In which Dodger is freed
Someone jostled him.
“Dodger,” someone whispered.
Someone jostled him again, shaking Dodger so hard he thought he would fall out of his bed. He opened his eyes, slowly blinking away a haze of sleep. Funny, he didn’t remember falling asleep. Dodger glanced around the sparse room, wondering for a brief amnesiac moment where in the hell he was. His head felt like a hat air bag, filled and swollen to bursting. Now why did that sound familiar? When his eye caught the half-eaten meal still perched on the chair, everything came flooding back.
He worried about the food being poisoned.
He didn’t stop to think it might have been drugged.
“Crap on a cracker,” Dodger whispered.
“That’s what we are going to be if you don’t get up,” someone said.
Not just anyone. A woman. A familiar woman.
Dodger blinked as he looked up to the face hovering over him, framed by a halo of soft light. “Lelanea?”
She smiled down at him. “Good. At least you aren’t brain damaged.” She pulled at his arm, yanking him upright. “Now, come on. We only have a few minutes to get to the platform.”
“How did you get aboard?” Dodger said.
Lelanea cut her eyes at him. “Why must you always ask such silly questions? Uncle got me aboard.”
“You? Alone? How?”
“I came up here in the Weather Investigative Non-Grounded Surveyors.”
“WINGS. Clever.” Though Dodger thought perhaps the doc was reaching a bit with that anagram.
She grinned. “As always. They aren’t meant for human flight but he managed to rig it to hold a couple of people. Now come on.” She pulled on his hand. “We have to get out of here.”
Dodger followed her to the door, slipping out behind her and into the grinding, chuffing noise of the machinery. It was tricky, but somehow they managed to dodge and duck their way past the few men maintaining the machinery, and made it to the stairs. Dodger tossed a quick glance behind them, to make sure no one had witnessed their escape. Just as he looked back, he caught sight of a woman standing beside one of the boilers. She looked vaguely familiar, but when he turned about to full on stare, she was gone.
“Dodger?” Lelanea said in a hoarse whisper from a few steps above him. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” he said, and returned to his escape.
“Then come on.” Lelanea lead him to the middle deck, and rushed headlong back down the hallway with so many doors with no labels.
Dodger stopped outside of Carr’s door and called after her, “Lelanea.”
She stopped, mid-flee to shoot him a questioning glance.
“We can’t leave without Boon and the kid,” he said.
She bit her lower lip as worry overcame her. “You’re right, of course.” Lelanea crept back down the hallway and joined him at the first door. “Where do you think they are?”
“I’m not sure but I know who can find them.” Dodger gently tapped on the door. He waited a moment, then rapped a bit harder. After another few seconds of silence, in which Lelanea shook her head at him in confusion, the door finally opened a crack, and William Carr peered out at Dodger.
“Mr. Dodger?” he said.
“It’s time,” Dodger said.
Carr smiled and opened the door wider. “What can-” He paused in his question as he caught sight of Lelanea. “Ma’am.”
Dodger nodded to her. “This is Lelanea, the professor’s niece. She’s come to help us.”
“Ah. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Enough dawdling,” Lelanea said. “Where is Boon?”
“Follow me,” Carr said.
The three of them snuck their way down the long hall and into the meeting room. Carr then hung a left, doubling back into the door on the other side of the Hepplewhite. This lead to another set of stairs. Carr motioned for Lelanea and Dodger to wait at the foot of the stairs while he climbed ahead.
“Are you sure we can trust him?” Lelanea whispered.
“Yup,” Dodger said. “Kid’s been waiting for a chance to break out of here.”
Lelanea eyed him with a strange smirk. “Is that so?”
Carr whistled down the stairwell, a signal for the pair to follow him. Dodger pushed Lelanea ahead of him, climbing the stairs after her. The stairs led to a full fledge laboratory. It looked remarkably like the doc’s setup, only cleaner, more organized and ordered. That mutt really did love to duplicate the doc in every little thing. Imitate and improve. What a hell of a motto to live by.
“He’s over here,” Carr said. He stood on the far side of the room, next to what looked like a metal sarcophagus. Hell, as far as Dodger could tell, it was a metal sarcophagus. “Your friend is in here. Rex keeps the little boy on the bridge, closer to the front.”
Lelanea rushed to the casket and ran her hands along the lid. “How do we get him out?”
“You don’t,” Crank said.
Everyone turned to face the man as he stepped out from behind a large metal cupboard near the door. The only door. Which meant they were trapped.
Carr raised his hands and stepped around the casket. “Tyler, please. Give us a chance to explain.”
Crank didn’t give the kid a chance to explain. He didn’t give the kid any kind of chance at all. Instead, Tyler Crank leveled his pistol on the younger agent and fired. Carr seized up in a full body clench as the bullet struck him square on the chest. Lelanea gave a shout of surprise and covered her mouth, backing away from the wounded man in horror.
“No!” Dodger yelled. He ran forward in time to catch the collapsing Carr. It only took a moment to see that compression would do no good. Crank’s aim was as true as it had ever been. A gaping wound gushed fresh blood all over Dodger in a rhythmic spurt.
William Carr looked into Dodger’s eyes for a single, shocked second, then collapsed.
Dodger lowered the dying man to the floor and crouched beside him, glaring up at Crank. “You didn’t have to kill him.”
“Of course I did,” Crank said. “Traitors deserve death.” He stepped forward and slipped a strong arm around Lelanea, who cried out in surprise. “All of you.”
Trembling with rage, Dodger slipped Carr’s weapon from his hostler and stood training the gun on his old partner. “Let her go, or so help me I will kill you.”
“You aren’t that good of a shot,” Crank said. “Besides, you can’t shoot me. Not your old partner. Not me.”
“The hell I won’t.” Dodger set his hammer.
“Really? You think you got it in you to kill me? After all that time we spent together? After all I taught you?”
“Are you kidding? I’ve been waiting a long time for this. Now let her go or I will kill you.”
“I have a better idea. How about you surrender?”
“What makes you think I’ll do that?”
Crank pressed the barrel of his pistol tight under Lelanea’s chin. “Surrender or I will kill her.”
Lelanea shook her head at him, her fear stricken eyes wider than ever. “Don’t do it. I’m not worth it.”
Her being worth it wasn’t the question. Nor was there any doubt that she most certainly was indeed worth it. Dodger’s aim wavered. He might be able to get a clean clip of Crank’s head, but there was a better than even chance that the man would squeeze the trigger in reaction, taking Lelanea with him. No, he wouldn’t allow that. He tightened his grip and drew a bead on Crank’s head.
“If I surrender,” he said, “you’ll just kill her anyways.”
“I won’t,” Crank said. “I ain’t got no beef with her. My problem is with you. Drop your gun and surrender to me, and your little girlfriend here can walk. Or fly. Or however the hell she got here.” Crank paused to eye his prey as best he could from his position. That grin turned into a leer as he drew in a deep breath of Lelanea’s scent.
Dodger also eyed the woman, wondering why in the hell she didn’t just change and kill the man. This wasn’t the time for niceties. They needed to get Boon and the kid out of here while they still could. She had no qualms about fighting as the wolf when the demons were aboard the line, or becoming the wolf just to track down a few escaped prisoners. Now she was shy?
“On second thought,” Crank said, “maybe I’ll just keep her here with us. The boys have been working real hard lately. It’s high time they got themselves a proper reward.”
Lelanea whimpered at the idea, going limp enough in the knees for Crank to grunt at the added weight.
Dodger had to hand it to her, the performance was believable. It dawned on him that maybe she was waiting for a prompt. Some kind of permission to let go. “Lelanea isn’t the kind of woman you want to mess with.”
“Really?” Crank chuckled as he moved his free hand to her breast and squeezed it tight enough to take her breath in a sudden gasp. “She full of diseases or something?”
There was no way the woman would stand for that kind of groping, much less sassy talk.
“She’s full of something, all right.” Dodger nodded to her.
Lelanea stared at him, and continued to look scared out of her wits.
Dodger dipped his head forward, straining as he tried to reach her mind with his. Go ahead. Do your thing.
She glanced up to Crank, then back to Dodger. Nothing changed. Not her. Not her fear. He wasn’t reaching her. And for God’s sake, she wasn’t going to become the wolf. What a time for propriety.
“Lelanea?” Dodger said. He raised a hand to her, but kept his aim tight on Crank. “Go ahead.”
Crank grunted. “What are you going on about?” In his confusion, Crank relaxed his grip on Lelanea, letting the gun slip away from her chin and relax to one side.
Not one to waste an opportunity, Dodger fired. He didn’t think twice. Didn’t flinch. Didn’t consider the consequences. Tyler Crank was a canker sore on the mouth of the whole Agency. The folks he used to work for weren’t the best people in the world, but Agent Tyler Crank ended up being worse than most of the marks they disposed of over the years. The lies. The immorality. The depravity. And worse than all of that was the man Tyler Crank made out of young and impressionable Rodger Dodger. If anyone deserved death, it was Crank.
Crank caught the shot square in the forehead, the bullet blowing the back of his brain all over the cabinet behind him. He didn’t engage his own weapon, his grip on the gun far too relaxed by the time Dodger fired. He released Lelanea, staggered back toward the metal locker, then fell against it, slumping to the floor with a glassy eyed look that Dodger had come to know so well.
That mile long death stare.
The moment Crank released her, Lelanea dashed across the laboratory and straight into Dodger’s arms. There she wept and trembled, hugging Dodger tightly as she repeatedly thanked him for saving her life.
“Thank you,” she said. “I thought he was going to kill me. I thought I was a dead woman. Thank you so much.”
Dodger let the pistol fall to the floor as he pushed her off of him and held her at arm’s length. He glared at her in wonder. “What is wrong with you?”
She blinked. “What?”
“You almost let him kill you. And for what? A little pride? Why didn’t you take care of him?”
“Dodger, he had a gun to my face.”
“Like that’s ever stopped you before.” He shook her, perhaps a bit too hard. But he was mad, damn it! “Why didn’t you change and take him down?”
“I … I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. Lelanea, it’s just you and me now. Why did you let him do that to you? Why didn’t you change?” He pulled her closer, taking a deep look in her panic stricken eyes. “Are you afraid to change in front of me? Are you embarrassed? That’s it, isn’t it? After everything we’ve been through, you’re still ashamed.”
Lelanea’s lower lip quivered. She looked about ready to cry.
He yanked her into his arms and hugged her to him, patting her back as she wept into his shoulder. “You know you can be whatever you want to be with me. You don’t have to hide your strength.” He held her out again, catching her face between his hot palms. “You are amazing, Lelanea. You’re powerful when you let it go. Never be ashamed of that.”
She stared up at him, her swollen eyes drying as her lips curved into a beautiful smile.
Dodger smiled back down at her.
Movement over her left shoulder caught Dodger’s eye. He looked up to find that familiar woman again, standing at Crank’s corpse. Miss Rebecca, of the Forsaken, knelt and dipped a single pale finger into the warm flowing blood. She brought it to her lips and groaned as she licked. Rebecca glanced up to Dodger, a drop of red rolling down her chin. Her presence here could only mean one thing. Sure Dodger had seen Miss Rebecca a time or two before outside of his dreams, but only in the bubble of a distracted moment. This wasn’t a distracted moment.
This wasn’t real either.
He drew his attention back to Lelanea again. “Do you understand what I am saying?”
“I do,” she said. “You’re saying I’m a powerful woman. And you like powerful women. Don’t you?” She put her lithe arms around his neck, linking her hands together behind his head.
Dodger considered her a moment, so close, so warm, so beautiful. “Yeah, I do.” Lowering his head, he pressed his mouth to hers. He expected a bite to the lips, a kick in the jewels and a slap to the face for his forwardness.
What he got was a mouthful of tongue.
Lelanea pressed her body against him, pushing her breasts against his chest as she not only kissed him in return, she took control of the kiss. Groaning, she ran her tongue across his, snaking it back and forth along the length of his mouth. Dodger almost fell into that kiss, almost let himself go, almost swept her up and made her his. Why not? This was a dream, wasn’t it? Why shouldn’t he enjoy himself?
“This isn’t just a dream,” Rebecca said from behind them, as if hearing his lusty thoughts. “This is something far more dangerous.”
Still attached to Lelanea’s lips, Dodger narrowed his eyes at the vampire.
Miss Rebecca cocked her head at him, pity filling her dark eyes. “I’m sorry, but you know that’s not your friend.”
Dodger gathered his senses and pushed Lelanea off of him. “Who are you?”
Lelanea returned to her bright smile. “What are you talking about? I’m Lelanea.”
“No, you’re not. There is no way Lelanea Dittmeyer would kiss me like that. Or kiss me at all. And especially not when the love of her life is laying ten feet away, in a casket, of all things.”
Her lips parted in a soft gasp as she stepped back from him a bit. “I don’t understand.”
“I think you do.”
“No. I don’t.” She raised a knuckle to her mouth and chewed on it for a second, then pointed a finger at him. “Let me get this straight. We aren’t in love with each other?”
Dodger shook his head. “No.”
“I’m in love with him?” She motioned to the sarcophagus.
Now Dodger was just as confused as she seemed. “Um, yes?”
Lelanea laughed, softly as she slapped her forehead with the heel of one hand. “Of course. She’s still in love with the other one. How stupid of me.”
“Yeah, how stupid of you.” Dodger glanced to the gun at his feet. “Now, who are you, exactly?”
“Who do you think?” a man said.
When Dodger looked up again, Lelanea was gone, replaced by a man Dodger had never seen before. No wait, he had seen the man … somewhere. Tall and well built, the stranger sported a long mop of thick, blonde hair with a Vandyke style beard. He also wore the uniform of the Confederate army, showing the rankings of a Commander. Could it be?
Dodger’s gaze flicked to Rebecca, who held up a single, gold coin.
Yes, yes it was indeed.
JOURNEY OF THE MIND
In which Dodger takes part in a battle of wits