In which Dodger decides what course to take
Ched decided to remain aboard the line, sighting his intense dislike for crowds. Dodger reckoned it was for the best, considering most folks disliked Ched’s presence. Boon once again refused to depart from PAUL, and considering the tension between the lovers, no one argued with him. On the other side of things, Lelanea begged Dodger to force Torque to remain on the line as well, not wishing to deal with the mechanical man’s untoward affections. Dodger took pity on her situation and did as asked, though he was sorely tempted to unleash the clockwork fanatic on her just to see what would happen.
Bigby insisted on introducing the entire circus crew before he got around to sharing the kidnapping tale. From the acrobats and the sharp shooters, the strong man to the clowns, the crew of the Sleipnir got a warm handshake from every single member of the circus. Sarah enjoyed the interaction, while the doc giggled nearly as much as the little girl. Before the owner could move on to his menagerie of animals, Dodger reminded the man that the crew were already running on borrowed time. This seemed to kick the Frenchman back into gear, and he led the group to his personal caravan. Once everyone settled into the small office, Bigby asked Duncan to share the torrid tale.
According to Duncan, the circus was headed back to their home base for a few weeks of recuperation after a turn of big springtime shows along the west coast. A day prior to the train’s arrival, the campsite was approached by a pretty young redhead on horseback—Kitty, no doubt—inquiring about the circus’s elephant. Bigby explained that the circus was on a break, and the animals weren’t currently available for display. The redhead countered with a generous offer for the elephant, sight unseen, on behalf of an anonymous benefactor. The Frenchman turned down her offer, thanking her and her benefactor, assuring her Baby was not for sale.
The redhead wouldn’t take no for an answer, and drew down on Bigby in front of his entire troop. Duncan was the only one armed and responded in kind by drawing his weapon on her. He also upped his size to an impressive height, towering over both her and her mare. This seemed to put the fear of God into the woman, for she returned her weapons to their hostlers and apologized for her behavior, blaming the heat of the day for her rash actions. Duncan kept his size up and his guns trained on her as she retreated, and that seemed to be that.
Only, when the night came on, the redheaded rider returned with two dozen well-armed men at her side. She held Bigby and some of the others at gunpoint, once again demanding the elephant. Bigby boldly refused, which earned him a bullet in the lower leg. Rex’s men then descended on the circus, tearing the place to shreds as the troop watched on, helpless to intervene. Duncan and the others wanted to fight back, but with lives on the line there was little they could do. Once the bullies had torn the place apart, they put some kind of metal contraption at the back of Baby’s neck and lead her away from the circus. To Bigby’s surprise and grief, the elephant obeyed the commands of her new masters and followed some of the men due south. The redhead kept most of the armed men behind with her, remaining just long enough to give the others a good head start. The last thing she said was this:
“Commander Rex thanks you for your willing participation.”
After which she flung a handful of gold coins at the owner and left with the other riders.
“Oh my,” the doc said, once Duncan was finished. “That is an awful story.”
“Explains why the place is in tatters,” Lelanea said.
“Oui,” Bigby said, looking around his ruined office. “Not only did they steal my Baby, they almost destroyed my circus. But the tents and other things are just that—things. I would give my own life to know my Baby is safe once more.”
“You say they paid in gold?” Dodger said. “Do you mind I take a look?”
The Frenchman opened a desk drawer, grabbed something from inside, then flipped the thing to Dodger. It spun in the air between them, sparkling as it arched across the office. Dodger caught it, mid-flight, then held the thing up to the light.
A small circle of yellow gleamed between his forefinger and thumb. The half he held toward him bore the profile of an older, distinguished looking gentleman, the portrait of someone Dodger didn’t recognize. The other side showed a small dog’s rump, wagging its tail. Cute. Dodger pushed his nail against it, feeling it give way just a bit. It was gold, all right. A special made coin for a special mad man.
“You mind if I hang onto this for a while?” Dodger said.
“Go ahead,” Bigby said. “I don’t want her filthy money anyways.”
Dodger tucked the coin into his pocket. “You say they went due south, huh?”
“Yes, sir,” Duncan said. “I can’t believe they got Baby to go with them. She is smart but she’s headstrong. They lead that elephant out of here without a problem. I’ve never seen anyone get Baby to do something so easy.”
“I am certain the device has something to do with it,” the doc said. “Probably some form of mind controlling device.”
“Mind control?” Bigby said.
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” Dodger said. “How long ago did you say this happened?”
“I reckon it was about five in the morning,” Duncan said.
“Has anyone tried to go after them yet?”
“Not yet,” Duncan said. “We were waiting for sunrise. In fact, we were just in the process of forming a posse when I spotted the train.”
The doc pulled his pocket watch. “It’s half past eight now. Is your elephant specially trained or enhanced in any way for speedy travel?”
Bigby blinked, as if unsure what the question meant. “Non?”
“Good.” The doc pushed his watch back into his vest pocket. “African or Asian?”
“Excellent. Considering the average top speed of the African elephant is around eleven miles an hour, and taking into account her unusual size, I estimate they are no further than thirty miles from here. Forty at the most.”
Bigby leaned into Dodger. “He just happens to know that?”
“He happens to know a lot of things,” Dodger said.
“Shouldn’t be too much trouble to reach them,” the doc said.
“Thirty miles will take some time,” Duncan said.
“Thirty miles in the Rhino is a breeze,” Dodger said.
“A rhino?” Bigby said. “As in a rhinoceros?”
“Precisely,” the doc said, ignoring the man’s obvious confusion. “Now, please describe the mind control device to me.”
“It was a curved metal strip,” Duncan said, “about yeah long and so wide.” Duncan held his hands out about a foot apart, then switched them to a few inches atop one another.
“How did they attach it to the elephant?”
“A couple of the men lassoed her by the legs, while one of them crawled up on her back and slapped it on her neck. I don’t know how the thing stayed in place ‘cause she sure kicked up a fuss the whole time. But once they had it where they wanted it, the man on her back told her to calm down and she did. Just like that.” Duncan snapped for emphasis.
“I see. The control unit is probably held in place by either barbs or some kind of pressure point system.”
“Barbs?” Bigby said, going pale at the thought.
“Unfortunately,” the doc said. “Don’t worry about it too much. If that maniac wanted your elephant injured, he would have done just that very thing long before now. And I should have something in my lab that should be able to counteract it.”
“Great,” Dodger said. “Duncan, who were you plannin’ on taking with you?”
“Gerald and Doug,” Duncan said, counting off names on his right hand. “Oh and Alice and Andy.”
“Any of them good with a gun?”
“Alice and Andy are our show’s sharpshooters.”
“That’ll come in handy. Maybe we should bring the Long Shot?”
“Excellent thinking,” the doc said. “Six are a tight fit in the Rhino.”
“Four can go with me, and two can follow on horseback.”
“I am going as well,” Bigby said.
Dodger raised his hand. “I think you should remain here, sir.”
“I will not sit here while my Baby-”
“Monsieur Bigby,” the doc said. “I know you are concerned about your elephant, but you needn’t worry. I trust Mr. Dodger with not only my life, but the lives of my family. He will find and return your Baby to you, completely unharmed.”
The Frenchman visibly relaxed at the doc’s words.
Dodger only wished the professor hadn’t laid it on so thick. Completely unharmed? What an expectation.
“Ah, oui,” Bigby said. “That does make me feel much better. I trust you, Monsieur Dodger. Merci.”
“You’re welcome, sir,” Dodger said. “But you might want to save your thanks until we are back. Get your folks together, Duncan. I’ll bring the Rhino around.”
Once Duncan left, Bigby offered to show the doc and Sarah around the circus a bit more. Both of them jumped at the chance, and departed from the small office with the Frenchman, leaving Lelanea and Dodger behind.
“Are you not coming, Miss L?” Sarah said from the bottom step of the caravan.
Dodger glanced to Lelanea, unsure if she approved of such a nickname.
“Not just now,” Lelanea said. “I need to talk to Dodger for a minute.”
“Oh,” Sarah said, giving a little frown. Her disappointment was soon replaced by more giggling as a pair of garish clowns distracted her.
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