The Big Sleep: Chapter: 13,14
Eddie Mars, dressed impeccably and all in gray, smiles politely and easily as he apologizes for “the casual entrance.” Marlowe says that they are business associates of Geiger and will leave, and Carmen does bolt for her car, but Mars wants to talk to Marlowe and threatens violence if Marlowe refuses. Mars finds the drugs Geiger used and sniffs in disgust: “The lousy pimp.” He examines the room, the books, and the camera and then tenses as he moves a small rug and kneels, having spotted a lot of blood. He shifts his gun to his left hand and moves to call the police. Marlowe identifies himself and his connection to Geiger and claims to have come to talk to Geiger about the blackmail threat. Mars explains that he owns the house and Geiger is his tenant; hence, he has a key. Marlowe’s clever responses to Mars get him to admit that he has “the local law in his pocket” and that he is involved with Geiger’s pornography production.
Mars can’t figure out Marlowe’s purpose and asks him directly what he thinks is going on. Marlowe sums up: Geiger was “rubbed,” and someone is moving Geiger’s books and “taking over the racket.” Irate, Mars whistles for his thugs and has them frisk Marlowe and look for ID. They find his license and badge, and Mars sends them out and continues to try to pry information out of Marlowe. Mars claims that he disliked Geiger’s “racket” and didn’t protect him but offers to protect Marlowe if Marlowe will reveal what he knows. Marlowe declines and then adds—“casually”—a question: “By the way, how is Mrs. Mars these days”? Hands shaking, a furious Mars gestures with his Luger for Marlowe to leave and warns him, with “hate in his eyes,” to stay out of this business. Marlowe leaves, and no one follows him as he drives back to Hollywood.
This chapter introduces an important antagonist, Eddie Mars, and offers readers their first chance to see how cool Marlowe remains under stress. During his conversation with Mars, not only does he not reveal his hand, he forces Mars to reveal his, all while Mars points a Luger with a muzzle that “looked like the mouth of the Second Street tunnel.” Marlowe can remain calm—and even insult Mars’s authority—because “Not being bullet proof is an idea I had had to get used to.” A high point in the chapter comes when the unshaken Marlowe refuses to open the front door of Geiger’s house: “Open it yourself, Eddie,” he sneers. “Who the hell are you to give me orders? Be nice and I might help you.” The struggle for dominance in the chapter is decided in Marlowe’s favor because of his words and despite Mars’s gun and the presence of his thugs.
Marlowe returns to Joe Brody’s apartment house a bit before five and takes the elevator to Apartment 405. He pushes the door buzzer and, after a while, the door opens slowly, furtively, and a “long-legged, long-waisted, high-shouldered” man with a carefully controlled face stands there. “Geiger?” Marlowe asks. The man smokes his cigarette and then responds in a flat voice that he doesn’t know any Geiger. But Marlowe guesses correctly that this cold man is Joe Brody and challenges him: “You got the books, Joe. I got the sucker list. We ought to talk things over.” Joe lets him in, but not before Marlowe hears a sound “as though a metal curtain ring clinked lightly on a rod.” Marlowe sits, and Brody offers a cigar and then points “a black Police .38” at him. Marlowe says that Brody is the second person that day to hold a gun on him and asks if Brody knows Mars. Brody denies it, and Marlowe warns him that Mars will come for him if he finds out that Brody took Geiger’s inventory.
Brody relaxes a bit, laying the gun on his knee, and Marlowe orders him to let his “friend with the pointed slippers” come out of hiding. It’s Agnes, the nervous blonde from Geiger’s shop, who glares at Marlowe “with a kind of mangled hatred.” “I knew damn well you were trouble,” she accuses him. Marlowe snips and lights his cigar nonchalantly and explains that the “sucker list” is in code and that he knows Brody has about five hundred expensive books. “It’s no racket for bums,” he observes, but blackmail is risky. Brody should stick to rental and sales. As Marlowe lectures Brody on the business, Agnes can hardly remain still. She claws her knees, then her ears with her nails as she tries to deny that she, or Geiger, participated in the porn racket. Brody, too, explodes when Marlowe accuses him of killing Geiger for his inventory (Brody denies this) and points out that there was a witness. “That goddamned little hot pants!” Brody yells, revealing that he knows Carmen and is likely the person behind the threatening phone call to Vivian. Marlowe wants the photos and negatives of Brody and is not about to hand over cash for them, since he now has enough facts to frame Brody for Geiger’s murder. If he had the photos, Marlowe says, he could keep Carmen quiet. Brody needs cash badly but knows he’s been bested. He is apparently ready to hand the photos over when the door buzzer rings insistently.
Marlowe again finds himself threatened by a gun and again shows his cool. In fact, Brody’s attempts at intimidation amuse him. Brody talks with “the elaborately casual voice of the tough guy in pictures. Pictures have made them all like that.” Marlowe’s ability to talk, persuade, and badger people to take his point of view is on full display in this chapter as he uses what he knows and what he guesses to convince Brody that taking over Geiger’s racket would be both possible and lucrative. His verbal accomplishment is the more impressive because he weaves his web of words while Agnes squirms, yelps, shrieks, and otherwise objects until Brody finally threatens to shut her mouth by pistol-slapping her.