Tempest in a Teapot
In which Dodger demands answers
Feng said nothing more on the short return trip, either saving his breath for the effort it took to pedal the three of them back to the line or, most likely, avoiding the elephant in the Rhino. There was no more talk about Boon, or the looming storm clouds, or what was on its way. Lelanea was also suspiciously quiet on the subject of Boon. Dodger reckoned that if he had gotten such news about his presumably deceased lover, he would’ve been spilling over with questions. But the young woman kept her lips sealed and her eyes on the approaching thunderstorm. Dodger was busting with questions of his own, yet in light of the others’ silence, he thought it best to keep his mouth shut.
Speaking of wayward spirits, Boon certainly had gone ahead of them and warned Ched, because when they returned to the campsite, everything was already packed down. The Sleipnir roared to life as Feng brought the Rhino to a screeching halt. The Celestial sprang from the cart and took off in a brisk jog for the meeting cab.
“Wait up!” Dodger called as he clambered out of the cart.
“No time!” Feng yelled over his shoulder.
Lelanea climbed behind the steering wheel of the Rhino without a word to either man, and set to helping Mr. Torque return the cart to the caboose.
Dodger caught up with Feng, grabbing the man by the elbow before he could reach the cab, bringing them both to a halt. “What is going on?”
“Please, Dodger,” Feng said. “We don’t have time for this.”
“Who is coming?”
“You don’t want to know.” He pulled away and climbed into the cab.
Dodger followed him aboard. “Feng. Who is coming?”
Feng paused, drawing a deep breath and considering his words a moment. “Enemies. Very old and very angry.”
“All right, then. You need to tell me who they are so we can fight them.”
“No. I know how to deal with them. You don’t need to get involved.”
Dodger recognized the tone of that explanation, because had heard it before. “You’re just gonna run off?”
“I have to go.”
“You can’t leave now.” Dodger moved in closer and lowered his voice as he added, “Not after all that stuff about you-know-who not being you-know-what.”
“Right, right. I do need to talk to you about that. Briefly. There are things you need to know. Important things about Boon. About you.” Feng sat at the professor’s desk, took up a pen and began scribbling notes.
“Where is he, anyway?”
“Boon? I sent him ahead to scout for-” Feng caught himself mid-confession and reconsidered his words. “He’ll be back later. Right now, we need to talk.”
“We can talk after we deal with whatever problem you’ve conjured up.”
Feng let out a nervous giggle as he returned to his scribbling. “Conjured up. Oh, that’s good.”
“I appreciate your sense of humor, but I’m being serious. If you have enemies coming, then stay here, and we can fight them together.”
The man looked up from his notes. “The longer I stay, the more danger I put you in. Can’t you see that?”
“I see a friend in need,” the doc said.
Dodger and Feng both turned to find the doc standing in the doorway at the far end of the cab.
“And a friend in need is a friend indeed,” the doc said. “Or some such nonsense. I never understood that adage. Do you? Why would a friend in need be more of a friend than one who doesn’t need anything at all? It seems to me that a friend who isn’t begging for assistance is better equipped-”
“Hieronymus,” Feng said over the professor’s chatter. “Please don’t. Not now. You know how grave this is.”
The doc nodded. “I know that you’ve been running a long, long time. And I know you’ve put yourself in harm’s way to help us, to help me, more than a few times. And for that, we owe you our help and protection.”
The breeze shifted to a gusty wind, rocking the cab just a bit as lightning flashed and thunder rumbled in the distance.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” Feng said. “I won’t put you in the line of fire. You’re too important. All of you.”
“And you’re too stubborn,” the doc said as he stepped into the meeting cab. “But it doesn’t matter, because you can’t leave.”
“I have to go.”
“I don’t have a choice this time. I have to.”
“No, you don’t understand. I’m not saying I won’t let you. I’m saying you can’t. I’ve already stopped you.” The doc patted his vest pocket, that mischievous grin spreading wide.
All at once, Feng looked his age. His face fell into a mask of despair as he eyed the doc’s pocket, then looked out of the window, into the rolling blackness. “You don’t know what danger you’re putting yourselves in. None of you.”
“Then tell us,” Dodger said. “Help us prepare.”
Feng leaped to his feet and grabbed Dodger by the shoulders, staring into his eyes with a look of wild abandon. “You have to let me go. You’re all going to die if I stay here.”
Dodger did his best to hold Feng’s gaze—not an easy task. It wasn’t that he was opposed to looking a man in the eye when speaking to him. No. It was this particular man’s eyes that made the task so difficult. Dodger always thought of himself as a fellow who had seen too much. Now he knew better. The madness that shone from the old man’s eyes at that unguarded moment screamed and howled with an immeasurable amount of fear.
Feng wasn’t just scared.
He was downright terrified.
Dodger didn’t know what Feng had seen, but he was glad he hadn’t seen it himself.
“I was hired to protect this line and her crew,” Dodger said. “That means I was hired to protect you too, Mr. Feng. Now, I don’t know what trouble you’ve gotten yourself into, and quite frankly, I don’t think I really want to know. I only know one thing. I am here to do a job, and I intend to do it. Whether you like it or not.”
Feng continued to stare down Dodger for a few more seconds, as if weighing Dodger’s words, or formulating his own comeback.
“You can’t leave,” Lelanea said from Dodger’s left.
How did she always sneak up on him like that?
“Not you too,” Feng said. “You of all people should know better.”
“You can’t leave,” she repeated, “until you give me an explanation. You owe me that much.”
“An explanation of what?” the doc asked.
“There’s no time,” Feng said. “You have to get this line in motion and get the hell out of here. You’re wasting time standing around talking like this.”
Dodger looked out of the open cab door to the gathering storm again. “If you think we’re gonna outrun that storm, you need to think twice.”
“You don’t have to outrun it. Just let me go, and it will pass you buy.”
“No. We put the Sleipnir in motion in this kind of storm, and we run the risk of wrecking her. If there is a brawl coming, then we make our stand here and fight.”
“There is no time. If you don’t go now, you’re going to miss him!”
“Mish who?” Ched asked from the cargo-cab doorway.
“What are you going on about?” Mr. Torque asked, joining the crew in the now-full cab.
Feng ran his hands across his tightly bound hair and stared wild eyed at the crew gathered around him.
“Feng?” the doc asked. “What is all of this about?”
The Celestial looked to Dodger, furrowing his brow as if to say, What do I do now?
Or did Dodger imagine he heard the old man ask that without parting his lips?
“Go on, then,” Dodger said, nodding to the doc. “Tell them what you told us.”
“Hieronymus,” Feng said. “There is a good chance that Washington Boon is alive.”
The doc gasped and held his pudgy fingers to his open mouth as he plopped onto one of the couches. “Alive?”
“At the very least, he is not completely dead.”
“How? I don’t understand.”
“It’s sort of hard to explain. I think someone has his body, has been keeping it barely alive and is holding it captive.”
“Captive?” Ched asked with a snort. “What shon of a bitch would want an almosht-dead body-”
“Where is he?” the doc asked over Ched’s question. The man’s face grew stern with unplumbed depths of anger.
“Celina,” Feng said.
At that single word, Lelanea joined the doc in another gasp as Ched whistled along in a melodic chorus of surprise.
“How did you find him?” Dodger asked.
“By scrying,” Feng said.
Dodger shook his head. He had gleaned a little about such things from the mountain of books he had tackled over a lifetime of reading, but wasn’t completely familiar with the process.
“Simply put,” Feng said, “I used magic to spy on someone. I should’ve done it ages ago, but I knew I would open myself up to trouble if I did.”
“And that is how your enemies found you?” Dodger asked. “You opened yourself up to be seen by them.”
“Yes, and they aren’t the only ones. Whoever has Boon’s body saw me too. He knew I was watching him. Somehow, he could sense me.”
“Who did you scry on?” Lelanea asked. “Who has Boon?”
“I think you know him as Commander Rex.”
Which made all sorts of sense when Dodger stopped to think about it. Who had been a thorn in the doc’s side since Boon’s demise? Who sent the dog men after the line? Who set up the robbery at Sunnyvale?
That left about a million questions to answer, with one topping the list.
“Ched,” the doc said in the most commanding and serious tone Dodger had ever heard the man use. “I want inside of that town before sunrise.”
“I don’t shee how,” Ched said. “We are almosht a full day’sh ride from Cshelina.”
“You heard me. Just make it happen.”
Ched sighed. “Even if we open her up, we might make it in a little under twenty hoursh, but it’sh gonna be a push.”
“Then push her.”
“We ain’t got the water for a nonshtop-”
“We can divert it from the potable tanks,” Lelanea suggested.
“Even then, it’sh gonna be-” Ched began.
“Must you always argue with me?” the doc asked.
“Excuse me,” Dodger said.
The crew stopped jabbering and looked as one to him.
“Forgive me for asking this,” he said, “but isn’t Celina where, well, it happened?”
No one said anything. They just stared.
“I’m new here and all,” he said, “but doesn’t it seem like kind of a coincidence that his body is exactly where you all thought it wasn’t this whole time?”
“I realize how it looks,” the doc said. “But if there is a remote chance that we can find Boon, then we have to go.”
“Sir, I hate to be the one to say this, but it has all the earmarks of a setup. If this Rex knows so much about the crew, then certainly he knows all about Feng here and his special talents. Rex must’ve been prepared.”
“We can’t assume-”
“Dodger is right,” Feng said. “When I located Rex and was able to see him. He was ready for me. I don’t know how that son of a gun did it, but he knew I was planning on scrying on him. In fact, he sent me a message.”
“Message?” the doc asked. “What kind of message?”
“He held up a note. It read,” Feng paused as he flicked his gaze to Dodger, then looked back to the doc. “Bring me Dodger by sunset tomorrow, or Boon dies. Again.”
It was now Dodger’s turn to gasp or whistle or make any number of surprised noises. Yet he didn’t. It wasn’t that he wasn’t all sorts of surprised. He sure as heck was! But still, there was some part of him that half anticipated this. Almost expected Feng to say those very words. Almost wanted to be the one drawn into the web.
To be the fly to Rex’s spider.
The mouse to his cat.