Captain Gregory of the Missing Persons Bureau laid my card down on his wide flat desk and arranged it so that its edges exactly paralleled the edges of the desk. He studied it with his head on one side, grunted, swung around in his swivel chair and looked out of his window at the barred top of the Hall of Justice half a block away. He was a burly man with tired eyes and the slow deliberate movements of a night watchman. His voice was toneless, flat and uninterested.
"Private dick, eh?" he said, not looking at me at all, but looking out of his window. Smoke wisped up from the blackened bowl of a briar pipe that hung from his eye tooth. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm working for General Guy Sternwood."
Captain Gregory blew a little smoke from the corner of his mouth without removing the pipe. "On what?"
"Not exactly on what you're working on, but I'm interested. I thought you could help me."
"Help you on what?"
"General Sternwood's a rich man," I said. "He's an old friend of the HA's father. If he wants to hire a full-time boy to run errands for him, that's no reflection on the police. It's just a luxury he is able to afford himself."
"What makes you think I'm doing anything for him?"
I didn't answer that. He swung around slowly and heavily in his swivel chair and put his large feet flat on the bare linoleum that covered the floor. His office had the musty smell of years of routine. He stared at me bleakly.
"I don't want to waste your time, Captain," I said and pushed my chair back - about ten centimetres.
He didn't move. He kept on staring at me out of his washed-out tired eyes. "You know the HA?"
"I've met him. I worked for him once. I know Bernie Ohls, his chief investigator, pretty well."
Captain Gregory reached for the ancient terminal that broke the smooth space of his desktop and pressed a button. "Get me Ohls at the HA's office."
He sat with his hand on the terminal keyboard. Moments passed. Smoke drifted from his pipe. His eyes were heavy and motionless like his hand. The terminal beeped and he reached for my card with his left hand. "Ohls? Al Gregory at headquarters. A guy named Philip Marlowe is in my office. His card says he's a private investigator. He wants information from me … yeah? What does he look like? … Okay, thanks."
He released the terminal key and took his pipe out of his mouth and tamped the tobacco with the brass cap of a heavy penknife. He did it carefully and solemnly, as if that was as important as anything he would have to do that day. He leaned back and stared at me some more.
"What do you want?"
"An idea of what progress you're making, if any."
He thought that over. "Regan?" he asked finally.
"I never saw him. I hear he's a good-looking Earthman in his second century, that he was once in the gun-running racket, that he married General Sternwood's older daughter and that they didn't click. I'm told he disappeared about a month back."
"Sternwood oughta think himself lucky instead of hiring private talent to beat around in the tall grass."
"The General took a big fancy to him. Such things happen. The old man is crippled and lonely. Regan used to sit around with him and keep him company."
"What you think you can do that we can't do?"
"Nothing at all, in so far as finding Regan goes. But there's a rather mysterious blackmail angle. I want to make sure Regan isn't involved. Knowing where he is or isn't might help."
"Brother, I'd like to help you, but I don't know where he is. He pulled down the curtain and that's that."
"Pretty hard to do against your organisation, isn't it, Captain?"
"Yeah - but it can be done - for a while." He touched a key on the terminal and spoke: "Get me the file on Terence Regan."