The builder stood at the door holding the heavy trough that was filled with crescent shaped cubes from the ice machine kicking at the door. He would have knocked but the bucket was so large that it took two hands for him to hold it. The temperature was rising and all that he could think was that he had to be let in soon or else it would all melt.
His foot was throbbing from his assault on the door when it finally swung open. This time it was Clara who answered it. She took one look down at the white plastic box that was in his hands and nodded. “Come in.” She said. “Quickly.
Markoff pushed past her into the small confines of the room. It was uncomfortably crowded. There was hardly any room to sit down. In one of the few spaces that was left on the floor Kinkaid held his wife. He could see that Myrah had left the children to come to her side. “Breath!” She said sternly.
The woman nodded and pushed quick puffs of air through her lungs.
“I got some ice.” The builder said, giving the bucket a slight lift.
Myrah flashed him a purposeful look. “Set it down and get out of the way.” She said.
Markoff did as he was told and took a step backwards. He could see that the children were now hugging each other. Jose looked especially scared while his own daughter with her scuffed up knees and perpetual soccer uniform seemed angry about it all. The alien’s voice echoed in his head.
“Feed them to her.” Myrah barked at Kinkaid, nodding her head in the direction of the ice.
The man gingerly picked up a cube and slipped it between his wife’s quivering lips.
The walls were lined with shelves and printed maps. For the most part it seemed to have been well stocked for a disaster. There was a clunky radio which seemed appropriate for sending out SOS messages to the surviving world, meats and vegetables in oversized cans and manuals detailing how to deal with hand to hand combat and electrical generators.
It was the maps which the builder found most interesting. They weren’t of the nation or even the state. Instead they depicted just the circumference of the cul-de-sac.
He eyed one which showed printed labels above each of their homes. It had red x’s drawn onto the yards where the tents were set up and intricate drawings beside them made in pencil. He read one of the descriptions. “Here is where the thing we need are.”
“What are you looking at?” Dan said, easing up beside him and sizing him up in an aggressive manner.
“Nothing.” The builder said. He looked down, pretending to study his shoes.
The man stepped around him, his presence feeling uncomfortably close in the tiny room. “Do you think I’ve been in here hiding all this time?”
Markoff glanced from his wife to his children. “I don’t know what the hell you’ve been doing.” He said puffing out his chest and facing his neighbor. “Why don’t you tell me?”
“Reconnaissance.” Dan growled. “I’ve been trying to prove to my superiors that I’m ready to come back on board.”
The builder blinked, pretending to play dumb. “Doing what?”
“It’s time for assassinations.” He muttered. “I’m sure that you’ve spoken to one of the other Dan Wells’. They would have asked you about me.”
“He mentioned you, yes.”
The man nodded. “Well, me slipping in and out amongst these kids and monitoring their work will surely impress him don’t you think?”
The pregnant woman moaned. Myrah leaned in between her legs. She looked as if she was ready to catch a fast ball.
“I don’t care.” Markoff said giving his neighbor a look of disdain. “He froze my assets. I can’t get anything done anymore. Every bank keeps turning me down. I’m just about insolvent.”
Dan brightened. “Don’t you see?” He exclaimed, waving his hand at his side. “With assassinations we wouldn’t have to ruin people’s lives this way. You could have just been killed! It would have spared your family from having to live in poverty.”
“Why would I have to be killed?” The builder asked. “Why would anything need to be done with me? I didn’t blow up the mall and I wasn’t the tower shooter!”
“Are you sure?”
Markoff looked him up and down. “Are you sure that you’re old enough to be talking to me in that tone?”
“I could break you in two.”
“You’re a snot-nosed little brat.” The builder spat. “You’re too young to be involved with assassinations. You need to sit down and shut the hell up.”
The man tensed up as if he were gong to strike the builder. Then, slowly he sank back against the nearest wall and deflated. He appeared to be on the verge of tears.
Markoff looked from his children to the row of shelves mounted against the white painted cinder blocks behind them. They held all sorts of mysterious looking electronic gear. Black painted boxes without a purpose sat beside shiny monitors with no visible buttons or cords.
He turned back to face Dan who really was crying now. “Wallace told me to tell you tell you to do your thing.” He said flatly.
“What?” Dan asked.
“Your thing.” The builder repeated. “He said that it was your ticket back to the agency.”
The man shook his head, his face turning the color of plum as he scowled back at Markoff. “That’s not my ticket back.” He said. “It’s only a temporary fix. I’ve tried and it doesn’t change enough for anything to be permanent.”
The room shook and the pregnant woman screamed.
“I can see its head!” Myrah shouted. A deep dark pool of blood had accumulated in the area beneath her hips. Kinkaid kept trying to force ice cubes against her swollen tongue as she breathed and screamed.
Markoff shrugged. “Well why not try?” He said to his neighbor. “There sure as hell ain’t much to loose right now is there?”
Dan stood there clenching and unclenching his fist. “No.” He said flatly. “If I do it then they win.”
The builder scowled at his neighbor. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” He asked. “It wasn’t ‘America’s Enemies’ who got me into debt. It wasn’t ‘America’s Enemies’ who cut off my finances. It was us here in this country. We did it to ourselves.”
Dan Wells stepped forward. “You don’t understand.” He said angrily. “This didn’t happen to my face overnight. It took many operations. I didn’t just have to kill that guy in Jordan once and he didn’t wipe out my team in a single instance. It just kept happening, over and over and over again.”
Markoff turned to the young diggers. “Can you tell from looking at all this stuff what’s been stolen from your site.”
The students, a bow and a girl who appeared not much older than his neighbor exchanged puzzled glances. “All of this stuff.” The boy said extending his hand out towards the wall.
The builder took a small step around his wife and the couple in labor. The pregnant woman was gritting her teeth, seeming to be exerting every ounce of energy that she had on pushing the child from her womb. Myrah held out her hands between the girls open legs as if expecting to catch a fastball.
“Do you see the box?” He asked, looking at the rows and rows of mysterious objects that had been piled on the shelves. “I need to find what was taken from my yard. What got that kid killed when the police accused me of stealing it.”
The boy stepped forward pursing his lips. He scanned the shiny merchandise in silence. At last he reached up and pulled something from the shelf. “I think this is it.” He said as he handed it to the builder.
Markoff looked at what he held. It wasn’t as elaborate or impressive as many of the other things that had been mounted on the wall. If it would have been a deer head, the builder would have laughed at its puny little antlers and dwarf face.
In his hands was a plastic box not quite as big as what would have held a pair of children’s sneakers in a shoe store. It was black and dull and severely light in weight. On its side was a switch.
“Is this it?” He asked Dan holding it up for the man to see.
His neighbor looked away.
Clara and Jill seemed to be holding their breath as they watched him standing there and holding the box aloft. He glanced at his children. Their expressions hadn’t changed. He wanted to take them up in his arms and pull them close to him. He wanted to tell Justine that it didn’t do any good to be bull headed and angry at the world. In the long run, it wouldn’t change anything.
Of all of the people in the room only Myrah looked happy. She wore a broad smile as she gently coaxed the baby into the world. The woman let out a low groan as his wife pulled her child from her womb and held the screaming infant up for her to see.
Markoff flipped the switch.