In his truck, the builder filled out his cards. He signed his name to each of them and wrote brief little words of encouragement at their bottoms. He left one of the ones which bore Get Well sentiments blank so that his wife could give it to Clara when she returned from Washington. He penned ‘We’ve missed you’ on the one for Dan. He scrawled ‘Let me keep your gun for you’ at the end of a wordy explanation on Thom Grey’s Sympathy note.
When he got home Markoff found an empty house. The rooms were silent. A wad of tissues had been discarded on a corner of the kitchen countertop.
His wife had probably taken the kids out for Mexican food and Jill for margaritas. There was no note but both his daughter and his step-son had left their rooms open and unlocked. This in and of itself indicated a hasty but peaceful retreat.
Going back out, he collected the cards from off his passenger seat and began to make the rounds. On her night stand he left the one saying ‘Congratulations!’ for his wife to find. In his daughter’s room he laid the ‘I’ll always love you.’ card on the pink blanket of the bed for Justine. He put the one with the monkey on Jose’s desk next to his computer.
Rather than talk to Grey directly, Markoff chose put his note in the man’s mailbox. Sure, he could have called him at his office but that would mean having to answer questions and it would also require the expressing of comfort and understanding. The builder didn’t know if he had it in himself to negotiate a dynamic discussion over a situation that bore no simple or immediate solution right now.
Professor Grey was creepy and definitely a disturbing personality to have to live with. The builder could understand Jill for wanting to get away from him. Markoff himself didn’t like having to have his family reside within range of the man’s sniper sights. Still, what could he have possibly said to Thom over the phone in order to explain things? "Your wife left you because your father is the Tower Shooter?"
That wouldn’t work.
The man had been the happiest that anyone had seen him ever since they’d all moved in next to one another. Thom may not have been particularly fond of his father. He may have thought that life was better without the man being around. He may have been comfortable and he may have been staid but he sure as hell wasn’t happy.
Thom was so relieved when the television had told him that he wasn’t the son of a mass-killer. He’d driven almost immediately to the state penitentiary in order to reconcile their broken relationship. He’d smiled and offered everyone wine at the party. For a little while, Jill was thrilled at the change. She’d even stopped altering her hair every week.
How would he react when he learned that she had left him? What would he do when he was informed by Markoff that everyone felt like he’d brought a danger into their community? Would he understand it when he was told that people liked being around him better when he was the son of a mass-murderer? Would he retreat back into his study and brood again after he found out that his second wife had gone away only because his dad wasn’t the killer that everyone knew that he was?
The diggers dug and the older men directed them. They eyed Markoff suspiciously as he walked back and forth between the houses. They put their hands on their guns. The cops sat inside their cars watching him. He put the card inside Thom Grey’s mailbox.
The day was still early and Markoff knew that his neighbor usually worked late. Thom would find the detailed explanation written out for him when he got home that evening from manufacturing ammunition boxes. The Sympathy card said everything that needed to be said. It even asked him to get the gun away from his father just like Myrah had wanted it to.
He crossed the street and headed over to Dan’s house.
On the doorstep, the builder rang the bell for him to answer. He pressed the button three times waiting long periods in between. Through the beveled glass, the house looked dark and vacant. A group of student’s emerged from the tent that was set up next to the front room windows and eyed Markoff suspiciously.
When it seemed that there would be no reply Markoff took his phone from out of his pocket and used the keypad that was mounted next to the lock to enter in the security code that Myrah had texted to him. He heard the latch click and spun the knob to open the door. All was quiet inside.
The Wells had decorated the entrance with a single dark wood table and a mirror hanging above it. The builder could see himself reflected in its surface as he entered the house. "Hello?" He called out to the silence.
The hallway held black and white pictures that could have easily come with the frames which held them. A farmhouse, a windmill, a beach. There were sconces along the wall which differed from how Markoff own downstairs hallway had been laid out. "Hello?" He said again.
In the kitchen coffee cups, marble floors, granite countertops, appliances of the highest quality. "Dan?"
There was a stirring in the utility room. The builder heard a door opening. He looked in the direction of the sound. "Jesus!" He said jumping back in surprise.
"Calm down Jack." Dan replied.
"What the heck?" Markoff said. Unconsciously he threw a hand up looking away.
"It’s okay!" The man called out to him.
"Why do you look like that?"
"I have to."
"Reconstructive surgery." He answered.
Markoff looked up again. His neighbor was standing in the frame of the doorway leading into his utility room. He wasn’t really Dan anymore. He’d been given a new face. What used to be chiseled good looks had been smoothed over and molded into the shape of a more juvenile profile. The man’s eyes were the same but he wore the mask of a teenager.
The builder cocked his head. "You’ve got two ears." He said, stunned.
"What are you doing here Jack?" Dan asked. He placed his hands on his hips and struck an indignant pose. The gesture made him look like a bratty kid trying to act like an adult.
"Your wife." Markoff answered. "She was hit by a bus."
"Is she okay?" He asked.
"I guess." The builder replied. "Myrah knows more than I do."
Dan’s eyes shifted back and forth in their flawless folds. "I should call her." He said through his delicate new lips.
Markoff watched as the man retreated back into the darkness to get his phone from inside the safe room. The chamber had been ingeniously hidden behind a false wall that rested in a corner next the washer and drier. It was remarkably devious. You could have searched the house for ages and never located it if you didn’t know what you were looking for.
"Privacy." Dan said reemerging into the kitchen.
"God damn, yes!" Markoff spat. He was fascinated, in shock and totally unable to tear his gaze away from him.
He keyed in a number. There were more digits than what seemed appropriate for an ordinary call but soon a connection was established.
"Honey!" Dan said at the first sound of Clara’s voice.
The builder tried to picture the two of them together. They’d looked awkward before this with his wife in her bulging frumpiness and him with his handsome features. Now they would look like a mother and son.
"You’re okay?" The man asked. He nodded at the reply.
Markoff wondered if this was the reason that Dan had been hiding himself away for all this time. He wasn’t a grotesque monster but rather a complete stranger now. There was almost no part of him except for the eyes that belied who he used to be. Almost 20 years had been taken off of him. The builder couldn’t help but wonder how they’d made the ear.
"You can walk out of there tomorrow." Dan said. He nodded again.
Despite his looks he seemed more focused now. He’d become less of a jocular sportsman and more of a serious planner in his demeanor. There was something about Dan that seemed poised to attack. Turning to the builder he made an urgent motion for Markoff to leave.
The builder stumbled back towards the entry way. He sat the Get Well card down on the wooden table. He heard Dan ask: "Is this the work of them?" He walked out the front door closing it behind himself.