In which Dodger finds what he was looking for
No sooner had they complained about the endless nature of the thing than the tunnel took a sharp turn upward. The bend was steep, almost to the point of forcing the men into a climb. A glowing light beckoned them to the top, while a soft breeze rolled down the incline, teasing the men with deft fingers of fresh air.
“You think that’s where it ends?” Duncan asked.
“I hope so,” Dodger said.
He took to the hill with severity, employing the crossbeams of the tracks to give himself some leverage as he pulled himself up. The deputy fell in behind him, and after many a grunt and groan, they crested the top. Light poured onto the plateau from the exit of the tunnel, which sat a few relative feet away, and was a beautiful thing to behold, for sure. But even more importantly, the tracks ended here too, and at the end lay a cart. A quick look revealed that it was empty and, as Dodger had suspected, equipped with an engine of sorts. What Dodger didn’t expect was for the mode of locomotion to be quite so familiar.
“Let’s pray our culprit hasn’t gone far from here,” Duncan said between gasps. “I don’t think I can make it much farther.”
“I know what you mean,” Dodger said, though in truth he was itching to get a move on. “Let’s rest here a minute, and then we’ll poke our heads out and take a peek.”
“Thanks.” Duncan leaned against the cart, taking his turn to inspect the thing. “So this is how he got the money out.”
“I should say so.”
“Not really.” Dodger pointed out the pedals at the base of a makeshift seat. “It’s a whole lot like the Rhino. He didn’t have to lug it by hand at all. You push on those, and it propels the cart forward. And if it’s anything like the doc’s pedal car, then our man traveled a whole lot faster than we did on foot. Which means there is no way to tell how far ahead of us he is.”
“Clever design.” Duncan glanced up to Dodger, a gleam of understanding touching his eyes. “You don’t think your boss man …” The deputy’s words trailed off, leaving the question unasked.
“No,” Dodger answered anyway. “I don’t. If Dittmeyer did arrange all of this, then it wouldn’t profit him to tell us about the shrink machine. Would it?”
“I suppose not. I didn’t mean to insinuate he was involved.”
“Of course you did, and don’t apologize for it. You wouldn’t be much of a sheriff if you didn’t suspect everyone.” Dodger winced as the word sheriff hit his ears. Deputy. He meant to say deputy. “You ready yet?”
“Yes. Thanks for giving this old man a chance.”
“Not at all. I needed to catch my breath too.”
“No, I mean just a chance to prove myself.”
Dodger dipped his head in acknowledgement. “You’re welcome.”
“And I’m sorry if I’ve been a burden to ya, son.”
“Burden?” Dodger snorted. “You’re not foolin’ anyone, old man. I bet you can run rings around me in the heat of the noon sun when you’re on your game.”
The man gave a soft laugh as he waved away Dodger’s praise. “Maybe. I suppose there’s a spark left in me yet. I just have to dry out a bit before I can light the fuse.”
Before Dodger could make a snappy comeback about not blowing up before this thing was done, there came a rumble from the bright mouth of the tunnel. Dodger crouched behind the cart and motioned for Duncan to fall in beside him. Peering over the edge of the cart, they watched a very large foot shuffle past the entrance.
“Was that a big foot?” Duncan asked.
“It was a foot of some size, yes,” Dodger said. “Let’s get a closer look so we can see who is attached to that foot.”
Had Dodger any doubts of Duncan’s experience as a lawman, they were set to rest the moment the pair of men slunk toward the exit with practiced care. Dodger couldn’t help but find himself all sorts of distracted by Duncan’s fluid movements, a beauty marred only by the occasional tremor of the older man’s unsteady, recovering nerves. Together, step for step, they slid toward the mouth of the tunnel in silence, each man drawing and reading his weapon without prompting from the other. The old-timer had more than just a spark in him. He had a whole damned keg of powder. He just needed the right encouragement and support.
The tunnel emptied into a shallow ditch of sorts. Shallow, that was, by comparison to their larger selves. At their present size, the gorge was very deep, many times the height of the smaller men. But by the standard of the owner of the big foot, it was no more than a depression a few feet in the ground, a ditch probably made by the same hands that created the tunnel. At one side of the tunnel mouth, there sat an enormous sack—or rather, a normal-sized sack. Bills of several denominations poked from its bulging seams. Meanwhile, the owner of the big feet paced back and forth across the ditch, grumbling and mumbling to himself the whole while. He was a slight lad, couldn’t have been much older than twenty, thin and disheveled and in bad need of a shave.
“That’s William all right,” Deputy Duncan whispered.
“He’s bigger than I expected,” Dodger whispered in return.
“I thought he would be small ‘til tonight? Didn’t your boss say something about twenty-four hours?”
“The professor must’ve been off about the timer. Gonna make him a sight more difficult to apprehend.” Dodger flashed the deputy a grin. “But I reckon between the two of us, we can manage. You ready to get back to normal size?”
“I can hardly wait.” The deputy grabbed the dial on his belt. “On the count of three?”
“What do we have here?” the giant asked in a slow, rumbling baritone.
William had spotted them. Perhaps he was expecting to be followed, or perhaps it was just blind luck. Before either man could activate his belt, William scooped up the deputy and made a swipe at Dodger. Dodger rolled to the left, narrowly avoiding the giant’s fingers and coming to rest beside the sack of money.
“Get back here, you!” William shouted.
Dodger grabbed the knob at his waist and yanked the dial hard to the right. While shrinking was as pleasant as a hangover after a week-long bender, enlarging was the equivalent of ten hangovers combined with the flu, plus a touch of dysentery on the back end. Dodger’s insides vomited him up, twisting and pulsing in great swells, until he at last stood eye to eye with the wayward assistant. It was his intention to aim Hortense at the assistant, let off with some clever line about there being no place to run, and call it a day well spent. But that wasn’t what happened. Instead, Dodger swayed in place a bit while the world swam into murky greens about him. His stomach lurched, heaved and finally bucked with the force of a wild mustang. He snapped his hand over his mouth and fought very hard not to upchuck what was left of his breakfast.
Unable to keep it down, Dodger bent double beside the sack of money, spewing forth the remnants of a livermush omelet, one-and-a-half pieces of toast and three cups of coffee.
“I could’ve warned you,” the assistant said with some air of authority. “Going big again makes you a bit sick. Don’t it?”
Dodger couldn’t answer. He kept on hucking and puking until all that issued forth from his lips was a thin yellow gruel. Even then, he kept on heaving. There was nothing left to give, but that nothing kept on trying to make its way up Dodger’s throat.
“I’ll have those,” William said as he reached for Florence and Hortense.
But Dodger wasn’t nauseated enough to allow that! He slid back from the fingers grabbing at his waist, and snapped his free hand around the assistant’s wrist.
“You’d do best to keep your hands to yourself,” Dodger said, cocking Hortense to make his point.
“Feeling better, are we?” William asked. He jerked his hand away from Dodger’s grip. “Give me the guns, or I’ll squash the life out of your friend here.” William held out Duncan by the waist, his much larger fingers closed around the belt’s controls.
Duncan’s hands were free, but he couldn’t get to the dial in order to turn it, which explained why he was still small. He could, however, fire his guns, which he proceeded to do posthaste.
“You let me go, you son of a bitch!” Duncan squealed in a high-pitched voice.
There came a series of small pops from the deputy. William winced as numerous points of crimson flowered from his knuckles—the undersized result of Duncan’s well-placed shots.
“Nice try,” William said, then laughed. “But you’ll need a far bigger gun than that to stop me.” There was something feral to the assistant’s gaze. Something wild. He was drunk on the power of his almost-successful heist.
But he hadn’t escaped just yet.
“You!” he shouted at Dodger. “Drop your guns, or I’ll crush him.”
“Put him down and I’ll give them to you,” Dodger said.
“Guns first,” William said.
“Why should I believe you’ll do as you say?”
A small squeal came from the six-inch deputy as William illustrated his intentions.
“Stop it!” Dodger shouted and tossed Hortense to the ground.
“No, don’t give in to him!” Duncan cried in a tiny voice.
William set in with another bout of squeezing, at which the deputy gave a choked cry, then ceased moving.
Dodger pulled Florence slowly from his belt. “I’m dropping the guns. Just leave him alone.” He tossed the second gun beside the first.
William stepped forward and kicked the guns away as Duncan waggled limply from the madman’s hand.
“Your turn,” Dodger said. “Let him go.”
“He’s all yours,” William said, then flung the deputy over his shoulder.
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