Entry Of Buildings
They caught him at the door of the American Tract Society Building, on Nassau. He was entering the building and they caught him at the door, two private security guards from the Park Row Building around the corner. Someone there had called security when they saw him in the lobby, peering around corners, examining elevators. The guards had followed as he exited. They’d stayed at a distance, watching, as the man stuck his head inside the Potter Building on the corner of Beekman. An ordinary looking older man in a transparent raincoat over a dull brown suit, a hat with a withered peacock feather, and carrying a thick book under one arm, glancing at it periodically for – what? Inspiration? Information? It was worrying.
Finally, at the doorway of the Tract Building, they pounced.
“Looking for something?”
“What’s the game, man?”
The man seemed shocked to be confronted. He held the book in two hands at his chest.
“Visiting,” he said.
“That supposed to mean?”
“Whatcha got there – a Koran?”
“Visiting – buildings,” the man said. “Entering buildings. I beg your pardon.”
“Visiting for what purpose?”
“I would be embarrassed to say.”
“Lemme see that.”
It was an odd tall paperback the thickness of a Yellow Pages. The AIA Guide, by White and Willensky. Subtitled The Classic Guide to New York’s Architecture.
“What are you planning? A bomb, maybe?”
“Never.” The man trembled.
“I couldn’t. I’m only visiting. Entering, then leaving. Give me the book.”
“This is no time for random visiting and entry, guy.”
“I’m sorry to differ but it’s in no way random.”
“You know someone? Got business?”
“Nothing to do with business.”
“You’re talking in circles, man.”
“Believe me, my mind is lately going in circles. I’m telling what I can tell.”
“It’s suspicious behavior. We have to call the cops.”
“You’re not police yourselves?”
“We’re uniformed citizens and we’re holding you for the cops.”
“Back at our building.” The security guard struggled, lacking a precedent. A problem lately everywhere. “Where we took the complaint. We’ll wait and you’ll explain to the authorities.”
“Make him walk ahead of us. I don’t want him behind. He could be booby-trapped.”
“He’s not booby-trapped.”
“Make him walk ahead.”
They turned the corner, walking in formation, back to Park Row. “The book, please,” said the captured man.
“What are you, mister, hung up on buildings?” The book was returned.
“In a way. I’d prefer to say nothing.”
“Just entering and leaving, huh? That’s your game?”
“I felt an urge to visit.”
“Gotta control those urges.”
The man shrugged. They came to the entrance of the Park Row Building. “Inside,” they commanded.
“This is yours? You work here?”
“I envy you. This structure has a major significance.”
The man puffed up with what he had to tell them.
“Listen, the buildings, the vanished ones, they were the tallest, yes?”
“Now it’s the Empire, correct?”
“Get to the point.”
“Yours, the Park Row, it was -” He flipped the book’s pages, searching. “Between 1899 and 1908, it was the world’s tallest. The city’s, therefore. 386 feet, it says here.”
“Don’t shit me.”
“I wouldn’t. Look.”
“Don’t touch his book!”
The one guard frowned at the second for the panic, then looked at the page. After a moment his partner joined him. They read together, standing on the sidewalk.
For a moment they all saw it, the city’s history unfurling backwards, tallest by tallest, to when some church spire, perhaps, towered over the whole enterprise. The island where they stood, once green.
“Nine years it held that status,” said the man, gently.
“Dang,” said one guard to the other.
“Yes,” said the man. He closed his book.
“This is all you’re doing?” said the other guard after a minute. “Just, what did you call it – entering?”
“A moment inside, then out. No time for more.”
“You doin’ that whole book?”
“It seemed – it seemed to need doing. Before anything -”
Again the man fell silent. They all did.
“All right, listen,” said one of the guards. “Just go.”
“Not today. They’re too busy to waste their time.”
“He’s lettin’ you go, man, so go.”
“I can’t promise to stop.”
“Listen, you have our blessing.”
The man only nodded his thanks. He tightened his raincoat, tucked his book, and moved uptown again as though he’d never been intercepted.
The two watched him go, then glanced up at the Park Row’s two ornate turrets.
Nine years, a fair run.
It was a hell of a job to guard a building, but at least they were drawing a check.
* * *
110 Stories, 2002