and Hellboy gave him an exasperated look. The man hurried. Hellboy handed him the end of the vacuum cord and pointed behind the bar.

"Plug it in, will ya?" he asked, keeping his tone low and conversational.

The man nodded. Hellboy waited until he'd done it, then unsnapped the vacuum hose, holding its suction head down by his side. Then he took the last few steps over to the booth, emerging from the fog of cigarette smoke to stand menacingly over the two laughing thieves.

They stopped laughing.

The skinny little old man on the right of the booth was called Blue Burches. He had a piggish snout and tiny upturned tusks that jutted up from his lower jaw. His blue jacket and bright blue trousers had spots on them from the lager he'd already spilled on himself. His companion loomed on the left side of the booth, broad and ugly. Black Vaughan was the brains of the partnership, according to what Hellboy had learned from pressuring a water bogey called Shellycoat down at the docks. The morons had stolen a shipment of mystically active Egyptian relics being returned to the British Museum after an exhibition tour.

"Evening, boys," Hellboy said.

Vaughan shook his head and sneered at Burch. "Stupid git. You were followed."

"Like hell I was," Burch replied, crossing his arms like a petulant child.

Black Vaughan turned and glared up at Hellboy from beneath his prominent brow. "How'd you find us?"

Hellboy shrugged. "No offense. It wasn't hard. You guys aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer. First mistake was trying to sell the relics you stole back to the museum. Some private buyer would've paid you pretty much whatever you want, and wouldn't have called in help."

Vindicated, Burch gave a superior sniff and picked up his pint of lager. His head swayed a bit, and he had trouble finding his mouth with the glass. Drunken goblins looked like fools, but they weren't any more compliant than the sober kind.

"Think you're so bloody clever," Vaughan sneered. "I know who you are."

"Yeah," Hellboy replied with a sigh. "Fame's a bitch."

Burch lurched to his feet and cocked the glass back, spilling golden lager across the table. Drunk as he was, he telegraphed the move badly, and Hellboy grabbed his wrist before the blow could land. The glass fell from his grip and shattered on the table. Whimpering in pain, putting his all into the old, helpless man act, Blue Burches slid back into the booth, shaking as he began to sob.

Then he snarled, baring fangs and those little curved tusks. He slid as far back into the booth as he could, and began to vanish, dissipating into a swirl of blue smoke like some stage magician's bad illusion. In seconds, he'd mix with the cigarette fog and be gone.

Hellboy flicked the switch on the vacuum and it moaned to life, droning loudly. Then he reached out with the vacuum hose and sucked that blue smoke into the canister, before flicking the power off and turning to set the vacuum on a barstool.

"One down," he said, giving Black Vaughan a hard look.

The brawny goblin laughed, and that low rasp insinuated itself under Hellboy's skin, actually gave him a shiver. The goblin shook his head as though in disdain, but as he did, his flesh changed. With the sound of his skull cracking, two enormous horns burst from the side of his head, then his face elongated painfully, so that now he looked like a bull--or at least like the Minotaur.

The goblin-thing erupted from his seat with such force that the table shattered into half a dozen long shards. Black Vaughan started to bellow some threat or another, but Hellboy had lost patience.

"Sit down!" he shouted, and he brought the stone fist of his colossal right hand down on Vaughan's head, snapping one of the bull's horns.

The blow hammered the goblin back into his seat, and, with his left hand, Hellboy drew the heavy cannon from its holster and pointed it at the creature's skull.

"No, no, wait," Vaughan said, wheezing as he tried to calm himself. He held up both hands in surrender. "I can tell you where we've got the stash. All the stuff we nicked. Not a piece missing."

Hellboy holstered the gun. "Found it already. We've got one of those psychics who can touch stuff and learn from it, track it. Psychometry, it's called. Comes in handy. No pun intended."

Vaughan stared at him. "You already have the relics?"


The look of sadness on the goblin's face would have been heartbreaking if Hellboy didn't still want to beat the crap out of him for being such a cocky bastard.

"What do you want with us, then?"

Hellboy stared at him. "We want you not to give us trouble in the future. Your pal Burch is out of the game. Now it's your turn."

He reached into his pocket. Vaughan shrank away from him, but he was trapped by the back wall of the pub and the bench he was sitting on. There was nowhere for him to go as Hellboy drew the silver snuffbox out of his pocket. A groan of utter despair escaped the goblin's throat when he saw the pretty little box. He'd spent centuries trapped in that little box thanks to an occultist in Herefordshire and had escaped only twice. The last time had been twenty-seven years before.

"How did you find it?" the goblin asked in a very small voice.

"Private collector. He loaned it to us on condition that we give it back, with its original occupant inside."

Terror in his eyes, the goblin looked up at him. "It was just a bit of mischief. You're a bloke's got up to some mischief, I'm sure. You don't know what it's like, trapped in there. Drove me mad. Never a moment of comfort. We didn't harm a soul."

Hellboy blinked. "Other than the three people you gutted on the docks when you were stealing all of this. Not to mention the thousands that might have died if you'd unleashed the spells in some of those relics."

"This is a bit of a laugh for you, is it? You find all this funny?" Vaughan demanded.

Shifting guiltily, Hellboy took the cover off the silver snuffbox.

"A little," he confessed, as Black Vaughan's essence was drawn, screaming, into the box, his body deflating as he was sucked in. The goblin's clothes were left behind on the bench in the wrecked booth.

Hellboy took out a small silver key, locked the snuffbox, and slipped it back into his coat pocket. Then he picked up the vacuum and turned away from the ruin of the booth, trying to ignore the eyes of every patron in the pub. The old-timers who were regulars wore bemused expressions. This wasn't the weirdest thing they'd seen in this place. But the students and museum people gaped wider than ever.

"Oy!" the bartender shouted as he walked by. "Who's going to pay for the damage?"

Hellboy shot him a hard look, but on this subject, the bartender wasn't nearly as easily cowed. "British Museum. Ask for Dr. Paul Campbell."

"I'm just supposed to take your word on that, let you walk out of here?"

Not sure he'd heard the man properly, and giving the bartender a moment to rethink his wording, Hellboy turned to face him. But before either of them could speak again, Hellboy saw the reflection in the mirror of the redheaded woman he'd noticed earlier. She had risen from her table, to the panicked whispers of her friends, and was walking toward him.

"Hellboy?" she ventured.

He loved the lilt in her voice. Before he turned, he examined her in the mirror. Young, maybe late twenties, with the most perfect skin he had ever seen and straight, dark red hair that she tied back without bow or ribbon. Nothing fancy about her. Just porcelain features and bright, intelligent eyes, not to mention the confidence to approach him.

When he turned, she smiled, and when she spoke, her hands fluttered around like birds. "Hi. Right, hello. I'm Anastasia Bransfield. I work with Dr. Campbell. Well, sort of. I'm an archaeologist with the...never mind."

She offered a self-deprecating grin at her fumbling. "I'm not very good at this," Anastasia said, before looking past him at the bartender. "Martin, don't get your knickers in a twist, mate. The museum's just across the street. We're in here all the time, yeah? I'll vouch for Hellboy, and if Dr. Campbell won't replace that table from his budget, I'll cover it myself. No worries, all right?"

Soothed by her voice and mere presence, Martin gave a small shrug. "Just don't like trouble in 'ere, Stacie. You know that."

"Bollocks," Anastasia said, grinning. "You just don't like trouble you didn't start."

"Cheeky thing," the bartender said.

But by then Anastasia's attention was on Hellboy again. She gestured to the vacuum cleaner full of Blue Burches. "You in a rush to bring that back to wherever?"

Hellboy thought he caught something in her inflection, and the glint of her gaze--a pleasant curiosity that he might have thought flirtatious if she'd been talking to anyone else. Anyone not huge and hooved and red. Anyone not Hellboy.

"I appreciate the help," he said.

Disappointment flickered in her eyes. "Ah. You've got to be off, then?"

He frowned. "I don't think Martin wants me hanging around."

"Bugger Martin," she said, and the bartender gave a good-natured shout of protest. "Fancy a pint? On me. For now, at least. I'll give the check to Dr. Campbell. Come, sit and talk. All the ruins you've visited, the ancient tombs you've unearthed. I want to hear about every one. The archaeologist in me is fascinated."

The words were all business. Natural inquisitiveness. But the way she said it, the flash in her eyes, if he didn't know better...

"You've done the job. Now you get the reward," she said.

Under her expectant gaze, Hellboy found it impossible to refuse.

"My kind of philosophy."

"Ah, no, sorry. No philosophy allowed in the pub until you're too drunk to walk. Only then can true wisdom be found."