74 Driving Mr. Hans

“What did you get out of all that, Mrs. James?” Hans inquired, once back in the confines of her car.Chapter 74 Driving Mr. Hans

“On the one hand, we’re in the clear. On the other, I’m sure I’ll wake up at three, panicking over what seems an unresolved question. Maybe that’s just me. What did you think?”

“That the association is in the clear but it remains to be seen whether any association member might be found individually liable, in a criminal sense.”

“Tell me, do you worry that we’ll incur extra expenses over this? I don’t mean to be crass but it is an issue.”

“Depends what everyone votes to do if we introduce alternatives. Example. Say we adopt as a building security update an electronic fob system, as opposed to our current standard keys. That’s going to cost us, and there are frustrations with and limitations to that technology, too. And the $64,000 question is does that extra layer of security, of being able to change the codes at regular intervals, offset our concerns about unwanted access to the building?”

“But it’s still not certain at this point that our victim got in on his own. If one of us let him in, that won’t prevent anything, next time.”

“Yes, it’s the classic solving of a problem that doesn’t exist. So, I certainly wouldn’t rush into it.” Hans knew, in this instance, that this solution might have indeed solved part of this particular problem. Peter had been gone long enough that the code could have been changed in the interim. Without that new code, he wouldn’t have been able to get in the building himself, much less bring anyone else along. It wouldn’t have changed the possibly criminal behavior, individual or group-think, that had occurred even after Peter had ‘left’ Rusty in the pool. No, there were more problems than met the eye; swapping in new keys could never unlock dark hearts.

“Speaking of problems, was it ever a problem for you personally that the Alchemy might be built? My views wouldn’t have been affected and neither would yours.”

“Of course I have a professional interest in any development, much less one right next door, its quality, whatnot. As to the impact on the entire building, that’s a real estate question.” Hans was not yet ready to tell her that a move across the hall was going to mightily change his perspective on the Alchemy.

“As I understand it from R.M., if the comps decline on an impacted side, they’ll tumble on the other as well.”

“The counter argument is that several proximate, high quality buildings increase a sense of neighborhood value.”

“But how do we measure value? Not like a bunch of hack politicians going on about family values.”

“No,” Hans agreed, “not so fake as that.”

“The Alchemy is supposed to be a fake. A fake lighthouse. Can that be right? Does that offend you?”

“What if it’s an accurate fake?”

“What if it’s made with some of that wood from shipwrecks that’s pulled out from the bottom of the Great Lakes?”

“Worthless for construction, I’ve heard,” said Hans. “Decorative only.”

“Even with the best of intentions, like those badly written recipes?”

“Maybe then we are holding developers to a higher standard than everyone else. Why shouldn’t developers get to pick and choose, especially if they’re envisioning the growth of a city, dragging it into the future?”

“I like things that are pleasant to look at – buildings, or gloves, or pictures – but pretty is often fake, too.”

“The artist would argue that, while pleasant, those things have no meaning. They may be original in a way but they don’t add inherent value.”

“Antiques were originals, once. I mean, who hasn’t picked up an antique something or other sometime, or a small piece of art separated from it’s source? Isn’t it better to hold on to it, even if it’s only a tiny bit of the past? So we can remember? Or are you saying that remembering is more important than the memento.”

“If you apply that same reasoning to architecture, nothing ever changes, nothing new ever gets built. It’s true that the same building can be used in various ways – the old warehouse that’s converted into condos – but that doesn’t change it much on the outside, usually. In fact, the intention most often is to preserve as much of the exterior as possible. The opposite situation is a facade built to cover over the outside of a building that’s still sound and worth keeping but dismissed as ugly, or not worth preserving.”

A Milwaukee condo development with additional floors raised above an existing facade.

A Milwaukee condo development with additional floors raised above an existing facade.

“I don’t know much about either art or architecture, or antiques, for that matter. But I do know that in history and religion, imitation was used to change something, like Christmas superimposed on a pagan festival so the new could absorb the old. Or, old movies becoming the inspiration for a new version. The same stories are endlessly retold. Recycling, or nowadays we’d call it ‘upcycling’ or ‘repurposing.’ But it’s not plagiarism, is it? Manuscripts were endlessly copied by monks…”

“Yes, to make new copies. The only thing they added was?…”

“New artwork. I take your point, Hans.”

“But even when you get inside these high-rise buildings, there’s still the imitation or repetition you describe. In our building, as in most others, we have what’s called a stacked floor plan, with every floor essentially the same. We all think we’re so unique but so much of our daily lives must be the same, the same walk from the elevator, into the similar bathroom, the same piece of the sky out the windows, night and day.”

“I’ll bet mine’s the only one with a yarn stash, though!”

“Of course, there are differences between us but similarities might balance out the scale.”

“That’s only human, perhaps. So, will the Alchemy ever be built? What do you think?”

“First, we wait for the engineering report, the extent of the instability of the bluff.”

‘I knew you’d say that. I guess I’m also asking about intention. Do you think that these events will have blown the wind out of Morrie Mangold’s sails?”

“Will he back out, do you mean, for personal reasons? Two bad omens, a death and a mudslide, making this an unpromising place to continue?”

“Things like that, yes.”

“There’s a lot of money in play, Mrs. James. Not sure. The real lighthouse might not be replaced by a fake one, after all.”

“Grave robbers.”

“Grave robbers?”

“Thieves who take money or treasure from graves, or even right from on top of the ground. When R.T. and I visited the White Sands in New Mexico, I confess that I furtively gathered a sample of that gypsum sand, even though that was prohibited. I wanted some for the collection on my mantelpiece. It was so different from the loess sandbanks in Missouri, or Mississippi mud, or the Lake Superior dunes. I rationalized this theft of natural resources as I observed the busloads of schoolkids on field trips there sledding down those white dunes. There must have been acres of sand exit in their shoes alone.”

“Whether it was intentional or not, the net loss is the same,” Hans concluded, as they pulled into the POPS driveway and waited for the door to open. “Sledding down sand? Seriously?”