Good for the Soul
“Lelanea,” Dodger called out as he cranked the Sunbox. “Hang on now. It’s a long walk back. You should stay in the light.”
Lelanea came to a sudden halt and whipped about to stare at him. “I don’t need your escort.” This said, she returned to her brisk walk.
Dodger jogged to catch up with her. “I know you’re a bit miffed with me, but at least give me a chance to explain.”
She stopped again. “Good. Because I would really like an explanation.”
“Well …” Dodger started.
“I’ll make it simple. Did you or did you not stand under an open window and listen in on a private conversation?”
Dodger looked around to avoid her accusing glare.
“Mystery solved,” she said, and stormed off again.
“Miss Lelanea!” he called out, reaching out for her arm.
She jerked her elbow away from him. “Don’t touch me!”
“I didn’t mean any harm by it.”
“No harm? You spied on me like I was some common criminal and not the niece of your employer. And you meant no harm? I feel positively violated. Violated!”
“Lelanea, please. I was worried about you. You disappeared in the dead of night, so I went out to check on you.”
“And what brought you all the way up here? That famous instinct of yours?”
“No. Ched suggested you might go a-callin’ on the man.”
Lelanea huffed at this and set off again.
Dodger struggled to keep up. “You have to understand, I didn’t know whether he’d have you hogtied to the bed or was serving you tea and crumpets. I didn’t want to blunder in on a private conversation, but I didn’t want to risk you being in any harm. There was no way to know without sneaking a peek.”
The woman slowed her pace a bit. “Then you really were worried for me?”
“Yes. I swear that’s all.”
“Well then, how about this? Next time I go somewhere, I’ll make sure to tell someone else.”
“That’s a good start.”
“That way you can just eavesdrop on the conversation and find out where I’m going. Is that good for you?”
Dodger groaned and buried his face in his hands.
Lelanea laughed, her humor sharp and mocking. “In fact, I think from now on, that’s how we will conduct all of our business. I’ll talk to Ched, and you can stand outside the meeting car and listen in. Is that how it works? I wouldn’t know, because I don’t snoop on people!” Her piece said, Lelanea took off once more, all but running for the distant campsite.
“Stop,” Dodger commanded her retreating form.
Lelanea ignored him.
“I said stop, damn it!” he cried.
She did stop. But she didn’t turn to face him. She didn’t address him.
Ah, let the cold shoulder begin.
Dodger sighed. Enough was enough. There was so much about the crew he still didn’t know. Important things, from the looks of it. He couldn’t work under these conditions. This had to change. The secrets had to stop, and they had to stop now.
Starting with him.
“My father died when I was twelve,” he said.
Lelanea’s shoulders drooped. Without facing him, she said, “My parents passed away when I was but eight, but I don’t see what that has to do with any of-”
“He was murdered.”
Lelanea gave a soft gasp.
“My pa was murdered,” Dodger said. “My ma told me that he died in the fire that took our home, but I always knew better. He was dead before it started. I know because I saw it happen.”
Slowly she turned to him, her anger tempered by a sudden pity. “I’m sorry to hear that. But I still don’t understand-”
“There were some men who wanted what he had,” Dodger said over her. “He wouldn’t sell it to them, so they took it, and they killed him, and they set his workshop on fire to cover their tracks. The fire spread to the house, and that was all she wrote. We lost everything. My mother and I had nothing left when it was done. Everything burned. Including my father’s body.”
Lelanea stared at him in silence. Perhaps she realized he had something he needed to get off his chest. Or maybe she was curious. Or maybe she just thought it was best to let him ramble and get it over with.
Dodger closed the space between them, talking as he walked. “She tried to take care of me as best she could, but it was hard. She had to remarry another man inside of a year just to make ends meet, but I don’t think she ever loved him. Not like she did my father. Her new husband needed a wife to take care of the house, and she needed a man to survive. In the end, he got a slave, and she got a master. He started drinking about a month into their marriage. Started beating her a few weeks after that. Beat me too, but I was young and hated him. I probably deserved it. But my ma, she was fragile. So fragile. Dad used to call her his porcelain doll. And one day, her new husband broke her.”
“Dodger,” Lelanea whispered.
“I wasn’t home when it happened, but it didn’t take a genius to put things together. He drank himself into a rage, got mad over some silly thing and beat her near to death. When I found him standing over her broken body, the way he was smiling down at her, like he was proud of what he had done, I decided I’d had enough. I wasn’t going to let him hurt her again. I wasn’t going to let him hurt anyone ever again.” Dodger paused here, gathering the courage to finish his confession.
“What did you do?” Lelanea asked.
“I did what I had to do. I put her in the wagon and took her to her sister’s. My aunt had the doctor come round, and he said my mother was lucky to be alive. Lucky to be alive? Like that was some kind of comfort.” Dodger snorted. “Her husband almost killed her, and she was lucky to not die by his hand. After they told me she would endure, I drove the wagon back to the house. Back to him. He was passed out in their bed, dead to the world, sleeping off his drunk while his wife fought for her life. My mother! You want to know what I did? I’ll tell you what I did. I emptied every oil lamp in the house on that bed, and I set it on fire. With him still in it.”
Lelanea didn’t have anything to say to that. In fact, she showed no reaction whatsoever.
“I learned, you see,” Dodger said. “The men who killed my dad taught me how it was done. They showed me how to get rid of a problem. Permanently.”
Lelanea remained silent. Dodger searched her face in the moonlight, curious as to what was going on inside that beautiful mind. But she showed no emotion at what he was telling her. Neither pity nor disgust. Dodger wondered which he was expecting, and which he would rather have from her.
“Sometimes,” Dodger said, “when things get really bad, when the screams are too loud and the blood just won’t stop running … sometimes when things are at their worst and I think that I’ve finally lost touch with every shred of humanity I ever had … sometimes …sometimes I like to think that he was already dead. That he drank himself to death out of guilt for what he did to her. Sometimes. But not that night. That night, I prayed he was alive when I watched the house burn to the ground. I was hoping to hear him scream. Maybe see him struggle a little. That night, I wanted to be the one who made him suffer.”
They stared at each other for what seemed ages, Dodger shamed by the echoes of his confession and Lelanea still showing no signs of reaction to his words. In her almost accusatory silence, Dodger began to worry that he had gone too far, that telling her the truth of his youth was a mistake. Of course it was!
How could she trust him now that she knew he was a heartless bastard?