Authors: Alexander Key
Flight to the Lonesome Place
This book is for
Kit and Carlotta
“What's magic? Nothing but the ability to do something everybody knows is impossible â¦ Only, my dear little witch, just remember that
âMarlowe to Ana MarÃa Rosalita
RUN FOR YOUR LIFE
RONNIE BEGAN HIS PERFORMANCE at the Regency that evening with hardly a thought that it might be his last public appearance. His day had started badly, and he had been haunted since breakfast by the fear that somethingâsomething he didn't want to think aboutâwas very wrong in his life. But at curtain time, as usual, all his worries vanished on the instant. Curtain time was a magical moment when everything unpleasant ceased to exist. It was the time when he turned into a prince and stepped forth into a glittering world of smiling faces, all belonging to his friends.
And they were his friends. They loved him. There was never any doubt of it, whether the city was London, New York, or any of a dozen other places. There wasn't the least doubt of it tonight in New Orleans when Jerry Dunn, the Regency's master of ceremonies, announced in the microphone, “Here he comes, folks! Get your questions ready. Ah, here he is, the wonder of the ageâRonnie Cleveland, the incredible Blue Boy!”
The instant applause that greeted him was deafening. And the warmth of it washed away the last shreds of the day's darkness. He ran forth, a small, slender figure in blueâhis shimmering blue suit was exactly the same color as his mop of curly blue hairâand cried happily, “Hello, everybody! Hello, hello! â¦ Thank you â¦ Thank you â¦”
He began on the piano, giving the suddenly breathless room a rollicking rendition of a favorite tune, then broke off in the middle of it and asked, “Questions? Questions? Who has a question I can't answer?” Smiling, he pointed to a tall paper cap on the piano. “Who'll make me wear the dunce cap?”
Scores of well-dressed diners wanted to match wits with him, and Jerry Dunn hurried toward the nearest with the microphone. On the right a tiny girl, seated between a bronzed man with white hair, and a handsome black-haired woman, stood up and waved her hand frantically, but the master of ceremonies did not see her. Ronnie could not help noticing her, for she was the only very young person in sight. There was something foreign about her, and she seemed entirely out of place among so many oldsters.
Then his attention went to Jerry Dunn, who had stopped at a crowded table dominated by a plump, bald-headed man. It was an obviously wealthy group.
“We're more interested in numbers,” said the bald man. “We've heard the Blue Boy can handle them like a computer, and that he never forgets. So we have a little test for him. Each of us here has a list of numbers, big ones. We'll take turns calling them out, one at a time. When we finish, we'd like to see if he can instantly give the total for each group of numbers, the total for all the groups, and then repeat every number and point out the person who called it.”
“Wow!” Jerry Dunn exclaimed. “What d'yuh think he isâa genius?” When the laughter had died, he glanced back at Ronnie and said, “That sounds like a rather tall order. How about it, Blue Boy?”
Ronnie rolled his eyes and reached for the dunce cap. He started to put it on, then hesitated. It was the sort of test that, to his audience, must seem beyond the powers of any human being. But he had solved hundreds of problems that were far more complicated.
“If I do it correctly,” he called to the bald man, “how much will you donate to the state home for boys?”
“Will a thousand dollars suit you?”
“That won't go far in a state home,” Ronnie reminded him.
There was a quick consultation at the table. Then the bald man said, “We'll make it ten thousand.”
“It's a deal!” Ronnie cried. “Let's have the numbers.”
He astonished them all with the ease and speed by which he won the donation. The applause was tremendous. His nimble fingers raced over the piano keys for a minute, then again he asked for questions.
Now Jerry Dunn became busy carrying the microphone from table to table. Questions poured forth: What's a trapezium? a quagga? a pyx? Could he name the owners of Bucephalus and Traveller, and tell how many years apart they lived? â¦
Ronnie had no trouble until the circling microphone reached the tiny girl who had been trying all the while to gain attention. He had decided she was Spanish, as was the dark-haired woman with her. Her almost doll-like smallness made it hard to guess her age.
“I have several very important questions,” she began, in a high clear voice. “Firstâ”
“Just a moment, please,” Jerry Dunn interrupted. “It isn't often that we find young people like you at the Regency. Would you mind telling us your name and age, and a little about yourself?”
“I am Ana MarÃa Rosalita Montoya de la Torre,” she replied, her manner as grand as a duchess. “I am not very old, but a lady's age is a private matter, and you shouldn't ask about it. I am traveling with the SeÃ±ora BretÃ³nâshe speaks no English, thank goodnessâand the gentleman with us is Captain Anders, of the
, the ship we are sailing on early in the morning, as soon as it is loaded. That is enough about meâ”
“Not quite,” the master of ceremonies insisted. “You haven't told us where you are from, Ana MarÃa.”
“I am called Ana MarÃa Rosalita, if you please,” she said firmly. “And I am
Santo Domingoâthough I am
going back, in spite of what some people think.” Turning, she looked directly at Ronnie with curiously intent eyes that made him think of big black marbles. “Boy Blue, do you ever seek advice fromâfrom
He blinked at her, and she hastened to add, “You speak Spanish, do you not, and know what one is?”
,” he replied, recalling his vocabulary. “It is a maker of spells, a sorceress.”
“And surely you believe in spells and magic, do you not?”
Again he was startled. But he remembered his audience, and smiled quickly and said, “Why, I couldn't possibly do without them! How do you think I'm able to answer all the crazy questions folks ask me? It takes
of magic, believe me!”
There was laughter, but his small questioner ignored it. Nor did she pay any attention to the SeÃ±ora BretÃ³n, who was tugging at her worriedly, trying to make her sit down.
“If magic is part of your life,” she said, “then I do not have to warn you. Your
must have told you already. But please be careful, Boy Blue. Be very,
Ronnie thanked her in his best Spanish for her warning, gave her a fine bow, then tried to forget her so he could get on with his performance. The applause helped, as it always did, and the final thunder of applause when he finished was enough to assure him that he had put in a good evening. It was thunderous enough, in fact, to give him a heady feeling that stayed with him for some time after he reached his dressing room. He was not immediately aware that no guard was on duty to protect him.
He changed from his blue silk suit to an ordinary brown one, drew a brown wig over his shock of blue curls, and put on a pair of heavy, horn-rimmed glasses. Thus disguisedâit was mainly to escape the mobs of autograph hunters who hounded him everywhereâhe slipped back through the hotel lobby to the elevators. Several people glanced at him curiously, but no one immediately realized that the pale, thin features under the glasses belonged to a face that had become familiar in nearly every country on earth.
It was not until he was in the elevator that he thought again of the tiny Spanish girl. He caught his breath, feeling delayed shock. Something was wrong, surely, and she had tried to warn him, but how had
known about it?
Ronnie's heady feeling evaporated. His spirits sank as the elevator rose. By the time he stepped out at the tenth floor, all the vague fears that had haunted him earlier were back again, stronger than ever.
Suddenly he wished he had help. But where could he find it? Who was the person he could talk to, and trust?
He clenched his small hands and started unhappily down the long, empty corridor. The very emptiness of the place, at that moment, reminded him how alone and friendless he actually was. Being Ronnie Cleveland, the Blue Boy, made up for a great deal. But it wasn't everything. Other kids had homes and families, and friends and relatives they could count on. He had only the Corporation. It practically owned him. And there wasn't a soul in the whole outfit he could look upon as a friend. Not even Gus Woolman, his manager, or Peter Pushkin, his new tutor.
He paused a moment, recalling now that there had been no one on guard duty at his dressing room. Suddenly he wondered why not even Peter Pushkin had been there waiting for him. It didn't matter, really, except that Gus had made it clear that a tutor's duty, among other things, was to act as one of the personal bodyguards. The main one, actually.
“What you gotta remember,” Gus had told Peter, “is that Ronnie is a mighty valuable piece of property. You must never let him out of your sight. You're to travel with him, stay in the same hotel suite with him, eat every meal with him. Understand?”
Peter Pushkin, a bushy-haired young college teacher with something too icy in his eyes for comfort, had nodded slowly while he fingered an atrocious red goatee. “I understand,” he had said. “Naturally, someone should always be with him just to protect him from the public. That's obvious. But you sound as if there could be trouble from other sources. Are you afraid of kidnappers? Do you think he's in danger?”
“Aw, naw, nothing like that,” Gus had replied, almost too quickly. “Anyhow, he's got two regular bodyguards, so only a fool would bother the Blue Boy. But kooks are everywhere. Your job, besides teaching him, is to keep your eyes open. You gotta be sort of a big brother to him, see?”
Cold-eyed Peter Pushkin wasn't quite the kind of big brother Ronnie had hoped for, but he had never been lucky with his tutors. And he was certain now that Gus hadn't told Peter the whole truth.
But why? Where was the danger? When had it started?
Suddenly he realized that all the wrongness in his life had really begun back at the reformatory, on the day Gus had discovered him.
Sharply in his mind rose a vision of the hated place, so jammed with boys that half of them had to sleep on the floor. He didn't belong in the reformatory, for his only crime was being homeless. But there had been no other spot to put him. Gus had said, “I can use your memory, so I'll get you out of this hole. But you gotta do exactly as we tell you. That clear?”
Getting out, and going to live in big Gus Woolman's plush apartment, was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to him. And all he had to do in payment was memorize the accounts Gus and his partner gave him. There was nothing to it.
He might still be acting as their secret bookkeeper if Gus hadn't discovered he had other abilities. There was the piano, which he speedily learned to play by listening to records, and following that was the excitement in school when it was found he could solve intricate mathematical problems in less time than a machine.
The astounded Gus had said, “It's time we dropped those accounts. They're playing out anyway. The kid gives me a new idea. Put him in a blue suit, give those cottony curls a blue rinse to doll 'im up, then try 'im out with his brains and music at one of the clubs. If he goes, we'll hire a writer and a coach, and hit the big spots. What d'you say, Wally?”
Wally Gramm, a thin, quiet man, had nodded slowly. “He'll make it. He's one in a billion. But just to play it safe, let's have papers drawn up, and form a company to handle him.”