“Looks like you have a little admirer,” Dodger said. He smirked and added, “Miss L.”
“The feeling is mutual,” Lelanea said. “She’s a good girl. I am honored she chooses to admire me. I wasn’t half as well-behaved at her age.”
“That’s Al’s doing. He was always tight with discipline.”
“Then we should follow his footsteps, lest she find herself with too much freedom.” Lelanea turned to Dodger, looking at her hands as she said, “Dodger, I think I should-”
“Yes,” Dodger said.
She lifted her face and furrowed her brow. “Yes what?”
“Yes you can come with us.”
Lelanea placed a hand on her plump hip. “What made you think I want to go?”
“You don’t?” Dodger raised an eyebrow.
She finally smiled. “Yes, all right. I want to go. Lucky guess.”
“Sure, sure. That’s all it was. Let’s go and see what kind of posse Duncan has gathered for us.”
Duncan had chosen wisely among the circus hands and performers. Gerald turned out to be the circus strong man, a stout fellow from Germany. Doug was an Irish bloke, and an animal handlers. Each man claimed to be fair with a weapon and were in good shape. Alice and Andy proved a little older than the others, a gray headed set of fraternal twins from Georgia, easily in their late fifties. The pair refused to even take so much as a look at the Long Shot, laughing at the doc’s claim of the gun’s power and range. They insisted on their own rifles, which, after a brief demonstration, they admittedly handled with incredible accuracy.
After the appropriate amount of oohing and aahing at the majesty of the Rhino, Dodger laid out the seating arrangements; six in the Rhino, with the animal handlers on horseback bringing up the rear. The doc was right, it was a tight fit for the vehicle but nothing it couldn’t handle. Lelanea volunteered to pedal, a decision that freed Dodger to take the Long Shot alongside the pair of sharpshooters in the wide backseat.
The doc approached the Rhino, bearing a wooden box. “Mr. Dodger, may I speak with you a moment?”
“Certainly,” Dodger said, and hopped down from the Rhino.
The doc led him a few feet from the others, then opened the box to reveal a small metal square about the size of a postage stamp.
“This should nullify the effects of the mind control device,” the doc said. “You can attach it to any part of the animal. It is self-adhesive, as you can see.” The doc peeled a small bit of wax paper from the back of the metal square to show a patch of glue underneath. “Once it comes in contact with skin, it aligns with the wearer’s biorhythmic feedback, sensing any disruption such as a mind controlling device. It will short out such a mechanism, rendering it useless.” He affixed the paper into place once more, then passed the square to Dodger. Lowering his voice he added, “I should warn you, the disruptor may have some undesirable side effects.”
“Such as?” Dodger said.
The doc lowered his voice even more as he whispered, “It may induce a small amount of arousal.”
Dodger drew closer to the doc as he whispered, “Arousal?”
“Yes. A bit.”
“You mean it might make her affectionate?”
“Highly. And with no male elephant to bond with, there is no telling how she will react. Or rather who she will react with. Of course, it might not have any effect at all. It’s hard to say in these cases.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, sir.” Dodger patted his jacket pocket where the metal square now rested. Shaking his head with a bit of a chuckle, he returned to the Rhino to join the others.
“You want me to walk?” Duncan said, his hand resting suggestively on his size altering belt. “It would save room and I can make it just as quick if I get tall enough.”
“No,” Dodger said. “They will see something that tall miles away. We’ll lose our advantage.”
“Right. Good point. Would smaller help?”
“Actually, it might.” Dodger slid the disruptor from his top pocket and passed it to Duncan. “I need you to get close enough to put this on the elephant.”
Duncan looked at the metal square, holding it up to the sunlight. “What is it?”
“Something that should help.”
“And how do you expect me to get close enough?”
Dodger smiled wide, then outlined his plan.
After the briefing, Duncan grinned as well, and nodded. “I think I can manage that. Just say when and I’ll be ready.”
“Good.” Dodger motioned to the Rhino. “Everybody load up. James, take the front seat with Lelanea. You two, sit in the back with me.”
“How hard are we going in?” Andy asked.
“Shoot to maim,” Dodger said, climbing into the backseat. “But be ready to kill if you have to.”
“I’ll tell you one thing,” Alice said, settling in next to Dodger, “after that redheaded cow shot Bigby like that, she’ll be lucky if she walks away from this without a hole in her head.”
Everyone cheered her words.
Dodger should’ve reigned in their enthusiasm for blood, but his jaw clenched as he remembered the last look in Al’s eyes as the old man lay dying on that cold cave floor. He found himself hoping that he had a chance to put a bullet in Kitty before anyone else did. Feeling the pressure of eyes on him, he glanced up to the rearview mirror. Lelanea stared hard at him.
“We need her alive,” Lelanea said.
“I’d like her a lot better dead,” Andy said.
“Alive. End of discussion.”
Dodger nodded his agreement, but said nothing more on the matter.
“You sure that metal heap is going to make it all the way there?” Gerald said as he eased a spirited steed up beside the Rhino.
“There is no way I’d ride in that thing,” Doug said from his mount on the other side. “I’ll take a horse any day over that.”
“I think you’ll be surprised at how fast she can go,” Dodger said. “Don’t try to keep up. We will be going a heck of a lot faster than the horses can manage. Just get there when you can.”
The men chuckled.
“Something funny?” Dodger said, knowing where this was going.
“No offense meant, sir,” Doug said. “Sandy and Gretchen here are special mares. We trained them ourselves. That hunk of metal will be hard pressed to keep up with these two.”
Without another word, the pair of riders spurred their steeds into motion, leaving the Rhino in a cloud of dust. Dodger grinned. This should prove interesting, if not entertaining.
Andy leaned forward and whispered at Duncan, “You sure this thing will do what he says?”
Before Duncan could answer, Dodger said, “Lelanea, in your own time.”
“Aye, sarge,” she said with a grin as wide as his.
Lelanea set to pedaling the Rhino, slow and steady at first, to bring the vehicle around and set her on the path behind the now distant horses. She let the machine glide along at a slow clip for a bit, either gathering her strength or, knowing her as Dodger thought he might, building an impressive bit of tension. Once they were a fair piece from the circus, far enough for the waving crew of both sides to fade into a background blur, Duncan cleared his throat.
“Is this as fast as it gets?” he said.
Andy snorted. “No kidding. I could’ve ran faster than this.”
As if waiting for the verbal prompt, Lelanea bore down on the pedals, pushing the Rhino into a higher gear and sending her shooting forward. The vehicle continued to pick up speed at an alarming rate, going faster and faster, the wind thrashing around the body of the cab in a whining howl. As near as Dodger could tell, this was the quickest he had ever seen the thing go, no doubt thanks to Lelanea’s supernatural strength. Duncan gave out a loud hoot of excitement, while Alice started to laugh up a storm. Andy, however, went as pale as a boiled sheet. He held onto the headrest of the front seat with shaking hands, clenched so tight he went white at the knuckles. It didn’t take long for the Rhino to overcome the pair of horses, then pass them with ease. Dodger glanced back to take in the looks of surprise on the riders’ faces before the Rhino sped away from the pair of men.
“I’ll be damned!” Andy shouted. He gave a nervous laugh.
“It won’t take long to reach them at this pace!” Dodger shouted over the wind. “Is everyone ready?”
A round of ayes rose from the group.
The Rhino careened through the open countryside as Lelanea pushed the vehicle for all it was worth. Dodger made sure the Long Shot was ready, then took a few moments to steady himself. This was bound to get nasty before things were said and done. While the others were chomping at their collective bits to even up things with Kitty, Dodger had a far deeper score to settle with the redhead. It had been years since he had looked forward to killing someone, and the welcome dread of it left him sick to his core.