It was close to twenty-seven o'clock when I told the rickshaw bot to go to sleep and walked up to the front of my apartment house. The armoured door was on the lock, so I had to get my keys out. Inside, in the square barren lobby, a man put a sheet of disposable printout down beside a potted palm and flicked a cigarette butt into the tub the palm grew in.

He stood up and waved his arm at me and said: "The boss wants to talk to you. You sure keep your friends waiting, pal."

I stood still and looked at his flattened nose and club steak ear.

"What about?"

"What do you care? Just keep your nose clean and everything will be just fine." His hands hovered near the upper buttonhole of his open coat.

"I smell of policemen," I said. "I'm too tired to talk, too tired to eat, too tired to think. But if you think I'm too tired to take orders from Eddie Mars - try getting your gat before I shoot your good ear off."

"Nuts. You ain't got no gun." He stared at me levelly. His dark wiry brows closed in together and his mouth made a downward curve.

"That was then," I told him. "I'm not always naked."

He waved his left hand. "Okay. You win. I wasn't told to blast anybody. You'll hear from him soon."

"Too late will be too soon," I said, and turned slowly as he passed me on his way to the door. He opened it and went out without looking back. I grinned at my own foolishness, went along to the elevator and upstairs to the apartment. I took Carmen's little gun out of my pocket and laughed at it. Then I cleaned it thoroughly, oiled it, wrapped it in a piece of flannel and locked it up.

I made myself a drink and was drinking it when the phone rang. I sat down at the table and pressed the receive button.

Part 2