Armed and Dangerous
Armed and Dangerous
In which Dodger is put on the spot more than once.
Dodger raised his goggles and stared at the professor. “Well what?”
“What do you propose we do?” the professor asked.
“Why are you asking me?”
“Because you came here seeking employment as head of my train’s security. This is a chance to show me what you can do.”
Dodger had to give him credit. It was a clever conclusion to draw. “I see. So you’re taking orders from me now?”
“Not orders, no. Consider them recommendations. Outline a plan of action, and I will say yea or nay. Simple as that.”
Ched snorted again at the word simple.
“You keep out of this,” the professor warned.
Dodger, however, had returned to eyeing the incoming bandits. They were moving fast, but the train could surely outrun them. Then again, if they moved too far away from the line, there was a chance they would run out of fuel before they could return. Dodger guessed that the shafts held a moderate amount of coal, but Ched had burned through a lot just showing off for his passengers.
“Do you have any weapons?” Dodger asked.
“There’sh a rifle in the cabinet,” Ched said. “But there are only a few shellsh.”
“Don’t you have any weapons?” the professor asked.
“No,” Dodger said as he raided the nearly empty gun cabinet. “I supposed they would be provided, considering the work.” In the cabinet rested a worn out Spencer loaded with just three shells. Even with ample practice, which Dodger sorely lacked, he wasn’t sure he could defend against that many men with so little ammunition. “Are you sure this is all?”
Ched hesitated, looking at the professor for a second before he said, “Well …”
“Take the shteerin’, Doc.”
The professor slipped into place, taking command of the cab as Ched went to his foot locker. There he produced a key from the depths of his overall bib, and unlocked the dusty chest. After rummaging about inside for a moment, he found what he was looking for, gathering it to him as he closed the lid. The man then returned to Dodger, holding aloft his prize.
Dodger stared, slack jawed and wide eyed.
Ched bore a matching pair of modified Colt revolvers in a dark leather holster. But instead of the usual narrow rings set about the belt to hold ammunition, the entire length of leather was scored in wide pockets from buckle to holster, both ways. The buckle itself bore a single word, a name worked into the tempered metal by an expert hand.
“Ched,” the professor said in a soft voice, barely audible over the chuff and squeal of the driving engine. “I didn’t know you had those.”
“Shorry, Doc. He told me a while back if shomething happened to him, I should hang onto ‘em for the next shucker.” Ched winked at Dodger. “I guessh that shucker would be you.”
“Me?” Dodger asked, all but forgetting the approaching danger in face of these remarkable beauties.
“Here,” Ched said, shoving the handful toward Dodger. “Put ‘em on. I’ll bet what teeth I have left it’sh a perfect fit.”
Dodger shook his head in disbelief. “I can’t take those.”
“You aren’t taking ‘em. You’re borrowing ‘em. Don’t ever forget that.” Ched dangled the pair from their holster.
“I suggest you take them,” the professor said. “Because those fellows will be on us any moment.”
“All right, you win,” Dodger said and grabbed the pair of pistols. “I’ll borrow them for now, but you get them right back when we are done here.” He slipped the holster around his waist and buckled it in place. Ched could keep his teeth after all, because the thing was a perfect fit. Dodger drew one of them, holding it up to admire the beauty and impressive size of the weapon.
Each weapon gleamed in polished silver, inset with pearlescent grips. And the custom modifications didn’t stop there. The chambers were enormous, as big as Dodger’s fists and surely capable of holding far more than the standard six shots of the average pistol. The barrel was a good eight inches long, with two additional openings poised under the main barrel, running the length of the weapon all the way to the cylinder. Dodger supposed they were just for show, and what an impressive show they made. Intricate scrollwork adorned the barrels and oversized cylinder, a flowering pattern that spread across the guns like a living organism. And that’s how it felt in his hands.
It was like gripping a rock and a rose at the same time.
Dodger drew the second piece and let out a satisfied groan at their perfect balance. “These should be in a vault somewhere. They must be worth a fortune.”
“They’re priceless,” the professor said. “But it has little to do with monetary value. They belonged to a friend of ours. He’s … gone now.”
“Gone but not forgotten,” Ched added.
As much as Dodger would’ve loved to have given the men a moment to reminisce about their long-gone friend, there were more pressing matters at hand. “Monetary or sentimental, these are certainly invaluable. Especially now. I confess I am a much better shot with a pistol than a rifle.”
“Then you’ll be an amazing shot with thoshe,” Ched said.
“Because they’re shpecial.”
“I can field that one.” The professor cleared his throat, at which Ched returned to his post, relieving the professor of the controls. “Boon did a remarkable job protecting our various investments, but unfortunately he was …oh … how should I put this?”
“A loushy shot?” Ched asked.
“In a nutshell, yes.”
“Let me get this straight. I take it this Boon of yours was your previous security man?”
“And he was a lousy shot?”
Ched chuckled. “He couldn’t shtrike the broad shide of a barn if you threw it at him.”
The professor nodded in agreement. “While his heart was in the work, he lacked a certain amount of skill.”
“No wonder you need a new man,” Dodger said.
Ched whipped about on his stool to snarl at Dodger. “You’d do besht to watch your tongue, shtranger.”
“Stand down, Ched,” the professor said, stepping between them. “He didn’t mean anything.”
The driver growled once at Dodger, then returned to his duties without another word.
“You have to forgive our defense of him. Boon was dear to us all.”
“Was?” Dodger asked, before he recognized what the professor had tried so hard to imply. “Oh. Was.”
“Yes, we lost him very recently, in a tragic accident.”
“Weren’t no accshident,” Ched spat. “Boon wash murderd. That’sh the only thing plain or shimple around here.”
“Ched. Please. Not now.”
The driver fell quiet again. An amber tear gathered at the corner of one sallow eye before it broke free and rolled down his withered cheek.
“I’m sorry,” Dodger said. “I didn’t mean to imply … I didn’t know.”
“Not at all,” the professor said. “I should have explained sooner. After all, if you are to be his successor, you have every right to know how he performed his duties. It’s just very hard for me to talk about him without getting a touch sentimental.” The professor patted Ched’s bony shoulder and added, “It’s hard for any of us to talk about him.”
“Again, I didn’t mean any disrespect.”
Ched wasn’t moved by Dodger’s contrition. “They’ll be on ush any minute. If you got a plan, Carpenter, I shuggesht you shet it in moshion. Now.”
There lay the problem; Dodger didn’t have a plan. Perhaps if he’d anticipated this sort of on-the-job exercise, then he would’ve been better prepared. As it was, the most excitement he expected out of today was a quick interview followed by a light lunch then back to his room for a few hours of reading before his shift at the bar. What he didn’t expect was to be dropped in the middle of a shootout with a half-dozen bandits. But, all things considered, he had been in worse situations.
“Do I need to do anything special to use Boon’s guns?” Dodger asked.
“They operate as normal weapons,” the professor said. “But they are calibrated to make up for Boon’s … um …”
“Lack of skill?”
“Thanks, but what does that mean?”
Ched piped up. “It meansh he could hit not only the broad shide of a barn with thosh thingsh, but alsho the cowsh two fieldsh over.”
Dodger looked to the professor for a translation of Ched’s words.
“He means they have a wide range of cover,” the professor explained.
“Like the scatter of a shotgun?” Dodger asked.
“Sort of. You can see there is but a single trigger, but the gun actually releases three bullets when activated. That way, whenever Boon fired, he had three times the chance of striking his intended target.”
Dodger started at this news. “It fires three consecutive bullets?”
“No. Three all at once. Simultaneously.”
The professor may as well have been speaking French for all the good his explanation was doing. Dodger looked down at the weapon in his hand. They had to be kidding. Three bullets at once? Dodger holstered one of the guns, then flipped the catch on the other’s cylinder to swing it open. Three conjoined rings of empty chambers stared up at him from the cylinder, in a cloverleaf pattern. He tilted the weapon back a bit and looked clean through all three barrels to the cab floor beneath him.
The ‘just for show’ barrels weren’t for show at all.
They were every bit as real as the main barrel.
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