Chapter 43

Despite their lack of taste in aesthetic intricacies both Thom and Jill had selected an outstanding couch. It was gold, with dark brown cording stitched along its seams. It had squared off edges and cushions that seemed to have been designed to invite you to sit in them.

Myrah ran her fingers along the side of the arm. "This is really firm." She said appreciatively.

"I know!" Jill smiled. "This is probably the most expensive piece of furniture that we’ve ever owned."

"It feels expensive!"

"It is!"

Markoff and Wallace had joined them. They’d retreated into the party’s crowd after the disturbing discussion standing in the muted silence of the safe room with Professor Grey. They were now nodding in approval and looking on as Jill showed off the costly new sofa.

"At White and Lands they have one like this." Clara offered.

"We got this at Taylor and Gibson’s."

"They have better deals."

The builder and the astronaut drank absently. They looked over the lines of the divan. Biggs was sitting in its center. His arms were stretched across the back. His son Gage was propped up next to him looking at them all with surprise in his eyes.

Markoff raised his bottle towards the man. "Is it comfortable?" He asked.

"Boy yes!" The programmer answered. He leaned his head back into the folds of the padding and closed his eyes.

The scene was dimly lit by a dark blue floor lamp which looked as if it had come out of a box. In a corner sat the telescope. It was surrounded by books about astronomy and note pads.

"We bought this so that Thom’s dad would have a nice place to sleep." Jill continued. "It’s got a comfortable bed that folds out and everything."

Biggs made a gesture of looking down at where his son was sitting. "It’s soft."

"He won’t use it though." She frowned. "He doesn’t like the windows."

Unconsciously they all looked to the wall on the far side of the austere room. The window faced out onto the street. Beyond it dirt mounds and diggers. The students swarmed beneath the glare of the arc lamps that they’d set up.

The programmer cocked his head. "Do you think that’s its right to put him around windows?"

Jill sighed. "He watches the digging." She answered.

Markoff though of the old man looking at them all from the second floor. He’d said that he was watching the neighborhood. Now however, the builder found himself wondering who was watching the Tower Killer.

Tara laughed. "Does he even sleep?" She asked. "He’s so weird that I wouldn’t be surprised by anything."

Jill nodded. "He sleeps in the safe room on a cot." She replied. "I had to go down to get it from Ducks and Decoys after he got here."

"You should have called me!" Myrah interrupted.

Absently Jill twirled at one of her pigtails "The press followed."

The press had been everywhere. Thankfully, they’d grown tired of the story on the second day after the old man’s release. Their cameras had now vanished from outside the gates. The world was once again paying attention to the threat from the skies rather than the threat from within. New stories ran everyday.

Biggs cradled his son. "I think that’s it’s a good for Thom’s dad to be in the safe room."

The news covered an item about a village in Ethiopia that had a minor strike. The natives there were worshipping the stone. They credited it with bringing rains to the region following its impact. There were pictures of them bowing in reverence to the blackened object as a downpour flooded the streets around them.

"I wish that he would just sleep here." Jill answered. "We bought him a nice place to sit with a good bed."

"But wouldn’t it be best if you guys just kept him away from all the windows for a while?"

"He watches the digging." She repeated.

On a dew-filled morning a famer working in Nebraska had found an asteroid resting in a crater in one of his fields. Using a hammer and chisel he attempted to break it apart so that he could move it rather than have to contact NASA. Inside he’d found diamonds. The event had allowed him to pay off all of his debts and move to France.

Tara shook her head. "Is that healthy?"

"I don’t know." Jill shrugged.

"What do you think that he’s thinking of when he’s looking at them?"

"I don’t know."

Hawaii experienced a strong tidal surge which lasted more than twelve hours. Surfers were seen riding the waves on TV. They gave interviews where they said that it was the best that it had ever been. A muscular man stood on his board at the lip of a curl and flashed a sign for ‘Hang Ten’. Scientists speculated that an entire field of meteorites had splashed down in the Pacific undetected.

"He’s not a very easy fellow to read." Clara offered.

"To be honest with you I don’t like him being here." Jill muttered. "It was nice seeing Thom so happy but now that he’s around things are just creepy."

Myrah let out a breath of air. "I hate it too." She replied. "I have kids to think of."

A new crater had formed on the moon. People in China were the first to notice. They considered it a sign of good luck and cheered for the scar out in the streets. The Forbidden City held an impromptu springtime Moon Festival where there were dancing dragons and paper streamers. Tiananmen Square was over-run with revelers.

"This is all probably a little too familiar." The programmer added.

"What do you mean?" Wallace asked.

He nodded towards the window. "There are a lot of students and professors from the university."

Everyone agreed.

For most in the neighborhood, not having to see the news vans and reporters gathered outside had come as a relief. Markoff himself had even been happy to get rid of them. Now however he was left to wonder if they would ever return to report on more sinister matters.

Tara raised her eyebrows. "I find that just being in the same house with him makes me feel uncomfortable."

The cops on the street outside weren’t just protecting the students and their excavations anymore. They were looking after everyone who was now forced to live and work in such close proximity to the most famous sniper-killer to have ever lived. They’d all seen the documentary vindicating the man but no one believed it. No one even understood what it meant.

Thom Grey came up behind them still carrying the wine. "Anyone want more?" He asked.

Everyone looked uncomfortable. Everyone shifted back and forth on their feed. Everyone said that they had a full glass and everyone wondered how much Thom had heard.

Slowly the women began to file out going back in the direction of the kitchen to argue over the patterns of various brands. Biggs made an excuse. He said that he had to put his son to bed and left even though it was still too early for that. Markoff and Wallace were the only ones left to speak with their neighbor.

"It’s a damn fine couch." The builder said. He gestured towards the golden sofa in a clumsy attempt to instigate conversation.

Thom went over to it and slumped down onto the cushions.

Wallace smiled. "I should get me a new couch." He said awkwardly.

They watched as their neighbor sat the bottles down at his feet and took a deep breath. He rubbed at his eyes and sunk back against the rest. He shook his head. "I guess he is sort of creepy." He said at last.

"Who?" Markoff said, pretending to play dumb. "Your dad?"

Thom shot him a glance. "You know who." He answered in a low tone.

"I deal with all sorts." The astronaut began. "I meet people who could are so smooth they could talk you out of house and home and then I deal with people like Dan who have bottled up who they really are for so long they can’t even express themselves anymore. Your dad, he’s somewhere in between those two things."

"He’s dangerous." The man said caustically. "It’s like living with a viper."

"It’s probably just because he spent all that time around convicts." The builder offered helpfully.

"No." Thom muttered shaking his head. "He was that way when I was little. He’s always had an air about him like he didn’t have much use for humanity. It’s the rich which fascinate him. He elevates them to some kind of otherworldly status in his mind."

"Literally." Markoff laughed.

Thom sighed. "It’s not that I enjoy having him around again." He continued. "I didn’t like him around when I was a kid. After he was arrested, when it was just my mother and me things were more normal. We didn’t have any money but there wasn’t that kind of heavy handed evaluation and condescension that he applied to everything. It was better. We had to sell our couches just to put food on the table but things were happier."

"How many couches did your old man own?" The astronaut asked.

"Two." Thom replied. "We lived in a small house with only two couches but he’d come from old money and he enjoyed bumping elbows with the rich and powerful."

"Well," Markoff said. "You seem happier."

"I’m just happy that he wasn’t the tower shooter." Thom answered looking out the window.

The builder and the astronaut regarded their drinks. They looked around the room trying to think of what to say. Together, they shared the space with the only person in the house who seemed to be celebrating.

The End

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