In which Dodger confronts a madman
“What did you do with Tyler Crank?” Dodger said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rex said.
Dodger pointed at Rex’s hips with Hortense and Florence. “Those are Tyler Crank’s guns. He’s been carrying those things since I met him. I would recognize those guns if I was blindfolded and they were in another country, melted down into ingots and buried under ten feet of rock. The only way you could’ve gotten them from Crank was to pry them from Tyler’s cold, dead corpse. Another detail you missed. So, answer me. What did you do with him?”
“I think you already answered that yourself,” Rex said, his smile growing wider.
“You put yourself in Carr’s mind,” Feng said, putting it all together. “And you killed the dog once you were free of it.”
“Not right away, but yes. I chopped that yappy little thing to pieces. If I ever see a Chihuahua again it will be three days too soon.”
“And Crank?” Dodger said. “Why did you kill him?”
“Really? You worked with the man for how many years and you have to ask that?”
Dodger’s stomach churned. Yes he had worked with Crank for years, and yes he wanted to kill the man more than once. That was the difference between men like Rex and the man Dodger had worked so hard to become. You didn’t just kill folks because they got on your ever loving nerves.
Rex crossed his arms and lifted his chin. “What happens now? Do you shoot me? Because I know you want to.”
“I do, but I won’t. Not now. You’re gonna take off that gunbelt nice and slow. You hear?”
“And if I don’t?”
“I will shoot you dead.”
“I doubt it.”
“Don’t tempt me.”
Just under this exchange, Dodger felt the presence of Boon fill the room.
“You sure you don’t need my help?” Boon said. The spirit slipped through the door and stopped by Dodger’s side. “Dodger? Why are you holding your agent friend at gunpoint?”
“That’s not Agent Carr,” Feng said.
“Brilliant deduction,” Rex said with a sigh. “I thought you were supposed to be the wise one?”
Rex can’t hear him, Dodger said in underspeak.
He’s Rex! Boon said.
Rex is inside of Carr’s mind, Feng said.
Get out of here, Boon, Dodger said. Go and warn the others. I am going to disarm and bind him.
“Take the gun belt off, now,” Dodger demanded.
“I have a better idea,” Rex said. “Let’s talk about how you’re planning on disarming the walking explosive you have just outside of your train.”
“Explosive?” Dodger said. “What explosive?”
I can feel him, Boon said.
What was that? Feng said.
I can feel him, Boon repeated. He moved closer to Rex. I think I can see him too. I can. I see two people inside of that man. I can see Rex.
A cold worry stole over Dodger. Boon? What are you doing?
Boon ignored Dodger and took another step closer to Rex, as if fascinated by the phenomenon.
Rex slid his hand into the front pocket of his jacket.
“Get your hands where I can see them!” Dodger shouted.
The man removed his hand from his pocket, as well as a small black box. “There’s over five hundred pounds of explosives in my mechanical mare. What are you going to do about that?”
Five hundred pounds of explosives was enough to not only wipe the train off the map but also the entire circus. Everyone and everything for a wide expanse. Rex not only held all of the cards, he had won the game at long last.
“Drop the detonator,” Dodger said.
Rex smiled wider. “Come and get it.”
I can see him, Boon said and stepped closer again.
Boon, Feng said. Get away from there.
“What do you want?” Dodger said, trying to concentrate on Rex.
“I want you dead,” Rex said. “All of you. I will blow all of you to hell.”
“You don’t want to do that,” Feng said.
“Oh I really think I do.”
Dodger, Feng said, if he blows up the line he destroys the TAP he will open a hole in the fabric of all time. It will collapse on itself.
No wonder the TAP leads nowhere, Dodger said. There is nothing to go to after this.
Unless we can stop him.
“What if I guaranteed your safety?” Dodger said.
“No!” Rex shouted. “Nothing you can do will make me change my mind.”
“I’ll go with you wherever you want. You can do whatever you want with me.” Dodger slowly lowered his guns, laying them on a small table to his left. He raised his hands. “I surrender.”
“You’re damned right you surrender.” Rex licked his lips as he lifted his chin and glared down his thin nose at Dodger. “Now, kneel, peasant.”
Dodger looked to Feng.
“Kneel!” Rex shouted.
Dodger got on his aching knees, as did Feng.
“On your knees where you belong,” Rex said, towering over them. His eyes burned with madness.
“On my knees,” Dodger said. “Begging for mercy.”
“Mercy? No. There is no mercy. I am done playing games. I win this time. I win! Not you! Me! I win!”
What are we going to do? Feng said.
I can stop him, Boon said. He looked back over his shoulder at Dodger. I can do it. I can stop him.
Get away from him, now! Dodger shouted.
“Prepare to die, Mr. Dodger!” Rex said. He held the detonator dramatically high over his head.
Tell Lelanea I love her, Boon whispered.
The spirit rushed forward and, as expected, moved through Agent William Carr with the usual crackle and flash of lights. Rex gasped from the contact. He might not have been able to see the spirit, but he must’ve been able to feel the ghost. Boon didn’t exit the body of Carr alone. No, sir. As the ghost moved through Carr, he latched onto a dark presence. He pulled this dark blob from Carr’s body, yanking it free with some difficulty, as if wrestling with a greased up shadow.
No! Rex’s voice shrieked through Dodger’s mind. Let me go! I win! I win!
Not today, Boon said. The spirit didn’t stop in his momentum. Once he had Rex in his arms he kept on moving, diving headlong into the blackness of the TAP.
“No!” Dodger cried aloud.
He leapt to his feet, chasing after the ghost as if he could reach out and grab the ethereal pair. The spirit and shadow fell into the void slipping under the glassy black surface in a terrible instant. One moment they were there, then they were gone. They melted into the emptiness beyond the doorway, and were no more. Dodger stopped at the edge of the door, staring into the inky black.
Somewhere behind him, Carr collapsed, and the detonator clattered to the floor.
Dodger wasn’t interested in the fallen agent, or the lost spirit, or the fact that they had just managed to avoid being blown to kingdom come. Instead, he stood at the threshold of darkness, staring into the endless void. That desire to let it all go came over him, pushing his mind toward the end. Toward the final sleep. It would be so easy to join Boon. So easy to lay it all down and just give in.
So easy to quit at long last.
“Dodger,” Feng said. “Step away from the door.”
“It’s beautiful,” Dodger said. He raised a hand and tried to touch the layer of black.
Feng grabbed Dodger’s hand and forced it away. “I know, but it’s not for you. Not yet. You’ve got a lot of life left to live, my friend.”
Dodger allowed Feng to guide him away from the TAP. The Celestial closed the door to the machine, shutting away that awful blackness. Once the siren song of the emptiness was silenced, Dodger began to process what had just occurred.
“Boon?” Dodger said in a gasp. “Where did he go?”
Feng ignored the question, turning his attention to the man in the floor. “Agent Carr? Can you hear me?”
Carr moaned and rolled onto his back.
“Feng,” Dodger said. “What happened to Boon?”
“You saw what happened,” Feng said. He tried lifting Carr into a seated position, then waved at Dodger. “Can you give an old man a hand?”
Dodger joined Feng, helping Carr up and onto his unsteady feet. They limped the man to the nearest chair and eased him down. Carr groaned again, holding his head between both hands.
“Where am I?” he said.
“You’re safe,” Feng said.
“My head feels like it’s about to bust.”
“No surprise there. Comes from having more than one person in there.” Feng waggled three fingers in the man’s face. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
Carr winced at the display. “Those are supposed to be fingers?”
Feng shrugged. “Close enough.”
A sudden banging filled the room, and for one hopeful moment Dodger thought it was coming from the TAP. That it was Boon seeking entrance back into the cab. On the second knock he knew it wasn’t Boon. The knocking came from the door across the room. The door that led to the lab.
A muffled voice shouted something incomprehensible from the other side of the barrier.
Dodger grabbed Feng by the shoulder. “What are we going to tell them?”
“The truth,” Feng said. He made for the door, but Dodger held him back.
“Feng,” Dodger said. “I am being serious.”
“So am I.”
Dodger yanked Feng back hard enough to nearly send the man to the floor. “Enough damned double talk. Boon is gone. We saw him disappear into the void with Rex. That happened, right?”
“Yes. And that’s what we will tell them. Like I said. The truth.”
The banging came again, along with the muffled shouting.
“You’d think he’s never had an out of body experience before,” Feng said, then chuckled.
Actually laughed aloud.
Dodger shook his head in disbelief. “How can you be so nonchalant? How can you act like nothing happened?”
“Rodger Dodger,” Feng said with a mock gasp of shock. “I’m surprised at you. I’m not acting like nothing happened. You’re just acting like one thing happened, while I’m acting like something else entirely different happened.” He left Dodger to muse on this as he went to open the door.
Feng flashed a mischievous grin over his shoulder to Dodger. “Because something entirely different just happened, my friend. Something entirely wonderful.”
Once again, Dodger had no idea what the Celestial was trying to say. He readied himself to share the terrible news of Boon’s demise as Feng opened the door.
Washington Jeremiah Boon leaned against the doorframe, clutching a sheet around his naked waist.
“Is it finally over?” he said.
“It sure is, big guy,” Feng said. “It sure is.”
As he and Feng helped Boon to the nearest chair, Dodger wondered to himself if it really was over. After so much excitement and so many near misses. After all of the buildup and tension and teasing. After the chasing and catching and escaping. After the dog and mouse game Rex and he played for the last few weeks, could this really be it. Was it really over?
“Feng?” Lelanea said from the doorway behind them. “Uncle said he needs to see you for a moment when you get …” she paused with a soft gasp. “What is Boon’s body doing in here?”
Boon lifted his head from the chair and smiled that goofy love struck smile Dodger was only too pleased to see. “Lelanea? Is that you, my love?”
“Oh God, Boon!” Lelanea rushed across the cab and fell into the man’s arms. She buried her face into his chest, weeping and mumbling incoherent questions.
Boon placed his hands on her face and lifted her eyes to meet his. “Lelanea Prudence Dittmeyer, will you do me the honor of being my wife?”
“Yes,” she said. “A thousand times yes!”
She pushed her mouth to his and the pair of them kissed and kissed and kissed.
With that beautiful sight, Dodger knew in his heart they had finally won.
In which Dodger makes up his mind