The ride back to Pablo Padeyevsky’s house was broken only by snores from the rotund doctor, who had finally succumbed temporarily to exhaustion. The Colonel parted company with them as they set down in the natural landing spot of Pablo’s front lawn, extracting a promise to be kept up to date in the search for the girl from space.
The small group ducked away from the bunches of debris the chopper’s blades threw up as it took to the air again, and opened the front door of the peaceful house with a feeling of relief. It was good to be home again. Pablo sat down on the longest couch in the room that would have been called the front parlor if the time had been before the Civil War; he was stirred up by the intensely alive Joshua. “Come on, Pablo!”
Pablo’s eyes struggled open. It was a long struggle. “Josh, now I know why you stay so thin. You never sleep.”
“Oh, come on, Pablo,” said Josh. “Get up.”
Pablo was still having a mammoth and seesaw battle with his eyelids. Josh smiled down at his old friend sitting so wrinkled and full of sleep. He had seldom felt better.
Esmerelda walked into the living room with sandwiches, and there was a sudden pause while all three discovered that they were starving. The conversation proceeded, a bit thick with sounds of ingestion.
“Well, Pablo,” said Joshua, “I’ve already arranged for a detective agency to watch the airports in the Miami and Ft. Lauderdale area. That’s what I did over the phone at the cabin. If they spot the space girl, they’ll call here. I used your name and telephone number, since we were coming here. Now, Trostrick and the girl must have left the cabin just shortly before we arrived; the small man’s body was still warm. So, say they’ve been away from there no less than two hours. It would take about an hour to drive to the nearest airport, and much longer before they could make connections to Miami. Even if they got a flight out immediately, it would be a good two hours before they landed.” Joshua was retousling already unruly hair. “And probably there wouldn’t be a flight right away.”
He pulled his six feet into vertical activity. “Meanwhile,” he said to the somnolent doctor, “I’m going to the airport and charter a plane. If I can locate a jet, I can be at Trostrick’s with no more than a two or three hour lag. Maybe four. But I know where his house is. And he took her there, if he intends to do any ritual work.”
“Wait,” said Pablo. “He might have gone to New York, as well. He has a place there, too. That’s where I was yesterday, as a matter of fact. Is there any magical technique you could use to trace them?”
Esmerelda shook her head. “I don’t think so, Uncle Pablo. We’ve both tried searching the Akashic Record, which is the most foolproof way we know of for finding someone. She vanished from it while she was in the cabin. It’s just what a black magician would try to do: put a mental fence around her so that she would begin to lose contact with the rest of her environment. It is highly technical work; it takes an Ipsissimus to accomplish it. Which Trostrick is.”
Joshua ambled into the hall and used the telephone. He announced, after hanging up, “I’ve found a good charter jet. It can be ready to go as soon as I get there. The pilots were there already, as it happened. No problem. I’m off.”
“But, Josh,” said Pablo, “how do you know it’s Ft. Lauderdale you’re headed for?”
“Just playing the odds. Trostrick may do some ritual work in New York, but his magical personality will have much more power if it works in the place it has used the longest. If I were he, I would go to Ft. Lauderdale.”
Joshua was on his way out the door, oblivious to Pablo’s objections. He paused at the sound of an engine, and all three came to the door to welcome Theodore and the space man, back from their long journey via the Army Way.
Theodore was first through the door, and he went to Esmerelda. She took his hand, and held her other one out to reach for the space man’s. “Back all safe,” she said.
“You wouldn’t believe it,” said Theodore. “But yes.”
“Great,” said Joshua. “Good-bye.”
He was out the door.
“Where’s he going?” Theodore asked.
“He found out that the space girl is probably in Ft. Lauderdale. He’s going after her.”
Theodore looked swiftly at Esmerelda, and as swiftly she nodded in response. “I’m going too,” he said. He was out the door after Joshua.
Josh started the Lamborghini. “Too dangerous,” he said with some finality, putting the car into gear.
Theodore wasted no more words, but simply opened the right door of the car and, as Joshua accelerated along the driveway, folded himself into the passenger seat and got the door closed as Joshua made the turn onto the access road. The twelve cylinders screamed away down the road, audible to the ones left behind long after the car was out of sight.
“They’ll be all right, Uncle Pablo,” Esmerelda soothed, leading the exhausted professor back to the sofa.
“Maniac,” he grumbled, settling into the cushions again. Esmerelda took in the room: her uncle was ready to sleep, and he would want to answer the phone whenever it rang. She turned to the man from space. “Do you wish to rest your physical body, my brother?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Will you send your spirit in search of your sister?”
“And may I accompany you in spirit for your search, my brother?”
Esmerelda took his hand, and together they walked into the shady, breezy screened porch, made themselves comfortable, and prepared for meditation.
Esmerelda’s teacher was meditating too; not as deeply, but his concentration was so intense, as he pushed the little Italian car to its limits, that there was a calm, peaceful confidence that is discovered in the meditative state. Theodore beside him in the two-seater, had intended to explain some of his reasons for coming along, but after the car took the driveway corner, his mind was able to hold nothing except acute fright. Josh slid around corner after corner, missing trees and ditches by inches as he drifted past them at 120 miles per hour. The gear box sang as Joshua manipulated it, and the machine settled to a smoothly howling whine as Josh flattened out at 150 on the four-lane. It would be only minutes before they reached the airport.
“They ought to put a grand prix course along that road back there, and name it after you,” Theodore managed, as the relatively straight road numbed his sense of fear somewhat.
“Relax, Ted.” Starr was settled deep into his seat, his arms straight. “Magicians don’t have accidents.”
This comforted Theodore very little. The ribbon of blacktop was untangling behind them at an impossible speed. Theodore’s pale skin was even paler, from the emotions he felt; his whole expression had lost its gentle sweetness, and taken on a tone of dogged determination.
The ordeal was over quickly, as Joshua rapidly downshifted, and moved more and more slowly into a left turn around and under the viaduct as they entered the Washington National Airport area. One stop sign, and they were parking at the executive terminal. Starr was still wasting no time; he slammed the car door and sprinted for the office. Theodore was out of his side of the car and running fast but lagging behind, and feeling like thunder trying to keep up with lightning.
Joshua was flagged down by a young, thin office clerk as he passed the main desk. “Mr. Starr? Joshua Starr?”
The clerk held out a telephone. “Call for you, sir.”
The magician broke his run to take the receiver. “Yes?” he said, his voice impatient.
“Josh? Thought I’d be able to catch you. Told the boy there just to stop any maniac who …”
“What is it, Pablo?”
“Joshua, I just had a call from the detective agency you employed for us in Miami. The Acme Detective Agency. They reported no sighting of Trostrick, but he said that one of the men he had working on our case was accidentally killed in a traffic mishap right outside the terminal doors. Does that suggest anything to you?”
“Yeah. We’re on our way.”
Joshua handed the receiver back to the clerk and began to run again, past several desks and some seated customers; he was stopped again by his name, spoken by a pudgy, blonde man who was extending his hand to him. “Mr. Starr?” asked the man pleasantly.
“Let’s go,” said Joshua, passing him at a dead run.
The pilot joined the retinue, and fitted neatly between Starr and Theodore as they raced for the small jet. They climbed the air stairs at the front of the aircraft, and thoroughly startled a short man with a bright red handlebar moustache who was comfortably reclining in one of the executive chairs of the cabin’s rich interior. The bright blue eyes looked out between the moustache and a thatch of similarly red hair. “Mr. Starr?” he said, in unconscious repetition of his copilot’s greeting.
Joshua had a similar lack of tact with him. “Can we take off immediately?”
“That’s what we’re here for,” said the pilot, good-naturedly enough to take Starr at his word, regardless of the way he seemed to disdain the amenities. He sat down in the left seat. His hand moved swiftly over the fuel boost pump switches and the ignition. He depressed the number two starter solenoid switch and spun the compressor of the right engine. The copilot raised the air-stair and put his shoulder against the plug-type door, turning the handle to lock position as the jet engine started its whine outside.
The copilot slid into the right seat and took the radio microphone off its hook under the window on his side of the cockpit and turned the volume up. “Clearance delivery, Lear four seven two eight alpha, to Ft. Lauderdale.”
The loudspeaker above the copilot’s head came back immediately: “Four seven two eight alpha is cleared to the Ft. Lauderdale Airport. Depart south, over the river. Noise abatement. Vectors Casanova, Gordonsville, J 37. Flight plan route: maintain four thousand. Expect flight level two three zero after Gordonsville.”
The copilot read back the clearance, was acknowledged, and switched over to ground control. “Two eight alpha at Page. Taxi,” he said into the microphone, his voice barely audible to Josh, but perfectly clear to the controller in the tower. His thumb flipped the mike switch, and ground control was answering efficiently: “Two eight alpha is cleared to runway one eight. Or you can use one five, if you want.”
“We’ll use one five,” said the copilot, glancing at four air carriers in line for one eight.
The small man whose face was so totally dominated by the elegant red moustache moved his hands with professional speed over the necessary switches to complete the checklist. He applied power with the thrust levers, and they were moving at last, the wheels rolling forward across the executive ramp.
The copilot moved the control yoke through full travel, checking for freeness, and switched the radio to tower frequency. “Two eight alpha is ready when we get there,” he said into the mike.
The answer boomed back, holding a tinny chuckle. “Two eight alpha is cleared for immediate take off when you get there. Traffic’s three miles, final for one eight.”
The pilot had the thrust levers slightly forward as they rounded the corner of the runway and straightened out on the 150 degree heading. He moved the levers up to the 2.28 limit, and the jet accelerated rapidly. It was running almost empty, no luggage, only two passengers and the crew, and the full fuel tanks.
As the nose lifted away from the ground and pushed sharply upward, the copilot contacted departure control and was cleared to flight level four one zero. Josh and Theodore sank down into two overstuffed couches in the deluxe cabin and, as the small jet moved south at mach .78, composed themselves for a brief nap. “Don’t know what you were so excited about back there on the way to the airport,” said the magician. “We weren’t going one third this fast, then.”
They slept lightly, dozing into their cushions with the slight consciousness of exhaustion at a time of continuing stress, neither fully asleep nor completely awake, until the small pilot put his fiery head into the cabin to say, “Ft. Lauderdale, coming up.”
“Thanks,” said Joshua, sitting up. “Could you call ahead for a rental car?”
“Sure could.” The pilot had been watching Josh and Theodore with some interest. He had extreme disrespect for the usual corporate types that rented this expensive an airplane usually, going off somewhere to close one of their endless deals. He had watched so many of them climb aboard and drink until their destination was reached, without ever looking or sounding even vaguely intelligent. This Mr. Starr looked quite a different article. And his obvious exhaustion bespoke a possibly interesting recent past. He also seemed very anxious, now that he was up, to get where he was going. “What’s up?” he asked Joshua.
Josh grinned. “The good guys is chasing the bad guys. Speed is essential, man.”
“You’re in the right place for that,” said the pilot. “Listen, if there’s anything I can do to help out when we land, count me in. Always glad to help out one of the good guys.”
“That goes for me too,” said the copilot.
“Thanks,” said Joshua. “Just get me on the ground.”
“Roger wilco,” said the red-haired pilot. “I think we can work that out.”
Theodore had come up to the door of the cockpit, and they all looked through the windscreen as they began descending. Lights spread out below them in the gathering dusk as far as their eyes could see: Highway A 1 A shone all the way from West Palm Beach to Homestead Air Force Base south of Miami like a gaudy necklace. Miami was solid with light in the dimness below them, and they could hear loud speakers identifying Miami Approach Control. They were cleared down to two thousand feet for an approach to runway nine left at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport. The gear and flaps were down; the copilot had completed the before-landing checklist. The pilot pushed the thrust levers forward and the plane stabilized at a 600 foot-per-minute rate of descent, on final approach to the runway below.
“Down and three green,” sang the copilot. “Full flaps, and clear to land.”
The pilot made the touch-down while the copilot was in touch with ground control, and they taxied to a hangar complex at the extreme south end of the field, where a tired-looking line boy dressed in white wandered out and directed them to a parking area. The air stairs went out and down, and the copilot opened the door. “You going to a motel?” asked Josh.
“No, there’s a condominium apartment that the company keeps here,” said the pilot. “We’ll check in there, and you can call us any time.” He gave Josh a card. “One of us will make a point of being by the phone. We can be ready to go anywhere you want in ten minutes.”
As the pilot started down the air stairs and signaled the line boy to top off the tanks, Josh was off and running again, Theodore close behind. He almost ran up against a rather heavy-set man, who was coming through the office door of the flying service with a coffee cup in one hand, the other hand outstretched, and a big grin on his face. “Hello,” he greeted in a gravelly voice. “My name ... “
Joshua barreled past him; the man ducked quickly and then looked ruefully at his coffee-stained shirt front.
“Is that the rent-a-car?” asked Josh.
“Yes, it is. The keys are on the counter there.” The paunchy man moved back behind the desk. “And here are the papers …”
“The pilot will take care of the papers,” said Josh over his shoulder as he went through the front door.
“But you’ll need a copy,” said the genial, coffee-stained man ineffectually, as he heard the unmistakable sound of gravel-spitting departure.