This room was too big, the ceiling was too high, the doors were too tall and the white carpet that went from wall to wall looked like a fresh fall of snow at Titan's north pole. There were full-length mirrors and crystal doodads all over the place. The windows stared towards the darkening dome supports. They were going to start the rain machines soon. There was pressure in the air already.

I sat down on the edge of a deep soft chair which had scuttled up behind me and looked at Mrs Regan. She was worth a stare. She was trouble. She was stretched out on a chaise-longue, with her clothes off. I stared at her legs and breasts. They seemed to be arranged to stare at. The calves were beautiful, the ankles long and slim and with enough melodic line for a tone poem. The breasts were perfect globes anointed with taut nipples surrounded by darker circles that seemed to stare back at me. She was tall and rangy and strong-looking. He head was against an ivory satin cushion. Her hair was black and wiry and parted in the middle and she had the hot black eyes of the portrait in the hall. She had a good mouth and a good chin. There was a sulky droop to her lips and the lower lip was full.

She had a drink. She took a swallow from it and gave me a cool level stare over the rim of the glass.

"So you're a private detective," she said, "I didn't know they really existed, except in historical novels. Or else they were greasy little nerds hacking around the information networks."

There was nothing in that for me, so I let it drift with the current. She put her glass down on the flat arm of the chaise-longue and touched her hair. She said slowly: "How did you like Dad?"

"I liked him," I said.

"He liked Rusty. I suppose you know who Rusty is?"

"Uh-Huh."

"Rusty was earthy and vulgar at times, but he was very real. And a lot of fun for Dad. Rusty shouldn't have gone off like that. Dad feels very badly about it, although he won't say so. Or did he?"

"He said something about it."

"You're not much of a gusher, as you, Mr Marlowe? But he wants to find him, doesn't he?"

I stared at her politely though a pause. "Yes and no," I said.

"That's hardly an answer. Do you think you can find him?"

"I didn't say I was going to try. Why not try the Missing Persons Bureau? They have the organisation and the technology. It's not a one-man job."

"Oh, Dad wouldn't hear of having the police brought into it."

She looked at me smoothly across her glass again, emptied it, and pressed a button set discreetly into the arm of the chaise-longue. A maid came into the room by a side door. It was a servitor of not very recent construction with a spherical body supported by three elegantly-jointed legs, a pair of tentacle arms and no obvious means of sensing the world around it. It looked like an antique, carefully looked after and retained more for prestige rather than function. Mrs Regan waved the empty glass at it and it mixed another drink and handed it to her and left the room, without a sound, without an indication that it had noticed my presence.

Part 2