The builder walked down a long hallway towards the only door that was open. It sat at the end of the darkened corridor, cracked just wide enough for him to see the sunlit arm of a man sitting at a desk within. Whoever this person was it was clear before he ever entered the room that they wore a suit jacket and wrote left handed.
“You wanted to see me?” He asked as he nudged open the door and peeked inside.
Mr. Wells stood and waved him in. “I’m glad you could come by Mr. Markoff.” He said offering up his hand.
Markoff took it and gave it a firm shake.
“Please, sit down.”
The builder looked around the room. It was almost completely bare except for the desk that the man was now behind and one lonely straight backed chair that sat pushed against the wall in a far corner. The scene reminded Markoff of a time that he’d had to visit the principles office back in elementary school.
He’d been ten or eleven years old and had taken it upon himself to light a match in the schools bathroom. Why he’d lit it he couldn’t recall to this day. All that he remembered was the shear excitement that he’d felt after he’d struck it against the wall and seen it come to life.
It was his friends who were the ones that had ratted him out. He’d called them into the stalls so that he could show it to them and they’d tattled like little babies. He’d gotten two swats from the old man that ran the school and in a sense still felt pissed-off about the whole ordeal.
He’d found the matchstick on the playground that morning while walking to school. As a kid who’d grown up being told never to play with fire the mere act of holding the balsawood stick had made Markoff feel both frightened and powerful. He’d put it in the pocket of his jacket fiddling with it all day long in class.
When he struck it to the cinderblock wall in the boy restroom everyone had fled in a panic. They ran into their homeroom class and told the teacher as soon as they’d seen the head spark to life. Two swats, and the man who’d gave them to him was probably long dead. Still, he felt the fear, anger and shame of the event as he stood all these years later staring at the straight backed chair in the corner of Mr. Wells office.
“How was traffic for you?” The man asked once they’d both been seated.
Markoff sat in the corner of the room having decided against moving the chair any loser. “Fine.” He said.
Mr. Wells smiled. “That’s good. You never know at this time a day. It could be that you zip right on through or you could get stuck behind a jackknifed truck carrying hazardous materials.”
“What’s this about?” The builder asked.
“I’m glad you asked.” The man said opening a file folder on his desk. “I’m trying to connect the dots on several strange cases that have come to the attention of my agency in this area.”
“This isn’t about the mall?”
“Oh it’s about the mall.” Mr. Wells continued. “The mall is exactly what prompted us to come down here and set up a field office to question people in. That being said, it’s not the only thing that we’ve been monitoring.”
“Who’s we?” Markoff asked.
The man folded his hands over the paperwork before him. “Mr. Markoff, I represent an agency of the government that tries to keep things from happening.” He said, his expression taking on the glazed look of a man about to launch into a prepared speech. “We are not dangerous or malevolent towards the citizens of this country or the people who live here. We do not make raids, searches or arrest. We will not ever pass the information that we gather on any subject to law enforcement agencies be they local, state or federal. We do not do assassinations.”
“Did you used to?” Markoff interrupted.
“Yes we used to do those things along with a lot of the other stuff that I’ve mentioned.” The man explained. “Recently we’ve started to try talking to people and get to understand their motivations for doing the bad things that they do.”
“Does it work?”
“We’re building a database.” The man nodded. “The tactic itself doesn’t seem to be very effective but we are tracking the source of people’s unhappiness and using it to learn how we can offset some of the issues that make them lash out and kill and destroy. It’s a wonderful project and one that I’m very happy to be a part of.”
The builder scanned the man’s desk. It held an old bulky laptop, a coffee cup with pens in it, and another holding a tea bag on the lip of the mug with a faint trail of steam flowing up from the mouth. His file sat at the center of all of this. It was as thick as a college ruled notebook and somehow very ominous looking. “What’s that say about me?” He asked nodding to the folder. “Why would I be unhappy?”
The man patted the sheets of paper that were pinned inside it and smiled. “This folder details what we know of your life up until this point.” He said casually. “It’s not that unusual based on what we know about the average person. There have been things which throw up some red flags but overall you’re just a normal guy with average things that affect your mood both positively and negatively.”
Markoff leaned forward causing the wooden joints of his chair to screech with the sound of a broken violin that was being played by a drunk. “Then why am I here?” He asked evenly.
“Connections.” The man offered cryptically. “You’ve got too many connections to things that we have come to recognize as factors which promote strife and disenchantment.”
“I’m doing fine.” The builder argued. “I’ve got more work that I can handle and I’ve got the biggest television of anyone that I know sitting in my house.”
“Did you not witness a shooting in your neighborhood earlier this year?” The man asked raising his eyebrows.
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
Mr. Wells shrugged. “That sort of thing tends to fester.” He said casually. “It wouldn’t be a factor if you hadn’t had your car stolen and then used to blow up the mall where your wife was shopping.”
“So I’m a suspect?” Markoff asked.
“We want to understand why that would happen.”
The builder was quickly growing frustrated with the man’s line of questioning. He hated the way that Mr. Wells phrased everything to make it seem like he was trying to help. To Markoff, it felt like he was a child who’d gotten sent to the school counselors’ office for acting out. “I think I’m doing pretty damned well.” He said again. “I don’t see why my life would even be a concern to people like you.”
The man frowned. “Perhaps I haven’t been clear.” He said raising his right hand in a pedantic gesture. “You’re at the center of the bomb going off at the mall. It was your car that was used. Maybe you don’t think that you’re unhappy but we do.”
“And what’s going to happen to me if I disagree?” The builder shot back. “What are you guys going to do if I tell you that you’re wrong? I’m happy as a clam and there ain’t a damned thing that can be done about that. What do you think of that?”
Mr. Wells sighed. “We can’t kill you.” He said tapping the file. “We don’t do that anymore. Besides we’re still gathering information on the way that you live.”
“Why do you even care?” Markoff asked. “Isn’t the world supposed to end at any minute now? What difference does it make if I’m happy or if anyone is happy?”
The man looked at him. “Where did you hear that?”
“On my big ass television.” The builder shot back. “There’s a meteor that’s going to slam into the earth and kill us all.”
Mr. Wells shook his head. “You see, that’s part of the problem.” He said dismissively. “People get all of these reports about things that can kill them like the flu and meteors that they don’t know what to do anymore. They start looking at the things around them that make them unhappy and they get irrational. They might take actions that we find disagreeable and make other people fearful and unhappy just like them. It’s a self perpetuating problem.” He added.
“I didn’t blow up the mall.” Markoff argued. “I didn’t even know that my wife’s SUV had been used until you called me just a little while ago.”
“Have you seen the images from the security cameras outside in the parking lot?” The man said sliding a printout from underneath the file.
“Please, see it.” Mr. Wells gestured, sliding it closer.
Markoff stood, walking the few steps from his chair to the desk. The image was in black and white. There was a time stamp in the corner indicating a moment during the last few seconds before the blast. “What am I suppose to be looking for?” He asked.
“Is that your wife’s stolen car?”
“Do you recognize the person driving it?”
The builder leaned forward to get a closer look. “That’s not a person.” He said evenly.
“Does it look familiar to you?”
“Who do you think it is?”
The builder gazed at the printout long and hard before saying anything. It had obviously been blown up and enhanced for the greatest clarity. Computers had been at work on this. The pixels were tightened and the face behind the steering wheel was clear. “That’s the Tower Shooter.” He answered.