In which Dodger gets caught
Creeping across the campground in the wee hours of the morning proved simpler than Dodger hoped it would. The natives were fast asleep, with no reason to suspect someone of sneaking around the reservation. A sentry waited here and there, but most of them were young men either dead asleep themselves or bored into other distractions—one of which was quite passionate, from the sounds of things. It was, by far, one of the easiest look-see missions he had ever undertaken.
Of course, having a partner only he could see, hear and speak with certainly helped things a bit.
Once he reached the open field, Dodger dropped onto his belly and slowly inched across the area until he was almost atop the now-unguarded ICE-machine tent. A quick peek inside told him half of what he needed to know. The same cart of peas rested in front of the machine, well on its way to thawing out. As far as Dodger could see, nothing had changed. If the Utes planned on stepping up production on the frozen vegetables, they had a funny way of going about it.
Well? Boon asked.
It’s just as we left it, Dodger said in underspeak. Nothing has been touched.
Would you like for me to take a closer look?
No. I have a feeling I know where everyone has gone.
He left the teepee behind and turned his attention to that strip of dead grass that formed a path farther into the reservation territory. Following it on foot as long as he dared—almost another full mile, from his guess—Dodger dropped to his belly again when another construct came into view. He adjusted the SPECS until he could make out a large brick hut surrounded by the same burly men who’d guarded the ICE machine teepee earlier that evening.
That must be it, Dodger said.
And you are certain it’s a forge? Boon asked.
Only one way to be sure. Dodger nodded to the hut.
Boon understood the gesture. I’ll only be a moment. The spirit slipped away in the moonlight to check out the suspicious building.
Dodger returned the lens of the SPECS to its normal setting and lifted the pair to rest on his forehead. He propped himself onto his elbows, making sure to keep himself pressed enough into the grass to keep cover while he waited for Boon’s return.
Dodger? Boon asked
That didn’t take long, Dodger said.
You were right. They’re assembling guns inside of the hut.
Dodger punched the ground with his fist. Damn it!
There is a forge, but it is cold at the moment. They must’ve cast as many guns and as much ammo as they had the metal for.
What do you think of them?
The weapons? In the silver moonlight, the spirit shrugged. They reflect their build—hastily made and poorly constructed. I wouldn’t be surprised if more than half blew up in some poor fools’ hands.
I was afraid of that.
Boon turned his nose into the air a bit, bordering on haughty. I don’t know who is responsible for such atrocities, but they should be ashamed to call themselves a weaponsmith.
I don’t reckon he calls himself a weaponsmith. I reckon he calls himself a preacher.
What was that?
Nothing. Dodger sighed. This complicates things a bit.
What do we do now?
I need to find Jones. Maybe I can talk some sense into him.
He can’t possibly imagine that he can outgun the U.S. government with those things?
Unfortunately, he thinks just that. And we need to find him before he gets himself and his whole tribe slaughtered. Get back to the line and ask Lelanea if … Dodger paused as the whisking sounds of someone stalking through the grass rose to his ears. Do you hear that?
Before Boon could answer, Critchlow asked, “Mr. Dodger? Is that you?”
Dodger gave a soft groan as he lowered his face into the grass. Of all the stupid, lowdown, idiotic things to do. This wasn’t what Dodger meant by going home. Next time, Dodger reckoned he wouldn’t just speak with his guns—he would holler as loud as he could with them.
Is that the government man? Boon asked.
Yes, Dodger said. Maybe if we keep quiet, he’ll just wander off.
I don’t think that’s very likely. He seems bent on finding you.
Critchlow staggered around the pair in the near darkness, whispering, “Dodger? Mr. Dodger? Where are you? I don’t understand. I swear I just saw him.”
Boon huffed. For the love of … he’s gonna give us away if he don’t settle down.
Dodger was thinking along the same lines. He waited for Critchlow to draw near again, then sprang from his hidden spot and snatched the man down to the ground with him. Critchlow was able to get out a small squeal of surprise before Dodger could cover the man’s mouth with his hand. The agent struggled and gave a muffled scream from behind Dodger’s firm grip.
“Calm down,” Dodger whispered into the man’s ear. “It’s me, you fool.”
Critchlow ceased his wiggling and fell quiet.
“You gonna shut up?” Dodger asked.
The agent nodded.
“I’m gonna let you go,” Dodger said softly. “You will stay low and keep quiet. If you make so much as a peep, I will save those natives the worry and shoot you myself. Understood?”
Critchlow nodded again.
Dodger released the agent, who cowered beside Dodger in silence, as ordered.
Make him go back, Boon said.
Too late now, Dodger said. If he tries to leave, he will just draw more attention.
But if he stays … wait. Did you say more?
“I did,” Dodger said aloud. “I reckon you can put that gun down, Benjamin Jones. Even if you managed to get in a good shot, I’d drop you dead before you could cock it for a second round.”
There came a chuckle in the darkness. “Very good, Mr. Dodger. And what will you do about the other half-dozen men?”
Half-dozen? Dodger heard just the one man approaching while Critchlow was bumbling around, and he just took a good guess that it was the English-speaking native. Either Jones was lying, or the natives had gotten the drop on the old professional assassin. Emphasis on the old, Dodger supposed. My, how times had changed. Once, many, many moons ago, a blindfolded Dodger could’ve counted the number of men in a bar just by the sound of their breathing.
It was good thing Al wasn’t here to bear the shame of it all.
Boon? Dodger asked.
At least a half-dozen, Boon said. With more on the way.
Dodger looked to the hut to see at least another half-dozen natives making their way toward him, bearing torches, guns and angry looks. Good grief, could this get any worse? Dodger considered the question a moment. Please, do me a favor and don’t answer that.
I’m sorry. I was so distracted by that idiot’s game that I wasn’t paying attention to the-
Not your fault, Wash. I should’ve knocked the moron out before we left. Something told me he would follow us.
“As I thought,” Jones said in the midst of Dodger’s apparent silence. “I suggest all of you throw your weapons to the side and put your hands in the air. Slowly.”
“What are we going to do?” Critchlow asked.
“We are going to do what they ask,” Dodger said.
“Just give up?”
“You have a better idea?”
“Throw out your guns,” Jones demanded. “We don’t have all night, as you know.”
“All right,” Dodger said. “Don’t get your hackles up.” Dodger undid the clasp on his beauts and tossed the whole belt to the side.
“And the agent,” Jones said.
Critchlow pulled a small pepperbox from his the waist of his pants and slung it into the grass beside Dodger’s girls.
Make yourself scarce, Dodger said.
I will get help, Boon said, then faded from Dodger’s senses
Don’t you dare! Boon! Get back here!
The spirit’s presence returned. But you need help. I can go and get Ched so he-
What I need is for you to hang back a bit until I figure out what is what. You got that?
Certainly. I’ll be here when you need me. Boon faded again.
Round about then. The rest of the natives showed up bearing torches and ropes. By torchlight, Dodger caught sight of Jones’s clothes. Gone were the modern slacks and plain button-down of a Lord-fearing Mormon. Instead, the man dressed like the other natives, buckskin trousers, fringed tunic and all. In the time it took to asses this change of costume, Jones’s men trussed up Dodger and Critchlow like a pair of prize pigs and carted them back to the munitions hut. There, they tied Critchlow in a seated position to one leg of a long work table, then bound Dodger to the other end, about ten feet apart. The place was alive with a good two dozen men assembling everything from rifles to revolvers. Each native was hard at work, focused solely on his task. None of them gave the pair of captives a first glance, much less a second one. Once Dodger and Critchlow were tied to the table, Jones waved away his men, then crouched in front of them as he toyed with one of the freshly manufactured revolvers.
“Good work,” Jones said. “Isn’t it?” He grinned like a proud papa.
Truthfully, the weapon looked all right to Dodger. Sure, it was nothing special, yet it appeared functional as all get-out. Dodger thought on it a moment, then took Boon’s professional opinion to heart and answered truthfully. “No, it isn’t. It’s not even bad. It’s awful.”
Jones’s smile faded. “As if you would know. Some second-rate security man for a half-insane scientist? I don’t think so. Just because you wield guns doesn’t mean you understand them. Not like I do.” Jones lovingly ran his hand along the barrel of the revolver. “My people don’t understand them either, but I do. I understand.” The man’s eyes fairly sparkled with naked ecstasy.
Dodger hated to be the one to burst that bubble, but it had to be done. “Jones, I know you think this is the right way of things, but this is a mistake.”
Again, the mask of joy slipped, leaving a scowl in its place. He glanced from Dodger to Critchlow and back again. “The only mistake I made was trusting you in the first place.”
“I’m sorry, Jones,” Critchlow said. “I didn’t mean to betray your trust. I should never have told my superiors about the ICE machine.”
Jones gave the agent a nasty glower. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
“You have no idea what is happening here, do you? I knew exactly what I was doing when I showed you the machine. You couldn’t wait to tell your masters, and I can’t thank you enough for passing along the good word.”
Critchlow furrowed his brow. “You … you wanted me to tell?”
“He manipulated you,” Dodger said.
“Manipulated?” Jones asked. The native scoffed. “It was more like leading him by the nose. It was all so easy. You people are so predictable. Eager to please your masters like good little dogs. I couldn’t have planned it any better. Our tribe has been waiting for a chance to defend what is rightfully ours, to show your kind just how tired we are of being pushed around, and now I will get my chance. You were even nice enough to let me know when the enemy will arrive, so we can prepare properly. Thank you for being so cooperative.”
Critchlow let out a soft breath, long and slow, as the knowledge of what he had done came upon him. The defeated man hung his head and said nothing further on the topic.
“You should know,” Dodger said, “he isn’t the only one being led around by the nose.”
“Shut up,” Jones snapped. “You shouldn’t even be here. Your arrival was an unfortunate hiccup in an otherwise sound plan.”
“Why? Didn’t he tell you my crew would show up?”
“He has nothing to do with this,” Jones said with a sneer. It was a good attempt at hiding his surprise, but not good enough.
Dodger could sense it in the man’s fierce growl.
“Why do I get the feeling you’re the one lyin’ now?” Dodger asked.
Turning his back on Dodger, Jones stood and began shouting orders to the gathered men. Some of the men shouted back in a sing-song of commands and acknowledgements.
“Was he the one who showed you how to divert the heat to a forge?” Dodger asked.
Jones ignored the question, yet didn’t move away from Dodger.
“Did he supply you with all of this as well?” Dodger asked.
Again, Jones said nothing.
“Was he the one who showed you how to make such poor excuses for weapons too?” Dodger asked. “Because those have got to be the ugliest sons of bitches I have-”
Jones whipped about and cut Dodger short with a strong kick to the jaw. Dodger’s head snapped to the left, striking the table leg behind him. His vision swam with black blobs as he glanced up at his assailant. A double image of Jones stood over Dodger, pointing down at him.
“You know nothing!” Jones shouted. “I learned from the best. Do you hear me? The best. I am the best now!” He waved a weapon at Dodger. “These are the best!”
Dodger swirled the coppery tang of warm blood about in his mouth a moment before he spat a red-tinged wad on the munitions-hut floor. He raised his eyes to the angry native. “I take it the Lord wasn’t the only thing they taught you to love at Mr. Young’s church?”
Jones reared back for a second kick, but one of his men jumped in to restrain him. The native spouted off a series of insults—some Dodger knew, most he didn’t—then pushed his own man away and stormed for the door. The other natives shuffled off back to work, unsure of how to react to the exchange.
“That could’ve gone better,” Dodger said.
“I’m sorry I got you captured,” Critchlow said. “I was only trying to help. I can’t seem to get anything right these days.” Despite his bindings, the man managed to fold in on himself in his despair.
Dodger spat another bloody loogie as he repressed the urge to agree with the crestfallen man. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. These things take practice.”
“I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m a petty bureaucrat, just like you said. I am not cut out for this sort of thing.”
“Hey now, don’t put words in my mouth. I never called you petty. But no, you’re not cut out for this sort of thing. I gotta hand it to you for trying, though. It took some guts to follow me as far as you did.”
“You think so?”
“Look at it this way: I wanted inside, now I’m inside. Mission accomplished.”
Critchlow raised his head and looked to Dodger. “You aren’t angry with me?”
“Sure I am. But it don’t do a lick of good to fuss about it when we could be working on a way to escape.”
“You think you can get us out of here?” Critchlow grinned a bit. “Of course you can. You’re Rodger Dodger.”
“Oh now, don’t start that line of thinking. That way lies madness.”
“I can’t imagine how you’ll get us out of here. I’ve heard so many things about the legendary Rodger Dodger. They say you took out a whole division in the war with just one rifle.”
Dodger chuckled. “Well, that ain’t exactly how it happened. I had quite a bit of help.”
“That’s not the way I heard it.”
“The way things actually happen and the way they are told are often two completely different things.”
Well said, Boon said. He materialized beside Dodger with a smile. I see you’re all tied up. Should I come back?
‘Bout time you showed your ghostly rump, Dodger said.
I was allowing you time to determine what is what, as you put it.
Boon paused as he eyed Dodger. Ouch. That’s quite a bruise you have blooming.
I know. I’m lucky he didn’t break my jaw. How many men here by your count?
Fifteen assembling weapons and another five guarding the entrance.
That’s how many I got too. Dodger sighed. Where did Jones get to?
He headed back to the main camp.
Keep tabs on him, and for Pete’s sake, don’t tell anyone else we are here.
Are you certain? The doc might be able to speak with the chief about what is-
No. Especially not the doc. I doubt the chief knows what’s going on out here. And if he does, then roping the doc or the others into this won’t help any. Just keep tabs on Jones, and I will think of a way out of this. Go. Now.
Boon nodded, but said nothing more as he faded from Dodger’s side.
“Have you worked it out?” Critchlow asked.
“What was that?” Dodger said.
“Your driver said you get quiet when you are working things out.”
“I suppose I have.”
Critchlow expectantly stared at Dodger. “So what do we do now?”
“We sit tight.”
“Sure, you got a better idea?”
“But what about escaping?”
“There are at least fifteen in here, and another five at the door. I think Jones has taken a break to keep from killing us, which I suppose is a good thing. Have you got a way to get us out of here without being seen?”
Critchlow looked away, obviously disappointed in the great Rodger Dodger of legend. “No, but I thought …”
“You thought wrong. I told you already, I’m just a man, like anyone else.”
Dodger stretched as best he could, considering he was tied in a seated position. He laid his head back against the wooden table leg, taking care not to rest the weight of it on the goose egg forming on the back of his skull. “Besides, we can’t enact a daring escape until the bulk of these folks move along.”
“No, sir. Too many witnesses. We’ll have a better chance in the morning hours.” Dodger cracked an eyelid and nodded to Critchlow. “I suggest you get comfortable. It’s gonna be a long night.”
Critchlow followed suit, relaxing as much as he could against his side of the table, a beaming grin signaling his renewed faith that the legendary agent would set them free.
Which was a shame, considering the fact that the supposed legend had no idea how to get out of there.