Even Thom showed up for the party. He came with his wife, showing up on the doorstep and wearing an expression of embarrassment. He didn’t say much. He stood in the kitchen next to a single bowl of chips. He ate them dry and nursed a beer. He watched everyone make small talk from the corner of the room. The program would start in an hour. He waited.
“We had more food.” The builder’s wife said to everyone apologetically. “We went to Galveston and some lousy bastard stole my car with all the groceries in it.”
Her husband shook his head. “You still haven’t told me why you were there.” He grumbled.
“I think that was my influence.” The astronaut, Winston Wallace smiled.
Wallace was standing in the center of the room taking up the island bar. He had a glass of wine and a pile of cheese. These things were set in a bowl on the surface of the counter before him. He wore a windbreaker with the NASA logo on it, a dark blue polo shirt and black slacks. His shoes were tasseled and buffed.
“You see I sometimes forget myself.” He continued picking up his drink and taking a sip. “I sometimes think that my love is more pronounced and special than others. I see it as a blessing that I have to share with everyone. I provoked this young lady with my attempt to inspire her and she tried to follow my directions through the only tangible example of behavior I had bequeathed to her.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” The builder asked.
“Indeed.” The astronaut nodded. “It is my practice to clear my head by drinking wine near the water. I informed this young lady of my methods when we met at the grocery store yesterday morning and she obviously chose to make her own path along this course.”
Myrah shook her head. “I just wanted to go to Galveston, dude.”
“Indeed.” Wallace nodded again. “But at least now you are free of the burdens of that nail polish and Greek food that you were misappropriating your love towards.”
She turned to her husband, ignoring the astronaut. “Where’s Kinkaid?” She asked. “He’s usually the first person to arrive at one of these things?”
“He’s out of town.”
“I think he went to a car show or something.”
“Isn’t there a car show here next week?”
“I don’t know.” The builder spat. “He didn’t clear it with me before he went out of town. All I know is that he isn’t here okay?”
Markoff tossed his hands into the air.
The truth of the matter was that Kinkaid still remained lost in the jailhouse. The builder had made calls throughout the day trying to locate the older man but everyone had just transferred him to another department. Phones rang within the prison, people answered. They told him that they couldn’t help. The bondsman didn’t know where he was. His lawyer didn’t know where he was. Everyone was looking for him but according to these two men it was just too early to get alarmed about anything.
It had been night when the builder had gotten home from the bondsman’s office yesterday. The student diggers had already gone home. The police car remained on the street. The newly erected tent sat in his yard as big as a Sunday.
Markoff had gone about checking all of Kinkaid’s doors just to make sure that they were locked. He closed up the older man’s garage and threw away an abandoned stack of beer cans out front. The police man watched this from his squad car. The whole thing made the builder feel like he was covering up a murder.
He didn’t know why it was that he felt so guilty and secretive about the Kinkiads arrest. Myrah would surely find out eventually and when she did what could she possibly say? Could she honestly claim that he should have kept the man at bay? He’d been at work fretting over his unsold properties. Would she really try to tell him that he couldn’t hang out with his neighbor anymore? Markoff was an adult not a child. What could she possibly say?
Biggs wandered into the kitchen from the bathroom down the hall. “Have the police told you anything?” He asked.
“About the Suburban.” The programmer clarified. “Do they know who took it?”
Markoff shook his head. “There’s a whole bunch of car thieves around Galveston.” He said bitterly. “They’ve probably took it to a chop shop and sold it for parts by now.”
“You should’ve gotten one of those anti-theft systems where they can track it by satellite.”
“Shut up.” The builder spat.
Clara held up a bottle of wine, examining the label. “Well I tell you why I think Kinkaid isn’t here.” She said, taking her pen from her pocket and drawing an arrow across a vine that was framing the letters. “I think he’s still embarrassed that I asked him for a kiss on New Years.”
Markoff smiled. “How’s Dan?” He asked mischievously.
“Dan’s doing good!” She answered. Absently she circled the dot of a letter ‘i’ on the bottle. It was red while the rest of the name had been printed in black.
Wallace cocked his head. “It seems to me that my responsibility here is to be a good stand in for your friends who’re absent.” He said seriously. “I will make you forget them with my love.”
“Dude!” Myrah spat. “That’s not even something that you should say. Dan’s lucky to be alive.”
“I didn’t mean anything.”
“He’s been incapacitated for over two months.” She continued. “Why would you even suggest forgetting him?”
The astronaut popped a square of cheese into his mouth.
“His wife’s right here you know?”
Carla set the bottle down. “It’s okay.” She said.
There was an uncomfortable silence as they all stood in the kitchen waiting for the conversation to begin again. Myrah looked around assessing the distractions. One bowl of chips, a small cheese plate, a crock pot full of queso and eight different bottles of wine.
It looked like a party that had been thrown together by high school kids. There was too much alcohol and not enough food. People were talking too much. People were drinking too fast. She should have sent Jack out to the Mexican restaurant down the street to pick up fajitas before it had begun. At least then she wouldn’t have had to listen to Wallace run his damn mouth and everyone else worry about her stolen car.
Biggs grabbed a chip and she snapped at him.
“Did you wash your hands after taking a piss?” She asked bitterly.
The man hesitated.
“Yes.” He answered. He held the chip halfway up between the bowl and his mouth. He seemed unsure whether it was safe to eat it or not.
“There’s a flu going around.”
“The worst one in a century is what they’re saying.”
“So wash your hands before you touch anything.”
“I did.” He answered.
Myrah tossed up her hands. “Eat!” She exclaimed.
Her mood was sour. She didn’t like having to wait to get her new car. The insurance company wanted the police to file their reports and make an investigation on the claim. They wanted forms filled out in triplicate and submitted to the courts before they would be willing to settle on the stolen SUV. It could be days or weeks. Whatever the case she wasn’t going to get her Saab this weekend.
“Galveston’s a mess.” She commented without reason.
“In the summer there are dolphins.” Wallace said. “I can see them in the harbor.”
“I spent half a day yesterday standing in lines.”
Jill smiled. “Well, even though the car got stolen, I liked going out there.”
“No one at the courthouse seems to know anything about what’s going on.”
Markoff nodded. “That seems to be the nature of things.”
“The whole island’s a big disorganized mess.”
“That place was so cozy.”
“Forty dollars for a bottle of wine is too much when you can buy them at the grocery store for twenty.”
Carla picked up another bottle and examined the front of it. “I didn’t notice it before.” She said thoughtfully. “But apparently they’ve covered this label with some kind of glitter.”
From the kitchen table Tara interrupted them all. “It’s loaded!’ She said as she peered into the screen of a tiny laptop.
They all gathered around, looking over her shoulder.
“This is how it will look.” She said pressing a button.
Slowly a digital representation of the street outside their neighborhood began to materialize. It was a cloudless day at high noon. Shadows were stilted, dust and haze was not present. The grass crept to the edges of the curb ending in evenly engineered lines. Hedges, road signs, fire hydrants and stoplights had all been rendered to scale and in accurate color detail.
She’d programmed the model to follow a path along the road as if they were driving. They watched as it moved along its binary rails up towards the entrance and gates. One of the signs that Myrah had drawn gleamed next to an immaculate row of flowers and palm trees. It showed a seagull and a boat carved into the pixilated rock directly above the name ‘Shady Acres’.
“What do you think?” She asked.
Myrah pointed. “Let’s see the one with the dog.” She said.
Tara pressed another button and the screen flashed. The car began to advance towards the gates once more. A dog was now etched above the words. The landscaping around the sign had been changed to junipers and ivy. Everything else remained the same.
“Amazing!” Wallace exclaimed.
“Does anyone want to see it from the other direction?” The teacher asked looking back at them all.
Myrah smiled. “Let me see everything from every direction.”