She wore brownish speckled tweeds, a mannish shirt and tie, hand-carved walking shoes. Her legs were just as long as the day before, but she wasn't showing as much of her breasts. Her black hair was glossy and her dark eyes tracked me as I came in.

"Well, you do get up," she said, wrinkling her nose at the faded red settee, the two odd semi-easy chairs neither of which moved themselves any more and the boy's size library projector with the venerable magazines on its screen to give the place a professional touch. "I was beginning to think perhaps you worked in bed, like Marcel Proust."

"Who's he?" I put a cigarette in my mouth and stared at her. She looked a little pale and strained, but she looked like a girl who could be persuaded to function under a strain.

"A French writer in ancient times, a connoisseur in degenerates. You wouldn't know him."

"Tut, tut," I said. "Come into my boudoir."

She stood up and said: "We didn't get along very well yesterday. Perhaps I was rude."

"We were both rude," I said. I unlocked the communicating door and let it open itself for her. We went into the rest of my suite, which contained a rust-red carpet, not very young, five green removable media safes, three of them full of habitat climate. There were three near-walnut chairs, the automation still functioning in two of them, the usual desk with the usual battered terminal, cigarette case and ashtray, and the usual squeaky swivel chair behind it.

"You don't put on much of a front," she said, sitting down at the customer's side of the desk.

"Neither does anyone else," I said, "You can't make much money at this trade, if you're honest. If you have a front, you're making money - or expect to."

"Oh, you are honest?" she asked and opened her bag. She picked a cigarette out of a black enamel case, lit it with a pocket lighter, dropped case and lighter back into the bag and left the bag open.

"Painfully."

"How did you ever get into this slimy kind of business then?"

"How did you come to marry a gunrunner?"

"My God, let's not start quarrelling again. I've been trying to get a message to you all morning."

I had left my messages recording, to be picked up later.

"About Owen?"

Her face tightened sharply. Her voice was soft. "Poor Owen," she said. "So you know about that?"

"A man from the OSHA took me down to the Belt. He thought I might know something about it. But he knew much more than I did. He knew Owen wanted to marry your sister - once."

She puffed silently at her cigarette and considered me with steady black eyes. "Perhaps it wouldn't have been such a bad idea," she said quietly. "He was in love with her. We don't find much of that in our circle."

"He had a police record."

She shrugged. She said negligently, "He didn't know the right people. That's all a police record means in this rotten crime-ridden system."

"I wouldn't go that far."

Part 2 Chapter 12: Lost Property >>