A Fond Farewell
In which Dodger bids goodbye to a miracle or three
The chief and his men were seated around the buffalo, exchanging words with the ladies in hushed tones. It took a moment for Dodger to realize that the Sisters were speaking in Ute, not English. Since the SCWAK Boxes were designed for an English output, he was left to wonder how the ladies managed it. He supposed it had something to do with their accelerated learning, combined with the doc tinkering with the Boxes. Not that he claimed to understand it all, but it did make some sort of sense. Dodger eased into the teepee, trying not to attract attention to himself, and failing miserably.
No sooner had he lowered the flap than the buffalo spied him.
“Welcome back, Mr. Dodger,” Clotho said.
The gathered men turned to stare at him. No, more like glare.
“We knew we would see you again,” Atropos said.
“It is good to do so,” Lachesis said.
“I hate to interrupt,” Dodger said. “I just wanted the envelope I was promised.”
“Envelope?” Clotho asked.
“What envelope?” Lachesis asked.
“The one the chief has been hanging on to,” Dodger said. “Rex left it for me. We were told that once we settled your condition, we could have it.”
The Sisters looked as one to the chief, demanding an answer in Ute.
The chief turned a new shade of red as he whispered a few words.
“We understand now,” Lachesis said.
“It seems you were duped,” Clotho said.
“There never was an envelope,” Atropos said.
“I don’t get it,” Dodger said. “Why would they tell us there was one?”
“They needed leverage,” Clotho said.
“And you must admit,” Atropos said.
“It did indeed work,” Lachesis said.
Dodger shook his head in disappointment at the natives. “If y’all thought the doc wouldn’t help you without reward, then y’all don’t know him very well.”
The ladies nodded, then translated for the Utes.
Embarrassed, the men looked to the ground, with nothing more to say on the matter.
“Am I interrupting something?” the doc asked as he ducked into the tent.
Ched joined them, tight on his heels.
“No, sir,” Dodger said. “We are just about done here.”
“Tell them that Jones should be all right,” the doc said. “Well, he has lost a few fingers, but he will keep his life.”
Ched translated the lot to the natives.
The chief rose from his seat and went to the doc. He took the professor’s hand in his and said, in clear English, “Thank you. For everything.”
The doc started in surprise. “Oh my. You’re very welcome.”
Chief Atchee nodded as he gave the doc’s hand a firm shake. After this, he motioned to his men, and each stopped to repeat the ceremony as they left the teepee, one by one.
“What an honor,” the doc said.
“Honor, shmonor,” Ched said. “You desherve more.”
“Really? I imagine that was intended as a show of highest respect.”
“Reshpect don’t pay the billsh.”
“For once, I agree with Ched,” Dodger said. “You kept your end of things, but they can’t keep theirs.”
“Whatever do you mean?” the doc asked.
“There never was an envelope. Rex didn’t leave us a damned thing. No envelope. No clue as to where he is hiding. Nothing.”
“We never said that,” Atropos said.
“We said there wasn’t an envelope,” Clotho said.
“We never said Rex didn’t leave you a clue,” Lachesis said. “You’re just looking for it in the wrong place.”
“Where am I supposed to look?” Dodger asked. “In the ICE machine? In the forge? This entire reservation is far too vast to go traipsing about, looking for something as convoluted as a clue from a complete madman, and you three meant you know the answer, don’t you?”
The buffalo nodded and said as one, “We always did.”
Dodger was a man of some years, and he had seen and done his fair share of foolish things. He once tried to drink a well-known outlaw under the table before trying to take the man’s head in for payment. Instead of winning the bet and collecting the head and his bounty, Dodger ended up dead drunk and handcuffed naked to a hitching post in the center of town. Once the sun rose, the entire town of Red Mudd was treated to the sight of Dodger’s bare ass getting one hell of a tan. But even that little faux pas did not compare to the utter foolishness that settled on him now. The buffalo knew the secret of finding Rex’s compound the entire time.
Hence the reason Rex left the clue of employing the SCWAK Boxes in the first place.
“Son of a bitch,” Dodger groaned. “Okay, then, where can we find Rex?”
“Don’t you know?” Clotho asked.
“We are surprised you don’t,” Lachesis said.
“We told Hieronymus yesterday,” Atropos said.
“What?” Dodger shouted. He spun about to stare the doc down. “Doc? What are they talking about?”
The doc chewed his bottom lip. “Oh dear. I may have forgotten about that bit.”
“I can’t believe this.”
“Am I the only one not shurprished?” Ched asked.
Dodger growled. “Did they tell you or not? Sir.”
“Yes?” the doc half asked, half squeaked.
Dodger waited. He knew better than to wait, but he waited. And as he waited he grew more and more irritated. “Well?”
“What did they say?” Dodger shouted at his gentle-spirited boss man.
With a squeak, the doc glanced to the buffalo, as if beseeching a way out from under Dodger’s sudden wrath.
“The little one knows what you seek,” Atropos said.
“Little one?” Dodger asked.
“The child of slumber,” Lachesis said.
“The one plagued by nightmares,” Clotho said.
“Susan,” Dodger said. “But she’s catatonic. How are we supposed to get information from a sleeping child if we can’t wake her up?”
“You glean it from her dreams,” the ladies said together.
Dodger glanced to the doc for an answer to that.
“I may have a way of peeking into others’ dreams,” the doc said. “It is extremely hazardous, and of course, Rex knows just how dangerous it is, for both the dreamer and the viewer. The horrid little mutt.”
Dodger should’ve expected the answer to be so close.
What he shouldn’t have done was gotten sidetracked by the worries of the reservation when so much was at stake on a personal level. He shouldn’t have left the doc alone, shouldn’t have gone creeping off in the dark after problems he had nothing to do with, and shouldn’t have put himself in a position to run into Tyler Crank. Looking back on it, he supposed it was all another test, a series of coincidences contrived by Rex as further examination of Dodger’s spirit.
This made him wonder if he’d passed or failed.
“I apologize for artificially extending our stay,” the doc said.
“No,” Dodger said. “It’s my fault, sir. I got wrapped up in all the drama of the moment. If I had stuck by your side, where I should’ve been, then we could’ve gotten our answer and moved on hours ago. But I had to go ignoring my real job and poking my nose in other folks’ business, where it had no right bein’.”
“Mr. Dodger,” the doc gasped. “I must protest. You uncovered a plot that threatened the entire reservation, as well as assisted in avoiding a diplomatic disaster. If you consider that as ignoring your real work, then I am not only pleased to be your ignored employer, I am quite proud to be your ignored friend.” The doc scratched his beard as he reconsidered his choice of words. “Oh dear, that didn’t come out the way I intended it.”
Dodger grinned. “I got the meaning, sir. Thanks.”
“You’re quite welcome.” The doc slipped past Dodger, taking up a place amongst the buffalo. “Now, all there is left to do is wait, I suppose.”
“For sunset.” The doc patted one of the ladies on her flank, to her delighted giggles. “I wish we had longer to talk-”
“Professhor,” Ched said over the doc. “We can’t shtay.”
“We most certainly can,” the doc said.
“Sir,” Dodger said. “We got what we came for, and wasted nearly two days getting it. We need to leave, or we might not make it in time.”
“We have almost a week and a half left,” the doc said. “A few more hours here won’t strain our schedule.”
“I heshitate to dishagree, doc,” Ched said.
“I doubt that,” the doc said.
“Sharge is right,” Ched continued over the doc. “We don’t know what kind of trapsh or tricksh Canish Rexsh hash shet up for ush. We might need that whole week and a half. Maybe more.”
“But, but, but …” the doc stammered. “I don’t want to leave. Not yet.” His eyes grew damp as his voice wavered. “It’s too soon. They need me.”
“You need to go,” the buffalo said together.
“You have done all you can for us,” Clotho said.
“We appreciate your help,” Lachesis said.
“But it is time for you to leave,” Atropos said.
“No!” the doc shouted between tears. “I won’t abandon you. Not again.”
Dodger cocked his head at the odd choice of words. He knew the doc had grown an unusual attachment to the Sisters, but this suggested something deeper than just a fondness for their intelligence.
The doc pressed his wet face to the snowy flank of Clotho. “I won’t leave you to die alone. Not this time.”
“We were never alone,” Clotho said.
“We always had each other,” Lachesis said.
“And the memory of you,” Atropos said.
“Take our blessings, dear Jupiter,” they said as one. “And fair thee well.”
The doc collapsed onto Clotho, hugging her tight and openly weeping without shame.
Dodger’s eyes welled in sympathetic sorrow.
“Come on, Sharge,” Ched said, pulling at Dodger’s elbow. “Let’sh give him a minute to shay goodbye.”
Dodger sniffled as he followed the driver from the teepee. The early morning sun stung his tear-laden eyes. He wiped at them with his sleeve for a moment before Ched offered him a yellowing handkerchief. “Thanks, but I’m good. It’s just the sun in my eyes.”
“Shuit yourshelf, but there’sh no shame in tearsh. Not at shuch a shad shite. If it weren’t for my condishion, I’d be bawlin’ like a babe.”
“I’ve never seen him so tore up. I hate that he got so attached to them so quickly.”
Ched eyed Dodger. “You don’t know, do you?”
Dodger shook his head. “I guess I don’t.”
The driver glanced behind Dodger, to the tent, then lowered his voice. “You remember when the professhor shaid he had been run out of show many countriesh?”
“Yes,” Dodger said. “By his last count, I think he said it was forty-seven?”
“He wash thirteen the lasht time he shet foot on hish native shoil. But that wash by choish.”
Thirteen. The same age Dodger’s world went to hell too. “What happened to him?”
Ched struggled to explain, as if the tale was filled with his own personal pain. “He had three shishtersh …”
“Tripletsh sheveral yearsh younger than him. Sheemsh they shuffered from a shevere blood dishorder. One that not even a thirteen-year-old geniush could cure. Not for lack of tryin’, though, that’sh for shure. The worsht happened, ash it alwaysh doesh.”
“They passed away,” Dodger said, finishing the story for the driver.
“Aye. Worsher shtil, the doc wash out of town at the time, touring shome fanshy univershity or shomethig. Not hish fault, jusht luck of the draw. He never forgave himshelf for not bein’ there when the final moment came. In fact, from what he shaysh, he never went home again.”
“Poor man,” Dodger whispered.
“Yeah, like all of ush, he’sh got more than one shob shtory, but that one probably topsh the lisht.”
“Tops any of mine. No wonder he grew so attached.”
“I reckon he sheesh thosh buffalo ash a chansh at redempshon. After all, the three fatesh ish what he ushed to call hish little shistersh.”
“Ah, no wonder the buffalo called him Jupiter.”
“What doesh that have to do with the prish of eggsh?”
“Because Jupiter was the father of the gods.”
Unimpressed, Ched gave a hollow chuckle. “Shometimesh I forget how much you don’t know about all of ush.”
“What am I missing?”
“Jupiter ish the doc’sh middle name.” Shaking his head, Ched walked off, leaving Dodger feeling more than a little foolish.
Behind him came the lowing sounds of the buffalo paying the doc farewell in their native tongue.
The doc—eyes swollen with grief—ducked out of the teepee, carrying the three SCWAK Boxes with him.
“Are you all set?” Dodger asked. “You can take more time if you-”
“No,” the doc said as he started walking toward the line. “I’ve tarried long enough. We need to set out right away.”
Dodger caught up with the man in a few easy steps. “I see you’re taking the talk boxes with us.”
“Yes. The ladies asked that I remove them. I spoke with the chief about it earlier today. He was disappointed but compliant. I didn’t realize I would have to remove them so soon, but there we are. We can’t leave them for Rex to exploit, and we can’t-” the doc paused in his step as his voice caught in his throat.
Coming to a rest beside his boss man, Dodger laid a hand on the doc’s shoulder. “Are you sure you’re ready to leave?”
Tears began to stream down the doc’s face once more, disappearing into his scruffy beard, but he nodded all the same.
With the excitement of the government men’s visit and Jones’s near coup behind them, the crowd of natives had long since broken apart and returned to their everyday lives. They milled around the camp, taking no heed of the weeping professor or his troubled bodyguard. The pair of men stood at the border of the reservation, surrounded by the lives of such ordinary people, sharing a quiet, sorrowful moment.
“I don’t claim to know what you’re going through,” Dodger said. “I can’t say I understand or that I feel the same or any of those things, because I didn’t lose what you lost, or how you lost it. I’ve suffered plenty in my time, but mostly by my own stupidity and by my own hand. But still, for what it is worth, my heart is with you, sir. As hired help and as a friend.”
The doc looked up to Dodger with a beatific smile that seemed to cut the man’s grief in half. He reached up and patted Dodger’s hand. “That is worth more than you can imagine, Rodger. More than you can possibly imagine.”
As they made their way back to the Sleipnir, where the rest of the family waited to share the sorrow and heap their condolences on the doc, Dodger hoped the old man found a bit of closure in his the meeting with the Sisters. It wasn’t every day you got a second chance to be there for someone who needed you, or the chance to say goodbye before the worst happened. Dodger knew that well enough, considering his recent reconnection with his own mentor. Rex may have intended the whole stunt out of meanness, but he indirectly opened and healed an aged wound in the doc’s soul. Dodger was also forced to wonder at the long road ahead of them, and all the questions left unanswered. Could they keep up their pace without getting so sidetracked again? Or better still, did he really possess the wherewithal to take on the next task at hand?
That of sneaking into the dreams of a little girl.
THE PRINCESS AND THE PEAK
In which Dodger finds danger in the dreams of a child