Finally she turns her eyes away from the windowpane and says, “You could be lying to me.”
Mechteld shrugs and says, “I could be, but I haven’t told you a lie yet.”
Marquita silently stares as she feels a uneasiness from deep inside her. Despite all she has seen; Mechteld is still a mystery to her.
“To do this for me is a favor. I don’t forget those who help me.”
The photo of her parents catches Marquita’s eye. Marquita wants to say yes, but the fear of leaving Queens still bothers her.
“You can’t just ‘consider’ contact with my parents. You have to promise me. I can’t do this without them. I need them to know that I’m okay and that I love them.”
Mechteld shakes her head, “They can’t know what you are.”
“Why? If they knew they would understand. I’m sure of it.” Tears once again line Marquita’s eyes as she begins to wheeze.
Mechteld turns away from Marquita’s crying and begins stacking the newspapers, setting aside the one with the picture of Marquita’s parents. Calmly she says, “You didn’t believe me until you violated my thoughts. How do you expect your parents to understand?”
Marquita stands still as she continues to gasps. She knows Mechteld is right, but a burning in her chest keeps her from answering.
“I need an answer Marquita. Are you coming to Las Vegas?”
Marquita keeps her eyes averted from Mechteld as she asks, “Can I see my parents?”
Mechteld looks at Marquita who keeps her crying eyes. After a long pause Mechteld breathes out and says, “I’ll arrange something, but only after we come back from Las Vegas.”
Marquita looks up from the floor with wide surprised eyes. She watches Mechteld and holds her breath.
“But I think it’s a bad idea to see them, Marquita.”
Mechteld takes the remaining paper and looks at the side-by-side photos. She then removes the page from the rest of the paper and begins to fold and tear the photos out.
“Why?” Marquita asks, cautiously.
“It’s better to be done with it. The last moments will linger for an eternity. You’d be surprised at how disappointing goodbyes can be if you try to do it over.”
Mechteld hands the pictures to Marquita. She stares at her parent, wishing she could see their auras in the photograph.
“You said your family was dead. Who did you have to say good bye to?”
“Just take the advice Marquita and help me pack.”
Mechteld and Marquita work in silence as they gather papers, fold clothing and pack the large rucksack. After a few minutes Marquita asks, “Why are we going to Las Vegas?”
“Someone I know needs help.” Mechteld flatly answers as she sorts trash out of the pile.
“Who are you helping?”
“Her name is Margreet and she’s one of my protégés. She’s discovered that one of her protégés has….” Mechteld pauses while she tries to find the correct word, “…..compromised herself.”
Mechteld pauses again, unsure how to proceed. “Margreet believes that this person is trying to expose her immortality. It happens from time to time. When it does, they have to be captured and put on trial.”
“Trial? Like for criminals?”
Trying to sound casual Mechteld answers, “As I said Marquita, there are millions like us and we have a government and laws, just like the mortal world. For them, the worst crime someone like us can commit is exposing what we are.”
Marquita raises her eyebrows and begins to open her mouth, but before her question can be asked Mechteld quickly interrupts with, “How are your legs feeling?”
Mechteld gestures around the room. “Walking will help. Do a few paces, I don’t want to take the chair.”
Slowly Marquita balances her weight and begins to take small strides with outstretch arms.
“Does it happen often? Immortals exposing themselves?”
“Sometimes, but aftermaths are usually carefully controlled. But this incident happened on television. Luckily mortals don’t realize what they’ve witnessed.” Mechteld takes the paper from the top of the stack and gestures to the Las Vegas article.
Marquita brings the paper closer, “Then it’s not too big of a problem?”
“No, it’s definitely a big problem and I have to help prevent it from becoming an even bigger problem.”
“Why you?”Marquita asks as she returns the paper to the pile.
“You may not believe it now, but the mentor-protégé relationship is very significant. If she needs help, I feel compelled to help her the best I can.”
“Have you done this to a lot of people?”
“You’re certainly not the first.” Mechteld’s answers, while taking another cigarette out of its pack.
“How are we getting to Las Vegas? Are we flying?”
“No, we have to avoid transportation that involves over scrutiny of our identities. After all, you’ve been dead for a few days now.” Mechteld picks up her now bulging bag and turns it to access its pockets. “I don’t have a social security number, passport, or driver’s license other than the one’s I’ve stolen.”
“You steal people’s identities?” Marquita asks, taken aback.
Mechteld shrugs her shoulders. “It didn’t used to be like that, but now it’s necessary.”
Mechteld pulls a small vinyl wallet out of side pocket of her rucksack bag and pulls out a license. “Come here, let’s see if this one works out.”
Mechteld holds the ID up to Marquita’s face. Its former owner was a 19-year-old Edison, New Jersey woman named Jasmine Thomas. Her face was fuller than Marquita’s and eyes much darker. But their skin was the same smooth unblemished toffee.
“It’s the best I could do on short notice. I hope you’ll pass for nineteen.”
Marquita takes the license and examines the picture. “She doesn’t really look like me.”
“Yeah I know. I’ll get you a better one when we return. In the meantime, you need to wear these.”
Mechteld hands Marquita the hijab and sunglasses from the hospital. Marquita holds them out and raises a scrutinizing eyebrow.
Mechteld points to Marquita’s scar. “Little girls with head wounds attract attention.”
Marquita pulls the scarf over her head and tries to wrap it, but each attempt results in limp fabric hanging loosely around her head. Mechteld takes the scarf away from Marquita and folds it before quickly draping it over her head, pinching the fabric beneath her chin and securing it behind her neck.
“Doesn’t this “government” of yours have IDs?” Marquita asks as she feels her new accessory.
“Yeah, but stolen IDs provide a layer of anonymity. Sometimes I don’t like people knowing who I am and where I’m going.” Mechteld points to Marquita’s new license. “It’s vital you memorize the information on that ID. You’ll get caught by not knowing who you’re supposed to be.”
Mechteld quickly takes the ID from Marquita fingers and asks, “What’s your name?”
Marquita searches her memory and confidently answers, “Jasmine Thomas.”
“How old are you?”
Marquita pauses as she tries to remember.
“Study.” Mechteld says as she pushes the license back while reaching for the bottle of antiseptic and bloody rag.
“Lesson one Marquita, memorize everything. IDs, maps, faces, languages, accents, phone numbers, geography, it’s all important. Believe me, not knowing what the capital of New Jersey is when holding a New Jersey driver’s license is suspicious.”
“It’s Trenton, right?” Marquita says, as she looks closer at the license.
Mechteld kneels over the bloody spot left from Marquita’s head and opens he bottle of antiseptic. “Lesson two: Never draw attention to yourself. Keep your head down and don’t talk to anyone.”
She stares at the blood for a moment before emptying the bottle on the spot and quickly dabbing with the rag. Without looking at Marquita she cautions, “Lesson three: Don’t piss me off.”
Mechteld cleans the spot until it blends with the other faded brown spots on the floor. As Marquita watches Mechteld place all the bloody rags and tissues into a bag and set it aside.
“So how are we getting to Las Vegas? Are we driving? Do you have a car?” Marquita asks.
“No, we’re taking the bus. We’ll go to the Port Authority as soon as we finish packing.”
Marquita feels a flutter begin in her stomach. Nervously she asks, “A bus to Las Vegas? That’ll take days.”
“It’ll take two and a half days.”
Silence falls between the two women as Marquita’s brow stiffens and she begins to feel a tightness in her chest. In a low voice she confesses, “I don’t like being in crowded places. The voices give me terrible headaches.”
Mechteld dumps her mountain of cigarette butts into the trashcan, causing a small billow of ash to erupt. Unconcerned with Marquita’s complaint Mechteld says, “It has to be the bus. It’ll be a good place to practice.”
Before the cigarette ash settles, Mechteld turns and kneels beside the bed. She reaches underneath and feels around before pulling out an old and battered sword the size of her forearm.
Marquita eyes the sword with a raised eyebrow. “Family heirloom?”
“Holy relic.” Mechteld answers as she examines the sword from handle to tip.
She then quickly wraps it in a worn t-shirt, adds it to the rucksack and closes it. Mechteld again reaches under the bed and begins to pull, this time removing a large black suitcase. She pushes it towards Marquita and says, “Here, you can carry this.”
Marquita stands the large suitcase upright and tests its weight. She lifts it easily off the ground several times before saying, “It’s empty.”
Mechteld hoists her heavy bag on her back and then lifts her hood over her hair.
“Let’s hope it stays that way.”