Put ‘Em Up
In which Dodger surrenders
The arrows came to a stop for a brief and blessed moment. Dodger peered over the Rhino’s rim, hoping the ceasefire was a result of a lack of ammunition. But no. The quick peek proved that the sniper was merely biding his time, for the moment Dodger’s forehead cleared the edge of the Rhino, the native let loose with another arrow. Dodger ducked just as it zipped past his head, dangerously close to his ear.
“Damn it!” Dodger shouted. “How many of those things can he possibly have?”
“No way to tell,” Ched said as he risked a glance over the carriage
“You think you can distract him long enough to …” Dodger paused when he caught sight of the driver easing back into place. “Ah, never mind.”
Ched pulled an arrow from the edge of his perpetual grin. He poked a finger into his cheek, waggling it through the open wound left behind by the well-placed shot. “I don’t know who he ish, but he’sh a helluva shot, ain’t he?”
“He is. Will you be okay?”
“Shure. Boosh healsh all woundsh. Yesh?”
“I don’t think I’ll ever understand your condition.”
“You aren’t the only one.”
Dodger held a hand between himself and the awful sight of the not-dead man toying with the wound. “Would you mind not doing that? It’s nauseating.”
“Shuit yourshelf, but thish really ish-”
“All my fault. Yes, Chester. I’m aware of that.”
True, it was Dodger’s idea to park the line so far from the reservation. It was also his idea to take the Rhino into the tribe’s territory. But to be fair, the rest of the crew explained that the Utes hadn’t seen the Rhino last time the Sleipnir rolled through here. Apparently, it didn’t matter. The Utes were prepared to attack anything associated with the professor.
Dodger clutched his gun as he regrouped his thoughts. Firing on the native wasn’t an option. He wasn’t even sure why he had drawn Hortense. Or was she Florence? The rattling chuckle of the driver interrupted Dodger’s mental wandering.
“What’s so funny?” Dodger asked.
“You jusht called me Cheshter,” Ched said.
“Yesh. You’re shoundin’ more and more like the doc every day. Pretty shoon, I’ll have no idea what you’re shayin’ either.”
Whether the statement was an insult or a compliment, Dodger didn’t know how to react to it. He chose to ignore it instead. “If I could just talk with him, I’m sure I could calm him down.”
“Sheems unlikely. I don’t think a man like that ish much into talkin’.”
“Come on, Ched, don’t be so narrow minded. He might be of a different culture, might speak a different language, but that doesn’t mean we can’t come to an understanding. I know a bit of his tongue. I’m sure we can come to an understanding.”
As if waiting for the words, the arrows doubled, flying thick and fast overhead. The shooter had obviously been joined by another. Perhaps more.
“I ain’t doubtin’ their ability to parlay, Sharge,” Ched said. “I’m jusht shaying they shure sheem awful shore about shomethin’.”
“Yeah,” Dodger said. “Too bad that something is our boss man.” He slipped his jacket off and set to unbuttoning his shirt. “I need the crowbar from the Rhino.”
“Good for you.”
Dodger slid out of his dark blue outer shirt, then pulled off his nearly white undershirt. He didn’t usually like to leave his chest bare, lest someone catch a glimpse of his extensive scars, but dire circumstances called for dire acts.
“Could you grab it for me?” Dodger asked. “It should be in the floor of the back seat.”
“Get it yourshelf,” Ched said.
“Ched, while I appreciate your instinct for self-preservation, you are a sight less destructible than I am at the moment. Please. Just crawl up there and get it.”
“Yup. You shound jusht like him.” The driver went after the crowbar without further argument.
Dodger waited while the driver rose into the open back door, rummaged for a moment in the floor of the cart, then returned, none the worse for wear.
“Here ya go, Sharge,” Ched said.
“Thanks,” Dodger said. He took the crowbar from the driver and tied his almost-white shirt to the metal rod. “I hope this works.”
“Better than nothin’.”
“True. Here we go.” Dodger raised the shirt, hoping the Utes firing upon him had enough experience with the U.S. Army to recognize the white flag of surrender.
A few waves of the makeshift flag brought the rain of arrows to a stop.
“Finally,” Dodger said with a sigh.
“Throw your out weapons,” someone said. The man bore a native accent, but his command of English was impressive. “Step away from the machine with your hands in the air.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Dodger said loudly. “But I give you my word I haven’t come to harm anyone.”
There came a pause, followed by the distinct sound of laughter in the distance.
“Your word?” the native asked. “We know what the word of the white man is worth.”
“I’m gonna guessh that worth ish nothin’,” Ched whispered.
Dodger groaned. He rolled to the side of the Rhino, poking his face around the edge of the cart. Where there was a single shooter a few minutes before, there now stood three natives, all taking aim at Dodger’s head. He ducked behind the Rhino again before he said, “Please. I just want to speak with the leader of your tribe. I think you may have something that belongs to us.”
Another pause, after which the laughter started again, stronger this time.
“Really, Sharge,” Ched said. “That wash probably the worsht thing you could’ve shaid to theshe folksh.”
Dodger groaned once more and slipped his shirt on. This parlay was something akin to running in place in a patch of mud: going nowhere, fast. There was only one thing left to do. He drew a calming breath, emptied his girls, then tossed them gently onto the grass beside the Rhino.
“What are you doin’?” Ched asked.
“Surrendering,” Dodger said.
“Are you crashy? They’ll unload their bowsh on ush firsht chansh they get.”
“No they won’t. Not if we meet their demands and surrender properly.”
“You shurrender all you like. I’m shtayin’ right here.”
“Come on, Ched. Where is your adventurous spirit? Do you want to be duller than dishwater all your life?”
“Don’t be like that. Besides, they don’t want to hurt us any more than we want to hurt them.”
“You shure ‘bout that?”
“Not at all.” Dodger got to his feet, lifted his hands into the air and stepped away from the protection of the Rhino. There he gave as friendly a grin as he could manage and waited to see if he was right, or deadly wrong.
The three natives held their aim on Dodger, giving him a chance to assess his opponents. Two of the natives dressed similarly, in fringed shirts and leggings, and wore their hair in traditionally long, dark braids. The third, however, sported a surprisingly modern haircut and means of dress. He was also the one who spoke English.
The short-haired native asked, “What about the other one?”
“Ched,” Dodger said softly. “Would you like to join me?”
“Nope,” Ched said.
Dodger tried to keep a grip on his grin. “I’d rather you did.”
“I’d rather you shtop going on about it.”
“Ched,” Dodger growled. “Get your bony ash up here. Now.”
Ched huffed and rolled his sallow eyes in his skull-like face. “Fine. Way to get ush both shot full of holesh, Sharge.” The driver stood and raised his lanky arms to the heavens, spreading his unusual aroma in a sickening cloud.
It was all Dodger could do not to gag aloud.
The two traditionally dressed natives dropped their guarded stances and shouted a single word in unison.
The men lowered their bows and clambered over the mound they’d spent the last ten minutes defending, rushing forward. The third followed, though he kept a cautious posture, as well as a grip on his weapon. For a moment, Dodger thought they were going to attack, but no. The traditionally garbed Utes rallied around Ched, patting him on the back and talking all at once in their native tongue. Amidst this confusion, Ched somehow managed to look both overtly humble yet expectant of their admiration at the same time. Dodger lowered his hands, wondering what all the excitement was about. Southern Paiute was never his strong suit as far as languages went, but he picked out words of praise and good will here and there. And he was fairly sure he recognized the phrase they first called the not dead-man.
Sow-e-ett, or in plain English, Nearly Starved.
“They say it is good to see you again, friend,” the English-speaking native said.
The other two rambled on in excited tones.
The third man explained, “If we had known it was you, Sow-e-ett, we would’ve never fired. How can the iron horse move so freely without its master?” Understanding came to the English-speaking native. “Ah, you must be the driver of the marvelous train that I have heard so much about.”
Dodger glanced to Ched, who looked equally surprised. Marvelous? Though far better then being fired upon, marvelous certainly wasn’t the reception they were expecting.
The man extended a hand to Ched. “My name is Benjamin Jones.”
“You can call me Ched,” Ched said as he gave the native’s hand an obligatory pump.
Jones winced as he came into contact with Ched. Regardless of his obvious discomfort, he said, “It’s very nice to meet you.”
“Likewish. You weren’t here lasht time. Where you?”
“No. I was away.” Jones pulled his hand from Ched’s and wiped it on his trousers.
“Jones, you shay? Odd name for a native.”
“I’m an odd native.” Jones laughed off the comment. “You can call me Jones if you like. No need for formalities among friends.”
“Again, I apologize for our firing on you. We mistook you for someone else.”
“Itsh all right. Truth be told, we weren’t shure you’d welcome the shite of ush after what happened with the professhor and all.”
Jones translated Ched’s words, as well as the men’s response. “As your people say, it is all water over the bridge.”
“Dam,” Dodger corrected the man, and wished he hadn’t.
At the sound of his voice, the rallying came to a stop and the natives turned as one to stare at Dodger. Stares turned to glares, which quickly melted into glowers. One of the natives pointed to Dodger’s open shirt, to the scars beneath, and whispered something to the other two—something Dodger didn’t quite catch, but on which the three seemed to agree.
“I just meant the saying,” Dodger said. “It’s water under the bridge, or over the dam. It’s easy to mix the two. That’s all.”
Jones raised his bow.
“Ched?” Dodger asked as he lifted his hands again, just in case. “A little help, please?”
Ched stepped between the suddenly perturbed natives and Dodger. “Allow me to introdush-”
“We know who he is,” Jones said in a clipped tone.
“Sheemsh your reputashion presheedsh you again, Sharge.”
“We know not of his reputation. We were warned of his coming.”
“Warned?” Dodger asked.
Jones nodded, then lowered his aim to Dodger’s open shirt as he recited, “Look for the raven-haired one with a scar on his heart, for he brings both damnation and destruction everywhere he goes. Do not let him among your people. He will be your doom.”
Dodger looked down and touched the old shotgun wound that covered his chest, lying directly over his heart.
“Shure shoundsh like you, Sharge,” Ched said.
“Who told you about me?” Dodger asked, though he was fairly sure of the answer.
Jones spoke a few words to the others, then relaxed the aim of his weapon. “It doesn’t matter. Your choice of company speaks for your spirit, and has saved your life. If you had come alone, these men would’ve killed you on the spot. But if you are truly in the company of the legendary professor, then you are most welcome.”
“He ain’t jusht in the doc’sh company,” Ched said. “He’sh the new law.”
“Then the rumors are true?” Jones asked after translating. “Washington Boon is dead?”
“Well, about that-” Ched started.
“He’s gone,” Dodger said, speaking over the driver. Dodger knew Boon had trouble telling a fib, but whether Ched could lie effectively remained to be seen, because most of the time, Ched just didn’t seem to care what he let slip.
“I see,” Jones said.
The native translated the sentiment to his fellow tribesmen, who hung their heads for a silent moment. In the wake of Boon’s apparent death, Dodger was left to once again fill the big man’s shoes. The moment of silence passed, after which Jones rattled off some instructions to his brothers. The pair of natives took off for the reservation, leaving Jones behind.
“They will alert the others of your arrival,” Jones said. “Meanwhile, we should go and fetch your boss.”
“The doc?” Ched asked.
“Yes. Our chief will want to speak with him.” Jones laid a hand on the side of the Rhino, his eyes filling with excitement. “How fast does this get?”
“Pretty fasht. But nothing compared to the full line.”
“I can imagine. Shall we take it back to the train?”
“Shure. No shenshe in washting time.”
“I don’t understand,” Dodger confessed as he snapped up his guns and climbed into the Rhino. “I thought you all hated the doc?”
“Hate is such a strong word,” Jones said.
“But what about the Big Lie?”
Jones settled into the back seat, thoroughly ignoring Dodger’s question. “Please don’t hold back on my account. You travel as though I weren’t here.”
With an indifferent shrug, Ched began peddling the Rhino, setting her at an easy pace of about thirty miles per hour.
Once they reached a good speed, Jones raised his arms, whooped, hollered and shouted a few things in his native tongue. In English, he added, “This must be what flying is like!”
Dodger gave a polite smile, acknowledging the obvious enthusiasm of the native while restraining his curiosity at the sudden change of opinion toward the doc. The journey didn’t take long in the swift carriage, and within a few minutes, the train came into view. Dodger scanned the line carefully until he spotted the low-lying form of Feng atop the roof.
Keep your head down, Dodger said, hoping Feng could hear underspeak from this distance. There is no danger. Yet.
Ched pulled the Rhino alongside the meeting cab with practiced ease, bringing her to a gentle stop. The built-up reserve of energy clicked away in the generator under the hood. Dodger and Ched opened their respective doors and hopped out, but the native seemed almost reluctant to disembark. He sat in the back, rubbing the contours of the machine with the care of an awestruck lover.
“This is a fine thing,” Jones said. “This could change the world.”
Dodger couldn’t fault the native for his fascination. The Rhino was a wonder to behold, yet there was much to discuss aside from the professor’s fantastic inventions.
“Ched,” Dodger said, “Go and let the professor know we are back.”
The driver bucked the order. “Shurely Feng can shee ush from-”
“Ched.” Dodger gave him a curt stare, both hushing and warning the driver to watch his words.
Ched huffed—an interesting sound coming from the clenched teeth of the corpselike man—but shuffled off to do as asked. After he boarded the line, grumbling the whole while, Dodger turned his attention back to the native, who had yet to get out of the carriage.
“Jones?” Dodger asked. “Can we have a quick word before the doc arrives?”
“Certainly,” Jones said without looking up from the Rhino.
“Who warned you about me?”
This unusual question finally got the native’s attention. He looked up to Dodger. “A wise man knows who his enemies are. I’m not trying to flatter you, but you strike me as a wise man.”
“Then you won’t tell me?”
“I will when the time is right.”
Dodger leaned in close to the native, lowering his voice as he said, “Jones, I don’t like to call a man out. Makes things uncomfortable and all, but I’m afraid it’s my job to be wise as well as suspicious. You suddenly wanting to get close to my boss man after your people ran him off the reservation at arrow point last time seems curious to me. So if you can give me the short of it, I’d be much obliged. Is the doc in any danger from you?”
“Professor Dittmeyer? I will admit that when he left us last time, my people may have been less than hospitable.”
“I am less interested in last time than I am in the now.”
“Now? Now he is a legend.”
“Why is that?”
Jones smirked. “He put the power of winter in the palm of our hands, and we stand to make a fortune from it.”
In which Dodger learns to make the best with what you have