Author's note: For those of you who don't already know, Philip Marlowe is perhaps the most famous fictional detective since Sherlock Holmes. Created by Raymond Chandler, he was the main character in a large number of novels, many of which were later turned into films. Chandler's stories were largely responsible for the creation of the modern detective story and many films, such as the recent LA Confidential, owe much to his books in terms of both their storylines and style. I've not based this story on any one novel, but rather I've taken a collage of the books. It is my hope that, rather than simply doing a straightforward parody of a single story, I've managed to capture some of Raymond Chandler's style and atmosphere.

vs Philip Marlowe

By Oliver Mulvey

The sun beat down mercilessly on the windows of my office. The street outside shimmered... unreal in the glare of the sun and the heat haze rising from the deserted sidewalks. Inside my office the paintwork bubbled where the light from the window fell on it. For once, even the cockroaches were finding it too hot to drag themselves across the floor. As my solitary fan spluttered and died, I mopped the sweat from my brow; with a grimace, I unfastened the top button on my trench coat and removed my hat.

Any other guy might have decided that there were better ways of spending a day like this than sitting alone in my office with no work to do, but I had an image to maintain.

For once, it seemed that my patience had been rewarded; a figure appeared, silhouetted against the glass pane on my door. Work had been slow for the last few weeks, so a paying customer was always welcome, even on a day like this.

As the door opened, the guy stepped into the room. The first thing I noticed about him was that he walked funny. He didn't so much step through the door as lurch through it. His stagger gave him an unstoppable air - kind of like continental drift. I swear that if the door hadn't been off the latch the guy would have smashed right through it and not even noticed. The guy was tall and powerfully built, but there was something about his manner that didn't say much for his intelligence; I'm not quite sure what it was exactly, but it might have had something to do with the thin strings of drool that were trickling down his chin.

His eyes flashed furtively around the room - seeking something that wasn't there. The guy was clearly ready for the nuthatch, so I reached casually under my desk with one hand, furtively groping for the Smith and Wesson I keep hidden for emergencies.

So far, idiot boy hadn't said much, so it came as a bit of a surprise when he fixed his eyes on the wall and growled "Where... Posh? Me... want... shag."

I have to admit, I was kinda rattled when I heard that voice. In my line of work, you meet dirty characters from time to time. In my line of work, voices are important. Recognising a voice can mean the difference between bringing home the dough and having a knife brought between your shoulderblades. But I didn't recognise this voice. That isn't to say the voice didn't tell me anything - it told me plenty. It told me that however crazy I had thought this guy was, I could double it and add twenty. That voice sounded like a coffin, when it grinds open at a funeral and deposits the deceased in a heap on the floor. That voice sounded like the sound a truck makes when its breaks fail and it plunges down into a house and kills a dozen people. It contained everything that is sordid about the human soul; everything twisted, everything greedy, everything lustful... and everything stupid.

Sure, he had me rattled... but I wasn't going to let him see that. I fixed a steady eye on him and growled "What can I do for you, feller?" He spun towards me, dribbled for a moment, and then focused on me. I had the distinct impression that he was only noticing me for the first time.

"Who... you?" He growled. The voice didn't sound any better than before, but I started to relax a little anyway; anybody that stupid couldn't be dangerous.

"The name's Marlowe," I told him. "Philip Marlowe. I'm a private investigator; you looking for somebody?"

"Where... Posh?" He repeated "Me... look... for... Posh."

Now I was interested; the guy may have been feeble, but he was offering work. What's more, the expensive (although ill-fitting) clothes and the gold watch suggested that he had money to pay with... something of a rarity among my clients.

"Now we're talking, feller," I said "You want me to find this... Posh?"

He looked startled, as though the idea hadn't occured to him before. "Duh... you... find... Posh?"

It sounded like a question, but I decided to take it as an affirmative.

"First you're gonna need to tell me a little about this Posh. That's his surname, I take it?"

For a brief moment, a flash of surprise flashed across the guy's face, lingering for a moment before the previous look of complete idiocy settled back in.

"You... not... know... Posh... Spice?" He growled.

Posh Spice? Was that some kinda nickname? I asked him.

"You... not... know... Victoria?"

The guy seemed to be getting agitated, so I decided to try a bluff.

"Oh, you mean Victoria Posh Spice? The actress?"

His grimace wavered for a moment. Then it collapsed and was replaced by a grin.

"Yeah... but... she... not... really... act... just... want... to... she... really... sing."

He winked conspiratorially.

"She... not... sing... very... good... but... she... rich... and... she... shag... good... so... me... keep... her."

I was a little cautious now. It sounded as though the guy was running some kind of prostitution gig... not the sort of thing I wanted to get involved with. Then again... he didn't seem bright enough to be in that business. After studying my fingernails for a moment, I decided to bear with him.

I raised my head to tell him he could consider me hired, but he was already heading towards the door.

I guess the heat haze was in his eyes. Either that, or his brain wasn't working quite fast enough to process the data from his eyes. At any rate, he walked straight into the doorpost. Fortunately, my earlier guess had been wrong and he didn't walk right through the wall. He just passed out cold on the floor. I felt it was a hell of an anticlimax.

For a while, I tried to continue with my work while I waited for him to come 'round. Problem was, after a few minutes he started to snore, making a noise like a buzzsaw cutting into a rotting tree and finding a rogue nail. Something like that can really distract your attention from the important business of staring at the wall waiting for something to happen. Since I had nothing better to do, I figured that I'd better get some work done. Sitting around looking moody and enigmatic is fine for atmosphere, but you need to have a plot in there somewhere.

As far as I could tell, this was a simple missing person case. Chances were that his broad had run off with the neighbour, but it didn't hurt to check out every possibility; the first and most obvious of these being kidnapping. As I've said, the guy wasn't poor, so there was ample incentive for opportunists. That made the first order of business an inspection of the guy's home for any evidence of a struggle.

Unfortunately, finding where the idiot lived wasn't going to be easy; he was out cold on the floor and even the sharpest kick to the gut wouldn't rouse him. I was sure that my contacts at city hall could help me, but since I'd made the mistake of handing over those photos of the Mayor, two young women, a sheep, a goat and three bars of soap that I confiscated from the extortionist the week before, I didn't have much to bargain with. I was going to have to do this the hard way.

I knelt over the guy and rifled through his pockets until I found his wallet. I helped myself to a few of the high denomination bank notes, as an advance on my payment, then pulled out one of his business cards to check the addess.

It took me almost half an hour to reach the address on the cards. It was set back on high ground overlooking the city; a pretty expensive piece of real estate. Everywhere else the summer heat had baked the earth a dirty brown, but up here the gardens by the side of the road were as green and well-watered as the houses they surrounded were lavish and well-maintained. As the road wound upward away from the city, the stench of decadent wealth grew all the stronger; I'd been right on the mark when I guessed this guy was rich.

Perfectly in time with my thoughts, my unwitting passenger began to stir behind me. As he hammered and yelled within the trunk, I couldn't help wondering whether I'd been a little harsh when I packed him in there; particularly since his size had meant that I'd had to break his legs to fit him in. Still, it was worth putting up with the noise and the occasional twinges of guilt in return for the privalege of not having to put up with him in the front of the car.

When I finally reached the house, its appearance was something of a shock; I'd assumed that I'd find a stately, elderly mansion, stinking of old money, since I'd already decided that his stupidity could only be the product of countless generations of careful inbreeding. On this, at least, I was dead wrong.

It was possible, I suppose, that the monstrosity that confronted me might have been of some age, but there was certainly no outward sign of this. Not an inch of the building's bare fabric was on show; crass golden statues and brightly pained marble slabs covered every wall. It looked exactly like the kind of picture of a mansion that you'd expect a drunken brain-dead child to draw on a bad day. It was evident that no expense had been spared on the furnishing of this house, but this just complemented the vulgarity. A fake crest of arms was suspended over the gold-plated gate that stood at the bottom of the long driveway; crossed checkbooks over a pile of money.

Not only was the gate repellant in the extreme, but it also posed my first problem. Although it was wide open, a real ugly piece of work, a hired tough, I assumed, stood blocking the driveway underneath it. The thug was as ugly a piece of work as you could ever hope not to meet; not particularly tall, but powerfully built and covered in the most gut-wrenching assortment of tatoos I'd ever seen. Of course, the shining golden tooth and the vicious, spiked hair cut only served to enhance the impression. My passenger may have been an idiot in most respects, but I figured that he sure knew how to pick his security goons.

This shouldn't have been a problem; after all, I was there on legitimate business, but I didn't know how the goon would react if he found out that I had his boss locked in the trunk. I wound down the window as I pulled up, preparing to try a bluff.

I needn't have bothered; the goon walked over to the car, flashed me a grin that showed off the full unpleasant effect of the gold tooth and asked "You want to give me a ride up to the house?"

Obviously, I wasn't going to refuse; I guess I couldn't complain either. Still, I couldn't help being a little puzzled; hired goons were supposed to be all brawn and no brains, but this one seemed to take the deal to ridiculous lengths. It only took a few seconds to reach the house; although no expense had been spared to decorate the driveway, there was no disguising the fact that it was only a couple of hundred yards long.

As my wheels slipped over the solid gold bricks, I took the opportunity of having a better look around the garden. Scattered among the champagne fountains and platinum fencing were life-size statues of the guy in my trunk and some woman I didn't recognise - possibly the one that was missing.

Another odd detail was the woman with the hair like wire wool who appeared to be beating a young guy senseless in the garden, but my companion just looked at them once and snorted, so I figured that this was nothing out of the ordinary.

It was only when we pulled up at the house itself that my passenger seemed to remember his job and ask me what I was there for.

"I'm a business associate of Mr. ah..." I sought desperately to remember the name from the business card, "Mr. Beckham's."

Evidently, the bluff worked. "I'll go and let them know you're here." He told me.

As I followed my escort through the inside of the house, it didn't take long for me to realise that the crass tastelessness didn't stop on the outside. The lifesize portraits of the owner hanging on the wall and the silver thrones set at the top of the dining tables spoke of an ego the size of a small state. At last, we came to a pair of heavy oak doors. My escort signalled for me to wait and opened the doors enough for him to stick his head through. "Oi, Victoria, we've got somebody here to see you." he shouted.

"Ok, Melanie" came the reply "better show him in."

That shook me. What kind of freak employs a security guard, no matter how tough looking, called Melanie? Then realisation dawned. I twisted my head on its side and screwed up my eyes. There was no doubt about it; when viewed in the right light and given the benefit of the doubt, the goon could quite possibly be female. My mind raced; she couldn't be a security guard (equal opportunities? To hell with it.). That made her... what? A guest? A resident? Probably not the owner, I figured. She may have been a freak, but I hadn't seen any signs of the kind of egomania that could create a home like this.

Then I was led through the doors and suddenly there was no doubt at all who was in charge of this household.

She lay reclining in a couch, doing her best to adopt a graceful posture. I figured that her only experiences of class had come from the movies. Believe it or not, you get to see quite a lot of the so-called upper-crust in my line of work: nobody bothers to blackmail a pauper. I figured I knew class when I saw it and I sure knew that I wasn't seeing it at that moment.

If she was indeed the owner of the house, then it was quite clear that her home was nothing more than herself writ large. Don't believe what you might have read in the press; the dame wasn't particularly blessed with good looks; she just spent enough money on her appearance that most people tended not to notice. Though clearly expensive, the layers of makeup that clung to her face couldn't disguise her essentially plain looks. To put it bluntly, she looked more like a cheap hooker than most of the cheap hookers I've known ever managed, although the diamonds in her rings were too large, crass and tasteless to be anything but real. I've heard it said by others that she glittered. She glittered alright; like an oil-slick.

She fixed me with a gaze that was, I suppose, intended to be withering and scornful. To me it made her look cross-eyed.

"What do you want?" she enquired in a voice that she probably imagined sounded upper class. I resisted the temptation to recommend a good laxative.

"I've been hired by a Mr. Beckham to track down somebody called Victoria who he describes as 'Posh'. Now I can't see anybody here who I'd say fits that description, but he didn't seem too bright so I'm guessing that he means you."

Now, I'm not normally one to insult a lady, but this was no lady.

"I don't think I like your attitude," she replied, "and who the hell are you, anyway?"

"The name's Marlowe. Private detective."

I extended my hand. She looked at it, sniffed, then proceeded to ignore it.

"Sorry, Mr. Marlowe, but I don't think I'll shake. I'm afraid your poverty might rub off on my gloves."

"Suit yourself." I was liking this dame less with every second that passed.

"Anyway," she continued, more gently now, "I guess I ought to thank you for bringing David back. You do know where he is, don't you?"

I braced myself for the worst. "Sure, he's in the trunk of my car. I'm afraid he had a little accident with a door post."

Strangely, she only seemed mildly irritated by this; I had expected a lot more. "Again?" She asked. "I guess you'd better throw me your car-keys so I can lure him back into the house."

"Don't you want any help?" She didn't have Melanie's physique and I couldn't really see her hauling that hulk out of the trunk.

"It's probably best if you stay here. He's probably building a nest in there by now and strangers might scare him."

"You don't seem all that alarmed over this." I remarked. "He sure seemed to be in a state when he thought you were missing."

"It's happened before." she sighed. "I'm afraid my husband isn't the brightest guy around. He wanders off if I don't keep an eye on him."

I tossed her my keys as she left the room and proceeded to make myself comfortable. The couch that I lowered myself onto seemed pretty expensive, but I'm sure that a bit of patching would have been able to sort out the tears I made with my shoes.

A few minutes passed with no sign of her return. When I heard the doors open, I expected to see Victoria enter with her husband in tow. However, it was only the girl that I'd seen fighting in the garden. Her wire-wool hair was torn and matted; her eyes had a vicious feral gleam. A few grains of white powder were visible around her nostrils. In her hand she held a wicked looking steak knife.

"Where did he go?" She bellowed. "What the fuck does he think he's doing? The bastard ran away before I could finish him off."

Without waiting for a reply, she turned and dashed out of the room again. I figured that she was after the guy I'd seen her fighting before and that it would be better for him if she never found him. For a moment I toyed with the idea of chasing after her, but there was no way I could have caught up with her and I'd left my gun in my office. Besides, I didn't want to leave the room in case Victoria returned; we still had to discuss the matter of my payment. I comforted myself with the fact that nobody here seemed to find wire-hair's actions disturbing and that she probably acted like this all the time.

More time passed, with still no sign of Victoria. Then the doors flew open again, and a vaguely human mound of flesh entered the room. It was human alright, and apparently female. Of course, I wouldn't have known this if it hadn't been for the pink dress (which would have been large enough for a dozen men to camp under) and the bow in her hair. The new arrival hauled itself across the room and collapsed into a chair. The wood groaned and twisted when she sat down, but didn't quite break; evidently it was specially reinforced.

She sat there, not saying anything, just staring at me, with a vacant grin on her face. Cautiously, making no sudden moves in case I alarmed her, I raised a hand in greeting. She giggled once and said "Duh!"

Then, still grinning, she reached into one enormous pocket and pulled out a cake the size of a small dog. Watching her eat that cake isn't an experience I'll forget in a hurry; I swear I've never seen something disappear so fast.

The cake was about three-quarters gone by the time the next woman came into the room. This particular dame was red haired and top heavy; she obviously knew her body was well-proportioned and the clothes she wore made no secret of the fact that she intended to let everybody find out.

On this occasion, though, she had little time for posing; as soon as she saw the huge broad demolishing the cake, she rushed over to her and started wrestling with her for the remains. Her struggle didn't last long. She hadn't a chance against the human mountain; within seconds, the remains of the cake had disappeared into the cavern-like mouth.

I didn't have a clue what was going on here, but the redhead clearly wasn't pleased.

"Baby! Bad girl!" She yelled. "You know you're not supposed to eat those."

The fat woman didn't seem to bothered by this, she just sat there and giggled. The redhead threw me an embarrassed glance.

"Sorry about this. Emma's supposed to be on a diet at the moment."

By this point, I was getting a little tired of women dashing in and out while I sat there confused. I decided that introductions were in order.

"The name's Marlowe," I growled. "What's your handle?"

She just looked at me; totally blank.

"Your name?" I repeated. Still no response.

"What's your name?" She made no reply, just stood there looking at me as though I was insane. Finally, hesitantly, she spoke.

"You mean you don't know who I am?" Her voice was incredulous. Now I was really puzzled.

"You've never heard of the Spice Girls?" She continued. I shook my head. Then light seemed to dawn in her eyes.

"Don't tell me you're an All Saints fan." I shook my head again, doubly confused. She shrugged as if to dismiss the whole matter.

"Oh well. I'm Geri." Before either of us could say anything else, the door swung open again.

I'll never know how Victoria managed to avoid Geri's wild charge. She couldn't have had more than half a second's warning as she opened the door, but she somehow twisted herself to the side, so that Geri fell past her, sprawling into Melanie and Beckham, who must have been right behind Victoria.

For once I was taken completely off guard. In a split second the scene had been transformed from relative peace into a brutal fight. Already, Geri was picking herself up and dusting herself of. Meanwhile, Victoria had regained her balance; she took a swing at Geri, which barely slowed her down. Victoria's second blow was blocked easily and Geri countered with a vicious grab to Victoria's midriff. Victoria then leaped forwards, sprawling onto the floor, but taking Geri down with her.

I decided it was time to intervene. Evidently, Melanie had reached the same conclusion; she restrained the frantic Geri, while I firmly pulled back Victoria. For a moment, the two fighters struggled against us, temporarily swapping physical jabs for verbal ones.

"You stupid bitch," yelled Ginger, "I thought I'd told you never to leave food where Baby can find it."

"It looks to me like Baby isn't the only one around here who needs to loose weight," Victoria yelled back.

They continued yelling at each other for a moment, becoming more and more hysterical. Then the pitch of Geri's screams changed. No longer were they screams of anger; now a strong note of fear... no... make that terror had crept in. I studied her carefully, but I couldn't see anything wrong; true, Melanie was gripping her tightly, maybe more so than strictly necessary, but I'm sure that she was just trying to stop any more fighting.

Geri grew more frantic still and managed to break free of Melanie's grasp. I prepared to pull Victoria backwards, sure that Geri was going to charge her again, but something seemed to have taken all the fire out of her. She just turned around and slouched out of the room. Melanie was grinning - I guess she was happy there wasn't going to be any more fighting.

A few minutes later I was a few dollars richer. Better still, I was finally on my way out of that damn household. Sure, Victoria had grudgingly handed over some dough, but I was anxious to be away from the oppressive decor and the perpetually frayed nerves that seemed to dominate the place. For once, I was looking forwards to getting back to the baked brown of the soil and the grey concrete of the city. Even my office, with its sweltering heat and bare walls seemed attractive now; doubly so when I considered the bottle of whisky I kept in my desk. I knew that starting drinking early wasn't going to do me any favours, but I was sure that the events of the day would seem a lot clearer with a few shots of something potent inside of me.

Even so, as I drove out of the house grounds, I couldn't resist taking one last look around at the property.

I guess it's lucky that I did, although I sure regretted it at the time, because if I hadn't taken that last look around, then I wouldn't have spotted the body.

I recognised the corpse immediately; it was the guy I'd seen the wire-wool haired girl fighting with earlier. No apparent effort had been made to hide the corpse; it was simply laid out on the grass by the driveway. I checked around to see if the killer was still near the scene, but there was nobody in sight.

I went over and examined the body.

The face was battered and bruised, but that didn't appear to be the cause of death. I decided to make something of a guess and say that death was caused by the large knife protruding from between his ribs; a knife which I'd seen ten minutes before in the hands of the girl with the wire hair.

I wasn't feeling too great when I arrived at the police station the following morning, but I guess that I should have expected that. I'd been at the station until late the night before, giving my statement and hoping that I could coax any information out of the police chief. So far as I knew, the women were being subjected to standard interviews. They hadn't bothered to bring Beckham down to the station, since he was suffering from two broken legs ("He must have had a fall," I explained to the cops) and hence wasn't a suspect. Similarly, I'd been ruled out as a suspect since I'd been with somebody for almost the entire duration of my stay in the house; I sure hadn't been alone long enough to creep out of the house, commit a murder and creep back in. So far as I could see, this should be an open and shut case; my testimony combined with the fingerprints that they pulled from the knife should be enough to convince any jury.

What's more, we had a motive for the killing. The broad with the wire hair (another Melanie, I'd learned) had been going through a messy divorce with her victim. Apparently he looked set to take her to court for every last cent, so she had plenty of reasons to kill him.

Therefore, it came as a bit of a shock when the chief told me that no charges were being pressed.

"What the hell?" I snorted, "She's as guilty as a nun who's just been caught raiding the poor boxes."

"Sorry, Marlowe," replied the chief, more docile than usual, "I know how you feel about this one. Off the record, we all agree with you. We have a suspect here with both the motive and the opportunity for murder. Unfortunately, we don't have any proof."

"But what about the knife? She was clutching it like crazy when I saw here... she must have left prints on it."

"That's what I'd have thought, but none of our boys have been able to lift anything. Without the fingerprint data, the case falls apart. Sure, we could probably bust her on a few minor charges of possession, but we don't want to risk the publicity of a trial for that."

"Have you still got her in the building?"

The chief gave me a sardonic grin. "We've got them all in the building. I figured a night in the cells wouldn't do them any harm."

Some times I find myself cursing the cops' stupidity. Other times I just have to love the way they work. This was one of the latter occasions.

"You mind if I speak to her?" I asked.

"Sure, go ahead. We're allowed to hold on to them for another couple of hours. Maybe you'll be able to get something out of her. I'm warning you, though, anything less than a signed confession just won't stick in court."

As she faced me across the desk in the interview room, I couldn't help noticing that she didn't seem all that upset for a dame whose husband's just been murdered; no matter what her relationship with him might have been. I stared hard at her across the desk, but she returned my gaze without flinching. There were none of the telltale flickers of guilt you usually get in murderers. After a few seconds, I decided to break the silence.

"So..." I said, and left it hanging.

No response. I gave her a few seconds, then continued.

"Are you going to tell me why you did it?"

She was cold as ice. "Why I did what?"

More silence.

"Why you killed your husband. Was it because of the divorce settlement?"

He answer was calm, her voice steady. "I didn't kill him."

"Sure you did, sweetheart. I'm no rocket scientist, but I wasn't born yesterday. When I see you holding a knife and calling for a man's blood and then, ten minutes later, I find his body with that very knife sticking out of it, I tend to put two and two together."

She flared up at that; not with anger, exactly, but with something more like strong irritation. "Look!" She said, "It's like I already told the cops; I did run after him with the knife, but I got bored and threw the knife away."

"You threw it into him?" I ventured, deliberately provoking her in the hope of getting an unguarded response.

"No, I threw it on the ground."

"And he wasn't on the ground at the time."

"No! How many times do I have to tell you people this?"

I decided to change tactics. "Ok, let's assume you didn't kill him. In that case, who did?"

"I don't know. Maybe he realised what a waste of space he was and did himself it."

It was clear that this wasn't going anywhere, so I ended the interview.

However, I didn't leave the station right away. Instead, I took a walk down to the cells as the other dames were released.

I like to think that I'm not really such a bad guy. Sure, I may have liked the idea of the poor little rich girls spending a night in the cells, but I wasn't going to leave them stranded downtown without a ride home.

Victoria called me aside while the others were being led out to the parking lot.

"How come Melanie's going home with us?" she asked. "I thought you said she killed Jimmy."

"We don't have any evidence of that," I replied, "so we'll just have to give her the benefit of the doubt."

She grabbed my hand and looked me straight in the eye. Somehow, a night in the cells seemed to have improved her looks; sure, she looked plain without her makeup, but she didn't look like a cheap hooker any more. Now she looked serious; serious and scared to death.

"Come on, Marlowe," she whispered, "we both know she's a killer. How do you expect me to go on living with her? I daren't throw her out of the house now; not now that I know what she's capable of."

"That's your problem," I growled. I didn't mind giving her a lift home, but the last thing I wanted was to be saddled with her problems. If I thought for a moment that Melanie Gulz... Melanie Brown, I corrected myself (no doubt she'd go back to her maiden name now), would kill again, my attitude might have been different. As it was, Jimmy's murder had all the hallmarks of a crime of passion and the perpetrators of such offences rarely struck again.

However, I wasn't done with Victoria yet.

"What's with these nicknames?" I demanded. "You all refer to each other by those stupid names; I even heard some of the younger cops use them."

"Oh, those are just the stage names. We call Emma 'Baby' because she's got the mental faculties of a two year old. We call Mel C 'Sporty' because of the whole bodybuilding and tracksuits business. We call Geri 'Ginger' for obvious reasons and we call Mel G 'Scary' for... well... equally obvious reasons."

"So why do they call you 'Posh'?" I interjected. "Is it some kinda sick joke?"

Maybe that was a bit harsh. I'd been hoping to make her mad with me, so she'd hate me and not bother me with her problems. However, when I saw her face crumple, I realised that I should have pulled my punch a little. Evidently the matter of her class (and her lack of it) was pretty sensitive.

"Hey, I was just joking," I blurted out. "I'd have thought a high class lady like you could take a joke."

"Really?" She looked at me through eyes that were beginning to water over, "You were just joking?"

"Sure I was," I muttered through clenched teeth. It was beginning to look hideously as though I might be on her good side for a while longer.

We had to pack tightly into my car for the journey back. Even after I'd made arrangements with the local haulage company to carry Emma (I still couldn't bring myself to use the ridiculous nicknames) back in one of their trucks, we'd have to pack in quite tightly.

Even in the cramped confines of the car, Victoria and Geri seemed to be doing a good job of keeping themselves away from the two Melanies. Sure, I could understand why they'd be uneasy towards Brown, but Chisholm didn't seem particularly dangerous. Then I remembered Geri's reaction to her back in the house. I resolved to ask about it later, but this clearly wasn't the right time.

A few minutes later I was back inside the house which I'd so ferverently hoped I'd never have to enter again. Geri and Melanie Brown had gone upstairs to their rooms; I was back in the sitting room, with Victoria and Chisholm.

"You really don't think that she's going to flip again?" Victoria asked.

"Relax," I comforted her. "For the next few weeks she'll be treading carefully."

"You mean she'll be cautious in case the cops are still watching her?"

I smiled. At last it looked as though I might be able to get out of here and to get these people out of my life. "Something like that. For the next few weeks, she'll be quiet as a mouse."

The blood curdling shriek from upstairs proved me wrong.

I charged headlong upstairs with the two girls in hot pursuit. Once I reached the landing at the top, I nearly ran into Geri, who seemed as shocked as the rest of us. I signalled for her to wait with the others at the top of the stairs.

I'd come straight from the cop station, so obviously I wasn't packing iron, but as I edged along that landing towards Brown's room, I wished like hell that I was. The door to the room was open. Cautiously, I peered around it with one eye; what I saw was vaguely reassuring.

Sure, Brown appeared to be in a hell of a rage, but she wasn't holding a weapon this time and there was no actual evidence of violence of violence in the room. I signalled to the other girls that it was safe and stepped into the room.

As soon as Melanie saw Victoria she spun to face her. "I thought I told you never to let your idiot boy husband in here," she hissed.

Victoria seemed taken aback. "David can't get in here," she protested. "He's in the other room, lying in bed with broken legs." I searched for any traces of bitterness towards me in that last part and was disappointed when I found none.

"How do you explain this then?" roared Brown. She held up what had once been a pair of lacy undergarments, now badly stretched, torn and skid marked. "Look, I don't mind him wearing your stuff, but I draw the line when it comes to mine."

Victoria's face was a picture of remorse. "Look, Melanie, I'm really sorry. I don't know how this happened. I'll have words with David."

"You do that." Melanie growled, slightly mollified. The tension in the room was lowered a notch. "I'm just going to have a pinch of something that should cheer me up a bit."

She reached into one of her dresser drawers and took out a heavy tin box. She removed the lid and her face was once more contorted by spasms of rage.

I suppose that the box was supposed to have contained a variety of illegal substances, but it was empty now. The only item in the box was a single strand of hair. A single strand of ginger hair.

"Out!" Brown was shouting. "All of you get out!"

We were only too happy to comply.

Back downstairs, I made a speedy getaway. I was almost certain that there wouldn't be any more problems, but, after that incident upstairs, I decided to leave them my phone number anyway.

This time, I managed to make it out of the grounds without any unpleasant discoveries. By the time I got back to the office, my mood was starting to lift a little. Sure, the last couple of days had been strange and unpleasant, but I'd come out of them unscathed and had earned a fair wage. By the time I'd downed my first shot of whiskey, I was feeling almost euphoric. Then the telephone rang.

It was Melanie... Chisholm, not Brown. She said one sentence: "Marlowe, you'd better get over here."

When I arrived back at the house for a third time, I found Victoria and Mel C holding Brown at knifepoint in the sitting room.

They refused to tell me what had happened until the cops arrived. When they did, I told them to take Brown into custody again, while I went upstairs with the other two women. The problem was immediately apparent. Geri was lying on the floor in a pool of blood that must have leaked from the gunshot wounds in her stomach and head. A trail of blood led into Victoria's bedroom. Inside, Beckham was lying dead on the bed, with a single gunshot wound to his chest. Several spent cartridge cases were scattered on the floor and a shotgun, presumably the murder weapon, had been left casually on the desk. I had an awful feeling that we wouldn't be able to lift any prints from it.

"What happened?" I demanded.

This time it was Melanie who did the talking; to be honest, Victoria didn't look in much of state to talk. "After you left, Mel and Geri went back to their rooms. I sat with Victoria downstairs. About half an hour went by before we heard the gunshots; we were just beginning to think that the worst had passed. Then we rushed up here and find this. Mel had just gone back to her room and we found her sitting on the bed. The heartless cow still denies everything."

The cops didn't bother keeping us long at the station this time. It might as well have been a repeat of our last visit. No prints could be found on the gun and Melanie refused to confess.

This time there was a lot more room in the car on the way back; Geri was dead and Mel Brown had checked into a hotel on the other side of town. I guess the women must have realised that things had gone too far.

When we got back to the house, the delivery truck was just leaving. Apparently, they'd had a few delays in transporting Emma.

Obviously, there was no way I could make a quick escape this time, no matter how much I might have wanted to; I had a distraught widow on my hands. I really wish that I could believe that her tears were just the product of her natural grief at the death of her husband; if only she hadn't kept muttering about lost sponsorship deals.

The two of us talked late into the night. Not about the murders. About anything but the murders, as it happens. Eventually, the conversation came around to my work.

"How does it pay, being a private detective?" she asked. "Is the money good?"

I snorted. "Hardly. You spend half your time working for crooks and bums, wondering whether your clients are going to pay you or try to kill you."

She flinched and moved away from me slightly. Evidently, she was more mercantile than I had believed; I decided to make a game out of this.

"Of course," I added, "I'm not in this game for the money. I only take it to keep up my image. It's not as if I need it."

"Really?" She relaxed a little and edged closer to me. "Why's that?"

Now that I'd told the first lie, the rest was easy. "I'm old money," I told her. "I only do this for the kicks."

She moved closer still. "Hell, did I tell you about the time I won the lottery?" I added. Closer still.

"Of course, I lost the ticket." She backed off a little.

"But I found it again in time to claim the prize." Closer still. She was almost on top of me now. I'd already found out what I needed to know, but I decided to continue the experiment... purely for the purpose of research, you understand.

"Then when my father died and left his entire estate to me..."

The sun was already shining through the window when I woke up. I checked the pillow next to me, but it was empty; Victoria must have gotten up already. I quickly scanned the room; it was empty. That was fine. I gathered up my clothes, dressed hurriedly and crept out of the house.

When my car sped out of the gates and back onto the road, I permitted myself a sigh of relief. At last I felt that the case was closed. Sure, when I checked my pocket, I found that my wallet had been emptied, but I felt that was a small price to pay to get out of a case like that with my life and sanity intact.

That rest of that day was pretty much normal. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in my office, staring at the wall and looking enigmatic. That evening, I went to a seedy bar and got drunk out of my skull on cheap whiskey. When I got back to my apartment there were no mysterious visitors waiting for me. I collapsed into my bed at peace with the world.

The phone call from Victoria came through at about 2AM. She sounded terrified.

"Marlowe, can you get over here? We're alone in the house and I think there's somebody outside."

That was all I needed to hear.

I travelled at twice the speed limit for the entire journey. When I pulled up in front of the house, Victoria ran around from the side to meet me.

"Marlowe, thank God you're here. I think there's somebody in the house now. I left Sporty and Baby in the sitting room. We've got to hurry."

I hadn't made the mistake of coming unarmed this time. My Colt .45 led the way into the house.

My mind was racing as I swung open the door to the sitting room; an awful thought had taken root in my mind and refused to be shifted.

The sitting room was in disarray. I found the corpses of Emma and Melanie C lying on the floor. From the arrangement of the bodies, I assumed that Melanie had died trying to protect Emma, although the look of horror on Emma's podgy face didn't quite fit this idea. I realised I'd never asked why the other girls had such an aversion to her; perhaps now I'd never have the chance.

Brown was standing over the bodies. The shotgun wasn't in her hands, rather it was lying on the couch. I was armed; she wasn't. Victoria entered the room and moved besides me.

"Come on, Marlowe," she whispered, "what are you waiting for? Finish it now, or you know what'll happen. They won't find any prints on the gun and she'll walk again."

She was right, but I hesitated.

"For God's sake, if you let her live now, she'll come after me next time."

Still, I hesitated.

"Are you worried the cops will come down on you? Don't worry, we'll just tell them you fired in self-defence. They'll believe that."

Again, she was right. The cops knew the background to the case and there would be no questions raised.

"Marlowe, this has gone on long enough. Let's finish it now."

She was right. That was the argument that tipped the scale.

I spun around, pointed the gun at Victoria and pulled the trigger. Her head exploded and her body crumpled to the floor. I lowered the weapon and turned to face Melanie.

"Relax," I said, "I know you didn't do it."

"How did you realise?" She asked, breathless.

"There were a few indicators. First..." I pointed at the gun... "that weapon isn't silenced. If you just killed these two, as Victoria wanted me to believe, I would have heard the shots a mile away. That was the main clue. Also, it explains why there were no prints on the weapons. Victoria was wearing gloves when I met her. She was outside at the car, supposedly fetching her husband, while Jimmy was killed. Now... I'm guessing that about half an hour ago you got an urgent call from Victoria asking you to come over."

She nodded.

"She wanted to set you up so I'd kill you. She considered herself too good for you all; she wanted her own career. This way, she could get rid of you all and come out of it smelling of roses. Hell, she could have painted herself as the woman who helped track down the crazed killer. The film rights alone would have been worth a fortune."

Melanie gazed at me, clearly in awe of the great detective.

"But," she said, "I thought that Sporty said that Victoria had been with her while Geri and David were killed."

Damn. She was right. I didn't have an answer to that, so I shot her, just to be on the safe side.

As I left, I carefully made sure that the right prints were left in the right places. I was pretty sure there was nothing that could be linked to me, even if the cops wanted to bother with an investigation.

It looked a pretty open and shut case to me.


Philip Marlowe is the creation of Raymond Chandler. SGDVD is copyright to Cloud Volpe. Spice Girls vs. Philip Marlowe is copyright to Oliver Mulvey. Correspondence to

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