On March 15th Thom Grey’s father was released from prison. The press were there for his discharge and Markoff had seen his neighbor hug his father outside the gates of the state penitentiary in bold, high-definition color while watching his huge television.
The father and son had taken a train back to Houston because the older man said that he wanted to feel the strength of industrial power again. Jill had picked them up at the station. The economist with his long white hair and wild eyes was said to have been delighted with the trip.
That weekend the Grey’s held a party for the man. They’d invited everyone from the cul-de-sac and a few members of their family. Biggs, Tara, Clara and Myrah were there. Of course Kinkaid and Dan were absent. Markoff was paying the older man’s mortgage for him now.
Thom’s girls were at the party. They were done up as pretty as child-models in dresses and bows. They ran back and forth ignoring their grandfather as children are wont to do. They’d grown quite a bit since the last time that the builder had seen them.
"This is a rather strange site." The newly freed man said as he came up next to Markoff.
The builder was admiring the Grey’s newly finished safe room. It was stark and white with fireproof insulation and metal doors. His own was still all cinderblocks and beams. The contractor was still struggling to find the right materials to build it to his specifications.
"It’s utilitarian." Markoff shrugged.
"It’s your business to build things?" He asked.
"Yes." The builder answered.
The former convict was dressed in a rumpled old suit and tie. In his hands he held a glass of dark looking wine. It was probably something that Myrah had bought. His face was a mixture of madness and sighing amusement. "I’ve often been envious of builders." Alfred Grey replied.
"There’s a lot about it that people don’t consider." Markoff muttered. "You’re constantly negotiating draws from the bank. Things are always falling behind. No matter how involved the buyer is, they always find something to complain about."
"In prison, I was taught to sew." He said, lifting his eyebrows.
"Sewing is like building only on a much smaller scale." He continued. "You take abstract pieces of fabric and weld them together with stitching and fiber to create a garment."
"That part of it, sure." Markoff agreed. "Still, I’m talking about the stuff that you have no control over."
"There’s little control to be had over anything in prison."
The builder nodded again. He was tired.
Despite what Myrah had assumed about his reaction to the meteor Markoff hadn’t been concerned with what the searchers had found. He hadn’t had time to. The Japanese were eager to get the Taj Mahal reopened and they were looking to him to restore it to its former dimensions.
Currently the builder had work on top of more work. The Asians were ready to build the Forbidden City next. He needed to find a roller coaster designer to draft plans for a ride that would link it to the Taj Mahal in order to fulfill their ambitions.
"This reminds me of a prison." The man said motioning with his glass towards the room. "No windows, metal doors, stark cinder-block walls. Why would anyone do this to themselves?"
"For safety." Markoff answered. "People are worried about the meteor field."
"I’ve heard of this." The man sighed. "Being on death row you tend to stay abreast of these sorts of global crisis’s."
"One struck just last week in the Atlantic."
"They say that this year’s flu has killed more people percentage wise than any other time in recorded history.
"I heard on the news that the moons been taking a hell of a beating."
"Earth." The old man nodded. "That’s a place where meteors should hit more often."
The builder found it uncomfortable to talk with Professor Grey. Despite what he’d seen in the documentary he still couldn’t shake the image that he had of the man as the tower shooter. He’d been the tower shooter in his mind for so many years that it was now almost impossible to see him as Thom Grey’s father.
"Who was the real tower shooter?" Markoff asked.
"You’ve seen the pictures." The economist muttered without much interest.
"I don’t understand them."
"Well, were you surprised?"
"That it wasn’t you?"
"No." The man smiled. "That it was a Grey."
Markoff cocked his head. There was an awkward moment of silence as the two of them stood wordlessly regarding one another in the room. Party sounds, people laughing beyond the open steel door which rested on sliders, the independent ventilation system pumping recycled air into the space between them.
"Explain to me the preponderance of cops on this street." The professor said at last.
Markoff shook his head. "We found a skull."
"A human skull?"
"Some kind of skull." The builder continued. "We turned it into the authorities and then the state started some kind of archeological excavation out in our yards. They found something."
"What was it?"
"I don’t know what it was but it was stolen." Markoff answered. "Then there was a murder. They’re watching us to make sure that things don’t get out of control again."
"And the digging continues." The economist sighed.
If anything the digging had escalated in both breath and intensity. They dug day and night now. They chipped up sections of the road and worked underneath intense spotlights. They used shovels instead of trawls and jackhammers instead of picks. They discarded old rusty cans, warped pieces of wood, mud filled bottles and pieces of pottery out into the street as refuse.
"You were there for this murder?" The old man asked.
"Yes." Markoff said.
Mounds of junk and dirt littered the cul-de-sac where the kid had been killed. The HOA was livid about the whole thing but what could be done? This was a federally sanctioned thing now and all the students had their own access codes to the gates. They came and went as they pleased. There were teams of them now; many more than before.
"I’ve been watching." The professor said slowly. "I’ve been here two days and my favorite pastime has become climbing up to the second story windows and watching the activities of this neighborhood."
"Birds eye view?" The builder asked.
Thom Grey’s father nodded. "I think that I use to teach with a few of them."
Some of the new ones were in fact older academic looking types, dressed in a similar fashion as the man in charge. They wore his explorer hat and their own pairs of tattered cargo pants. Some of them argued about interference from the sun with their probes and instruments. Some of them erected tents along other sections of the properties.
"Of course, none of them were involved with my department or my field of study." The old man continued. "They were piecing together bones while I was working to uncover the nature of the system."
Markoff squinted. "You think that the world is controlled by aliens."
"In a literal sense."
"That’s pretty out there man."
Professor Grey nodded. "Who’s idea was it to turn in the skull?"
"Mine." Markoff spat bitterly.
"And now the tents."
"This wasn’t what I had in mind."
There was a tent in Kinkaid’s yard now. Two tents in Markoff’s own, the original and a new companion. The Wells had a tent blocking the windows of their front room. A tent sat near the far backhand corner of Biggs’ house, its grey canopy set off to where his largest pond once lay. The archeologist had worn bullwhips and guns that day. They’d drained it and mercilessly killed his fish after the thumper had detected something underneath. No one was messing around.
Thom Grey’s father shrugged. "It should have been expected."
"You found one of them."
There had been much anger and accusations thrown back and forth after the student had been killed and whatever was in the first tent had gone missing. Men from the federal government came and knocked on all of their doors. They wore fedoras and wanted to question everyone. Threats of search warrants were issued. Kinkaid’s lawyer had gotten those squashed in court but the suspicions remained.
Instead of one police car, two now watched them from the corners of the street. The diggers openly displayed weapons on their hips. They never left. They were ready to defend what they had discovered.
Wallace came into the room, smiling. "This is what a man needs for peace and quiet." He said jovially as he hoisted an overflowing glass to his lips.
"I didn’t know you were coming." Markoff said. He clapped the man on his back and pulled him closer. He was glad for the distraction. Thom Grey’s father was still the tower shooter as far as he was concerned.
"I didn’t either!" The astronaut laughed. He tilted of his head and winked. "I was doing my weekly session with my main man Dan and I saw that there was a party going on. I figured I’d just come over and offer my love."
"Is Dan coming?"
"I wouldn’t expect it." Wallace frowned.
There was another long pause. Biggs came by peeking his head into the room and carrying Gage. Seeing the scene he winced and left. Markoff could now understand the programmer’s intimidation. Professor Grey was a disturbing force. The man stood staring at them both wearing a wild eyed grin.
"Are you Winston Wallace?" The tower shooter said still leering.
"Indeed I am sir!" The astronaut answered. Eagerly he put his hand out.
Thom Grey’s father regarded it for a moment but made no attempt to shake with him. "I remember your trip aboard the space shuttle." He said casually.
Wallace laughed. "That was a long time ago."
"You’re an image man now, right?"
"I instruct people on the proper ways to direct their love." The astronaut nodded.
"And there is an economy for that?"
"I could work everyday with what I do."
Professor Grey smiled. "They’ve made the world so amusing these days."