Going in Hard
In which Dodger launches an attack
There exists a moment of serenity at the onset of any great battle. A perfect bubble of silence and calm and tranquility before the world explodes into rage and death and blood. Both sides of any battle experience it, that brief respite from the inevitable mayhem of war. For many a man, it became the last moment of peace they would ever know. Each time he stepped into combat, Dodger wondered if that blessed moment of peace would also be his last.
Dodger sat wedged between the older twins, once again relishing those few moments of familiar, quiet bliss. He closed his eyes and listened to the howling wind, letting it empty his mind of everything he ever was and will be. He drew a deep breath. He exhaled. Deep breath. Exhaled. Dodger wished, more than anything, that he could capture that moment of peace and wrap it around his entire life. He knew such calm wasn’t meant for the likes of Rodger Dodger. He was lucky enough to experience the few brushes with peace he did before jumping into the madness that was his life once more.
All too soon, Lelanea shouted, “We’re close!”
“How far?” Dodger shouted, rubbing at his tired eyes.
“No more than a few miles!”
Alice and Andy looked across Dodger at one another, their questioning looks wondering how Lelanea could possibly know such a thing.
Dodger didn’t doubt the woman’s or the wolf’s sensitive nose. “Slow down a bit and let me have a look.”
As Lelanea dropped the Rhino to half its previous speed, Dodger grabbed the unusual rifle known as the Long Shot and raised up to sit on the headboard of the bench beneath him. This put him a good couple of feet above the others, giving him not only a clear line of sight, but also a clear line of fire. He raised the Long Shot to this shoulder and peered into the gun’s sight.
It took a bit of adjusting, but in moments Dodger could see what Lelanea smelled. Sure enough, a few miles ahead, a small group of men came into view. One claimed the elephant as a mount while the others were on horseback, as was a woman with bright red hair peeking out from under her dusty hat—Kitty.
Dodger sneered and he lowered the rifle and addressed the others, “The elephant seems unharmed. I count about a dozen men and Kitty.”
“Kitty?” Alice said.
“The redhead,” Lelanea said.
“Kitty,” Alice said again, this time slowly rolling the word around her mouth with distaste.
“There were a lot more men before,” Duncan said.
“They probably went on ahead,” Dodger said. “Good thing too. Less for us to handle.”
“Seems like they weren’t planning much on a retaliation.” Lelanea said, smirking at Dodger in the mirror.
Dodger nodded. The woman’s theory began to make sense. If Kitty expected the crew to pursue her, then why did she send away half of her men? “Agreed, but I can’t imagine where they are taking that elephant. Or why.” He raised the rifle again. The group came into sharp focus, as did a wavering pair of crosshairs—a signal that the men were finally in range of fire. The sight and crosshairs jumped in time with the Rhino’s movements. “Slow it up a bit more, Lelanea.”
She did as asked, bringing the Rhino to a crawl.
Dodger fixed his aim on Kitty, wanting nothing more than to blow a hole in her pretty, vapid head. He swallowed down his anger and shifted his aim to the man atop the elephant. He knew that if he didn’t make the handler his first shot, he might lose his chance to recover the beast unharmed, and this entire rescue mission would be for naught. Sure, killing Kitty would prove satisfying, yet once again, Dodger’s satisfaction wasn’t on the line here. Dodger relaxed his grip, drew a steadying breath, then squeezed the trigger.
A moment or two passed before the man atop the elephant jolted to the left as his right shoulder bloomed in a cloud of blood. Dodger was aiming at the man’s lower left arm, but he reckoned that was close enough. The gunshot didn’t go unnoticed for long. The riders surrounding the elephant snapped to attention in seconds as Kitty pointed to the handler and shouted what was sure to be commands.
“Did you hit anything?” Duncan said.
“Of course he did,” Lelanea said.
Lelanea bore down on the Rhino without warning, sending Dodger tumbling backwards from the recoil. Andy and Alice both reached out and grabbed one of Dodger’s arms each, yanking him back onto the bench between them. Before Dodger could thank them, they showered him with a flurry of questions.
“How can you hit anything at that distance?” Alice said.
“How is it possible?” Andy said.
“It isn’t possible. Is it?”
“Can that thing really fire so far off?”
“How does it work?”
“What caliber is it?”
“Is it for sale?”
“Can I try it?” they said together.
Dodger pushed the rifle into Alice’s hands. “Knock yourself out.” He left the pair squabbling over the rifle as he leaned forward and tapped on Duncan’s shoulder. “I hit the one in charge of the elephant. Hopefully he will be off of her by the time we reach them. I need you to get ready. Lelanea will bring the Rhino around the west side of them and slow down enough for you to act.”
Dodger leaned back in his seat and addressed the twins. “You two. Get your rifles ready and help me give cover fire.”
“Can I use this?” Andy asked, stroking the stock of the Long Shot.
“I wouldn’t recommend it. She’s good for far off, but not for close range.” Dodger pulled his ladies from their holsters. “I’d stick with what you know for now.”
The twins grumbled their agreement.
Dodger returned to his seat on the backseat headboard, while the twins took up defensive points on either side of him. Rex’s men appeared in the distance, barely visible in the cloud of dust raised by the excited horses and shuffling elephant. The obvious confusion of the first gunshot had them all well distracted.
“Fire!” Dodger shouted.
The twins unloaded their rifles into the dog men, aiming for arms and legs as commanded. Dodger dialed his ladies down to single shots and fired only when the twins needed to reload. It proved difficult to shoot from the back of the moving vehicle, though between the three they managed to strike at least half of the men. The horses went insane, confused by the sudden uproar and unexpected barrage of bullets. Some took off seeking cover while others threw their riders in panic. In this hail of gunfire, Lelanea made a wide turn to the west, slowing as she approached the dog men and their horses. Duncan took this as his cue, and readied to leap from the vehicle.
“Hold your fire!” Dodger shouted.
The twins ceased firing long enough for Duncan to escape the vehicle unharmed. In an impressive feat of tumbling, the man rolled over the side of the cab and hit the ground running. As he ran along, Duncan worked the controls of his size altering belt. Thanks to the belt, the cowboy grew to match the elephant in height. Lelanea sped up the Rhino again, cutting hard to the left, tracing wide circles around the elephant and enemies.
“Cover him!” Dodger shouted, prompting the sharp shooters into action.
Under their protective gunfire, the now impossibly long legged Variable Height Cowboy sprinted directly for the elephant. Duncan ducked and weaved around the gunfire, and leapt onto the back of the huge pachyderm, or rather straddled the beast considering they were almost matching in height. Once aboard the elephant, Duncan worked the controls of the belt again, shrinking himself to his original height. He shoved aside the fallen enemy, allowing the dog man to slip to the ground. All the while the elephant kept moving forward in a slow lumbering shuffle. Above the frightened neighs of the horses and shouts of the injured men, a series of gunshots rang out. Return fire from the other side. Duncan winced and grabbed his right arm. When he pulled away his hand a smear of red traced his palm. Duncan worked his belt again, shrinking himself down small enough for Dodger to lose sight of the man.
Through the partial cover of the dust cloud, Dodger counted at least a half dozen men competent and uninjured enough to draw weapons, and of course Kitty had a gun in each hand, firing wildly and crying orders at her men. Dodger and the twins gave Duncan as much cover as they could manage without striking the elephant. The dog men were not so careful, and the poor pachyderm took more than one bullet in the fray.
All at once, the elephant stalled in her shuffle. She shook her head, her huge ears flapping back and forth as she swayed in place. The beast looked as though she were waking from a deep sleep. Kitty and the riders drew their mounts to a halt, confused by this sudden change of events. The twins took advantage of the confusion, and began to pick off the riders, and their guns, one by one. It didn’t take long for them to return fire, but the motion of the Rhino made for hard to hit targets. Dodger ignored the remaining enemies, instead turning his gun on the woman in charge. He trained Hortense on the redhead, once more pushing down the urge to kill her outright. Instead, he concentrated his aim on less vital parts. Lelanea was correct, they needed the woman alive. Even if everyone wanted her dead.
As if she could feel the weight of his aim upon her, Kitty looked in his direction, locking eyes with Dodger. She glanced to the swaying elephant, then back to Dodger. Before he could open fire, she smirked at him, tossed her weapons into the dirt and brought her horse to a stop. She raised her hands, that confident grin still plastered on her face.
“Drop your guns!” she shouted at her men over the roar of the Rhino. “Drop your guns! Do it!”
It took a few moments for her men to obey, but soon enough the dog men all threw their weapons to the ground. The twins fell in line without Dodger’s command, holding their shots as long as the others’ weapons were discarded. Lelanea brought the Rhino to a full stop just behind Kitty and her remaining men. Dodger didn’t waste a moment. He leapt from the vehicle and stormed toward her, his guns still trained on the woman.
“Get down and raise your hands,” he demanded.
“Rodger Dodger,” she said, climbing down from her horse and lifting her hands in the air. “Fancy meeting you here.”
Dodger took a quick head count, surprised to see all dozen of the men still alive. He motioned to the men still on horseback. “The rest of you dismount, and all of you get together where I can see you.”
The men ignored him.
“Do it!” he shouted, sweeping one of his guns across the half dozen men still mounted. “All of you. Dismount. Now!”
Kitty commanded them to do as Dodger asked. Each man slid from his mount, joining the others on the ground. Those that could lifted their hands, while others held their paws to open wounds. Once the men were on their feet and the horses fell still, allowing the dust to settle once more, Andy gave a long, low whistle.
The pair of twins stared at the dog men in wonder and confusion.
It hadn’t occurred to Dodger that the circus folks didn’t know about Rex’s mutated men.
In which Dodger gains a new admirer