In which Dodger surprises and is surprised
Dodger decided to get this over with while Lelanea dressed and freshened up. He sent Sarah off to his room, to rest a bit after so much excitement. She kicked up a fuss about staying with the adults, but the doc assured her this next bit was bound to be as boring as a Sunday school lesson. Sarah left the cab in a huff, but didn’t argue anymore about it. Boon slipped off to see to his lady’s welfare, while Ched and the doc remained behind, joining Dodger in his effort to explain things to Duncan.
But not until they did something about the woman that lay sprawled out on the couch.
True, Kitty was out cold, recovering from her nearly mortal wound, and not to mention tied to the couch. Yet that didn’t mean Dodger wanted her anywhere near him. Especially when they were about to discuss such sensitive topics.
“Do you want us to take her to the guest quarters?” Dodger said, motioning to Kitty.
“No,” the doc said. “I don’t want her moved until I am certain she is out of harm’s way.” He pulled a pair of SPICS over his forehead and slipped them into place.
“Can’t we talk somewhere else at least?”
“No. I need to remain by her side and monitor her.” The doc handed Duncan a second pair of SPICS. When the man had time to make them, Dodger had no idea. “Put these on.”
Duncan glanced down at the complicated goggles and wrinkled his nose.
“I don’t like the idea of her being here while we talk,” Dodger said.
“Nonsense,” the doc said. “She is under so much anesthetic, I doubt she will come around for days, much less hear what we are talking about. At least, I hope not.”
Dodger cut the doc a worried look.
“Not to menshun,” Ched said, “she ain’t goin’ anywhere for a while. Even if she could hear ush, who would she tell?”
“True,” the doc said. “While I cannot guarantee she will remain under the influence of the sleeping medicine, I can say she won’t be going anywhere, anytime soon.”
“You’re right about that,” Dodger said, and crossed his arms. If he had it his way, the woman would go straight to jail since he couldn’t send her straight to the grave.
Boon slipped through the door, his face a light shade of red. “Miss Lelanea will be along shortly. She’s, um, freshening up.”
“You two work it out?” Ched said.
“We had a quick chat,” Boon said. He sat on the edge of the couch. “Seems I owe her a few apologies, though I’m not certain why. We can handle it later.”
Over the spirit, Duncan said, “No we haven’t. I don’t think I quite understand why I need to wear these.”
The doc stepped a bit to the left, strategically positioning himself between Duncan and the spirit, and pushed the SPICS at Duncan again. “Trust me, you’ll need them for what comes next.”
Duncan shrugged and put the things on.
“Be sure to push that plug into your right ear,” the doc said. “Yes, like that.”
“Is this right?” Duncan said as he looked up.
“I feel silly.”
“That’s good, because you look silly too, but that isn’t important. Now, I am going to step away, and I want you to keep your eyes straight ahead. Try not to panic.”
“Panic?” Duncan said. “Why would I …”
The doc stepped away, leaving Duncan to stare straight at Boon. At first the man looked ahead, furrowing his brow as if confused. He lifted the SPICS just enough to peek out from under them, then lowered the things back into place once more. Duncan cocked his head from side to side and leaned forward a bit.
“That’s quite a trick you’re doing-” Duncan started to say, when Boon lifted a hand and waved.
“Hello,” Boon said.
“Holy Mother of God!” Duncan shouted and jumped up from his seat, which toppled over and clattered to the floor behind him.
Boon stood from the couch. “I’m Washing-”
“Get away from me!” Duncan hollered and took a few steps back, tangling his feet in the now overturned seat, which claimed his balance and sent him to the floor as well.
“There’s no need to be afraid,” Boon said, stepping forward.
As Boon came forward, Duncan kept on pedaling away from the spirit, scrambling backward until he cowered against the far wall of the cab.
“Mr. Duncan,” the doc said. “Please, calm down. There is no need for such a display.”
“B-b-but,” Duncan stammered. “It’s t-t-talking!”
“It?” Boon said. He blinked a few times. A pained look came over him.
“Duncan,” Dodger said. “It’s all right. I know he seems strange, but he’s one of us.”
“Strange?” Boon said. His big shoulders slumped. “Now I’m strange?”
“Just ignore them, Washington,” the doc said. “I always found you to be quite normal. All things considered.”
“What do you mean one of you?” Duncan said.
“I didn’t say one of you,” Dodger said. “I said one of us, meaning you too.”
“Yes, last time I looked you still worked for us. He works for the line too. Boon here is the old security man. The one before me.”
Duncan pointed up to Boon with a trembling finger “This, this … is his ghost?”
“He isn’t a ghost,” the doc said. “Not exactly.”
“Then what is it?”
“I’m not an it,” Boon said. “I’m Washington Boon.”
“Perhaps we should’ve explained this first,” the doc said. In typical Dittmeyer style, the doc launched into a detailed description of Boon’s current state of being as well as how the SPICS functioned. This included lots of scientific names and references that surely went right over Duncan’s head. If nothing else, the speech gave Duncan enough time to calm down. “Do you understand now?”
“No sir,” Duncan said.
“Let’s stick with Boon being a ghost for now,” Dodger said. “The goggles let you see him. And the earpiece lets you hear him. We can fit you with some a standalone earplug that will let you hear him when you can’t use the goggles.”
“Yeah,” Duncan said as he wiggled the things on his face. “I can’t go about wearing these all of the time.”
“Do you understand now?”
“I suppose so. I’m sorry about that. I just wasn’t expecting this. I mean you, Mr. Boon.”
“You can just call me Boon,” Boon said. “Everyone else does.”
Duncan held his hand out to Boon. “All right then. It’s nice to meet you, Boon.”
Boon looked down at Duncan’s hand, then up to Dodger.
“Go on,” Dodger said. “Show him.”
Reaching out, Boon ran his hand through Duncan’s. A light crackle filled the room as the spirit passed through the man’s flesh.
Duncan recoiled in surprise and rubbed at his hand, no doubt marveling at the tingle that came from contact with the spirit. “That was, um, that was …” Duncan paused, then started to laugh.
Boon laughed with him. “I’m afraid I am all look and no touch.”
“I’ll remember that.” Duncan looked to the floor in thought for a moment, then said, “I take it you’re the same feller that Miss Lelanea talked about so much?”
The spirit’s face went a light pink hue.
“That’s him,” Dodger said.
“Did she really talk about me?” Boon said.
“Well,” Duncan said. “She may have mentioned you once or twice. If you don’t mind me sayin’ so, you sure are a lucky man.”
Boon grinned wide. “I sure am. Thank you.”
“She’s a hell of a gal.”
“She sure is.”
“She is also on her way back,” Feng said from the doorway. He pushed a tea trolley into the room and parked it near the desk. “Anyone thirsty? Hungry?”
“I swear,” Duncan said. “I don’t know how you folks get any privacy, creepin’ up on each other like that.”
“We don’t,” Ched said. “Welcome to paradish. Where everyone knowsh everything about you. All of the time.”
“Quiet you,” the doc said. “I’ll take a cuppa please.”
Feng passed over a cup of tea to the man, already prepared, as well as a plate mounded over with a variety of cookies.
“Oh,” the doc cooed. “Thank you so much. How delightful.”
“Mr. Duncan?” Feng said.
“I’ll pass,” Duncan said.
“I’ll have a cup of coffee if you-” Dodger started, only to be interrupted by Feng passing him a mug of steaming black heaven.
“Can I go back to the cab?” Ched said. “Thish hash been fun, but I have thingsh I need to do. Thingsh not here. With you folksh.”
“No,” Dodger said. “I want everyone here for Lelanea’s report. I have a feeling we will need to adjust our previous plans accordingly, and I will need everyone’s input.”
“Including mine?” Duncan said.
“Sure. Just try not to ask too many questions, no matter how strange things seem to be.”
Duncan furrowed his brow as he turned his chair over and sat down again. “I’ll try.”
“You don’t want to go yet, Ched,” Feng said. “I brought you something to make you feel better.” The Celestial pulled a bottle of whiskey from the bottom of the trolley. And not the rotgut kind either. The good stuff. Top shelf from what Dodger could see of the thing.
“Be shtill my shilent heart,” Ched said. He yanked the bottle from Feng’s tenuous grip and held it up to the light, whistling in his appreciation of the amber glow. “That’sh the mosht beautiful thing I have sheen in weeksh.”
“That’s a pretty pricey brand,” Duncan said. “What year is it?”
“Who caresh? Any year ish a good year for whishkey. You’re a true friend, Feng.”
Before Feng could respond, Lelanea blew into the room in a rush, made her way straight across the cab and all but attacked the tea trolley. Feng met her at the tray, holding out a large beaker of liquid; another premade cup of tea. Lelanea grabbed the glass, stuffed three scones into her mouth and downed half of the tea. After swallowing her mouthful, she repeated the process and finished off the cup of tea. Lelanea sighed in contentment as she turned to face the men.
“I apologize,” she said, wiping at the sides of her mouth with a lacey hanky. “Running always leaves me with an appetite. I’d prefer something more substantial, but since I can’t eat any of you, I suppose this will have to do.” Lelanea gave a soft titter of laughter.
Duncan was the only one that laughed with her.
Probably because he was the only one that didn’t realize she wasn’t joking.
“You’re back awful fast,” Dodger said. He sat his coffee mug on the tray. “I wasn’t expecting you for another day at the least.”
“I’m just a surprised,” she said. “I thought I would be gone much longer, but I managed to catch up with Kitty’s men almost right away. They stopped at another camp about twenty miles southwest of here.”
Duncan snorted. “You mean to tell me you ran there and back in less than-”
“Rex’s camp?” Dodger said, over Duncan’s confusion.
Her face deepened with worry. “Not quite. Dodger, you’re not going to believe this, but they met up with Tyler Crank.”
Dodger couldn’t contain his surprise. His eyes bulged and his mouth dropped open at the news. Good thing he had already sat down the cup, because he was fairly sure he would’ve dropped the damned thing.
“Oh, dear,” the doc said.
“Woah,” Boon said.
“Who?” Duncan said.
“An old friend of Dodger’s,” Feng said.
“Not a friend,” Dodger said. “Let’s set that straight right now. Tyler Crank is not, nor was he ever my friend.”
“If he isn’t your friend,” Duncan said, “how do you know him?”
“We used to work together.”
“So he was a coworker?”
“No.” Dodger waved his hands in the air, as if he could wave away the question, or the man, or this whole situation. “It’s complicated.”
“That’sh puttin’ it mildly,” Ched said.
“It doesn’t matter how he knows Agent Crank-” Lelanea started.
“Agent?” Duncan said over her, sitting up straighter in alarm.
“Special Agent,” Boon added.
Duncan glanced to Lelanea, then back at Dodger, trying to connect dots that weren’t there.
Dodger groaned as he rubbed his eyes. “Not helping, Boon.”
“Sorry.” The spirit chewed his bottom lip.
“Look,” Dodger said, “Lelanea is right. How I know Crank isn’t the point. The point is the man is trouble, and now he is working with Rex, which makes him dangerous.”
“It’s worse than that,” Lelanea said. “He’s not just working with Rex. He’s working for Rex. The man is taking direct orders from the crazy little mutt.”
“Sit down and tell me what you learned.”
Lelanea made herself comfortable in one of the cab’s overstuffed chairs. “After I tracked the men back to the camp, I was able to sneak into the meeting tent and hide out for a bit. It didn’t take long for Crank to show up hollering about losing the elephant and how this put a kink in his orders from Rex. Some of the dog men asked if they could go back and fetch Kitty, but Crank ordered them to pack up the tents and head back to the base camp.”
“The compound?” Dodger said.
“I don’t think so. From what I gathered the base camp is only a few more miles west. And I think, I can’t be sure, but I think Rex is waiting there.”
Every man started at that, even Dodger.
“What’s he doing out here?” Boon said. “I thought he was supposed to meet us in California in a few days?”
“He besht get shtarted,” Ched said. “He’sh got a long haul ahead of him.”
“Don’t discount his flying ship,” the doc said around a mouthful of cookie. “That Phoenix of his can cover vast distances in little time with minimal effort. I should know. I designed the blasted thing.”
Duncan raised his eyebrows at Dodger. “Flying ship?”
“As much as I hate to say it,” Lelanea said, “I’m afraid Rex is the least of our worries right now.”
Dodger was afraid she would say something like that. “What is Crank planning?”
Lelanea grinned, but there was no humor in it. “You know him so well.”
“Unfortunately. What is he up to?”
“He sent the dog men and most of his own men and the equipment back to the base camp, but Crank and his partner are heading somewhere else.”
“Where?” Boon asked, too naïve and inexperienced to put the obvious pieces together.
“Here,” Dodger said with calm certainty. “They are coming back here.”
“Just the pair of them?” Duncan said. “Surely they know how many they’ll be up against.
“They musht want their pushy cat back shomethin’ fiersh,” Ched said.
“They aren’t coming for me,” someone said in a hoarse voice.
Every head in the meeting cab turned, slowly, too peer down at the speaker laying on the couch.
“Tyler Crank is coming for Rodger Dodger,” Kitty said.