The gunshot had been the sound that had finally driven everyone out of bed on the morning that the item from the tent had gone missing. It rang out crisp and clear in the still air of the dawn. It echoed off of their houses and brought people out in a bleary eyed haze onto their doorsteps to get a look at what had happened.
Markoff would later try to describe it all to the police.
The students had grown agitated by his words.
“Keep it down.” He’d told them.
There’d been a general stirring.
They’d grumbled and complained about their missing artifact. They’d kicked at the ground and called him names. One of them picked up a clump of mud to throw it at him.
The toss was un-athletic and lopsided. It spun through the air. It wasn’t a good throw and it hit the officer that he’d been speaking with while standing on his porch. It had hit the man directly in the center of his back.
After that, things were a blur.
The cop spun around. He’d spun around in a blur. As he spun around, he withdrew his pistol. He did this with some kind of reflexive velocity leveling it into the crowd that was gathered around the man from the state. He fired.
One of the kids fell to the ground bleeding. There was screaming. Everyone began to run.
Sirens pierced the air. Ambulance drivers used codes from a book that the dispatcher kept. They keyed them into the access panel and drove inside the gates to Shady Acres.
News people had soon gathered in front of Myrah’s new sign to report on the incident. A helicopter had hovered overhead for several hours filming the tops of their houses and the scene on the street outside. Girl’s who had known the victim cried for the cameras. A stretcher with a green blanket draped over it was driven away.
There was an investigation of the shooting and then a federal hearing about the dig. The next week the man from the state was ordered to show a court in Houston his maps. A dig was one thing but when it resulted in violence there needed to be answers. The government wanted to know what was he was looking for.
He’d gone before them wearing a suit and tie and he’d patiently explained the grid and how it related to the neighborhood. He used broad terms. He spoke of history and the mystery of the unknown. He said that he was trying to uncover a brand new item from the past. He told them that his work had been stolen from him and he blamed the hostile residences of the neighborhood.
There was whispering on the bench. The judges shook their heads and murmered back and forth to one another. Eventually the professor was asked to go back into their chambers in order to describe what was missing from the tent. He did and they’d sealed the records. It was said that the artifact that had been found would lead science in a new direction if it was ever recovered.
Meanwhile volunteers began searching the nearby fields for Markoff’s missing neighbor.
The cop who’d fired the shot was placed on administrative leave and his whole record was examined. He’d been reprimanded for using excessive force on a wheelchair bound man once. A bum from Galveston went on television and told about how the officer had beaten him two years prior during a routine traffic stop and then dropped him off on the beach to bleed to death. Others on the police force said he was a saint and a boy scout.
Could he have really killed Kinkaid?
The media was speculating on the matter. The nightly news reporter filled the time between their coverage of the meteor strikes, flu outbreaks, wars, terrorist cells, chemical dangers, and kitten’s stuck in drainpipes with news of the old man who’d gotten lost in the legal system. They interviewed jailhouse officials. They compiled records. They filmed people walking through the tall weeds and grass probing at the earth with sticks.
None of it made any sense.
Markoff had gotten a call from the man when he was in jail. He’d gone to the bail bondsman following his neighbors call in order to get him released. Somewhere between the call and the bondsman’s office Kinkaid had vanished.
Was he really in those fields?
Florida was a dead end. The man had no relatives in Florida nor had he ever lived there. The bondsman said that he didn’t even know why they were looking in Florida. The news people reported that there was nothing there.
Florida was a word on the paperwork. True, it had been there in his files but it had no reference to anything real. It was just a note. Random and meaningless. He was not in Florida.
He was also not in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, New York, Nebraska, Oregon, Arkansas, Alabama, Colorado, Mississippi or Louisiana. All of these places had been somehow linked to his name but none of them panned out. They searched the fields off the highway.
The student that had been shot died almost instantly. The coroner ruled this after the body had been taken to the morgue and dissected. The bullet had entered his abdomen causing a massive loss of blood as well as toxic shock from septic leakage of the bowels.
His peers were running around screaming. Markoff was yelling inside for his family to stay where they were. The kid had bled to death within ten minutes or less.
The press never talked about him anymore. The dig continued without pause.
Markoff had trouble sleeping. He tossed and turned without realizing it. In the morning Myrah would be mad at him for keeping her up all night. She said that it was his movements and his shouting. She told him that he growled like a bear in his sleep.
Sometimes he would become aware of his nightmares. He’d sense himself rolling over or mumbling something and then he’d move himself off to the couch in the front room downstairs. Even so his wife still accused him of keeping her awake at night with his walking around.
A small collection of flowers were placed in the spot where the student had died. Wreaths, candles, stuffed dinosaurs. For a while more of them arrived everyday. They were brought by his friends.
One day they were gone. They’d remained until the end of the month and then suddenly the older man ordered an excavation nearby. Just like that a pile of dirt was put in their place.
Markoff sometimes sat on the sofa in the front room and looked at that pile of dirt whenever he had trouble sleeping.