Rise and Shine
In which Dodger is given a bit of a surprise.
The dog men collapsed in the meeting car after playing but a few hands of cards with the driver. Dodger suspected Ched drank them all under the table in the process of dealing a game or three. It was a good thing too, as it solved the problem of where the men would bunk down for the night. Ched agreed to keep watch, all night or so the driver claimed, which left Dodger to make his own sleeping arrangements.
After the professor spent a good half hour explaining the various built in amenities of Dodger’s new quarters—a comfortable bunk, conditioned air, electric lights, and a fully stocked writing desk complete with company letter head—Boon then spent the next hour or so recanting his adventures in the very same room; some bordering on bawdy but mostly innocent. Sometime around one in the morning Dodger begged off the spirit’s final few tales and fell into a sound sleep.
The next morning he awoke to the creeping light of the rising sun as it filtered in through the slats of the shades. Never one to wait for work to find him, Dodger rose and dressed to the grumbles of his very empty stomach. He wondered what was on the breakfast menu after spending the whole of yesterday fed on nothing but the adrenaline of the new job.
The sound of someone rapping at his door caught his attention.
Dodger slid the door open, only to find a silver domed tray on the floor. “Hello?”
“Good morning,” Boon said.
“Morning,” Dodger whispered. He searched the hallway in the low light and could just make out Boon’s form in the shadowed corner nearest him.
“I joined Ched on his watch after you feel asleep. Made a few rounds of the grounds. Everything is secure. No signs of trouble.”
“What is that?” Dodger asked, pointing to the tray.
“You brought me breakfast? I didn’t think you could touch-”
“No. No, not me. Feng brought it. He’ll bring you breakfast every morning. It’s one of the perks, so to speak. It’s also one of the things I really miss about being alive.”
Dodger grabbed the tray and sat it on the desk, inviting the spirit to join him in the room before closing the door. “Good timing too. I’m famished.”
“He’s uncanny when it comes to meal times. He always seemed to know just when I was waking up, or just when I was getting peckish. I don’t know how he did it.”
When Dodger lifted the tray lid, he nearly shouted aloud in surprise. As it was, he couldn’t help but drop the tray lid and whisper fiercely, “Jesus H. Christ on a raft!”
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Wrong?” Dodger asked. “That’s wrong.” He pointed at the meal on the tray; a repast of two eggs over easy, a large glass of ice cold milk, and much to his delight as well as surprise, two slices of fried livermush.
“Looks innocuous enough.” Boon wrinkled his ethereal nose at the quickly cooling squares of meat. “Whatever it is.”
“Liver what? Ugh. Sounds terrible.”
“It’s not terrible.” Dodger lowered his nose to the steaming hunk of charcoal gray meat, breathing deep the aroma. “It’s a slice of heaven in porcine form. Or in this case two slices of heaven.”
“If you love it so much then what’s the trouble?”
“The trouble is livermush is my favorite breakfast food.”
“Oh, yes. I see what you mean now. The professor didn’t explain Feng’s little knack. Did he?”
Dodger shook his head. “Knack?”
“Our Feng takes good care of the crew,” Boon said. “Sometimes he’ll feed what he thinks you need most, nutritionally speaking. Such as your small picnic yesterday. But for the most part you will usually get a meal tailored to your specific tastes.”
“But I never told him what my tastes were.”
“You don’t have to. He has a knack for guessing.”
“Guessing? Just like that?”
“Yes. Just like that.” Boon tilted his head at the tray to prove his point.
“He guesses a dish so provincial you can plot your course by its appearance? I don’t think so. Livermush is a homemade delicacy. It’s the north star of the southern states. If you find it on your plate, then you know you’re home, or as near as damn it.”
Boon cocked his head at Dodger. “I never pegged you for a Southern man. You seem to lack the accent so common to the-”
“I was born and raised in North Carolina for the first thirteen years of my life, and you’re ignoring my point. Livermush divides the south on its very taste buds. Either you love livermush, or you hate it. Granted I fall into the prior, but I don’t think the man could’ve just guessed I liked it, much less loved it, much less get his hands on the very thing in the few hours I’ve been aboard. It’s not like you can buy it anywhere. The recipe is so guarded I have seen men gunned down just for mentioning a single ingredient.”
“Yet your proof is in the liver pudding.”
“It’s not liver pudding. It’s livermush, and if you didn’t get to taste it when you were alive then you have suffered greatly my dead friend.”
Boon stuck out his tongue. “Looks like a couple of squares of dried horse-”
“I apologize, but I do believe I will leave you alone to enjoy your mushed liver. I need to check on Ched anyways. He was rousing the other men when I left him. The Doc wants a word with you, but it can wait until you have eaten your … meal. You will find the Doc in his lab. Leave your tray in the hallway and Feng will collect it at his leisure.”
The spirit moved through the door, leaving Dodger alone to enjoy his surprise. Dodger did just that, wolfing down the warm cornmeal and liver mixture with the voracious nature of one who hadn’t eaten such a thing in ages. Which was just so the case. Later he would have to corner this Feng. How did the old Celestial know so much about southern cuisine? And what were the odds he could guess Dodger stood on the side of right—the side that was in favor of livermush.
The beast of his appetite sated, Dodger took off for the professor’s lab. There he found the man in question laboring over a boiling pot of some viscous goop. “You wanted to see me, sir?”
“Yes!” the professor shouted.
He backed away from his experiment, lifting a pair of goggles from his face as he turned to look up at Dodger. The dark half moons under the man’s eyes told a tale of all night labor, as did his disheveled appearance and tired yawn. Dodger almost felt guilty for sleeping so soundly.
“I have some news concerning our friends,” the professor said after he yawned.
“Good news?” Dodger asked.
“Yes. Well, not as good as we had hoped, but that’s the way of things yes? Let us say I have some slightly bad news and some all right news. Fair?”
Dodger looked to the ceiling and silently counted to five before he said, “Fine. What is the slightly bad news?”
“I’m not completely certain, but I think if I can recreate the original design, and understand the changes made by our mysterious villain, then I can reverse the effects of the P.O.W. device. Easy as flipping a few switches I suspect.”
“Really? That’s fantastic news!”
“But I don’t have all the necessary items to recreate the original device. Some of the proponents were very rare. More than one item was an artifact of unique origin. I don’t think I can do it, Dodger. In fact, I am certain I can’t duplicate it. And if the original is truly destroyed, there is little I can do for those men.” He looked to the floor, as if ashamed to admit defeat.
Yet, even in the man’s dismay, Dodger sensed a spark of hope. “Sometimes a little makes all the difference. What is this little you can do?”
The professor raised his face to Dodger again, that familiar mischief returning to his eyes. “After taking some time to evaluate their blood, I believe I can create a serum that will, at the very least, stabilize them. It won’t make them into men again, but it will keep them from falling apart at the seams.”
“But?” Dodger asked, not convinced it would be so easy.
“But, once again I do not have all of the required resources at my fingertips. I am lacking a vital component. A rare chemical.”
“And that’s where I come in. You need me to track down this component of yours. Yes?”
The professor seemed shocked at Dodger’s words. “Why, yes. Am I that transparent?”
“You’re my employer, sir. It pays for me to know what you want before you realize you even want it.”
“I just feel bad asking. I hired you as a gunman, not a courier.”
“It’s your privilege to send me on the simple errand now and again. Though I have a feeling this errand isn’t as simple as you are making it sound. Otherwise you would just fetch it yourself.”
“Caught red-handed again, I’m afraid. Yes, what I need isn’t quite as unique as what makes up the P.O.W. device, but it is rare enough to cause some difficulty in obtaining.”
“May I ask what it is?”
“What is what?”
Dodger raised an eyebrow. “Would I recognize the name of this chemical of you seek?”
The professor exhaled sharply, a small huff of annoyance at the question. “I dare say you would. But—and I promise I won’t make a habit of this—I’m going to have to keep this information to myself. It isn’t that I don’t trust you, it’s just … the information is sensitive. I do hope you understand.”
Dodger couldn’t help but feel a little hurt. After all the speeches about being family, he almost expected the professor to disclose everything. “I understand, sir. But I must ask if I don’t know the name, how will I know I have it?”
“Because you will purchase it directly from the only folks who can provide it. And they will know what you want simply by my request. Mention my name, and they will provide what I need. No questions asked.”
“I see.” Though in truth he didn’t see at all. He didn’t understand any of it. Such a clandestine operation, with this ‘no questions asked’ business, was a bit to close to the smoke and mirrors operations he used to pull years ago.
“It’s quite a distance from here, but we have plenty of time to make the trip. The folks you need to barter with only deal in the evening hours. If we leave now, we should make it just as they open up shop.”
The professor then outlined a simple plan.
(Click forward to continue.)