It would be wise to explain what Courtland was doing just before the doorbell rang.
In his swank apartment on Leavenworth Street where Russian Hill drops to the flat expanse of North Beach and finally to the San Francisco Bay itself, David Courtland sat hunched over a series of routine reports, a week’s file of technical data dealing with the results of the Mount Diablo tests. As research director for Pesco Paints, Courtland was concerning himself with the comparative durability of various surfaces manufactured by his company. Treated shingles had baked and sweated in the California heat for five hundred and sixty-four days. It was now time to see which pore-filler withstood oxidation, and to adjust production schedules accordingly.
Involved with his intricate analytical data, Courtland at first failed to hear the bell. In the corner of the living room his high-fidelity Bogen amplifier, turntable, and speaker were playing a Schumann symphony. His
wife, Fay, was doing the dinner dishes in the kitchen. The two children, Bobby and Ralf, were already in their bunk beds, asleep. Reaching for his pipe, Courtland leaned back from the desk a moment, ran a heavy hand through his thinning gray hair… and heard the bell.
“Damn,” he said. Vaguely, he wondered how many times the demure chimes had sounded; he had a dim subliminal memory of repeated attempts to attract his attention. Before his tired eyes the mass of report sheets wavered and receded. Who the hell was it? His watch read only nine-thirty; he couldn’t really complain, yet.
“Want me to get it?” Fay called brightly from the kitchen.
“I’ll get it.” Wearily, Courtland got to his feet, stuffed his feet into his shoes, and plodded across the room, past the couch, floor lamp, magazine rack, the phonograph, the bookcase, to the door. He was a heavy-set middle-aged technologist, and he didn’t like people interrupting his work.
In the halls stood an unfamiliar visitor. “Good evening, sir,” the visitor said, intently examining a clipboard; “I’m sorry to bother you.”
Courtland glared sourly at the young man. A salesman, probably. Thin, blond-haired, in a white shirt, bow tie, single-breasted blue suit, the young man stood gripping his clipboard in one hand and a bulging black suitcase with the other. His bony features were set in an expression of serious concentration. There was an air of studious confusion about him; brow wrinkled, lips tight together, the muscles of his cheeks began to twitch into overt worry. Glancing up he asked, “Is this 1846 Leavenworth? Apartment 3A?”
“That’s right,” Courtland said, with the infinite patience due a dumb animal.
The taut frown on the young man’s face relaxed a trifle. “Yes, sir,” he said, in his urgent tenor. Peering past Courtland into the apartment, he said, “I’m sorry to bother you in the evening when you’re working, but as you probably know we’ve been pretty full up the last couple of days. That’s why we couldn’t answer your call sooner.”
“My call?” Courtland echoed. Under his unbuttoned collar, he was beginning to glow a dull red. Undoubtedly something Fay had got him mixed up in; something she thought he should look into, something vital to gracious living. “What the hell are you talking about?” he demanded. “Come to the point.”
The young man flushed, swallowed noisily, tried to grin, and then hurried on huskily, “Sir, I’m the repairman you asked for; I’m here to fix your swibble.”