A Simple Plan
In which Dodger says what no one wants to hear
Once Dodger was done speaking with Kitty, he escorted her off of the train and entrusted her to the temporary custody of Duncan.
“You said I could stay with you,” Kitty said.
“Afraid I may have fibbed a bit there,” Dodger said. “You can come back to the train when this is done. For now, when Crank and his men arrive, I want you as far away from me as possible.”
“Because I want you alive for a while longer. I have a suspicion Crank will shoot you on sight. Whether he has been instructed to or not. James here can keep you safe. He’s a good man. And he is among the few people I know right now that doesn’t want you dead. Yet. Try not to give him a reason.” Dodger nodded to Duncan. “Keep her alive, no matter how annoying she gets. I’ll send Ched after her in a few.”
“I’ll do my best,” Duncan said. He cleared his throat and added, “You, ah, you sure you don’t need me for the planning meeting?”
“I do,” Dodger said. “But I need you to do this more. All right?”
“All right.” Duncan looked a bit forlorn, but did as asked.
In Dodger’s experience, he found most folks dealt with disappointment better if they were given a task to bide the time. No matter how menial. Getting Duncan to keep an eye on Kitty made the man feel useful. Besides, it wasn’t like Dodger was trying to keep Duncan out of the loop. At least not all of the way. Dodger promised Duncan would get a full update later. He just didn’t mention that later might be a long, long time, all things considered.
On his way back to the line, Dodger pondered everything Kitty had told him. If even half of it were true, then their entire approach needed to change. And if all of it were true, well, Dodger reckoned he would deal with it as he went along. More than one person had some explaining to do. No sooner was he through the cab door, Lelanea all but pounced on him.
“What were you thinking?” Lelanea said. “Making a deal with that, that, that woman.”
“I was thinking she knew things I needed to know,” Dodger said. He made sure everyone was present before he settled into the chair across the room from everyone else. “Is Sarah in her room?”
“She is,” Lelanea said. “She isn’t happy about it either. She thinks she’s being punished.”
“Good,” Dodger said. “She should think that.”
“Did you really agree to let Kitty stay on the train?” Boon said.
“I did,” Dodger said. “She wouldn’t talk without some kind of compromise.”
“I thought we were going to turn her over to the authorities?” Boon said. “For what she did to your friend.”
Dodger sighed as he nodded. “I still want to turn her over to the right folks, when all of this is said and done. Right now, we have some talkin’ to do. I have some good news and some bad news, and some even worse news.”
“Shall we start with the good news?” the doc said.
“The good news is I don’t think either Rex or Kitty knows about Boon’s spirit. And from what she says, his body is still alive.”
“We knew that much,” Ched said, unimpressed.
“True,” Dodger said. “What we didn’t know is that Rex is keeping him on the Phoenix.”
“I thought his body was in California?” Lelanea said.
“Nope,” Dodger said. “That’s the bad news. Nothing is in California. The whole California thing was a hoax. Kitty claims the mutt cleaned out his castle and took everything to the skies. The dog men and the kid are on the airship too.”
“That’s good news too though, isn’t it?” Boon said. “If we know what’s going on that means we’re finally one step ahead of him. We head to the airship instead of California.”
“Yes and no. We might be one up on him, but unless we can sprout wings, there is no chance of all of us getting aboard that airship.”
At the suggestion of wings, all eyes turned to the doc. It made sense. The man managed to design a way to speak with the animals and instantly freeze things. Surely he had some means of air travel ready to go.
“Don’t look at me,” the doc said. “I told you already, I abhor the notion of air travel. The idea of it makes me green to the gills.”
“No,” Dodger said, “you didn’t tell me that.”
“Didn’t I? Oh, sorry. Why do you think I designed an airship but built a train instead? I couldn’t stand the thought of being up so high.” The doc gave a little shudder at the thought.
“We need to get on that ship,” Lelanea said.
“I have an idea how I can get aboard. Now, about the even worse news.” Dodger turned his glare on the doc and Feng. Especially the Celestial. “We need to talk about what you two got up to when the rest of us were chasing down Sarah’s dreams.”
Boon and Lelanea also turned their attention to the other men.
Ched yawned, losing interest in the whole affair.
Feng remained as cool as a cucumber; steady gaze, slight grin, still hands. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The doc, on the other hand, gave away the game with his wide eyes, open mouth and gentle gasp. He pointed to Feng. “It was his idea!”
The Celestial rolled his eyes at the treachery. “Geesh, Hieronymus. I knew it was a bad idea to bring you in on it. You have always been the worst at keeping secrets.”
“I’m sorry,” the doc said. “I told you I couldn’t do it.”
“What, exactly, did you do?” Dodger said.
“Yes, Uncle,” Lelanea said in a terse voice. “What did you do, this time?”
Feng crossed his arms and stared at the doc. “Well, Mr. Blather Mouth? You were so anxious to spill it. Tell them.”
The doc looked to his tapping hands in his lap as he said, “We may have buried a few things while you three were occupied.”
“A few things?” Dodger said. “Such as?”
“The ICE machine, the SALT shaker, the BURNKIZER, the GUMMER ray, the ENVELOPE, the PASTE pot, the-”
Dodger held up a hand. “Whoa. Slow down. Aside from the ICE machine, I don’t know what any of those things are.”
“They are potential weapons,” Feng said.
“They're more horrible than that,” Lelanea said, her face pale with worry. “The BURNKIZER alone can melt a man at twenty paces.”
“True,” the doc said.
“And you don’t want to know what it doesh to a man at ten pashesh,” Ched said.
“All right,” Dodger said. “Aside from the fact that I’d rather not know why you would invent a machine that can melt a human being, how about telling me why you buried all of these potentially dangerous things where anyone could find them.”
“It was my idea,” Feng said. “I thought getting the worst of things off the train would keep them out of Rex’s hands.”
“You were right in your assumptions,” Dodger said. “It did keep them out of Rex’s hands. Because they are going into Tyler Crank’s hands instead.”
The doc gulped. “You’re kidding.”
“Would I joke about something like that? Apparently Crank considers the devices his payment for services rendered.”
“How does he even know I buried them in the first place?” Feng said. “I took those things out to the middle of nowhere, and-”
“And you used your magic to bury them as deep as you could,” Dodger finished for him. “So deep, it nearly killed you in the process. So deep it would take the strength of an elephant or a lumber machine to pull it out of the ground.”
“Ah,” the doc said. “That explains that, I suppose.”
Feng cut his eyes at Dodger. “How do you even know that? I can understand you guessing when I did it, that’s simple deduction, Watson. But not how.”
“Believe it or not,” Dodger said, “Kitty claims that Rex witnessed the whole thing.”
Feng deepened his suspicious look. “That’s impossible. I made certain that no one was around. I would’ve known. I would’ve sensed his presence.”
“This is where, much like everything else involving this crew, things get a little bit weird. He claims to have seen all of this in a vision. That an exotic man from distant lands appeared magically in the middle of the desert and, using powers untold, hid a cache of amazing weapons under ten tons of dirt and rock.”
“I am telling you, Dodger, no one saw me. No one was there.”
“And yet he did see you.”
“I’m telling you there was no one around for miles and miles. I even placed a cloaking spell around-”
“Twenty years ago,” Dodger said over the excited man.
Feng wrinkled his nose and said, “What about twenty years ago?”
“It doesn’t matter how careful you were on that night, because Rex supposedly had this vision almost twenty years ago.”
“What?” almost everyone said together.
“When I say Rex witnessed you,” Dodger said, “I’m not talking about Rex the mutt. Or even Rex the adult. He supposedly had this vision, years ago, when he was a much younger soldier. He went so far as to tell his superiors and they locked him away in a nut farm for a few years because of it.”
Feng groaned. “And still he went on to become a commander of one of the worst POW camps in the Civil War. Thank you, powers that be.”
“How is that possible?” Boon said. “How can he see something that wouldn’t happen for twenty years?”
“Feng?” Dodger said. “This is kind of your area of expertise. What do you think?”
Feng rubbed at his eyes. “Honestly? I can’t imagine. Not unless he has magic of his own, and I seriously doubt that.” He tapped the doc on the thigh. “Though it might have something to do with what we found.”
“Should we show them?” the doc said.
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