The climate technicians had decreed it had to rain again the next morning, a slanting grey rain like a swung curtain of crystal beads. I got up feeling sluggish and tired and stood looking out of the windows, with a dark harsh taste of Sternwoods still in my mouth. I was as empty of life as a lunar plateau. I went out to the kitchenette and drank two cups of black coffee. You can have a hangover from other things than alcohol. I had one from women. Women made me sick.

I showered and shaved and dressed and got my raincoat out and went downstairs and looked out of the front door. Across the street, thirty metres up, a grey ground car was parked. It was the same one that had tried to trail me around the day before, the same one I had asked Eddie Mars about. There might be a cop in it, if a cop had that much time on his hands and wanted to waste it following me around. Or it might be a smoothie in the detective business trying to get a noseful of somebody else's case in order to chisel a way into it. Or it might be the Bishop of Phobos disapproving of my nightlife.

I went out back and got my rickshaw from the garage and drove around the front past the grey ground car. There was a small man in it, alone. He started up after me. He worked better in the rain. He stayed close enough so that I couldn't make a short block and leave that before he entered it, and he stayed back far enough so that other cars were between us most of the time. I travelled down the boulevard and parked in the lot next to my building and came out of there with my raincoat collar up and the raindrops tapping icily at my face. The grey ground car was across the way at a fireplug. I walked down to the intersection and crossed with the green light and walked back, close to the edge of the pavement and the parked cars. The grey ground car hadn't moved. Nobody got out of it. I reached it and jerked open the door on the kerb side.

A small bright-eyed man was pressed back into the corner behind the wheel. I stood and looked in at him, the rain thumping my back. His eyes blinked behind the swirling smoke of a cigarette. His hands tapped restlessly on the thin wheel.

I said: "Can't you make your mind up?"

He swallowed and the cigarette bobbed between his lips. "I don't think I know you," he said, in a tight little voice. "Marlowe's the name. The guy you've been trying to follow around for a couple of days."

"I ain't following anybody, doc."

"This jalopy is. Maybe you can't control it. Have it your own way. I'm now going to eat breakfast in the coffee shop across the street, orange juice, bacon and eggs, toast, honey, three or four cups of coffee and a toothpick. I am then going up to my office, which is on the seventh floor of the building right opposite you. If you have anything that's worrying you beyond endurance, drop in and chew it over. I'll be oiling my machine gun."

I left him blinking and walked away. Twenty minutes later I was airing the overnight cleaning robot's oily smell out of my office and opening up a thick rough envelope addressed in a fine old-fashioned handwriting. The envelope contained a brief formal note and a large mauve cheque for five hundred thousand dollars, payable to Philip Marlowe and signed, Guy de Brisay Sternwood, by Norris R. That made a nice morning. I was making out a bank slip when the buzzer told me somebody had entered by two by four reception room. It was the little man from the grey ground car.

"Fine," I said. "Come in and shed your coat."

He slid past me carefully as I held the door, as carefully as if he feared I might plant a playful slap on his minute buttocks. We sat down and faced each other across the desk. He was a very small man, not more than one metre six and would hardly weight as much as a butcher's thumb. He had tight brilliant eyes that wanted to look hard, and looked as hard as oysters on the half-shell. He wore a double-breasted dark grey suit that was too wide in the shoulder and had too much lapel. Over this, open, a tweed coat with some badly worn spots. A lot of foulard tie bulged out and was rain-spotted above his crossed lapels.

"Maybe you know me," he said. "I'm Harry Jones."

I said I didn't know him. I pushed a flat tin of cigarettes at him. His small neat fingers speared one like a trout taking a fly. He lit it with the desk lighter and waved his hand.

"I been around," he said. "Know the boys and such. Used to do a little gun-running down-system. A tough racket, brother. Riding the scout ship bristling with armaments and a wad on your hip that would choke a black hole. Plenty of times we paid off four sets of privateers before we hit Earth orbit. A tough racket."

"Terrible," I said.

He leaned back and blew smoke at the ceiling from the small tight corner of his small tight mouth.

"Maybe you don't believe me," he said.

"Maybe I don't," I said. "And maybe I do. And Then again maybe I haven't bothered to make my mind up. Just what is the build-up supposed to do to me?"

"Nothing," he said tartly.

Part 2