Markoff had stopped off at the Taj Mahal to check on how his work crews were progressing with the scent system when he got the call from Biggs. He’d just come from the bank where he’d taken out what he hoped would be his final draw against the property. Already there were shops beginning to be stocked in the sprawling outdoor mall and the sage brush landscaping was in. This was usually the point where his financial responsibilities ended and the leasing agents began.
“What?” He asked picking up the call.
Biggs sounded worried. “Where are you?” He said in a hushed and whispering tone.
“I’m out at the Taj.” Markoff answered as he followed his head foreman across the courtyard. “I’m going to fire someone if they’ve got bad news for me.”
Hearing this, the squat man in front of him shook his head and laughed.
“You know about things involving the law with the stuff that you build right?” His neighbor asked. “You know what to do if you find a dead body?”
“What?” Markoff spat stopping dead in his tracks.
“What happens when you discover a dead body on your property?” Biggs asked. “I mean, legally they can’t stop me from digging can they?”
“You discovered a dead body?”
“I found a skull.”
The builder was standing near a blue and brown fountain which ran across the back wall of the shopping centers main open area. It had been designed to be a backdrop for pedestrian traffic as well as a focal point for directing shoppers off into the separate avenues of store fronts. Currently the ornamental façade with its multiple tiers and spouts sat dry and turned off. Chalk from the mortar still had to be cleaned from its tiles and the residual plaster removed from the basin.
“You found a skull?” He asked. “In our neighborhood?”
“Yes.” Biggs answered. “I’m not sure if there’s more of the body but there’s definitely a skull.”
“In that new hole that I’m digging.” His neighbor replied. “It’s right near our fence line. Do you think that this’ll slow down my digging if I report it to the police?”
“You’ve got to report it to the police.” Markoff spat. “Good Lord, why is there a skull on our property line?”
“It’s real old. Maybe it’s not even something that the police would need to worry about.”
“The police have to be told.”
“Maybe it’s too old for them to care about.”
“You’re going to have to tell them.”
“Maybe it’s more historic. People build over historic things all the time.”
“You can’t get out of calling the police on this man.”
Biggs sighed. “I’d just hate to have to stop my digging.”
In front of Markoff the supervisor made a gesture indicating that he wanted to turn the misters on. The builder nodded. The mosaic from the fountain extended down from the exterior of its trough walls to the point where they stood in blues then reds and finally yellows and oranges until it culminated into the pattern of a blazing sun. The design covered the center of the square as big as a house. He watched as the man headed across it before disappearing into a hidden maintenance alcove near the entrance to what was going to be the food court.
“Why are you so hot to trot on digging right now?” Markoff said turning his attention back to the conversation with his neighbor. “Don’t you have enough ponds?”
“I’m not digging a pond.” Biggs confessed. “This is something for Tara and Gage. I’ve got to get it completed as soon as possible.”
“Is that why you’ve been waking my ass up every morning with your God damned backhoe?” He asked. “What the hell have you got going on?”
“You know how I asked you for cinderblocks?” The man asked cagily.
“Yes, and I cut you a hell of a deal on them.”
“Well, they’re for a bomb shelter.”
“A what?” Markoff scoffed. The thought was so far fetched that he almost laughed at the notion.
“It’s this asteroid.” Biggs continued his voice still barely above a whisper. “I’ve got a wife and kid. I don’t want my family to die.”
“They blew up the asteroid dumbass.” Markoff barked. Above him the valves where the scents would flow sputtered and hissed. “Why do you want to go and build a bomb shelter when you know as well as I do that there’s nothing to worry about?”
“Is there?” Biggs asked. “They had one come down in India just the other day.”
“That was India.” The builder said taking a whiff of the air. “India ain’t here. We don’t get stuff like that. NASA took care of it.”
Blossom shaped turrets loomed on spires high above. He could see them covered in golden paint and white plaster as he lifted his nose and turned his head to smell the breeze. Roomy pathways extended in every direction. Their walls were adorned with more tiles in more colors. They crept around the doorways and below the windows like vines.
“There are millions of rogue meteors and asteroids out there and one could kill us all at any time.” Biggs argued.
“They watch for that. They’ve got people sitting in rooms with telescopes who do nothing but watch for that crap all the time.”
“But what if they miss one?”
“Then a bomb shelter ain’t going to do you a lick of good.” Markoff answered. “It’ll fall from the sky in a sonic boom and wipe every single one of us out before we’ve even had a chance to cover our ears.”
The area where the builder stood had now become heavily perfumed with the smell of oranges and sandalwood. Turning around, he walked to the center of the courtyard where the sun spiraled outward. There he sniffed again.
The aroma was faint but the spice market illusion was adequately maintained. The scents wafted gently through the air even at this distant point from their source. Whatever changes that his crew had made over the past couple of days seemed to be working. Now they would have to be applied to the rest of the facility.
“But what if there’s a warning?” His neighbor asked.
“There won’t be a warning.” The builder chided. “There wasn’t one in India was there?”
“You’re stupid for even thinking of building a bomb shelter.”
“I’m not stupid.” Biggs whined. “I just don’t want to take any chances. What if, you’re watching TV one night and they say that the presidents been whisked away to a bomb shelter because a rocks going to fall out of the sky and destroy everything.”
“Unless it happened during a Cowboys game then I’d probably never hear about it.”
“But what if it did? Wouldn’t you want your own bomb shelter to get your wife and kids into?”
“I think that would be more dangerous than just taking my chances with the asteroid.” Markoff quipped. “The kids and I can’t be in the same place for too long a time here lately without them starting to irk me. I’d kill them or they’d kill me before the apocalypse even had a chance to go after us.”
“But you’d want to protect them right?”
The foreman peeked out of the doorway to the maintenance area. Markoff gave him a thumb’s up. The man grinned and returned the gesture.
“I guess.” He muttered reluctantly into the phone.
“That’s where I am right now!” Biggs answered, his voice rising. “I don’t want my wife and son to be killed by a meteor. I love them too much!”
“So you’re building a bomb shelter.”
“Yes!” His neighbor shot back. “At least I was until I found this stupid skull.”
“Well, if it is a skull then you’re going to have to call the police.” Markoff repeated.
There was silence.
The builder sighed. “Look, give me thirty minutes to finish up out here and then I’ll head home.” He said wearily. “Maybe this ain’t a skull at all. Maybe it’s something else. I’ve come across some pretty weird looking rocks and roots before when digging out on construction sites. It could be that you’re getting all freaked out for nothing.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s not nothing.” Biggs replied.
Markoff watched as his foreman started to do an end zone dance. The air tasted rich and the misting system was finally working. On the other end of the line, his neighbor continued to lament the extinction of the human race. The builder ignored him. He was so happy that he began to do an end zone dance as well.