STAR FINDER

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Chapter 46: The Big Reveal

Her feet slid off the sofa and dropped to the floor. “I am awake. Stop yelling? Help me put these crystals back in the cupboard.”

“I’m not yelling. You’re grouchy when you first wake up.”

She began to stand and he poked her shoulder. In slow motion, she fell back down onto the loveseat. “What?”

“You look terrible. Were you spooked by one of Zilla’s ghosts?” He wiggled his fingers in her face. She didn’t react. “What, no zinger? That’s abnormal. Stay there, I’ll do it. I know where they go. Remember I used to be her assistant.”

Lilly dumped her pockets out into Bobby’s waiting shirt. He gathered the T-shirt around them like a sack, slipped into the secret room, and placed the crystals on the shelf.

He rubbed his arms. “Did Zilla turn off the heat? It’s freezing in here.”

“Let’s go eat.”

“No.” He sat next to her. “Before we head into the kitchen, I have something to tell you. Remember earlier when I said that fake FBI guy looked familiar? It came to me how I knew Leo. He and his boss, a short stocky fellow, visited the alley where I lived before I came to Zilla’s. Leo drove the limo.”

She sat forward, angled to face him. “Why were they there?”

“They needed test subjects for some medical experiment. You had to be under sixteen and they paid top dollar.”

“Bobby, Leo and any of his associates are dangerous.”

“I know. I didn’t before. I sent a message and warned the family.”

“Family?”

“It’s the group of kids I bummed around with. On the street if you find someone decent to trust, you stay tight, watch each other’s backs like brothers and sisters.”

Family, it was a good word. She would have enjoyed having brothers and sisters.

“Did anyone volunteer to go with them?”

He nodded.

“Did they all come back after and tell you what the doctors did to them? Where they went?”

“Yeah. Two days later the limo dropped them off back in the alley. They had Band-Aids on their arms and money in their pockets. They said a doctor took a little blood, hooked them up to a machine and that was it. Everybody thought it was a good deal. Hey,” he changed to a whisper, “there was this one strange thing. They weren’t taken to a hospital. The examination was in a basement filled with medical equipment. Even hospital beds.”

“Where?” If her father had survived would Fields have taken him to this same place?

“Near the river. The kids talked about hearing water. Could have been near the sewage treatment plant, who knows. That’s it.”

“The car had windows, what did they see?”

“They were foggy on how they got there and back. Maybe they were drugged?”

“Did you volunteer?”

“Yeah. But they didn’t want me. Wrong body type I guess.”

“And you are sure all the volunteers returned unharmed?”

“Sure.” He rubbed his chin. “Hold on. Ken, Shiny, and her quirky little brother Toby—we never saw them again. There might be more that I didn’t know about. I’d have to ask Crayons and Surprise. They keep track of everyone, especially the smaller ones. I’m just talking about our ‘family’. Other groups living in other areas might know more.”

“Your friends have colorful names.”

“It helps to change your name if you want to stay lost.”

“What do you think happened to the ones who didn’t come back?”

“We figured they had taken the cash, moved on, to something better. We all have dreams, warm ones at this time of year.” He huffed. “Don’t look at me that way.”

“What way?’

“You do a thing with your nose. It curled up. You think because we live on the streets we don’t have dreams and ambitions.”

She shrugged. “You’re the first person I have ever met who lived on the street, so how am I supposed to know without an expanded study group?”

“Benefit of the doubt, that’s how. Don’t be a snob. Is everything a course elective with you?” His elbows rested on his knees, folded hands worked in and out. “Once in a while use your heart instead of your head.”

“You do that a lot. I’m learning. I have never mixed with people.”

“So I noticed.”

“Bobby, the boss man you mentioned has a name. It’s Fields.”

“We called him, ‘the suit.’ And you know his name how?”

It was time to follow her heart and practice what Bobby preached. She trusted him. “He was there at the warehouse. Fields was responsible for the fire. He shot my father. Nautilus, the group he works for experiments on kids. And they don’t stop at taking a single vial of blood.”

“Damn! They are some creepy dudes. And you think Fields, is doing weird stuff to my missing friends? Maybe Ken, Shiny, and Toby are prisoners? Do they cut out kidneys, and shit like that?”

“Worse. They’re despicable.”

Bobby took a breath and winced.

“Ribs bothering you?”

His hand supported them. “Yeah. So that is why Leo was looking for you? To carve you open.”

Lilly nodded once. “They want to dissect my brain.” It wasn’t the whole truth but as close as she could get without tears.

“Man. That is worse than dying.” He held his head. “I’ll pass a note on to Surprise and she can spread the word, warn some of the other street kids.”

“Bobby, I don’t mean to pry, but the other night you mentioned Surprise and now again. Who is she?”

“You heard that? Well, she’s why I’m here. She was in a bad foster home situation. Thirteen and desperate she arrived in D. C. and somehow got mixed up with Tem and his gang. He promised to protect her but it came at a price. He wanted her to shoplift so he could fence what she stole. She refused, and almost as naive as you she told him she’d turn him in to the police. Bavol knocked her around. She was in the hospital for a week with a broken arm, face swollen and bruised. Shiny heard about it on the street and told me. I went to the hospital to see her. She’s a good kid. We were going to make her family when she was released. While I was there guess what mutants showed?” He didn’t give her a chance to guess. “Tem and Bavol. They bullied her, trying to pull her back into the fold. I made a deal: me for her. I have a street rep for finding clever ways to get into impenetrable places.”

Her forehead rose.

“It might have something to do with my size. Anyway, for a month now Tem has been planning this big heist. I do this one B & E for him and Surprise and I are both free. That was until Tem’s brain free-ranged off the tracks when you found that finger.”

“I…I…Bobby…”

“Don’t give me the shame-faced eyes. You’re not guilty of anything. I take that back, you’re like the world’s greatest sucker. You think there is honor among thieves. You’re the person who bought the Brooklyn Bridge. Right?”

She sat straighter, anger replaced guilt as he had hoped it would.

“This was my choice. It has nothing to do with you.”

“Why are you so nice to me?”

Fingertips scrubbed the top of his head. “Because I’m getting the feeling there is something special about you. I mean the guy burned down a city block trying to get to you and your brain. If he wanted a brain, why not hit up any kid? Is there something different about yours?”

As if caught eating the ice cream Zilla reserved for Tem, Lilly hung her head and didn’t look up. Knowing the facts of her birth gnawed at her, but disclosing her less-than-normal beginnings would come back to haunt her every time Bobby’s eyes met hers. Her mouth moved but nothing came out.

“Spit it out, kid. It can’t be all that bad. Look at me.”

“I belong to Nautilus.” Her voice faltered. “They created me, engineered my brain so I’d be a savant. My father was a neurobiologist and my mother a geneticist. They worked for Nautilus and I am the byproduct of their research.” There she’d said it. The geek was a freak.

“And I thought having no parents was a kick in the head. Kid, it’s going to be okay. First off, no one owns you. There are laws prohibiting slavery. I thought you had learned that. We are going to get out of here. And as far as your weird brain, what’s wrong with being smart…do you think they could do anything with mine?”

She was taken aback. Wasn’t she the teen who clapped offbeat to the song of life? Bobby erased that shame in an instant. “You don’t care?”

“Look who you’re talking too. You remember me mentioning Alya?”

“The matron at the orphanage where you grew up?”

“Yeah. She was as crazy as the Mad Hatter, but one thing she said made sense. ‘Popularity does not justify denying self.’”

Lilly stared and he didn’t look away.

“Buck up kid, you can still be your usual annoying perfect self.”

She liked hearing him insult her. “Oh, if I forget, remind me to take my vitamins every day. It is important.”

“Sure.” He waited while she fidgeted. “Are we done sharing or is there something else?”

“Yes. No.” She buried her face in the afghan. “It’s not just me that Nautilus is looking for.”

“There’s more?” Bobby moved closer. “Who else?”

“This part is going to sound crazy.”

“Ya think? All of it…” His hands whirled “… this place, the people, us, this is insane. For goodness sake Lilly we’re sitting in a fortuneteller’s salon talking about an organization that experiments on kids. This Fields is the devil walking upright. Tell me, don’t hold back.”

“Promise you’ll listen and let me finish before you laugh or want to have me committed?”

His fingers crossed his heart.

“Very well. Nautilus isn’t searching for a w-h-o, well technically she is a who, but also a what. All life forms are made up of the basic six elements. Oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen…”

“Stop! Skip the lecture. Spit it out.”

“When I first arrived you heard me mention someone named Skye.”

“You were dreaming. Crying out for her help.”

“Skye is the name of a diamond. When we are in close proximity, it powers up my brain and my skills.”

“Like superpowers?” Bobby saw her face soften amused.

“You know I’m a savant and have heard the stories that a savant can remember π to the twenty-thousandth decimal place.”

“You can do that?”

“Sure. And you could too if all eighty-six billion of your neurons were firing at the same time. You use a small fraction of yours to complete a single task: the parietal lobe lights up when you’re eating, so you taste banana cream pie, the cerebellum for coordination, picking up things. Get it?” She swallowed. “But I can use one hundred percent of my brain mass to do one task.”

“So that’s your gift? This diamond is a hands-free brain phone amplifier?”

“No. That’s not all that happens. When we are connected I see things no one else can. It’s like a dog follows a scent. I’m hypersensitive. Give me something to find and I’m golden. I’m a finder. In ancient times, they called them diviners and dowsers.”

“That’s real. I’ve heard of it. People finding water with a stick.”

“I can find anything lost. I’ve been doing it since I was a child.”

“Right. Not so bad. Well, it is bad. I knew Zilla was using you.” He slapped his knee. “A diamond you say. I bet that would put a greedy gleam in a few eyes. The Nautilus organization for sure.”

“Yes, because there is someone special at its core.”

He cleared his throat. “You mean something growing in the middle of the diamond?”

“No. Someone. She is not from here. Nautilus needs me to find the diamond and Skye… then they’ll dissect my brain so they can see how I—we communicate.”

“Dinner. Come and get it.” Zilla banged a pan like a gong. “It’s just us three. Tem is dining out with his lady friend. I made your favorite Lilly—beef and noodles. Soup for you Bobby.”

“Three days of greasy broth.” He quipped but didn’t smile. “When you say, ‘Not from here,’ you mean D. C.?”

Lilly shook her head.

“I was afraid of that. You’re talking earth…like an alien?”

“Yes.”

They huddled close and for the next few minutes, Lilly explained linking and the nuances of her gift.

“This is big. Bigger than landing on the moon or discovering the Dead Sea Scrolls. No wonder Nautilus wants you both. I’m surprised the government doesn’t have drones circling.”

“She’s my friend and…this is so hard…I must find her.”

“I understand. This is a P-H-D. situation.”

“A what?”

“Trouble, piled high and deep.”

“She needs my help, protection.”

“And you need mine. Lilly, this is a lot to think about and Zilla is going to walk in here any moment. Later, we’ll talk more, work through this.”

“I know you have questions, but after dinner, I have another late session with Zilla.”

“Wake me before you go to sleep.”

“It’s a date. I don’t mean a date, date…never mind. We better get in there now before she tosses dinner.”

He took her hand and in one smooth motion hoisted her off the sofa and onto her feet. “Wait. Being late is a good thing.”

“Me apprentice, you whipping boy, remember?”

He faked a bass voice. “Jane right. Tarzan need food.”

“You wish.”

Seconds ago she was on the hot seat, but thanks to Bobby she had landed in a cool swimming pool and the departure from serious to funny was appreciated. They both forced a chuckle to break the tension.

“I will sneak you some of my meat.”

“Don’t risk it.” I couldn’t chew it anyway. Tem knocked a few teeth loose.

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