I pulled up outside the house in Brentwood, California and lit myself a smoke. This would be my last chance before I got inside, so I was glad the drive was big. It was a house like any other in the neighbourhood – large, maintained to precision, reeking of raw dough. I was used to dealing with this. I kept smoking even after I’d knocked on the door and a polite butler had answered; not that you get too many butlers who don’t know their manners. Once he saw me, without a word, he disappeared, and then turned up again a minute later with a bucket of water. The guy reached out, took my cigarette, and threw it in there. This bugged me, but I kept my trap shut as we walked into the living room.
The old man sat in his big chair, wizened like a rotted prune. He looked me up and down. I remained silent; he looked like the kind of guy who’d want to speak first.
“Ah, Marlowe,” he extended his hand. It was skeletal, but I shook it and it made it out intact, “pleased to meet you at last.”
He spoke like an Australian or a Kiwi, seasoned with Americanisms.
“Whaddya want?” I cut to the chase.
“Well, as you may be aware, I run a multinational corporation, specialising in print and broadcast news.”
“Yeah, I know your stuff.”
“Well, mate, I got a job for you.”
“You’d be wasting my time otherwise.”
“Don’t sass me, you yank prick…we want you to get some hard facts down on a few people…”
His phrasing was vague, except for the personal insults. I decided it was time I ask some hard questions.
“How many you talkin’?”
“You know; nothing big, 6,349 or so.”
“Yeah?” I was very curious by this point, envisioning the paycheck.
“Yeah. We heard you’re the best private investigator this side of a bent cop, and we already got most of those crooked bastards on the payroll. We’ll fax you the list…we want you to dig up some dirt on these fuckers.”
“Should be easy enough. I’ll start off with some simple tail jobs.”
“No, no. Philip, mate, this is the twenty-first century. You won’t even have to leave the office!”
“What kinda booby-hatch scat you chattin’?”
“What you gotta do is…you use the telephone a lot, Marlowe?”
“Sure, if I don’t call my local dive they wonder where I’m at.”
“Well, you’ll be familiar with the concept of the answerphone, then. We want you to listen to people’s voicemails. Then the sensational results will be published in one of our British, um, newspapers…” he chuckled “…to distract our readership from the shoddy fucking level of journalism they’re reading and the fact it’s a bunch of bloody sinister right-wing propaganda, if I do say so myself,” he smirked proudly.
“Is this ethical, y’think, Mr Murdoch?” I asked him. His spirits were raised once again.
“Like I give a fuck! So long as we get a few juicy scoops about who soccer players are fucking besides their supermodel wives, we’ll be rolling in the dough!”
When I got home, my pocket was stuffed with dollar bills. I filled myself with whiskey and listened to the personal conversations of the families of 7/7 victims.
My door crashed open so loud Beethoven could’ve heard it. I placed the phone down, abruptly cutting short a recording of some asshole shooting lame ideas for something called Alton Partridge or something. The man who had come busting into my office, armed to the teeth, was the Limey picture star Hugh Grant. I stood up.
“Hey, friend, I’m tellin’ you this is a private office. If you wanna see me you book an appointment or speak to Carlos the bartend…”
“Speak no more, witless knave!” Grant got all up in my face. “Lest I decorate the bloody walls with your brains.”
“Well, I s’pose that’d be one way of making the walls bloody,” I countered, wittily.
He said something which was like one of his movies, in that it was boring and jive. I didn’t listen.
“Get to the point,” I said.
“I may be a dashing debonair fop who appears in terrible Richard Curtis films, but I’m no fool. I know you’ve been listening to my voicemails. ”
“Suck my asshole, you British cunt,” I said, losing my patience.
As he recoiled from the risqué language, I edged forward and punched him in the nose, followed by a swift jab in the gut for good measure. He fell to the floor, and the piece fell out of his hand onto my desk, so I grabbed it. I edged the perimeter of the desk, training the gat’s scope on Grant, and gestured at him to stand up. He did, shakily.
“Listen, buddy, I’m a pretty collected guy but I’ve got a short fuse at the best of times. And I see no contradiction there, do you? I’m just doing a bit of investigative journalism for the News of the World. There’s nothin’ to it. Now you better back off or I’ll drive you down to the river and give you two in the back of the head.”
“You’ll never get away with this, Marlowe!” he yelled, like the archetypal British villain he probably isn’t, but has portrayed on-screen in the past. “Haven’t you heard? Today is 7th July 2011. It’s the day the last ever edition of the News of the World is published!”
I pushed him out of the window of my 6th floor office.
It was February 26th 2012. I sat in my office drinking black coffee and smoking some Camels. It had been a slow couple quarters for work. Suddenly, my telephone started ringing. Hadn’t needed to use that thing in a while, I thought. I picked up.
“Marlowe? This is Rupert. When I ring off, ready the line at once. Today…the Sun on Sunday is born!”