The Conversation

I glanced up at the owner of the old mansion. His deep-set, haunting brown eyes probably held terribly dangerous secrets that I didn't want to know. Yet each pupil held an intense sparkle from his soul-walk in the Light of Life.

I left my hands in the warmth of my jacket. "You're a Messianic Jew, aren't you?"

Thick brows up, Dr. Adler laughed. "You're full of interesting insights child, but putting your long hair in a baseball cap doesn't fool me, young lady. Why go by Rickie?"

I shrugged, "My grandmother, on my mother's side, she escaped Germany somehow, during World War II. When I was born, she asked my Mom to name me America, because we should all be grateful to the Messiah that we didn't end up in a gas chamber."

He tightened his face into a frown, but nodded. "I agree with your grandmother. Why not go by Amy or Erica?" He relaxed and sucked on the mint.

"My stepfather wanted a boy, and my friends, well they're not the social, cheerleader types."

Dr. Adler grinned. He moved the mint around with his tongue. "You look like the type who would rather read a science book or hang out with high school computer geeks and watch reruns of Star Lore."

"Sometimes, but I like detective stuff now."

"Ah." He nodded, mulling over my disclosure. He quickly glanced behind him at the open back door.

The moving guys brought out paintings along with the mirror covered in blankets and a dolly full of boxes. The physicist tilted his head, eyes on me, listening to the sound of the mover's footsteps. He folded hands into a steeple. "You on a case today?"

"Not exactly. Just hiding out." I adjusted the weight off my left hip and peered at Dr. Adler sideways.

He tilted his head toward me. "Well, you can hide out with me for as long as you like. I'm pretty good at protecting people, including your grandparents."

"So, you're guarding my grandparents right now?"

"Mm hmm." He smiled. "Just doing my job."

I picked up on the same haunted feeling of my Grandma's. "You went through the Holocaust, too, didn't you?"

He nodded, moving the mint to one cheek. He pushed up his coat and tattered black sweater sleeve. The prison numbers, 26949 scarred his inner left arm, ugly and green. "Your grandmother ever show you hers?"

"Yeah, 26947. She told me they used her in some medical experiments, but she won't talk about the details. They thought she was older than nine, or they wouldn't have bothered to keep her alive." I moved my hands around in my pockets to keep them warm.

"Same here." Dr. Adler's gaze fell on the large closed wooden door of the old stone carriage house. His steepled, gloved hands suddenly stiffened—forefingers pressed firmly together while the rest of his fingers tightly clenched over the back of his hands.

The bruise made my forehead ache and I tried not to frown, while I wondered what he had gone through, but too afraid to inquire. I never pressed Grandma, and certainly didn't want to ask a stranger. But Dr. Adler glanced at me and then stared again at the stone wall. I got the feeling that for the moment, that old carriage house reminded him of another building of cracked foundation, mortar and broken stone.

"You know," he explained quietly, "your grandmother and I weren't so much the victims of the medical experiments, but that we were forced to take part in them."

"Why?" I whispered.

"To study the effects of our unusual abilities on others they mutilated, and harness those abilities for the Master Race. They made us watch while they tortured other prisoners and then forced us to heal them. They even tried to reproduce our abilities by transferring our blood into their subjects."

I tried to change the topic. "My grandparents wanted Mom and I to make aliyah with them to Israel this year, but my Step Dad wouldn't let us go. He and Mom had this huge fight about it." I stared at the thick ivy vines choking the stone walls of the carriage house. "He got… uhm… physical. He really beat her up pretty bad, and then just left the house. Mom went into this healing state. She curled up in the guest bedroom and didn't wake up for almost two days. I stayed home from school until she woke up. My grandparents were pretty upset when they found out."

Dr. Adler studied the purple lump on my forehead. "Did your stepfather hit you?"

I stood to leave, but those eyes of his went fiercely green again. I sighed and gingerly sat back down beside him. I didn't want him probing my head. He blinked. His brown irises seemed hauntingly sad, like he was the one in pain along with me. I wanted to hide inside those eyes.

"He… uhm… gets drunk on scotch and brandy." I shifted my weight and stared at my lap. "Yeah, I'm his new punching bag since Mom died on Monday. He told authorities she accidentally fell down the basement stairs. Detectives came and got me out of school. The police seemed to believe his story for some reason, but this one officer, he quietly mentioned to the detective about the green vines she clutched in her hand, and a suction mark on her neck. They didn't know I overheard. We don't have any ivy plants like your old mansion."

Hands in my pockets, I hugged my old thin jacket around me. "I don't know why she ever married him, the way he screamed at me last night before hitting me in the face with the fireplace poker. He waited until after the funeral yesterday, wanting to keep up appearances I guess. After I fell from the blow, he snarled, 'you never were mine anyway.' I didn't know until then but I'm glad."

I stopped rambling and stared at the skin of my bare big toe poking out from the hole in my old tennis shoes. I brushed the dirt off the worn knees of my blue jeans. The moving guys hurried back in to the house. The Ethiopian guy carried the dolly on his shoulder. A scrap of wind swept dead leaves across the cold porch and down to the broken up stone walk. The air suddenly felt chilly. I shivered and shifted painfully on the hard porch. I hugged my old thin jacket closer. Out by the garden path, the branches of the sprawling rose bushes conducted a silent symphony in the wind. The thin long sucker branches waved frantically. They caught my attention for a while, reminding me of the funny plant creature's vine like arms.

"What do you think happened to your mother?" A gentle, nasal tenor tenderly caressed my ears.

I peered up at the stone mansion's owner. He had been watching me curiously, with his thick brows raised. He moved the mint around in his mouth.

As the wind settled, the sucker branches calmed and lowered to the sides of the rose bushes. "My step dad's a defense lawyer. He used to be pretty decent, until a few months ago." I kept my gaze on the rose bushes. "I heard this term on Law and Order once, something about perpetuating a fraud. Anyway, I don't think he knew I was aware of his illegal dealings with this gun running restaurant until last night. I think Mom found out something and he staged the accident." I checked for the moving guys. They must have been inside. I peered up at Dr. Adler and whispered, "That plant you found in your basement – maybe he used that to murder my mother." I pulled my worn out jacket closer, glad to have at least my long nightshirt under my thin sweater.

He leaned his head close to mine. "Or maybe," he whispered back, mint beneath his tongue, "I'm a great ventriloquist and all you saw was a bucket of pure vinegar poured on an overgrown Venus Fly Trap that didn't kill anyone at all."

His breath smelled minty cool. I frowned and leaned away. A shiver went down my spine, and I hugged my jacket tightly. My forehead hurt.

Dr. Adler glanced at the open back doors. He nodded at the moving guys carrying out more boxes on two dollies. Standing up, he took off his black trench coat and placed the warmly lined leather garment around my shoulders.

"Thanks," I adjusted the large coat around me and pulled the opening together as he sat down on the steps again.

"Welcome." Dr. Adler removed his hat and shook his head. Dark hair boyishly fell over his high forehead, hiding a fading bruise above his left brow. The morning sun revealed only few streaks of grey in his hair—much less than what I had seen before through the basement window. Maybe he could heal himself, like Mom.

Larger than my mother's, a gold Star of David—with a different colored jewel in each point—hung around his neck from a brand new, hard to break chain. The new jewelry and deep, sparkling brown eyes really contrasted with the black turtleneck's torn up sleeves, dark tweed pants smeared with dried mud, and scuffed up black leather shoes. His clothes looked Huckleberry Finn. He seemed younger then he did earlier, more relaxed.

"And my real Dad came from outer space." I laughed, thinking of how Mom would wistfully stare at Regulus, the central star in the constellation Leo, and play with the silver lion ring on the second finger of her right hand.

I had asked her once if she wished that the m'Arhiel race on the Star Lore TV series were real, and she replied, "How do you know that they're not?" I felt for the ring on a chain around my neck beneath my nightshirt. Mom had always said that the ring and her Star of David had been presents from her friend, Wendy Rosenfeld, the show's assistant producer, but why did Dr. Adler have a star as well?

The guys hastened into the house for more stuff.

Dr. Adler laughed, too. "Or maybe he's closer than you think." He winked.

"What?" I stared. "What do you mean?"

He gingerly held the hat on a clean part of his lap. "More than thirteen years ago Rhonda Margaret, your mother was still my wife. Maggie left me to marry your stepfather, a lawyer here in Wichita and insisted that when you were born, I wasn't the father." He deeply breathed in and out. "Had no proof you were mine, until today."

"Oh, this is too weird." I jumped off the steps and lightly skipped down the broken stone pathway, but didn't fly away scared of the dark shadows this time, like I did last night in the foggy night cemetery. A shadowy tall man had run after me pleading, 'Amelie, I won't hurt you. Please come back!'

If not for the backpack on my shoulder, his trench coat would have dragged, making getting off the ground rather difficult. I could slip the coat off, but the air had turned chilly and I really didn't want to. I felt that tingling in the back of my skull again, lightly tugging like the end of an invisible tether and reeling me in. I turned back around.

He just sat there with his half grin and sparkling brown eyes, twirling his hat in his dark gloved hands. He wasn't in the least hurry to stop me or retrieve his coat, unsurprised that I nearly took off in the air from the porch. "Haven't you ever noticed how your eyes turn green sometimes?" He asked, gently quiet, in a pitch meant only for my sensitive ears to pick up. He studied me as his irises changed to emerald.

"Not till yesterday." I tried to answer back in the same pitch. I had used it once or twice to annoy the neighborhood dogs or make them quiet. "I couldn't do much until now."

I felt my irises began turn. Twirling his hat, eyes sparkling like a deep green sea, he chuckled at me and I blushed. The scab on my cheek reddened. My irises turned dark brown and so did his. Hesitating, I adjusted his trench coat and took a couple steps toward the porch again. "Why did she leave you?"

He placed the hat on his lap and gazed at me with those sad brown eyes. I blinked my eyes hard and swallowed the lump in my throat.

"Maggie was afraid to be different and not from this world, like you're feeling right now. She didn't confide in me back then, but I could tell. She wanted to give you a safe normal life by marrying Tommy James, her childhood sweetheart. Your stepfather used to be a pretty moral Sunday church going kind of guy, but the seeds of truth never broke through his stony ground. He fooled a lot of people though including me. Not to mention your mother—for a very long time."

"But why did you let her go?"

Brows relaxed, he sighed. "Sometimes that's the only way to save those you love."

The blonde-haired moving guy came out through the wide doorway. "Excuse me, sir."

Holding his hat, Dr. Adler rose and stepped onto the porch. He stood over the blonde-haired man. Adler had a sophisticated gun, handle facing forward, in a belt holder on his left hip. Looked like some kind of futuristic military issue from Star Lore. Adler glanced at me. –Will you stay?–

His thought voice came through like dual speakers, one in back and one in the front, jangling my nerves, but I nodded. Where could I go? His words about Mom and that plant didn't make sense, unless she didn't lie under that new mound of dirt I cried on last night. Clutching his trench coat, I nodded. Head bent down, I walked over to the steps and listened.

"Sorry to bother you, sir, but is there more furniture to move or just the boxes in the old nursery?"

"Did you get all the boxes in the living room, Drew?"

The moving man nodded. "And the ones in the basement."

Adler continued, "the grandfather clock in the living room, and the roll top desk in the basement. The rest will be sold with the house. Place the three boxes marked with red hearts from the nursery in the back seat of my car." He nodded toward me, twirling his hat. "Presents for Rickie."

The fair haired, muscular man in grey coveralls smiled my way. "Hi Rickie."

"Hey." I hid inside Dr. Adler's coat, and didn't frown. My head ached. Boxes of stuff for me? "Wait a minute. Weren't you the gardener hanging out at the funeral, yesterday?"

The man glanced at Dr. Adler who nodded, fiddling with his hat. "Yeah, that was me," said Drew. "Well, better get back to work," and he disappeared back into the mansion.

Adler turned toward me, but nothing about his casual demeanor revealed anything about the boxes. He walked back to the edge by the steps. "Shall we sit back down again Rickie, or use my car? Lot warmer and more private." His tired smile and gentle eyes held out hope. Surely I could trust him with everything.

I glanced over to the right at the car's rear end, sticking past the edge of the back stonewall of the mansion, thinking about the odd gun Dr. Adler carried. Yet those boxes sounded interesting. "I don't know. Not unless you really are planning to take me someplace safe."

Holding his hat, he went down the three steps to the crackled stone walk and stepped over to me. He whispered in that pitch above normal human hearing. "You want to disappear without a trace?"

I looked up. "Something like that, but what about the moving guys?"

Studying my eyes, he moved the peppermint under his tongue. "They work for me. You wearing the silver lion ring from your mother's jewelry box on a chain beneath your sweat shirt?"

I nodded, and let my puzzled expression ask how did you know? Thought his height would be scary, having him tower over me all dressed in black, with a weird gun on his hip. Just made me feel safe, like when Mom used to hold me close after I skinned a knee from falling off my bike.

Hands on his hat where I could see them, he explained. "I gave that ring to your mother when we divorced. The emerald gems in the eyes emit a faint dual quantum signature trail, similar to your neural DNA when you were only invisible to the range of the human eye." He breathed in deeply and exhaled. "You're not that adept at disappearing yet. Good thing you found me here when you came by playing private detective, instead of your stepfather's dangerous new friends."

He stepped intimately close, chin down and whispered very quietly. "Do you really want to tell me out here in the open how your stepfather attacked you last night or why you were snooping in our basement window this morning?" He had one of those straight faces that actors use playing the good guys asking questions in conspiracy movies.

Why did he say our? As if he included me, like this old stone place should have been my home, too. I edged away from him sideways. I never quickly opened up before except to Mom, even if the stranger might be my real father.

"What are the Trell?" I asked, still backing away. "Are they actually liquid changelings, and do they really exist?" I tried not to imagine being enveloped in a mass of ugly crud, oozing through me like I had seen on TV. I shuddered inside his coat and pretended it was just the cold.

"Rickie…" He sighed. His broad shoulders sagged. He put his hat back on and hugged his arms across the long wide tear in his black turtleneck. "They're not a bucket of orange goo from the special effects department for Star Lore, and they're a thousand times worse than what you saw in that window. The Trell make that carnivorous plant creature look like one of the dumb Dalek robots from Doctor Who."

"Really?" I asked. "Do they turn into huge worms with flowers on their heads and devour subway cars in New York City?"

He pursed his lips and didn't laugh at my reference to Men In Black II. His eyes flashed green and back to brown. "Rickie, this isn't a Hollywood movie. You'd be safer in Auschwitz than be sold to them." He raised his brows like a dad about to give a lecture. "You haven't answered my question yet."

Hugging his trench coat around me like a blanket, I relented. "Yeah, sure Dr. Adler. The car's a good idea."

The men came out with a long object wrapped in several blankets–-must have been the grandfather clock. Dr. Adler had stepped close to me again. He reached out a hand. I shut my eyes and flinched.