Dialing it Down
In which Dodger gets what he asked for.
After the pair settled down gain, Ched became the epitome of what Dodger considered to be the perfect traveling companion. He spoke very little, listened with at least feigned interest and didn’t require the entertainment of engaging conversation every waking hour of the day. For the most part, they rode along in silence; Ched focusing on his work as the clickety-clack of the SMART lulled Dodger into an almost meditative state of mind. Boon, on the other hand, seemed distracted. He slipped away from the cab for long lengths of time without so much as a goodbye, only to return espousing apologies for being gone so long. After the third or fourth disappearance, Dodger finally asked Ched where the spirit kept drifting off to.
“He likesh to keep an eye on her,” the driver explained.
Dodger neither asked for nor expected more on that matter.
Thus it was. Silence. A little chatter. Then back to silence. After the excitement of the previous day, it seemed almost dull by comparison. Not that Dodger was complaining. No. A little dullness never hurt anyone. In fact, it hurt a lot less than the blows and throes of high excitement. Even so, within a few hours into this dullness the professor called Dodger to the meeting car and he found he was pleased to have something to do besides sit and watch the quiet driver at work.
“About time,” the professor said when Dodger joined him. He motioned to Mr. Torque. “Go on then, let him have it.”
“I can’t believe I’ve been reduced to a delivery boy,” Mr. Torque said. “And with you in the very same room. This is so beneath my station.”
The professor huffed. “No, mopping the men’s room at the World’s Fair is beneath your station, but if you don’t stop whinging on about your station that’s exactly where you’ll end up! Now do as I say.”
The metal man whizzed across the room and unceremoniously shoved a handful of leather and metal in Dodger’s direction. “Here. Take them.”
“What is it?” Dodger asked.
“Just as you requested,” the professor said.
Dodger fumbled with the belt for a moment before he realized he was holding a pair of pistols. “Sir, I appreciate the offer, but I really don’t want another pair of guns.”
“It’s not another pair. They are Boon’s. Or are they still his? I don’t know now.”
Dodger inspected the weapons and, sure enough, they were Boon’s tri-barreled babies. “But … what about dialing them back a bit?”
The professor stuck out his lower lip, as if hurt by the question. “I did just what you asked. You haven’t even looked at them properly.”
Mr. Torque snorted. “That’s gratitude for you.”
With a slight air of annoyance, Dodger drew Florence. Right away he could tell something was different. The gun was a little heavier, not much but enough for his sensitive hand to detect. He turned the oversized revolver to him and gawked at what he found. Perched on the cylinder of the gun was a small metal disk bearing the numbers one, two and three. ‘Two’ was framed by a small gold plate, while the other numbers rested to either side of the frame, as if awaiting their turn to be selected. Selected? Then that meant …
Yes. It was a dial.
Dodger snapped the gun open and whistled at the tiny clockwork additions that twisted around the innards of the existing mechanisms. A slotted aperture covered the chamber of the main barrel, keeping the hammer from striking the awaiting ammunition.
“Sir,” Dodger said. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Nothing needs to be said,” the professor said. “You asked for me to dial it back for you. So I did. Now you can dial it, up or down, as many as you like.”
He pushed the dial from two to three, and a soft series of clicks confirmed what Dodger suspected. The aperture over the main chamber slid open, exposing the ammunition of all three chambers. When he spun the dial to one, apertures closed over the side chambers, again keeping their respective hammers from striking the bullets inside.
“I can choose?” Dodger half-asked, half-declared.
“Yes,” the professor said. “The selection of one will release a single shot from the main barrel. A selection of two will fire shots from the side chambers only, and of course three will issue a bullet from each barrel. I’m afraid you will have to reload by hand until I can adjust the clips to accommodate half-full chambers. Alternately, you can just unload it in order to employ the spring loaded clips. It will leave a lot of math and loose ammunition on your end, but I know you are well capable of handling both.”
“I can choose?” Dodger repeated.
“I know it isn’t fancy, but I didn’t have a whole lot of time-”
“Not fancy?” Dodger clapped the professor on the shoulder. “Sir, this is just … I hesitate to say amazing because I feel like a damned parrot. But it is. It’s amazing!”
“You’re right,” Mr. Torque said. “You do sound like a parrot.”
“Will you be quite!” the professor snapped. “I’m glad you approve, Mr. Dodger.”
“I more than approve. This is just the kind of thing I was thinking. And you did it so fast. I wasn’t expecting anything for a few days. Maybe weeks.”
“It was rather easy when I got down to it.”
“Talks as if he did it alone,” Mr. Torque said in a low voice.
The professor ignored his metal manservant. “Just a matter of taking it apart and adjusting a few cogs. And you know me. Once I get started on a thing-” The professor cut his own speech with a soft gasp. “For a moment there I addressed you as if you were Boon. Forgive me. I forget you don’t know me. And in that respect, I don’t know you.”
“Not yet, sir,” Dodger said. “Just give us time and we’ll get there.”
The professor smiled.
“How touching,” Mr. Torque said. “Should I give you two some privacy?”
“Will you be quite!” the professor shouted.
Dodger could just about feel the metal eyes rolling heavenward in their dry sockets. “Again, I’m just …”
“Yes. Yes, sir. I am.”
As am I, Boon whispered, his presence drifting into the car. I’m almost jealous I didn’t think of such a thing.
“It wasn’t really my idea,” Dodger said. “At least not what I was expecting.”
“Nonsense,” the professor said. “Credit where credit is due, son. I was just following your suggestion. And speaking of which, I managed to find another buckle for the holster. I hope it will suffice.”
Dodger grabbed up the belt and inspected the new buckle. His new buckle. To his (almost) disappointment, it was just a plain brass fastener and nothing more. No hidden pockets. No small surprises. In many ways it suited Dodger. “It’ll work great. Thanks, Doc.”
“My pleasure, really.”
Returning the weapon to the holster, Dodger said, “Good thing you finished this so fast. I could have taken another pair, but I feel better with these on my hips. Especially if that town is as troublesome as you say it is. Boon’s presence will be a welcome help.”
I’ll take that as a compliment, Boon said.
“Take is ash you will,” Dodger whispered in his best imitation of Ched.
“He would have been a good partner for you,” the professor said. “Boon, I mean. Yes, a good Ying to your Yang. Or would that have been the other way about? I’m never sure about such things. I confess that while Feng and I are old friends—very old in his case—I still don’t know very much about his culture.” The professor stopped to tap his chin in thought, and then clapped his hands together as the moment of contemplation passed as quickly as it overcame him. “Well then, Ched says we will reach Waxford in a couple of hours. I suggest you have a nap. The residents keep very late hours, and I don’t want my best man falling asleep on the job. Do I?”
“No sir. I reckon you don’t.”
Dodger left the professor to whatever new task consumed the man, and made his way down the line to his room. A nap sounded like a fine idea, even if he wasn’t particularly tired. At the very least, he could put up his feet and think about things for a while. As he opened the door to the fourth car, he came face to face with Lelanea.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, her hand fluttering over her chest. “You startled me.”
“Sorry, ma’am,” Dodger said. He stepped to one side, to let her pass, but she motioned him forward and stepped out of his way.
“I hear you plan on going to Waxford alone,” she said as he stepped into the car.
“Yes. Is that unwise?”
“For you?” She tipped her head to one side and eyed him. “Or for them?”
He laughed. “I don’t know if that was a compliment or an insult.”
“Why can’t it be both?”
She laughed high and tinkling, before her titter wound down into a long and drawn out sigh. “Seriously though, Dodger, you should be careful in Waxford. The women there are very dangerous.”
“They can be tricky. You just need to watch yourself with them. That’s all.”
Ah, so that was her worry. She didn’t want Dodger to go in and get all wrapped up in the arms and lips of some strange, crafty woman. In a way, her warning was kind of sweet. Maybe she was over Boon after all. Maybe Dodger did have a shot at her affections. As well as other parts of her, as Ched put it.
“I appreciate the warning,” Dodger said as he stepped closer, closing the small gap between them. Her body heat was astounding; the warmth of her skin radiated like a bonfire through her clothes. Staring down at her, he winked. “But as you know, I can hold my own.”
“Is that so?” she asked as she edged in closer to him. She lifted her face to his and whispered, “Was that holding your own when they knocked you out and tied you up or was it when that bulldog beat the ever living snot out of you?”
“Certainly you aren’t going to compare those rough and tumble men with a handful of tricky women?”
Lelanea dropped her smile and her flirting. “You know, I think Ched is right for once. The women of Waxford are going to eat you alive, and it’s something I can’t wait to see.”
With that she turned away and rushed off, leaving Dodger alone in the narrow hallway.
“What is up with Waxford?” he asked no one in particular.
With no answer forthcoming, Dodger wandered back to his room, where he found a hearty lunch awaiting him along with a pot of chamomile tea. Rest came easy to Dodger, thanks to the tea, and he slept well, despite the gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach that Waxford wasn’t just the simple den of thieves he imagined it was.
It was something much worse.