Markoff ended up falling back asleep on the overstuffed sofa which sat out in the front room. He’d stayed up till the first mornings light began to creep up over the horizon, spending the night worrying about the fire and keeping a watch over his front yard should Wallace decide to return. He didn’t wake up again until Myrah came banging through the front door from her yearly church mass with the kids. In her hands she carried their New Years dinner.
“Everyone at the service was talking about the Taj Mahal.” She said matter of factly as she walked past him in the direction of the kitchen.
The builder sat up rubbing at his temples.
“Is that why you had so much trouble sleeping last night?” She called back to him.
“Yeah.” He croaked. “Petersmith called me around 4:00am to tell me about it. He was apparently first at the scene.”
“They’re lucky he saw it when he did.” Myrah shot back. He could hear her rummaging through the bags, bringing out tins filled with ham, green beans and black eyed peas.
Markoff got up to help her. “What are they saying about it?” He asked, coming into the kitchen and washing his hands.
“They said the middle of it looks like it’s in pretty bad shape. Apparently the wind blew the fire down into a few of the shops but the largest concentration is in that big courtyard area.”
“Wash your hands.” She reminded him.
As he stood scrubbing them in the sink his wife began to set out platters and bowls, dumping the contents of the tins into them. She didn’t cook anymore and they never ate at the dining room table. Markoff couldn’t remember which plate represented health, wealth or happiness but still the meal was a tradition.
“This could ruin me.” He grumbled.
Myrah grabbed a spoon from a drawer and began sweeping out a bowl of mashed potatoes. “You’re lucky.” She quipped. “You’ve got interest in your bomb shelter plans and two other properties about to go to market. You’ll probably get commissioned to rebuild that ugly thing and we’ll be better off than before.”
He paused. “You think it’s ugly?” He asked.
“I thought you liked it.” The builder said. He shut off the sink and grabbed a towel to dry his hands.
“It looks like a Vegas casino.” She argued as she tossed one of the tins aside and grabbed another.
“You’re the one who wanted it that way!”
“I never said that.”
“You did!” He protested. “You told me that my next project should look like that movie…” He searched his mind trying to remember the name.
“The King and I?” She asked.
“Yeah!” He blurted. “You said that there should be a development off of that exit and then you mentioned The King and I.”
“That movie took place in the Orient.”
“I thought Siam was Middle Eastern.”
“So you wanted it to look like a Chinese restaurant?” He asked still holding the towel and throwing out his arms.
“I wanted it to look better than that Jack.” Myrah said leveling him with a stern look. “You don’t listen to me. I said The King and I and you built the damned Taj Mahal. I even showed you pictures of the Forbidden City over there in China. We looked at them together in the National Geographic. I wanted you to see them to give you an idea of what I was talking about.”
“I couldn’t have made a shopping center out of the Forbidden City.” He argued shaking his head. “It’s got a terrible use of space. That pavilion alone is all parking and no store.”
“It’s not just that!” She shot back. “There’s a whole bunch of buildings behind that. Remember? We looked at the fold out map in the magazine. You could have totally made it work but you didn’t listen to me.”
The builder sulked, watching her prepare the food.
In the past the kids had always eaten in the theater room while he and his wife ate downstairs watching football on the smaller plasma screen in the homes living area. This year however that would change. They’d all eat in the theater while watching the game. Markoff had spent too much money on that gigantic television set to let it go to waste and besides, the living area was currently cleaned out so that it could be converted to a safe room.
“Where’d you get the food from this year?” He asked, nodding in the direction of the tins.
“Surf Side Cowboy.” She answered him. “They’re actually open today. They’ve got the wave pool going and everything.”
“I think it’d be too cold for swimming.” He muttered as he picked a fallen green bean from off the counter and popped it into his mouth.
“Not the outdoor one.” She clarified. “The one inside. The one that has the fake island with the tiki bar. Do you remember it?”
“I want you to shower and change before the game.” She continued, licking a little bit of spilt grease from her fingers. “I know that you had a rough night but I’d rather not usher in the first day of the New Year while eating with a man wearing pajamas and a ratty old t-shirt that has a beer logo on it.”
“One of the astronauts was out in our front yard last night.” He said changing the subject.
She looked up. “Here?” His wife asked.
“Yeah.” Markoff answered. “It was that guy, Wallace. He was drunk as a skunk. He claimed that this was his house.”
“His year’s not off to a very good start.”
“Neither is mine.”
Myrah snorted. “I don’t know what you’re so worried about Jack. You sold that property so it’s not your problem anymore.”
“It is if they find out it was due to something one of my worker’s screwed up.” The builder shot back. “I just sold it. They’re going to be looking high and low for anything that they can use to blame that fire on me.”
“What they need to be looking at is kids shooting off fire works and all this dry weather that we’ve been having this winter.”
“They’re going to look at blaming me.”
His wife sighed. “Look Jack, it’s the first day of the year. Don’t go getting all dark on me.”
“I’m not getting dark.” He defended. “I’m just stating the facts.”
Suddenly, the kids came bursting into the room. “Meteor!” Jose said.
Markoff’s daughter, Justine slapped him on the shoulder. “I wanted to tell them!”
“Too slow!” The boy mocked.
“Ass.” The girl snarled. She was at an awkward stage in her development, all knees and elbows. Her hair was unruly and she wore thick, wire framed glasses with braces on her teeth. The builder would have ached for her if she were not so popular.
“Calm down!” Myrah barked at them both.
Markoff held a hand out for everyone to be quiet. “What meteor?” He asked.
“The one that hit your Arab castle, daddy.” His daughter answered proudly. Then she stuck her tongue out at her step brother.
“Screw you!” The boy yelped.
“Up yours!” The girl shot back.
The kids were only a year apart in age with Jose being the younger of the two. The couple sent them to a private academy which taught the arts and sciences as well as kept a working farm with crops and livestock behind its gates. It cost a fortune for the two of them to go there and it sat on 12 acres of damn good real estate too. The facility was like a compound just off the freeway north of town and Justine was the best player on their all girl soccer team as well as the most liked person in her class.
Markoff held his hand out once again. “What are you talking about?”
Jose punched the girl in the arm.
“Ow.” She said.
He jumped up and down as his sister rubber her arm. “The man on the news said that a meteor hit your new shopping center last night.” The boy blurted out. “That sucker just came out of space and blew the whole thing up!”
“On the TV?” Markoff asked.
They both nodded.
Quickly the builder scrambled for the remote control to the screen that was mounted on the kitchen wall. Turning it on he flipped past a parade, a documentary about cannibals, a cartoon about talking pigs, and a rerun of some old black and white comedy show before landing on an image of the news. A man was standing just off the exit with the shopping center in the background.
“NASA is staying tight lipped about what actually caused this fire.” The newscaster said as he faced the camera and squinted into the sun.
The doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it!” The kids shouted, dashing down the hallway and clawing at one another to get there first.
Markoff watched the screen. Behind the man he could see where the turret had collapsed. The white walls of his structure were scorched black. Police and fire trucks still surrounded the building.
“Officials at the Johnson Space Center have yet to confirm whether or not this blaze could have been caused by a meteorite however sources inside the agency have said that observers did track an object entering our atmosphere last night on a trajectory to hit the area.”
From the front, Biggs wandered into the kitchen. “So you know?” He said motioning towards the television.
“Teams have yet to be dispatched to the ground out here but we do know that experts on the collection and sampling of meteorites are currently meeting at NASA to discuss how to approach the site of impact.”
The picture folded out into a separate window beside the man to reveal a woman sitting at a desk. Her hair was blond and her teeth were capped. In this context the builder recognized them both. They were the same man and woman who’d bantered back and forth on his big screen television over the summer when he and his neighbors had gathered together to watch probe shoot it’s payload into the asteroid.
“Frank, can you tell us what indications that we now have that this was in fact an actual impact from outer space?” The woman asked.
“Well Jenna, what we do know is that geologist at the University of Texas picked up a small tremor in the area last night right before the fire broke out.” He said, sticking a finger in his ear as he listened.
Biggs seemed to be nodding along.
“Did anyone on the ground see the impact?” She asked.
“No one reported seeing or hearing anything.” The man answered. “This in and of itself is not entirely unusual. When you consider that we are currently experiencing quite a number of shooting stars as well as the New Years Eve fireworks from last night it would be hard to notice anything out of the ordinary that might have come in from space.”
“Thom saw a shooting star.” Biggs muttered raising his finger. “I felt the ground shake when I was picking up after the party.”
“I didn’t feel anything.” Markoff said.
“I thought it was fireworks.”
“What are the police saying?” The woman asked.
“The police and fire officials are not giving any information out at this time.” The man replied. He half turned to look behind himself in the direction of the devastation. “They consider the matter to be under investigation.”
“Any word on when we’ll know?”
The man looked down at a clipboard that he was holding. “Nothings official right now.” He answered. “NASA has said that they may hold a press conference later on today but currently we have to assume that they are analyzing the data, making graphs, getting teams fitted with radiation suits to probe and pick at the debris, and charting the course of the remaining field of meteors before they want to announce anything.”
“Thank you Frank.” The woman smiled.
“Thank you Jenna.”
Slowly her side of the screen expanded pushing him out of the picture. “That was Frank Cone live at the scene of a big fire last night that may or may not have been caused by a meteor.” She said tapping at her notes. “When we come back, a story about a little dog, his unconditional love and the advertizing sensation that it all started.”
s the commercials began to play, Biggs turned to the builder. “That one almost got you.” He said seriously.
“What do you mean?” Markoff asked.
“If it would have happened the day that I found the skull, you’d have been dead.”