THE Akeley living room was as crazily cluttered as when Phil last saw it. No one had done much, if any, cleaning up after the fight. In addition, there were a large number of dirty plates, cups and glasses abandoned in odd places. Judging by the remnants of food and drink in them, three informal meals had been consumed since last night, not counting snacks.
The black velvet curtains at the far end of the room had been pulled aside, revealing the altar Sacheverell had prepared for Lucky in what had been the dining room a century ago. It consisted of a small table or box set against the far wall and covered with reddish-brown velvet that trailed to the floor in graceful folds. Fastened to the wall above it was an ancient ankh or crux ansata, the Egyptian cross with looped top, symbolizing procreation and life. On lower tables to either side were large unlit candles and statuettes of many of the Egyptian gods: queenly Isis, whip-wielding Osiris, jackal-jawed Anubis and cat-headed Bast herself.
And there was the same profusion of cats, though they were no longer peaceful as they'd been when Lucky was in the house. They stalked about with ears drawn back and fur fluffed fearsomely; they ambushed each other from behind and under furniture; they snarled and jumped whenever they met. Those wolfing the bits of food left on plates would lift their heads every few seconds to hiss warnings. The only one asleep was impiously curled on Lucky's altar.
The dark low table inlaid with a silver pentacle had been righted and placed in the center of the room. On it were glasses and a bottle of brandy. Beside it sat Juno Jones, still in her dowdy dress with the ripped sleeves hanging from her meaty arms, but with her flower covered hat once more jammed down over her cropped blonde hair. She looked sullen and on the defensive.
Across the table from her, leaning forward in their chairs, sat Dion da Silva and Morton Opperly. Both of them stood up as Sacheverell triumphantly swept Phil and Dytie into the room, saying "Our council of war-or perhaps I should say muscular peace-is complete!"
Opperly smiled courteously, seeming completely at home in these wild, wonderful and crummy surroundings; perhaps a mind hungry for any and all facts liked a grubby bohemian atmosphere.
Dion da Silva on the other hand, as soon as he spotted Dytie, put down the big glass of whiskey he was holding and whooped out three or four words in a foreign language, then caught himself and changed to, "'Allo, darling! Great see. 'Allo, 'allo, 'allo."
By this time he had Dytie in his arms and was hugging her with a hungriness that struck Phil as distinctly unbrotherly. She wasn't being any too sisterly about it herself. But finally she pushed him away with a gasp. "Thas 'nough," she told him. "Great see too, dumbhead. 'bout time turn up.'
Dion looked hurt for as long as it took him to get his glass of whiskey. "Know what doing?" he asked his sister excitedly.
"Yes, get drunk," she told him and whispered to Phil, "Know what Dion short for? God wine. Pick good name, eh?"
"No get drunk," Dion asserted with some dignity. Then his excitement got the better of him again and he burst out with, "We finding pussycat!"
There was a giggle that Phil recognized. Looking around, he saw Mary Akeley sitting in her alcove backed by her shelves of wax dolls and busy at work sewing clothes for another under a large magnifier. Sacheverell's witch-nosed young wife had shifted to an almost off the bosom evening dress and tied a huge green bow around her coarse dark hair.
"That man, he cuts me up in little pieces every time he says a word," she gurgled, without pausing in her work. "He's so cute."
"Thanks sweetheart," Dion replied, gayly waving his glass at her, "I cute all over. All full s'prises. Show sometime."
Dytie suppressed a guffaw and whispered to Phil, "'Member tell you: two legs, milk glands?" Phil nodded, though he judged that Dion's interest in Mary didn't nearly come up to his thirsty adoration of Dora Pannes. The satyr (Phil felt shocked at how glibly the word came into his mind) was just keeping his hand in.
Sacheverell ignored the flirtatious interchange. His sunburned features gleamed with controlled excitement. "The young lady is Dytie da Silva, Dion's sister," he told Opperly and Juno. Then he turned to Phil. "I suppose you're wondering why Dr. Opperly and Senor da Silva are here. Well, I brought them along with me from the Foundation because both of them are genuinely interested inhim, and among the lot of us I think we have a very good chance of deliveringhim from his enemies."
"What he mean, him?" Dytie asked Phil. "He means pussycat?"
"I mean the Green One," Sacheverell confirmed a bit reprovingly. "I mean Bast Returned, the Bringer of Love and Concord."
Dytie didn't bother with that, but went on to whisper to Phil, "He say Op'ly. Op'ly nice slim man there good face? Meet us please."
Sacheverell was getting set for a speech and he gave Phil a faintly pained look when the latter performed the desired introduction. Dr. Opperly surprised Phil by gallantly kissing Dytie's hand and then not letting go of it. He didn't behave at all like a scientist of eighty-plus years should. And Dytie turned on a lot more charm than Phil recalled her using on him. As the two of them stood there murmuring happy but probably highly intelligent nothings to each other, Phil felt a jealous impulse to call out to Opperly, "Wait until you see her real legs," but he somehow suspected that Opperly wouldn't be shocked at Dytie's real legs or anything about her. He had noted a look of surprise come into Opperly's face as the latter took Dytie's hand, and from his own experience he'd known why, but Opperly's surprise had turned not to revulsion, but to eager interest.
Opperly's voice suddenly became sharp, clear and romantic: "I'd be delighted to, Miss da Silva."
Dytie turned to the others with a self-satisfied smile. "Op'ly me got much talk 'bout," she announced. "'Scuse please. Dion you take care pussycat business me."
And she and Dr. Opperly strolled out through the dining room arm in arm, beaming at each other and chatting happily.
Sacheverell looked after them a shade critically. "They don't seem to have any great regard for the importance of the situation, I must say, so we'll carry on by ourselves in making plans to rescue the Green One. Mr. Gish, what have you to contribute?"
In a few sentences Phil sketched how he'd found Lucky at Fun Incorporated, lost him again, then caught up with him at the Humberford Foundation just before Dora Pannes grabbed him.
As soon as Phil finished, Mary Akeley cut in. She was through sewing clothes and had begun to put them on a relatively bulky doll which Phil recognized as the portrait of Moe Brimstine she'd started on last night. To his amazement, Phil noticed that she was even putting underwear on the doll and slipping almost microscopically tiny objects into its pants pockets with a tiny tweezer.
She said, "Did you happen to find out, Phil, why little old Dr. Romadka kidnapped those three cats of ours?"
Phil explained, as briefly and unsickeningly as he could, what had happened to them.
Mary reached over her shoulder and got the doll that was the image of Dr. Romadka. She fixed on it her witchiest stare.
"Slow, slow acid dripped on your forehead," she incanted with a sincerity that sent gooseflesh coursing under Phil's shirt. "And I hope it's days before it gets in your eye. That's the first and mildest of your torments." She picked up the doll she'd been dressing and informed it, "That goes for you, too. After the acid really gets in the first eye, we deviate to other parts of your body. To begin with..."
A sudden cat fight prevented Phil from finding out just how nasty Mary Akeley's imagination could get. Sacheverell separated the five squalling combatants with a few painless but strategic kicks. Then he hitched up his turquoise slacks and said, looking at his wife severely, "Now perhaps we can forget all hates and other dark vibrations and get down to business. Here's the situation, Mr. Gish. Earlier today, Juno overheard her husband Jackie tell Cookie where Billig and Mr. Brimstine are hiding..."
"Just Moe Brimstine," Juno corrected dourly.
"Comes to the same thing," Sacheverell went on. "Now Jackie and Cookie are safely asleep upstairs..."
"Yes," Juno butted in again, "but they're not going to stay that way too much longer."
"Not after what you put in their whiskey?" Sacheverell asked her with a thin smile.
"Listen," Juno told him, "those two guys have had more things in their whiskey than ever got wrote down in books jerks like you read. They're tough, the little punks."
"Well, if they do wake up, I'm sure you can take care of the two of them. So there's the situation, Mr. Gish, and the only trouble is that Mrs. Jones won't tell us where Mr. Brimstine is. She started to, but then she shut up like an air lock. We've pleaded with her, we've implored her, we've promised her things. I've done my best to explain to her just how cosmically important it is that the Green One be served and worshipped properly so that he will be able to change the world. Senor da Silva flattered and jollied her, and Dr
. Opperly was friendly as anything. But she just won't talk."
"I sure won't talk to nuts like you," the female wrestler told him wrathfully. "If you hadn't started acting so squirrely, I'd have probably spilled it straight off. But I'm not the sort of person who likes to be jollied or anything else -"
"'Scuse please," Dion interrupted. "No jolly, really mean. Much like you, Juno Jones. Big strong woman."
"And I don't enjoy nut talk," Juno said to Sacheverell, ignoring da Silva. "Every crazy reason you gave me for talking made me that much surer I wouldn't." She took a drink and turned toward Phil, her elbows on her correspondingly large knees. "Now, with you it's different," she said. "You got a nut's idea of food, but outside of that you're pretty human. And I gotta admit you're a gutsy little guy, because I saw you go up against Brimstine and from what I hear you did some more of the same later. But the main thing is that you own this crazy cat, or at least you was looking for it when I first met you. And I don't believe you had any nut ideas about it, though I thought so at the time. That right, Phil? Or are you planning to do something cosmic with that cat?"
"I just want to find it," Phil said honestly.
"That settles it for me. It's your cat and you got a right to know where it is, even if you get killed trying to get it and I get into all sorts of mucking trouble for telling you. You want I should tell you in private, Phil, or just say it right out in front of all these screwballs?"
"Thank you, Juno," Phil said quietly. "Just say it right out."
Juno opened her mouth-and then said, "Oh, Lord."
Phil turned around. Jack and Cookie were just coming in from the hall.
"Fine sort of wife you turned out to be," Jack informed Juno, striding toward her with his hands shoved deep in his pockets. "Can't leave you ten minutes but you start pulling some dumb trick." With circles under his eyes and a day's growth of beard, the black-sweatered little wrestler did a fair job of looking outraged and dejected. But Cookie, automatically imitating his hero, could produce only an expression like that of a blonde baby about to cry.
"Getting sneaky, too," Jack observed. "Spying on me."
"Underhanded," Cookie commented.
"Underhanded?" Juno banged the silver inlaid table so hard that it jumped and she had to grab at her glass and the bottle. Why, you two stinkers are so permanently underhanded you couldn't play no game but softball."
"Also, I don't like the company you keep," Jack continued. "The Ikeless Joe was bad enough," he said, giving Phil the barest glance before going on to da Silva, "but where between here and Pluto did you ever pick up this silly greaser who can't even talk English?"
"This corny gigolo," Cookie added witheringly.
Dion, who until this moment had seemed merely interested, put down his glass and frowned at Jack. "No like you," he asserted. "You want kick in face, trample?"
Phil winced, visualizing it in the full, rich details.
"Do you know who you're talking to?" Cookie demanded of Dion.
"Don't brawl boys," Mary called from the alcove, "at least until I've finished this ticklish part." She was putting some finishing touches on Moe Brimstine's face under the magnifier. "Then I think I'd like to watch you tramp around, Dion man."
"Don't anybody worry," Jack said sadly. "I'm not looking for a fight even if I was handed one. I'm too downhearted about this innocent, thoughtless, uneducated wife of mine."
"Uneducated?" she exploded. "After being married to you all these years? You got so many rotten ideas you're a whole university. Well, I've graduated. And shut up, now, 'cause I got to tell Phil here where he can find Moe Brimstine and maybe Billig and his cat."
Jack whirled toward her. "Juno, you don't know what you're saying. You don't know what you'd be doing. Just come upstairs a minute and I'll explain the whole deal."
"Come upstairs?" Juno mocked. "Tell that to the green farm girls trying to break into the wrestling racket. Now look here, Phil. Brimstine..."
"Juno!" Jack yelled, "I didn't want to tell you in front of everybody, but there's a million dollars riding on this deal for me and you, if Billig pulls out of his trouble. Which he can do, so long as he has the green cat to trade to the government. And look, Juno, Billig's lost all his bodyguards and power and everything-he's got to depend on Brimstine and me and Cookie."
Juno stared at him. For a second or two there was silence. Then Sacheverell coughed delicately.
"Jack," he said unhurriedly, "I am convinced that you have a deep appreciation of spiritual values. Your aura may flicker and dim, but in the end it always glows out bright and clear. Yesterday you gave up ten thousand dollars Moe Brimstine would have given you for the Green One, just in order that we might worship him properly and help him change the world. Now if you were willing to do that..."
"I know, I know," Jack snarled at him impatiently, "but this time it's really big money."
Sacheverell looked up at the ceiling, as if he were silently telling some god just how evil a world it was.
"I was flattered by you and Mary for a while," Jack went on. "I liked your style and I fell for some of your wild ideas. I played along with you to the tune of ten thousand dollars, though I won't say I wasn't going to steal the green cat back and sell it to Brimstine after you'd had your fun with it. But tuck your aura up over your ears and get this through your head: this time it's really big money."
Sacheverell said, "Mary, remind me to burn our black sweaters tomorrow morning."
From the look on Juno's face, Phil could tell that Jack had finally done something to please her.
But he had done it rather too late. The satisfaction washed out of Juno's face and only the grimness was left as she said to him, "That million was just for you, Jack, or for you and Cookie until half a minute ago. Another thing, Billig isn't going to pull out of this-and if he did he's the kind of man who kills the people who save him. But even if you got your million, I wouldn't take any part of it. Don't get the idea that anybody, including that crazy green cat, has made me go soft. It's just that I wouldn't ever accept anything from you, Jack-not ever again." Without a pause she turned to Phil and said, "Brimstine's behind the counter in the Bug-Eyed Bar in All Pleasures Amusement Park. I'll take you to the exact spot."
At that moment, when everyone was watching Juno, a cool, scornful voice spoke from the dining room: "And we'll be coming along."
Phil's head followed the others around. Standing in front of Lucky's altar, his bulging forehead wrinkled with unsmiling amusement, was Carstairs. To his left stood Llewellyn, eyes gleaming in his impassive black face. To Carstairs' right lounged Buck, yawning but watchful. Phil got the feeling that the hep-thugs were trying to look like the muzzles of the weapons they held with casual proficiency. Close beside Buck and a little behind him stood Mitzie Romadka.
Carstairs said, "We've been finding out some things about this green cat ourselves." He could talk very softly because there wasn't any noise in the room. "We think it would be a lot more desirable if we were the ones who sold the cat to Uncle Sammy. You people are going to help us get the cat. Incidentally, clown," he addressed Phil, "your little girl friend here was responsible for our locating you people. Isn't that so, Mitz?"
But Mitzie said nothing. To Phil, she looked remarkably pale, tight-lipped and miserable for a girl enjoying a revenge.
"Yes," Carstairs continued, "she came whimpering to us a little while ago, asking us to kidnap you or something silly like that. Can you imagine, clown, your girl friend was stupid enough to think we'd be pleased at her and even do something for her, after we'd kicked her out of the gang and she'd skunked on us to Billig? Youthful illusions die hard. Well, instead of that she did something for us. After a little persuasion she told us all she knows about the green cat and you people, also some addresses-including this one."
And now Phil saw that Mitzie was looking at him agitatedly and trying to speak, but couldn't get her mouth open. He realized her mouth must be taped shut with some transparent, non-reflecting material. Buck noticed and twisted her wrist while thoughtfully watching her face.
Carstairs concluded, "There's not much more to say. You and you and you"-and he stabbed a gun muzzle at Jack, Cookie and Sacheverell -"are staying here with my friend Llewellyn. Dear little Mitz will stay here too that's partly in case you get any funny ideas, clown. The rest of you are coming along with Buck and me on a thrill-packed trip to All Pleasures. According to what Mitz tells us, you all may have useful angles on catching this cat for us. Transportation's out in front."
Juno got up with a sullen shrug. Dion for once was very quiet. Phil found himself wondering whether or not Opperly and Dytie had avoided the hep-thugs.
Mary Akeley took the dolls depicting Moe Brimstine and Dr. Romadka, put them in a big handbag, caught up a bolero jacket, and calmly announced, "Well, I'm ready."