In which Dodger hears a whale of a tale
“Monsieur Williams?” Bigby said as Duncan breezed past the man.
“James?” the doc said.
Duncan ignored his boss man—both of them—and stomped all the way to the Sleipnir. There, he boarded the conference cab and slammed the door closed behind him. Dodger reckoned that was the man’s way of saying he wanted to talk. Not that Dodger owed anyone an explanation, but he supposed he could try and alleviate some of Duncan’s worry for the woman.
Bigby furrowed his brow at Dodger. “What has happened? Is my Baby all right?”
“She’s fine,” Dodger said and hopped out of the now parked Rhino. “Brian and the twins should have her back in an hour or so.”
The gathered crowd whooped and hollered in appreciation.
Palpable relief emanated from Bigby. “Merci! Merci, mes amis. I owe you a huge debt.”
Gerald climbed out of the vehicle to a warm congratulatory embrace from the crowd.
“Good work, Mr. Dodger,” the professor said under the joyful noise. “I knew we could count on you.”
Sarah clapped and grinned wide.
“Hold your applause,” Dodger said. He motioned for the circus folk to calm down. “I hate to say this but Rex’s men got away.” Dodger left off the bit about Lelanea for now. He could talk to the doc about that in private.
“No bother,” the doc said. “I see you have taken the most important culprit prisoner.”
The relief evaporated from the Frenchman when he laid eyes on Kitty. He recoiled in disgust. “What is she doing here?”
“Answering questions if I have any say in the matter,” Dodger said. He yanked Kitty from the backseat and pushed her toward the line. “Ched, take her to the guest quarters. I’ll be there in a few.”
“Shure thing, sharge,” Ched said and took the prisoner’s tether from Dodger.
“Keep her tied up. Stay in the room with her and watch her. Close the doors, and the windows.” Dodger didn’t want to provide the woman any means of escape. Any disciple of Rex was bound to be highly trained in trickery and deceit.
“Rex will make you regret this,” Kitty said as Ched led her away. “He will make you pay. He’ll make all of you—ugh!” she groaned in mid declaration and wrinkled her nose. “What is that awful smell?”
“Shut your trap, pushy cat,” Ched said.
Between gags, Kitty shouted, “Don’t you dare speak to me like that!”
“It’sh the only way I know how to shpeak.” Ched shoved her on ahead of him.
Something cruel and evil in Dodger had an idea. “Ched!”
The driver looked back at Dodger.
“Close the vents too,” Dodger said.
“Mr. Dodger,” the doc said. “Must we?”
“Oh yes,” Dodger said. “We must.”
Kitty’s eyes went wide and she shouted in protest. “No! No! You can’t do this to me!”
Ched ignored her as he pushed the shrieking woman onto the train.
“I almost feel sorry for her,” the doc said.
“Why?” Bigby said. “The woman shot me and stole my elephant.”
“Yes, but she’s about to spend more than a few minutes locked in a confined, unventilated space with my driver. That’s enough to take the fight out of any poor soul.”
Having gotten long since used to Ched’s unpleasant odor, Dodger wondered how horrible it would be for a stranger to end up in a confined space with the man for any length of time. Dodger was suddenly pleased with himself. She deserved worse, but breathing a half hour or so of the not-dead man in close quarters in the afternoon heat was a good start.
“Doc,” Dodger said. “Can you join me and Duncan on the line?”
“Certainly,” the professor said. He held his hand out to Sarah. “Come along.”
“Where is Miss L?” Sarah said, taking the doc’s hand.
“I’ll explain in a moment,” Dodger said. The three of them made their way to the line, when Bigby’s voice rose from behind them.
“Monsieur?” the Frenchman said. “You aren’t leaving, are you? Not so soon?”
Dodger turned about, but continued to walk backwards toward the train. “No, sir. I just need to talk to the doc about his niece for a minute.”
“Nothing bad, I hope?”
“Not as such. Just a strong headed woman being strong headed.”
“Ah,” Bigby said and grinned. “That I do understand. Please, return to us as soon as you can. I would like to show my appreciation to you and your crew. We owe you a great debt.”
Dodger lingered at the line as the others boarded the conference cab. “You don’t owe us a thing. It was our pleasure to help. See you in a few.” He tipped his fingers to his brow and climbed up the stairs after the others.
The cab was a good five degrees cooler than the outside, a welcome relief for Dodger after such a rough and tumble affair. His legs were killing him, aching from the pedaling rush to get back. Dodger tried to ignore the burn in his thighs, focusing instead on the burning gaze of the man across the cab.
Duncan stood at the far end of the cab, near the quarters’ door, looking righteously angry.
“Ohh,” Sarah groaned. “Someone’s in trouble.”
“Sarah,” Dodger said. “Go and make sure Boon is comfortable.”
“He’s a ghost, how can he be uncomfortable?”
“Just do as I ask. Stay with him until I come and get you.”
Sarah stuck out her lower lip. “But I want to stay and listen.”
“And I want you to check on Boon. Now.”
The gruff command sent the young girl running. She slid the cab door open and slipped through, but just before she closed it again, she turned about and stuck her tongue out at Dodger.
“Such sass,” the doc said. “Reminds me of my niece, that one does.”
“Speaking of sassy,” Dodger said.
“Oh dear,” the doc said. “What has Lelanea done now?”
“She up and left,” Duncan said. He raised an accusing finger at Dodger. “And that fool let her go.”
Dodger shrugged at the doc. “What could I do?”
“What indeed,” the doc said. He let out a soft sigh and took to his desk, lowering himself slowly and carefully. The weight of the journey was beginning to show on the old man. He was tired. Plain and simple. “Mr. Duncan, I need to explain some things to you, and I’m going to have to beg your discretion in this matter.”
Dodger eyed the professor. Surely the old man wasn’t going to tell Duncan the truth. As in the real truth. The hairy, fanged, full moon chasing fairy tale truth.
“You know you have my word, sir,” Duncan said. “You always have. Always will.”
“I thought as much,” the doc said, “but it is good to hear it said aloud. Come closer and make yourself comfortable.”
Duncan eagerly pulled up one of the wooden chairs from the commons table and straddled it from the back.
The doc cleared his throat. “My niece isn’t all she seems. First of all, she isn’t my niece at all. She is my bodyguard.”
“Bodyguard?” Duncan said.
Dodger nearly choked on his own tongue. What was the doc talking about?
“Yes,” the doc said, taking on a serious look and tone. “You see, she is part of a special government program designed to protect the citizens of your country from unusual and unwelcome threats. The kinds of things that can’t be discussed in common company.”
“Like Commander Rex?” Duncan said.
“Correct. Like Rex. Lelanea’s job is to seek out and deal with such threats. I believe they call her kind Special Agents? Is that correct Mr. Dodger?”
“Yes, sir,” Dodger said, trying to keep from laughing aloud. “Special Agents.”
“Special Agents,” Duncan echoed. He smiled with the idea.
“Precisely,” the doc said. “Now, while her primary work is taking care of awful villains like Rex, her secondary position is to take care of me and my train. She was assigned to me a few years ago, and has protected me ever since. Hence the role of adoptive niece. It was easier to present her as family, since she must remain so close to me.”
“Again, I ask that you keep this between us. Don’t let her know that I let you know. She would have my skin if she knew I told you.”
“Understood.” Duncan swallowed hard, then looked up to Dodger. “I’m sorry I got upset earlier. I didn’t realize…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Dodger said. “Like I said, she can take care of herself.”
“I’ll bet she can. Wow. A Special Agent? Who knew?”
“I knew,” said a familiar voice from behind them.
“Dear God,” the doc said, and stood from his seat to stare open mouthed across the cab.
Dodger whipped about to find Feng leaning in the doorway. Pale as ash, the Celestial trembled from head to toe as he took a few weak steps into the room.
“Feng?” Dodger said.
“In the flesh,” Feng said and smiled, weakly. “Evenin’ gents. Or is it morning? I don’t know anymore. I think I lost track of time.” He chuckled, soft and slow. “Imagine me, losing track of time.” Feng coughed a few times, then waved Dodger over to him. “Stop gawking and give me a hand.”
Dodger rushed to the old man’s side and helped him limp across the cab. Feng eased himself onto the couch with a hiss, his old bones audibly creaking with each movement. Rushing forward, the doc set to inspecting the man while asking a million questions.
“What are you doing awake? How are you feeling? Where does it hurt? What number elixir should I use? How many fingers am I holding-”
“Let me be,” Feng said over the doc. He waved his hands about, pushing the doc away. “I’m fine. I just need to catch my breath.”
The doc stepped back with a nod. “Of course. I just, well, it’s good to see you up and about, old friend.”
“It’s good to be up and about.”
“I don’t understand,” Dodger said. “I thought … you know, with the TAP and all?”
“You don’t understand?” Feng said. He gave a snort. “You aren’t the only one.” He motioned to Duncan, who sat across the cab, open mouthed, staring at Feng. “You’ll catch flies like that.”
Duncan closed his mouth with a soft click, then swallowed hard. “You speak English?”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot about that.” Feng smiled weakly. “Surprise?”
“It appears I’m getting lots of surprises today.”
“Welcome to my world,” Dodger said.
“How do you deal with this?”
“You get used to it.”
Duncan laughed a bit, ceasing only when he realized the conversation had fallen into an uncomfortable silence. He cleared his throat. “I, um, I take it there are things y’all need to discuss. Without me?”
“I’m afraid so, lad,” the doc said, though it seemed to pain him to admit it.
“Not to worry. I don’t think I can take many more surprises today. Two is enough for this old man.” Duncan stood and made his way to the door. “Shall I let Bigby know there will be an extra mouth for supper? I mean, you aren’t leaving just yet. Are you?”
“Certainly not,” the doc said. “Give us just a bit and we will join you and your friends soon enough.”
“Besides,” Dodger said. “We can’t leave until she gets back.”
“Of course,” Duncan said, and departed.
Once the man was gone, the doc began his line of questioning again, but Feng stopped the doc short by holding up his hand.
“I don’t know,” Feng said. “One minute I was swimming in the void and the next I woke up.”
“That’s odd,” the doc said. He gave a soft gasp and covered his mouth. Between his fingers he said, “You fink the taff is working?”
“No. The TAP is still not functional. That was the first thing I checked.”
The doc visibly deflated at this. His fingers slid away from his frown. “I suppose that was hoping for too much.”
“If the TAP isn’t up and runnin’,” Dodger said, “then why are you awake? Not that I am not glad to see you, but I thought you were dying? What changed?”
“Perhaps you just needed a bit of a rest?” the doc said.
“I wished it were that simple,” Feng said. He coughed, deep and throaty, with a clear measure of pain. “It’s hard to explain but before I passed out, I sort of felt myself unraveling. I could feel my seconds slipping away, like—and I know how cliché this sounds—but like sand through an hourglass. Tick. Tick. Tick. Only once the sand of my existence passed through the neck of that glass, it was gone.” He coughed again. “But then, I don’t know… I woke up. I felt stronger. Better. Whole. As if whatever faded came back.”
“Why?” Dodger said.
“I wished I knew.” Feng rubbed at his temples. “So, what’s been going down?”
Dodger looked to the doc for a translation.
The doc shrugged.
After a sigh, Feng said, “I mean what’s been happening while I’ve been out?”
“Ah,” the doc said. He proceeded to explain things to Feng, as quickly as possible, leaving out the barest of details.