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"WHAT this store needs," thundered Napoleon B. Dribble somewhat hoarsely, "is a new broom, a new leaf, new angles!"
While Napoleon B. Dribble paused to mop his fat head with an imported linen handkerchief, Hugo Hempsted wondered vaguely if this were the thirty-fourth or thirty-fifth time his employer had run the gamut of those phrases during the five-hour conference. But now Mr. Dribble was clearing his throat raggedly and plunging onward.
"We need brains, reorganization, efficiency," Mr. Dribble declared.
Hugo knew that this meant the axe for a hundred or so employees the following day. But he was weary enough to hope that he might be one of them. By now he was keenly regretting his choice to the Employee's Committee of Ten. At first, when word had come to him that he'd been selected to represent the workers in the store at the all-important conference, Hugo had been both frightened and flattered. The choice of the Employee's Committee of Ten had been made by Napoleon B. Dribble, personally. But by now Hugo was fatigued and fed-up.
For he knew why the Great Man had chosen him.
Napoleon B. Dribble was proud of his reputation for man-to-man square dealing with his employees. It was Mr. Dribble's constant assertion that the employees were the backbone of the store. They had a right, he also asserted monotonously, to have a voice in any matters that vitally affected the store. And so when such matters arose—as in tonight's board meeting—Mr. Dribble selected a committee of ten employees to represent their fellows.
And his personal selections from the rank and file—Hugo was now disgustingly aware—invariably resulted in nominating a man like Hugo, and nine similarly spineless saps. The committee of ten employees was not expected to contribute to such conclaves; it was rather permitted to watch silently as the board of directors aired the discussions.
Now, looking at the nine fellow employees who sat with him at the wrong end of the long table, Hugo was aware that his particular committee of ten had filled in admirably all evening, presenting a solid block of awed silence.
Hugo realized that he would not exactly relish the spot of leaping to his feet and arguing with those board of director bigwigs himself. Not that he was a Caspar Milquetoast. No, he wasn't the quailing type of some of the other employees sitting there with him. He was merely a fairly intelligent, not overly ambitious, plain young man who had sense enough to keep his mouth shut when it was expected of him. Napoleon B. Dribble must have been aware of this when he picked Hugo.
But by now he was exceedingly tired, and thinking woefully of the fact that he'd have to be behind his necktie counter in another four hours while the entire board of directors, including Dribble, would be climbing into mauve pajamas and soft beds.
Hugo thought of several rather startling tricks he could pull to bring this thing to a close. But a job being a job, Hugo discarded these ideas and went on listening to Mr. Dribble.
"I have facts and figures," Mr. Dribble rasped like a basso file, "which will show you why our sales have declined." He fished into the inner pocket of his expensively tailored coat.
Hugo thought his head would burst if he had to hear any more facts and figures.
"These figures—" Mr. Dribble repeated, still fishing in his pocket. "These figures" he paused again, face perplexed. "Drat it," he exclaimed, "where in the blazes did I leave those papers?"
Hugo smiled happily. Maybe they would be spared the figures.
The look of consternation on the face of Napoleon B. Dribble melted into one of executive enlightenment.
"Harrrumph," he snorted. "Of course. Back in my desk in the office. That's where I left them." He peered commandingly down at the wrong end of the table where the Employee's Committee of Ten sat looking noncommittal.
"Mr. Hempsted, old chap," Mr. Dribble rasped unexpectedly. He always added the "old chap" stuff when throwing his weight around with an underling. "I wonder if you'd be good enough to hop into a cab and run over to my office in the store to get those papers. They're in the top drawer, and we'll probably be needing them before the session here is finished."
Hugo felt all eyes turning in his direction. He felt himself coloring. What the hell, he told himself, he wasn't a messenger boy. Tell him you're not a messenger boy, Hugo, an inner voice demanded. Get up on your pins and growl back!
He got up on his pins, head lowered in deferential modesty.
"Yes, Mr. Dribble," Hugo heard himself saying, "I'll be glad to." He was already excusing his conscience by telling himself that a free ride in a taxi was not to be sniffed at.
TWENTY minutes later Hugo dismissed the cab driver, and turned to march up to one of the side doors of the vast imposing structure which was Dribble's Department Store.
Hoping that he wouldn't be shot by the night watchman, he clicked around with the lock for a moment, and finally the door opened. Hugo took the precaution of locking the door behind him. Then he turned into the darkness, facing the vast jumble of aisles and show cases that were the main floor of the store.
Involuntarily, Hugo shivered. It was gloomy dark, and the white sheets covering the cases off the deserted aisles added to the generally ghostly impression of the place. Quite a different joint, Hugo realized, from the bustling bee hive of commerce it resembled in the daytime.
Hugo started down the center aisle, moving cautiously for fear of tripping over an unforeseen object. Vaguely, he wondered where in the blazes the night watchman was sleeping.
A tiny icicle of excitement trickled down Hugo's spine, and he smiled half fearfully. This was far more invigorating than the stuffy, overheated, bore-some conference room. His sleepiness was vanishing.
The rigid, unnaturally posed figures of the display manikins stationed approximately one every third aisle added to the eeriness of the place. Now and then Hugo found himself peering up at the bathrobed statue of a young man, or the be-corseted figure of a smiling rigidly posed middle-aged woman. Most of these figures were as familiar to him as his fellow employees, for he was surrounded by the same manikins every day. But they looked different now. Possibly because of the lack of lighting. They seemed, incongruously enough, much more alive by night than by day.
Hugo smiled, feeling pleasantly frightened. He'd really have a tale to pass around his department the following morning. He moved on, passing the moustached manikin posed with a golf club over a golf ball in the sporting goods section. The moustached manikin wore hideous salmon-colored plus fours. Idiotically, Hugo had the impression that he was too intent on the club in his hands and the ball at his feet to look up as Hugo passed.
Again trickles of excitement touched Hugo's spine.
He moved even more slowly, now, for he was passing the Gentleman's Game Room section. He knew from memory that it was cluttered up with portable bars, roulette tables, deep leather arm chairs, and similar sundry accessories. One of the arm chairs, just directly ahead in the gloom, contained the manikin figure of a pink-cheeked, clubbish looking old gentleman dressed in tweeds—his fixed smile advertising the solid comfort afforded by the chair in which he'd been placed.
The smiling, seated, pink-cheeked manikin had always seemed a trifle foolish to Hugo. If people wanted to initiate themselves into the comfort of a chair it seemed damn silly to plunk a plaster-of-paris manikin down in it to prevent customers from trying the thing out.
He shook his head, stepping around the chair and the manikin reposing in same.
And at that instant hell broke loose for Hugo Hempsted; hell in the form of a vast, blinding, electrical explosion that threw Dribble's Department Store into a great orange burst of light and knocked Hugo flat on his face to the floor. And during the endless split-second that followed, Hugo lay there stunned and dazed, while the orange blaze of light readjusted itself to a glow of normal proportions and a hand shook Hugo gently by the shoulder. A voice was ringing in his ears....
"I SAY, old boy," the voice was repeating like a broken gramophone. "I say, old boy," it inquired, "are you all right?" And then Hugo, before he could answer, felt strong hands grab him around the middle and lift him to his feet.
Hugo stood erect, swaying groggily for a moment while he realized through the confusion that the lights of Dribble's Department Store were all burning brightly. Then there was that voice again, filled with polite, anxious concern.
"Are you all right, old boy?"
Hugo turned to face the solicitous voice of his benefactor. He replied automatically as he did so.
"Sure," Hugo said, "I'm all right now. It was just a—" and the sentence froze right there. Hugo's jaws fell slack in wild astonishment. The speaker standing before him was a pink- cheeked, clubbish looking, tweed clad old gentleman—a person distinctly similar in appearance to the manikin who sat in the chair.
Hugo's gaze shot to the chair. The manikin no longer sat in it. His eyes flew wildly around the chair, then back to the person confronting him. There was no doubt about it. The manikin who'd been seated comfortably in the leather chair—the inanimate statue of plaster-of-paris—was now standing before him inquiring about his health!
Hugo Hempsted's mouth flew open, but no words issued. In the back of his throat a startled scream of sheer gibbering terror fought to be heard. But even that was drowned in a gurgle.
"Ugh!" said Hugo Hempsted.
"Indian moccasins are on the third floor," said the manikin courteously. "Beads and feathers on the ninth." He chuckled at his little jest. "I hope you feel all right, old boy," he started politely again.
Hugo's voice had failed him, but his legs didn't. He turned, bolting down the aisle like the proverbial bat out of hell. Hugo ran wildly, sobbingly, blindly, like a crying child. He didn't hear the pink-cheeked manikin's amused chuckling fading behind him. He didn't hear anything, in fact, until he reached the Model Home.
There, darting into its first floor precincts with the instincts of an animal dashing to its lair, Hugo hurtled into the living room of the Model Home, turned and frantically bolted the door behind him. He wheeled, then, and made a terror-stricken dive behind a display sofa in the far corner of the room. And as Hugo hurled himself behind the sofa he suddenly found himself in a tangle of legs and arms and perfume and squeals. The behind- the-sofa refuge, he realized as he scram-bled around in an effort to get to his feet, had been occupied by another person, and that person was a girl!
FOR an instant Hugo forgot the frenzied fright that had driven him here. And for another instant he gazed bewilderedly down on the slim figure of the blonde girl on whom he had so unceremoniously dumped himself. She was climbing to her feet, white-faced and shaken with fright.
"All right," said the blonde girl—and Hugo's memory of the last few minutes deserted him long enough to allow him to realize that she was exceedingly pretty—gazing fearfully at Hugo. "All right, I'll explain everything!"
Hugo opened and closed his mouth, but no words came forth. He was torn by three primal instincts. Curiosity bade him stay there with the girl and find out what this was all about. Fear urged him to get the hell behind the concealing safety of the sofa. Self-preservation demanded that he do likewise. But the girl was very pretty, and Hugo was inordinately curious. Besides, her very presence seemed to make his other fears seem trivial.
"Who are you?" Hugo blurted swiftly, his instinct of self- preservation giving 'way before the urgings of curiosity.
The blonde girl—and the precocious side of Hugo told him that she had the face of a lovely woodland elf—gulped and replied. "My name is Judy Carmody. My father is Michael Carmody. He's the night watchman at the store here."
"Where is he?" Hugo demanded, "I have to find him." He was suddenly pressed by fear again. "There's something strange going on in this store that—"
The girl seemed on the verge of crying.
"That's just it," she broke in. "Daddy was so sick tonight that he couldn't come down to the store. But if he didn't show up, Mr. Dribble would fire him. Mr. Dribble can't stand sickness in his employees. So I took a wild chance and got Daddy's keys and came down to try to work his shift through for him."
Hugo's eyebrows lifted, digesting this information.
"You mean—" he began.
Judy Carmody broke in once more.
"Yes, I've been here since midnight. The other watchman always leaves a little before twelve, and so when I took over the shift there was no one around to notice the difference." Her voice was now definitely shaky. "And it all would have gone through all right, except that this has happened!" Twin tear drops edged her blue eyes.
"This?" Hugo asked. "What do you mean, this?"
"The noise. I heard a noise. Obviously you made it," the girl said. "But it frightened me so I ran to the central alarm box and switches. I wanted to pull the police alarm, but I guess all I did was turn the lights of the store on instead."
Hugo remembered the stunning blast of electricity that had signaled the lighting up of the store.
"You certainly did," he said reflectively.
And then his recollection of the incident that followed the lighting of the store returned to him. Cold sweat broke out on his brow, and he clapped his hand to his mouth.
"My God," he muttered strickenly, "I'd forgotten the damned manikin!" As he spoke he shot a glance over his shoulder. The door to the living room of the Model Home was still securely locked as he had left it. No one seemed to be breaking it down at the moment.
Judy Carmody was looking at him as if he were a trifle mad.
"What's wrong?" she inquired. Hugo's fright seemed to calm her down a great deal.
Hugo looked at Judy.
"I don't know if I should tell you. You'll think me mad," he hesitated.
Judy Carmody's gaze became cool and commanding.
"Tell me," she ordered. "I've cried on your shoulder, now you use mine. Incidentally," she concluded, "who are you?"
"I'm Hugo Hempsted. But that is neither here nor there," Hugo said hurriedly. "The point is this." His tone lowered to a stage whisper. "There is something strange going on in the store!"
AND then Hugo breathlessly recounted what had happened to him after the lights went on. Being a thorough young man, Hugo had included a mention of his mission in the store, plus an explanation of the board meeting, and finally, a lurid description of the manikin who accosted him. Judy heard this out. Then she stepped very close to him until her face was a scant three inches from his own.
"Breathe," commanded Judy Carmody. Hugo breathed. She stepped back, shaking her head. "No, you haven't been drinking," she decided. Her eyes appraised him curiously. Then she said, "You won't tell a soul about my filling in in Daddy's place, will you?"
Hugo swore to everlasting secrecy.
Then Judy said,
"Well then, Daddy's not out of his job yet, and if you'll help me turn those lights off again, I'll go down with you to investigate the walking manikin you saw. It's as much to my advantage to know about any strange doings in this store as it is to you."
For just an instant Hugo eyed the safety and concealment of the place behind the sofa a bit wistfully. Then, with the girl beside him to stiffen his backbone, he made a brave effort at a jaunty smile.
"Very well," he said. "Let's find that light switch, then we'll look into my optical illusion about the manikin."
He stepped over to the door which he'd locked minutes before, and opened the latch with a slight flourish of bravado.
"Well," said Judy Carmody, "open the door."
Hugo opened the door. A welter of sound poured in on them from the aisles of Dribble's Department Store. Sound that could only be voices raised in excitement and laughter. Many, many voices.
Judy Carmody was at Hugo's shoulder, and together they both stared out into the now life-packed aisles of the store. Dribble's Department Store was swarming with very much alive male and female manikins!
A slight screech caught in Hugo's throat, and he made a wild effort to slam the door shut again. But Judy Carmody had her hand on his arm, preventing retreat.
"That's not going to do us any good," she said. Her voice, though shocked and stunned, was under excellent control. Hugo looked wildly down at the girl and found reassurance in her eyes.
"But it was right," Hugo almost screamed. "The damned manikin wasn't any hallucination. Now all the manikins are alive!"
"They certainly don't look dangerous," Judy Carmody observed, still dumbfounded, but striving desperately to be matter-of- fact.
Hugo considered this.
"But they just can't be alive!" His face was sickly white and he gasped for breath like a beached salmon.
"Look for yourself," Judy said pointedly. "Then stop denying it. My grandfather," she observed reminiscently, "used to believe in leprechauns. A smart man, my grandfather."
"But clothing dummies aren't leprechauns!" Hugo almost screeched.
"No," the girl agreed. "But these are certainly live dummies."
OVER the babble of voices there was a sudden tremendous crash. Hugo looking wildly in the direction of the noise, saw the figure of the golfer in the sporting goods sections. The one with the salmon-colored plus fours who held a driver in his hands and bent over a golf ball.
Evidently, the golfer had just come to life. For he'd belted the ball before him with beautiful fairway form, and the white pellet had whistled upward—smashing the gigantic many- faceted chandelier which hung in the center of the main floor of the store.
That, Hugo saw, had been the reason behind the tremendous crash. And now the golfer was stepping down from his roost and joining the happy throngs of manikins parading around the aisles.
"Ohhhhh," Hugo moaned. "This is terrible. This is horrible. Mr. Dribble will put me in the penitentiary when he sees this!"
"Get a grip on yourself," Judy Carmody told him sharply. "I'm just as much in a spot over this as you are. If we can't straighten this thing out, then I'll go to prison also, and Daddy'll lose his job."
Hugo felt suddenly ashamed of himself. The calm of the girl had steadied him. And now his jaw set resolutely.
"You're right," he agreed. "It won't do us any good to argue the why and wherefore of this utter impossibility. It's happened, and that's all there is to it. Now we'll have to settle this mess, somehow."
"That's better," Judy Carmody said. She still had her hand on his arm. "Come on, let's dig into the job of cleaning this up!"
They started forward. Evidently the awakening of the clothing dummies throughout the store was taking place gradually, for even as Hugo's eyes flew wildly around the scene, he could see other manikins moving down from the perches they'd occupied for advertising purposes.
SUDDEN flurry of motion from the huge display perch in the Women's Sportswear section caused Hugo's eyes to pop out. The most celebrated of women's displays was the scene depicted by the red-coated, derbied woman—a manikin of course—who sat sartorially clad for hunting astride a huge stuffed white horse. At the feet of the horse—adding splendid realism—had been placed two dogs. And as a final touch to the tableau, a stuffed fox had been placed some three yards ahead of huntress, horse, and dogs.
And now, Hugo knew from the terrible neighing and sudden barking, the entire dummied scene was coming alive. The huntress, astride her stirring mount, looked around and hollered.
"Haloooooo," cried the huntress, "tallyhoooooo!"
The dogs gave final yips, then, as if shot from guns, leaped out after the fox. The fox, frightened and keeping quite in the bounds of his role, looked once over his shoulder and lit out in flight. The huntress and her horse, leaping thunderously down from the big display perch, gave chase.
"Oh Lord," Hugo groaned despairingly, as the whole mad pursuit swept cyclonically through the aisles. "Oh Lord!" The huntress was making a splendid job of taking the show cases as hurdles. They all disappeared around a far turn at the end of the main aisles. But the cry of the huntress still came faintly to them.
Hugo and Judy were moving through the aisles now, passing painted mouthed clothing dummies on every side. The dummies smiled and nodded, and went on about their conversation with other manikins.
"How will we get to the bottom of this?" Hugo cried. "Where on earth do we begin?"
Suddenly Hugo blushed furiously as a voluptuous young female manikin clad only in a girdle hipped smilingly past. Another glance showed Hugo that the manikin he'd first seen in the Gentleman's Game Room section—the pink cheeked, tweed clad, middle-aged chap—was following close on the heels of the voluptuous young wench, his round red features wreathed in a devil-may-care smile.
"Some bunch," Judy observed as she saw the deep flush grow more solidly over Hugo's cheeks.
Then Hugo saw something that made him grow weak inside. A dapper, moustached male manikin—Hugo knew him to be from a display in the neckwear section—had taken his place behind a jewelry counter and was serving a clamoring mass of pulchritudinous female dummies.
"Good heavens!" Hugo gurgled, grabbing Judy by the arm. "That fellow's handing out a stock of the store's most expensive jewels!"
Half dragging Judy, he dashed over to the counter. Angrily, he confronted the moustached manikin from the neckwear section.
"Here!" Hugo cried. "Here, stop that at once, you fool!"
The dapper, moustached manikin turned and smiled.
"Hello, Hugo," he said. "What brings you here at this hour of the morning?"
HUGO was somewhat taken aback that the dummy should know his name. But then he realized that the animated creature was from the same section in which he worked, and had probably stood on his perch for months hearing Hugo's name used.
"Stop it," Hugo repeated. "Stop it this instant!"
"Go away," the moustached young clothing dummy said pleasantly. "I'm getting a name for myself."
"You're giving away store property," Hugo stormed. "That's the same as stealing." His sense of justice was so outraged that he totally forgot the fact that he was addressing anyone but an ordinary mortal such as himself.
"Take it out of the back wages that old Dribble owes me," the moustached manikin said cheerfully.
"Back wages?" Hugo screamed. "Back wages? Why, you aren't even an employee here. You're just a manikin, a display dummy. You aren't even human."
"That's what all you people think," the dummy countered, flashing his handsome smile. "Humans have no consideration for anyone but themselves. No, go away and don't bother me!" He winked at a brunette.
"All these people, running around creating havoc. How long do you think this can go on?" Hugo demanded.
"As long as we like it to," the moustached manikin countered. "Now go find a corner and lie down." He held out an expensive diamond bracelet to the brunette dummy. "Try this for size, darling," he said leeringly. "They should never have put you to modeling aprons. From now on your place will be here, wearing some of this lovely ice."
Hugo started to say something else, but Judy grabbed his arm.
"Come on," she told him, "you won't get any sense out of that plaster-of-paris wolf."
"But Judy," Hugo protested, unconsciously using her first name, "we have to do something about this!"
"But there's nothing that can be done here," the girl answered. "We'll have to look further on. Maybe we'll get some ideas."
"I've got too many ideas already," Hugo began despairingly. "Ideas about what old Dribble will say when he fi—"
The manikins at the counter, Hugo, Judy, and the moustached dummy from the neckwear section all looked up at once. A small brown fox flew over a counter, through their midst, and high- tailed on.
Dogs barked, and in an instant were leaping up over the manikins at the diamond counter and onward in pursuit of the fox. By now all had sensibly dropped flat on the floor. And just in time, for the huntress, astride her white horse, just cleared the counter on the opposite side of the aisle. And now, with a second gigantic leap, her mount soared over the diamond counter, hooves whistling past Hugo's bent head. A moment later and huntress and mount had disappeared after the fox and dogs.
The group around the diamond counter picked itself up from the floor. Hugo, holding fast to Judy's arm, bent his head close to the sweet scent of her blonde hair and asked,
"Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Hugo." It was the first time she'd used his name, "Let's get away from here, though. We're not getting anywhere, and time is wasting."
AT her last sentence, Hugo glanced hastily at his watch. It was six-thirty. In another two hours the store would be opening. And in another two hours Napoleon B. Dribble would be in charge of a special brigade of police whose one task would be to put Hugo Hempsted into a prison cell for the rest of his life—if something weren't done about this situation pretty quickly.
But a quick glance at Judy Carmody gave Hugo a swift, strangely unexpected sort of courage. And for a fleeting instant he wondered what it was about the girl that made him feel everything would work out for the best so long as she was by his side.
"You're right," Hugo said. "We've got to get around and size this situation up. If we find out how it ticks and why, we'll be much closer to stopping the clock on this madness." He piloted Judy along by the arm.
Hugo was doing some thinking. Just about the fastest thinking he had ever been called on to do in his life. It occurred to him that even though he'd fail to bring Napoleon B. Dribble's papers back to the board meeting, his absence wouldn't be noticed. Mr. Dribble really didn't need the papers anyway. His sending a messenger to get them—a messenger in the form of one of his employees—was more than likely just a gesture to show authority and a mystical importance.
Now that that problem was off his mind, Hugo felt a little bit better. Whether he cleaned up this mess before the store opened or not, he would at least have approximately two hours in which to go about the job undisturbed. And as for interference and possible detection from anyone other than Mr. Dribble, Hugo felt no fear. As long as the manikins stayed within the reservation—so to speak—the fact that the store lights blazed merrily would not attract any undue outside attention. For after all, many such large establishments held all night inventory checkings. Observers outside the store would more than likely think that Dribble & Company was holding an all- night inventory.
Hugo, feeling better than he'd felt since his discovery of the pink-cheeked manikin in the arm chair, looked protectively down at Judy.
"Don't worry, Judy," he said. "We've got two hours time. A lot can happen in two hours. Your Daddy's job is as safe as gold. We'll clean everything up."
The girl slipped her hand into his for an instant. Hugo could recall other girls having acted similarly. But he couldn't remember any so pretty as Judy. He felt a new flood of self- confidence.
"I won't worry, Hugo," Judy told him. "We'll figure this out."
THE appraisal of the situation took longer than Hugo and Judy had at first imagined it would. As a matter of fact, it wasted half an hour of their precious one hundred and twenty minutes. And worse than that, it left them filled with fear and frustration, and a realization of the futility of the task that confronted them.
Dribble's Department Store was a tornado of madness. In the Model Home—which they had just left fifteen minutes before—a wild party had now started. Manikins pranced and cavorted to the music furnished from the Radio and Phonograph sections, and their giddy whirlwind of excitement was stirred to a pitch closer and closer to frenzy thanks to constant raids of the Liquor section.
On the Ski Slide, the prize exhibit of the tenth floor, Hugo and Judy had been shocked, then terrified, as the manikin—dressed out for a winter at Sun Valley—suddenly came to life and whipped wildly down the great slide, out over the rows of counters, and finally saved pseudo-life and plaster-of-paris limbs by a fortunate landing atop the canvas netting of a big tent in the Camping section.
And then there was the especially voluptuous wench in the Men's Apparel section. She was clad in the very briefest of scanties—Hugo knew her to be a refugee from the Lingerie section—and she insisted on stretching her more than lovely self atop a woodsy campfire display.
"I'd much rather be here," she'd giggled at Hugo's protests, "than back in the stuffy old Ladies Lingerie section. Down there I'm just a pair of pants and a brassiere. But up here in the Men's Apparel, Wow!" She punctuated the idea she was conveying with a wink at Hugo. Judy led Hugo quickly out of there.
And as their frantic tour continued, everything grew steadily worse. Several plaster-of-paris legs were caught in the escalator, and the owners of said appendages had halted the moving stairs until they could regain the various parts of their bodies. There was much loud and drunken quarreling over this, since the wrong limbs went to the wrong people. One old dowager type manikin from the Stoutish Matron's section, for example, walked off with a trim pair of limbs belonging to a young cutie who dummied in the Debutante section.
Before Hugo could carry out his impulse to settle the dispute, Judy took his arm once more and steered him away from the escalators. But by this time the formerly cheerful let's-dig-in expression which Hugo had worn was now melted to one of growing despair.
And so it went though the rest of the inspection. A sleek, handsome young manikin—clad in a snappy pair of bathing trunks—was found loitering conspicuously around the Debutante section, seeking a perch on which to pose. Hugo and Judy didn't stop to ask him, but his reasons for trading the boredom of the Sports section were probably similar to those of the young voluptuous dummy who'd fled the Ladies' Lingerie for the Men's Apparel section. Hugo contented himself with shaking his head in anguished disapproval at this.
FINALLY, in a secluded section of the main floor stock room, Hugo and Judy faced each other to discuss the situation.
"I'm all for getting out of here, Judy," Hugo declared in bitter anguish. "We haven't a chance in the world to restore things to what they once were. Good Lord, there's only an hour and a half left. Then everybody'll be coming into the store, including Dribble himself, and we'll be—"
"I know," Judy cut in. "It looks pretty grim. But we won't lose anything by trying the scheme I have in mind."
"Scheme?" Hugo bleated the word hopefully. "What scheme?"
"Using law and order to bring them to our way of thinking," the girl said excitedly. "It should be worth a chance, anyway."
"Law and order?" Hugo was now completely baffled. "But we can't call in the police. Why they'd throw us both in the peni—"
"Not the real police," Judy cut him short. "Dummy police. Manikin police. They'd have much more effect controlling manikins than a human police force would have."
Hugo was still bewildered.
"That's all very nice," he said, puzzled. "Very nice. But where are we to get hold of a Manikin police force?"
"That's up to you," Judy said.
"Up to me?" Hugo pointed a finger at his chest to emphasize his protestation. "Why up to me? I cou—"
"You can try to recall," Judy declared, "on just what floor your store has that exhibit with the big sign saying 'Stop! Have You Forgotten Anything?'."
Hugo's eyebrows showed that a light was dawning.
"I know the one you mean," he said excitedly. "There's a dummy figure of a policeman with his hand upraised and a whistle in his mouth, right under the 'Stop!' sign!"
"That's the one," Judy exclaimed. "I remembered seeing it, but I wasn't certain that it was in Dribble's!"
"That's on the tenth floor," Hugo said. "It's up in the Tire and Auto Accessories section. Come on!" He grabbed her hand and dashed toward an elevator.
On the tenth floor Hugo brought the elevator to a smooth stop and opened the doors.
"I started in Dribble's running one of these things," he remarked. "I didn't realize it then, but it was a better job than the one I have now."
They were moving down the aisles along the tenth floor. There were no manikins cluttering up this floor, however, inasmuch as the only excuse Napoleon B. Dribble could find for inserting one into the auto accessories section was in the "Stop!" sign display.
Hugo spied a blue uniform wandering aimlessly about the counters at the far end.
"There he is," Hugo shouted. "The cop manikin. We're in luck!"
"And don't think we can't use a little luck right now," Judy declared.
But Hugo was running ahead, toward the figure of the cop manikin.
"Hey!" he shouted. "Hey there, Officer!" The ridiculousness of addressing a dummy so respectfully didn't occur to him at the moment.
"Hey!" Judy was shouting now, too. "Hey, Mister policeman!"
THE blue uniformed figure stopped. Then it turned to face Hugo and Judy who were now less than five yards away.
"Sure now," said the cop manikin—and Hugo had time to observe that his appearance was so cleverly modeled that he looked more genuine than a real policeman—"Sure now, would you people be reporting a crime to me?" There was wistful, somewhat eager, hope in his voice.
"We're reporting some rioting, a whole store full of it," Judy said breathlessly.
The manikin policeman seemed infinitely pleased.
"Now," he smiled, "that's fine. That's splendid. And where is this rioting?"
"Here," Hugo broke in. "Right here in Dribble's Department Store."
The manikin cop lifted his nightstick tentatively.
"Wonderful," he said eagerly. "Then I'll be able to use this. After all those years." He brandished the nightstick menacingly now. "You've no idea," he said, suddenly off on a tangent, "how terrible it's been just standing up there on me perch, holding this club, never being able to take a whack at anyone with it."
Hugo looked at the thick nightstick and paled slightly.
"So long as you don't use it too enthusiastically," he said, "we won't mind."
The dummy policeman smiled. He had fat red cheeks and bushy black eyebrows.
"Now tell me where them thrubble makers is," he said, "and I'll—I'll attind to the rioting. Probably communists."
"Just a minute," Judy broke in. "We've more to tell you about it, too. We don't want them merely stopped We want them brought together for a sort of, ah, well, night court. Here's what I mean." And then, rapidly, she outlined her plans while the manikin cop bent a professionally attentive ear.
Hugo stood there listening, and marveling....
IT was half an hour later, or, precisely, one hour before the store was due to open, that Hugo, Judy, and the manikin cop stood atop the central counters in the main aisle of the Dribble Department Store and gazed down at the sheepishly assembled crowd of some hundred and eighty manikins.
The manikin cop's work had been stupendous, and effective. By an uncompromising use of his club and his vocal muscles he had combed the store from top to bottom, routing his rioting fellow- dummies and herding them sternly down to this impromptu night court.
There was a great deal of surly muttering, and numerous growling protests from the group, but the fact remained that they had all been quailed by brusquely administered authority.
Where they would have blandly disregarded the minions of J. Edgar Hoover, or even the notorious O.G.P.U., the manikins were as docile sheep before the commands of law enforcement issuing from one of their own kind. Judy's idea had been a corker.
The manikin cop was obviously pleased with his work.
"There they are, Miss," he said to Judy, "ready and waiting fer any words you might have to say to them. And if any of them so much as act up even a little, I'll give 'em this!" He indicated his nightstick.
Judy smiled sweetly at him, while Hugo felt a swift ridiculous surge of jealousy toward the manikin cop. She shook her long blond hair back from her shoulders.
"Rap with your nightstick for attention, Mr. Policeman," Judy commanded.
The manikin cop pounded so hard on a counter top that it almost splintered under the force of the blows. But it had its effect, for immediately the mutterings ceased.
"Now then," Judy suddenly nudged Hugo in the ribs with her very lovely elbow, "step out and give 'em the devil, Hugo."
Hugo was startled. He had been more or less expecting Judy to carry her own idea through with her own action. The resolute calm and confident determination of the girl had caused him subconsciously to lean on her for strength and support during the last hour. Now she was turning the mess over to him, smilingly, and with great expectations.
Hugo reddened. To use a bromide, he was quite unacquainted with the art of public speaking—especially before a surly crowd of department store dummies. He cleared his throat.
"Fellow dumm—" he began, then suddenly felt like biting his tongue off. Behind him, he heard Judy titter. He started afresh. "Manikins of Dribble's Department Store," he said.
"Louder," shouted a rude dummy in the back.
Hugo's face was now the color of a lobster.
"We've brought you all here," he continued uncomfortably, "to see if there isn't something we can do to get you back to where you belong. That is, I mean—" he was floundering miserably now.
"Not that way," Judy hissed behind him. "Be firm. Don't ask. Demand. Push 'em around!"
Hugo cleared his throat again.
"Look here," he suddenly blurted savagely. "This can't go on. We've got to have an end to it, here and now!" He swung his right arm high to emphasize his statement.
"Bravo!" Judy hissed. "That's the stuff!"
Encouraged, Hugo barged on.
"Who do you think you are?" he demanded. "What sort of nonsense do you think we'll tolerate around this store?"
"Whom," the heckling manikin in the back shouted, "do we think we are? If you can't use correct English, get down off of there."
HUGO spotted the heckler as a manikin from the Books section. The red-faced old dummy that had always been on exhibit before a phony fireplace, curled up in a sofa with a book. "Shut up back there!" Judy shouted.
She turned to the manikin cop. "Go down there and hit him on the head," she demanded. The cop obligingly leaped down from the platform and started back around to the rear of the crowd. "Go ahead," Judy urged Hugo, "don't let them heckle you."
Hugo was doing some fast thinking. He was thinking of the board meeting which he'd deserted a few hours back. He was thinking of the Employee's Committee of Ten of whose ranks he had been a member. He was thinking of the huge slash contemplated throughout the employees of the store by Napoleon B. Dribble and the board. He was remembering the injustice of it all. And suddenly he found his sympathy momentarily with the manikins assembled before him. They, too, in a sense, were employees of Napoleon B. Dribble. They, too, were persecuted.
"Listen," Hugo suddenly shouted. "You will all have a decent, open, honest-to-goodness chance to state the reasons for your conduct. We'll give any and all complaints a fair hearing. It's only just, and we'll be just with you. So if you'll try to keep some semblance of order, we'll lend an ear to your troubles—providing," and here Hugo gave them all a beady brook-no-non-sense stare, "providing they are really troubles."
The audience broke into instantly enthusiastic applause. The manikin cop, having just climbed back on the counters beside Hugo and Judy, seemed displeased with this last.
"Sure and that will be no sport," he said plaintively.
Hugo turned to him.
"You'll have a chance to voice your complaint, too," he reminded the dummy policeman. "As a matter of fact," he grew suddenly magnanimous, "you can be the first to air your squawks."
Judy was busy, at the same time, silencing the applause and cheering. Now Hugo grabbed the manikin cop by the arm and drew him to the front.
"Dummies of Dribble's Department Store," Hugo announced, "we have here the first of your ranks to offer an airing of his ill- treatment, real or fancied, by the management of our store."
The cop cleared his throat somewhat despondently. Clearly, he wasn't any too wild about leaving his position of authority to become the equivalent of a fellow-striker with the other manikins. However, the momentary spotlight in which the dummy policeman now found himself was compensation enough to permit him to continue.
"MY kick," the cop began, slicing neatly to the nub of his troubles, "is about this nightstick. I've been holding it in my mitt for better than a year. And that sign above me says 'Stop!' Well," he paused pregnantly, "I don't get no chance for to use my stick on no one, and no one never stops like the sign says they should. It is vastly irritatin', that's what it is."
Hugo considered this thoughtfully, then turned to Judy for consultation.
"What do you think?" he asked.
Judy pursed her lovely lips and looked thoughtful.
"I don't know exactly what he has to complain about," she declared. "He doesn't have to pound a beat like most policemen. His uniform is kept in order for him, free-of-charge. He's even given a bath every month. Besides, his one complaint seems to be that he doesn't get a chance to hit people with his club. He can't reasonably expect to be allowed to do that."
"You're right." He turned to the manikin cop. "I don't think you've got any fair claim for damages," he declared.
"But what about me bath?" the cop protested indignantly, seizing at a last straw.
"Your bath?" Hugo frowned. "Do you want more than one a month?"
The manikin representative of law and order paled.
"Sure and good heavens no," he wheezed. "Less is what I'm wanting."
Hugo looked at him like a teacher at a disappointing child.
"I am afraid we'll have to dismiss your case," he said.
Dispiritedly, the cop climbed down from the platform and moved back into the crowd of fellow dummies. Hugo looked over the upturned painted faces seeking the next complainant.
"I have a squawk," a voice bellowed, and Hugo saw a fat, red- faced manikin waving a pudgy arm for attention. The dummy was clad in a dressing robe, slippers, and possessed—along with his paunch—-a gray moustache of great dignity. Hugo beckoned him up.
"My plight," began the fat red-faced chap in the dressing robe immediately upon climbing to the counter top, "is one of the worst in the store." Hugo suddenly caught a whiff of very strong whisky permeating the ozone. It came from the speaker.
The paunched fellow in the gray moustache explained.
"I am in window thirty," he declared. "That's the one with the exhibit of the gentlemen grouped around the fireplace in what is intended to represent a country lodge. I'm the one on the left, holding the decanter of whisky right above a glass in my left hand. I'm looking down at the decanter and glass expectantly, but of course nothing is pouring." He paused, and stepped back a trifle unsteadily.
"Well?" said Hugo. "Go on with it."
"That's it," repeated the paunched dressing robed old gent. "Nothing pours. Not a drop. I have to have twenty-four hours of that sort of torture every day."
"I don't follow you," he said.
"He means he's thirsty," Judy broke in, "constantly, from just looking at that glass and decanter all day long."
The dummy in the dressing robe nodded eagerly.
"That's it," he agreed.
"But you can't reasonably expect to drink during working hours," Hugo protested, somewhat shocked.
"Mr. Dribble does," countered the dummy. "So why shouldn't I?"
"But he's the head of the store, the president. He's entitled to do so if he wishes," Hugo answered impatiently.
"But I should at least be entitled to a snort when the day's work is done, say about ten-thirty in the evening," protested the old manikin gentleman. "That's not going to interfere with business. You try enduring the mental torment I go through day after day, watching an empty glass and an empty bottle in that hot uncomfortable window. You try it and see how you like it!"
Hugo looked at Judy. He was undecided.
"There's a lot of justice in his case," Judy observed.
Hugo nodded judicially.
"There seems to be."
The dressing-robed old gentleman was looking wistfully at Hugo and Judy now. Tears were beginning to rim his red eyes. He started to snivel in his gray moustache while crocodile drops began to trickle down his red cheeks.
"Here, here," Hugo blurted in embarrassment. "There's no reason to carry on. I'll take your case up with Mr. Dribble. I'm sure he'll see his way clear to letting you have a quart a week—off of working hours, of course."
The dressing-robed gentleman's paunch drew in with pleasure and new elan.
"Splendid," he cried. "Excellent. That's all I wanted to know!"
Hugo smiled as the ex-striker clambered down from the counter. Judy watched him leave, her expression a little more dubious than Hugo's.
"Next!" Hugo cried, and immediately saw a red-headed young manikin—male—pushing through the crowds up to the counter. He had a huge sheet clutched about his body, giving him the appearance of a Roman senator.
"I'm Mr. Preshrunk Snuggles," he announced with red-faced embarrassment.
"Well," Hugo stammered, a little taken aback. "What can I—"
But young Mr. Preshrunk Snuggies was immediately swinging into his plea.
"I'm in the Men's Wear window, number seventeen," Mr. Preshrunk Snuggies declared, "and you have no idea of what's under this sheet."
"Please," Hugo broke in rapidly, "please. Mr. Preshrunk Snuggies, we aren't particularly interested in biology at the moment. If you'll be so kind as to state your ca—"
But Mr. Preshrunk Snuggies was stammering heedlessly on.
"I'm a modest young man, exceptionally modest, in fact. For the past six months they've had me standing by a bed—right off the street where everyone can see—dressed in the most embarrassing costume I've ever modeled. They let me wear nothing but a pair of—" and here the young man hesitated in crimson shame, "nothing but a pair of preshrunk snuggies!"
And with that, the young manikin hysterically threw wide his sheet for a trembling instant to display a purple pair of short form-fitting underdrawers. Then he snapped the sheet around him once more, his expression now one of anguished mortification.
"You see?" wailed young Mr. Preshrunk Snuggies. "You see?"
"I see perfectly," Hugo broke in hastily. "And I agree with you that it must be embarrassing. Especially to one of your modesty." Hugo turned to consult Judy, who was giggling quite impolitely.
"What do you think?" he asked her.
"Wow!" said Judy irreverently.
"That," said Hugo icily, "is beside the question. What can we do for Mr. Preshrunk Snuggies?"
"Nothing," Judy giggled in reply, "that Nature already hasn't done."
"Will you be serious?" Hugo demanded indignantly.
Judy controlled her giggling somewhat.
"You might see to it that he's switched to modeling overcoats on the ninth floor," she suggested, "although I think it would be a shame if he were."
Hugo glared at her and swung back to young Mr. Preshrunk Snuggies.
"That is a good suggestion," he said, "we'll have you transferred to the overcoat displays."
"Oh, thank you! Thank you!" babbled the young manikin, clutching his sheet frantically around him and clambering off the showcase.
Hugo turned back to Judy.
"You see," he said triumphantly. "We'll clear up each case one by one, and I'm certain that all the dummies will be back at work before the store opens."
"And that's in forty-five minutes from now," Judy reminded him, looking at her watch.
Then, as he turned back to the crowd of manikins, Hugo noticed with sudden horror that a tumult had started in the rear of their ranks. Manikins, male and female, were scattering in all directions in ever increasing numbers. And through this melee of confusion, Hugo saw a blue coated figure swinging a nightstick. The dummy cop!
"Break it up!"
The ringing command was coming from the manikin policeman. And he was swinging his club in wide, sweeping arcs. Manikins continued to scatter and flee.
"Break it up, yez! Break it up! No loitering. Get along with yez!"
And suddenly it was horribly clear to Hugo what was happening. The manikin copper, displeased at losing his moments of glory, and further angered by having his own pleas rejected, was now undoing all that he had accomplished. Undoing it all by the simple expedient of acting like a cossack in a May Day parade. Already, from the sections to which the first dispersed manikins had fled, Hugo could hear cries of amusement and the resumption of the previous hubbub.
Judy grabbed Hugo by the arm.
"Oww," she moaned. "We've lost our audience. Now we'll never get them back!"
Crushed and stricken, his victory crumbling before his very eyes, Hugo nodded sickly as he watched the manikin cop swing into the very foremost of the assembly, sending the last members of the manikin gathering off in every direction. The store was once more a madhouse!
And to cap the crushing climax—Hugo suddenly heard a "yip" behind him. In the next instant a small brown ball of fur whistled over the counter and away into the aisles. A fox!
Dogs scrambled over Hugo and Judy, leaping down into the aisles barking madly after the fox. Hoofbeats drummed along the aisles.
Hugo and Judy dropped flat along the top of the showcase just as a great white form soared over them.
From his position on the showcase, Hugo saw the red-jacketed back of the huntress astride the great white horse thundering off down the aisle after the dogs. He buried his head in his arms and groaned.
JUDY was shaking Hugo roughly by the shoulder a few moments later. "Come on," she said. "Stop moaning. It's not getting us anywhere at all."
Hugo lifted his head from his arms. "We're licked," he said dully. He put his head back in his arms.
Judy pounded him again. When Hugo looked up, her blue eyes were flashing angrily.
"This is no time to quit," she snapped.
Hugo sat up.
"But there's nothing left for us to do," he said. He was the picture of dejection.
"Don't be a sap," Judy answered. "We've both been saps too long. I have another idea. But a good one this time."
This didn't do much to spur Hugo. He still looked glum.
"I should have thought of it in the first place," Judy said quickly. "The lights of the store. They were the cause—unless I'm a niece to the Sea Hag—of the dummies coming to life in the first place." She paused for breath. "Did you happen to think what turning the lights off again might do?"
Hugo considered this.
"No. What would happen?"
"It's just possible that—since the lights, or the fuse blow, or whatever it was—coincided with the coming to life of the dummies, fixing the fuse, or turning off the lights, or something like that might freeze the dummies back into their original states."
Hugo sat up.
"Where are those light boxes?" he demanded.
Judy slid off the counter to her feet.
"Right near the Model Home, where you first ran into me," she said.
Hugo leaped down beside her.
IT was five minutes later when Hugo and Judy had pushed their way through the reborn melee of madcap manikins that they arrived at the central lighting boxes of the store. The main switches were some twenty yards to the side of the model home sections, back in an old stock room alcove.
"I'm not any electrician—" Hugo began dubiously as he opened the big fuse and switch box.
"This," said Judy, "is no time to begin worrying about a union card. Get to work."
With more haste than efficiency, Hugo examined the complicated entrails of the big fuse and switch box. The tangled mass of intertwining wires was slightly terrifying to Hugo, since he was the type to be thrown into confusion at the mere sight of a lamp cord. Not the least bit mechanical, or electrical, that was Hugo.
However, for another tense five minutes, while sweat poured down his forehead and trickled down his spine, Hugo fussed with the workings of the switches and fuses. Finally he stood back and looked despairingly at Judy. "I still don't feel that I can safely mess with these," he groaned. "I might kill us both."
"I'm willing to take the chance," Judy said grimly, "I don't see why you aren't."
Hugo swallowed hard.
"All right," he said. "But if I kill us both, don't come around saying I-told-you-so."
"In that event," decided Judy, "I wouldn't be likely to come around saying anything." Her tone was still slightly scornful.
Suddenly Hugo crimsoned.
"Oh, damn it, Judy. I'm not afraid for myself. I don't want anything to happen to you. I, ah, that is, I'm—" he looked at her with an expression that filled in his vocal lapse.
Judy put her hand in his.
"I'm sorry, Hugo. I didn't mean to be snappish. I know what you meant, and, ah, that is, I feel pretty much the same where you're concern—"
It was typical of Hugo Hempsted that love should come to him at a moment like this. He broke in, half-miserable, half wild with joy:
For a moment they didn't care if the lights in the store were on or off. Then Hugo broke away, reeling with dizziness.
"Now," he said, suddenly masterful, "you must get out of range of this, Judy. Go over to the Model Home. If anything blows up, you'll be sheltered from it."
Judy looked at him for a moment, then gripped his hand in a stout-fella squeeze.
"Good luck, Hugo," she whispered. She was gone then, and the last Hugo saw of her she was moving toward the safety of the Model Home. Considerably mixed up mentally and emotionally, Hugo turned back to the maze of dangerous wires and switches.
IN the background, Hugo could still hear the clamor going on throughout the store. But he wasn't thinking of the manikins. He was thinking of Napoleon B. Dribble, and of the job Dribble would snatch from him if this electrical hocus pocus didn't restore the store to sanity. He was thinking, too, that he wouldn't be the only employee to be out of work at Dribble's that day. The big economy-efficiency cut had probably gone through over the unprotesting committee of ten employees. And then there would be Judy's father. He'd get sacked, too.
Hugo thought of all this, and dominantly—of course—of Judy.
Sighing, he turned back to the switches. He closed his eyes.
"Eeeny, meeeny, miney, moe," Hugo began, fishing his hand out toward the switches.
He pulled the "moe" lever, as every last nerve fiber in his body cringed from the terror of what might happen.
But nothing happened.
Nothing, that is, except that the lights went out.
Nothing, except that the clamor of wild manikin shouts in the background stopped as if they'd been cut with a knife!
For a moment Hugo was too stunned to realize the implications of this. The fact that the lights were out really didn't matter, for the morning sun was streaming in through the great windows of the store and everything was clearly visible. But finally his senses realized that the thing that did matter was an accomplished fact. The manikins were strangely silent. The store was as hushed as death!
"Yowweeeeeee!" Hugo suddenly whooped. He dashed out from the tiny alcove of lighting gadgets, looking wildly right and left through the store. Every last manikin, as far as his eyes could see, was frozen back into lifelessness—utterly rigid!
Still whooping with hysterical relief, unconstrained joy, Hugo dashed toward the Model Home.
"Judy," he cried. "Judy, it worked!"
He dashed into the room in which he had first encountered the blonde loveliness of Judy Carmody.
Hugo stopped, looking wildly around. There was nothing but silence. For some reason he didn't have time to explain to himself at the moment, his heart hammered in sudden fear.
"Judy!" Hugo called.
There was nothing but silence. Hugo ran into another room, then another. Ten minutes later and he had ransacked every room of the Model Home. Judy wasn't in any of them. His voice was hoarse for calling. Judy wasn't anywhere. Judy didn't answer.
Hugo returned to the first living room. Wretchedly, almost crying in his despair and hurt bewilderment, he slumped down on a couch. He put his head in his hands. Judy Carmody had run out on him. Had deserted him at the most crucial moment. She was probably flying down some side street at this moment, terror stricken, not wanting to be found in the same store with the electrocuted corpse of Hugo Hempsted.
MISERY engulfed him. He took his head from his hands and gazed upward in despair. His eyes hit the clock on the wall. The store, he realized dumbly, would be opening in another fifteen minutes. But it didn't matter now. Nothing mattered—even the fact that the hundred and some manikins had been frozen back to rigid normalcy while engaged in their wild mischief. Even the fact that there wasn't a single dummy in the store in its proper place. And that some of the places in which the dummies now responded were quite improper. No, none of this mattered to Hugo Hempsted.
Hugo had found love—and had had it snatched from him by the treachery and cowardice of the woman in whom he'd found it. To hell with life. To hell with the store. To hell with any frantic last minute rearrangements of the dummies. Let them stay as they were. Let life move on. Hugo Hempsted was dead. Or at least his soul was.
Minutes crawled by, but Hugo made no effort to move. No effort to flee from the store before it was opened, before the holocaust created by the manikins who had had a fling at living was discovered. He sat there strickenly, sickly, waiting for the police, or the army, or whatever forces Napoleon B. Dribble would call in to do the job, to take him away to the penitentiary.
At length Hugo was subconsciously aware of voices, of cries and shouts of dismay. He heard laughter, anger, shock, all mingling in those voices. Vaguely Hugo realized that the store had opened, that the employees were filing in for work.
Dribble would arrive soon. But the thought left Hugo without terror. Nothing mattered...
"FIND that young man if you have to tear this store upside down to do it!"
Hugo heard the voice thundering very close to the Model Home ten minutes later. But he kept his dejected pose on the couch, never stirring, even though he knew the voice to be that of Napoleon B. Dribble.
"Get hold of that Hempsted if it takes all day! Track him down! Search him out! Bring him to me, personally!"
The voice was thundering nearer, and behind it were other excited voices, worried voices, quailing voices. Dribble and retinue were approaching. The search was on. Hugo wondered if they were all carrying sub-machine guns and accompanied by baying hounds.
Suddenly Hugo stood up and moved falteringly toward the door of the Model Home. There was no sense in waiting for his fate. He could end it by marching bravely into the arms of his persecutors. What difference did it make?
An instant later, and Hugo ran head on into Napoleon B. Dribble, who turned into the door of the Model Home at the same instant that Hugo stepped out.
The two went down in a tangle of arms and legs.
This, Hugo thought at the bottom of the tangle—while the shouts and cries of Dribble's followers added to the confusion—is the final bitter end. Hugo Hempsted is additionally guilty of assault and battery.
People were pulling Hugo roughly to his feet. Hands were grabbing ungently at his collar. Voices shouting. Through the haze of confusion and sickened bitterness, Hugo saw the fat red face of Napoleon B. Dribble bearing down on him.
"Hempsted!" Dribble was shouting. "Let me at him!"
In a sudden burst of angered resentment, Hugo shook himself free of the hands that held. Shook himself free, and found himself facing the beaming countenance and extended paw of Napoleon B. Dribble himself!
Hugo stepped back away from his employer's extended hand. He gasped in sheer incredulity at the happy expression on that red fat face. Something was wrong. Dribble had gone stark raving mad. Dribble was talking.
"Hugo, my boy. We've scoured the store for you. What are you doing in here? My boy, I want to be the first to shake your hand."
Hugo retreated another step back into the living room of the Model Home. Clearly, his employer was a babbling idiot. The havoc wrought by the manikins had thrown him over the brink into madness.
But Dribble followed, still beaming.
"Are you all right, boy? You look a little pale. Overwork no doubt."
Hugo sank back against the support of the living room wall. He ran a hand over his clammy brow.
"MY hat's off, my boy," Dribble babbled. "While all of us sat around talking, you went out and acted. It's stupendous. It's the most colossal display of originality, of sheer genius, of solid sense merchandising that I've ever seen! There's not another store in town that will be able to equal our displays."
Hugo gulped, looking for an exit. Dribble would froth at any minute.
"That manikin, the one we had dressed like an Eskimo," Dribble boomed. "No one but a genius would have thought of putting him inside our refrigerators. It's magnificent. And the pretty looking female dummy, in the scanties, why, she'll increase the sales in our Men's Apparel section by a hundred dollars an hour!"
Hugo gulped again. But a light was beginning to dawn.
"And the window displays—wow!" Dribble exulted. "People are jamming the streets outside to look at 'em. It's the greatest boom of publicity the store has ever had." He stepped up to Hugo, nudging him with an elbow and winking. "Of course, some of 'em are pretty spicy, but we can run 'em under an injunction, if needs be."
"You mean," Hugo at last found voice, "you like them?"
"Tuhriffic!" Napoleon B. Dribble pronounced. "And all thanks to you, my young genius. Originality! That's what this store has been crying for, and that's what you gave it. You'll be the greatest General Supervisor we've ever had at Dribble's. Between you and me, my boy, I feel like stepping out and letting you run things from now on!"
Hugo Hempsted felt like fainting. But instead, he steadied himself with a hand against a wall panel behind him.
And suddenly the panel on which Hugo had been leaning gave way—inward—while he almost slipped backward to the floor in an effort to regain his balance. But as Dribble stepped up to assist him, Hugo realized that machinery was whirring behind the panel, and that the entire panel was turning in, as a bed swung out.
You never knew what to expect from the gadgets in the model homes, and this folding bed was no exception. For as the bed swung 'round into view—so did the almost suffocated figure of Judy Carmody!
"Judy!" Hugo shouted. "Judy, are you all right?"
Dribble was gazing on in astonishment. Judy dazedly clambered out of her bed prison. Hugo encircled her in his arms.
"Judy, Judy, say something!" Hugo demanded.
"I'm all right, darling," Judy managed. "I'm just darned near suffocated, that's all!"
Hugo suddenly remembered Mr. Dribble and the stupendous good fortune which that worthy proffered. He turned to the president of the store.
"Mr. Dribble," Hugo said happily, "I'd like you to meet the woman who is going to be my wife!"
Napoleon B. Dribble, still happy, although now slightly perplexed, stepped back and regarded the boy and the girl in fond embrace. Still bewilderedly, his eyes flicked to the folding bed. Then he turned back to Hugo.
"Kafff, hmpfh, ah, er, naturally," said Napoleon B. Dribble. "Naturally!"