In which Dodger gains a new admirer
“Jesus H. Christ on a raft,” Andy said, his voice filled with a touch of shock and awe.
“Andy,” Alice scolded, though she looked just as surprised as her brother.
“Look at ‘em, Alice.” The sharpshooter raised a finger to the dog men. “They look ... they look …”
“Like bulldogs,” Dodger said. “I’m sorry to spring it on you like this. I thought you knew from dealing with them already.”
“We had no idea,” Alice said softly. “They had their faces covered during the raid last night.”
“What are they?” Andy said.
“They are the result of bad science,” Lelanea said. “Now kindly pick up your jaws and get over it. The last thing we need is a bunch of gawking morons.”
Alice and Andy both looked away from the line of strange dog men, a fine sheen of red rising to both the twins’ cheeks.
Meanwhile, Lelanea exited the Rhino and began gathering the weapons scattered across the ground. When she reached Kitty’s guns, Lelanea scooped up the weapons and stepped back a bit, taking a moment to stare the redhead up and down. Lelanea grunted. “So, this is the infamous Kitty?”
Kitty raised her eyebrows. “Infamous? Me? Shucks, Dodger, and here I didn’t think you liked me.”
“I don’t,” he said.
Somewhere behind Dodger hoof beats arose, announcing the arrival of the rest of the posse. Just in time. “Andy, there should be a length of rope in the Rhino. Gather up Rex’s men and tie them together. They can walk back to the circus.”
“Aye,” Andy said, and returned to the Rhino, seeking said rope.
“Alice,” Dodger said, “Get the horses together. I’m sure your troop could use a few more mounts.”
“We certainly could,” Alice said. She joined her brother in following Dodger’s commands.
“And what do you plan to do with me?” Kitty said, that smile never leaving her face.
“I haven’t decided yet,” Dodger said. “Lelanea, deal with her.”
“With pleasure,” Lelanea said.
“Ohhh,” Kitty purred. “I think that pleasure will be mine as well.”
“Shut up and hold your hands behind your back.”
“I will kill you.”
Kitty kept on smiling. “Is that so?”
“And if the great Rodger Dodger won’t shoot me, what makes me think a little thing like you will? You haven’t even got a gun.”
Lelanea looked the woman dead in the eye and said, “I don’t need a gun because I don’t plan on shooting you. I plan on tearing out your throat.”
This seemed to have the desired effect on Kitty, for she went quiet, lost her smile and twisted her arms to bring her hands behind her back. Lelanea used a length of twine she pulled from somewhere about her person to bind the other woman’s hands together.
Dodger forced himself not to think about where Miss Lelanea was hiding that bit of twine this whole time.
“Dodger?” Duncan said.
Dodger glanced to the left, finding Duncan his normal size once again and still astride the elephant. “James? You all right?”
“I’m fine,” the man said, though he clutched his still bleeding right arm. “I think there’s something wrong with Baby, though.”
“I’m not sure. She’s just acting, I don’t know, weird.”
Dodger saw what the man meant. The elephant had stopped swaying, stopped shaking her head, had stopped pretty much everything. She stood stone still, staring into the distance as if in a trance. If Dodger hadn’t seen the elephant in full stride only moments before, he would’ve thought the thing a statue. About that time, Gerald and Brian arrived, each bringing their horses to a stamping halt beside of the elephant.
“How is she?” Brian said as he leapt down from his steed.
“She’s acting funny,” Duncan said.
Brian raced to the quiet elephant’s side. He laid a hand on her leg, gently stroking the wrinkled skin. “It’s all right girl. It’s me.” He looked the elephant over from end to end, then leaned back and shouted up at Duncan, “What did you do to her?”
“Nothing,” Duncan said. He thought about this a moment, then corrected himself. “I mean I put that thing on her like Dodger said and-”
“That thing Dodger gave me.”
“What thing?” Brian shouted.
As the pair fell into an argument, Gerald dismounted and joined Dodger. “How can I help?”
“Give Andy a hand tying up those prisoners,” Dodger said.
Andy returned from the Rhino with the rope. “I thought I’d never find it. There’s so much junk in that trunk.”
“You men,” Gerald said, pointing at Rex’s men, “get in a straight …” The man’s words trailed off, and he whispered, “Dear god in heaven.”
“I know,” Andy said. “But don’t make a big deal out of it or Miss Lelanea will get all fussy.”
“But, they look like dogs.”
“Yes, we know,” Lelanea said. “We’ve done this bit. Can we please move along?”
“Hey,” Brian said, approaching Dodger. “What kind of thing did you give him to put on Baby?”
“Something to keep that collar from manipulating her,” Dodger said.
“What did it do to her?”
“It stopped the collar from working, didn’t it?”
“Sure but look at her.” Brian shot the elephant a look of almost parental concern. “What’s wrong with her?”
Dodger glanced to the stone still elephant. “I don’t know. I’m sure it’s all part of the process. I’ll bet she comes out of it in a-”
Without warning, the elephant raised her trunk and let out a trumpeting cry. Whether of confusion or pain, Dodger had no idea, not having any experience with elephants in his life. Baby then began to move about, stomping around wildly, caring neither for the horses nor humans—nor for that matter, half humans—in her path. She didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular, just around and around, as if she couldn’t decide which direction to settle on.
She also seemed supremely irate.
The elephant headed for the dog men first, letting out another trumpeting cry as she stormed toward them. Still clutching a section of rope in each of their hands, Andy and Gerald split apart, running in different directions to escape the heavy and dangerous footfalls. The rope stretched between them, comically jerking each man off of their feet as they reached the end of their respective length. The dog men took advantage of the turmoil, as every Jack man of them made a break toward Alice and the horses. Dodger raised his weapons, but he couldn’t get a clear shot in the rising cloud of dust and mix of company and elephant feet. Alice did her best to keep the men from escaping, but between the mad elephant and the swell of men, she was lucky to get away unhurt.
Lelanea, however, wouldn’t release her prey so easily. She grabbed a surprised Kitty by the roots of her red hair, jerking the woman away from the rampaging elephant, tossing her to one side. Kitty rolled about in the dirt trying to right herself, but not before Lelanea was on her again. Lelanea once again grabbed Kitty by her hair and yanked the struggling woman along the dirt to relative safety.
Dodger chuckled at the sight of this, before he remembered that he too was in the same dangerous path the ladies had just escaped. Baby switched directions several times, shifting between the Rhino and the now wide circle of people around her. Duncan had somehow managed to dismount from her without getting himself hurt, and was helping Andy and Gerald find their footing. Alice abandoned the last of the horses and sought shelter behind the Rhino.
“Everyone get behind the Rhino,” Dodger shouted. As the others scurried to join Alice, Dodger shouted to the handler, who remained as near the elephant as she would allow, “What’s wrong with her?”
“I don’t know!” Brian yelled. “I’ve never seen her like this. What did you do to her?”
“Nothing! The doc said it was harmless!”
“If you hurt her, I swear I will kill you both!”
Dodger couldn’t fault the man for his concern. The elephant sure did seem in some amount of pain, or perhaps confused by the opposing devices. Dodger considered the latter, as well as the side effects as explained by the professor. “Do elephants get aggressive during mating season?”
This unusual question brought the handler to a dangerous standstill. “What?”
“Look out!” Dodger shouted, and shoved the handler out of the shadow of a quickly landing foot.
Brian fell to the ground with a grunt and rolled safely away.
Dodger ducked and weaved, in and out of four falling feet, trying to keep from replacing the man as a target. Baby became more and more aggressive in her stomping, almost kicking with each raised step. Dry earth billowed about her as she raged on, leaving Dodger nearly blinded in the resulting dirt filled haze. Just when it seemed like the rampage would never end, the stomping and trumpeting ceased, and as Dodger had hoped, the beast fell still and silent. Unable to see clearly, Dodger crouched low and held his position until he was certain she wouldn’t move again. He coughed and gagged in the dust cloud, waiting for it to settle once more. Out of the fog of dirt, Dodger could make out four sturdy pillars surrounding him. Something long and thin swayed to his right, like a pendulum waving away the haze. He glanced up from his crouch, taking in the dark gray wrinkled canvas stretched above him. It took him a moment to realize he had ended up underneath the very beast he was trying to avoid.
Baby the elephant stood over the crouching Dodger.
“Dodger,” Brian said. “Just tuck and roll out from under her. She won’t mind. She’s gentle. Well, normally she’s gentle. Just roll away. I don’t think she will hurt you.”
Dodger swallowed hard. While he didn’t mind animals, Dodger never considered himself exactly an animal lover. Sure, he kept his share of dogs and cats, as well as killed a good many cows and the likes to fill his belly. But this? This was a little too close for Dodger to call comfort. He lowered to his knees, intending to crawl out from under the giant as quickly as possible.
“Oh no,” Brian said with a small gasp. “Dodger, hold still.”
“The hell I will,” Dodger grumbled. He began to scoot forward.
Brian held out his hand, begging Dodger to stay put. “Seriously, stay still. She’s spotted you. Don’t move. I don’t want to upset or scare her.”
“Scare her?” Dodger felt something touch his shoulder. He steadied his nerves and looked over that shoulder only to be greeted by a snorting triangle of pink—the end of the elephant’s trunk.
It huffed in his face.
“Don’t move,” Brian said. “She’s been through a heck of a lot and I don’t know what she’ll do.”
Taking the man’s advice, Dodger fell still and allowed the probing proboscis to poke and prod at him. Baby sniffed Dodger from head to toe, then gently wrapped her trunk partially around his waist, as far as she could reach, and began to pull him forward. Dodger reckoned it was best to follow her lead, and crawled forward, between her front legs and toward the elephant’s head.
Once he was free of her towering bulk, Dodger contemplated picking up the pace and getting as far from her as he could. But something about the animal set his nerves at ease. Baby lowered her head to look him over with her calm, placid eyes. Dodger saw an undeniable peace in those big eyes. The kind of peace he yearned for himself. If this beast wanted to hurt him, she would’ve done so long before now. Baby reached out with her trunk again and stroked his hair, ever so softly, then curled her trunk around him to pat him on the rump a few times.
“Hey now,” Brian said. “I think she likes you.”
Dodger smiled. “I like her too.” He reached up and ran his hand along the underside of her trunk, to which the elephant all but sighed in response. “It’s very nice to meetcha, little lady.”
The elephant responded by wrapping her trunk fully around Dodger and nearly squeezing the life from him.
“Baby,” Brian said as he patted on the left flank. “Baby, now that’s enough. Let him go.”
Baby complied, releasing Dodger with what seemed a touch of reluctance.
“Are you all right?”
“I’ll live,” Dodger said.
“I think Baby has a new boyfriend,” Alice said from behind him. She laughed aloud.
The others joined in her laughter, gathering behind him as they snickered at the whole affair. Dodger didn’t mind. He was just glad everyone was in such good humor, considering they just lost nearly all of their prisoners. And not to mention, he was glad to still be alive.
“I’m sorry about that,” the handler said. “She’s usually friendly, but I’ve never seen her take to someone so quickly.” Brian glanced up to her again, only to narrow his eyes and click his tongue. “Weird. Why in the world would her musth glands be active?”
“Her musth glands. They only secrete oil when she’s in heat.”
The words turned in Dodger’s head, as did the professor’s explanation of the disruptor.
It might make her a touch affectionate.
Dodger’s eyes went wide when it dawned on him what was happening here. As if to confirm his suspicions, the elephant ran her trunk across his head again, stroking his hair with grace and care. The kind of care you reserved for dear friends, or even lovers. Baby had indeed found herself a new beau.
And that beau was Rodger Dodger.