Explanations and Inspirations
In which Dodger reflects
Dodger slumped over the sheriff’s desk, staring at his handwritten account of what went down in the ditch. Of how he apprehended the criminal. Of how he failed the deputy.
Boy oh boy, things sure had changed for the once-feared Rodger Dodger. There was a time when this kind of loss wouldn’t have amounted to a hill of beans. Collateral damage. That’s what he and his ilk used to call these little deaths. Collateral damage from collateral people. Sometimes folks just died. Folks who didn’t matter.
But that was the point now, wasn’t it? Folks did matter.
Dodger rubbed his eyes and wondered just when he’d started caring. And why.
How are you holding up? Boon whispered just as Dodger felt his presence in the room.
“As well as one can,” Dodger said. “Though I could’ve used an extra pair of eyes today.”
I’m sorry. I was … out of commission.
“Doesn’t matter. I probably would’ve gotten the man killed with or without your help.”
I heard what happened, and from what I understand, it’s not your fault that he died.
“Yes, it is,” Dodger said. “I didn’t know that would happen. I was just trying to help, but now … now he’s just gone.”
That’s the point. You were trying to help, not hinder. Doc’s equipment can be a touch unpredictable.
“That’s more than a touch.”
Then let’s agree that these things happen.
“I appreciate the clichés, Boon, but a man is dead because of a bad decision. My bad decision.”
It’s not your fault, was all the spirit would say on the matter.
Dodger had the impression that there was no winning this argument. He wanted to take the blame, but Boon wasn’t going to let him. Because that’s what partners did for one another; they kept your mind straight when it would just be easier to dip into the dark side of despair and remain there.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” Dodger whispered.
The ghost gave a soft sigh. That’s not your fault either.
“Yes it is. I’ve been a bit on edge. I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”
You’ve been through a lot in your time on this earth. More than any man should.
“You have no idea.”
I know more than you think.
Dodger looked up, trying to make out Boon in the shadows of the dusky room. “And that means …?”
We can talk about it later. You have company now.
The ghost went silent as the sheriff breezed into the office.
Armed with a folder and a deeply set frown, Sheriff Stanley took his seat across from Dodger. “Evening, Mr. Dodger. Thanks for staying long enough for us to wrap up this little affair. I know you and your crew are anxious to cut out.”
“Yes, sir,” Dodger said.
“Sorry I was away so long. Things got a bit complicated at the infirmary.” The man plopped the packet down and wrung his hands, a world of worry on his mind. “You done with that account?”
Dodger pushed the finished report across the desk.
Stanley snapped it up, eying the tightly crammed handwriting with care. “Very detailed. I see you’ve done this kind of thing before.”
“I’ve filled out a few reports in my time.”
“I can see that. Though I think I’ll get rid of this bit at the end. You didn’t kill Deputy Duncan.”
“Sheriff Stanley, my actions led to-”
“No, they didn’t. The official report will read that Deputy Duncan fell in the line of duty. He died at the hands of a crazed criminal. End of story. You might feel guilty for what happened, Mr. Dodger, but I won’t allow you to take the blame for something you had no control over.”
Sounds like a wise man to me, Boon whispered.
Dodger was tired of arguing the point, so he let it go. “How did the interrogation go?”
“It didn’t. He wouldn’t talk. Your professor seems to think it’s a mental thing. He says the young man was traumatized by the loss of his fingers. Snapped his mind or something like that.” The sheriff eyed the report again. “Did it really happen like this?”
“What a way to lose your mitts,” the sheriff said.
“Can I have a go at the kid?” Dodger asked. “I’ve been known to be persuasive at times.” Well, he and the mind-reading Boon. He only hoped Boon was agreeable to prying into the young man’s damaged mind.
“I’m sure you are, but that’s not possible.”
“I know it’s not normal operating procedures, but I was hoping-”
The sheriff shook his head, bringing Dodger’s plea to a stop. “It ain’t that. It’s not possible, because the culprit is no longer with us.”
“He hung himself from the rafters of the infirmary.”
Good God, Boon whispered.
“When?” Dodger asked.
“Sometime between me trying to talk to him,” the sheriff said, “and your boss man explaining his professional opinions about the kid’s mental breakdown. William slung a sheet over the high beam, and that was that. By the time we got back to him, it was too late.”
“If I had known he was that desperate, I would’ve never let him out of my sight.” Stanley set the report aside and tapped his fingers on the file. “There is an interesting development, however.”
“Oh?” Dodger asked.
“A sweep of his room turned up this.” The sheriff rummaged through the folder until he came across an opened envelope, which he passed to Dodger.
An envelope that was addressed to Mr. Jesse Biddlesworth.
Dodger looked back up to the sheriff, who nodded as if to say, Go ahead, read it.
So he read.
I hope you find the safe to your liking. I know you will, seeing as how you sent me specific proportions on what you wanted. I also know from our days in school together that you have a time with tight spaces. I doubt that has changed. Therefore, I have taken precautions against your eventual discomfort.
By now you have met with your new assistant, William Harris. I’m sure you have a staff in mind already, but I think you’ll find William’s help invaluable. The lad has been informed of your hatred of small places and sworn to uphold the secret while dealing with the vault in your stead. He’s a good lad, our William. Treat him kindly, for he’s on his way to becoming family.
I also took the liberty of adding an undetectable secret compartment to the back of your safe. You will find a cubbyhole at the bottom, toward the middle. A simple push will open the door. I know you said not to add anything strange or out of the ordinary, and I know you like things plain and simple. But trust me on this. A bank like yours needs a secret place to hide things. You’ll thank me for it one day.
Be sure to write us if there is any trouble with the vault. William has been trained thoroughly on how it works and has been instructed to keep me up to date on his progress. I hope your venture into the world of finance turns out successful for you.
Bernard Wells, Wells Iron Works
“Biddlesworth was lying?” Dodger asked.
“I don’t think so,” the sheriff said. “He claims the young man presented a very different letter of recommendation. It’s in there if you would like to look at it.”
“No need. I’ll take your word for it. So what does this mean?”
“I’m not sure, but I’m not convinced that man was the real William Harris. If Jesse’s opinion on his New York friend is to be trusted, then the assistant Mr. Wells sent should’ve been a trustworthy young fellow. Which explains why Jesse was so hot to defend the kid. No, I suspect the real William met with foul play somewhere along his trip to Sunnyvale. But we won’t be able to confirm his identity for a few days yet.”
“What did Biddlesworth have to say about all of this?”
“He was disappointed, but appreciative. He also sent along his apologies for being such a jackass. My words, not his.” The sheriff pulled out a crinkled parchment and set it down before Dodger. “And I also thought you’d like to see this.”
At first Dodger thought it was a bill of sale, but a closer inspection showed it was an invoice. For services rendered. The column was short but sweet, tallying the work of assembling the shrink machine, the job of creating the tunnel, and even the hours William held working for the bank. Now that took some boldness. To earn a salary from Biddlesworth while at the same time billing his partner in crime for his hours at the same job. No, not his partner in crime. His boss man.
“He was working for someone else?” Dodger asked.
“Looks like it,” Stanley said.
“No way to tell. All we have are the initials at the bottom of the page.”
Dodger glanced down the column, where some letters were scrawled in a flowing, flowery script at the bottom line. C.R. His arms broke out in gooseflesh as he slowly lifted his eyes to the sheriff again. Those initials sounded familiar indeed, but … it couldn’t be the same man. Could it?
Dodger, Boon whispered. You don’t suppose that’s our man? Do you?
Dodger shook his head as he cleared his throat and asked, “You didn’t find anything else?”
“Aside from a few changes of clothes and the letter to Biddlesworth,” the sheriff said, “the place was clean. Not even a letter from his mother.”
Dodger glanced over the page again. “This date at the top. That’s just a week ago.”
“I know. You should also know that, according to Biddlesworth, William took a much-needed break. Recently.”
“As in a week ago.”
“Correct, as usual.”
Dodger passed the page back to the sheriff. “I’m going to guess no one knew where he went?”
“Not a clue.”
“And I suppose no one saw anyone or anything unusual in town as of late?”
“Of course not. And believe me, they would talk. That’s all these folks like to do. Talk and talk and talk.”
“Yeah. Duncan explained that to me.”
“I’m sure he did.” The sheriff drew a deep breath, exhaling slowly before he added, “Poor Duncan suffered more than his fair share of gossip mongering.”
“He explained that too.”
The sheriff took a long, silent look at Dodger, choosing his next words carefully before speaking them. “Mr. Dodger, I know this sounds cold, but … well … pardon me for saying so, but this might be for the best.”
Dodger snapped a vicious look up to the sheriff.
“I know,” Sheriff Stanley said as he held up his hands. “I know it sounds mean-spirited, but trust me. After everything that’s happened to poor Tyler, this might be the best for him. He went through so much after he shot his poor Mabel, so maybe this is-”
“He shot her?”
“He said she was killed during a robbery.”
The sheriff’s eyes filled with so much pity that there almost wasn’t enough room for his own pupils. “Who do you think fired the gun?”
“I don’t think Himself was there that day. The thieves’ weapons turned out to be empty, and I wasn’t even armed at the time. Duncan was the only one with live ammo. His gun discharged by accident.”
“No wonder the man took to drinking so hard.”
“He was trying to join her. I’ve spent the last two years keeping that same gun out of his mouth.” The sheriff’s voice hitched, and Dodger wondered if the man would shed tears over the death of the town drunk. “I couldn’t keep him off the sauce, and it was damned hard keeping him his job. But lately, things had turned around for him. One morning, about a month ago, he announced that he was done with the booze and done with shaming his wife’s memories. He wanted to live. For her.”
“And now he’s dead.”
“Yes, but he died doing what he loved. The law was Tyler Duncan’s life. Sunnyvale was too good a place for the likes of him. He used to be the chief inspector in Jackson City. Chief Inspector, for crying out loud. Our little town was his idea of retirement.”
“But the bank drew too much attention.”
“You sound just like him.”
“You were his deputy, weren’t you?”
The sheriff nodded, his eyes growing damp with memories. “He was the best sheriff a town could hope for. I never wanted his job. At least not so soon, and not like this. I begged the town council to keep him on. Losing his wife was bad enough, but to lose his job and his whole career too?”
Dodger didn’t know what to say to the man, so instead he reached, as he always did in these times, for a quotation that covered his feelings. “Fate is not satisfied with inflicting one calamity.”
A curious look came over the sheriff.
Although I appreciate your cultured wisdom, Boon whispered, I’m afraid our friend here needs to hear something more down to earth.
“At least his troubles are over now,” Dodger said.
“True. Very true.” Stanley heaved another tired sigh. “Then we agree? He fell in the line of duty.”
“Sure. Like I said, he did all the work here.”
“Come now, Mr. Dodger. Talking like that would’ve made old Duncan pretty sore. If it weren’t for you, we would’ve never tracked William down. Or gotten the town’s fortune back.”
Dodger got to his feet, ready to cut out of this place and put the memory of Tyler Duncan far behind him. “I’m glad I could be of some help.”
The sheriff offered his hand. “The town is very grateful for all of your help. With both the missing money and Duncan.”
Dodger shook the offered hand. “I don’t think folks will gossip about him in quite the same way anymore.”
Let’s hope not, Boon whispered.
Dodger hoped for a lot more than that, but decided not to mention it.