Markoff was awoken later that night by the sound of his phone going off. Groaning as he rolled over in bed he grabbed the device off of his night stand squinting to read the caller ID. It was Jans Petersmith, one of the architects who worked for him.
“What?” He asked keying the answer button on the handset. He was still a little drunk from the beer and champagne he’d had at Biggs New Year’s Eve party and perceptibly annoyed at being woken up.
“Hey boss.” Petersmith’s low baritone voice answered slowly. “Sorry to be bugging you so late.”
The builder moved his head and blinked at the digital clock beside him. It was 4:00am. “If this isn’t the biggest emergency in the history of the world you’re fired.” He muttered.
Beside him, Myrah rolled over and moaned.
“I don’t know.” The architect said. Behind his voice Markoff could hear sirens and shouting. “It may be nothing. I just thought that you should know.”
“Well, I was driving home from a party that I went to tonight.” The man began. “My sister and her husband live off of exit 12 so I had to go south past the Taj Mahal to get there. Everything was fine.”
“What about now?” Markoff said throwing the covers off of himself and swinging his feet onto the floor. “What are those sirens behind you?”
“That’s the thing.” His architect continued. “When I was headed back to my apartment about an hour ago, I looked off to the side and one whole part of it was on fire.”
“Where?” The builder spat. He’d already gotten up and walked out into the upstairs hallway.
“The courtyard area.” Petersmith answered. “I called the fire department as soon as I saw it. It’s pretty dog gone messed up.”
“How messed up?” Markoff asked.
“Damn near a whole turret burned to the ground. At least ten shops are probably destroyed. Maybe more if you count smoke damage.”
“I know man.” The architect sighed. “And here’s another thing. I was the first one out here so I saw it all before the fire department got around to spraying water on it. There weren’t any of the fire sprinklers going off.”
“Jesus.” The builder said. “Are you sure?”
“They were the first thing that I looked for.” Wallace answered. “I’m an architect.”
“Why would that happen?”
“My guess is that they were turned off when crews were working on the fountain and never turned back on.”
“Doesn’t the fire marshal check for things like that?”
“In a building with scent misting controls and ten fountains I doubt that he’d even know what to look for.” The architect replied.
“Get out of there.” Markoff spat. “Get out of there before they start asking who you are and who you work for. I don’t want there being any attention draw to my company do you understand?”
“You think that’ll work?”
“I’ll head out.” The man replied dutifully.
After hanging up, Markoff found that he couldn’t go back to sleep.
The builder didn’t own the property anymore. If he did, then this wouldn’t have been much of a concern. He’d just write it off against his builder’s-risk insurance, pay the deductable and probably profit off of the whole thing. With a new buyer and shops partially filled, things became more complicated.
He went down into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of water from out of the refrigerator. As he drank it, his mind raced trying to consider what the worst case scenario would be.
The sprinklers hadn’t gone off so that made him directly involved. At the very least he’d have to assume part of the responsibility for the clean up and rebuilding. At the very worst he could be fined, shut down, and left bankrupt.
Once the fire marshals report was in there was no doubt in the builder’s mind that his company would be implicated. Even if the cities inspection had missed checking to see that they were turned on it was ultimately Markoff’s responsibility to make sure that everything was in working condition. People got freaky about fire and a non-working sprinkler system was bad news.
He walked to the front room and looked out across his lawn. Stakes, string, grids and holes dotted the view. Another shooting star blazed across the sky. What if it was something worse?
What if it was the buildings electrical system that had caused the blaze? What if some kind of chemicals left over from his construction crew had caused an exothermic reaction lighting the whole place up like a bunch of kindling? What if it had been the misters? The cocktail of perfumes and engineered molecules that served to make the place smell like an overseas spice market were a problem. No one was quite sure how they all worked together. What if the firefighters got toxic poisoning from their fumes? What if someone died?
Several years back, Markoff had been burned in a minor lawsuit that was brought against him by a property holder. He’d fought the matter with a team of lawyers but in the end he had to fork over a bunch of money and compensate for the damages that a busted pipe had caused in a drugstore that he’d built. The plumbing hadn’t been installed up to code. In addition to making the repairs he’d been fined by the city and his reputation had nearly been destroyed. That was a very small project.
The Taj Mahal was huge and high profile. Like all developers in the business of speculative building, Markoff had always cut corners when it came to his construction projects. He knew that his electricians had taken short cuts on the wiring. They’d used cheap substandard outlet boxes and badly shielded copper coil to lower the cost. He knew that the misters were a problem. Overlooking these things was the only way to stay profitable in such a competitive market.
As he continued looking out the window Markoff suddenly noticed that a man was lying in his front yard. By the pale light from the cul-de-sac’s lone streetlight he could tell that the he was muscular. The builder looked at him for a long while before going out his front door to confront the figure.
“Are you dead?” He asked from where he stood on the porch.
There was a stirring. The figure swiped at the air with his arms. He groaned and rose to a sitting position. He swiveled his head from side to side in confusion. He looked down at his jacket and fumbled with the zipper. He eyed Markoff with a completely mystified expression.
“Am I dead?” He repeated in a slurred voice.
“Yeah.” Markoff said.
“Not yet, I guess.” The man answered. “I felt the earth move so I figured I must be leaving it.”
“You can’t be here.” Markoff said after a short pause. He pointed down at the various holes and grids that were marked off on the lawn. “This is under some kind of protection by the state. They’ll arrest you if they see you sleeping on it.”
“Ain’t this my house?” The man blinked. He looked up towards where Markoff stood. He had a helpless expression on his face. “Don’t I live here? Can’t a brother do whatever he wants to do in his own damn yard?”
“No.” Markoff said. “You can’t and this is my house.”
The builder recognized him by this point. His name was Winston Wallace. He was famous in the neighborhood for being one of its two resident astronauts. He’d done a couple of shuttle missions a decade or so back and now lived off of the money that he made as an inspiration speaker.
“Well where do I live?” Wallace asked uncertainly.
“Not here.” The builder answered. “I don’t know where you live. Somewhere in one of the houses down the street.”
“This looks like my house.”
Markoff sighed. “All of these houses look alike.” He said angrily. “They were built around a central floor plan. They ain’t got many differences. This is my house. You need to leave.”
The astronaut nodded. “I see.” He said drunkenly. “Then will you take me home?”
“No.” The builder quipped. “Do you know what time it is?”
The man held his arm out blinking at his watch. “What time is it?” He asked.
“4:00am” Markoff spat. “Why the hell are you out here anyway?”
“I was looking for a party.”
Markoff rubbed his eyes. “Dude, it’s nearly daylight. You need to get your ass home.”
“This is my home.” Wallace argued. “I love you for who you are but what the hell are you doing here man?”
Markoff folded his arms.
Wallace began to pluck clumsily at the stakes in the ground.
“Leave those alone!” Markoff shouted. “You know how much trouble I’ll get in if they think I messed with those things?”
“What are they doing in my yard?” The man complained. “I hate these dog gone things! Who put them here?”
“I hate them too and the state put them there.” Markoff answered. “This is my yard. You’re on my property.”
The man nodded. “I see.”
“Go home.” Markoff snapped.
“Indeed.” The man smiled.
Markoff watched him as he stood and tried to straighten himself up.
“Life is what you make of it!” He called out boisterously as he began to stumble down the street. “Love everyday and always make plans bigger than the time you have!”
Tomorrow, there would be ham and football.