as instructed by benson, goldberg went down to the basement to start taking the names and numbers of any tenants who might be on the premises.
a single bare bulb lit up the short basement corridor. there were two doors on each side and a heavy door at the end of the corridor that looked like it probably had utility and storage areas behind it.
goldberg looked to see if there was any light from under the doors. there didn't seem to be.
she knocked on the first door on the left. no answer.
"police. anybody home?"
no answer. benson had said to "break down" the doors if no one answered. goldberg thought that sounded pretty stupid. she decided to knock on all five doors including the utility looking one before doing anything drastic.
she knocked on the second door, a little louder than on the first.
called again, "police. anybody home?" nothing.
had benson or molligan or anybody else looked up a building owner or management company and tried to contact them? that would have been the obvious thing to do.
goldberg considered calling benson and asking, but she knew benson would probably say something like "why can't you just do what i tell you?"
goldberg hesitated before the second door on the right.
suddenly the door opened in front of her.
a chubby, palefaced old human male stood before her, tightening the cord of a faded purple bathrobe around his waist.
"you are with the police?"
before she could recover from her surprise enough to say yes, the man said, "i don't suppose you are wearing that uniform to go to a costume party, are you?"
"no, sir, i am not."
"sir, is it? i am happy to hear that the police are maintaining standards of civility and politeness these days. it was not always so."
"i am naturally a polite person," goldberg answered. "and in my experience almost all my fellow officers are also."
"that is very reassuring. very reassuring indeed." the chubby man bounced on his feet a little bit. "though i don't know that i have ever seen a police uniform quite like that before. is it the latest fashion?"
"it is the standard uniform of the t-squad, sir. i can't really say how fashionable it might seem to any particular observer."
"t-squad! that sounds menacing! what does the t stand for? terrorism? termination? are you here to terminate me, in your polite and reassuring fashion?"
"the t stand stands for technical, sir."
"how boring. tiresome. t for tiresome, eh? you look a bit uncomfortable standing there. would you like to come in?"
"if you would like to invite me in, sir."
"if, if! politer and politer! curiouser and curiouser." he stood aside and waved goldberg in. "enter, then!"
the room was mostly dark. a single lamp with a reddish bulb sat on a table beside a big old fashioned armchair. there were a couple of fat books beside the lamp. they seemed to be bound in black leather.
the chubby man flipped a switch on the wall beside the door and an overhead light
blazed on, blinding goldberg.
"let there be light!," cried the man. "would you like it turned down a bit?"
the man adjusted the switch and the light dimmed, but remained bright enough to illuminate the whole room. which was bare except for the big chair and the table and two overflowing bookcases. the doors to the single bedroom and the kitchen were closed.
"so, officer - i assume officer is the correct appellation to employ in addressing you - are you a child of the light or a child of the darkness?"
goldberg ignored this and took her phone out of her pocket. "first off, sir, might you happen be the superintendent of this building?"
"do you have any official or supervisory capacity in the building, or are you just a tenant?"
"why do you ask? do i look like i do?"
"i am just asking. it would be helpful to me if i could find such a person."
"i perceive that i have now aggravated you sufficiently that you no longer address me as 'sir'."
"i apologize, sir. i did not mean to be rude. now, do you in fact have any official capacity in the building?"
"to the best of my knowledge i do not."
"thank you - sir."
"is that all you wanted?"
"i just need your name and number."
"may i ask why?"
goldberg decided to humor him. "an ongoing investigation as to possible criminal activity in another apartment in the building. for now, we are just getting the names and numbers of all tenants in case the investigation widens. i hope that answers your question, sir."
"it does not begin to answer my question."
"i am sorry to hear that, sir. now, may i have your name and number?"
"surely in this connected age, there are easier ways to get names and numbers."
"perhaps. but i was told to do it this way."
"and do you always do what you are told?"
"yes, sir. always."
"may i ask your name and number, officer?" the man smiled.
"officer goldberg. my number is 34 -"
"goldberg! goldberg! goldberg as in goldberg variations or goldberg as in, mrs goldberg, your son is a wonderful dentist?"
"i'm sorry, sir, but your cultural references are arcane to me. my number is 341 -"
the man waved his hand. "that's all right, i don't really need your number."
"good." goldberg held up her phone. "so your name is -"
"in a previous life my name was samuel johnson."
"and what might it be in this one?"
"abdul al-jeremiel. the slave of the angel of exaltation."
"thank you. and your number?"
"i am afraid i can never remember my number. i hope that is not a hanging offense."
"no, sir. but you have it somewhere, do you not?"
"i have it written down in a notebook in my bedroom. and in various official papers mandated by the wise laws of our civilization. i will retrieve it if you don't mind."
"please, go right ahead."
goldberg waited while abdul went into the bedroom. he closed the door behind himself.
goldberg was familiar with abdul's type. a lot of old humans liked to talk. not about anything in particular, they just liked to talk.