|The Devil's Bounty
Author: csyphrett PM
Zeke Stone is on the trail of an elusive murderer, but this time he has unexpected help from others familiar with deals with the devil.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Supernatural - Words: 11,084 - Published: 04-12-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8018898
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Devil's Bounty
Chris Larabee held his pistol in his hand as he regarded his enemy with fury. He couldn't shoot. The bastard had his latest victim as a human shield.
He had been hired to protect the town of Four Corners from any and all troubles. He had put down many a bad man that had ridden into town to loot and pillage. If the girl wasn't standing between him and his latest target, he would have already ended this.
Alhambra had held on the guise of a traveling gambler as long as he could before Larabee had tied everything that had happened in the last few months to him. The gunfighter should have seen the connections sooner.
It had taken someone trailing Alhambra from Texas to give him that vital link that he had needed.
"Where's your men, Larabee?" Alhambra smiled as he held the girl close to him. He had planned to feed her to the other side, but now she was the only thing between him and a bullet. "It's not like you to come alone."
"I don't need them to handle you." Larabee smiled. "Let the girl go. I will see that you get a fair trial."
"I think that would be a bad idea at this point." Alhambra laughed. His dark eyes were bright in the moonlight. "I think I will take Miss McCutcheon with me to ensure my safe passage."
"You're not going anywhere but back to town." Larabee took aim with his pistol. "You can go on your feet, or on your back. Either way is fine with me."
"You don't have a say in this." The gambler jabbed the point of his knife into his hostage's neck. "You can't save this one. You're not that good."
"If something happens to Molly, I don't have to be." The town marshal took a step forward. His tan skin stood out against the black he wore. "You can't get away. Make it easy on yourself."
"Throw down your gun, Larabee." Alhambra jabbed a different place on Molly's neck. "I can do this all night if I have to."
A shot rang out. The knife fell to the ground as Alhambra jerked his hand back from the sudden pain running up his arm. He lost his grip on Molly who scrambled to get clear of the confrontation.
Alhambra pulled his gun. His other hand was a mess, but he didn't have time to fix it at the moment. He had to deal with his enemies and finish his mission.
Larabee stepped to the right, stepping forward. He fired above Molly as he ran forward. He didn't want her to get hit by a stray bullet now that she was so close to being safe. His rapid pistol fire drove the other man toward cover before he could get off a shot.
Alhambra paused beside a scrub as the bullets flew around him. He didn't think Larabee could see him clearly in the dark now that there was some distance between them. He couldn't quite see the gunfighter himself.
He looked down at his hand. He was missing a finger, and blood poured from the wound. He hadn't thought any of Larabee's men were that good a shot. He might have underestimated them.
He should have made sure he escaped town without being followed. He knew that one of the seven deputies was a tracker, but he knew tricks to throw people off his path. The girl had distracted him when he should have concentrated on making sure he finished what he set out to do.
He promised himself that he would extract some kind of recompense for his mangled hand. Larabee would be flayed alive while his town burned.
He saw a flicker of fire from the gunfighter's pistol. Where was the other man? He could salvage things if he could kill them both, and then sacrifice the girl.
"I think you're done." The voice turned Alhambra around. He had been too focused on Larabee trying to catch up to him.
A masked man in a white hat stood by a tree. He didn't have either one of the two pistols he wore out and ready to use. His gloved hands hung at his sides.
"You have been dogging me for a long time." Alhambra pointed his pistol at his enemy. "I think it's time we ended this."
"You should be more concerned about what's going to happen when Larabee's regulators catch up with you." The masked man smiled slightly. "You're going to sit for your punishment."
"I have the gun." The gambler smiled. His hand shot pain up his arm, but the satisfaction of dealing with one of his enemies dulled it.
The gun jumped out of his hand with a roll of thunder and a shooting pain piercing his other hand. It fell into the dark grass as smoke drifted up from the masked man's own pistol.
"Now you have two ruined hands." The masked man gestured with his pistol. "I hope you have a nice hanging."
Larabee walked out of the darkness. He had reloaded his pistol in the dark as he ran after his quarry. He paused when he saw the man in question walk forward with both hands raised.
"Missing fingers won't bother you for too long." The gunfighter tipped his black hat back. "The judge will see to that."
Alhambra said nothing. Once he had been beaten, the adrenaline running through his system had dropped. The pain in his hands distracted him from everything else.
"Looks like you ran into someone who didn't agree with you." The gunfighter gestured for Alhambra to start walking. "It's a long walk back to town. If you're lucky, maybe you will bleed to death before the doc gets a chance to look at your hands."
"Who was that other man?" Molly brought up the rear. She undid her hair as she walked behind the other two. "He wasn't one of your regulators."
"He's an old friend from Texas." Larabee paused when he heard a horse pelting through the undergrowth. "He's the one who put me on to Alhambra as Jenny's killer."
"Why isn't he going to town with us?" Molly pulled her hair back and tied it in a pony tail.
"He wanted to stop Alhambra, and he did." The gunfighter smiled. "As far as he's concerned, it's up to the judge to take care of the rest of things."
"A firm believer in the law is our masked man." Alhambra laughed at the thought.
"That's why they call him the Lone Ranger." Larabee smiled. "Walk on. Four Corners' jail is waiting for you."
The three walked into history.
Zeke Stone sat in the sun. His breakfast glimmered as he smiled at the waitress. He dug in as he watched the room from habit.
It was a habit he had picked up on his old job. It still served him in his new one.
His employer dropped in the seat opposite between blinks. He smiled as he slapped a paper down on the table.
"How's it going, Ezekial?" The devil smiled as he waved at the waitress and pointed at Zeke's breakfast plate. She nodded as she went to the kitchen.
"Good until you showed up." Stone concentrated on his food. He didn't want the meeting to ruin his day before he got started. "What is it?"
"Just checking on my favorite dead policeman who is rounding up the escapees from Hell for me." The devil's grin was meant to be charming. Stone found it annoying at the best of times. "How are you doing on that?"
"Slowly." Stone worked on his food. "I'll get them all eventually."
"Hopefully before Hell freezes over." The devil smiled at the waitress as she brought over coffee, and some more creamer. She smiled back.
He looked harmless.
"One hundred felons who don't want to be caught is a job." Stone finished the eggs. He sipped at his coffee. "Even stuck in prison didn't dull your escapees' talents. They know how to blend in, they know how to avoid scrutiny."
"I need to know that you are doing your best if you want your second chance." The devil took a bite out of his toast, and a sip from his coffee. He vanished when Zeke looked at the waitress coming with the check.
"Your friend?" She gestured at the almost untouched food.
"He's the original cheapskate." Zeke paid the check, with a tip. He grabbed the paper and his coat. He headed out into the sun.
He read the paper as he walked. He saw something that might have triggered the devil's interest. He didn't know why it would, except for the bizarreness of it.
A girl had been found in a city in Arizona. She was like a dry stick from being caught in the desert for too long. He read the story again.
She had vanished the day before according to family and friends.
That was unusual enough to be one of his guys. Being in Hell infused the escapees with abilities. This could be one of those cases.
He would have to drive to Arizona and look around to make sure.
He hated the car he was stuck with while he was working for the devil. He needed a better ride if he wanted to make it across the state line.
He couldn't buy a car with the thirty six dollars he woke up with every day. Maybe he could borrow one from someone that could get him where he had to go.
He wondered if he could get Max to drive him there and pick him up when he was done. He didn't want her too close to the action. The monsters he dealt with weren't above taking a shield.
And the only way to get rid of them was shooting them in the eyes.
He walked around as he thought. He found himself in front of the bus terminal. He couldn't buy a ticket. He only had sixteen dollars and some change left for the rest of the day.
Maybe he could hitch a ride if he found one going in the right direction.
He checked the schedules. There was one heading into Arizona. He could hitch a ride and get off at the terminal there. He just needed to get aboard the bus without being seen.
The alternative was to find a passenger with the right ticket and taking it from him.
After that, he could just rob someone in the street if he got really desperate.
Zeke drew his coat around him as he watched the crowd. When it looked like no one was looking, he slid under the bus. He grabbed the undercarriage and lifted himself up off the ground.
He waited for the bus to start. He knew he could hold on the whole trip. That came with his own status from being in Hell.
He wondered how long this fugitive had been in. The longer in Hell, the more of it you brought with you.
One of his escapees could change her face at will. One had ribbons of fire he could create. He hoped this one wasn't as strong as that.
The guy would at least have above the normal man's strength and speed. He would certainly be ruthless and following some thing he did in life.
The escapees couldn't quite grasp how much the world had changed and reverted to doing the same things they did when they were alive. They just hid it better from the normal people out there.
They didn't hide it because what they thought the people could do them. They hid it because they knew someone would be after them.
The devil didn't give up what he had in his hand ever.
Zeke had already returned thirteen of the original group back to Hell. He had met several that had escaped him.
They all deserved what they got. He had deserved it too.
He checked his watch as the bus rode on. There were several stops on the way. He would have to wait under the bus while the passengers did their thing.
Maybe he should have gone into a bad neighborhood and robbed a drug dealer for his car. It would be faster than hanging on the bottom of a greyhound.
He smiled at himself.
He sounded like the fugitives he had chased down.
Anything was justified if you wanted it enough.
That was why they had all gone to Hell in the first place.
He napped quietly as he rode along. At least he didn't have to deal with the other passengers while he waited to get to where he wanted.
He heard the announcement of his destination as the door opened on the bus. He dropped from his perch and pulled himself out from under the bus. He stood up and dusted himself off. He walked away from the terminal, taking in Four Corners for the first time.
It wasn't New York, or L.A.
Johnny Blaze rolled into Four Corners on his bike. He decided the best thing to do was get something to eat while he tried to figure out where to start. Something was going on in the little city.
It had attracted his attention and he wanted to put a stop to it.
It was why he had kept his curse after all.
Johnny had made a deal with the Devil, and had arranged a release. He had kept the powers that had been granted with the deal.
He had traveled the Southwest and put down some things, and criminals planning grand schemes since then. He had found very few enemies that he couldn't handle as his other side.
The Ghost Rider burned evil with its glare.
Johnny found a diner on a corner near the Stone Park. He rolled his bike into a slot and parked. He went inside, leather jacket creaking as he walked. He smiled at the waitress as he walked to a booth away from the door.
Some of the things he had read had centered around the Park. A devil worshipper had been caught trying to sacrifice a kid there back when the town was still a mining town. They hung him in the town square.
Johnny figured they hung a lot of bad guys in the town square. He had studied some of the local history. The town had hired a group of regulators to deal with the unruly elements.
A private army enforced their own idea of the law in his experience.
"What would you like for a drink?" The waitress appeared at his side, placing a menu on the table.
"I would like some coffee, black." Johnny smiled. "What's the special today?"
"We have chicken fried steak, your choice of two vegetables, and garlic bread." She pulled out her pad to write down his order. "Or we have popcorn shrimp, a small trout filet, salad, and your choice of baked potato or fries. They both are five ninety five."
"Let me have the steak." Johnny opened the menu. He named two vegetables from the list. "That should do for right now."
"I'll be back with it in a little bit." The waitress took the menu, checked on another table on the way to turn in the ticket.
Johnny drank his coffee and wondered what was going on. Everyone looked happy as far as he could see. Maybe he was wrong about there being a problem.
He dismissed that idea out of hand. His other self was drawn to the place. Something was here that needed its attention. And if the Ghost Rider wanted to attend to it, it couldn't be good.
Johnny pondered the best thing for him to do. He could drive around until he picked up the trail. That seemed his best bet until the menace showed itself where he could put a stop to it.
He expected that whatever it was, it would be beyond the normal police to take care of. That seemed the most common thing he ran into on the road.
The Ghost Rider would lead him to the source of things when night fell. He also might snap a host of minor felons while looking around for the bigger menace.
Johnny didn't have a problem with that. The people the Ghost Rider dealt with deserved the punishment he handed out. That was the main reason the spirit of vengeance sought them out.
The few that didn't have souls to burn had to be dealt with using more brutal methods.
Johnny's breakfast came while he was thinking and looking out the window. He thanked the waitress, garnered some more coffee, and wondered how he was going to fix whatever was wrong in the town.
He had the feeling that whatever was wrong was something to do with the missing children he had read about in the paper.
It had the tinge of the kind of evil that attracted the Ghost Rider to the scene.
It would be Johnny's pleasure to find that guy and see how much he liked to be looked in the eye.
Johnny worked on his fourth cup of coffee after finishing eating. He still didn't have a clue where to start his search. Maybe he should look around and hope the Ghost Rider picked up the trail.
The problem was he didn't know what to expect. His inner demon had been capable of putting down everything they had hunted down so far. Eventually they would run into something they couldn't stop.
He knew that was the law of averages. He had just been lucky so far, and just a bit smarter.
Johnny decided that he should look around and see if he could spot anything out of the ordinary. When night came, he could call on his inner side to investigate a little closer.
He had learned some things with his research into his condition. Now he used that against the other things that go bump in the night. That appealed to his sense of justice.
He paid his bill and left a tip on the table before walking out to his bike. He decided that maybe he should hit the newspapers first before tracking around town. That should tell him about anything strange in Four Corners that was written off as some kind of hallucination.
The people that Blackheart killed were written off as being exposed to some weird virus instead of their lives being sucked out of them by the Devil's bratty son.
Who believed in the Devil in this day and age? Who would believe he had a kid who wanted to run things even if it meant putting his dad down?
Johnny had been glad to show him what it meant to have a soul for threatening his love, and killing his friend.
That had been satisfying beyond belief.
Johnny rode out, eyes drawn to the park across from the diner. He spotted a man in a suit staring at him. The man turned away and went into the park.
The biker kept going. If he talked to everyone who looked at him funny, he would never get anything done.
He found the central library after about a half hour of riding through the city. He pulled into a slot and went in. Even if he didn't find anything in the local paper, it was a good way to kill time until night fell.
The Ghost Rider would take over for him after the sun descended below the horizon.
A lot of criminals would be left as hulks as the Ghost Rider searched for why they were there in town. It might force the crime rate down for as long as the flaming skeleton dispensed his justice.
That wouldn't be a bad thing as far Johnny was concerned.
The man walked around the park with a wand in front of him. Antennae on top of the wand wiggled as he waved it around in front of him. He adjusted his glasses as he read the numbers on the screen.
The reading was more than he expected to find in a quiet city like Four Corners. The local history was full of cowboys and indians, but not that many ghosts.
The reading on his P. K. E. meter said that was about to change for the worse unless he figured out what was going on.
He needed help if he wanted to prevent damage to the city in case of a dimensional cross fold of biblical proportions. No one wanted to have cats and dogs living in sin together.
He decided to take one more look around the park. Then he would make a call. The guys would have to catch a fast plane to get there in time.
At least they had enough in the account to rent a plane. Commercial services wouldn't allow portable nuclear accelerators onboard no matter the reason.
He walked around the park, watching the screen of his device. He frowned at the climbing numbers. This was phenomenally bad in his estimation.
He had to make the call.
He put his meter away and left the park. He headed back to his hotel. He felt unprepared since most of his equipment was back in New York.
He hoped the guys would make it in time. He needed to think of other means in case they didn't. He wondered if he could build a particle thrower at the local university. That was where he had been invited to lecture at for the week. Maybe their science department could give him a hand.
A crossdimensional rip was not something he wanted to experience with no hope of closing it again.
The three he had closed with the others had been bad enough.
He rode the elevator to the third floor and walked down to his room. His thoughts considered the imaginary math in play to cause the readings he had taken in the park. There were three other spots moving around, but the biggest concentration was in the park.
Once they had dealt with whatever was in the park, they could look at those three other spots and study them.
Of course, if they were involved with the rip, they would have to be trapped and shipped back home so they didn't try again.
He set the meter down on the bed as he went to the laptop on the table. The rest of the room looked untouched by his stay. He booted the laptop up and opened his ISP. Luckily, his secretary was on-line.
J. Need others as soon as possible. Big problem.
He thought about it. He didn't want to express his findings in formulae. He wanted to keep it simple.
City sinking into the ninth circle of hell.
I'll make arrangements.
He smiled as the messenger showed his secretary was away from her desk. She was better at herding them than a shepherd with sheep. Even Peter had learned to respect her sharp tongue.
And he rarely respected anybody, no matter what personal power they wielded.
He took the meter and plugged it into the laptop. He loaded the readings and sent them back to the firehouse. Ray would know what they meant as soon as he saw them.
He opened the virtual Spirit Guide on his laptop, while putting in Four Corners in the usual ghost sites. Nothing came back from his searches. Whatever was going on was not something the town had experienced before and the guide was no good without something to point at for a clue.
He needed more information before he could do anything to narrow the threat down.
Guys are on the way. Will need throwers on arrival.
He stared at the message. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. He had an unknown amount of time to put together four throwers and at least one trap. He had to get to the university and hope the faculty would give him access to what he needed.
He shut everything down and left his hotel. He pulled out a pad and wrote down some basic designs as he walked. He and Ray had put the original throwers together in a few weeks. They had worked better than he had thought they would, considering they had been untested.
He could do the same with some help from the science department. They would need the equipment if a rip needed to be shut down.
He worked on recreating a trap on paper when he was done with the thrower design. They might need a few of those if things went as badly as he thought they would.
The rips he and the others had dealt with had always been caused by some unnatural force trying to enter their plane from another. Sometimes force was needed to shut those doors. The only thing he had observed working was a beam of energized particles capable of ripping up psychic matter.
He wasn't really comfortable with combating elder gods before they wiped out or enslaved humanity, but the chances for studying the unknown world were worth it.
He smiled when he saw the University gate. He slipped through opening in the twin walls and headed for the science department. He would have to talk to whomever was in charge to get clearance to use the labs.
Maybe he could get some help from the physics and engineering classes. The faster he got the equipment ready, the better he would like it.
Peter wouldn't like working for free, but saving a city was free advertisement. He smiled. How many businesses could claim that?
Of course, the government had shut them down after what had happened with Gozer. If they hadn't blackmailed a judge to tear up the restraining order, Four Corners would have been doomed because he would still be doing experiments to gauge the emotional control of unsuspecting test subjects instead of giving lectures on PKE valences and what they meant in the real world.
He entered the science building. He frowned at the lack of activity. He had thought there would be people doing experiments. Maybe he was alone.
He mentally made a list of what he needed and started searching for supplies. He had time, but if the rip developed earlier than what he thought, he had to be ready. The rest of the guys arriving to help out would be great, but he couldn't depend on that.
He had to act as if he was on his own until their plane touched down. Otherwise, he would still be working on traps and throwers when the fecal matter hit the rotating blades.
He put aside doubts as he starting measuring the hoses and building the control boxes from the university stores. He couldn't afford them in the face of the coming storm.
He checked his watch and grimaced. He had the skeletons of four throwers put together. He still had to put the nuclear reactors together to power it up. He needed help to get things done.
Unfortunately the others were still in the air.
He stretched the kinks out of his back.
The others would call when they arrived. When they did, he would give them directions on where he was so they could get a cab to get to the school from the airport. As soon as Ray arrived, the job of putting things together would shrink to a more manageable size.
He pulled out the meter and turned it on. He was not reassured by the beeping it sounded while the antennae moved.
Something was in the building with him, and it was in the middle range for ghosts and specters.
Egon went back to work. He needed one of the throwers immediately. Once he was armed, he could finish the rest of the weapons.
Zeke Stone decided he needed information now that he was roughly where he should be. The best place to get information was the library. Local newspapers would allow him to survey the ground for clues.
He hoped his fugitive was simple to catch. He was entitled to a softball every now and then.
He walked the streets until he found a gas station. He went to the map rack in one corner and pulled one for the city out and unfolded it. The clerk glared at him, but said nothing. The dead man looked out a window for the nearest street sign. He traced the lines on the map until he found a symbol for a library. He folded the map up once he was sure he had the directions clear in his mind.
He paused before he put the map back. He might need it later. He put it on the counter, then grabbed a sandwich from a refrigerator and a can of Coke. He looked around the store for anything else he might need before he pulled out his wallet to pay for his new possessions. The clerk made change without a smile.
Zeke wondered about the bad attitude, but smiled and took his food and drink in one hand. He put the map in the pocket of his coat as he walked outside. He needed a reliable car for road trips. Travel on thirty bucks was for the birds.
He chewed on his sandwich and sipped from his can as he walked.
What was going on in this town? He was a New Yorker and used to rude, but people west of Texas tended to be more laid back. He admitted that hanging on to the bottom of a bus might have hurt his appearance, but he doubted that was the reason for the cold shoulder.
He needed to get a look at the papers and hope they pointed him in the right direction.
Zeke paused outside the doors of the library long enough to throw away his trash in a public trashcan. He stepped inside the low adobe building and was glad he was wearing a coat. The air dropped twenty degrees once he stepped across the threshold.
He pulled his coat off as he stepped inside the main reading room. The temperature change didn't bother him, but he didn't want to stand out that much if the clerk's reaction to him was any indication of how others would see him.
He wanted to shoot his target in the eyes, not get the locals excited enough to get in the way.
Zeke looked around the layout, made for the newspaper racks that stood on one side of the single room. He laid his coat down on a table, picked up the newspaper in its holder and sat down. He went through the local news with one finger running over the newsprint.
The only thing that looked remotely like what he expected was a series of child murders. Some of the fugitives were from cultures that advocated the sacrificing of others. Which one was he dealing with here?
He needed something more. He read the articles again. Which one of the fugitives would come to Arizona to relive his, or her, old life?
The dead man looked around the room full of books. Maybe there was something in the local history that he could use. Where did he start?
Maybe the librarian would have a suggestion. They tended to know something about everything.
"Excuse me." Stone put on his best face. The librarian looked up from sorting books on a cart. He paused at the rainbow colored hair on her babyish face. "I'm looking for books on the local history. Where would they be?"
"They're on the first shelf." She put the books down to walk out from behind the counter. "I'll show you."
She walked down to a set of shelves farthest from the windows. She pointed to a section with ten books about Four Corners, then five more about the county, then ten more about the state.
"These are all we have here." The librarian frowned at her scruffy visitor. "If you need anything else, let me know."
Zeke smiled as he pulled all the local books off the shelf. He carried the stack over to where his coat held his seat while the librarian went back to sorting her books to be put back on the shelves. He placed the stack down and started leafing through the pages.
His eyes drifted back to the newspaper article as he read. He paused when one chapter talked about killings that seemed to match the ones in the paper. He marked the page and searched for more.
The other books had the same story in different words. He nodded as he wrote down the details in his pad. It wasn't conclusive proof, but it was suggestive.
How willing was he to bet someone else's life on being right?
He didn't know the answer to that.
He pulled on his coat. He put the newspaper back in its rack. He put the books on the return cart under the sign that said DO NOT SHELVE. He headed out in the street.
He pulled out the map as he walked. He frowned at the dump sites listed in the article. They were in a rough circle around town. It duplicated the earlier killings stopped by Chris Larabee, the town's regulator.
Alhambra had to be the escapee, and he had to be trying to do whatever he had been trying to do when he had been stopped.
What was he trying to do?
Stone doubted it was for the good of the city. Most of the escapees he had sent back had not decided to change their ways once they had fled their prison, and this one seemed to be no exception.
The dead man put the map away. The last killing had been stopped with Alhambra's capture by Larabee. Maybe that was where the last site he planned to use for his design was.
The very least he could do was check it out.
Where had Alhambra been taking his last victim when Larabee had caught up with him? Stone doubted it was where the killer was captured.
He must have been on his way to somewhere else when he had been taken.
Zeke paused in his walking. Where would he perform a human sacrifice?
The dead man decided that maybe he should get a better view of the city. Maybe one of the taller buildings could give him some idea on what the town looked like. Maybe there was something that could be seen from the air.
Maybe he should stop grasping at straws.
Stone smiled at himself and looked through his notebook again. Maybe he had missed something on his first go-around. That final site had to be important. If he knew that, he could take Alhambra before he hurt his last victim.
He wondered if there was an expert around who could point him in the right direction. Maybe there was a historical society he could consult. They knew a lot about the older buildings and stories associated with them in other cities. It should be the same in Four Corners if he could find someone he could call.
He needed a phone book.
Stone walked down the street until he saw a grocery store. He stepped inside. Rows of registers and belts moved the customers out of the sliding doors where he stood. Shelves of food ran the width of the store until you got to a meat department in the back. A vegetable section mixed with the alcohol shelving to his right. He turned left and spotted a customer service desk.
He walked over and waited for someone to show up to talk to him. He watched the small crowd taking their shopping out to their cars as he stood in place. Finally one of the young clerks saw him and walked over behind the counter.
"What can I do for you?" She smiled slightly, long hair flopping in its pony tail as she moved.
"I was hoping you had a phone book I could use." Zeke smiled. "I need to find a phone number."
"Sure." She looked under the counter top until she found a ratty phone book. She handed it over, holding the pages together so they didn't fall to the floor.
"Thanks." Zeke carefully turned to the white pages and checked under anything he could think of until he found what he was looking for in the listings. He wrote the number and listed address down before closing the book.
"Thanks for your help." The dead man handed the book back.
He consulted his map before turning towards the university. His address was on the grounds according to the rows of street names in the locator list. He started walking, wishing he had a car he could use.
He smiled. Any car he could prevail on his boss to provide would be as much of a pain as the Devil himself. He was better off walking, even if it took longer to get to where he wanted to go.
He had enough things needing shooting without adding on to the list.
Zeke spotted the University sign in the distance. He picked up the pace, looking for the right building.
He saw a sign with a campus map next to the front gate. He took a moment to figure out where the history building stood before cutting across campus to get to it. He checked his watch. It was late in the day. Hopefully the person he had talked to would still be there.
He noted students milling around as he headed for the building. They didn't seem struck by the general atmosphere he had noted in town. He walked across a short lawn to the history building, and pushed through the front door.
Zeke checked the sign next to the stairs before heading up to the office he wanted. He paused at the door. He looked around. Something felt wrong.
He didn't see anything. He wondered what had triggered his radar.
He decided to knock anyway. If he met his subject on the other side of the door, so much the better.
The door opened. A man who looked like he was old enough to remember the town when it was young stepped back to let his visitor in the office. Something thumped in a drawer as he sat behind a desk full of papers.
"Mr. Stone?" He waved to a wooden visitor chair across from the desk. "What can I do for you?"
"I am hoping for some information about a man named Alhambra, professor." The dead man didn't sit. He leaned against a shelf. His radar was still pinging for some reason. "He was a killer that was caught back in the 1880's by Chris Larabee."
"Call me J.D." The professor smiled as he reached for some papers. "I looked some things up after your call. I had the whole case in a notebook in my collection."
"Can you give me the facts?" Stone pulled out his own notebook. There had to be something he could use.
"Martin Alhambra arrived in Four Corners from Texas in March. He applied for a job as a teacher. He had miles of mathematical formulae that he seemed to be trying to solve. Students began to disappear. It was assumed that they had suffered animal attacks by the general populace. The bodies were found outdoors and mutilated. At some point, Chris Larabee began suspecting a human hand in things and went to talk to Alhambra about it. Larabee had been hired to help the local town sheriff protect the town since in those days, Four Corners was a boom town and wild and wooly for one man to police. Alhambra had his latest victim in hand when Larabee confronted him. There was a gunfight and Larabee brought Alhambra back for trial. Naturally he was hung by the neck as soon as possible." J.D. took a sip from a water bottle. "There's a ghost story about Alhambra looking for his missing fingers out there at the park where he was taken."
"Missing fingers?" Stone frowned at that. None of the books had mentioned missing fingers.
"Alhambra had been shot in both hands by Larabee." J.D. held up his own hands. He indicated the missing finger on each with the opposite hand. "Over the years, people have seen ghost lights out around where the killings were discovered. The story is he is looking for his fingers where they were left."
"Any explanation for these ghost lights?" Zeke closed his notebook.
"Not that I know of, but the University hired an expert to look into them, and give a lecture on paranormal research." J.D. smiled. "He has a reputation for being a real ghostbuster."
"Is he here?" Stone thought the ghost lights could be earlier attempts to break out. Maybe Alhambra had used his math wizardry to figure out angles Ash could use to reach the real world.
It made sense.
"I don't know." J.D. stood. "We can see if he is in the science building. He's been showing practical things about ghostbusting to the kids."
"Did Alhambra mention where the last location of his killing was going to be?" Stone stood ready in case the old man started to fall down the stairs.
"Nope. He took that to the grave with him."
Johnny Blaze rolled through town. The sun kept him from unleashing his other side, but it was slowly fading in the sky. He had the feeling the Ghost Rider would be needed before the night was over.
He wondered what was loose in the city. He hadn't seen anything bad enough to call him across the Southwest.
He found himself circling one of the parks. He noticed that the third time he went around it. He pulled over to the curb and looked at the metal fence.
Something moved around inside away from the people heading for the exit. He decided to go in and deal with it. It might be the thing responsible for the killings he had heard about around town.
Johnny cast one eye at the sun. It would be setting in a few minutes. His other side would be able to come out when it was gone.
He decided he could stall that much if he acted to keep the thing from wandering away right then.
Who knows what would happen if he let it out of the park? Who would it kill next? Was it even the reason he was there in Four Corners?
He had to confront the thing while he had his eye on it.
He left his bike next to the entrance. It would be safe enough there. He headed into the park. He felt a snap in the air as he walked along.
The thing in black turned to look at the biker. It pushed back a wide brim hat as empty sockets glared out of a rotted face. One hand dropped down to the gun in the holster tied to its leg.
"Hold on." Johnny held up a hand. "I don't want any trouble. I just want to know what's going on."
"Alhambra is stirring up trouble again." The ghost hooked his thumbs in his gunbelt. "It's causing problems for ghosts."
"Where is he?" Blaze felt his other side crackle as the sun dipped lower.
"You're the Ghost Rider." The spirit smiled. "Shouldn't you already know?"
"I've been looking around." Fire ran along Johnny's face.
"Go west." The ghost pointed out of the park. "Alhambra was a teacher then, he probably is now."
"Thanks." Johnny turned and headed toward where he had left his bike.
He mounted up and headed west. The wheels of the motorcycle caught fire as he raced the setting sun. His skin burned away as his other side came forward. The bike changed form as it roared along the busy streets.
The Ghost Rider left a trail of flame as he looked for something to fit what the ghost had said. His real enemy was posing as a teacher. He saw signs for a university ahead. He rolled through the gate, setting the decorative bushes on fire as he passed.
He rolled to a stop. He looked around. He sensed his enemy nearby.
What was this Alhambra capable of? He had dealt with some shady characters in the past. He couldn't use his penance stare on someone who was soulless.
Blackheart had shown him that much.
Ghost Rider rolled through the campus, grass exploding as he went through. His senses pulled him toward the science building. That was where he needed to be.
The flaming skeleton stepped into the building. The sprinklers went off. His fire hissed under the artificial rain. He plowed on.
He passed three men arguing as he headed for the stairs. That was where he needed to be.
He wondered down the second floor. He paused when he found a door marked Hamlin. He tried the knob, then kicked the door in. A nondescript man glanced up from behind a desk, papers in his hands.
Ghost Rider noted that the man was missing fingers on both hands.
"My office is closed for the day." The professor stood up. "Perhaps you should go."
"You're guilty." The skeleton pointed a gloved finger. "It's time for you to pay."
"I don't think so, my fiery friend." Alhambra kicked the desk across the room. "I didn't break out of Hell to let some second rate spook get in my way."
The Rider punched the desk. The wooden furniture broke apart from the impact. Pieces fell to either side of him. Office supplies scattered across the floor.
"You're going back to Hell." The Rider pulled a chain from around his torso. He began swinging it in a circle at his side.
"Not right this minute." Alhambra tossed a piece of paper to one side of the pile. Gold light filled the room. "That should take care of you."
The professor smiled as he started toward the door. He had one last victim to secure and finish his business. His scheme was close to fruition. He couldn't be stopped by Ghost Rider, or anyone else.
Ghost Rider snapped his chain against the golden wall surrounding him. The metal links bounced off the light. He didn't see a scratch in the gleaming surface.
He paused to consider the situation. He was trapped inside a magic cell. His enemy was heading away from the office faster than a normal man. Something bad was going on, and he didn't want to let it keep going on.
He needed to catch up with his new quarry. That meant getting out of the trap he was in. How could he do that?
Ghost Rider looked up and then down. He noted the golden glow didn't cover the floor, or ceiling. That might be the key to getting out of his prison.
He decided to go through the floor. His enemy had gone down. Maybe he could get through the floor and catch up with the professor if he was fast enough.
He jammed the end of his chain into the poured concrete. He began to spin the end like a drill. The fire covered chain began to slice a hole into the floor. He widened the hole with a few more spins. He yanked the chain out of the way, and punched the edges of the hole. The gap opened enough for him to drop through to the floor below.
The Ghost Rider wrapped the chain across his torso again as he walked to the door of the room. He listened. A high pitched whine was to his right where he had passed the men arguing. He thought he heard footsteps to his left.
He strode in that direction. He had an idea that once he dealt with the professor, some of the city's problems would die down.
He made it to the door. He looked both ways. His enemy had covered the ground faster than he had thought possible.
The Ghost Rider looked to his left. His flaming motorcycle was there. It rolled to a stop. The burning wheels had left a trough behind it.
The professor seemed to have faded into obscurity to the Rider's sense of evil once he was out of sight.
That couldn't be good.
The Ghost Rider willed away his flame while he tried to think of some way to get ahead.
Maybe he could look around the office upstairs and see if he could find a clue in the wreckage.
He wasn't much of a detective, but it was the best he could do at the moment.
Johnny turned. The three men that had been arguing stood in the doorway. They all held weapons that were pointed at him. He raised his hands.
"How's it going?" He put on his 'I'm harmless' smile. "Don't shoot. I give up."
"You're a possessed individual that needs to be studied." The guy with the glasses waved his wand.
"I'm going with shot myself." The oldest one of them held a six shooter as old as he was.
"Hands." The third man looked scruffy in his black coat and clothes. He held an automatic. "He's not the right guy."
"How do you know?" The old guy didn't drop his pistol off target.
"He's got all of his fingers." The man in black put his pistol away. "I don't know what you are, but you aren't who I'm looking for."
"Hold on." The man with the backpack stood back. "I think we have two too many ectoplasmic occurrences here. I would like an explanation for all of this."
"It's simple." The man in black smiled. "I just don't have a lot of time to tell you."
"The guy had an office upstairs." Johnny pointed to the second floor. "Can we talk up there while we're looking around?"
The old man and the man in the glasses looked at each other. They shrugged.
"Let's go before the campus cops show up to answer the fire alarm." The old man tucked his hog leg away as he led the way back inside the building.
The four of them waded through the pool of water on the first floor to the stairs. They walked up to the false Hamlin's office. The hole in the floor stood in the middle of papers lying everywhere. The golden wall had faded with the Ghost Rider's escape.
"There's a lot of PKE residue in here." The man in the glasses waved a wand with twitching antennae in the air.
Johnny looked around the mess. He didn't see anything that could be helpful.
The man in black stood in the door and scanned the room. His eyes focused on the numbers on the wall behind where the desk used to sit. He walked around the hole in the floor to get a closer look at them.
The positions looked familiar. He ignored everything else as he concentrated on the way the diagram was laid out.
"Clear me a space." He pulled down the diagram as Johnny and the man in glasses kicked debris out of the way. He dropped the paper in the open space. He pulled out a city map and opened it up. He made dots in the map with his pen while he consulted a notebook. He placed the map next to the drawing and smiled. "He's going to be around here somewhere."
A circle on the map indicated where the reborn teacher would make his last killing.
"That's still a lot of area to cover." The old man peered at the circle through his wireframed glasses. "We need to narrow it down more than that."
"He's blocking me now that he knows I'm looking for him." Johnny knew that was the explanation on why his supernatural senses weren't picking up the man out of the background static.
"The PKE meter should pick him up." The man in the glasses waved the wand in the air. "I just have to eliminate you two from the readings."
"Go ahead, Doc." The old man nodded. "We're going to need their help from the looks of things."
Doc pointed his wand at the man in black. He adjusted the knobs on the side of the device. He nodded when he had the results he wanted. He repeated the process while pointing the meter at Johnny.
"That should filter the both of you out." Doc turned in a circle with the wand in front of him. "I have a reading close to Stone's in this direction. What is this all about?"
"Certain individuals escaped from Hell and I made a deal to get them back." Stone folded the map up and put it in his pocket. "This guy is one of those individuals."
"I made a deal too." Johnny smiled at memory of the Devil's reaction. "I reneged."
"And I used to be the sheriff of this burg, and I will be glad to put Alhambra back in the ground." The old man smiled.
"All of this sounds reasonable I suppose." Doc frowned in the dim light. "If Alhambra succeeds, he might cause a crossdimensional rip. That would be bad."
"How bad?" Johnny rubbed his face.
"Imagine all of Four Corners being the ground center of an explosion of PKE energy that warps the fabric of reality and forming a wormhole that crushes everything around it until the Earth turns inside out and every living thing is reduced to a smear of ectoplasm."
"That's bad." Johnny shook his head. "Let's get this show on the road."
Alhambra hovered on a tree branch. He needed to be ready for the right time. The year had made his calculations easier. The warped nature of Hell had made his body stronger and faster. It also increased his knowledge of the secret numbers to a point that everything had relevance.
He looked up at the night sky. He only had hours before he had to recalculate his whole outlay. If he missed his chance, he might have to relocate to some other part of the country, the world, to start over.
He had to make his deadline if he wanted to succeed.
The first thing he needed was a sacrifice with the right measurements. Once he had that in hand, he could turn to preparation of the sacred place.
The door would swing open and turn the world into the place of the perfect number. Everything would be connected and useful. Everything would make sense and be rational.
He would have his own command of numbers that would allow him to do anything he wanted in that new reality. He would be a god.
Or a devil.
The Ghost Rider had been a surprise. He had handled Hell's lap dog easily. Maybe he should try to find a use for that flame after he had changed things more to his liking.
He spotted likely prey coming down the sidewalk under his tree. He took measurements with his remaining fingers. He shook his head. The sacrifice needed to be shorter.
If he became desperate enough, he would simply cut off the excess.
How long would he run loose with the Ghost Rider trailing behind him?
He had a spell channeled by the tree that hid his persona, but he would be clearly detectable once on the move.
He would have to move faster and make sure his cover would conceal him while he performed the counting and marking that he was required to do. He couldn't allow anything to get in his way when he was closer than he had ever been to his goal.
He would have to calculate how to use the Ghost Rider to his advantage.
Alhambra considered the problem as he spotted another kid walking down the sidewalk. He held up his fingers to take measurements. He smiled. This boy was exactly what he was looking for in a sacrifice.
He swooped down from his perch and clamped a hand over the boy's mouth. He wrapped the other arm around his victim and dragged him into the trees. He held the boy's carotid artery closed until the kid passed out.
Alhambra scanned his surroundings. He was still alone. He had to get the boy to the right place at the right time to complete the call. Then he could demand his piece of the action from the entity he hoped to contact.
He even had a back up plan in case the higher power didn't want to share dominion of Earth with him. The summoning site could be reversed for dismissal by him with the right words and disruptions of drawings.
Ironically, his stay in Hell had allowed him the time to refine his plan and make sure his incantations could breach the adjacent planes. That was why Ash had recruited him for the escape.
Hell was just the plane next to the Earth to the right person.
He smiled. The expressions on the others' faces when he breached that last wall had been priceless. Only Ash had believed in his numbers.
Now he was on his way to changing the world. The others had went back to what they wanted to do when death had come for them. So was he, but once his purpose was fulfilled, he would never worry about the Devil, or the Infernal Bureaucracy again.
He would make the Devil worry about him.
Alhambra crossed the streets with the boy over a shoulder. No one saw him moving through the shadows. He checked his watch and smiled. He was ahead of schedule.
He used chalk to mark out the numbers in a circle of symbols around the boy when he reached the spot of the summoning. He had compared it to calculus before his death, and that was what it reminded him of when he worked. He stood back to measure his handiwork. Any degree of offsetting would ruin the summons.
He didn't think the Ghost Rider would give him the years he needed to recalculate the space-time coordinates if he missed.
And unfortunately he didn't have a way to put the demon chaser down permanently.
The dead man checked his watch. He only had a minute left before he could make his call.
He heard a motorcycle roaring toward his summoning point. He went to a window. The Ghost Rider rode down the street outside.
How had he figured it out?
Alhambra checked his paper. It told him that it was still on the job and blocking any supernatural sense turned toward him.
Maybe he was checking the streets in the hopes of catching the dead man in the open.
The bike slowed to a stop in front of the building.
Keep riding. Keep riding. All I need is a few more minutes without any meddling.
The Ghost Rider seemed to hear his thoughts. The cyclist crashed into the door of the jail. The wood splintered and flew on impact. The burning skull turned to glare at the dead man where he stood in the cell block.
Alhambra slammed the door to the cells shut and wrote a sign on the back. Then he closed the door to the cell he was using. He knew that wouldn't buy a lot of time, but he didn't need a lot.
He pulled out his knife. He waved it in the air to wake up the inscriptions on the blade. Light danced in the air as he moved the blade around.
Time to get to work.
He raised his knife. He would have to cut faster but just as precise since he had a wolf at the door. He smiled. Even in a new life on Earth, things didn't come easy.
"Alhambra, I presume." The voice drifted down from the barred window in the wall.
The dead man shifted so he could cut without anyone reaching in to grab his arm. He took a moment to check his marks before he raised the knife again. He couldn't be distracted at this critical juncture.
A stabbing pain exploded in his head. He reached up with a hand. One of his eyes was leaking energy into the air.
He realized the Ghost Rider had been a distraction. The Devil had sent two hunters to take him back.
He needed to start cutting. That would protect him from any more bullets until he was done.
Another pain exploded in his head, overriding the dull ache from the first shot. He stood up. He clutched the air as he began to burn away.
"This is bad." The other voice sounded dry as it floated through the open window. "Stand back."
The wall exploded under a concentrated stream of protons. Smoke drifted in the air as the ghostbuster stepped inside the room. He pulled a wand from his suit jacket. The antennae on the end twitched crazily as he waved it around the room.
"This is worse than I thought." He put the wand away, and pointed his particle thrower across the room. "Stone, get the boy out of here."
Stone entered the cell, smoke drifting from under the collar of his black shirt. He picked the boy up and carried him out. He didn't like the way his breath hung in the air as the temperature dropped.
"Get him away from here while I try to think of something." The ghostbuster stepped to the opening in the wall. He didn't like the way Alhambra's ectoplasmic body was turning into fluid that caused the numbers on the floor to grow.
"This is very bad." Egon kicked himself for not realizing any sacrifice would do if the proper setting was used. They should have taken Alhambra away before doing anything to him.
They had finished his job for him.
The Ghost Rider smashed through the door on the other side of the room. He paused, flame scorching the wall around him.
A giant claw ripped the air above the glowing signs. It looked like a bird talon to Egon. He supposed it was comparable to an eagle's. He stepped back as more of the claw emerged from the rip.
He fired the particle thrower to buy time. He didn't know if the stream would do anything to something that much out of its class, but he had to try.
Whatever was at the end of that claw couldn't be allowed to enter reality. There was no telling what kind of damage it would do to the world.
The stream bounced off and scorched the ceiling. Ebon shards flickered in the air. A cry of pain shook the old jail to the core.
That was something at least.
"Let's see what I can do." The Ghost Rider spun his chain until the air burned. He struck with it, wrapping it around the claw. Fire rolled on the black flesh.
The claw pulled the skeleton close with a yank of its arm. Long digits wrapped around the biker and squeezed. The bones crackled under the pressure.
Egon didn't know which would give first, but he couldn't take the chance that the Rider would be crushed under the pressure the talon seemed to be exerting.
He fired another stream of particles into the claw. The Rider fell to the ground under the onslaught.
"Let me see that." The burning skeleton took the thrower's wand from the ghostbuster. He pointed it at the still emerging claw. Fire wrapped around the device, altering it like it did his clothes and motorcycle. The skull glared at his elder enemy.
"Let's see what this will do." The Ghost Rider thumbed the switch on the altered particle thrower. The beam exploded in a straight line. The claw blew apart under the concentrated force.
"That was unprecedented." Egon adjusted his glasses as he watched the rift close.
"Hellfire works wonders." The fire around the Ghost Rider faded. Human flesh returned in stages. "Looks like we saved the city."
"That's good." Stone appeared with his gun in hand. "What did we save it from?"
"A class ten nonhuman specter." Egon hooked the thrower's wand back in its slot. It had worked reasonably well like he knew it would.
"It's not every day you can say something like that." Stone smiled. "I'll you two hang around and explain this. I can't."
"Neither can I." Johnny Blaze shook his head. "Besides I'm still a wanted man after busting out of jail."
"I'll try to explain everything without letting everyone know how close they came to extinction." Egon pulled out his PKE meter. Background noise answered his sweep. "At least we closed things down before they got out of hand."
"See you around, Doc." Stone turned and vanished into the night.
Blaze tossed off a salute before he caught fire again. His motorcycle appeared as he walked away. He drove off into the night like a comet.
Egon shook his head at the damage and made his way across the street where J.D. and the boy waited. He decided to let Peter do the talking when he arrived. That was something the other ghostbuster did well.