The theater could seat 4,000 people. In retrospect, it had been a rather small design but seeing as it was his first civic project Markoff was still proud of the work that he’d done on it. The miniature scaling of the arches leaning out across the pavilion was in a sense more pronounced than those of the Sydney Opera House which had inspired them. They made the whole thing appear constantly on the brink of collapse. It was an outstanding effect.
The builder stood amongst the crowds of people that were filing in waiting for his wife to finish talking with the bail bondsman. They’d seen him in the parking lot and she’d wanted to get word on how the search for Kinkaid was going. Markoff avoided him. The man had grown frustrated with his calls and had gotten abrupt with him recently.
He saw Biggs and nodded.
“You here too?” He asked the man as he came walking up.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” The programmer said seriously. “This is scary stuff.”
“I dropped her off out front.” The man said. “Gage made a mess in his diaper and he needed a change. Normally, I would do this since he’s a boy but I was driving.” He shrugged helplessly.
“Why are you so dressed up?”
The builder looked at him. “Go inside.” He said.
In the end Markoff wore his suit. Standing there now he found that it did in fact fit a little tight in the shoulders but he assumed that this was just because he’d gotten more muscular in the seven years since he and Myrah had been married. He’d been too skinny then anyway. He felt good about himself.
“I’ll talk to you later.” Biggs nodded.
Shooting stars in the sky. A full moon. People parking and passing by.
Absently Markoff pulled the jacket down in front. There wasn’t a part. True, it did cinch up slightly at the waist but this could be avoided if he stood up straight and didn’t slouch. With good posture, the button wasn’t even stretched.
“Anything new?” He asked his wife as she came back.
“There’s a chance he might have been sent to Florida.” She said. She pulled her coat tighter around her shoulders and eased past him as he held the door open for her.
“Florida?” He asked. They entered the warmth. “Why would he be in Florida?”
“He may or may not be from Florida.” She answered. “There’s some question down at the courthouse about that. No one knows for sure if he had any outstanding warrants in Florida.”
Markoff pulled her coat from off her back and draped it over his arm. “He’s never mentioned Florida before.” He said.
In fact, Kinkaid never really mentioned much about whatever life he’d led since coming to the neighborhood. He’d already been there when they’d moved in and their first contact with him had been an early morning when he revved a fire-engine red 1968 Dodge Charger out in his driveway. Markoff had gone over to tell him to keep it down and ended up drinking beer and talking about engines.
“It may be another dead end.” She said. “I wonder if they’re selling drinks?”
Absently, she wandered over to the bar. A young man in a white shirt and bowtie stood there hoisting bottles of wine into plastic glasses. The builder watched her as she ordered one of them.
“Pretty amazing.” Biggs said, wandering up from a corner of the room. “I haven’t been in here before. I like the wood beams.”
Markoff looked up at the ceiling. Wooden beams crisscrossed one another in random intervals. Large lights were mounted on to them projecting patterns of stars and planets down onto the marble floor. “They’re not connected to anything.” He commented. “They’re just there for show. You could remove any one of them and it wouldn’t affect the integrity of the overall structure.”
The programmer nodded. “They look very utilitarian. Like you’re staring up into the scaffolding backstage or something.”
“Who’s speaking tonight?”
“Wallace.” His neighbor answered. “He’s giving a brief presentation at the beginning and then it’s going to be a bunch of people from NASA and the government afterwards.”
Biggs shrugged. “This is going out all over the country.” He said sounding a little bemused. “I’m guessing that they’re wanting it to look as polished as possible.”
“He didn’t tell me anything about it.”
“You and him are close now right?”
“I wouldn’t say close.”
“But he comes over.”
“Yeah.” The builder nodded. “Still, I wouldn’t say close.”
The truth of the matter was that he didn’t know how he’d categorize his relationship with the astronaut. He enjoyed the man’s visits but they had very little in common. They talked about hunting but Wallace had never hunted himself nor did he have much interest in learning. They talked about the neighborhood but while the man seemed to know everyone who lived there he rarely revealed much about any of them. Several times, Dan Wells had been brought up but the reasons why he refused to come out of his safe room or what had put him there in the first place was never discussed.
What Markoff did know was that Myrah hated the man. She locked herself away in the bedroom whenever Wallace was over and usually didn’t come out until he had left. When the builder brought up anything that the astronaut said to him she made a face and changed the subject.
“Wine!” She said coming back to his side. “They have beer but I never know what you’re drinking.”
Markoff looked at her with a little bit of skepticism. “Domestic long necks.” He answered. “You know that.”
“Have you started drinking lite beer yet?” She asked. “If you haven’t you probably should.”
The builder wandered over to the bar without saying a word. “Wine.” He said. “Red.”
“That’s good for the heart.” The boy answered, pouring.
Of course, Myrah was still mad at him over what he’d said about her boy. She’d been short and abrupt with him all day long following their post-coital argument. She’d been playing dumb with the things that she’d said and trying to get under his skin. To some extent it had worked.
Markoff did feel guilty about attacking Jose like that. He had no right to impose his beliefs on the boy. It didn’t matter what he thought about the kid’s weight or his lack of interest in sports. The important thing was that he’d found something that was holding his interest and keeping him out of trouble.
“Wine.” He said coming back to where his wife stood. He lifted the glass and raised his eyebrows.
Myrah turned. “We should start a walking program.” She said to Tara. The programmer’s wife had joined her and Biggs sometime after he’d gone to the bar. Biggs was holding the baby, bouncing him on his hip.
What really unnerved the builder more than anything else was the feeling that he was losing control over his family. There once was a time, not that long ago when they’d looked to him for his opinions and advice. Now they constantly second guessed him or outright ignored whatever he said.
It wasn’t that he wanted to be a strong patriarchal figure. His father had been that way. The man expected his every word to be writ in stone. Markoff however, just wanted to be taken seriously.
Biggs turned to him. “Did you hear?” He asked.
“Thom’s dad is going to get released!”
The programmed shrugged. “Could be any day now.” He said amicably. “Thom’s going to Huntsville tomorrow.”
“Where’s he going to live?”
“With Thom and Jill for a little while.”
“That’ll be interesting.”
“Everything intimidates you.”
Biggs nodded. “There was another meteor strike today.” He said grimly. “Egypt.”
The lights dimmed and a bell chimed signaling that the presentation was about to begin. Markoff watched as the small crowd that was gathered together in the foyer began to stream through the doors into the auditorium. There weren’t as many of them as he’d been expecting. A few thousand at the most. What reason was there to go out when it was being broadcast on cable television? The empty seats would make his theater look huge.
“Let’s see what they have to say about it all.” The builder muttered, leading them all inside.
They sat towards the back. Biggs fidgeted next Markoff while Tara and his wife made plans to start walking every morning in the spring. Seats were saved for Thom, Jill and Clara but no one was really sure if they’d show up. Grey was apparently planning a trip to the state penitentiary in the morning while the ad-exec was working on some new account for microwave popcorn.
A small Indian man wandered by and stopped. He looked over at Myrah. He smiled.
Noticing him she smiled as well. “Sanjay!” She said happily. “I haven’t seen you since the grocery store this fall.”
“I thought that was you.” He said happily.
“How have you been?”
“Perfect!” He replied.
“Are you still working for NASA?” She asked.
“Every day!” He said.
The builder’s brows knitted. He looked from his wife to the Indian and back again.
“Have a seat!” She smiled pointing to the empty row of chairs beside them.
The Indian climbed over and settled himself into the one closest to her. “My girlfriend is freshening up in the bathroom.” He said.
“You work for NASA?” Biggs asked, shifting Gage onto his other knee and leaning over his wife to look the man directly in the eyes.
“Absolutely.” The Indian answered.
“I analyze rocks from the meteor.”
Markoff turned. “At the Taj Mahal?” He asked.
“Everywhere that one strikes!”
“Did one strike there?”
The Indian frowned. “This cannot be said for sure.” He answered. “There are many things about that site which seem to indicate that one did hit at that very location but sadly it has never been found.”
“Have you been looking for it?”
He nodded. “Me and others.”
“Do you pray in the courtyard?”
“Every day!” The Indian smiled.
The builder leaned back in his chair. At least that answered the question of who was bowing towards Mecca amidst the closed shops and burned out remains of his mall but still when would it re-open? Did an asteroid cause the fire? He felt like asking these things but rather than seeming over eager he decided that he’d let Biggs do the dirty work.
Predictably, the programmer began to pepper the man with questions. He asked why no meteor had been found. The Indian told him that it likely vaporized. He asked if others might strike the area. Possibly, the foreigner said. He asked how big they had to be to wipe out an entire city. The man shook his head and said that it could be very small if the conditions were right.
The girlfriend showed up. A fat blond with big red lips and gravity defying hair. She climbed over them all and sat down next to him. “This is so exciting!” She said.
Markoff glanced at the corners of the room where the cameras had been set up. There were four of them each positioned to film a different angle of the scene. Two scanned the crowds while the other two remained fixed on the stage. Wallace emerged in a crisp blue blazer and tan slacks.
“Is everyone ready to feel safe?” He said grabbing a microphone and pacing around the stage.
There was a general hush which washed across the crowd.
“Is everyone ready to feel safe?” He asked again, more forcefully.
Heads nodded. Someone called out “YES!” There was a smattering of hands clapping from a corner. People didn’t know how to respond.
The astronaut smiled. “Safety is one thing.” He said dipping his head in rhythm with some silent drumbeat. “Safety is what we all crave but can anyone tell me what we crave more than that?”
“We all crave love!” He said. He began pointing out into the auditorium. “You want love! You want love! You want love!” He chanted to random people. “Every single one of you who are here tonight wants to be loved by someone else. You want to be safe but more important that that is the desire that you have to be loved!”
Gage made bubbling sounds. The night progressed from there. A man wearing horn rimmed glasses took the stage and told them all to stock up on water and food. He looked out into the crowd seriously and said these things.
A question was asked. “Will be meteors strike here?”
“Caution.” The man said. “It’s the key word that cannot be stressed enough.”