In which Dodger learns how to make the best with what you have
Most of the crew gathered in the meeting cab to hear what the native had to say, save for Feng, who chose to remain in the guest quarters at Sarah’s side. No one was sure how much longer the young girl would remain unconscious, and no one wanted her to awaken alone. Dodger ducked his head into the guest room to check on the pair before joining the others.
Feng looked up from his book. “Same, same. She doesn’t seem to be suffering, just catatonic. Poor thing.”
“I’ve been thinking about that.” Dodger nodded to the sleeping young girl. “Do you think she’s just like Boon?”
The mystic glanced over the edge of his spectacles, to Sarah, then back to Dodger. He blinked sleepily. “You know, I hadn’t thought of that. Perhaps she is.”
“Is there any way to tell?”
“Is there some magic spell, you mean?”
“Well …” Dodger worried the brim of his hat, feeling all sorts of silly and nervous for asking such a thing.
“I don’t think I have the energy to perform the same one as I did for Boon, but I think I know of another way.”
“Can you manage it?”
“I could certainly try.”
Feng yawned softly into the back of his hand, and it was then that Dodger noticed how exhausted the Celestial appeared. Half-moons of darkness bordered the man’s eyes, which lacked their usual sparkle. He blinked again, in a slow manner, as if savoring the moments for which his eyes closed, brief as they were.
“How are you holding up?” Dodger asked.
“Me?” Feng asked. “I’m swell.”
“Never better.” Feng winked.
Dodger nodded, but he knew a lie when he heard one. “All right, then. You let me know if you need anything. Or if she wakes up. You hear?”
“Aye, aye, cap’n.” With a wide grin, Feng gave Dodger a little salute.
Dodger pushed the thought of Feng’s sudden exhaustion to the back of his mind. He would have to deal with it later. There was something larger looming on the horizon. A nasty little something named Canis Rex.
Dodger slipped into the meeting cab just as the doc asked, “Would you hold still?”
The doc stood over the not-dead man, trying his best to stitch the hole in Ched’s cheek.
“I will when you shtop pokin’ at me,” Ched said.
Boon snickered softly from the darkened corner.
“I need to repair the damage,” the doc said. “You ninny.”
“I told you how to fix it,” Ched said. “Don’t need shtichin’. Needsh whishkey.”
The doc exhaled in frustration. “Fine.” He dropped the sutures on his desk and passed a key ring to the driver. As Ched stood, towering over his boss man, the doc poked his finger at the driver’s bony chest. “One. Do you hear me? One bottle. If I even suspect you so much as looked at a second bottle, I will let you dry out.”
“Yesh, shir,” Ched said. He snapped up the keys and was out of the door before the doc could holler an additional reminder to take only one bottle.
Mesmerized by the proceedings, Jones leaned over to Dodger and asked, “Is it always like this?”
“Mostly,” Dodger said. He settled onto the couch beside Lelanea.
“I would like to apologize again,” the doc said, as he turned his attention to the native.
“No need to, sir,” Jones said.
“I had no intention of ruining all of your hard work on those poor crops. I would never deliberately-”
“We know, sir,” Jones said. “It was just a simple mistake. In the end, we learned to make it work for us instead of against us. That’s all that’s matters now.”
“But how your tribe could possibly profit from the Internal Centigrade Extractor is beyond me.”
“Oh, it’s more than just profiting. Your ICE machine has all but saved us. We were struggling on that dry patch of earth, certain that most of us would starve, but you came along and rescued my people. We are eternally indebted to you.”
Rather than bask in the praise, the doc huffed an angry little huff. “Nonsense.”
Jones lost his grin in a cloud of confusion. “Nonsense?”
“Rescue you? I did nothing of the sort.”
“Yes sir, you-”
“No. No. No. I won’t hear of it. I didn’t save anyone. I made a grievous miscalculation in communication that you and yours were right to get upset about. If anyone rescued your people, it was you.”
Jones started. “Me?”
“Not you specifically. You in the broad respect. Vous as opposed to tu, as the French would say.” The doc touched his chin in thought. “Or is that tu as opposed to vous? I always get those two mixed up. Why is French such a dastardly difficult language? It shouldn’t be. I mean, if the French can speak it, then it must not be too hard.”
“Tu ish shingular and pershonal,” Ched said from the doorway, clutching a bottle of amber liquid to his chest. “Vous ish proper and shometimesh plural.”
The doc shot his driver a suspicious look. “Case in point.”
“What?” Ched asked.
“Since when do you speak French?” Boon asked.
Rather than answer, Ched’s skeletal grin widened as he returned to his seat. He took a few swigs from his bottle, somehow managing to get it all down without spilling a drop from his open wound.
And Dodger had to admit, the hole did seem smaller already.
The professor crossed his arms and stared at the silent not-dead man. “French indeed. I think we are overdue for a long discussion. But first back to … wait … where was I?”
“You were explaining that the tribe rescued themselves,” Lelanea said.
“Quite right,” the doc agreed. “It takes ingenuity to make a mistake work in your favor. Ingenuity and genius. I had nothing to do with that.”
“Thank you for your modesty,” Jones said, “but we do owe you some small debt. I should start by apologizing for the way my people treated you. It isn’t our habit to rise so quickly to anger. Especially over such an obvious misunderstanding.”
“To be fair, it was a reasonable reaction, considering everything your tribe has been through.”
“Shpeakin’ of tribesh,” Ched said. “What’sh with the breeshe on the neck?”
“Excuse me?” Jones asked.
“The short back and shidesh?”
Jones shook his head, unsure what the driver was getting at.
“I think he means your hair,” Dodger said.
“Chester,” the doc scolded. “Don’t be so rude.”
“No, I don’t mind,” Jones said. He ran a hand over his short locks. “I had my hair cut when I found God.”
“Where whash He hidin’?” Ched asked. “A barber shop?”
“Chester!” the doc snapped.
Jones laughed, free and easy. “Don’t worry, Professor. I am used to much worse comments from my own family. I should explain; though I was raised on the reservation, I have been in the service of Reverend Young for several years.”
“Brigham Young?” Dodger asked. “The Mormon leader?”
“Is that where you learned English?” Lelanea asked.
“Correct again,” Jones said.
“Then what are you doin’ back here?” Ched asked.
“Chester Hedediah McMullen,” the doc scolded. “I swear sometimes I think you were raised by apes. Excrement-flinging, teeth-baring, odoriferous apes!” The doc turned a look of pity on the native. “I must apologize for my driver’s rudeness. Sometimes his brain goes a bit soft around the edges.”
“It really is fine,” Jones said. “My people needed me, so I came home.”
“A good an answer as any,” the doc said.
Ched let out a healthy belch, spreading the smell of death and rotgut across the cab. “Excush me.”
“There is no excuse for you,” the doc said. “Now, Jones, explain again how you make a profit from the ICE?”
“We use it in the way you intended, sir,” Jones said.
The doc’s eyes went wide. “You’re joking.”
“You freeze your crops?”
“Yes. It’s just peas right now, but with help, we are expanding our fields to include a variety of vegetables.”
“Why would folksh want frozen peash?” Ched asked.
Jones explained, “Freezing our vegetables allows us to ship them much farther away than we normally could. They arrive nearly thawed and almost as fresh as the day we picked them.
“How clever,” the doc said.
“Thank you, sir. We also formed a business relationship with the local farmers. They bring us their crops to freeze for shipping. Corn, beans, you name it, we can freeze it.”
“Amazing,” Lelanea said.
“That it is. It’s still in its infancy, but it’s proving to be a profitable business. There is already a higher demand than we can meet.”
“That’s incredible,” Dodger said.
“Thank you,” Jones said. “I would like to take credit for it, but it wasn’t my idea. I came along later to help negotiate contracts.”
“Another clever use of resources,” Lelanea said.
“Yes,” the doc said. “Your grasp of English is exceptional. I daresay that without your translations, things may have fared very differently.”
“Your people are lucky to have you,” Dodger said.
“Learning English was the reason I was sent to study under Young,” Jones said. “Finding solace in the Lord along the way was a blessing I didn’t expect.”
The doc clapped. “I am so pleased by your tribe’s success. And if there is anything else I can do to help out, you have only to ask.”
“Actually, sir,” Jones said. “We do need your help again. That is the reason I came back with Mr. Ched and Mr. Dodger. To request a meeting. Our chieftain would like to speak with you, sir. In person.”
All at once, the doc became flustered, shuffling papers across his desk as he huffed and puffed. “Well, I, that is to say, I’m not sure if I can. There is so much to do here.”
“My uncle doesn’t like to make personal appearances anymore,” Lelanea said. She lowered her voice to add, in a soft whisper, “He’s developed a bit of a shy side.”
“Having your life threatened on occashion will do that to a man,” Ched said.
“Please, sir,” Jones begged. “I promise we will treat you better this time. I wouldn’t ask, but we are at our wits’ end. Your arrival here was no coincidence, for you are the only man clever enough to help us.”
“What is this about?” Dodger asked.
“I … I … truthfully, I don’t know where to start. I’m not sure you will believe what I have to say.”
Ched gave a soft snort of humor. Dodger couldn’t help but grin. The kid had no idea.
Click forward to continue chapter