Armed and Dangerous
“I’m sure you haven’t,” the professor said over Dodger’s weak stammer. “You must admit, it raised Boon’s chances of landing a shot. All he had to do was point and click. There was, of course, a fair amount of collateral damage, but nothing insurmountable, and nothing compared to the damage he did trying to fight with a normal weapon.”
“Three at once?” Dodger asked again, still disbelieving his own eyes.
“Yes. Based on my own design.”
“But crafted by the besht weaponshmith in the bushinessh,” Ched added with stern reproach.
“Certainly,” the professor agreed. “In Boon’s skittish hands, they managed to keep us safe enough. In a skilled man’s hands, I can’t begin to imagine the havoc it will wreak.”
“Three bullets?” Dodger asked once more. He counted the number of slots in the oversized cylinder, then looked up to the professor. “Nine? It only holds three rounds?”
“Well, yes. One must make sacrifices. We had to lower the actual number of rounds in favor of a higher success rate. But we made up for it with those.” The professor pointed to a pouch perched on the left-hand side of the holster belt.
Popping the button on the pouch, Dodger took a peek inside at a handful of large metal rings. “What are they?”
“Preloaded spring-operated cartridges specifically designed with the nine shooter in mind.”
Dodger pulled free a ring, which turned out to be three conjoined rings, much like the cylinder, and filled with nine bullets ready for use. It didn’t take a genius to figure out how to load the gun. He pressed the ring against the cylinder until he heard it snap, after which the ring recoiled and the bullets were transferred from ring to cylinder, neat as that.
“Nice. Very nice. Quick and easy too. I like that. Should more than make up for only three rounds.”
“I’m glad you approve,” the professor said.
Dodger was duly impressed. A man with good aim could do a lot of damage with the nine shooters. He imagined a man with lousy aim did even more. Dodger held up a cartridge and asked, “You got many more of these?”
“In the trunk,” Ched said. “There should be a good two doshen or sho.”
Retrieving the things, Dodger tossed a few in the pouch and stuffed the rest into the pockets that bordered the holster. Even with the weight of the extra ammo, the holster settled on Dodger’s hips with an all too familiar ease. He loaded the second gun, then drew them both and marveled again at their beauty.
The professor cleared his throat. “Now I put it to you again, Mr. Carpenter. What do we do?”
When Dodger decided to look into the job of a hired gunman for a private rail, he considered that his work would involve the occasional holdup, but he never supposed he would have free range of a fully navigable engine from which to defend. This changed the entire game. It was more than just taking refuge inside a car, hunkering behind a seat as you squeezed off the occasional shot through an open window. This was a whole different beast. He had an iron horse beneath him, a steed of unfathomable power and drive. This put him on more than equal footing with the approaching men, and with Boon’s nine shooters in Dodger’s hands, the bandits had no idea what they were in for.
Dodger almost felt sorry for them.
“Ched!” Dodger shouted as he put away the guns. “Bring us about so they approach the back end of the cab. When they are almost on us, bring her to a stop, but don’t wipe her clock completely.”
“Will do,” Ched said and proceeded to turn the train around once more.
“Stop?” the professor shouted. “What do you mean stop? We can’t just stop!”
Dodger yanked his long duster around the guns to conceal them. “Both of you keep out of sight, and if you hear me holler giddyup, then bat the stack off her and get us the hell out of here. Don’t panic at the sound of gunfire. I might have to set off a few warning shots, so just wait for my verbal cue.”
“I reckon I can manage that,” Ched said. “We should come to a shtop here in a shecond.”
“You aren’t going out there, are you?” the professor asked.
“Yes,” Dodger said.
“Because it’s hard to hold a decent conversation from inside the cab.” Dodger pulled the handle on the sliding door, wincing as dust flew up into the cab. He slipped his goggles down his face. “I’m going out to talk to them for a bit-”
“Talk to them?” the professor asked. “Why on earth would you want to do that? I know their type. Those men are out for blood. They are armed. They will kill you as soon as look at you.”
“We don’t know that for sure.”
“We don’t know what they want. For all we know, they are a bunch of ranch hands who lost their herd in a storm. And to be quite frank, sir, if I plan on taking a man’s life in my hands, then I would like to know why. Wouldn’t you?”
The professor didn’t seem to have an answer for that.
“Then let me do what you are so hot to hire me to do. You shutter these windows and stay out of sight.” With this said, Dodger stepped onto the platform, closing the door behind him and leaving the professor fuming. He had bigger things to deal with than the fury of his potential boss. Through the goggles, Dodger watched the approaching men with interest and worry. He hoped he wasn’t biting off more than he could chew, but he was very serious about the need to know. The days of blindly shooting at folks just because the boss man ordered it were long behind him. Never again, he had promised himself. And he had every intention of keeping that promise.
The train drew to a stop, but the approaching men did not. They continued to whip their steeds as they raced the last few hundred yards to meet the cab. It wasn’t until they were almost upon the car that they finally yanked their collective reins and came to an abrupt halt. There, the men sat upon their huffing horses, staring at Dodger, or rather at the cab itself. Dodger could see the wonder on each man, or at least the surprise in their eyes. He wasn’t sure what they were expecting to gun down and rob, but he was fairly sure the Sleipnir’s cab was nowhere near their wildest dreams.
They ranged from teens to middle aged, with builds from lean to broad shouldered. They were dressed in a similar manner—a filthy flannel shirt tucked into a pair of even filthier blue jeans, topped with a leather vest and a wide-brimmed hat—but as luck would have it, they all bore a bandana of a different color across their mouths, making for a set of colorful but crude masks.
The rider in green was tall, tan, lean, and carted a single pistol.
The man with the brown mask was as white as a freshly bleached sheet, with pink eyes that watered in the springtime sun. His hair was as white as he was, hanging long and free from under his hat. He also carried a single revolver.
The one behind the blue mask was short and squat, as black as night, and toted an impressive hunting rifle.
The fellow under the black bandanna was a white man armed with another rifle. He also sported an impressive shiner that covered a good three inches around his left eye.
The owner of the red bandanna was the biggest of the men, as well as the hairiest. His beard hung in a great bush under the length of his mask, and crawled over the upper edge as if trying to escape the cover. His eyes were shadowed by the thick forest of a single brow. There didn’t seem to be an inch of them that wasn’t covered in hair. Even the hand that held his pistol was more fur than fingers.
Though all of the men’s weapons were drawn, none was aimed. Instead they hung loose from their respective owners’ hands. Dodger could tell, even from behind the masks, that each man was slack jawed with awe. As they should be.
“Holy shit,” the green bandanna said.
“I ain’t never seen nothing like it,” the brown bandanna said.
“What is it?” the blue bandanna asked.
“It’s a train, ya idjeet,” the red bandanna said.
“Can’t be a train,” the blue bandanna said. “Where’s the rest of it? And how come it’s a-runnin’ wif no track? Huh?”
“Yeah,” the green bandanna said. “Where’s her tracks?”
The four fell into an argument over the possibilities, while the fifth man continued to stare, narrowing his eyes as he looked just past Dodger. No, not past, at. He was staring right at Dodger. The men’s heated discussion included many colorful phrases and choice insults, as well as a fair bit of grumping and growling. Dodger was pleased by the disorienting effect that the Sleipnir had on these men. This was a tactic he could get used to employing.
“Gentlemen?” he asked.
The four stopped arguing and turned as one to Dodger.
“I hate to interrupt your discussion,” Dodger said. “But can I help you in any way?”
The five men stared in silence for a moment, then the red bandanna asked, “What the hell is that?”
“Looks like a bug,” the blue bandanna said. “Like a damned talking bug.”
Dodger was confused at first, then he remembered he was still sporting a pair of the professor’s goggles. He slid the SPECS up to rest on his forehead, much to the surprise of the men.
“That’s not a bug,” the brown bandanna said. “Looks like a man to me.”
The red bandanna snorted a short laugh. “Looks like a dead man to me.” He raised his gun.
The other three followed suit, while the last one just kept on staring in silent awe.
Dodger dropped his hands to the folds of his duster. “Now put that thing away. We don’t want to start something we can’t finish.”
“Oh don’t worry,” the red bandanna said. “I always finish what I start. Ain’t that right, boys?”
The first three grunted with deep, husky laughter.
“I’m not looking for a fight,” Dodger said, flipping back his jacket to reveal the nine shooters resting at his hips. “And trust me, you aren’t either.”
“Little man wanna play rough?” the red bandanna asked. “Wanna play with the big dogs, do we?”
His three cronies laughed with him.
But not the fellow in the black bandanna. Not the man who had spent the entire exchange staring at Dodger and not at the train. Instead of laughing, he finally spoke. And what he said nearly dropped Dodger to his knees in pained surprise.