In which Dodger gets everything sorted out
“I theorize that your Jenny is stuck in time,” the doc explained. “If it is, I think I can use that half of the device to draw it out.”
“What if it isn’t stuck in time?” Henry said. “What if it’s gone back to its proper time and left me here?”
The doc hesitated, as if made uncomfortable by the question. “Let’s focus on this right now. We will answer other questions as they arise. All right?”
Henry nodded. “All right.”
“Excellent. Now all I need is the specifications of your aircraft and some wide, open space.”
“I have some drawings of her around here somewhere.” Henry hopped up and began to excitedly go through his belongings.
“I can scout you a place,” Duncan said. “I know there are a lot of wide open spaces to the south of here, but if Rex’s men return while you’re in the middle of your experiment, things might get ugly.”
“Good thinking,” Dodger said. Though, he was more worried about Lelanea returning in her wolf form in the middle of everything.
“How big you need and how far out?” Duncan said.
“At least a few miles from the circus,” the doc said. “So we don’t worry the others. I’ll need about a hundred yards of flat ground. Maybe more.”
“I can manage that.” Duncan tapped his belt for emphasis and went off after the doc’s request.
“What should I tell the others?” Bigby said as he stood by the exit. He worried his hands against one another, uncertainty rising to his voice. “They will wonder why we are taking Baby out so far.”
Dodger felt sort of sorry for the Frenchman. It must’ve been hard enough to take all of this in, but to face explaining it to his entire crew? That was a task Dodger didn’t envy the man. He needed an easy out for this one.
“Tell them the doc is gonna run a little experiment,” Dodger said. “And if they know what is good for them, they will stay away.”
“Should I be so callous?” Bigby said.
“Sometimes callousness is the only way to keep folks safe. If they wander onto what the doc has planned, then from the sound of things someone is bound to get hurt.”
“Agreed,” the doc said. “This is going to be far too dangerous for lingering spectators. As it is, it will be very dangerous for those involved.”
“I’d be glad to tell them just that,” Dodger said.
“No, no,” Bigby said. “I will handle this. After all, they are my employees.” He set his jaw and puffed out his chest, bracing himself to make the stern announcement to his crew. He slipped out of the tent with an air of mock confidence. A true performer at heart.
The doc rubbed his hands together in glee. “This is going to be fun.”
“I seriously doubt that,” Feng said.
“Don’t be a fuddy duddy.”
“Hieronymus, even as a little boy you had a warped notion of what was fun.”
“Pooh to you. I for one am very excited by the probabilities and possible outcomes. I know young Henry is. Aren’t you, lad?”
“Yes, sir,” Henry said, and seemed just as excited as the doc about it.
“See? Oh, Mr. Dodger. I will need a few things from the train.” The doc pulled a fountain pen from his jacket and unscrewed it to make a few notes. “Can you fetch them while I discuss the procedure with our new friend here?”
“Certainly,” Dodger said. “If I can figure out what you want.”
The doc continued to write as he spoke. “Torque can help you with the bulk of it. It’s only a few things. And I would like him to accompany me as well. Get Ched to watch our guest until we return.” The professor passed the finished scribbled notes to Dodger. “And speaking of bulk, I will require Boon’s assistance on this one as well.”
“Yes, yes, and have Torque bring the Rhino around as well. We won’t have time to walk.”
“Yes, sir,” Dodger said. He folded the note and slipped it into his pocket as he exited the tent. Just outside, he found Bigby delivering a much softer speech to his crew than Dodger had suggested. The elephant’s handler stood beside Bigby, agreeing with everything the man was saying. Dodger wondered how much the man knew already, and how much was going to be an unbelievable surprise to him.
“Please give them the space they require,” the ringleader said. “The doctor needs full concentration to remove that terrible collar from Baby, and there is a good chance that she might get upset in the process. And we all know what Baby is like when she gets upset, don’t we?”
“Yes, sir,” the crowd said as one. Some chuckled while others rolled their eyes.
“Leave it on her,” one of the acrobats suggested. “She’s much nicer wearing the thing.”
“Yeah,” said one of the custodians, “and maybe Brian can finally marry her like he’s always wanted.”
“Ha, ha,” Brian said. “You’re just jealous because I get to deal with her show while you have to deal with her sh-”
“That’s enough,” Bigby said. “Now get back to work. We need to prepare to leave in the morning. No need to hang around now that we have our precious Baby back. Once the doctor has removed the collar we can be on our way.”
The crowd dispersed in a good mood, laughing and joking about the elephant’s new affectionate temperament.
“That’s not quite what I had in mind,” Dodger said, “but it will do. And they will follow your orders without question?”
“They certainly will,” Bigby said.
“I won’t,” Brian said. “I want to know exactly what’s going on here.”
Dodger squared his shoulders. “This doesn’t really involve you.”
“If it involves my elephant, it involves me.” Brian stepped forward, ready to face off with Dodger, though he also looked a bit scared as well.
“Mr. Bigby,” Dodger said. “If you can do the honors. I don’t suppose the doc will mind him tagging along. Just be quick about it.”
Bigby drew the handler to him, leading the man into Henry’s tent for a quick chat about the way of things.
The Sleipnir shone copper bright in the afternoon sun, gleaming as if she didn’t have a care in the world. Dodger took in her impressive length and size as he left the campsite behind him and made his way closer to the train he had chosen to call home. So much had changed since he chanced upon that ad in Decker’s Saloon. So many secrets unearthed. So many lies revealed. So many wounds healed. Dodger didn’t know if their final confrontation with Rex would work out for the ill or the good, but he did know one thing. He had finally found peace on this unusual train, and he wasn’t about to let anyone take it away from him without a fight.
Dodger boarded the meeting cab, surprised to find young Sarah asleep on the couch. He crossed the car softly, as not to wake her. No sooner did his hand touch the cargo cab’s door, he heard her voice at his back.
“Mr. Dodger?” she said.
“Sarah,” he said, turning about to face her.
She sat up and rubbed at her tired eyes. “Where did y’all go? I waited for you like you said, but you never came back.”
Dodger winced. He had sort of forgotten about her in the heat of the moment. All the talk of time travel and the likes emptied his thoughts of the young thing. So much for being a good caretaker. Al would have Dodger’s hide if he found out.
“Ched was supposed to come and check on you,” Dodger said.
“He did,” Sarah said. “And he offered to take me back to the circus to see the animalsh.” She smiled at her Ched like slur.
“Didn’t you want to see the animals again?”
“I did, but then I got nappy. I hope that was okay.”
“Sure. You can go back to sleep if you want.”
“I don’t want to sleep anymore.” She stood from the couch and stretched a bit, then rubbed her small stomach as she joined him near the door. “I’m hungry.”
Dodger’s stomach rumbled at the thought of food. “You know what? Me too.”
“Is lunch soon?”
“I sure hope so.” Dodger crouched to her height. “I’ll tell you what, you stay here for just a bit. I gotta have words with Mr. Boon. When I’m done, we can all go and see if we can find something for lunch. Sound good?”
“Whatcha gonna talk about?” she said, raising a suspicious eyebrow.
“Grown up stuff, little girl.”
She stuck out her tongue. “You sound like Uncle.”
“I hope so. I spent a lifetime trying to be him.”
“I’m gonna do that too.”
Dodger stood again and ruffled her hair. “I know. Go and sit down. I’ll be right back.”
“This time I promise. Ten minutes. Sit.”
Sarah obeyed, skipping back to the couch where she sat down and crossed her arms with a huff. “Hurry up. I’m getting really hungry.”
Dodger left the girl to her complaining as he boarded the cargo car. A soft blue glow lit the darkened cab, emanating from the spirit filled machine that took up the bulk of the space. PAUL was practically stuffed into the cab, folded in half at the waist with its head parked squarely between its feet and its shoulders laying on its lower legs. The machine’s arms were folded at its side. If the machine had been truly alive, Dodger would’ve thought the position a might uncomfortable. It was all Dodger could do to squeeze past the thing.
“Boon?” Dodger said as he eased into the room. “You in there?”
“Where else would I be?” Boon said. He give a soft but distinct sigh.
“Stop your moping. There’s been a bit of an interesting development, and the doc needs your help.”
“Oh?” The head turned to Dodger’s direction. “What happened?”
Dodger took a few moments to fill in the spirit, making sure to emphasize the part where the doc said he needed Boon’s help. “Seems he can’t do whatever it is he plans on doing without you.”
“I wonder what it is he plans on doing,” Boon said.
“I’m not sure.” Dodger paused a moment, clearing his throat as he drew up the nerve to finish describing the day’s events. All of the day’s events. “Boon, there is something else I should tell you. Lelanea, she, well, she sort of took off after those men. Alone. Claims she can track them in her other state and be back before we would miss her.”
“Did she? Sounds like something she would do.”
“Yeah. I thought you would want to know.”
“Thank you, Dodger. I did want to know. And I am worried for her. But she is right, she can track them much faster than a human. She will be back in no time, with valuable information. I have no doubt about that.”
“Before you miss her?” Dodger asked, fishing for some sign of lingering affection.
Boon turned his head away again. “I will try. That’s all I can say.”
Dodger sure hoped trying would be enough. It pained him to the core that these two were no longer an item. He didn’t know why it was so important to him, but Dodger reckoned reconciling the pair of star crossed lovers was his number one priority.
Aside from stopping Rex and his evil plan.
Or making Kitty pay for what she did to Al.
All right, number three priority, at least.
SETTING IT UP
In which Dodger is given a simple task