"So am I!" snarled Buregarde showing a fine set of white fangs in the most effective gesture.
"This must cease!" thundered the mercenary. "You cannot threaten His Excellency's Peacekeepers!"
Buregarde growled, "Slip the mercenary a crystal-cut, boss. We've got a girl to find!"
"A girl? A Terrestrial girl?" asked the mercenary with his eyes opening.
"The daughter of our envoy to Lonaphite. Miss Vanessa Lewis. Last reported in her stateroom aboard the Terrestrial Spacecraft Polaris during landing pattern at Xanabar Citadel Spaceport."
The mercenary said, "The work of outlanders--riffraff such as this!"
"Well," snapped Peter Hawley, "do His Excellency's Peacemakers condone such goings-on?"
"We keep the Peace of Xanabar. Your charge is your word, Terrestrial."
"Terrestrial Barbarian, isn't it?"
"I arrest you--"
"Oh, stop it. For fiveweight of crystal-cut can you be bribed to haul that specimen off to jail and let me go about making my own Peace with Xanabar?"
"You accuse me of accepting bribes?"
"You re a mercenary, aren't you? Sevenweight of crystal-cut."
"Seven," said Peter.
"Ten," said the mercenary, "and you have one more caper coming."
"Ten," agreed Peter Hawley, "and you look the other way when I take the lid off."
"Still got it," said Buregarde, sniffing at the closed door but keeping one eye on the disappearing mercenary and his prisoner.
"I've got it, too. Still fright and concern: fear of harm, concern over what happens next."
"Definitely," said Peter closing his eyes and holding his breath.
"Nothing measurable?" asked the dog after a full minute.
"No. Too bad I was never introduced to her. I have no idea of her strength of mind--wait!" Another minute went by in personal silence; Peter Hawley's concentration far too deep to be disturbed by the sounds of the city's spaceport slum by night. The dog backed away from the door and took an alert position to guard Peter while the man was immersed in his own mind. Finally Peter alerted and shook his head sadly. "I thought for a moment that she'd caught me. A fleeting thought of rescue or escape, concept of freedom, flight, safety. But wish-thinking. Not communication. Let's go in."
"Barge, or slink?" asked the dog.
"Have it your way," said Buregarde.
Outside, the place looked closed. The door was solid, a plastic in imitation of bronze through which neither light nor sound passed. The windows were dark. But once the door was cracked, the wave of sound came pouring out along the slit of light and filled the street with echo and re-echo.
"Slink, now," said the dog.
"So everybody makes mistakes."
Inside, a woman leaned over a low counter. "Check your weap ... say! You can't bring that animal in here!"
Buregarde said, "He isn't bringing me. I'm here because I like it."
The woman's eyes bugged. "What ... kind--?"
"I am man's best friend--the noble dog of Barbarian Terra."
"Yes ... but--"
"Oh," said Peter airily, "we're looking for a friend."
"Friend? Who is he?"
"It's a she and her name is Vanessa Lewis."
"She ain't here."
"The dame's a liar-ess, Peter. I scent her strong."
"We'll just take a look around," said Peter to the check girl.
"You'll have to check your weapons."
"I'd rather go in naked. Sorry. Not today. Weapons happen to be my business today. Come on, Buregarde."
Man and dog started along the hallway warily. Buregarde said, "Any touch?"
"Got a faint impression of alarm, danger, call out the guards."
"I scent violence," said the dog. "And--"
The door at the end of the hallway opened and a big man stepped out. "What's going on here?" he demanded flatly.
The check girl said, "He wouldn't check ..."
The big man reached for his hip pocket.
Peter said, "Take him high!" and they plunged.
Peter dove for the man's knees, Buregarde went in a three-stride lope like an accordion folding and unfolding and then arched in a long leap with his snarling fangs aimed at the man's throat. Man and dog hit him low and high before he could open his mouth, before he could free the snub pencil-ray. There was a short scrabble that ended when Buregarde lifted the man's head and whammed it down hard against the floor.
Weakly, the check girl finished her statement, "...His weapons!" and keeled over in a dead faint.
Buregarde shook himself violently and worked his jaws, licking blood from his chops. Peter looked in through the open wall-door opposite the check counter; the racket had not been noticed by the roomful of spacemen and riffraff. The babble of a hundred tongues still went on amid the clink of glasses and the disturbing strains of Xanabian music. Smoke from a hundred semi-noxious weeds lay in strata across the room, and at a table in the far corner two men faced one another, their expressions a mixed pair. One held heavily begrudged admiration as he paid off five hundredweight of crystal-cut in the legal tender of Xanabar to the other, whose expression was greedy self-confidence. One of His Excellency's Peacekeepers presided over the exchange. Coldly he extracted a fiftyweight from the pile and folded it into the signed and completed wager-contract. For his own coffer he extracted a fiveweight and slipped it into his boot top.
Peter Hawley and Buregarde passed on, went through the far door dragging their late adversary ignominiously by the heels. Amid the lessened publicity of the distant hall, Peter checked the man and shrugged. "He may live," he said coldly, "if he doesn't bleed to death."
"You really ought to take 'em on the high side," said Buregarde, plaintively. "All I've got is my teeth to grab with. They don't bleed so bad from the ankle."
"They don't stay stopped that way either," said Peter harshly.
"You'd not be getting any praise from the Chief for that sort of brutality."
"If Xanabar weren't rotten to the core, we wouldn't be plowing through it in the first place. Now, let's get going."
"Shouldn't you call for the rest of the crew?"
"Not until I'm certain the girl's here. I'd hate to cut the city-wide search for cold evidence."
"She's here. I scent her."
"Maybe it's past tense, Buregarde. Or maybe it's another woman."
"Could be. But one thing: It is definitely Terrestrial woman." The dog sniffed again. "You get anything?"
"No more than before. It's close and they're the same set of impressions Yet, any woman would be frantic with fear and concern."
"I ... shhh!" Buregarde's sharp ears lifted instinctively at a distant sound not heard by the man. With a toss of his head, the dog folded one ear back, uncovering the inner shell. Like a sonic direction finder, Buregarde turned his head and listened.
"Man," he said finally with a low growling voice. "Peter, there'll be hell to pay around here directly. He's stumbled over our recent conquest."
"Let's get cutting!"
Peter started trying doors and peering in; the dog raced on ahead of the man, sniffing deep at the bottom of each. It was the dog that found the room. He called, "Here!" and Peter raced forward just as the fellow on the stairs yelled something in his native tongue.
Peter hit the door with the heel of his foot and slammed it open by splintering the doorframe. The dog crouched low and poised; Peter slipped in and around feeling for a light-switch. From inside there was a voiceless whimper of fright and from outside and below there came the pounding of several sets of heavy feet. Peter found the switch and flooded the room with light. The girl--whether she was Miss Vanessa Lewis or someone else, and kidnap-wise it was still a Terrestrial girl--lay trussed on the bed, a patch of surgical tape over her mouth.
"Sorry," said Peter in a voice that he hoped was soothing. He reached, freed a corner of the tape and ripped it off in a single swipe. The girl howled. Peter slapped her lightly. "Stop it!" he commanded sharply. "Vanessa Lewis?"
"Call out the marines, Peter," snarled the dog.
"No! Bo! Back!"
Reluctantly the dog backed into the room. He crouched low, poised to spring, with his nose just beyond the doorframe.
"Four of 'em," he whimpered pleadingly. "I can get two--"
"Well, I can't get the other two unless I'm lucky," snapped Peter. "Don't be so eager to die for nothing, Buregarde."
"All this calculation," grumbled the dog sourly. "I don't call it a loss if I get two for one."
"I call it a loss if I don't get four for nothing--or the whole damned Empire of Xanabar for nothing, for that matter. We've a job to do and it ain't dying--until Miss Lewis is out of this glorious citadel."
The girl looked from one to the other. They did not need any identification; they were their own bona fides. Only man--Terrestrial Man--had intelligent dogs to work beside him. Period, question closed. Buregarde snarled at the door warningly while Peter stripped surgical tape from wrists and ankles.
Outside, someone called, "Come out or we blast!"
Buregarde snarled, "Come in and we'll cut you to bits!"
The quick flash of a pencil-ray flicked in a lance above the dog's nose: Buregarde snapped back as the lancet of light cut downward, then snapped forward for a quick look outside as the little pencil of danger flickered dark.
"You call the boys," snapped the dog. "I'll--"
Something came twisting forward to hit the doorframe, it dropped just inside the doorjamb. Buregarde leaped, snapped at the thing and caught it in midair, snapped his head in a vicious shake and sent it whirling back outside again before it could be identified. The dog sunfished and landed on all four. Then the thing went off with a dull pouf! outside. There was a gentle flash of quick light that was smothered by a billow of smoke. Buregarde leaped into the cloud and disappeared. There was a hoarse shriek and the mad scrabble of dog-claws on the hard floor, the sound of a heavy thud, and the angry snarl of a dog with its teeth fastened into something soft. Then there was the fast patter of dog-feet and Buregarde came around the door on a dead run, sliding side-wise to carom off the opened door into safety just as a pencil-ray flicked to follow him.
"Got him," said the dog in a satisfied tone. "That's one!"
He took his post by the doorframe again, the tip of his nose just outside. There was a consultation out there in the hallway, at which Buregarde called, "Make a wild rush for us!"
Miss Lewis said, "What are we going to do?"
"Fight it out," said Peter. "They can't win so long as we're alive now. I've got my crew on its way in a dead run, and if we make enough noise, some of His Excellency's Peacemakers will step in and demand their cut of the finances." He grinned. "How much are you worth, Miss Lewis?"
She shuddered. "I don't know how much father would pay--"
"Hit 'em low, Peter!" came Buregarde's snarl.
Three of them came in a-slant, bounced shoulders against the opened door, caught their bearings and hell was out for noon. Buregarde caught the first with a slash at the throat; they went down in a mad whirl of dog and thug, paws, tail, arms, legs and a spurt of blood. The second flicked his pencil-ray at Peter, its capsule charge faded to a mere sting before it cut into him. The third aimed a kick at the struggling dog. Vanessa Lewis snatched a box from the bureau and hurled it at the second. Peter thumbed his pencil-ray and winged the third man in the biceps. Buregarde leaped for the second man's gun hand and closed on it as the hurled box opened and scatter-shotted his face with bric-a-brac. The man with the bloody throat flailed out and caught Peter by the ankle. Peter stomped his face with his other heel. Miss Lewis picked up the table lamp and with a single motion turned off the light and finished felling the one with the ray-burned shoulder.
Buregarde dropped from the second man's wrist and crouched to spring. The man cowered back, his good arm covering his throat and his other arm hanging limp. He mouthed fright-noises in some tongue native to some star a thousand light-years across the galaxy.
Coldly, Peter stepped forward and belted him in the plexus.
"Now," he said calmly, "we shall vacate the premises!"
They went side by side, facing slightly outward, Buregarde between them and slightly ahead. "We're coming out!" called the dog. "Three Barbarians from Terra!"