It’s full dark and I am in the driver’s seat of the jeep with Isabel. And we’re waiting for Michael, who is fashionably late. A crescent moon hangs cocked in the sky over Roswell like an eye narrowed in anger. Its scant light throws shadows from the trees that tell of compass headings before the fall of night. Michael comes out and gets in the back seat.
Where’s your stuff? Izzie says.
I’m wearing it, he says.
I pull into traffic cautiously, reminding myself that the festival is underway and people will be driving crazy. I keep an eye out for any sign anyone’s too interested in us.
Michael says, So with this picture what we’re saying is that there’s more of us?
One more, i say grimly. At least there was in 1959.
So then there’s hope, he says. I mean, if we can find him he can tell us where we came from, what we are…
Michael, calm down, Izzie says. We had one possible relative 50 years ago. All we know about him is that he’s probably a killer.
Suddenly i sense that we are being followed. Without signalling i swerve the jeep into an alley and find it blocked by a broken down pickup truck full of produce.
Behind us our surveillance screeches into the alley and we are trapped. When i squint i see that it is the clunker that Maria DeLuca, Liz’s best friend drives. Maria is an hysteric like her mother Amy and that’s why she drives like that. When the car stops Maria gets out on the driver’s side and Liz out of the passenger’s side and they stand for a moment on wet asphalt.
When Liz and Maria start walking toward us Izzie says, Great. Why are they here?
I guess they’ll tell us, someday…i break off.
We get out of the jeep and start walking toward them and we stop six feet away from each other.
Maria says, Please dont tell me that they’re all three…
Well, Liz says and shrugs.
I’m gonna be sick, Maria says.
Maria knows, Liz says.
Unbelievable, Michael says, shaking his head.
Look, i promise i wont tell anyone, Maria says.
Michael advances toward them angrily. He says, Get your car out of the way. Now!
I really dont think you should try to leave, Liz says. It’ll look to everyone that you’re guilty.
Guilty of what? Michael says. Saving your life?
Michael…i start to say but Liz cuts me off.
I think i have an idea. If we can all work together maybe we can throw Valenti off. Maybe even discredit him, she says.
We are not together, Michael says passionately. Our lives are at stake, not yours. Now move your car.
Michael, i say wearily, This cant last forever, this secret. I dont even want it to anymore.
I cant change what happened, Liz says. But if you run Valenti will know it’s you. How long before some government agency follows? I dont think Valenti’s convinced anybody but himself. Maybe we can stop this right now.
Stop it how? Izzie says.
Valenti’s father was sheriff before he was. Old man Valenti was the one that found that corpse. He kept the photo and became obsessed with aliens. He became a laughing stock and an embarrassment before they removed him from office. After that he went around raving about alien invasions and how the world was infiltrated by them. He’s in a nursing home now on meds.
How do you know all this? I say. I never heard…
I’m going out with Valenti’s son, remember? Liz says.
And Kyle’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer and he runs his mouth, i say. And everybody wonders when this version of Valenti will go into permanent orbit so anything he says about aliens could earn him a trip to the funny farm.
Nobody wants a witch hunt for aliens in this town, Max, Liz says. They’ve already had one. To them aliens are a joke and an embarrassment like the tourists.
She’s right, i say to Izzie.
I shouldve known you’d side with her, Izzie says.
I’m not on anybody’s side, i say wearily.
Then get on a side, Max, Isabel says. Time is running out.
Very well, i say. Maria, move the car. I’m turning myself into Valenti.
You’re disgusting as a martyr, Izzie says.
It’s me he wants, i say. He doesnt suspect anyone else.
Michael looks at me with incredulity and says, Max, we agreed that we were leaving.
Isabel says, Max, honey, i’m sorry i said that. I didnt mean it…
I know it, i say.
I cant leave without you, Izzie says. I wont.
The mantle of leadership crushes and devours its wearer. And you dont have to be a king or a president.
Izzie walks up to Liz and says, What’s your idea?
Izzie and i go home long enough for her to finish struggling into her alien suit. I wasnt going so i dont have anything to wear but an old black suit. With a black tie that equals a Man In Black. Irony abounds.
Izzy continues to the festival with Maria and i go in the jeep with Michael. We’re in traffic when Michael says, It wont work, Maximus. It’s too adolescent. It’s just a prank.
If it doesnt we’re no worse off. And i’ll be in jail anyway.
You dont have to do it this way, Max. We can still leave. We can just pick up Isabel and go.
It’s about Liz, is that it? He says.
No! Well, sorta. I dont even fucking know, Michael. Maybe i’m just so sick of hiding i want it to be over and if i turn myself in you and Izzie will be protected. But that is not what i want. That’s why this is going to work. It has to.
It’s stupid, he says.
I shrug and save my breath.
At the festival. I am finishing off a corn dog when i see the Man himself walking toward me. I toss the food away and look around and see that i am hemmed in by a circle of portable toilets.
I have some questions for you, Valenti says.
Oh, i love questions, i say. What kind of questions?
Were you at the Crashdown Cafe during the shooting?
Yes, i say.
What did you do to Liz Parker ?
Nothing, i say. I didnt do anything to her.
I dont believe that, he says thru clenched teeth.
He spins me around and slams me hard against one of the portable crappers and i just do get my head turned so i dont end up with a broken nose. I guess in this little cul de sac without without witnesses around he feels empowered.
This is police brutality, i croak.
You’re damn right, he says.
Before i know it my hands are cuffed behind my back.
Arent you going to read me my rights? I say.
Do you have any? He says.
Valenti grabs me by the scruff of the neck and marches me back to the main fairway where there are lights and people and when i see what i think i see i wonder if maybe everything’s going to be alright.
Just out of sight there is a sickening thump and Valenti says WTF under his breath. He marches me toward the sound and we see Maria on the ground in front of a stopped car. Somebody in an alien suit that looks like a cockroach is kneeling over her. The cockroach looks around wildly before fleeing and knocks somebody down trying to escape. An apparent hit and run. It’s Michael in the cockroach suit but Valenti doesnt know it. And he doesnt know there’s someone else in the same costume here. Valenti tells his deputy to chase after the cockroach while he sees to Maria, who is still on the ground.
Maria? Valenti says. Stay with me. I’ll call an ambulance.
No, no dont do that, she says. I dont think i’m even hurt but my shoulder…aghhh.
Valenti looks down at her shoulder and touches it briefly. It’s a silver alien handprint just like in the photo Liz saw. And suddenly everybody has a camera out taking pictures of Valenti kneeling by a girl in an alien suit.
Valenti’s deputy shows up with a guy in a cockroach suit. It’s a bad moment because IDK if Michael’s gotten away and ditched his version of the suit. Valenti yanks the head off the cockroach suit and it is none other than his son Kyle.
Dad? Kyle says. What is this? Maria, what happened? RU alright?
You didnt see any of this? Valenti says. You didnt …
I was waiting over there for Liz. She was fifteen minutes late. This deputy grabbed me and brought me here. What happened?
Let him go, Valenti says miserably. He looks at his hand and sees silver paint.
Come on, Max, he says, bullying me away from the crowd. We gotta talk.
When we are back in the valley of the crappers Valenti says, You think you’re a real smart guy, dont you?
IDK what you’re talking about, i say desperately.
Dont play games with me, he says, holding his hand up to the light. This is silver paint from a fake handprint on Maria DeLuca. But you went to Liz Parker in that cafe and did something to her. And i need to know what it was.
I had a hamburger, i say indignantly. When the gun went off i ran away because i didnt want to get shot. Did i break the law? RU arresting me?
He spins me around again and takes off the handcuffs and says, No. Your parents would have you out in an hour. But let me tell you something. I’m gonna find out what the truth is. You can count on it. You’re a smart guy, Max. But so am i.
He stalks off, leaving me alone with the crappers.
The truth, he wants. The truth is right here in front of him but he wouldnt know it if it bit him on the ass. There may be a bullseye on my back but right now he’s being measured for a clown suit. So we’ll all go back to Roswell and it’ll be like the Cold War. A war of nerves, waiting to see who blinks first.
Liz is waiting where she said she would.
Hey! I say.
Hey, she says and smiles. She’s never smiled like that at me before.
There is no chilly distance this time. I am only a foot away when i push her hair over her ear with my left hand.
I say, You had a er…
A bad hair day, she says. Thank you.
For what? I should be thanking you. I guess we’re even, if you’re the kind that keeps balance sheets…
I’m not, she says.
Listen to me, Liz. It’s not safe. I mean for you and me to er…
I dont care, she says.
Oh, dushka. I dont either but unfortunately it isnt just us. If we were just a few years older and lived together on the other side of the country it might be different. We could make it up as we went.
I can wait, she says.
I dont see how, i say. A year, a month. You could change your mind. Everything’s so complicated.
This is the second or third time i’ve been in kissing range and this time the moment is perfect. But i dont kiss her. I just turn and walk away like the dumb fuck i am. What is wrong with me?
Max! She says to my back. I never got to thank you for saving my life.
Water under the bridge, i say. You may have just saved mine. We’re even. I’ll see you at school.
And i get out of here before i do something really stupid.
Note: The five chapters i’ve written so far contain the events of the pilot of the tv series Roswell. I’ve been very faithful to that story except i’ve reinvented Max a little bit. And by the way, the part of Isabel was played by Katherine Heigl in the tv show.