At the Farm, there was a telephone message waiting for Keith.
“It was your father,” Catra explained. “He says he’d had a call,” she looked at the wall clock,” an hour and a half ago now that Ms. Mona Gilbreth will see you this afternoon, and also that Frank is looking for you at Midwestern tonight. Your friend is a poet,” Catra said, a wry half-smile lighting up her solemn face. “All the message he left for you was, ‘cool, still sky.’ A pretty image.”
Keith looked shocked at himself for forgetting. He smacked himself in the head. “The ad firm! But I can’t go,” he said.
“But you must,” the Master said at once.
“I can’t,” Keith insisted. “I ought to be here to help. I can call Frank. I’ll beg off from seeing Ms. Gilbreth. It was only an excuse to get down here. Paul won’t be too mad.”
“You cannot be here all the time. We did get along before you met us. It is time you learned to delegate, young man,” the Master said, not unkindly. He shook a finger up toward Keith’s face. His straightbacked stance still made him no taller than Keith’s middle shirt button. “You haf responsibilities of your own, Meester Doyle. Gif ofer to us. Mees Londen, Mees Collier and these others vill stay and assist. Tell us what should be done, and ve vill do it.”
Keith looked at Holl and the others. He knew they counted on him. He thought of baby Asrai and Dola, out there somewhere, scared and maybe in danger. He met the Master’s eyes, and read there that the old elf knew the realities of the situation as well as he did himself. He knew what he was asking Keith to do.
Keith’s shoulders slumped in resignation. “That’s the hardest lesson you’ve ever given me,” he said.
“I hope it is the only vun of its kind you must learn,” the Master said, with a sad smile. Keith recalled suddenly that Asrai was his granddaughter.
“I’m sorry,” Keith said lamely.
The Master waved away his apology and nodded toward the door. “Nefer mind. Ve vill find them. Go. Perhaps you vill discofer information of interest to us.” ….
…Dola finished the story and went on to the next one in the magazine. Her voice automatically laid stress upon strings of prose and quoted dialogue in humorous voices without her having to think about it too much — no problem, since she no longer was drawing images in the air to go along with the narrative. The arrival of Skinny meant to Dola that there was something going on in the building that the boss-lady didn’t want her to disturb. Dola was more than a little afraid of the boss-lady. The Big woman was formidable in appearance and so very tall. Dola felt intimidated by her size.
Holding her breath, she listened as keenly as she could. There were voices in the corridor, but so faint that they were indistinguishable. One of them belonged to an adult male. Dola was convinced that there was some reason that the Big Folk didn’t want her to be seen or heard by the possessors of those voices. Perhaps it was a police officer, who would wonder what a child was doing at a factory. If she could get his attention, maybe he would take her and Asrai home.
Dola glanced at the skinny man. He watched her as if he expected her to perform some other wonder, like the disappearance she had attempted on the hilltop two days before. She was impatient with him and desperate to get out of the room. In spite of the daft way he talked her jailor was too big and too canny to be tricked into letting her slip by him. She needed a distraction — something dangerous, so he’d have to remove them from there to save their lives.
Skinny got up on his knees beside her to coo at the baby. Asrai stared at him, her round, milky green eyes wandering across the big face without recognition but luckily without fear. So long as he was occupied, Dola had time to come up with a really terrifying illusion. A spider. One at least a foot across, climbing up the wall behind him, but further away from the door than they were. That way he’d have to get them out. The footsteps were coming closer to the door. They couldn’t be more than a few yards away. Her chance was at hand.
She shaped the sending in her mind’s eye, seeing it form from eight irregular points on the pocked wall, solidifying in the center into grotesque head and abdomen portions of black and shiny bronze, with hair the length and thickness of cat’s whiskers sticking out of the joints of the legs and covering the base of the body near the spinnerets. She admired her work, and glanced down at Grant, timing the moment. If she managed to scare the baby when she screamed, Asrai would lend her lung power to hers, and they’d be free in no time.
Letting her eyes go wide with feigned fear, she started to take in a huge breath, readying a really loud outcry.
Her gasp alarmed Pilton, who looked up. Guessing what she was about to do, he fell forward onto one knee and clapped his hand over her mouth. Quickly he looked around to make sure no one was coming into the room, and saw the spider. Dola made it hiss, spreading its palps and front legs menacingly. With the greatest presence of mind, Pilton let Dola go and put himself between the children and the horrifying arachnid on the wall.
“Look at that sucker!” he cried. “Stay back, little lady. It might jump.” The spider assumed a karate stance, waiting for its foe to approach. Getting no closer, Pilton leaned over toward the table, picked up a magazine, and threw it at the spider. Dola had no choice but to imagine it falling to the ground and scuttling into a corner. Grant followed it and smashed it into a pulp with his big boot. “Whew! I haven’t seen a spider that big since I was in the Everglades. It’s dead. You aren’t scared, are you?”
“I’m all right,” Dola said, in a very small voice. She sank back, thwarted and a little tired from the expending of energy. The illusion, hidden from view, faded into nothingness. It’s a pity I can’t like him, she thought, because he’s brave.
To her dismay, she heard the footsteps receding in the hallway. She’d missed her chance at freedom once more. Pilton resumed his perch next to Asrai, and was babbling nonsense words at her in a silly falsetto.
“No, the big bad thing’s all gone,” he said, making the baby gurgle. “Yes, it is. It wasn’t gonna hurt you, no. I wouldn’t let it do that. No, I wouldn’t.”
Dola tried to lose herself in the baby’s happy murmurs, because she herself was close to frustrated tears. I want to go home, she thought sadly. I wish someone was here to comfort me.