It was a cold day in August when the storm sirens went off. They began low and ominous and heightened to a shriek. Markoff had been at the bank, trying to get his funds freed up in order to finish the Forbidden City.
They’d frozen his assets just as they said that they would. He hadn’t had any contact with the Dan Wells who had called him into his office that day and warned him of this nor had he seen the Dan Wells who lived on his court. Both of them were just memories of faces to him. One old and one new; both doing things behind the scenes.
The builder didn’t know why they’d locked him out. What began as a refusal of draws slowly escalated into a locking down of his accounts. First it was his business account and then it was he personal savings. There was no notice or warning. He just was made insolvent as easily as if a switch had been thrown shutting him off from everything that he’d ever accomplished.
He assumed that it was because of the mall and the figure from the picture taken of his wife’s car. He didn’t know what the grey form driving it was supposed to be. He had no idea how it had come to own Myrah’s SUV. All he knew was that he was quickly going bankrupt.
The snow from July was still on the ground as he drove home. Much more had fallen since then. It sat more than two foot high packed on the edges of the curb next to the Johnson Space Center. Beyond the fence, men with assault rifles patrolled the building.
The skies were grey but there was nothing on the horizon that made Markoff think that severe weather was on the way. Wondering why the alarms were going off he switched on his trucks radio. A newsman talked slowly and methodically.
“We urge you to leave work. If you are doing chores stop them. Drive in a safe and respectful manner. Don’t stop. Don’t look around. Please go to your homes.”
The builder eased up to a red light. He could see a row of black cars lined up at the exit gate of NASA. Men and women in suits and ties sat with their lights on waiting to be let into traffic.
“There is no guarantee of survival. We have feared this moment since the down of time and now it appears to have come. We are mere hours away from Judgment Day. Please, take care of what needs to be done. Please, hug your families.”
The light changed and he proceeded on. Initially, the builder had intended to go back to his office to call the Japanese and let them know that they’d need to finance the rest of the project up front. He didn’t have the money to cover the labor or materials left on the Forbidden City. The roller coaster had wiped him out and he couldn’t borrow anymore.
He wanted to tell them that they owed him. He wanted to confront them about the Taj Mahal’s and the Alpine Villages he’d seen in the disaster footage of Tokyo. He wanted to ask them about the big fish-shaped bait camp he’d seen swept away by a tidal wave. He wanted to make them pay for stealing his designs.
Now the man on the radio was telling him to go home. He talked of children and loved ones and unrecognized things in relationships. He talked of honestly and safety. He spoke in a resigned but dignified way.
“This station and this position behind the microphone speaking to all of you has been an honor.” He said gravely.
Markoff’s phone rang. Looking down at the handset he expected it to be a call from his wife but the number was Wallace’s. He hadn’t talked to the astronaut since the argument between his wife and the man.
“Hello?” The builder said, shutting off the radio and answering.
“Look man.” Wallace began immediately. “Listen to me. I’m in San Diego on business so I can’t do this myself. I need you to take care of something for me.”
“What’s going on?” Markoff asked.
“This is it!” The astronaut replied. “This is what we all should have known was coming. It’s the end.”
“A big one?”
“That’s what they’re saying.”
“Christ.” The builder spat. “I knew it.”
“It don’t have to be this way.”
“What can we do?”
“You need to talk to Dan Wells.” Wallace answered. “You need to go in there and get him out of his safe room. Tell him to do his thing. He’ll know what you mean.”
Markoff steered the truck onto the freeway driving past a minor accident and a line of people buying fuel and beer from a gas station on the corner. “Is this about his weapon?”
“It isn’t a weapon.” The astronaut said. “It isn’t his either. He stole it from your yard. He thinks it’s his way back into the agency.”
“What do you mean he stole it from my yard?”
Wallace sighed. “It part of what they’ve been digging up.”
“What is it?”
“I have no idea.” The man answered flatly. “Heck man, I don’t even know if it works. The thing is that I’ve been to space and all over this world and I ain’t seen nothing like it ever.”
“What’s he suppose to do with it?”
There was a long silence. The freeway was already getting clogged with traffic. Fortunately Markoff knew the back roads and shortcuts to his home. It was a knowledge gained from years of driving past undeveloped land with the hope of one day building on it. “Are you going to be alright?” He asked.
Wallace laughed. “I’m sitting outside of a restaurant on the beach.” He said casually. “It’s empty and they’ve got a fully stocked bar. If I’m going to go, this is the way I’d like to go.”
“Good luck.” The builder said.
He hung up and swung the truck up onto the shoulder and over the hill leading up to the access road. The tires slipped and spun a little on the ice but the treads bit into the dirt enough to get him to where he needed to go. They left tracks like dark scars as he pulled into the turn lane of a nearby intersection.
On his right was one of the first shopping center’s he’d ever built. It wasn’t the very first but rather the first one that he’d built out of love. The bait camp, the renovations and the designs prior were to him nothing more than annotations to his life.
The building looked so ordinary and simple with its red brick walls and segmented commercial units. Still, he felt a swelling in his heart just looking at it. The grocery store, where Myrah once shopped for Jose and herself was having a sale on everything. He wondered if she even knew.