The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Chapter Six: School

        But his body refused to cooperate. He was trembling uncontrollably and sweating, he seemed to be looking down a long tube that kept getting narrower and narrower, there was a roaring buzz in his head that drowned out everything else, and he felt himself spinning, spinning, spinning…
        Sara and Mrs. J watched him slump to the floor, retching weakly. Sara didn't know what to do and looked helplessly at the older woman.
        "Is shock. Sometimes people gettink shot at go all vobbly." She shrugged, "Don't know vhy. Ve take good care of him, be OK in little bit. You pick him up, come vith me." She stuffed the costume back into the brown suitcase and headed for the front door.
        Sara kneeled down beside the semi-conscious Alex, reached carefully under him with both arms, and slowly, tenderly, effortlessly lifted him up. She followed Mrs. J out of her 'A' unit apartment to the neighboring 'B' unit.
        "Your apartment no good," she said to Alex's dangling head. "Stayink here from now on. I am alvays keepink this one ready for visitink heads of state. Hah!"
        It was the twin of Mrs. J's, lavishly furnished and scrupulously clean. In contrast to its unremarkable exterior, the interior exuded an Old World charm in its décor that would be incongruous in a city like Houston, where tastes ran to the gaudy. No one driving busily by on Blalock would ever suspect there was this oasis of civility in an otherwise decaying neighborhood of apartment blocks, crackerbox working-class houses, strip centers and the ubiquitous 7-11's on every corner. Alex had passed it every day on his way in and out of the complex without ever noticing anything unusual.
        Mrs. J led Sara up the stairs, still cradling Alex in her arms, where she directed the girl to lay him down on the big, ornate four-poster bed in the master bedroom. Rudy and Jesus were already there, putting Alex's things from his old apartment in the closet. At Mrs. J's direction, Sara propped his legs up on a couple of down pillows, covered him snugly and bathed his forehead with a cool washcloth. Mrs. J disappeared down the stairs and soon the sound of clattering from the kitchen began, followed by strong, ethnic aromas.
        Sara was sitting next to Alex on the edge of the bed, watching him concernedly, when Mrs. J returned with a steaming bowl of something thick and unidentifiable. It was strange and good — after a few tentative mouthfuls — and Alex finished it off gratefully, sharing it with Sara. He felt better almost immediately.
        Finally, he could stand it no longer. "Mrs. Jachimczyk, I hate to sound ungrateful and all, and please don't take this personally, but… Are you insane, or what? I can't believe what you just did. You could have killed somebody. How could you possibly know that Sara would… That she would…"
        Things had happened so fast, he still hadn't really sorted them out. He thought Mrs. J was trying to kill Sara and shot at him instead when he got in the way. But then Sara…
        He shook his still throbbing head.
        "Vhy so suprized? You don't know vhat is in front of own eyes?" She looked mildly exasperated.
        "You testink her all day, vhat you think, anyvay? Vhen I see costume, I make test, too. Pretty damn quick — boom, boom, boom. Vhen I pointink gun at her, I not need to be testink her anymore. Testink you. You showink true feelinks, no bullshit. You surprizink me! Big hero, hah!"
        "But… You shot at me on purpose? My God! You couldn't possibly have known Sara could…" What, reach around him and grab a bullet out of the air?
        "Not to vorry. Am good shot. Aim for arm, so maybe I hit you, hurt like hell, you don't play guitar so good for little vhile."
        "Vas speeding bullet," Mrs. J shrugged. "Sara faster than. You don't be readink comics? Vhat you think means big 'S'?"
        Alex realized that Mrs. J's faith in Sara was greater than his. He was analytical, she was instinctual. He tested every hypothesis, she simply chose the truth. It started to dawn on Alex that Mrs. J was not necessarily a homicidal lunatic after all. Just what the hell was she?
        "You restink for little vhile. Then get cleaned up. Got big date tonight. I am makink feast for you, me, Sara, couple friends, and great big lawyer ladyfriend you been seeink. She happy to see you don't be goink to jail, hah?"
        Alex was getting used to being startled. "You tapped my phone, didn't you? Jesus, what else is going on around here?"
        "No need to be tappink phone. I see her comink in vith you sometimes, stayink long enough for nice dinner you be cookink. You only have time, makink one phone call. Who else you be callink? Musician's union? Hah!"
        So Mrs. J noticed who came and went in her little domain. She evidently noticed a lot. Her and her little army.
        "How would you know she was a lawyer?" he asked suspiciously.
        Mrs. J tapped the side of her head and winked. "Maybe I don't be tellink you ev'rythink." She motioned to Sara, who obediently followed her out of the bedroom.
        "Dinner at six, my place. Got lots to talk about." The front door closed and Alex was alone.

        At six, a cleaned-up and refreshed Alex walked into Mrs. J's front door. Sara was sitting on the floor in front of three old men in a semicircle of throne-like chairs who looked like 'doktors' from a Frankenstein movie, chattering away happily in several languages. They appeared to be delighted with her childish exuberance and vied with each other to capture her attention.
        She had new clothes, which bore the unmistakeable evidence of an afternoon's hard play. In another corner of the living room, Mrs. J seemed to be arguing heatedly with Dinah Prinze. Everyone ignored Alex.
        He wondered how Mrs. J had arranged for Dinah to be here, and why. Dinah — unusually tall of stature, weight-room fit, vast, round bosoms and midnight hair spilling in profuse, dense ringlets about her shoulders. Impressive, but not necessarily attractive. She had a powerful, intense look about her which, combined with her intimidating size and physique, was more than slightly disturbing.
        As Alex understood it, she was a lawyer in the same way that a Rottweiler was a dog, and practically a celebrity because of it. He could imagine her stalking a courtroom, relentlessly grinding down her opponents with no mercy, tying them up in rhetorical knots and wringing the truth from evildoers. But her attention to her career had stunted her social development somewhat. She was ill-at-ease in groups of people, lacking in grace and spectacularly out of place. She was a date from Hell.
        Alex had met her at a gig, Edgar Lake's Big Band playing at Birraporetti's on South Gray, just outside posh River Oaks. Somebody in the band knew somebody else at her table and dragged him over, introducing him as 'Brainiac'. They spent two breaks sitting across from each other without saying anything, and while he was packing up his gear, she awkwardly came over and handed him her card.
        "Call me," she managed to rasp, and fled.
        He called her. They did the usual things — seafood at Landry's, Mexican at Pappasito's, ribs at Tony Roma's. They went to the Pasadena Strawberry Festival and put a sizeable dent in the World's Largest Strawberry Shortcake, rode a helicopter and several cheesy carnival rides between watching Mud Volleyball bouts and an alligator wrestler. They laughed. Eventually, they talked.
        Her expensive apartment was a far cry from his, but it was dominated by her extremely fluffy cats. His allergy-sensitive eyes swelled shut in no time. So she came to his place, where he prepared elaborate meals of Cornish game hens stuffed with wild rice, spaghetti made with jalapeño wine he'd made himself, real southern-fried chicken with buttery mashed potatoes covered with pan gravy.
        She never spent the night. It just didn't happen. He was still hurting from a failed marriage, and she didn't know what to do to get things started — though occasionally she tried clumsily to get his attention. For his part, he was potentially terrified of the possible consequences of acting on any impulses he might have that she might not appreciate — though he certainly noticed her awkward attempts at being provocative. They were both so accomplished at being losers that there were never any clear signals between them, try as they might. So they just talked, more at ease with each other every time — and damned grateful for the company. It was both sad and oddly satisfying.
        He went over to the two women. Mrs. J turned to Alex and mock-jovially exclaimed, "Havink nice talk vith your sveet Dinah! She is vonderful voman! Make you happy in old age. Hah!"
        Dinah turned to Alex, eyes flashing, anger evident, "Do you know what these people are? Do you have the slightest idea?"
        Alex shook his head warily. It looked like his day of surprises would never end.
        "They're Communists! The whole complex is full of them. They left their countries at the end of the Cold War and came over here with forged papers, phony passports. This whole place is like a refugee camp for Party bosses."
        Alex's eyebrows raised thoughtfully, "Oh, yeah. I guess that would explain all the old guys with bad suits in the rec hall every Wednesday." He was half-sarcastic and she knew it.
        "I'm serious, Alex. I've known about these people for months, now."
        "You have?" said Alex suspiciously.
        Dinah suddenly looked like she'd let a very large cat out of a very small bag.
        "You know who is Dinah's boss?" asked Mrs. J.
        Not taking his eyes off of Dinah, he said, "Yeah. She works for some Manhatten law firm. Perry something-or-other."
        "She from Perry, Dyess, Eyelandt. Partners dead now, owned by Bruce Wayans. She sent here, do his dirty vork."
        "You mean, the guy that's called the Black Knight?" At least by editorial cartoonists.
        "Vants to be first black president, US of A. Filthy rich. Makink big name and big money goink after big criminals, big biznesses, nasty guys. Vith army of lawyers. Like Dinah."
        "Does this mean," started Alex slowly, "You don't just love me for my boyish charm and rugged good looks? You were stalking your quarry?" He felt like one big fool.
        "No, Alex," she tried to explain, "We started going together before I knew about this. Really. I saw some suspicious stuff and started checking around, doing some research. It was all just a coincidence."
        "Uh-huh." He was unconvinced.
        "She is beink right. Can't keep secret long in free country. Her job is beink snoop." Mrs. J went on, "Now she gettink big story for boss. 'Black Knight expose Commies'. Much hoo-hah. Maybe boss give her big raise."
        "He doesn't know," Dinah said, looking at the floor.
        That got Mrs. J's attention. "Not know? Vhat you vaitink for?"
        Dinah looked at the ceiling, "I'm here in Houston to go after a chemical plant in Deer Park that we believe is actually owned by the Chinese government and ships certain chemicals to Iraq. This was my own project. I thought I'd just learn what I could."
        "So you try to sneak in Mexican to vork here. Vith my Cubans. Hah!"
        "Cubans?" said Alex.
        "Cubans!" echoed Dinah.
        "Cubans," Mrs. J answered gleefully. "Hah! I know vhat you up to, I snoop on you! So vhy you not be tellink boss? Maybe you vorry about Alex?"
        "Well, you nearly shot him," she flashed back. "These people are dangerous, Alex. They're all killers, as far as I'm concerned. Thugs who could be, who should be extradited back to their old countries for trial."
        Alex obviously looked surprised, so Mrs. J explained, "Showink her ev'rytink — apartment, big 'S', bullets. Tell whole story."
        Dinah nodded, "Some story."
        She turned to Alex and said, "So now I know what you were holding out on me," glancing at Sara. She looked like she considered themselves even.
        "Now I tellink you rest of story," began Mrs. J.
        "Vhen I vas gorl, lookink like Sara, vas Great Patriotic Var against Hitler. Not good times, my village. Ev'rybody gettink shot, ev'rythink burnink down, no food, no fuel, plenty snow, plenty Germans. But I survive. Vhatever it takink, I survive. Sometimes doink things you not vant to know about.
        "So I join Party. Party savink my life, savink whole country. I am beink good Party vorker, vorkink vherever they be sendink me. Vorkink in Moscow, vorkink in Gulag, vorkink in Prague, Warsaw, Sarajevo. Sent to Cuba, Vietnam, Angola. Join Party, see vorld. Hah!
        "Ve in big var vith Vest, Amerika, NATO. Cold Var you call it. Ve take very serious. Makink vorld safe for communism. But ve losink var. Party is no more, Soviet Union is no more. Big, fat drunk takink over Kremlin, makink 'democracy'. Bah!
        "Whole time I vas in Party, I am gettink to know people I am meetink all over vorld. Good people. Patriots. Fallink on grenade for motherland. Now havink nothink. Alvays remember.
        "So I come to Amerika. Getting job vorking as home nurse, babysittink dyink rich peoples, mostly old refugees — like me. One thing leadink to another, soon marry old Czech from Rosenberg who vas dropink dead real soon. Leavink lots of money.
        "So I am buyink magnificent apartments, like have to vait ten years for in Moscow! Sendink for friends, they sendink for friends. Apparatchiks, nomenclatura, intellectuals, academics, KGB, Army. Ve even havink Rabbi and doktor! All good people, honest, keepink mouths shut. Now they ready to be fallink on grenade for Amerika. Havink 350 luxury apartments full vith my people. Big, happy family — only family ve havink. Livink on Americanski Socialist Security. Playink Bingo ev'ry Wednesday. Vaitink to die.
        "So vhat ve got here? Smartest people from Eastern Bloc. Experts, experienced in ev'ry field. Theoreticians, scientists, philosophers, engineers, military, spies. Like maybe greatest University in Eastern Europe. Maybe in vorld. If great big lawyer lady be findink out about us, maybe Sara's people, too."
        They all looked at Sara, playing happily with the three 'professors'.
        "They pickink good father for child — maybe good mother, too." She looked at Dinah, who glared back. "So maybe they also pickink good school."

        Dinner was served by a Mexican — er, Cuban — woman with hard, no-nonsense eyes. It was mostly foreign dishes Alex had never had before, but decided he wanted to try again. The conversation was earnest and (as a courtesy to Alex and Dinah) mostly in English, as Mrs. J and the three academic gentlemen mapped out a scheme to provide Sara with the finest education money couldn't buy.
        Sara mostly played with her peas, rolling them around the table by zapping them with short, intense beams from her eyes that caused tiny explosions on the sides of the ones she was aiming at. Though she was the subject of their plans, everybody basically ignored her.
        Dinah didn't contribute much to the conversation, retreating into some inner world for comfort, trying to figure out what to make of everything. Her natural inclinations were to expose this pack of looney Commies, like some crusading warrior from the Cold War. As if anyone really cared about communists under every bed anymore. Still, it was a plot, a conspiracy. They had their hands on something possibly truly momentous in Sara, and she didn't trust them. And she still hadn't come fully to terms with Sara and all she stood for. She was not quite as enamored of the little brat as the rest of them were.
        Alex, for his part, listened intently, sometimes making suggestions the others actually paid attention to. He wondered aloud what his role in bringing up Sara would be.
        "You beink father, take to ball game and movie, bounce on knee," Mrs. J told him. "Takink her places, showink her things. Our job, teachink her good. Your job, teachink her beink good.
        "Sara is empty vessel. Don't know vhy, but she comink to us as child. But she beink plenty smart, learn fast. Ivanovich, here, teach her countink and number theory in half-hour. Already, she figure out 'pi' to million decimals. Easy for her. Like she big, pretty computer vith person inside."
        Alex nodded. Just as he'd thought.
        "Ve teachink her things she needink to be knowink. 'Bout beautiful planet ve livink on, vhat makink things vork, culture, art, music, history…"
        "Indoctrination," muttered Dinah.
        Mrs. J looked exasperated, "Vhat more you vant? Ve lose var! You vin! Is no more ideology for us. No Party line. Vhat you tink ve doink, turnink Sara into killer robot, conquer vorld?"
        "The thought occurs to me," said Dinah dryly.
        "Bah. Ve soon beink all dead. No one here havink family. Maybe ve doink sometink good on vay to better vorld. Sara growink up in three, maybe four years. Prob'ly all the time ve got left."
        "Sara came to America," Dinah said emphatically. "We are certainly capable of providing her with an American education."
        "Sure, you takink her to school, she fittink right in," said Mrs. J sarcastically. "Vhat grade you thinkink? She like dumb Einstein. Puttink vith kindergarten, she tearink up monkey bars. Puttink vith high schoolers, she tearink up football team. Evrybody thinkink she is freak."
        "Well, there's something else right here in Houston that should be able to deal with her, a lot better than a bunch of Evil Empire has-beens. NASA," Dinah declared triumphantly.
        That actually shut Mrs. J up for a while.
        Dinah continued, "They've got the finest facilities for scientific investigation imaginable. Labs, workshops, testing, analysis. The place is crawling with highly trained, professional researchers. Even their janitors have PhD's. If there was one place in the world that was actually designed to accommodate an extraterrestrial, it would be NASA."
        "Sure, you be sendink letter to Director, tellink him you gots ET, come pick her up. Maybe somebody get big laff before throwink in trash. Hah!"
        "It sounds to me, Dinah" said Alex, "that you're maybe more interested in someone taking her apart than you are in her."
        "She is beink like evil stepmother."
        "I am not anyone's stepmother. You," she said to Alex, "are not her father. And Mrs. Jachimczek is certainly not her grandmother. Sara is a thing. A thing! Some goddamned alien bug-eyed monster made up to look all sweet and innocent. None of you has even the slightest idea what she's doing here. She doesn't even know what she's doing here. Or so she says. How do we know she's telling the truth? Even if she is, God knows what kind of program is stashed away somewhere deep in her memory banks, ready to spring out at us when we least expect it. I say get rid of it. Turn it over to NASA and move the hell away."
        Sara had been absent-mindedly wrapping the silverware around her finger through this tirade. She looked like she was going to cry. Alex reached over and cradled her head against his chest.
        "You may be right," he finally said. Everybody looked down at the table. "The thing is, we don't really know anything. Compared to whoever sent her here, we're all just a bunch of yammering savages. We all have to do what we think is right based on what we do know. I know that, to me, Sara is very real, very alive. I care for her. I know it's my responsibility to see to it that she has the best chance she can get to develop her full potential. I intend to do that. And I intend to be a part of her life as long as I can.
        "Outside of we few here, nobody really knows about her. I think that's good, since she's not ready to face our world right now. She needs time and attention, room to grow, a family who loves her.
        "Sooner or later, she'll be ready to come out. We can't keep her a secret for long. Maybe we shouldn't even try. Until then, I think we should do whatever we can to nourish her and teach her. I think it's my decision to make, and that's the way it's going to be."
        Dinah threw herself back in her chair in disgust.
        "That's why we need you," he told Dinah, looking directly into her eyes. "You know everything, and anytime you want to, you can blow the whistle and your Black Knight will be all over us in no time. Right?"
        Dinah nodded, slowly.
        "So watch over us. Be our conscience. If this little experiment goes astray, turn us in. You can easily arrange to have whatever files you want turned over in case there's any monkey business. I agree with you that — when Sara is ready — we should probably contact NASA. But as a person, not as a lab rat.
        "You told me that you can tell when people are telling you the truth. I want you to look at all of us here and tell me if anyone is holding anything back."
        Dinah was silent for a long while, searching the faces at the table one by one until she got to Sara. They stared at each other for what seemed like ages, Dinah suspicious and probing, Sara wide-eyed and brave. Finally, Dinah slumped forward on the table, head between her hands.
        "Oh, I don't know what to think. How can I tell what a machine is thinking, or if it's even thinking at all?"
        "Machine, animal, vhat's dif'rence?" Mrs. J said softly, "Who cares, human beink made in womb or made in factory. Your problem is, you afraid to be findink human beink in your own heart."
        Dinah looked up in tears, "What do you know about my heart? What do you know about my feelings? I feel like more of a monster than she is."
        Sara slipped softly out of Alex's arms and padded around the table to Dinah, who eyed her warily, screeching her chair around on the hardwood floor to confront her.
        "Miss Dinah," she said in her little girl voice, "I don't know what I am. I don't know where I came from and I don't — really, I don't — know why I'm here or who sent me. I can't help any of that. But, I'm not a monster. And you're not a monster, either."
        The little tableau in the darkening room seemed frozen in time — squat, dour Mrs. J at the head of the table, Alex at her right hand next to Sara's empty seat, Sara standing imploringly in front of the seated Dinah and the wise men from the Eastern Bloc looking on like figures in a Rembrandt painting.
        Until finally, in a gesture previously unthinkable to the professional lawyer that Dinah had devoted her life to becoming, she reached out to take Sara in her arms.

Chapter Seven: Growing Up

Table of Contents

© Patrick Hill, 2000