This was another day and the sunlamps were shining at full power again.
Captain Gregory of the Missing Persons Bureau looked heavily out of his office window and the barred upper floor of the Hall of Justice, white and clean after the rain. Then he turned ponderously in his swivel chair and tamped his pipe with a heat-scarred thumb and stared at me bleakly.
"So you got yourself into another jam."
"Oh, so you heard about it."
"Brother, I sit here all day on my fanny and I don't look as if I had a brain in my head. But you'd be surprised what I hear. Shooting this Canino was all right, I guess, but I don't figure the homicide boys pinned any medals on you."
"There's been a lot of killing going on around me," I said. "I haven't been getting my share of it."
He smiled patiently. "Who told you this girl out there was Eddie Mars's wife?"
I told him. He listened carefully and yawned. He tapped his gold-studded mouth with a palm like a tray. "I guess you figure I ought to have found her."
"That's a fair deduction."
"Maybe I knew," he said. "Maybe I thought if Eddie and his woman wanted to play a little game like that, it would be smart - or as smart as I ever get - to let them think they were getting away with it. And then again maybe you think I was letting Eddie get away with it for more personal reasons." He held his big hand out and revolved the thumb against the index and second fingers.
"No," I said. "I didn't really think that. Not even when Eddie seemed to know all out our talk here the other day." He raised his eyebrows as if raising them was an effort, a trick he was out of practice on. It furrowed his while forehead and when it smoothed out it was full of white lines that turned reddish as I watched them.
"I'm a copper," he said. "Just a plain ordinary copper. Reasonably honest. As honest as you could expect a man to be in a world where it's out of style. That's mainly why I asked you to come in this morning. I'd like you to believe that. Being a copper I'd like to see the law win. I'd like to see flashy well-dressed mugs like Eddie Mars spoiling their manicures in the asteroid quarries, alongside the poor little slum-bred hard guys that got knocked over on their first caper and never had a break since. That's what I'd like. You and me both lived too long to think I'm likely to see it happen. Not in this habitat, not in any habitat half this size, in any part of this wide, colourful and beautiful system. We just don't run our worlds that way."
I didn't say anything. He blew smoke with a backward jerk of his head, looked at the mouthpiece of his pipe and went on:
"But that don't mean I think Eddie Mars bumped off Regan or had any reason to or would have done it if he had. I just figured maybe he knows something about it, and maybe sooner or later something would sneak out into the open. Hiding his wife out at Realito was childish, but it's the kind of childishness a smart monkey thinks is smart. I had him in here last nigh, after the HA got through with him. He admitted the whole thing. He said he knew Canino was a reliable protection guy and that's what he wanted him for. He didn't know anything about his hobbies or wanted to. He didn't know Harry Jones. He didn't know Joe Brody. he did know Geiger, of course, but claims he didn't know about his racket. I guess you heard all that."
"You played it smart down there in Realito, brother. Not trying to cover up. We keep a file on unidentified bullets. Some day you might use that gun again. Then you'd be over a barrel."
"I played it smart," I said and leered at him.
He knocked his pipe out and stared down at it broodingly. "What happened to the girl?" he asked, not looking up.
"I don't know. They didn't hold her. We made statements, three sets of them, for Wilde, for the Sherriff's office, for the Homicide Bureau. They turned her loose. I haven't seen her since. I don't expect to."
"Kind of a nice girl, they say. Wouldn't be one to play dirty games."
"Kind of a nice girl," I said.
Captain Gregory sighed and rumpled his mousey hair. "There's just one more thing," he said almost gently. "You look like a nice guy, but you play too rough. If you really want to help the Sternwood family, leave 'em alone."
"I think you're right, Captain."
"How you feel?"
"Swell," I said. "I was standing on various pieces of carpet most of the night, being balled out. Before that I got soaked to the skin and beaten up. I'm in perfect condition."
"What the hell did you expect, brother?"
"Nothing else." I stood up and grinned at him and started for the door. When I had almost reached it he cleared his throat suddenly and said in a harsh voice: "I'm wasting my breath, huh? You still think you can find Regan?"
I turned around and looked him straight in the eyes. "No, I don't think I can find Regan. I'm not even going to try. Does that suit you?"
He nodded slowly. Then he shrugged. "I don't know what the hell I even said that for. Good luck Marlowe. Drop around any time."