One of Wehall’s advertising stunts! A manikin, a miniature male figure, crouched beside the pitcher. Straightened up, it might have reached a height of eight inches. The features were exquisitely mobile and lifelike. Blue eyes looked imploringly at her. It wore a velvety purple costume—the finery of an earlier century.
“You really are cute, little man!” she told it. “A work of art. And just what kind of work of art are you, eh? Protohom? Robot? Telecontrolled? Do you know?”
The doll was shaking its head violently. “No, no!” it said. “Please! I’m as human as you are. Help me hide before Blethro finds me, and I’ll explain everything.”
Her reactions were being recorded, of course. Well, she wouldn’t mind playing their game for a minute or two.
“A joke’s a joke, midget,” she remarked, drawing up her eyebrows. “But slipping you into my bag just might be construed as shoplifting. Do you realize you probably cost a good deal more than I make in a year?”
“They said no one would believe me,” the doll told her. Tears in the tiny eyes? She felt startled. “I’m from a world you’ve never heard about. Our size was reduced genetically. Blethro had three of us in a box in his aircar. We agreed to attempt to escape the next time he opened the car door . . .”
Trigger glanced about. Halfway across the terrace, a man stood staring in her direction. She shifted the blue pitcher slightly to give the doll better cover. “Where are the other two?” she asked.
“Blethro seized them before they could get out of the car. If I’m to find help for them, I must get away first. But you believe I’m a toy! So I—”
And now the man was coming purposefully along the aisles toward Trigger’s table. She cupped a light hand over the doll as it began to straighten up. “Wait a moment,” she muttered. “Does your abominable Blethro sport a great yellow moustache?”
Trigger swung her handbag around behind the pitcher, snapped it open, blocking the man’s line of view. “Blethro seems to have spotted you,” she whispered. “Keep down and pop inside the bag. We’re leaving.”
* * *
Bag slung from her shoulder, she set off quickly toward the nearest door leading from the terrace. Glancing back, she saw the man with the jutting yellow moustache lengthen his stride. But he checked at the table where she’d been sitting, hastily moved a few articles about and lifted the top off the sandwich warmer. Trigger hurried on, not quite running now.
A small sign on the door read Wehall Employees Only. She looked back. Blethro was hurrying, too, not far behind her. She pushed through the door, sprinted along the empty white hallway beyond it. After some seconds, she heard a yell and his footsteps pounding in hot pursuit.
The hall ended where another one crossed it. Blank walls, and nobody in sight. Left or right? Trigger ran up the branch on the right, turned another corner—there at last was a door!
A locked door, she discovered instants later. Blind alley! Blethro came rushing around the corner, slowed as he saw her. He smiled then, walked unhurriedly toward her.
“End of the line, eh?” he said, breathing heavily. “Now let’s see what you have in that bag.”
“Why?” Trigger asked, slipping the bag from her shoulder.
Blethro grinned. “Why? Why were you running?”
“That’s my business,” Trigger told him. “Perhaps I felt I needed the exercise. Unless you’re something like a police officer—and can prove it—you’d be well advised to leave me alone! I can make very serious trouble for you.”
The threat didn’t seem to alarm Blethro, who was large and muscular. He continued to grin through his moustache as he came up. “Well, perhaps I’m a Wehall detective.”
“I don’t think I’ll bother.” He held his hand out, the grin fading. “The bag! Fast!”
Trigger swung away from him. He made a quick grab for her. She let the bag slide to the floor, caught the grabbing arm with both hands, moving solidly back into Blethro, bent and hauled forward. He flew over her head, smacked against the locked door with satisfying force, landed on the floor more or less on his shoulders, made an unpleasant comment and rolled back up on his feet, face very red and angry.
Then he saw the handbag standing open on the floor beside Trigger and a gun pointed at him. It wasn’t a large gun, but its appearance was sleek and deadly; and it was held by a very steady hand.
Blethro scowled uncertainly. “Here—wait a minute!”
“I hate arguments,” Trigger told him. “And I did warn you. So just go to sleep like a good boy now.”
She fired and Blethro slumped to the floor. Trigger glanced down. The doll figure was clinging to the rim of the handbag, peering at her with wide eyes. “Did Blethro have friends with him?” she asked.
“No. He came alone in the car. But he’d indicated he was to meet someone here.”
Trigger considered, nodded. “We’ll put this away again.” She slipped the gun into a cosmetics purse she’d been holding in her left hand, closed the purse and placed it in the bag. Then she knelt beside Blethro, began going quickly through his pockets.
“Is he dead?” the small voice inquired from behind her.
“Not dead, midget. Nor injured. But it’ll be an hour or two before he wakes up. Good thing I nailed him first—he carries a gun. What’s your name, by the way? Mine’s Trigger.”
“My name’s Salgol. What are you doing?”
“Something slightly illegal, I’m afraid. Borrowing Blethro’s car keys—and here they are!” Trigger straightened up. “Now let’s arrange this a little differently.” She picked up Salgol, eased him into her blazer pocket. “You stay down in there when there’s anyone around. Blethro left his car and the box with your friends in it on a lot next to the restaurant terrace?”
“Fine,” Trigger said. “You point the car out to me when we get there. Then we’ll all go somewhere safe, and you’ll tell me what this is about so we can figure out what to do.”
“Thank you, Trigger!” Salgol piped from her pocket. “I did well to trust you. I didn’t have much hope for Smee and Runderin, or even for myself.”
“Well, we may not be out of trouble yet. We’ll see.” Trigger snapped the bag shut, slung it from her shoulder. “Let’s go before someone happens by here. Ready?”
“Ready.” Salgol dipped down out of sight.
A few people glanced curiously at Trigger as she came back out on the restaurant terrace. Apparently they’d realized something was going on between her and Blethro, and were wondering what it had been about. She thought it shouldn’t matter. Everyone having lunch here would have finished and left before Blethro regained his senses. She sauntered across the terrace, went along a passage to the parking lot, stopped at the entrance. There was no attendant in sight at the moment. She waited until a couple who’d just got out of their car went past her. All clear now . . .
She could barely hear his muffled reply from the pocket.
“Take a look around,” she told him quietly. “We’re there.”
Salgol stuck his head out and identified Blethro’s aircar as one of those standing against the parapet on the street side of the parking lot—the seventh from the left. Then he disappeared again until Trigger had unlocked the car door, stepped inside and locked the door behind her.
The car was of a fixed-canopy, one-way-view type. Trigger didn’t take off immediately. The box in which Salgol’s companions were confined stood on a back seat, and she wanted to make sure they were in there. She worked the latches off it and opened the top.
They were there—two tiny, charming females in costume dresses which matched Salgol’s outfit. They stared apprehensively up at her. She lifted Salgol into the box and he spoke a few unintelligible lilting sentences to them. Then they were beaming at Trigger, though they said nothing. Apparently they didn’t know Translingue. She smiled back, left the box open, sat down at the controls and took the car up into the air.
The hotel room ComWeb chimed, and Trigger switched it on. Telzey’s image appeared on the screen.
“I came home just now and got your message,” Telzey said. “I’m sorry there was a delay.” Her gaze shifted around the room. “Where are you?”
“Seems better to keep away from the apartment just now.”
Telzey’s eyebrows lifted. “Trouble?”
“Not yet. But there’s more than likely to be. I ran into something unusual, and it’s a ticklish matter. Can you come over?”
“As soon as you tell me where you are.”
Trigger told her, and Telzey switched off, saying she was on her way.
* * *