The Big Sleep: Chapter: 15,16
Brody’s face becomes “sharp and foxy [cunning] and mean” at the sound of the buzzer. Marlowe’s worried, too—if Mars is at the door, he “might get chilled just for being there.” And Agnes nearly comes unglued with fear. Brody hands Agnes a small gun, which she points at Marlowe’s leg artery, so she is apparently not a stranger to this aspect of the business. The person at the door knocks impatiently, and Brody, gun in hand, opens the door slowly. It’s Carmen, armed with her own little revolver, which she presses against the panicked Brody’s lips, backing him into the room. Carmen hardly seems to see Marlowe or Agnes, but Agnes aims her gun at Carmen, giving Marlowe the chance to wrest it from her.
Meanwhile, Carmen tells Brody that she saw him shoot Geiger and now wants her photos. Marlowe says, “Hey, wait a minute, Carmen,” as Brody looks sick and Agnes bites Marlowe’s hand, trying to get the gun back. She attacks his legs, and he hits her in the head with gun, lightly at first and then harder to get her off him. Brody uses the distraction to grab at Carmen’s gun, which she fires. He collapses, groaning, as the bullet shatters a folded door’s glass window. Brody’s feint allows him to trip Carmen, who drops her gun while Brody reaches into his pocket for his. The scene is chaotic: Agnes panting on the floor, Carmen hissing as she crawls for her gun, Brody pleading with Marlowe to protect him, and Marlowe laughing “like an idiot” at the absurdity of it all.
Marlowe picks up Carmen’s gun and says, “Get up, angel. You look like a Pekinese”—yet another comparison of Carmen to an animal. Marlowe takes Brody’s Colt and now has “all the guns that had been exposed to view.” He takes the photos and negatives from Brody, too. Agnes pats her hair into place, looking at Carmen “with a green distillation of hate,” while Carmen reaches for the photos, “giggling and hissing” and frothing a bit. Marlowe tells her that he’ll keep them for now and advises her, “soothingly,” to go home and wait for him.” Snapping back into coy mode, she strokes his cheek and says, again, “You’re cute.” He withholds her gun, and she suddenly grabs his neck and kisses him. She runs off, “gay as a thrush.”
After several chapters that involve mostly verbal sparring and secretive sleuthing, the fifteenth chapter begins tensely and explodes into violent chaos as several major players, each with a high-stakes agenda, collide. Marlowe’s cool head and keen observation allow him to emerge the victor. He has information about Brody and Agnes, he puts Carmen on a leash, and he recovers the photos—all at not quite the midpoint of the novel, leading readers to guess that the chapter provides a false sense of resolution, which in itself builds suspense. Marlowe seems to have control of the situation—can he sustain it?
Marlowe examines the shattered glass and spots a hole in the wall’s plaster. He pulls the curtains and looks at Carmen’s gun, a “Banker’s Special, .22 caliber” with a pearl handle engraved “Carmen from Owen.” Marlowe muses, “She made saps of all of them” as he pockets the gun and asks Brody why he “put the bite” on Vivian rather than on General Sternwood. Brody says he’d already “tapped the old man” and didn’t want to risk the General going to the police. Instead, Brody blackmailed Vivian because “she has a couple of soft spots she don’t want the old man to know about.” Brody’s legitimate job is in insurance, but business has been so bad that he’s been “shaking two nickels together . . . trying to get them to mate.” The books, he says, are in storage—he had them moved to his apartment first to throw off anyone who was watching. But he refuses to say how he got Carmen’s photos. Marlowe concocts a story for them to tell: Carmen was never there. Brody agrees to that—if Marlowe will pay him a bit. He says that the photos slipped out of a man’s pocket on the street and then suddenly becomes irate, telling Marlowe to get out. Agreeably, Marlowe sets Brody’s guns down and turns to leave. But Brody, doubtful, stops Marlowe to remind him, “You ain’t got anything on me.” “Just a couple of murders,” Marlowe says, causing Brody to jump and Agnes to “let out a low animal wail” as Marlowe notes her beautiful thighs again.
Brody suddenly wants to offer more information: He had been watching Geiger, thinking that the shop owner might need a partner for his “nice racket.” He notices that no business associates go to Geiger’s house—“Only dames.” As he watched the house the night before, he saw a big Buick, registered to Vivian Regan. Nothing happened, so he left. Marlowe tells Brody where the car is now: in the sheriff’s garage, pending the investigation of the accident and murder of the driver—a third murder of which Brody can now be suspected. Owen, Marlowe explained, had gone to Geiger’s house on Carmen’s behalf, since he loved her, to get the photos. “So you ran after him,” he concludes, “and took the photo from him.”
Brody admits that he pursued Owen and pulled him over, posing as police. He struck Owen because Owen had a gun and then went through his clothes and found the camera’s plateholder. Owen knocked Brody away and drove away. When Brody saw what was on the plate, he assumed that Owen had killed Geiger to get it. As Brody denies knowing where Geiger’s body is, the door buzzer sounds again. Thinking that Carmen has returned, Brody takes his gun to the door to open it slowly. A voice says his name, and then Marlowe hears “two quick reports” and sees Brody slide to the floor, against the door. Marlowe pushes the body away to get to the hallway and pursues the shooter, a “tall hatless figure” who turns to fire at Marlowe and then flees. Marlowe chases the man in his car and on foot, finally catching up with him and asking, “Got a match, buddy?” The shooter is the young man from Geiger’s shop. Marlowe, Carmen’s revolver in hand, confronts the man, who says, “Go —— yourself.” A siren wails, and Marlowe asks, “Me or the cops?” He claims to be a friend of Geiger, but the young man repeats his insult. When Marlowe presses the revolver to the man’s stomach, he relents and gets in the car, in the driver’s seat, as Marlowe tells him to. They let the patrol car pass and then back to Geiger’s house. The man—or boy, as Marlowe often refers to him—gives his name as Carol Lundgren, and Marlowe says, “You shot the wrong guy, Carol. Joe Brody didn’t kill your queen,” to which Lundgren responds with the same three-word insult.
This long chapter introduces, formally, another player in the drama and sees Brody’s exit. In addition to first use (though elided) of actual profanity—a word forbidden in publishing during Chandler’s day—this chapter also contains a disturbing scene that suggests Marlowe’s attitude toward women. Not only does he pistol-whip Agnes twice, but he describes her with an animal sexuality and seems almost to enjoy their dust-up. Grinning, he asks her, “Did I hurt your head much?” “You and every other man I ever met,” she complains. Marlowe is shrewd, protective of his clients, brave, and quick—but he is not necessarily a gentleman.