Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure


Johnny Grimoire (and Fan-boy)
in...

Last Rights for Peter Helms

(Part Two)

By Jeffrey Blair Latta


The dowsing crystal had indicated that we would find Cathleen Vaughn in a warehouse on the city docks.

We parked a short distance away, so the noise wouldn't warn her kidnapper we were coming. Then we went in on foot. Even with the dowsing, we were left with three or four warehouses to search. Luckily, the goon hadn't bothered to gag his captive. We heard her weeping and traced the sound.

We paused outside the door to the warehouse. Johnny's sword whispered into the moonlight. I straightened my mask. It sometimes got in the way. I nodded I was ready.

The door was the easy part.

As we bounded over the threshold, we saw Cathleen Vaughn tied to a chair. She was some dish and I could see why her fiance had been willing to risk his neck to keep her. Beyond her was the goon. He whirled, saw us, and you could have lit a match with the things that came out of his mouth.

It was a big place and, though Johnny immediately started toward him, there was still plenty of time for the goon to react. He leapt for a table in the corner. There was a box on the table and the box was filled with those same little glass balls he'd used in the museum. His intentions were plain.

He meant to gas us.

Johnny was having none of that. As he passed a metal post that supported a beam along the ceiling, he slashed out with the sword. It sheared through the post and the beam came down with a huge dinosaur scream. It caught the goon across the shoulder. He staggered, cursing again, missing the table and crashed against the wall.

Unfortunately, the beam kept right on going. It struck the table and the box of gas balls slid right to the edge. It teetered a moment, while I held my breath -- then stopped teetering.

I had seen what just one of those balls could do. A whole box load I didn't need.

Johnny hadn't stopped, and now he caught up with the goon who was just struggling to his feet. I figured he could handle the guy, so I went to free Miss Vaughn. I cut her ropes and helped her up. She seemed steady enough, so I told her to go for help. She was even better looking up close. For a moment, I was tempted to tell her Peter Helms had been hit by a truck. Or maybe he was already married. Something like that. Somehow, I resisted.

With her safely out of the way, I turned back to find Johnny still duking it out with the masked goon. The mask had finally come off and the goon's face lived up to its billing. It was too horrible for words.

Johnny had his sword back in its sheath and was going at it with knuckles. He had been a golden gloves champion in his youth (which wasn't that long ago), and that training showed. Left, right, left, right, right, right, short devastating jabs. The goon's legs turned to spaghetti and he collapsed at Johnny's feet. For a moment, he just sat there, blinking dazedly, blood running down his face. Finally, something returned to his eyes and he looked up. And then something strange happened.

The goon started to cry.

Tears gushed down his hideously scarred features. He shook his head hopelessly. Johnny just looked at him, not speaking, letting him get it out of his system.

Then Johnny said something I wasn't expecting. He said, "You're from the future, aren't you?"

If shock had a face, the goon wore it. He blinked. "You know?"

"I guessed. You had to have used some pretty sophisticated technology to turn off the museum alarm. And that laser is decades ahead of anything I'm aware of. Then, too, the fabric to your clothes was like nothing I've ever seen before. Also, you paid your thugs with raw gold nuggets instead of money. I figure that was because, where you come from, our currency doesn't exist anymore. But the main clue was when your fabric caused my dowsing crystal to explode. That proved there was something very unusual about you, so unusual that it interfered with my magic -- something to do with the space-time continuum."

The goon from the future nodded in a feeble way, as if he'd run a long race, come in last, and just wanted to go to bed. "Yes, I'm from the future. But I once lived in this time period. My name is Peter Helms."

By Johnny's expression, he hadn't figured that part out. "The guy from the museum? Cathleen Vaughn's fiance?"

"That's right. We are the same person, only I am his future self."

And then he told an incredible story. A tragic story.

It seemed Peter Helms, this Peter Helms, had been caught in a fire in the museum. He was overcome by smoke. He woke up to find two hundred years had passed. He had been terribly burned in the fire and would have died, except a scientist friend at the museum knew somebody at Cryotics Inc. They froze Helms, meaning to thaw him out some time in the future when his burns could be cured. That's what they did, only there were two problems.

While they could save his life, they couldn't do anything about the look of his face. He was one of those people who scars easily and for whom plastic surgery isn't an option. The second problem was that Cathleen Vaughn had been with him in the fire. She had perished.

Without her, for him life wasn't worth living.

In the future, it was possible to travel back through time. It was illegal, for obvious reasons, but Helms didn't let that stop him. He had one shot. He travelled back through time meaning to prevent the death of Cathleen Vaughn.

That was why he had tried to steal the garbage cans. The fire had started when somebody tossed a cigarette into one of the cans in that room full of statues. Helms figured if the cans were missing the fire couldn't start.

When Johnny and me scotched that idea, he tried to kidnap Cathleen. He could have just told her who he was, but he didn't think she would have believed him. He was probably right. I wasn't sure I believed him myself.

At the same time, just in case, he planted a bomb at the Cryotics Inc. place. That way, if the fire still happened, at least he wouldn't wake up two hundred years in the future without Cathleen. If she died, he wanted to die, too.

The fire was going to happen tomorrow at noon. All he had to do was keep Cathleen here until it was over. But now that idea had been ruined, too.

He wasn't crying anymore, but he wasn't doing soft shoe, either. I felt kind of queasy.

"It's hopeless," he told us. "Don't you see. It was hopeless from the beginning. Redfern's Theory of Chronostability was correct."

We looked at him blankly.

"History cannot be changed," he explained. "Redfern said it couldn't but I prayed he was wrong. But look what happened. I tried three times and each time I failed. I tired to blow up the Cryotics lab and they found the bomb. I tried to steal the garbage cans and you just happened to catch me. And then you just happened along when I was kidnapping Cathleen. What were the odds against any of those things? Huge! History itself is working against me. It won't let me change it. Nothing can change it!"

I had to admit, the man made sense. But Johnny wasn't convinced. He was beginning to think that maybe we had been working for the wrong side on this one.

"Listen," he told Helms, "it's not too late. You said the fire is tomorrow. You can still save her."

Helms shook his head and climbed to his feet. He looked at his watch.

"Don't you see. I can only stay here a limited amount of time. Then I will be drawn back to my own time. I have only seconds left!"

Johnny thought about that, then came to a decision.

"We'll save her."

It took a moment for his words to register with Helms. Then Helms' eyes opened wide. "Could you? Could you save Cathleen?"

"Sure."

But then Helms frowned again. "But weren't you listening? History can't be changed. I couldn't change it and neither can you."

Whatever Johnny would have said to that, he didn't get the chance. Just then, Helms began to disappear. I swear, he simply started to fade like a ghost. He knew it was happening and got urgent, grabbing at his final seconds like a drowning man grabbing at a lifeguard who's just trying not to get pulled under myself.

"But if you can, if there's even the slightest chance you can save her, will you try?"

Johnny nodded. "We'll save her," he said. "I promise."

And then Peter Helms faded away.

For a moment, we both stood there, not speaking, feeling we had been granted a glimpse of something important.

"Are you sure we can, Mr. G.?" I asked Johnny finally. He looked at me. "I mean, maybe that guy was right. He tried awful hard to change things and he couldn't do it. Maybe we can't save her, either. Maybe it's, you know...fate?"

"We still have hours yet before the fire," he said. "I can't think of a thing which could prevent us from saving the life of Cathleen Vaughn."

Just then, the box filled with glass balls teetered again and fell off the table...

***
We woke up at the police station.

The cops had locked us in a cell, not to keep us prisoner but to make sure no one got the bright idea to take off our masks. Johnny had friends on the force and, at times like this, that came in handy.

Johnny and I woke up at the same time. My head felt like a tin can someone had tried to open with a not-very-sharp can-opener. It felt like they had given up in disgust.

The first words out of Johnny's mouth were, "Damn, what time is it?"

There was a clock on the wall outside the cell. It was about a minute to twelve. Noon. We had been unconscious for hours. I felt a horrible sense of tragedy, of failure. Peter Helms had said the fire at the museum would take place at noon. We were too late. He had been right, after all. There was no way to change history -- his history. We had failed him.

The cops had parked our bikes outside the station. We rode them to the museum, the cops escorting us the whole way. When we got there, the fire was already out. The fire engines were rolling up their hoses. We were too late.

The look in Johnny's eyes was a terrible thing to see as he surveyed the blackened windows. As a fireman passed by, Johnny stopped him and spoke in a low, tight voice.

"There was a man in there, a Peter Helms."

The fireman nodded. His face was black from smoke. "Sure, there was a guy in there," he said. "He didn't get out in time."

Johnny was surprised. "Dead?"

"Yeah. It looked like he was blinded by the smoke. He got tangled in the ladder they'd set up to fix the broken window." Then, not knowing we knew, he explained, "They had a break-in last night, you know."

Johnny considered this for a moment. We were probably thinking the same thing. If Peter Helms had died in the fire, then maybe he had been wrong. Maybe history could be changed, after all.

"And the girl?" Johnny asked.

The fireman frowned. "Girl? There was only that one guy. We didn't find anybody else."

Just then, we heard it. A woman crying. We traced the sound and found Cathleen Vaughn over by the ambulance. She was cradling something in her hands, like a little baby. When she saw us, she immediately started talking, sobbing through her tears.

"I was in there with him...not more than five minutes ago. I should have died with him, except..." She struggled to breathe, gulping air. "He was so brave last night" she said, "trying to fight off that horrible man, that monster, risking his life to save me...I just wanted to get him something. That was all, just something because he was so brave. I told him I'd only be gone a few minutes. Told him I'd be right back..."

She started crying again and a police woman gently escorted her away. Before she went, though, she handed Johnny what she was carrying, as if she didn't want it anymore, couldn't bear to touch it. Johnny held it in his hands and studied it with narrow eyes, very thoughtful, very intense. Very James Dean.

"Well, what are you going to do with it, Mr. G.?" I asked. But already I think I knew what he would say.

"We'll keep it," he told me.

Then he passed it to me and we started back to the motorbikes.

You probably want to know what it was. It was one of those personalized mugs from the kiosk across the street. The job looked a little cheap and rushed, but I figured it would have to do. It said:

Peter Helms
A Hero

That was all. But, like I say, it would have to do...

The End.

Back to Part One




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Last Rights for Peter Helms is copyright 1999, Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)