Taking a Stand
In which Dodger is under the gun
Jones wasn’t the only one who had drawn his gun. On the man’s mark, a good dozen men in the gathered crowd produced weapons as well. Dodger reckoned there were more than a few unseen snipers hidden in the shadows of the camp behind them. The rest of the natives gave a collective gasp, and more than one woman shrieked in surprise, which told Dodger that his suspicions were correct. Only Jones and his men knew about the forge and the guns.
“Move your hands away from your weapons,” Jones said, “and turn to face me. Slowly.”
“Jones,” Dodger said as he followed the command, “you don’t want to do this.”
“You have no idea what I want.”
“You’re right. I don’t. But I do know that if you pull that trigger, you’re gonna have a world of trouble on your hands.”
“From who? You?” Jones let out a sharp barking laugh. “You’re at my mercy. Again. I don’t know how you got out of those ropes, but I can promise you won’t escape me a second time. And, Mr. Critchlow …” Jones paused as he shifted the gun’s aim to the agent. “If you value your life, you will stop translating all of this to him. He doesn’t need to know what is going on here. I’m in charge now.”
Critchlow fell quiet, bringing an abrupt end to his soft whispers.
This only proved to anger the chief, who made a few demands in his own tongue.
Jones answered with a clipped, “No.” He cocked the revolver’s hammer, sliding his finger into the unfolded trigger’s cradle.
The chief balked at the insubordination, letting out a tirade of epic proportions. Jones set in to arguing with the old-timer, shout for shout, until each man was screaming at the top of his lungs to be heard over the other.
Dodger seized the distraction to calculate the odds of outdrawing the native, as well as the gathered armed onlookers. If Dodger had to guess, he suspected Jones possessed the knowledge of how his gun worked, and how to create the weapon as well as assemble it, yet Dodger doubted the man was familiar with the use of such a weapon. In other words, the native was probably on friendly terms with his gun, whereas Dodger knew his ladies intimately.
Slowly lowering his hands with every intent of going for his own guns, Dodger felt a gentle nudge in his side. He glanced to the doc. The professor shook his head. Dodger nodded to the argument, trying to point out that it was the perfect distraction. The doc shook his head again. Dodger huffed, but did as his superior commanded and raised his hands again. Dodger wasn’t sure what the doc was playing at, but he trusted his boss man when the chips were down.
Which was more than Dodger could say for Benjamin Jones.
Somewhere in the midst of the argument, Critchlow started up his whispering again, giving a word-by-word narrative of the pair’s argument.
“You will put that thing down, and you will obey me,” the chief said.
“This thing is our salvation,” Jones said.
“It is wrong. This is not our way.”
“Our way is ancient and useless. This is the only thing the enemy understands. Violence is all they will respond to. Why can’t you see that?”
“I see you acting like that madman.”
“Rex showed us what to do. You tried to hold us back by denying his aid.”
“That monster has poisoned your mind.”
“That monster is the only one who understands. He wants to help us.”
“Help? You have seen the Sisters, and the help he gave them. I forbade his so called help, and you went behind my back to create those objects of death. You have defied me for the last time. You have brought shame on us.”
“Shame, yes. Shame is something you truly understand. You let us live in shame, under their shadow. Under the white man’s controlling hand. You do nothing for us. But me? I am trying to save my people.” Jones slipped from Ute to English as he shouted, “And I will start with you!” He tightened his grip on his gun, holding his aim on Critchlow, poised to fire.
To his credit, the agent didn’t duck or run or squeal. The picture of bravery, Critchlow stared at Jones and waited.
“Don’t be so stupid,” Dodger said.
“In what way is killing the man who enslaves us stupid?” Jones asked.
“Because he’s the perfect martyr. If you kill him in cold blood, Crank and his men will be back before the sun sets with a troop of soldiers to avenge this man’s death.”
Jones considered Dodger’s logic for a quiet moment. “Maybe you’re right. He is the wrong one to kill. But you? You’ve been nothing but trouble. I shall do the world a favor by ridding it of you.” Jones swung the revolver toward Dodger and fired.
Instead of discharging a well-placed shot, the gun backfired, exploding in the native’s palm. Jones cried out in pain and surprise, dropping the ruined weapon and falling to his knees as he clutched what was left of his mangled right hand.
A single word went up from the crowd in hushed murmurs. A word Dodger recognized because he had been called the very same thing more than once during his old life. That word translated roughly to ‘evil.’ There also rose the sound of weapons clattering to the hard ground, as the other natives dropped their guns and backed away from the now-treacherous things.
Dodger wasn’t sold on the guns being evil. Or badly made. Thanks to his sensitive hearing, and years of handling weapons, he had an idea of what just transpired. And while he was grateful to be alive, he was kind of perturbed to be excluded from such a finely orchestrated plan.
Within seconds of the supposed backfire, the doc rushed to the injured man’s side. “We need to staunch the wound right away, or you will bleed out.”
But Jones would have none of that. He pushed the doc away, almost knocking the professor to the ground in his anger. “Get away from me! All of you, just get away from me!” He looked up at Dodger with utter and complete hatred filling his eyes, the stumps of his thumb and forefinger gushing with a fountain of fresh blood.
Far more blood than a backfired weapon called for.
“I would rather die in shame than live as your animal,” Jones said. The man teetered on his knees as his eyelids fluttered. A few seconds later, he toppled over into an immobile heap.
The doc tossed his bag to the ground beside the fallen man and went to work.
Funny. Dodger hadn’t even noticed that the doc had his bag with him the whole time.
After the doc rushed to the wounded man’s side, the chief said a few words, then turned his back on the scene and took off for the Sisters’ tent with his entourage in tow.
Dodger watched the line of natives disappear into the teepee before curiosity got the best of him. “What did he say?”
“Help him if you can,” Critchlow said. “Because it is impossible to punish a dead man.”
Dodger cringed. “Ouch.”
“Can you blame him?”
“I suppose not. Jones was warned not to follow Rex’s advice. What will they do to him if he lives?”
Critchlow wrinkled his nose. “You don’t really want to know.”
Unfortunately, Dodger had a fairly good idea just what would happen to the wayward native. The thought of it left him sick to his stomach.
The tribe gathered in a wide circle around their fallen brother, watching with curious interest as the doc struggled to save the man’s life.
“I just hope he has made his peace with God,” Critchlow said.
“I know this might come as a surprise,” Dodger said, “but I am going to guess that was all part of his game.”
“You don’t believe he’s saved?”
“Not by your god, no.”
All at once, Critchlow beamed with a warm, glowing grin. “But He saved you.”
“By thwarting Jones’s plans. By causing the gun to misfire.”
“I seriously doubt your god had anything to do with that either.”
“That’s always the way, isn’t it? The Lord reaches down and miraculously rescues a lowly sinner, only to have that selfsame sinner deny His divine intervention.”
“I don’t doubt divine interventions happen all the time. But unless your Lord carries around a mighty big rifle, then he had nothing to do with this.”
“Mr. Dodger,” the doc said. “Your assistance, please.”
Dodger left Critchlow utterly confused as he went to help the doc. “What can I do?”
“The anesthetic hasn’t had time to take full effect, but we need to cauterize that wound before he loses too much blood. Hand me that torch.”
Dodger passed the professor a gas-powered torch from the bag.
“Hold him down,” the doc said. “Quickly.”
Dodger grabbed Jones by the shoulders and pushed against him with as much weight as he thought the injured man could bear.
The doc yanked the wounded arm to him, wedging it under his own knee. “Whatever you do, don’t let up.” The doc flicked the torch to life, lowering the wild flame to Jones’s open wound.
The moment the heat hit what was left of his hand, Jones screamed and thrashed about. The doc grimaced at the man’s pleas, but kept on searing the chunk of meat at the end of Jones’s right arm. It seemed to take hours to stop the bleeding. Hours of Jones writhing against the pair of them. Hours of listening to the man scream blue murder. Eventually, Jones fell into shock or under the influence of the anesthetic, for the native went still, allowing the doc to finish the job in blessed peace.
A few well-placed stitches to help keep the wound closed, and the deed was done.
“There,” the doc said. “That should do it. I hate that he lost thumb and finger, but it is a far sight better than losing one’s life, I suppose.” After a quick rummage through his bag, the professor gave a hiss. “For Sekmet’s sake. We need to clean the wound before I can wrap it, but I don’t have any alcohol on me.”
“How about a bottle of whiskey?” Dodger asked.
“That is a grand idea. Yes, that would work marvelously. Can you fetch it for me?”
“Hang on.” Under his mind, Dodger asked, Boon, can you hear me?
Aye, Boon said.
Have Ched bring a bottle of his rotgut to the doc, will ya?
On its way.
“Ched is bringing it,” Dodger said.
The doc gave a soft sigh. “I suppose I should be thankful for the little things, but I do wish the TAP was functioning. I was woefully underprepared for this eventuality. If we get it working again, I promise I shall never let my stores get quite so low.”
“When we get it working, sir,” Dodger said. “Not if.”
Looking up from his gruesome task, the doc smiled gently at Dodger. “Of course. I fear my attitude as of late has been a bit bleak about these things. It’s clouding my perception, and my dimming outlook.”
“I wouldn’t say that. After all, you were clear minded enough to formulate a hell of a plan.”
The doc’s eyes widened a bit in shock, like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar. He glanced away quickly, but said nothing.
“Who placed the shot?” Dodger asked.
The professor maintained his silence.
“Come on now, doc,” Dodger said in a low voice. “I know a backfired weapon when I see one. That gun’s explosion was the result of an outside influence. That, and I distinctly heard a weapon discharge before Jones went down. You don’t get that kind of noise when a gun backfires.”
No answer to that either.
“And this,” Dodger said as he pointed to Jones’s wound, “is not the result of a misfire either. This is the result of a calculated explosion.”
The doc closed his eyes as if hurt by the accusation.
“Sir,” Dodger said, placing a steady palm on the doc’s trembling, bloody hands. “I’m not angry. I promise. I just want to know who I have to thank. Was it Ched?”
“Certainly not,” the doc said, finally looking up to Dodger. “I would never trust him with such a task.”
“Ah. Of course. Lelanea.”
The doc grinned slightly. “Try again.”
Dodger furrowed his brow. “I never thought of Feng as a sure shot-”
“It was Mr. Torque!” the doc said excitedly. He grunted as he realized he’d just given away the game.
“Torque fired on Jones?”
At the mention of the wounded man, the doc lost his easy humor. “Yes. It was my suggestion to have Mr. Torque use the Miniature Explosives Launcher, but the plan was all Boon’s idea.”
Dodger pressed his lips together in frustration. “Let me guess. He went right to y’all last night after I specifically told him not to.”
“I’m afraid so. But don’t be angry with him. He was only trying to help. After your capture, he gathered us all on the line to tell us what was happening, as well as his grand idea. Washington explained that the weapons were of an inferior quality—and he would know—then presented the idea of forcing one to explode, so as to frighten the others out of employing theirs. But it was I who entrusted Mr. Torque with the task of firing the MEL upon this poor young man. I am sorry for contravening your instructions, as well as putting this young man’s life at risk.”
“I think I can forgive a little contravening when my life is on the line.”
The doc looked down on the wounded man once more. “I was hoping the damage would be less severe.”
“I am sure you didn’t mean for Jones to end up with such a brutal injury. I have to say I am surprised it was Mr. Torque who placed the shot. That was amazing accuracy, clockwork man or not.”
“Don’t praise him too much. He is programmed for deadeye shooting, after all. It isn’t as though he had to work at it. I added it to his personality as a last line of defense, should the worst ever happen. I never thought I would have him use it for something so terrible. I realize we all wanted a peaceful resolution, but must it come at such a sacrifice?”
“Sometimes true sacrifice comes from those who least intend it.”
The doc paused a moment, as if taken aback by the quote. “I’m afraid I never heard that one before. Who said it?”
Dodger almost blushed as he said, “I think I just did.”
“Why thank you for that gem of wisdom, Mr. Dodger. You might think of yourself as a wicked man, but you never cease to restore my faith in humanity.”
“Professhor!” Ched hollered as he pushed through the crowd, guarding the bottle of whiskey against his chest. He stooped over the fallen native, eyeing Jones warily. “You shure you need a whole bottle? He don’t look like he’sh in the mood for a shwig.”
With a huff, the doc snatched the bottle in question from the not-dead driver. “Speaking of true sacrifice. You should be ashamed of yourself, Chester.”
“What? It ishn’t my fault he got hish fool hand blown off.”
“It wasn’t his either, you insensitive oaf.” The doc uncorked the whiskey and proceeded to empty it directly on the fallen man’s wound.
“You can’t be sherioush,” Ched groaned. “I’ve never sheen shomething sho offenshive in all my life.”
“In that case,” the doc said, “you should really invest in a mirror. It would change your whole perspective about such things.”
“I think I’m gonna be shick.”
“You’re already sick … in the head. Now stop your whining. You have plenty more to drink back on the line. He needs it far worse than you do.”
“I beg to differ.”
“You’ll be begging for your next bottle if you don’t cork it.”
“I’m tryin’ to cork it! You’re the one washting it on thish rashcal.”
While the pair continued their repartee, Dodger moseyed over to the Sisters’ teepee to have a quick word with Chief Atchee.
As well as finally get his hands on that envelope.