Surrender at Sunset
In which Dodger gives up
The crew didn’t argue Dodger’s plan. In fact, they obeyed him and didn’t discuss it at all. Dodger’s idea was plain and simple; once Crank came and took Dodger away, the crew was to pack it on up and head in the opposite direction as far as the line would take them. Once they reached that place, everyone was to disembark and continue on foot, getting themselves as far away from Dodger and Crank and Rex as they possibly could.
Once Dodger was done setting up his idea, the professor stood, announced that the whole thing was poppycock, then angrily retired to his lab. After this, Lelanea left the cab without a word, taking the spirit with her as they surely returned to their previous argument about the pilot. Ched asked if he could be excused, and left without comment as well, though it was hard to tell if this was out of anger or apathy. Only one man remained after Dodger was done detailing the plan. Feng patted the couch, inviting Dodger to take a load off.
With a long sigh, Dodger joined the Celestial on the couch and propped his feet on the coffee table.
“Everyone knows I’m right,” Dodger said.
“They do,” Feng said. “But as Hieronymus said, they don’t have to like it.”
Dodger leaned his head back on the couch, staring at the ceiling. “Crank and Rex both want me more than this train. Once I am with them, I’ll do my best to keep their focus on me. That should buy you folks plenty of time to hightail it out of here.”
“Yes, but you’re essentially asking them to break up their family.”
“I am not. I told them to stick together. Safety in numbers and all that.”
“Dodger,” Feng said in a voice so soft, Dodger couldn’t help but glance to the man.
A long look of sorrow fell over the Celestial.
“You know I mean you,” he said. “They won’t leave you behind. No matter how much sense it makes.”
“Then you have to make them want to do it. You can do that. Can’t you?”
Feng shook his head at the idea. “I can’t just go around manipulating people like that-”
“Why not? You did it with me.”
The older man blinked as if surprised.
“Come on,” Dodger said. “You almost had me convinced I was marked for something particular. I mean at first I knew it was garbage, but then you gave me the ability to underspeak and other stuff. You made me feel different. Special. You manipulated me. Why not them?”
“You’re forgetting one thing,” Feng said. “You are marked for something special. I may not know what it is, but I can feel it. Lelanea felt it too. Hell even the doc can feel it and he believes in magic only when it’s convenient. You’re an extraordinary man, Rodger Dodger. Don’t discount that as the truth, no matter how much I embellished it.”
“So I’m right. The whole marked thing was crap?”
Feng chuckled. In underspeak he said, I wouldn’t call it crap. It does take certain talent to pick up the underspeak as quickly as you did.
“Cut that out,” Dodger said as he rubbed his temples again. “My head hurts as it is. I don’t need you tap dancing around in there.”
“Headache?” Feng said. He clapped his hands together, then began rubbing them in circles. He separated his hands while continuing to circle his palms over one another. After a bit of this, he raised his palms and brought them to either side of Dodger’s head. “Close your eyes.”
“Because I don’t want them to explode.”
Dodger winced shutting his eyes as tightly as he could.
A soft chuckle rose from the Celestial. “I’m just kidding. Loosen up or this won’t work.”
Dodger relaxed as Feng’s hands touched either side of his temples. The warm sensation of Feng’s hands seemed to drain all of the pain out of Dodger’s head, leaving an even coolness in its wake. “That’s really nice.”
“Hold still. Let me take it all. It’s no good if we each end up with half a headache.”
“Take it? I can’t let you-”
“Shut up and let an old man feel helpful every once in a while.”
Dodger didn’t argue any further. He relaxed and let Feng work whatever magic the man worked. After a few moments of silence, Dodger said, “Since this is the last time I am likely to see you, can I ask you a few things? And get some straight answers?”
“I doubt this is the last time we will see each other, but go ahead.”
Dodger didn’t argue that either. “How much do you know about me?”
Feng’s hands slipped away from Dodger’s face.
Dodger opened his eyes to find the Celestial’s face long with worry. “I’m sorry.”
“No,” Feng said. “Don’t be. I’m sorry. Clairvoyance has always been my strongest talent. I didn’t have to learn it. It came to me naturally. I could always read people, almost like books. With most folks, I learned to just turn it off. I close the book. They are easy to ignore because their stories are so dull.” Feng looked up to Dodger, a smile coming to his eyes. “But you? Your life is so vibrant and full of wonder and joy and sorrow. So much sorrow. And not just you. Everyone on this train. It’s like coming across a box of chocolates and trying to eat just one. I can’t help but gorge myself on you guys.”
“Then you know everything about all of us?”
“Not on purpose. I know it seems like a fib, but I didn’t mean to read your whole life.”
“I believe you.” Dodger grinned. “I reckon if anyone can keep a secret it’s you.”
“You betcha. Your secrets are safe with me. I promise.”
Dodger laughed a bit at that. “I know I asked this before, but … well, who are you?”
“I am a very old, very foolish man. And that, for once, is the truth.”
“I believe that too.” Dodger hesitated before he asked his last question.
“Go on,” Feng said, encouraging him. “I know what you’re going to ask. Go ahead.”
“You said you looked ahead. Do you know what will happen to all of us?”
“I have an idea.”
“You won’t tell me, will you?”
Feng grinned. “Not a chance. I will leave you with this piece of advice.” He affected a thick, Oriental accent as he said, “Ancient Chinese wisdom say why need three when two will do.”
Dodger huffed. “Cryptic as always.”
“Of course. If wisdom was straight forward, anyone would be able to figure it out.”
“Wouldn’t that be better for everyone?”
“No way. Then it wouldn’t be wisdom. It would be knowledge. There is a vast difference between the two.” Feng stood and offered Dodger a hand up. “Unfortunately, I hear hoof beats. Which means your date has arrived.”
Dodger snorted as he grabbed the man’s hand and stood. “Some date. I’d rather court Kitty.”
“I bet my hat she’d like that,” Feng said.
Dodger narrowed his eyes at the old man, but didn’t ask what that meant. He didn’t think he wanted to know. Not really. Dodger slipped off the gun belt, and with some measure of regret, he passed the pair of ladies off to Feng.
The Celestial accepted them without argument or question.
Dodger then held his hand out to Feng. “It was really nice to meet you. Even if I didn’t get to know you.”
Feng shook Dodger’s hand, his strong grip once again belying his apparent age. “I suppose you got to know me about as much as any man has.”
“Even the doc?”
“Especially Hieronymus. The less he knows about me, the better.” Feng set to laughing.
Dodger shook his head as he disembarked from the train, alone. He stepped into the late afternoon sun not surprised to find the circus in the throes of breaking down. With their elephant returned, the circus had no reason to stay. Just as the train had to reason to remain. Tent’s toppled to the ground as men and women shuffled about, shouting and gathering things together. Dodger stood in silence and took in the view of the half stowed circus, wondering if there was a sadder sight in all the world.
That was when Dodger saw Duncan crossing the midway toward Dodger, stomping and clenching his fists.
“Lelanea just told me-” Duncan started as soon as he was in speaking distance.
“Where is Kitty?” Dodger said over him.
“She’s in good hands. Now as far as you going off with that man-”
“I’m not arguing about this,” Dodger said. He put the view of the circus behind him and looked to the south, keeping an eye on a pair of oncoming horses.
“Good. We won’t argue. I’ll talk and you’ll listen. For once.”
Dodger started walking toward the approaching men, leaving Duncan prattling on behind him.
“Hey!” Duncan shouted after Dodger. “I said you’ll listen.”
“Then you best get a move on,” Dodger said. “Because I don’t plan on standing around.”
Duncan jogged until he caught up with Dodger. “You really plan on leaving with him?”
“You can’t. Kitty said that is what this Rex wants. You’re just playing into-”
“Their hands. I know.”
Duncan huffed. “You are so frustrating.”
Duncan stopped walking, falling behind as Dodger kept up his brisk pace. He shouted after Dodger, “What should we do now?”
Dodger turned on his heel, taking a few steps backward as he shouted back, “You’ll figure it out.”
“You aren’t even armed!”
Duncan waved his arms in frustration. “Be careful!”
Dodger tipped his hand to his forelock in salute. “I plan on it!”
He turned on his heel again and continued his steady stride toward Crank and company, wondering how in the hell he planned on going through with this. Giving himself up wasn’t the problem. Letting Crank drag him into the belly of the beast was the issue. Dodger considered himself a bold man, if no at least a bit daring. This went beyond bravery. This was insanity. He pondered the probability that perhaps he had finally lost him mind as he watched the riders coming toward him. The horses stormed forward, showing no signs of slowing until they were nearly atop of Dodger. Dodger raised his hands, to show he was unarmed as the horses came to a sudden, snorting stop.
Atop a jet black steed sat Tyler Crank, sneering down at Dodger and looking just as crotchety and annoyed as he did a few weeks prior at the Ute reservation. To Crank’s right, on a mottled mare, sat a much, much younger man. Fresh faced and wide eyed, the kid had to be in his late twenties if he was a day old. The young man was blonde haired, blue eyed and lankier than any kid had any right to be. Even on the horse, Dodger could tell the lad would stand almost a full foot over Dodger.
“Rodger Dodger,” Crank said. He touched the brim of his hat in some poor attempt at civility. “As I live and breathe. I must say, you are the last man I expected to see today.”
“Tyler Crank,” Dodger said. “You haven’t changed much.”
Crank sat higher in the saddle and gave a sly grin. “Really?”
“Sure. You’re still a horrible liar.” Dodger winked at his old partner and the grin faded back into a scowl.
“Agent Dodger?” the younger man half asked, half said.
Dodger shielded his eyes against the waning sunlight as he looked up to the lad. The kid continued to stare at Dodger with what amounted to a look of admiration. If Dodger had to guess, he would say the kid seemed in awe.
“You have me at a disadvantage, son,” Dodger said.
The kid opened his mouth to speak, when Crank barked over him.
“I’ve always had you at a disadvantage,” Crank said. “You didn’t think I knew who you were back at the reservation, did you? I knew the whole time.”
Dodger shrugged. “I would’ve been surprised if you didn’t. Though I must say you play stupid well. ‘Course, you have a lot of experience. Don’t you?”
Crank ignored Dodger’s dig and motioned to the train. “That bitch probably told you that I have a warrant for the arrest of your-”
“Let’s cut the chitchat,” Dodger said. “Shall we? We can dance around the professor’s freedom all day, but we both know who you’re really here for.” Dodger could hear the grind of Crank’s teeth from where he stood.
“Fine,” Crank said. “You armed?”
“Nope.” Dodger raised his hands up, wrist to wrist. “You wanna tie me up so you can drag me back?”
“Why waste both of our time? Al taught you far too well. I don’t think there is a knot in the world that can hold you.”
“True. Alright then, you give me a few minutes and I’m sure I can procure a horse from my friends.”
“Are you kidding? Let you on a horse, by yourself? No. I don’t think so. Tying you up might be stupid, but letting you on a horse by yourself is just dumb. You can double up with Billy and we’ll ride back together.”
The kid closed his eyes and let out a soft huff. “William. My name is Special Agent William Carr. It’s nice to meet you, Agent Dodger.”
“William it is,” Dodger said. “And for the record, I’m not an agent. Not anymore.”
“You might not be an agent, but you sure are a legend.”
Dodger held out a hand, asking for a boost up onto the nag’s back.
Carr lifted Dodger onto the horse with a strong pull.
Ah, to be young again, Dodger thought as he settled his sore body behind the kid. He patted Carr on the shoulder. “And you can call me Dodger. Most folks do.”
“Dodger it is,” Carr said, a smile touching in his voice.
“Enough chitchat,” Crank said in a clear mock of Dodger. “Let’s get on with this.” He pulled on his reigns—far too hard, in Dodger’s opinion—and kicked his horse into a frothing frenzy as he doubled back.
Shaking his head, Carr gently clucked his tongue, setting his mare into motion behind Crank.
And as easy as that, Rodger Dodger surrendered.