Harry Bent took a last look around, turned off the lights, and stepped outside. He pulled the door shut and rattled the doorknob. Harry had paid a locksmith fifty dollars a week ago, but just this morning he'd come to work to find that the door again hadn't locked last night.
No, it seemed to be shut properly, for what that was worth. Harry carefully inserted his key and locked the door. He tried the knob. Locked. He rattled the door. Locked. He stood there for a moment, staring at the entrance to his livelihood in the light of the dim street lamp in front of his shop. "Harry's Toys," it said in faded gold print on the green painted door. He had a better sign in the window. Perhaps he should get one of those pull-down shutters, like Jeannie got for her flower shop, back when someone had broken in and busted a ten dollar vase. It cost her almost a thousand dollars, that shutter. Harry just couldn't see it. Lose ten dollars and spend a thousand. It made no sense.
He patted the door. "Behave yourself," he mumbled. Then he stuck his hands into his pockets, hunched his shoulders against the evening chill, and ambled homeward.
Inside the store Pixie had jumped out of her box the moment Harry shut the door.
"If you move too soon you'll get caught!" Tom the large stuffed bear grumbled at her, but Pixie was a Kewpie doll with an independent mind and didn't let herself be told anything, especially not by someone male.
"Humph," she scoffed at his worries, turning her face away from him and pouting. Pixie was extraordinarily proud of her pout. It was the best one she'd ever seen. In fact, she was pretty much made with a pout. "It just goes to show," she said to Galumph, the rubber horse.
"What does?" Galumph wanted to know. He was a little hard of hearing, having been made without actual ears, and he kept losing track of conversations.
Pixie wasn't really in the mood to start a long discussion with a rubber horse. "It just does," she repeated, and stalked off. Behind her Tom made a loud "Shhhhh" noise, which was muffled by his stuffing and didn't make much of an impression on anyone. Outside Harry rattled the door one last time, and then the toys watched his silhouette slide past the dusty display window on the front of the store, and when the silhouette went out of sight, several toys let out a careful cheer. Tom made another "Shhhhh!" noise.
On a fancy game table ("ON SALE!! JUST $499.99") a trio of dice rattled around in their leather cup with such force that it tipped over, and the dice spilled out across the table.
"Wheee!" shouted one, balancing on its artfully rounded edges as it rolled to the very end of the table. Just before it was about to fall off, it plumped down on one of its six sides, a single red pip showing on top. "I dare you lot to try that!" he yelled back at his companions, who had watched his dare devil maneuver with horror.
"No way!" - "You're nuts!" they shouted. The one on the left suddenly noticed that he had a piece of lint caught in one of the pips for his number 4 side, rolled onto an edge and jumped up and down a little to try to dislodge it.
While the third die hopped his way back to his companions, the new pair of booted roller skates that Harry had unpacked that evening and placed on the sales counter was acquainting itself with the lay of the land. They were still tied together by their laces, which they discovered after the left skate had tried to go left while the right one tried to go right. After managing to get back onto their wheels, the left one gave a tug on their laces.
"If we go this way first, I bet we'll find some shoe polish," she said to the right one. She knew exactly how to tempt her partner, because the right one immediately scooted around, banging his front bumper painfully into the left one's side.
"Really? Where?" he asked and was already rolling to the left and licking his lace eyes with his tongue. The left one had no choice but to follow. Sometimes, she thought, my plans seem to work far too well.
In the display window a group of four toy soldiers was squaring off against a small tank. It was powered by a wind-up clockwork, and had a spinning wheel making sparks that flew out of its barrel.
"Pow! Pow! You're dead!" it shouted.
One of the soldiers flopped over on his side, but the other three ducked behind a spilled set of alphabet blocks.
"No, you missed us!" the lieutenant of the squad shouted. He was from a Napoleonic Wars set, and the other two G.I. Joe figures were insanely jealous of his bright red uniform. But when he ran out of the display window and across the floor towards the sales counter they followed him, the tank hard on their heels, spitting sparks as it went. The dead soldier sat up after a few moments and looked around.
"Guys?" He had a feeling they'd ditched him. Again.
Tom wasn't too concerned with any of that. Pixie was already sitting astride the door knob and fishing around in the lock with a couple of pins. Her pouty face was bent down over the front of the door knob, and she was bracing herself with her feet against the door.
"We just have to manage to close the door properly," Tom told himself. He looked around. Greg's box was still shut. He went and knocked on it, as loud as his fuzz covered paw could manage.
"Greg, are you up, yet?" he said. He was being reflexively quiet, and when there was no answer, he raised his voice a little. "Greg!"
It seemed he heard some scuffling in the box, but still no Greg. Tom carefully pulled open one of the flaps and peered inside.
"Hey, hey, close that, will you!" Greg shouted. Tom quickly pushed the flap shut again.
"What's going on," Tom asked. "Did they take you apart again?"
"Um, yeah," Greg said, inside his box. "It's a little ... embarrassing."
"Well, we're almost ready. Let me know if you need help," Tom said. Strange, he thought. It's not the first time they took him apart. Why is he suddenly so self conscious about it?
He went over to the small shelf where the large toy cars were on display. Pug was already rolling back and forth experimentally and tipping his yellow painted sand bucket up and down.
"Hold still," Tom told him and climbed into the bucket. Once he'd settled himself he held on with his right paw and tapped Pug on the top of his cab with his left.
"Let's go," he said. Pug yelled "Vroom!" at the top of his voice and zoomed past the game table, around the sales counter.
The three soldiers had taken cover behind the edge of the counter and were pointing their guns around the corner at the approaching tank. Its spring had wound down on the way, and it had to stop to rewind.
"Bang! Bang!" shouted the soldiers.
"Hah!" yelled the little tank. "Without anti-tank weapons you can't even scratch me!"
Pug had to veer out of the way to keep from running into the little tank. His wheels momentarily lost purchase on the smooth wooden floor of Harry's toy store, and he started to spin. But he was a skillful little dump truck, and quickly regained control. When Pug reached the door he screeched to a halt.
"Ee-ee-ee-ee!" he shouted as he spun to a halt. Tom held on, but once Pug stopped he jumped out and clapped a furry paw on Pug's side.
"Wait a second," he said.
"OK," Pug said. He spun his wheels back and forth a moment, and then started slowing driving in a circle.
Tom went over to Greg's box.
"OK, we're all set," he said. "You sure you don't need any help?"
"Nono," came Greg's voice. The flap to his box popped open, smacking into Tom's rounded belly, and Greg came stumbling out, a bit unsteadily.
"Good. As. New," he said, and turned in a circle to let Tom admire him from all sides.
"Good job," Tom told him, but as Greg preceded him to the rendezvous, Tom couldn't shake the feeling as if something was different about Greg. Greg was your typical Mr Potatohead. Tom counted off on his fingers.
"Two eyes. Two ears. A nose. A mouth. Two arms. Two legs. A hat. Hm." Everything seemed to be as it should be. He walked up besides his pal and clapped him on the shoulder. Greg rolled his eyes to look at the soft paw over his arm, then up into his friend's face. He smiled.
"We're almost done," he said. "Today we're getting her out!"
"Damn straight," Tom said. The stitching on his snout didn't really let him smile, but when you looked at him you still got the impression that he was one very happy teddy bear. Greg clapped his hands together once and ran ahead until he stood under the doorknob. There he turned around and raised his arms over his head.
"Everyone," he shouted. The store quieted, all except for the right rollerskate who had fallen over the edge of the counter, and was now dangling by the laces, sobbing "I can't look, I can't look," while the left skate was trying to inch back and pull her partner back up.
"Shh," she hissed. "Greg wants to tell us something."
"We're just about through," Greg said into the quiet store. "Tonight we're bringing her home!"
Above him there was a click, and a moment later Pixie landed on the floor next to him.
"It's unlocked," she said. She stuck the two pins into her hair and pouted around in a circle. "What are you waiting for?"
"Not a thing," Greg said. Grinning he shinnied up the door frame and grasped the doorknob in his powerful hands. It turned, and there was a click. The door moved a fraction of an inch. Greg jumped back down to the ground and together with Tom started to pull the door open. Once there was enough room for Pug to drive out Tom fetched a painted wooden ball-and-string toy from its hiding place behind a shelf. After all four of them were out of the store, Tom pulled the string under the door, leaving the handle of the toy on the inside. Together with Greg he pulled the door until it was almost shut. The toy's handle wedged under the door would keep it from swinging open on its own.
The Moon was full, its light competing with the dim street lamp in front of the toy store. Pixie had hurried to the corner for reconnaissance. She now turned around.
"It's all clear," she called, keeping her voice low.
Tom helped Greg up into Pug's bucket, and the little truck drove to the corner where they picked up Pixie. The three made themselves as comfortable as they could, and Tom tapped Pug on the top of his cab.
"Let's go," he said. Pug started rolling down the sidewalk. Pretty soon he was zipping along at a brisk pace so that the wind was ruffling Tom's fur.
Pixie had no problem with the wind. Her hair was molded into a permanent 'do. She smiled around at Tom and Greg.
"Yup," Greg said. Tom just nodded.
"Ooo!" Pixie suddenly said. She'd noticed Greg's shoes. "Those are so pretty!"
Greg tried to hide his feet under his large hands, but Tom could see he wasn't wearing his usual shoes. These were a bright red and reflected the light of passing street lamps. They had tall skinny heels, too.
"I didn't know you had more than one pair," Tom said.
"Well," Greg kind of mumbled. "They're new," he said.
"Oh," Tom said. That's why Greg seemed different. The heels made him look taller. Tom's feet weren't made for shoes, so he wasn't all that interested. He tried to concentrate on the task before them.
Pug soon rounded the last corner to their destination. Before them rose a green vinyl covered chain link fence. It was broken in one place by a tall gate. Pug rolled along the fence until he reached a small flower bed in front of the fence. There he stopped. Tom and Greg hopped out, followed by Pixie. Tom got a small shovel from behind a privet bush. They had gotten it from the flower shop across the street from Harry's store, in a disaster plagued expedition. They only barely managed to make it out of there without being caught. Now the flower shop had a heavy metal grate over the door. Tom knew it was there because of the vase he had broken when he fell off the shelf with the shovels.
Tom handed the shovel to Greg, who scurried to the hole they had been digging under the fence. He disappeared down the hole, and Tom followed him into the darkness, feeling his way. The hole was a tight fit. Tom followed his friend until their tunnel started climbing again. Tom put his paws on the ground and let Greg step on them. The heels from Greg's shoes dug into his paws, but Tom didn't mind. He lifted his friend to his shoulders. Greg grunted as he dug at the ground above him. Dirt fell down on Tom's head and bounced off his shiny button eyes.
"I can see the sky," Greg whispered all of a sudden. Tom felt him redouble his efforts, and more dirt came showering down. Tom was standing in the loose dirt up to his knees. Then Greg stopped digging.
"We're through," he said. He dropped his shovel and hopped off Tom's shoulders. Together the two stamped down the dirt. Then Greg took a few steps down into the tunnel.
"Pixie, come ahead," he called. A minute later she appeared. Tom and Greg boosted her up, then Greg boosted Tom, and finally climbed out after them.
The garden lay before them. A ways off in the moon light was their goal, a neat red brick house. The back door would be locked, but that's why Pixie was along. The three hurried across the lawn. At the door they stopped to listen. In the distance a couple of dogs where having a night time chat, but in the house everything was quiet. Tom and Greg watched as Pixie climbed up to the door knob and set to work with her pins.
"Do you think she'll be glad to see us?" Greg asked Tom.
Tom gave Greg a sharp look. That was not a question he expected to hear from Greg.
"Are you having second thoughts?" he asked his friend.
"No. At least I don't think so," Greg said. "But every now and then I wonder."
"Of course she'll be glad to see us," Tom told him. "She used to always tell us so, right?"
"Sure," Greg said.
Above them was a click, and Pixie jumped back down.
"Done. It's now up to you guys," she said.
Greg climbed up to the door knob and twisted. The door popped open, and Tom pushed with all his might. The door gave a little, but it wouldn't stay open.
"It's spring loaded," Greg whispered. "Just a moment."
Greg took off running across the lawn. A few minutes later he came running back, holding their shovel in his hands.
"I think this will work if you use it to wedge the door open," Greg said.
"Good idea," Pixie praised him.
"Actually, I kind of learned it from Tom," Greg said. "He had the idea of wedging the toy store's door shut using the ball-and-string toy's handle."
"Whatever," Pixie said. "It was still smart to think of it."
"Thanks," Greg said. Tom figured his friend was feeling embarrassed again. He'd never thought of Greg as the least bit shy.
The door was soon wedged open far enough. Tom and Greg sneaked into the dark hall beyond, followed by Pixie. Moon light fell in through the cracked door and gave them a narrow path to follow that ended at the foot of a stair. Tom boosted Greg up the first step, and Greg pulled him up after.
"We'll be back soon," promised Tom.
"Just be careful," Pixie told them and sat down to wait. Above her she could hear the soft sounds of Tom's fuzz covered bulk moving up the stairs, punctuated by the stealthy clattering of Greg's heels.
Climbing up into the darkness of the sleeping house Tom and Greg didn't talk. In a few minutes Greg was pulling Tom up the last step, and they stood at the end of a short carpeted hall, lit by a small light plugged into an outlet in the far end. Greg pointed.
"I think it's that one," he indicated a shut door.
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure," Greg said. "It's why I said 'I think.'"
Tom was oblivious to the sarcasm.
"Let's get it open, then," he said, stepping up to take the measure of this obstacle. The door had a plain round knob. Well, they'd opened more difficult ones. By his side, Greg began to shimmy up the door frame. Tom was glad Greg was with him on this. There was no way he could have climbed up there with his fuzz covered paws.
Once he reached the height of the knob, Greg gripped the frame with his legs and leaned in. The knob was just out of reach. Greg climbed a little higher, and this time instead of just leaning in he lunged for knob. For a heart stopping moment Tom thought Greg would come crashing down, but then he saw his friend dangling from the knob, his powerful arms boosting him up so he could take the door knob in a solid grip. Leaning towards the frame as far as he could he swung his legs out, got his feet against the door frame, and started to push the knob slowly around.
At the bottom of the door Tom strained to listen for the catch to release. Greg worked silently, and when the click came it seemed to echo through the hall. Tom immediately threw his padded shoulder against the door, just enough to keep the latch from catching again.
Greg, who had been expecting it, still barely managed to avoid losing his hold on the door knob. Once the door stopped moving again he carefully released his hold on the knob and allowed to slide back. Then he looked down to check on Tom. The large teddy bear was lying flat on his back, his paws hooked under the door to keep it from moving. Greg let himself fall into Tom's waiting belly, making sure to curl up his arms and legs so they wouldn't get popped loose by the impact. He bounced once and rolled to a stop.
"Ready?" Tom asked, still lying where he was holding onto the door.
"Sure," Greg said. He joined Tom and together they carefully pushed the door open.
The room was not very large. Moonlight coming through the window shone on toys cluttered everywhere, but none of them moved. Tom and Greg slowly advanced into the room, stepping around a fallen stack of blocks here, and a couple of toy cars lying in a heap there.
"She should be on that shelf," Greg whispered. "But I don't see her." He pointed up. The shelf was the second one above a tall chest of drawers painted fire engine red. It was crowded with books and toys, but there was a conspicuous empty space.
"She must be down here, somewhere," Tom rumbled softly. "But why isn't anyone moving?"
Greg stopped and pointed. In the darkness of the room two disks of pale light had started to glow. Then a growl became audible.
Tom was the first to move. He spun on his heels and raced for the door. Around the corner, down the hall, and he practically fell down the stairs. The growling was coming after him on rapidly clicking feet, down the stairs. At the bottom Tom cast about frantically. Where was Pixie? A moment later he spotted her arm waving at him from behind the open door. Tom accelerated for the gap of night air, the growling so close on his heel he could feel its breath.
Behind him, Pixie pulled at the shovel wedged under the door with all her strength. It popped out, and the door slowly began to swing shut. Outside something had started to bark, loud and excited, but then the door closed on the noise and the wedge of moonlight, and the house was dark and quiet. Pixie dropped the shovel and shrank into a corner. Didn't Greg know about the dog?
Above her a soft noise caught her attention. Something dragged, then plopped down. It sounded almost like Tom climbing down the stairs, but Tom was outside, keeping the dog busy. It had to be Greg and their rescue. In the dark of the house she couldn't tell what Greg was doing, there just wasn't enough moon light filtering into the hallway. After a while, though, Greg had come close enough that she could make out two shapes. Greg pushed a bundle down the stairs, and then hopped down on it. One step at a time.
When the bundle reached the floor, Pixie recognized it for what it was and gasped. When Greg landed on it his high heels made deep gouges in the soft plastic of its body. Its clothes were mostly ripped and torn, and the left arm was almost completely chewed off. As Pixie looked at it in horror, it stirred. It made a moaning sound.
"Oh my stars, what did they do to her?" Pixie gasped.
Greg gazed down at her silently.
"I think we're leaving her," he said. "But Tom needs to see her before we go."
Pixie froze. "Tom!"
"He'll be fine. He knows how to deal with dogs," Greg said. "He might have a hole or two, but we can fix that, no sweat."
"So? How are you going to bring him back in?" Pixie asked him. Their macabre rescue moaned softly. One eye stared at them, fitfully jerking from Greg to Pixie and back. The other eye was missing.
Greg was already climbing the door frame. A few moments later the latch clicked. Greg didn't let himself drop for fear that he might pop loose an arm or a leg. He braced his feet against the frame and pushed. The door slowly opened a crack, and Pixie wedged the shovel in. Greg slid down, and peered out into the moonlight.
"I don't see or hear the dog," he said. "I wonder where Tom went."
He began pushing the door open. Pixie gave him breathers by wedging the shovel in place, and soon the door was open wide enough.
"I'll go find him. Stay here."
"What if the dog comes back?"
"I don't think it's coming back for a while," Greg said. Pixie didn't understand his optimism, but she nodded and shrank back into the corner by the door, trying not to look at the bundle lying on the floor at the foot of the stairs. It had stopped moaning.
Greg was gone a long while. Eventually Pixie could hear his heels clicking in front of the door. The moon light cast his shadow into the hall. He was carrying something large.
"Where is Tom?" Pixie asked before she recognized what Greg was holding in his arms. Apparently Tom's head had gotten separated from his body.
"I'm right here," he rumbled. "What did you want to show me?"
And then he, too, saw their rescue.
Tom couldn't sag or bow his head, but Pixie noticed how something went out of him, nevertheless.
"I guess that's that, then," Tom said. "Do you want to take it back upstairs?"
"No, that's not necessary. They'll find it in the morning," Greg said. Pixie couldn't fathom why he should sound cheerful.
A little while later they were all sitting in Pug's bucket. Pug had been really proud of himself for luring the dog away.
"He won't be back for a long while!" Pug boasted.
Pixie had reattached Tom's head. No one said anything on the way back. When they reached Harry's the waiting toys greeted them with cheers, which fell silent when they saw they didn't bring anyone back with them. Greg helped Tom close the door, and waited with him while Pixie locked it.
"Are you sure it's locked?" Tom asked when she jumped down.
"It's a new lock," she said. "Not fiddly like the old one. I'm sure I managed to lock it properly."
Tom looked at Greg, questioningly. Greg didn't have shoulders, but he moved his arms in a shrug.
"What does it matter now?" he asked. Tom didn't know what to say to that.
While Tom made his way to his place on the shelf, the rest of the toys arranged themselves in their places. Pixie went with Greg to his box.
"I like those shoes," she told him. "But you know, I think a different face would go better with them. Maybe red pouty lips?" Pixie felt pouty lips were prettier than any other kind, for obvious reasons.
"I... I also have some eyes with long lashes," Greg volunteered, looking down and almost toeing the ground with his red high heels.
"Really? Oh, you must let me see. We'll make you fabulous!"