In which Dodger pushes back his anger
Sure enough, once Dodger pulled open the door to the guest quarters, the stink of death and rotgut belched from the room in an almost tangible cloud. Kitty was on her knees in the middle of the floor, groaning as if in pain, with a thin puddle of something yellowish congealing in front of her. Ched sat off to one side, thin arms crossed, staring off into space without the slightest interest in his prisoner.
Kitty moaned and she looked up at Dodger. Her pale face scrunched up tightly as she dry heaved a few times. “Dear god, please make it stop. I promise I won’t escape. Just don’t make me stay in here with him. I’ll do anything you ask.”
Dodger breathed deep, using the sickening smell to help dampen every natural urge to avenge his mentor’s death right here, right now.
“Anything?” Dodger said. “And here I thought you would’ve been used to the stink of death from working for that mutt of yours.”
“Death?” she said. “This isn’t just death. This is, ugh…” she paused as her stomach convulsed and she dry heaved again.
“Oh, I can’t stand it,” the doc said.
“You can’t shtand it?” Ched said. “I’m the one that’sh had to lishten to that for the lasht thirty minutesh.”
“Then go find something else to do. In fact, you can go back to the cargo cab and pick up Sarah and take her for a walk. That poor girl has far too much energy. She needs to expel some of it.”
“A walk?” the not-dead man said. “Where to?”
“Perhaps Mr. Bigby will let her see the animals again?”
Ched shrugged as he shuffled out of the room.
“Get those vents open,” the doc said as he helped Kitty from the floor. “She needs some air.”
Dodger reckoned Kitty needed a bullet in the brain for all the pain she wrought. He would gladly take the gal out back and shoot her himself. What was one more death on his hands after a lifetime of dealing in the trade? In all honestly, it took a tremendous amount of effort not to pull one of the ladies from his hip and take care of things. But the doc would never allow harm to come to a prisoner in his care. He was far too kind of a man, seeing the good in even the hardest of criminals. There was no use arguing with such a sympathetic soul. Instead Dodger pushed back his hatred for her, reached up and snapped the ceiling vents open, then toed the floor vents open with his boot. Fresh air billowed into the room.
Kitty flopped onto the cot with a dramatic groan. She drew a few deep, clear breaths, coughing just a bit between each intake and exhale, then looked up to the doc, gratitude filling her eyes. “Thank you so much. I thought I would die.”
“If justice had any say in it,” the doc said, surprising Dodger with his gruff tone, “you would’ve done just that. Serves you right to die by suffocation in such a manner. But a dead prisoner won’t answer any questions.”
The look of gratitude quickly dissolved into a sneer of disgust. “Go on and kill me. I won’t tell you nothing either way.” She lifted her chin in an air of defiance.
“Oh no, my pretty,” Feng said from the doorway. “You will find we have ways of making you talk.”
Her confidence faltered at Feng’s appearance. “Who are you?”
“I’m the one your mother warned you about.”
Dodger snorted, both impressed and amused by the line. He’d have to remember that one.
It seemed to work too, setting Kitty more on edge than she already was. “I, uh, I don’t care. Torture me if you have to. Do your worst.”
“Torture you?” the doc said. He clucked his tongue and shook his head. “You’ve spent far too long in the company of that horrible mad man. We don’t torture people here, young lady.”
“Then what do you call what you just put me through?”
Eyeing the doc, Dodger waited along with Kitty for an answer. It was a fair question. No matter how you sliced it, being stuck in an unventilated room with Ched for almost a half hour was an awful lot like torture.
The professor shrugged. “Call it an initiation. If you are to spend any amount of time with my driver you will need to get used to the smell.”
Kitty’s sneer returned. “I don’t plan on spending any amount of time with your driver. I plan on getting the hell out of here.”
“That might take some time,” Dodger said. “Considering your boss man is all the way in California. Meanwhile, you get to stay with us.”
“Trust me, I don’t need Rex to get out of this.” She smiled, far too widely for a woman in the hands of the enemy. The smiled slipped as she caught sight of the doc pointing the CROSS at her. “What are you doing?”
“Testing you,” he said. He pressed the button on the box and waited for the results.
Kitty flinched, as if expecting something to shoot out of the box and strike her. When she realized nothing of the sort was going to happen, she opened one eye and watched the doc warily. “What is it testing?”
“It’s testing your output and input of-” the doc started, but Dodger cleared his throat over the man’s explanation.
“Doc,” Dodger said. “Maybe we don’t need to tell her everything?”
“Oh. Of course.” The box gave a soft ding, drawing the doc’s attention to it. He blinked a few times, as if the reading surprised him. “Ah, well then. That is unfortunate.” The doc shook his head at Dodger.
Whatever was producing excess time, Kitty didn’t have it.
“What is unfortunate?” Kitty said.
“Huh,” Dodger said, ignoring her. “I wonder what is causing it.”
“Causing what?” Kitty said. “What did that box tell you about me?”
“I have no idea,” the doc said, also ignoring the woman. “I think possibly we might find …” the doc looked to the prisoner then back to Dodger. “I think we might need to talk more in my lab.” He gave an overdramatic wink.
“What did it measure?” Kitty said. “Tell me. Why did you shake your head at him? What is wrong with me? Why did you wink?”
“We can’t leave her alone,” Dodger said.
“We won’t,” the doc said. “I’ll call Torque on the tube to watch her. He’s just a few cars away.”
“No,” Dodger said, before he knew he was even speaking. “You two go on back to the lab. I’ll watch her until you can send Torque to replace me.” The sound of popping knuckles filled the suddenly quiet cab. Dodger realized he had flexed his own fists, unconsciously.
The doc chewed his bottom lip at this sound. He exchanged a brief glance of concern with Feng.
“I’ll watch her,” Feng said.
“You’re too weak,” Dodger said.
“She’s tied up and sick,” Feng said. “Where is she going to go?”
“Sick?” Kitty said. “Who said I was sick?”
“Sir,” Dodger said.
“Perhaps Feng is right,” the doc said. “You should come with me. You don’t need to be near her right now.”
“Why?” Kitty said. “What is wrong with me?”
The doc smirked and raised his eyebrows. “She might be, um, contagious? And Feng is already so old.”
“Contagious?” Kitty shouted.
“Right,” Feng said. “I’m the old guy. Why worry about me getting sick?”
“Sick?” Kitty said. “What makes you think I’m sick?”
“Go on,” Feng said. “Send that bucket of bolts back this way.”
Dodger narrowed his eyes at the two men. “All right.”
“Wait,” Kitty called out as the doc and Dodger left her squirming on the bed behind them. “What did that box say about me? How sick am I?”
“Calm down, chickadee,” Feng said. “Don’t want to overdo it in your condition.”
Dodger shook his head in confusion as he followed the doc from the cab.
The professor barely got his lab door closed before he burst into a loud guffaw of laughter. “Oh my, that was fun. I thought I would give up the game in front of her for certain.”
“Doc?” Dodger said. “What was that all about?”
“I don’t know,” the doc said. He giggled. “She just started asking so many questions. It just seemed funny to let her think she was, you know, ill. I feel sort of bad for making her think she’s sick.”
“She is sick,” Dodger said. “Sick in the head.”
The doc stopped his giggling and eyed Dodger for a quiet moment.
Dodger knew that stare. He could feel a lecture coming on.
“Torque,” the doc said without taking his eyes off of Dodger.
“Sir?” the mechanical man said.
“Go and relieve Feng of guard duty. If that woman tries to escape, I authorize you to stop her by any means necessary. But be gentle. Just hold her.”
“Yes, sir.” Torque slipped through the lab door and was gone.
“Have a seat, Mr. Dodger,” the doc said, and motioned to the chair beside him.
“I’d rather stand, sir,” Dodger said.
The doc leaned back a bit in his chair and drew a deep breath, obviously readying himself for a doozy of a discourse. “Mr. Dodger, I know this is hard for you. I realize you feel like you owe a debt to your mentor, a debt that you feel can only be repaid in blood. Yet I am begging you, not as your employer but as your friend … please think very carefully before you do anything rash. You may have led a dangerous life once, but you are better than that now. Violence is never the answer.”
Dodger gritted his teeth and balled his fists, trying to contain his rage. He wanted to lash out at the man. To scream and yell and deliver a lecture all his own about hatred and evil and murder. Violence? Dodger knew a thing or two about violence. He had been all around the world and back, and the one thing he had learned on that journey was that violence proved the only true constant. No matter the belief, the culture, or the people, violence was the universal language that everyone understood. Violence always trumped compassion in terms of bringing someone around to your way of thinking. Violence always got its point across.
Yet, what had violence gotten Dodger? Sleepless nights and a yen for death and a fearful reputation. He had no real friends to speak of from that time in his life. No memories he could share with pride. No family that would claim him after the things he had done. Nothing.
Perhaps the doc was right. Perhaps Dodger was better than that. Even Christ revoked the idea of an eye for an eye after years of folks believing otherwise. But turn the other cheek? Could Dodger? Not likely. There had to be a way to bring Kitty to justice for Al’s murder. Yet what court could he take her to that would believe the whole strange tale?
“Rodger,” the doc said softly. He reached out and wrapped his pudgy hand around Dodger’s shaking fist, stilling it. “You are correct when you say she is sick in the head. Just, please consider the source of her madness. How long has she been under that maniac’s control? How much of her dreadfulness is of his making?”
Of course Dodger had never considered this. Dodger couldn’t help but wonder just how loyal Kitty was to Rex. Maybe as a daughter to a father. And why would she be so loyal? What was the real story behind their relationship? Was she just a hired hand, or had the man manipulated her into this lifestyle? Did she kill for Rex because she wanted to, or for the same reason Dodger killed for Tyler Crank?
Because she felt obliged.
His fists relaxed as he pondered these things. The look of peace in Al’s eyes as he exhaled his last breath came to Dodger’s mind, filling the space left behind by Dodger’s receding anger. He would never forget what Kitty had done to Al, but Dodger reckoned maybe, just maybe forgiving himself for all of his misdeeds might include learning to forgive others for theirs.
Besides, he already promised Lelanea he wouldn’t kill Kitty.
Not until Miss Lelanea returned.
He could do that much, at least.
The doc gave Dodger’s relaxed hand a squeeze. “There you go. That’s the man I have come to know. We will bring her to justice, I promise. Just keep away from her if you can. That would be the best course for now.”
“Yes, sir,” he said, his voice choking up just a touch. It was then he realized his eyes had gone damp. Damn it all! Now he was weeping at the drop of a hat. Ah well, such was life aboard the Sleipnir. He wiped at his eyes just as Feng limped into the room.
“Boy oh boy, Hieronymus,” Feng said. “When you let a woman think she’s dying, you lay it on thick. What possessed you to do that?”
“I don’t really know,” the doc said. He giggled. “It just came to me.”
“It was a brilliant move. She’s singing like a canary in there. Anything to make me better, she keeps saying. It’s kind of annoying.”
“Oh, we shouldn’t miss this opportunity,” the doc said, getting to his feet.
“Don’t waste your time. She isn’t saying anything useful. Just childhood confessions and the likes. Nothing about Rex. Still, I set Mr. Torque to record her all the same.”
“Clever man. I suppose that leaves us back at square one.”
“I have an idea about that,” Dodger said. “If Kitty isn’t the source of the problem, it must be someone in the circus.”
“Do you think?” the doc said.
“Only makes sense. It isn’t any of us and it isn’t her. We need to talk to the boss man out there and find out if he’s had any new employees, or anything strange happening lately.”
“Aside from an elephantnapping,” Feng said.
The doc stood and grabbed his CROSS. “I can also measure everyone if needed. We will find out where the flux is coming from one way or another.”
“Actually,” Feng said, “before you start waving that thing around complete strangers, I think I have a much simpler idea.”
The Celestial smirked.
Dodger wasn’t sure he liked the look of that grin.
In which Dodger follows the leader