22 Top of the Pops

Of the two penthouses at the POPS, only one was currently occupied. Both afforded three-sided views. There was a common foyer at the elevator, with a front door into each two-story unit. The unoccupied unit was in the process of extensive redecorating by the new owner, and under the direction of a Chicago-based, interior design firm Vanity Fairbourn Inc. The over-worked elevator had been getting a lot more use of late, as had the foyer.Chapter 22 Top of the Pops

As he unlocked his front door into his penthouse unit, Bert Steinhardt heard voices through the opposite open doorway. Stepping across the landing, and over the clutter of pails at the doorway, he put in his head and called out.


“Yes, yes, I’ll be right there.” There came a rather shrill reply, and the person he assumed was in charge appeared round a corner.

“Hello, I’m Bert Steinhardt. I live across the hall. Just curious about how things are coming along, when the new neighbors might arrive?”

“Vanity Fairbourn.” Her hand and her business card were offered simultaneously. “There’s a lot left to do.” She stopped abruptly, and stared at him. As there was no indication of a work-in-progress tour apparently on offer, he thanked her and retreated.

“Give us a call if you’re thinking of improvements, yourself,” an afterthought she shouted out behind him. He pretended not to notice. With a personality like that in the house for weeks, he’d rather do the renovations himself, he reckoned, closing his door firmly behind him. Vanity indeed.

Bert lived mostly on his own in the penthouse. He had married into money, his wife a local girl from a family with long roots in the Milwaukee area. They inherited a spread, Asphodel Meadows, out in Washington County, rolling hills, horses, and all. They had a daughter, but when Gertie was just a toddler his wife had died in a farm accident. There was a great deal of money bequeathed to him, and a trust set up for the child. The family encouraged him to continue their tradition of philanthropic work, which he came to enjoy. He had never re-married, although women had been throwing themselves at him ever since. He stayed, quite content with his semi-rural life, at Asphodel Meadows; that is, until Gertie left for college.

He started to get a bit lonely. He put in a putting green. That was lonely, too. He called Gertie.

“Thinking of getting a condo but I can’t decide if I want one in town or at a club. What do you think?”

“Dad, what’s going on with you?”

Bert Steinhardt, father of Gertie, philanthropist, owner of penthouse and Asphodel Meadows

Bert Steinhardt, father of Gertie, philanthropist, owner of POPS penthouse and Asphodel Meadows

“Think I need some company once in awhile. Get out a bit more. I mean, sometimes the dogs and horses just aren’t enough. Don’t laugh. It was different when you were here all the time. Not that I want you to come home, of course not. Maybe I just need to get out and live someplace else some of the time.”

“From what you say about your putting green, sounds like you don’t enjoy golfing very much. So why buy a golf club condo?”

“Guess it would be different. You’d be in a club, playing with other people.”

“You may be a philanthropist Daddy but I don’t think you like people very much. If you join a club, there will be people in the pool, on the course, at the courts, in the club. There’ll be tournaments, and socials, and dinners and parties, all the time. Are you sure you want to get into all that? Not to mention a lot of dreadful women after your money, as usual.”

“But I could buy one of those private villas, and get away from all of that.”

“Then what are you doing it for? Think it through, that’s what you are doing at Asphodel.”

“Well what about downtown. A penthouse with a nice view? That’s private but there’s no club, just an association to join.  I could do whatever I wanted downtown, whenever I wanted, and then come home when I got tired of it.”

“I’d come and stay with you downtown. Only promise me you won’t get more dogs. We have enough, already.”

“Never too many dogs, Gertie. But I think I can safely say I won’t have a horse there.”

*   *   *   *   *

Now it seemed he might not a have a penthouse view much longer. He’d attended the association meeting where the proposed building next door had been under discussion and learned that penthouse residents were given places on the committee formed to monitor the situation. He looked out his windows and tried to imagine the proposed construction. He had yet to see any real plans for the new building.

All he could see in his mind’s eye was something huge and irregular, big and black. And close. Too close. Like a sci-fi, Vogon spaceship menacing, looming overhead in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, blanking out the whole sky. Perhaps it wouldn’t be that bad, more like a little spinning top, a glow in the dark spaceship. It was mostly dark at night anyway looking over the lake. On a sunny day the new building might be quite the reverse, with blinding glare from a mountain of glass.

Speaking of glass, he changed his focus slightly to inspect the window before him and observed that all the floor to ceiling windows could stand a cleaning. Who did that? Was it the association or owner who pays? He couldn’t recall an inside cleaning ever being done before so he reasoned that it must up to him. He made a mental note to check the condo docs or maybe work a deal with the neighbors, if they ever actually moved in.

His reflection interrupted by the phone, he answered automatically, instantly regretting that he hadn’t left it to the answering machine. It might be that Vanity again, prospecting.

“Bert Steinhardt.”

“Bert, this is Guy Karon. I’m on the committee about the project next door.”

“Oh right. Any news?”

“No, I’m calling because Jack wants to meet before he leaves. And Arbuthnot’s advising that we ask Hans along, as he has his ear to the ground about it, if you have no objection.

“You happen to know if my penthouse neighbor is onboard?”

“Don’t know yet. When’s a good time for you?”

“I’m here for a few days. You can come up to my place, if you like. Would an early morning, 7:30 – 8:00-ish work for the rest of you? Any day. I’ll provide coffee and sweets. As a matter of fact, I’ve just been standing here trying to visualize the whole thing next door. Could use some help. So far, all I’m seeing is a spaceship.”