Chapter 42

Thom entered the safe room carrying two bottles. "Anyone need a refill?" He asked in a light hearted tone.

The man was uncharacteristically happy these days. His face which was normally non-descript and blank now always held a boyish looking grin on its surface. His hair which had been thinning worse than Markoff’s own was allowed to grow full and long in back. He always wore bright shirts and loose pants.

"You can top me off." The astronaut nodded holding out his glass.

Grey tipped a bottle and leveled off the wine. "So, Jack." He said nodding his head into the room. "What do you think?"

"It’s utilitarian." Markoff repeated.

"Dad says that he wants to live down here." He continued nodding in the direction of the professor. "He says that too many years of being locked up have made him allergic to soft walls."

The builder nodded. "It would probably be quiet." He said. He thought about what the man had said about locking oneself away in a room made to resemble a prison. Why would he be passing judgment if he was so willing to lock himself away as well?

Alfred Grey thoughtfully sipped at his drink.

"Any word on Kinkaid?" Thom asked.

Markoff had somehow become the neighborhood authority on the search. He’d never condoned or organized any of the teams of volunteers that probed at the fields with their sticks but as soon as they’d found out that he was paying the man’s mortgage they’d begun reporting to him. For the most part, the builder thought they were a good lot but still a little too eager to hold a candle-light vigil for his liking.

"I can’t imagine that there’s many more places to look." Markoff shrugged. "They’ve pretty much searched every patch of grass along the interstate and a few of the ones that are left out around the subdivisions. They’ve checked the beach. They dredged the bottom of the closest bayou. The FBI is even following leads in North Carolina."

"Why North Carolina?"

"The Winston Cup." The builder answered.

Grey nodded. "You’d love Kinkaid, dad." He said turning to his father. "He’s a true capitalist."

"Old money investor?" The older man asked.

"No, he built it from the ground up." Grey answered. "He started selling T-shirts out of the back of his trunk at NASCAR rallies and then he would up cornering the market on race related memorabilia."

The professor looked down at his son dubiously. "Is there really money in that?"

"There’s 75 million fans with over $3 billion dollars a year in licensed merchandising."

"That would never be allowed to stand." The old man said shaking his head. "The societies not set up to work that way."

"He sold his business."

"Still," The tower shooter exclaimed. "This is not true capitalism. It’s opportunism at best."

The astronaut smiled broadly. "You’ve got a pretty narrow view of capitalism." He said with a sly look in his eyes.

"Wealth is wealth." Professor Grey said pointing at the man. "True capitalism is when you can make money with money. That’s why it’s called capitalism. It’s a capital venture. It’s not about selling trinkets based on some kind of popular mass delusion."

"Well it looks like the man was doing pretty well to me."

The economist glanced at his wine shaking his head. "It’s laughable that you folks consider yourselves well off."

"Hey." Markoff said. "I built over three different multi-million dollar shopping facilities this year alone. That seems to me to be doing pretty damned good."

The professor eyed him dangerously.

In the hallway Jill walked past the metal door leading the women into her front room. "Let me show you our new couch." She said happily.

The builder looked at Thom. "How many couches do you have now?" He asked.

The man seemed to mentally count them. "Three." He answered. "I’m pretty sure that we’ve got three of them now.

Markoff smiled. "I have at least six but that’s only because my wife keeps bringing them home."

They all laughed.

The Grey’s kept a mostly sparten household as neither Jill nor Thom seemed very interested in decorating. Their walls had framed prints which seemed to have been pulled from the waiting rooms of doctors offices while their floor plan was left open with only a few places to sit. They had a plain dining table made of blond wood that served only six, three average sized TV’s, a few pairs of store bought drapes, and plastic blinds all crammed into the 7000 square foot space of their home. It was so stark, that Markoff was honestly surprised that they owned more than one couch.

"I have a theory." The economist muttered.

"Is it about free-market capitalism and aliens?" The builder smirked.

"No. It’s about couches." Professor Grey frowned. "Besides, free-market capitalism doesn’t exist except at the lower levels of this society."

"Couches?"

"Couches and wealth." The old man nodded. "I paid attention to these little details when I was on death row."

They all looked at him.

"Do you know that in high society they aren’t even referred to as couches?"

"What do those people call them?"

"Sofas, divans, recliners." He answered. "China has only recently discovered the couch. As a nation that enjoys calling itself a growing economic power the elite there have started amusing themselves by filling their homes with furniture. This usually includes a couch. It’s the item of highest standing luxury in their culture."

"It probably is in ours too depending on who you ask."

"John J Astor died owning over three hundred different sofas." The professor continued. "The most expensive couch in the world is valued at $300,000. It is a modern art piece made entirely of angular mirrors."

Wallace laughed. "I guess that’s so you can see what’s poking you in your ass."

"George Washington Vanderbilt’s Biltmore estate sells replicas to the lower classes of both sectionals and moderate recliners from its inventory. Bill Gates is never seen photographed on the same couch twice."

"Is that true?" Thom asked.

"All suites in hotels have sofas." His father said jabbing at him with a ragged finger. "The higher up you go in the ranking of the service industries clientele the more they give you. A Presidential Suite may have several loungers, recliners and sectionals for people to sit in."

"I know that, that’s true." The astronaut grinned. "I sometimes get put up in fancy places when I’m speaking on the road and those rooms have got so many couches it’s just dumb."

The older man nodded. "A couch is a perfect barometer for one’s status in life. It’s a sedation device in which to wash oneself of responsibility or put you opponents at ease."

Wallace took a sip from his wine and nodded. "Well I have four of them." He said. "I lost half during my divorce so that makes eight couches that I’ve bought and owned just in the last ten years. I win with couches."

"That’s a parody." The tower shooter grumbled.

Markoff let out of frustrated breath. "Wait a second." He said sounding unconvinced. "Are you trying to tell me that just because I don’t have three hundred couches I’m a failure? I’ve got six of the damned things in my house right now. I’m not Astor."

"Exactly." He said smiling. "You’re not even doing fine. All you are functioning on is a line of capital given to you by the bank and the credit card companies. You think that just because you live in a gated community that you’re running in the frothy regions of this society? Honestly you have no idea. If you were truly an elite then you wouldn’t have to worry about kids digging up your lawn under the protection of a court order. None of you are even what I would consider to be middle class."

"That’s your opinion." Wallace shot back. "I happen to know that I’m upper middle class. The government loves to tell me that every time I fill out my taxes."

The professor shook his head. "I seriously doubt that you even lie in the lower-middle range of the economic spectrum."

There was a silence as they all considered whether to argue with the old man further or to let the matter drop. Professor Grey was obviously insane. He may have been vindicated of his role in the University Tower Shooting from all those years ago but Markoff still felt that he was a danger. It was icy cold just to stand next to the man.

The builder swilled his beer around foaming up the suds in the bottom of the bottle. "I think I need another." He said pretending to be regarding them distractedly.

"I’ll go with you." Wallace offered.

Thom Grey smiled.

The End

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