In which Dodger volunteers for a small task
Dodger explained his notion to the professor. In the typical fashion of a man who had seen most everything there was to see, the doc had no trouble believing Dodger’s hypothesis. In fact, he praised Dodger once again for his unconventional genius, then bade Ched return to the Sleipnir and gather the equipment they would require to prove the theory.
Dodger then explained his notion to the other men, who seemed both confused and duly impressed. Save for Biddlesworth, who wasn’t buying it one bit.
“You’re trying to tell me,” the banker said, “that my assistant used that machine to shrink the money, then himself, and after he destroyed the machine, he escaped with a sack full of tiny money through a mouse hole?”
“Not a mouse hole,” Dodger corrected the man for the umpteenth time. “As I said, I suspect it’s a tunnel that leads away from here and straight to your money.”
“And you want to follow this so-called tunnel?”
“Correct. We could sweep the area and try to find where the tunnel lets out, but the culprit or culprits will probably be long gone by then.”
“And the answer to this is to have your professor here shrink you small enough to fit inside?”
“As in make you smaller?”
“Piddlecock!” the banker shouted.
“Don’t mind him,” Sheriff Stanley said. “Jesse here is the kind of skeptic that wouldn’t believe a wolf was eating his arm unless the thing coughed up his hand. And even then, he’d try to shake the fool thing first, thinking it belonged to someone else.”
“That’s because I live in a world where the sky is blue,” the banker said. “Not chartreuse, or purple or whatever it is in these crazy people’s world. Don’t tell me you believe this nonsense, Sheriff.”
The sheriff shrugged. “Makes about as much sense as anything else I’ve heard today.”
“Tiny people? Shrunken money? It’s preposterous! It’s almost as crazy as your deputy being sober.”
“For the last time, Duncan said he wasn’t drinking-”
“Jack,” Duncan said over his superior. “Stop defending me. I can manage on my own. Mr. Biddlesworth, I’ll admit I’ve had a problem with drinking in the past. But the past is past, and I’ve been off the sauce for almost three weeks now. I swear to you that I wasn’t drinking last night, and I didn’t see a blasted thing. Your assistant never left the bank. No one came in. No one came out. At least not by the front door.”
The banker snorted. “Fine. You weren’t drinking, and the money just slipped down a rabbit hole in the middle of the night by itself. Makes perfect sense to me.”
“It’s not a rabbit hole,” Dodger said. “And it didn’t go by itself.”
Biddlesworth, however, wasn’t listening. “Well I’ve had just about enough nonsense for one morning, thank you very much. If you think I’m going to allow you madmen to tarry in my vault one second longer, then you are crazier than you look. In fact, the bank is closed until further notice.” The banker motioned for the crew to leave. “All of you get out. Now!”
“Just humor me for a little longer,” Dodger said.
“I think not. Good day, sir.”
“Mr. Biddlesworth, please. Give me just two hours, and if I can’t find some proof that your money went down that hole, then I’ll, why … I’ll pay for the lamps myself.”
The banker opened his mouth to let out a retort, but instead gave a small squeak of surprise.
“Dodger?” the professor asked. “Are you certain that’s wise?”
“Yes, sir,” Dodger said. “I know I don’t have it all right now, but you can take it out of my pay. If that’s all right with you.”
“I suppose so, if it means that much to you.”
“It does.” Dodger didn’t know why, but it did. Proving his theory right meant more to him than anything else at the moment. He wasn’t sure what spurred him on more, the forlorn air of the deputy or the haughty arrogance of the banker.
“Well then, Ched should return any moment with the required equipment.” The doc lowered his voice to ask, “Are you sure you want to do this? Don’t you worry it might be unsafe?”
“You said the shrink ray works,” Dodger whispered in return.
“It does work. It’s just been a long while since I’ve worked with it. I was developing it for a shipping firm a few years ago, but lost interest in the project when the company folded. I’m afraid I got sidetracked by something else.”
Dodger had no trouble believing that. “I trust you, Doc. If you say it works, then it works.”
The professor’s face lit with joy at this decree. “Why, thank you, Mr. Dodger. Your faith in me is refreshing.”
“After all you’ve done in the little time I’ve known you, how could I not trust you?”
Professor Dittmeyer’s pleasure faded into a touch of embarrassment as he went rosy from plump cheek to plump cheek. “Well, I don’t know about all that. Ah, here is Ched with the belts.”
Dodger looked up in time to see Ched slipping past the peering crowd and into the bank, with two shining silver belts in tow. “Belts?”
“Here you are, shir,” Ched said, handing the belts over to the professor.
“Thank you, Ched,” the professor said. “Yes, belts. I discovered that a reduction ray was too unfocused. These belts provide a more controlled area of shrinkage as opposed to a sweeping range.”
“He shaid to shnatch two,” Ched said.
The professor held a belt out to Ched. “I told you to bring a pair because I assumed Mr. Dodger might need some assistance.”
Ched stared at the belt, but didn’t take it. Instead, he raised his hands and backed away from the offer. “Uh-uh. No, shir. I ain’t gonna let you shrink me like shome kind of bug. Again. Onsh wash enough for me.”
“So it does work?” Deputy Duncan asked.
“It doesh. But being hish tesht shubject onsh wash enough for me. Like I’ve alwaysh shaid, I’ve never been dishshatishfied with my shize. And neither are the ladysh.”
“Must you always be so crass?” the professor asked with a frustrated huff.
“I yam what I yam.”
“You’re but a rotten coward of a spud among courageous sweet potatoes. That’s what you are.” The professor looked to Dodger again with worry. “I suppose you go alone then, Mr. Dodger.”
“Hold that thought, sir,” Dodger said, then turned to the banker. “Mr. Biddlesworth? It’s up to you. This is your bank, true, but that money belongs to the whole town. Your town. Will you at least let me try to get it back?”
The banker huffed, flustered to the point of exhaustion. “I don’t see why not.”
“Thank you, sir.” Dodger grabbed a belt and slipped it on.
“What harm could it do to allow you to make a fool of yourself?”
“Make that fools,” Deputy Duncan said. “I’m going with you.”
Dodger cringed at this, but didn’t argue. He was tired of arguing. He just wanted to do something. Besides, he’d half expected the man wanted to come along.
Half expected and half hoped.
“Duncan?” the sheriff asked. “Are you sure?”
“I am,” Deputy Duncan said as he took a belt from the doc. “If it really works, then I suppose I have to do this.”
“Of course it will work!” the banker shouted as he plopped onto one of the many comfortable couches. “Why not take the drunken sod with you on your insane little journey into the hole in the wall to get back my miniature money from my shrunken assistant? Dear Lord, it’s enough to make a sane man weep.”
“All right, then,” the professor said to Duncan. “Put the belts on, and I’ll explain the functions.”
Duncan slid the belt around his waist and buckled it into place, his hands trembling just enough to make the task more difficult than it should’ve been. He gave Dodger a nod that he was ready.
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