By late-February the weather was already starting to turn warm. Four meteors had struck the earth between the New Years strike and the day that Myrah’s sign was erected outside the gates of their subdivision. One hit an unpopulated region of the Sahara Desert, one collided with an ice shelf at the North Pole, one broke apart and rained down all over Siberia and another splashed down in the Pacific creating a tidal wave that wiped out an entire island nation that no one had ever heard of.
People were starting to get worried. Public service announcements, on what to do and how best to protect yourself in the event of an impact, were playing daily on the television. There was a town-hall meeting that city officials and representatives from the Johnson Space Center had scheduled for that Saturday. It was to be held in the theater that Markoff had built for the city. Everyone was eager to attend.
The builder watched as his wife cracked a bottle of champagne over the granite monument. People who were gathered around clapped. There were a few men and women from the HOA and nearly everyone from their cul-de-sac. It was a small ceremony but at least it had been a sunny day.
“Hot damn!” She laughed as the foam spilled over her fingers and down the front of her skirt.
Everyone chucked along with her.
Wallace, who’d become a fixture in their house smiled. “What a waste!” He said amiably.
Of course, Dan Wells wasn’t anywhere to be found.
Myrah grimace and licked at her fingers.
The astronaut often came by to visit with Markoff. He’d done so regularly after that day that the builder had gone looking for Wells and ended up showing him his trophy deer instead. He’d stop over and have a beer in the study. They would talk while they admired the stuffed animal’s head on the wall. It had been mounted on the last bit of space that was available in the room.
Wallace said that he was still inspiring Wells but he never elaborated about what the man had been through or what the two of them discussed. He claimed that he was pouring all his love into the man, filling him with the power of its force and using the precision of a laser beam to guide it. He said that they were making progress.
Still, Wells hadn’t come out of his safe room. Clara was there. She talked about associations between images and the mind and she complemented his wife on her new Saab. They’d never found the SUV. It was still missing.
They’d also never found Kinkaid. No one had heard from him. The jailhouse had done a detailed search. They had accounted for every last inmate in their custody and rifled through the files and paperwork related to his booking. They looked to see if he had been erroneously expedited to another prison or another state. They came up empty.
The builder had been forced to confess this with his wife soon after the older man’s disappearance. He’d told her the very next day after the documentary about Grey’s father had played on the giant television and she’d immediately gone into a panic. She didn’t blame him for their neighbors arrest but she wondered aloud if he was doing enough to locate the man.
Markoff called regularly. He called the lawyer and the bail bondsman. He called the courthouse and he checked his neighbor’s mailbox regularly. The mortgage payment came and he didn’t know what to do. It was late now. The diggers continued scooping earth from their yards while the bank sent letters that made polite suggestions for Kinkaid to seek help or refinance. He was tempted to just pay it for a month and see what happened. He had the money now.
The Japanese had saved him. They were buying everything. They’d bought all three of his outstanding properties and they wanted him to build more for them. They bought the mall and the shopping center where the grocery store stood. They bought the Taj Mahal which still sat vacant with police cars at the gate and people from NASA probing the courtyard in radiation suits. The news stations had lost interest. Their trucks were gone.
He didn’t know why the Japanese were suddenly so interested in the property around the area but they loved his designs. They came to him and sat in the high backed chairs around the conference table in his fifth floor suit and nodded excitedly as he showed them the plans that his architects had been working on. There was the Forbidden City which they said was fun to see as a shopping center. They asked if it would be likely to build it next to the Taj Mahal and link the two together with a roller coaster. They were very forward thinking. The builder appreciated their suggestions.
Myrah threw her hands up into the air. “Let’s pray that another drunk driver don’t plow down this sign.” She said with an air of cynical humor to her voice.
“Or an asteroid.” Biggs reminded her.
“Can’t you wait?” She said, placing her hands on her hips.
Everyone laughed again.
The builder could probably stay working steadily for five years or more with all of the projects that the Japanese were giving him. He even had a boat picked out and ready to buy. They were working on Space Port City right now. He had dozers at the site leveling the ground for what would soon be a highly modern shopping center with robots from the Tamaki Corporation that would pick out your merchandise for you. They loved him.
They said: “You understand!” They showed him articles that were written in a foreign language with pictures of his buildings on them. A man in a suit with impeccable fingernails had bowed and shook his hand. He was humbled.
Traffic whizzed by the sign. There were palm trees and flowers around it. The pink stone gleamed in the sunlight. The image of a dog chasing a butterfly stood out in contrast over the elongated letters. They named the place where they lived. The dog and the insect made it look fun to be there. In a way it was.
They picked up the broken glass from the bottle and walked home.
The students were still in their yards. The tent was still there. The cop car was still parked on the curb, watching them.
A collection of complete and semi-complete safe rooms.
Markoff was no longer looking at the option of building bomb shelters. Still, people called him everyday. They demanded to know why he had enticed them with the notion of a themed habitat if he didn’t intent to commit on going through with anything.
He told them that to get through the coming rain of fire from the skies they would need only shelter and basic comfort. He gave them the numbers for several other contractors who were specializing in the area of providing these things. He vouched for them.
He took meetings with the Japanese. “Here is a perfect decision!” They would say while pointing at a drawing of a plastic dinosaur stomping through a shopping mall that had been built to look like it was under siege.
The old man from the university was directing a group over into Kinkaid’s yard. “There have been readings over here that I want explored.” He said holding his map of the grid up before his beaklike nose.
The students fell to their knees and set upon the ground. They started tearing at a patch of overgrown grass. They picked at it with their tiny shovels like little children playing in the dirt.
What was under the tent?
Everyone went into their houses and shut the door behind them.
Markoff watched them, wondering how long he could wait for Kinkaid to show back up before the bank repossessed his house.