In with Dodger ends up under watch
“Why?” Dodger said.
Benton shook his head as he continued to hold his trembling hands over his gaping mouth.
“Why, damn you!” Dodger shouted. He touched the ladies at his hips, which sent the innkeeper into a sprint from the scene. Dodger considered chasing the man down and demanding an answer, but he reckoned he could get just as good of a response from the owner of the horse at his back.
“For Pete’s sake!” the mayor said from behind Dodger. “What has that fool done? I told Gerald to let me handle the thing.”
Whipping about in place, Dodger drew both guns and aimed at the riders. Unfortunately there were at least a dozen men, maybe more, all crowded around the scene, each one armed with at least a pistol. The undertaker sat high on the buckboard of a wagon, and was armed as well. Even if Dodger had a chance to dial back his guns, he couldn’t take them all down without taking a half dozen shots himself. Nevertheless, he held his aim steady, one gun on the mayor, the other on Marlow.
“Steady there,” the mayor shouted from his horse. He drew the animal to a stop about a hundred feet from Dodger, dismounted and immediately raised his hands. “Steady on, son. No one wants to hurt anyone here.”
“Tell that to our friend there,” Dodger said, never lowering his weapons.
The mayor peered past Dodger to the fallen crewmember. “I meant real people. Not mechanical abominations.”
Which just about explained everything. Dodger sneered as he set the hammers on his guns and trained both of them on the mayor. “Wrong answer.”
White lifted his hands a bit higher, a genuine worry crossing his elderly face. “Come now, no need for that. Let me at least explain the way of things.”
“We don’t want your sorry explanations. Just back off and let us get our dying friend out of here.”
“I’m afraid we can’t do that,” Marlow said from his mount.
“Just lower your weapons and come with us,” White said.
“I’m afraid we can’t do that,” Dodger said.
The mayor snorted. “Smartass. I tried being nice, but you want to do this the hard way. Gentlemen?”
All across the crowd of horses came the clicks and clacks of various weapons readied for action.
“Now come on, son. You can’t kill all of us.”
Dodger kept his aim steady. “I don’t got to kill all of you. Just one.”
“Dodger,” Lelanea said. “Lay down your guns.”
“Not until we-”
“Getting yourself killed isn’t going to bring either of them back. Lay down your guns. Let’s hear what these idiots have to say for themselves.”
Dodger didn’t like the idea of just folding his hand like that, but he also saw the wisdom in her claims. Slowly, he unarmed his guns and returned them to their respective holsters.
“Now, I’m afraid that won’t do,” the mayor said. “I saw how fast you were able to pull those things. Drop ‘em to the ground.”
“I’m not gonna-” Dodger started.
“Dodger,” Lelanea said.
Dodger removed Florence and Hortense, lowering each gun to the ground with care. When done, he raised his hands and nodded to the mayor.
“Butch. Daniel,” White said as he motioned to Dodger. “Tie the pair of them up. I don’t want them trying to run before we can get ‘em back to the bar.” White scooped up the guns and passed them off to the undertaker.
The called upon men leapt down from their respective mounts and moved forward to do as commanded. One man produced a length of sturdy rope from his saddle, while the other man helped Lelanea to her feet and escorted her to Dodger’s side. The pair of men tied Dodger and Lelanea up separately, before placing them back to back. Dodger drew a deep breath from the bottom of his stomach, taking in as much air as he could and tensing all of his muscles as they wound the rope about his chest and arms. He only hoped Lelanea remembered to do the same.
Once the prisoners were bound, Mayor White stepped forward to inspect his prey. He slid a cigar out of his vest and shoved it into his mouth, not bothering to light the thing. White gnawed on the unlit cigar as he made a complete circle around the pair.
“So, Mr. Carpenter,” he finally said. “Or should I say Dodger?”
Dodger kept his eyes front and center, doing his best to ignore the man.
“Lost our inquisitiveness, have we?” White said. “How about you, young lady?”
Lelanea remained equally quiet.
Dodger felt her small hand slide into his, and he grasped it tightly.
“It’s just as well,” White said. “We don’t really have time for talk right now anyways.”
“I thought you couldn’t wait to tell us what this was all about?” Dodger said.
“I will, in due time. But first …” the mayor paused as he looked past Dodger to the mouth of the darkened cavern. His face grew hard and cruel. “First we need to get away from this accursed place. Butch, you toss that thing into the wagon.” White poked his cigar in the direction of Torque’s fallen form.
“Aw, shucks,” the man said. “Do I gotta?”
“Yes you gotta, ya whiney moron. Daniel, help our new friends onto the wagon as well.” White jabbed his unlit cigar at Dodger. “And not a word from either of you, ya hear? If I so much as imagine you’re talking to one another, I’ll have ya gagged.”
“What about this thing?” Daniel said as he kicked the front wheel of the Rhino.
“Leave it for now. We can deal with it later. Come on, men, let’s get back before we lose the light.”
Once the wagon was loaded, the company moved out. Dodger sat across from Lelanea, with the body of Torque on the floor of the wagon between them. Lelanea kept her eyes on Torque the whole way back to town. Dodger tried to get her attention several times, but she either didn’t hear him or was too angry with him to look him in the eye, or both. Probably both. He couldn’t fault her for her ire. Torque’s death lay squarely on Dodger’s shoulders. Sure, he might not have pulled the trigger, but Dodger dragged all of them further from the line when the mayor made it clear they weren’t even welcome in town. Lelanea was right. He was after a mystery, and he should’ve left well enough alone.
The town of Jubilee greeted the prisoners with empty streets and shuttered windows, as if no one wanted to bear witness to the posse’s triumphant return. At the mayor’s command, some nameless brute manhandled Dodger and Lelanea off the back of the wagon, while Mayor White instructed the rest of the crowd to disperse and return to their normal routines.
“The menace has been dealt with,” White said. “The threat to our peace is over. Get back to your wives and homes. I will make sure our new friends are comfortable.”
The majority of the men cleared the area, guiding their horses back to their respective homes and stables.
“What are you going to do with them?” Marlow said, nodding to Dodger and Lelanea.
“Whatever I want,” White said.
“You never change, do you?” The undertaker clucked his tongue, coaxing his wagon team to carry him away from the scene.
“Get these two downstairs,” White said to the remaining few men as he thumbed over his shoulder to the inn behind him. “Take that monstrosity with you. Make sure you tie them up real good. I don’t trust neither of them. And for the love of all that is holy, someone find that lousy nephew of mine before he has a conniption fit. I told him to stay out of this.”
With new orders, the remaining men dispersed. Two of them grabbed the prisoners and lead them into the inn and down the narrow staircase, while a third dragged Torque’s body behind them. Dodger gave little fight, saving his strength for the effort of trying to wiggle out of the restraints later. Lelanea was also silent and cooperative. White joined the party downstairs, bossing his minions about the basement and dragging two wooden chairs behind him.