The tale opens up in the spring of 1923 with the narrator looking for housing in New York City, finally settling in a converted brownstone on West Fourteenth Street. Eventually, a chemical leak from the floor above reveals that the inhabitant directly overhead is a strange, old, and reclusive doctor. One day the narrator suffers a heart attack, and remembering that a doctor lives directly above, heads there, culminating in his first meeting with Dr. Muñoz. The doctor shows supreme medical skill and saves the narrator with a concoction of drugs, resulting in the fascinated narrator returning regularly to sit and learn from the doctor, his new friend. As their talks continue, it becomes increasingly evident that the doctor has an obsession with defying death through all available means.