The sun hadn’t quite risen, but the morning commute had already begun. The winter in this city didn’t make it easy to find the motivation to go to work sometimes. The snow continued to pile up, and traffic was beastly.
None of this affected the Zeitgeist Building. It overlooked downtown from five miles south, in the old business district. Rectangular red-brick warehouses and towering gray factories still dominated the neighborhood, but few contributed to commerce in any way nowadays. Cozy restaurants and quaint specialty shops stood between the industrial clutter, and occupied the hard-to-capture “cheap but hip” niche. The Zeitgeist Building presided over all of this, and it was the real reason people still cared about the area.
“I was thinking,” Aaron said, “this place needs some generators. Think what would have happened if the blackout had gotten this far out. The people in the apartments would’ve been pissed cuz they wouldn’t’ve had heat, the business owners would’ve been pissed because the alarms would’ve been off, and I know the night crew would’ve wanted time-and-a-half or some shit like that. All of that equals lost money.”
Tom raised an eyebrow and harrumphed. “Listen, we’re fine. There’s a strong power grid out here, and the city wouldn’t let our power be down for long anyways. We’re the Zeitgeist Building. We’re a symbol. And besides, we have a couple generators for emergency lighting and such.”
Now Aaron raised an eyebrow, curious about the new information. Tom continued. “They’ve just been around for so long that people have forgotten about them. When I first started working here in the 70’s there was a big blackout thanks to the power company not keeping track of their own damn machines…We did fine. It only lasted two days.”
“Well that’s great, Tom. Our power usage has increased a little from the 70’s, don’t you think?” Aaron’s day started in the crapper, and he was taking it out on Tom. “Hell, we’ve got a tiny webhosting company on the 24th floor. I could light a house or two with the power their servers are sucking down, and you can bet they would freak if they lost any data thanks to a blackout.”
Tom sighed. He didn’t fully comprehend the needs of computer servers, but he knew Aaron was right. “I’ll mention it at the next board meeting, all right? That’s all I can do.”
Tom was half-right about the generators. The building had them, but they were for more than emergency lighting. They dated back to the construction of the building. In 1953, the real estate firm of Bloom, MacGregor and Co. was fat on money from the postwar housing boom when some foreign investors approached them about getting some land to build a skyscraper in the middle of the business district. They didn’t want to give too much information about themselves, but they clearly had the money and a plan for the space. The way it was envisioned, with some public backing, they could have a shopping mall, office building, and warehouse all in one location at what was at the time the center of town.
In 1956, a bond issue was finally passed by the city government to help finance the project. “With this project, we can declare to the rest of the country that our city is one of the most modern urban centers today,” the Mayor, Patrick Murphy, declared in his State of the City speech that year. “With so many commercial activities concentrated into one location in the middle of our already thriving business area, and the easy access provided by our city’s extensive rail system, our economy will become one of the most robust in the nation.”
Orrin looked out the window while lazily rubbing his chin. The weather had improved somewhat, although snow continued to fall at a respectable rate. It looked like the wind had died down, though. Getting home should be easier than getting here was, he thought, smiling. The smile slowly disappeared as he looked back down at his papers. Some days, he didn’t know why he kept coming to this building. His business was doing miserably, to say the least. He ran a small consulting firm. When he first opened up shop in the Zeitgeist Building, he was thrilled. He remembered coming to the building with his parents when he was 7 or 8. Most of the stores were boring for a little kid: tailor shops, antique stores, a cookware store. Still, there were a few that he couldn’t stay out of: the giant toy store, the hobby shop, and the bookstore with its well-stocked kids section. Most of all, though, he loved going up to the 3rd floor. At the time, it seemed like he could see everything. Above the 3rd floor were apartments and office space; shoppers weren’t allowed. It was high enough. He had always wondered what it would be like to go higher.
Unfortunately, he could no longer derive the same enjoyment from the view. His space on the 26th floor was nice, but he didn’t stare out the window often. He was on the east side of the building, so there wasn’t much to see. Downtown, with its glass giants and lively bustle, was to the north. This meant that he had to focus on the stark reality of his work: there weren’t enough businesses in the area that needed his help. Most of the serious firms were downtown. It was basically a tourist district here. Time hadn’t changed the fact that the Zeitgeist Building made a strong impression on people’s minds, and they still came to see it. It was the city’s defining structure, much more personal than the glass and steel rectangles of downtown.
The building made an impression because it was designed to. Twelve designs were submitted and decided upon by not only the investors, but a special committee set up by the city to ensure that the right image was projected. The eventual winner was a neo-gothic tower, 48 stories tall, with a limestone and marble exterior. The building had two tiers: the bottom 18 floors were the width of the block. The floors above that were set back 40 feet from the street. The lines of the building would draw the eye upward until one saw the five-story high clock on the west face, the focal point of the design. Although it was less utilitarian than most new buildings, there was something unmistakably modern about the building.
Aesthetic considerations were not the only ones made. The businesses inside were planned out as well. The first 3 floors were going to hold a shopping area, decorated in the Art Nouveau style. The next 15 would be industrial storage space, and the narrower portion of the building would be offices.
Almost from the beginning of construction, the investors made strange requests. It was their idea to excavate the foundations all the way to bedrock. Ostensibly, it was an assertion the building was here to stay. The construction coordinators knew the truth, however. Massive shelters were installed, and generators to power them. Nobody thought much of it. The Soviets had the bomb, after all.
Stranger were the design requests for some of the masonry. The organic shapes of the Art Nouveau interior allowed for a lot to be hidden. And the gargoyles placed at the four corners of the 18th floor seemed more sinister than grotesque. The investors provided those themselves. They were from an old church from somewhere in Eastern Europe. The smaller details seemed unimportant, when compared to the four stories a week that were being put up.
The name was decided on by the same steering committee that helped pick the design. The investors had no wish to attach their name to the building, keeping with the secrecy that they had operated under throughout the project. The massive clock was to be figured into the name. Clock Tower was far too generic, and sounded anachronistic. Zeitgeist incorporated the theme of time as well as the feeling that the building represented all the positive aspects of the city.
It was March 1960 when the building finally opened to the public. All of the space was leased, and the shopping center was a grand market unlike anything else in the city. People came and spent the money they had made at the factories that surrounded the building. Every weekend brought in huge crowds. The investors closely monitored all of the activity, but kept out of the public eye. They ran the building, really. Occasionally something would have to be run through the government since they did have a stake in it, but all the right palms were greased to keep conflict to a minimum. People kept coming, oblivious to who got their money. The investors had a public face in the form of a board of directors for the building, but few people knew the extent of their influence.
The biggest crowds ended up being the protests. Just like every other major city in the country, the civil rights movement made its presence known by the end of the decade. The Zeitgeist Building was the venue of choice for any protests. Several city offices were housed in the building, and on a weekend there was no limit to the number of people a message could reach. The building was the first stop on any tour given to visiting dignitaries. It became a de facto City Hall. For most of the 60’s, not a week went by where the top news story didn’t have something to do with the building.
The lights blinded Ivan. It took him a second to realize that they belonged to cameras. He scowled. How a news crew knew he would be coming he could only guess. “Yes?” he spat at the reporter, not bothering to conceal his distaste.
“Cathy Richards, Channel 4 news. Do you have a comment about the disappearance of your CFO, Nolan Danielson?” The too-perky woman shoved a microphone in his face and stared accusatorily at him.
Ivan paused. He knit his brow and took a breath. “This news has only recently come to my attention, so I have had little time to think about it.” He stopped and wiped his forehead. “Nolan was a strong asset, and he did a lot to help bring businesses back to this building. I’m headed to a board meeting right now, and we will be discussing how we can continue to carry out his economic vision for this building.”
“Have the police asked you any questions regarding the disappearance?”
Ivan had already turned toward the door, and continued walking. “I really must get to my meeting, Ms. Richards.”
“Mr. Kluv, you can’t just…” was all he heard her yell before the door closed behind him.
Starting in the late 70’s, the building experienced a small exodus. The manufacturing jobs of the surrounding neighborhood were dwindling. The storage space of the lower floors stood empty. To make up for this, the investors had it converted to living space, and the influx of people revitalized the building for a short time. A new ad campaign was started to try and keep money in the building. “The best part of the Zeitgeist Building is the community!” was plastered across sky-blue signs full of smiling people. The signs looked out of time, too happy to be from the same era as gas lines and the end of Vietnam. People came, though. Who wouldn't want to live in the huge rooms, originally built to hold industrial equipment? And it was the Zeitgeist Building. How many people could say they lived in something that well-known? The prices on a place quickly increased to levels beyond most people's paychecks. The investors instituted a rent freeze and made sure that people could afford the space. No money could be made when there were no tenants.
After putting in a brief appearance at the board meeting, Ivan left for the real meeting he was in the Zeitgeist building for. It was in a room behind the clock, just below the Roman numeral XII. He saw that his colleague was already standing in the room.
“Good evening, Grigori. I trust that you’re well?”
Grigori stared, and Ivan turned away. The eyes always disturbed him. “My condition is of no concern,” Grigori hissed. “How is the child?”
“She is…she is fine. The junkie lost patience with her. He beat her with a bat, did you know that? But her tenacity rivals yours,” Ivan chuckled. He lowered his voice. “The junkie is in jail now. I have three men and one guard in the same cellblock as him, if you’re interested.”
“He is unimportant. It is good that the child is well.” Grigori still looked troubled. “And what of our friend Mr. Danielson?”
Ivan swallowed hard. “He has eluded us thus far. He didn’t know much, anyways.”
“He knew enough. Find him.”
Ivan turned around and sat on a wooden chair to the side of the room. He took a deep breath and rubbed his temples. “You know...I’m very tired. This life feels so ancient. You’d know about that, I suppose.”
Grigori glowered, his jaw set. “What does that have to do with our problem?” he asked.
“It’s just that this seems so silly sometimes.” Ivan was noticeably exasperated. “The Cold War is over, yet here we are, the Russians, in the building we created to infiltrate the system but keep our presence secret. We have our spies, and we’re always looking out for theirs." Ivan was jabbing at the air with his left hand, which he quickly dropped back to his knee. "And now you want to kill a man because he knows ‘too much’. It sounds like something out of a bad spy novel. Here we sit, in a symbol of the past playing out games from the past and it’s no wonder that I feel left behind.”
“Are you comparing what we’re doing to the workings of that Stalin whelp? You know my vision is far greater than his,” Grigori yelled.
“Listen to yourself!” Ivan pleaded. “My father raised me to carry out your plan, but I can’t do this right now. Here is the contact for Katie, if you need her. I’ll be in touch with you soon, but I don’t want to deal with this at the moment. I would suggest that you stay in your shelter for the immediate future.” Ivan walked out of the room.
Grigori let him go. Maybe the plan was flawed. The government moved out in the 80’s, and took with them most of the political advantages of running this site. Maybe he should relocate as well. He'd been through upheavals of all sorts. Moving to a different city would be nothing compared to the trials he'd already survived. He thought for a bit, then went down to his shelter. Time would bring an answer.
The last flake of snow fell on the Zeitgeist Building. The building looked better this way. Decades of car exhaust had stained the exterior, but the white snow covered up the black streaks nicely. The clock struck 8. The day’s visitors were already at home, across the river. Stuck in the bedrock, the Building's towering form was a constant reminder of the time it represented. Most people liked it best that way.