Flight to the Lonesome Place (4 page)

BOOK: Flight to the Lonesome Place
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“Oh, I'll go along with it,” he said quickly. “When you're as young as we are, and something happens, you're in real trouble if you're all alone. I found that out tonight.”

“What happened, Boy Blue?”

“It's, well, sort of involved. Let's talk about you first. What are you afraid of? The Señora?”

Her small face tightened, and she nodded slowly. “The Señora is part of it, yes. That is the main reason I came in here. I am afraid to be in the same room with her at times. And then, I don't want to go back to Santo Domingo. It's an awful place.”

“But isn't your home there?”

“Not any more. Not since Papa died.” Her chin trembled momentarily, then she said, “Papa was very rich, and a lot of people hated him, but he was all I had. Just before he died he brought me to New Orleans and put me in school, and I was supposed to stay there till I finished. But now Bernardo sends the Señora to take me out. Why? There is no reason to take me out. No good reason, I mean, that makes sense. There is no talk of putting me in another school. And Bernardo does not want me in his house. He lives in Puerto Rico now. So I will have nowhere to go unless the Señora takes me to her home—and
she
lives in Santo Domingo. Anything can happen there, and nobody cares.”

She paused and looked up at him earnestly. “Now do you see how I feel?”

He nodded. Suddenly he asked, “Where's this boat going?”

“To Puerto Rico. It always stops at San Juan first, then goes around to Mayagüez. That's near where Bernardo lives.”

“What's the next stop after Mayagüez?”

“There isn't any. I mean, it comes straight back here to the mainland.”

“Oh.”

Ronnie chewed worriedly on his lip. Puerto Rico wasn't quite his choice for a destination. He had had a week's engagement once in San Juan, and he had never wanted to return. But there was no way out of it now.

All at once he asked, “If the Señora were going to take you to Santo Domingo, I should think she'd go by plane. It would be a lot easier. This is so roundabout.”

“Oh, she'd
never
fly. She has a thing about planes. And her home is only a day's trip by boat from Mayagüez. Anyway, she wants to stop and see Bernardo first. After that—”

“What are you going to do?”

She shook her head. “I—I don't know yet. Except that I'm
not
going home with the Señora. I—I'll run away first. But what about you? What will
you
do when we reach San Juan?”

Before he could answer, there was a light knock at the door, and a soft voice said, “Little lady? Are you there?”

Ana María Rosalita got up quickly and went to the door. “Is that you, Josip?”

“Yes, little lady. I saw that your light was still on, and I wondered if you needed anything before I go off duty.”

“No, Josip. I'm quite all right. But thank you just the same.”

“Well, the breakfast gong will sound at seven. The dining salon is directly below on the next deck. Good night, little lady.”

“Good night, Josip.”

She came back, frowning, and whispered, “That was Josip Broz, the cabin steward. You're going to have to be
very
careful about him. He's nosy.”

Ronnie had already come to that conclusion. A person would have to be outside, on deck, to notice if the stateroom light was still on. He glanced quickly at the curtains, wondering how much Josip might have seen and heard. Well, he would face Josip tomorrow, and the captain too. Maybe something could be worked out. In the meantime …

“Look,” he whispered. “It's awfully late. Maybe we'd better get some sleep while we can. It'll take us four or five days to reach San Juan. That will give us plenty of time to think about things and decide what to do. Do you know if the next stateroom is empty?”

“I—I think so. If it's empty, the key will be in the lock. But—but you're
not
going until you tell me why you ran away. What happened? I couldn't
possibly
sleep until I know.”

“Okay.” He went to the door and listened a moment, then slipped to one of the portholes and carefully parted the curtains. The boat deck appeared empty now. Satisfied, he came back and began to tell her about Gus.

As he talked, a lump rose in his throat. He and Gus had been worlds apart, and the danger he was in now was certainly his manager's fault. But Gus, besides making him famous, had always treated him well. And at the last, Gus had died trying to warn him in time to escape.

When he finished, Ana María Rosalita sat looking at him like a startled little owl, her dark, saucer eyes turned liquid with sympathy.

“Oh!” she whispered finally. “Oh! And those men, do you think they'll ever be able to trace you here?”

“Sure they can, if they go about it right.” He picked up his bag and jacket and turned to the door. “But I'm not going to worry about it now. And don't you worry about the Señora.”

“I won't. I feel better about everything, just talking to you. Good night, Boy Blue.”

“Good night,
camarada
.”

She liked being called that, for her face, which had looked so pinched, suddenly lighted up with a happy smile as he slipped out into the corridor. Well, from now on, she really was a comrade, a partner, for they were certainly in the same boat together, and in more ways than one. Nor did he have any doubt that soon they would be needing each other's help.

The next stateroom, which had a key in the door, was almost exactly like the one he had left. Inside, he put the key in his pocket, bolted the door carefully, then quickly undressed with the aid of his flashlight and crawled into one of the bunks.

He closed his eyes, and tried to make his mind a blank so sleep would come easily. But tonight sleep would not come. The darkness tormented him with sounds and visions he found impossible to block from his memory. Gus on the phone again, hoarse, gasping … the men in the hotel corridor, and the faint scrape of a key in the lock … the terrible pounding of his heart as he fled down an endless stairway …

And in San Juan, would he be fleeing there? But of course he would! Only, where could he possibly go?

He cried out suddenly in torment and sat up, trembling. He knew he ought to be planning what to say to the captain in the morning, but at the moment such thoughts were beyond him. He wanted only to forget himself.

Remembering a light he had seen over the bunk, he fumbled in the dark and turned it on, then opened his zipper bag and took out a book, a pencil, and several sheets of paper. The book, which he had discovered on a shelf devoted to advanced studies in mathematics, was by a little-known master, and it bore an impressive title:
Time and Duality, or the Mathematics of Coexistent Planes
.

Peter Pushkin, seeing the book a few days ago, had thumbed through it, and whistled. “Good grief!” he had said. “If you can read this, you don't need me. I've heard of this fellow Prynne. It's said that less than a dozen men in the world can really understand him. Do you
like
this sort of thing?”

“Of course!” he had told Peter. He had found it the most exciting and fascinating volume he had ever seen. Dr. Prynne had set out to prove, by the most complicated equations, that the utterly impossible was not only possible, but true.

“But I think Dr. Prynne is wrong,” he had hastened to tell Peter. “I'm sure he's made a mistake somewhere. I haven't found it yet, though it ought to be in one of his basic equations. When I've worked through more of them—”

“You mean you're actually doing his mathematics all over?” Peter had looked shaken.

“Well, how else can I prove he's wrong?”

Secretly, way down inside himself, he realized he didn't want to find a mistake. Prynne's fantastic idea was much too appealing. But in spite of the fact that he couldn't believe in it, every equation was absorbing. They were all so utterly absorbing that tonight everything else slipped from his mind. As he studied the figures in the book, the ugliness that had driven him to the
Cristobal Colón
gradually faded and ceased to exist, and presently his pencil was flying over the notepaper.

He was not aware, long later, of weariness overtaking him. Sleep suddenly pinched him out like a candle. It was nearly dawn when it happened, and the vessel was far down in the marshy delta of the Mississippi, not far from the Gulf.

He slept through most of the morning, undisturbed by the breakfast gong and the various sounds of activity outside on deck. It was the new and entirely different motion of the ship that awakened him. He sat up abruptly, started to rub his hot face, and discovered he had fallen asleep with his wig on. He tore it off, glanced at his watch, and scrambled around to peer through the porthole above the bunk. He gasped.

He had flown the oceans a number of times, but only once before—it was on a large liner to Europe—had he actually been to sea. It had been nothing like this. Save for a few glimpses of the cold north Atlantic, he might have been spending his days in another luxury hotel. And when he had jetted across, the water seven miles below had ceased to have existence. But this …

He gave a little cry of delight as he glimpsed the creaming waves beyond the width of the deck. They were the richest blue he had ever seen. And skittering away over the tops of some of them, like silver birds, were schools of flying fish. It was a moment of great wonder.

But he thought of the time, and abruptly reality returned.

It was nearly noon. In a few minutes, probably, the gong would sound for lunch. What had he better do?

As he realized he was really a stowaway, he experienced a few seconds of pure fright. Then he made a quick decision, and began hurriedly cleaning up and putting on his clothes. He was carefully arranging his wig when he heard the gong. Slipping on his glasses, he took a final look at himself in the mirror, and eased the door partially open. When he heard voices in the passageway he went out, locking the door behind him.

His intention was to follow the other passengers down to the dining salon, a move that would attract much less attention to himself than if he entered alone. But when he reached the turn where the stairs began, he was dismayed to see that the only people in sight were the bronzed, white-haired captain and the Señora Bretón.

They were standing just outside the captain's office, and he was speaking to her in Spanish, telling her about the weather ahead. “It is late in the season for hurricanes,” he assured her,” and no disturbances have been reported. So we should have an easy passage. We ought to be in San Juan by noon, Wednesday.”

“That is good,” she said. “Deliver me from hurricanes! I tremble at the mere thought of them.”

To Ronnie, the bold-featured Señora didn't look as if she would ever tremble at anything. He started to slip past and go down the stairs, but the captain saw him and called him over.

“Well!” said the bronzed man, extending a huge brown hand. “Didn't know we'd have two young people aboard. I'm Captain Anders. You'll have to tell me who you are, my boy—haven't had time to check the passenger list—”

“I—I'm Ron McHenry, sir,” Ronnie told him, taking the extended hand. He had lived briefly with an itinerant family named McHenry, and had been known as the McHenry boy before they abandoned him. “I'm traveling alone, sir, and I may not be on your list yet. Sending me to San Juan by boat was sort of a last-minute thing.” Then he added innocently, “Er, did you say there's another boy aboard?”

The captain chuckled. “No such luck, son. You'll have to put up with a girl. Here she comes now.”

Ronnie glanced quickly over his shoulder, and saw Ana María Rosalita just leaving her stateroom. His sudden twinge of uneasiness instantly vanished when she came up gravely, aloofly, and went through the captain's introduction as if she had never seen him before.

The captain said, “Ron, since you're alone, why don't you take these good people down to lunch, and have Josip put you at the same table with them. I'd like to join you, but I was on the bridge all night coming down the river, and I've just had breakfast.”

The dining salon was a big room amidships with a row of tables on either side. The row on the right had been taken over by the ship's officers, none of whom, like the captain, were in uniform. Only one table on the left was occupied, this by a plump middle-aged couple who promptly introduced themselves as the Johnsons, on their way to San Juan to visit relatives. Ronnie presently found himself seated near them, listening with one ear to the talkative Mrs. Johnson while he tried to keep his wits about him, and his attention on Josip.

Josip worried him. The white-jacketed cabin steward was a slim little man with short, bristling yellow hair and small, pale, watchful eyes. Ronnie squirmed inwardly whenever the steward came near; it seemed those restless eyes would surely penetrate his wig, or discover a bit of blue showing somewhere.

Josip brought their lunch, then said in his purring voice, “Excuse me, young sir, but I am a little mixed up about you. What stateroom are you in?”

“Seven,” Ronnie told him. “I'm Ron McHenry, but as I told the captain, my name may not be on the passenger list. You see, it wasn't decided until the last minute that I was to go to San Juan this way.”

“Oh,” said Josip. “I did wonder. If you will leave your door unlocked this afternoon, I will see that everything is put in order.” He turned to Ana María Rosalita. “I missed you at breakfast, little lady. I do hope you are feeling all right.”

“Oh, Josip,” she said, “I was just
exhausted
. I slept right through the breakfast call.”

Then, when Josip had returned to the pantry, she murmured under her breath to Ronnie, “I thought and
thought
all night. Now I have an idea. Where can we meet and talk about it?”

BOOK: Flight to the Lonesome Place
3.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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