To our faithful readers:
Thanks for all of the support you've shown our serial and our site over the years. We are both sad and excited to say that Volume Twelve will be the last in our long line of adventurous tales. March 2015 will see the last of the serial posting and the end of the series as a whole. Thanks for sticking with us, and we hope you enjoy this riveting volume. Will it answer all of your burning questions about Rex and Dodger and the rest of the crew? Only time will tell.
ASH, HASH, or CASH! NO FREE RIDES!
End of the Line
Life or Death
In which Dodger has to choose
After Dodger resigned himself to his awful duty, time snapped back into the moment with the momentum of a broken slingshot. A metallic click rose from his left, and Dodger reached out and snatched the gun from Sarah before she could fire again. He threw her a nasty glower and shook his head. A cold blankness came over the gal. She stared at him vacantly, as if she didn’t understand a bit of what was happening. Dodger recognized that look. He’d seen it before on the face of many a new agent. Taking someone’s life never felt as good as you were led to believe it would.
Not the first time, at least.
“Doc!” Dodger cried as he glared at Sarah. “We got a woman down here!”
“Oh my,” the doc said and dropped what he was doing. He tried his best to run, but only managed a trot. “Get some pressure on that wound!”
Dodger ran across the yard toward Kitty, holstering Hortense on his way. He got to his knees at her side and yanked a bandana from his back pocket. Dodger pressed the thing to the open wound at her left shoulder, leaning in with his weight to try and keep her from losing any more blood.
Kitty hissed at his touch.
“What … are you … doin’?” she said between shallow breaths.
Dodger looked her in the eyes and said, “Saving your life.”
Kitty’s brow furrowed. “Why?”
“Because that is what we do.”
“How can I help?” Duncan said from behind Dodger.
“Get Sarah out of here,” Dodger said, nodding back over his shoulder. “She doesn’t need to see this.”
The injured woman coughed. A thin stream of blood escaped her lips.
“Right,” Duncan said and went to take care of the child.
A child. Sarah might have had a mouth of a teenager and the skills of a woman three times her age, but in the end she was still just a whelp. A little girl that just took her first life.
No. Not if Dodger could help it.
“What’s going on?” Feng said from the top step. “I thought I heard a … oh crap.”
Dodger looked up to him. “Sarah shot her.”
Feng winced at the news. “Where is she?”
“I had Duncan get her out of here.”
“I’ll go see if I can help.” Feng climbed down from the cab and moved past Dodger.
The doc finally reached the scene, passing Feng and lowering himself to Kitty’s side. “How bad is it?”
Dodger lifted his bandana. A fresh spurt of blood squirted forth.
“Oh dear,” the doc said. “That’s not good. Not good at all. Please, Mr. Dodger, bring her inside and we will see what can be done. Yes?”
Dodger looked up to the doc’s face, surprised to see a touch of uncertainty on the man’s face. It dawned on him that the doc was asking if Dodger wanted to let the woman live. The doc was putting this in Dodger’s hands, and Dodger knew whether he decided one way or the other, the man would respect that decision. Not like it, not be happy with it, but would respect it.
Trouble was, as much as Dodger wanted to let the woman die, he respected Professor Hieronymus Dittmeyer far too much to disappoint the man.
“Yes, sir,” Dodger said. “Of course.”
The doc smiled as he released a quick breath. “Excellent. Well then, let’s save a life.” He stood again and yelled at his manservant, “Torque! Run to the lab and grab my medical bag and every medicinal compound you can find. Bring them to the meeting cab at once. Hurry!” As the metal man ran off to do as asked, the doc clapped his hands at Ched, who was still a good ten feet away and moving as slow as Christmas. “Come on now! Dodger needs to keep pressure on her wound while you lift her. Chop, chop! Do you have no sense of urgency?”
Lowering himself to one knee with a grunt, the doc pulled his leather wallet from his jacket. He untied the wrap and flung the wallet open, allowing it to spread long ways across the ground beside his patient. With care, he chose a hypodermic from the few available, preloaded with some colorless liquid.
“First things first,” the doc said, holding up the hypodermic and flicking at the glass tube.
Dodger’s forearms started to burn with the effort of pushing against the wound.
“Get … that … away … from me,” Kitty gasped.
“I’m afraid I can’t oblige,” the doc said, then proceeded to inject the contents of the thing into her arm.
Kitty cursed a few lazy times, then dropped off to a quiet sleep.
“That should keep her under for a bit,” the doc said. “Well, actually it would keep an elephant under for a bit. In her case it will allow me to do what needs to be done without causing her much pain.”
The never hurried Ched finally reached them, and bent to help Dodger with the deadweight of the injured woman.
“Careful,” the doc chided as they lifted Kitty from the ground. “She isn’t a bottle of whiskey, you ninny.”
Ched snorted. “If she wash, I’d treat her much better.”
“You be quiet,” the doc said.
The driver positioned himself at an angle to Kitty, and suggested Dodger do the same. “Won’t get her aboard three abreasht. One and two halvesh will be a tight enough fit ash ish.”
“Is there anything I can do?” Boon said from behind Dodger.
“Stay here and stand guard,” Dodger said. “No one gets in or out unless they are crew. You got it?”
Boon clicked one giant metal hand to the top of the machine’s head, in a kind of mechanical salute. “Aye, sir.”
With the help of the not-dead man, Dodger wrestled the slumped form of Kitty into the line and onto the couch. As soon as they dropped her, the doc shooed Ched away and set to inspecting the woman. Torque bustled into the room with the requested supplies just in time. The doc snatched his bag from the mechanical man, opened it and pulled out a collapsible metal wand.
“Very gently now,” the doc said. “Lift your hand away and let me see.”
Dodger relaxed his grip on her, lifting the now blood soaked bandana from Kitty’s shoulder. The professor had a good look at the inside of the wound, poking about a bit with a little metal wand. Dodger groaned at the sight. He wasn’t a stranger to gore, but that didn’t mean he liked to watch such things.
“Looks much better than I first thought,” he said. “The bullet has shattered her clavicle, but missed anything major. This should be fairly simple. Ched, I will need you to assist me during surgery. You know what to do.”
Ched gave a bored sigh. “Engineer to shcrub nursh in a shingle gunshot.”
“Stop your complaining or you will go from engineer to scrub nurse to unemployed in a single snit. Torque, unpack my bag onto the table. As for our patient, we will need to get all of this off.” He yanked at the laces of her bustier, painfully picking at each looped section.
Dodger pulled a blade from his pocket with his free hand and passed it over to the doc. “Cut ‘em sir. It’s a lot quicker.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” the doc said. “I suppose you’ve had more experience with this sort of thing.” The doc took the blade from Dodger and slid it up the bustier, popping each lace along the way. “My, that is much more efficient. Though it rather ruins the garment, yes?”
“Pardon me for saying this, but when you’re in a hurry to get a gal out of a corset, you aren’t really thinking about her puttin’ the thing back on. Sir.”
The doc ignored Dodger’s insinuation, lost in his work. “Ched, I’ll need at least a litre of that saline solution, perhaps more. Torque, prepare your heating element. I will need you to cauterize some places for me.”
“Do you need me for anything else?” Dodger said.
“Of course not,” the doc said, without even looking up.
The answer seemed flippant, but Dodger knew the man was just preoccupied. He didn’t mean any harm by it. Either way, Dodger was just glad to get out of the meeting cab before it became a surgical theatre. He quietly stood from the couch and backed away until he reached the door, then slipped outside without another word. The moment the door was closed, he exhaled deeply and dropped his forehead to the warm metal. Dodger stood there for a moment, trying to gather both his nerves and his anger, fists flexing at his sides.
“Well?” Boon said.
Dodger turned about to find Boon holding his position beside the line. “It’s touch and go, but the doc seems confident.”
“He’ll save her,” Boon said. “I mean, that’s what we want. Right?”
“It’s what we need.” Dodger stepped down from the cab, careful not to tread in the dark pool of Kitty’s blood. “What I want doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it does.
“No, it doesn’t. You stay here and keep watch. I’m gonna go and see how Sarah is holding up.” Dodger turned and stalked away, his boots crunching hard with each frustrated stomp.
Dodger paused in his step and looked over his shoulder at the PAUL. “Yeah?”
“I don’t know. I just feel like you needed to hear it.”
Leaving the thought unanswered, Dodger returned his attention to his angry steps.
He mulled over his own violent past as he made his way across the circus to the animal pens. Walking along, Dodger nodded at the circus folk as they watched him with cautious curiosity. He could just about feel the unasked questions lingering on every lip. Dodger tipped his head to a few more folks before his gaze landed on Bigby and Duncan. The Frenchman stood from the steps that lead to his trailer and furrowed his brow, showing his confusion and frustration. Duncan waited at the bottom of the steps, and gave Dodger the same look, silently asking what went wrong.
“Where is Sarah?” Dodger said.
“That cook of yours took her to the pens,” Duncan said. “How is-”
“I don’t know,” Dodger said over him, and headed for the animal pens. He could feel Duncan’s gaze following him the whole way.
He found Feng standing at the edge of the pens, while Sarah sat beside the lion cage on a large, wooden crate. No one else lingered, not even the animal handlers. Everyone gave the gal some much needed space.
“How is our prisoner?” Feng said.
Dodger gave the Celestial a grim nod. “The doc says it’s not as bad as it looks, but I never know what that means with him.”
“No one does.” Feng smiled.
“How is Sarah?”
“So, so.” Feng tipped his hand from side to side. “Probably in shock. How about you?”
“How about me?”
“Are you going to be fine?”
“Yeah. I’m fine. I’m …” Dodger paused, then let out a soft sigh. “I suppose I need to go and talk to her.”
“I suppose you do. I don’t envy you.”
“I don’t envy me either.” Dodger made to approach Sarah, only to turn back and stare at Feng. “Feng?”
“What do I say?”
Feng took on a look of concern and lowered his voice to a whisper. “Do you remember what your mother said to you?”
“When you took your first life.”
Dodger started. He would never get used to other folks knowing so much about him.
“May I suggest,” Feng said, “that whatever she said, you say the opposite.”
Before Dodger could ask what that was supposed to mean, the Celestial stepped away, leaving Dodger alone with the girl. Dodger stared at the man’s back, thinking on those words. Did he remember what his mother had said to him after his first kill? How could he forget?
“My son could never have done that. I don’t know who you are, but you’re no son of mine. I think it’s best if you leave and don’t come back.”
At his mother’s behest, Dodger had done just that. He’d to a home for boys, and from there was handpicked by the US Government for what they called special work.
The rest, he supposed, was history.
Dodger waited until the Celestial was gone before he turned his attention back to the kid. Drawing a deep breath to settle his nerves, Dodger went over Feng’s advice one more time in his head.
Say the opposite.