The Big Sleep: Chapter: 17,18
Lundgren parks at Geiger’s house and sits mute at the wheel. When Marlowe asks if anyone is home, he replies with his usual insult. “That’s how people get false teeth,” Marlowe warns. He assumes that Lundgren, as Geiger’s lover, has a key and walks him to the house at gunpoint. They fight, Marlowe putting the gun down to make the fight fairer, till Marlowe pins Lundgren’s windpipe and the young man faints. Marlowe handcuffs him and drags him behind the hedge, then moves the car up the hill and pulls the young man into the house. When he comes to, Lundgren is treated to a description of death in the San Quentin gas chamber and repeats his insult, this time in a “soft stricken sigh.”
Marlowe tells Lundgren that he wants him to “cop a plea,” using the story Marlowe gives him, and when Lundgren repeats his tiresome insult, Marlowe threatens to smother him with a pillow. That shuts him up at last. Marlowe goes back into the spare, manly bedroom—Lundgren’s bedroom—where Geiger’s body lies on the bed, flanked by incense cones and candles and with a cross made from strips of the Chinese tapestry on his bloody chest. Marlowe doesn’t touch the body but notes that the “faint glitter” of Geiger’s glass eye seems to wink at him. He wonders whether Agnes talked to the police and how long it might be before they arrive, and then decides to call Ohls and ask whether the investigators found a revolver on Owen Taylor—missing three bullets. “How the hell did you know that?” Ohls asks, and Marlowe invites him to Geiger’s house to find out.
Homosexuality was, as readers know, still an almost taboo topic in 1939, and Marlowe’s language, as he describes Geiger and Lundgren, reflects bias. Geiger is the “queen” and the “fag,” a man “like Caesar, a husband to women and a wife to men.” Lundgren is “a pansy” who, like all homosexuals, “has no iron in his bones” and can’t throw a punch. Marlowe expresses contempt for them both: “Think I can’t figure people like him and you out?” he asks, and clearly his disgust for Geiger’s business is multiplied by his disgust for Geiger himself. Till this chapter, Geiger’s sexual orientation has been part of the scenery, but the fight between Lundgren and Marlowe brings Marlowe’s disgust to the fore. And he is not the only character to express disgust: In the next chapter, Ohls can hardly bring himself to touch Lundgren as he arrests him.
Ohls questions Lundgren about Brody’s death and gets as a reply Lundgren’s “favorite three words.” His evasion does no good since Marlowe has his gun, and Ohls decides to take Lundgren in for further questioning. Ohls admits that he is relieved not to have to prosecute Taylor for the crime. Marlowe goes to blow out the candles, and they leave, Marlowe hoping he’ll never have to set foot in Geiger’s house again.
They drive to the home of Taggart Wilde, LA’s district attorney, in an old, established part of the city. Wilde and another officer, Captain Cronjager, who summarizes what they found at Brody’s apartment: a dead man, shot twice, and, down the street, a rattled blonde woman trying to start a car—not hers, but the one parked next to hers. Marlowe catches the officers up on what he knows and who Lundgren is. Cronjager is irritated with Marlowe for having, till now, “played” the murders “close to his chest,” but Ohls defends Marlowe’s decisions. Ohls adds the details from his work on the investigation so that everyone is caught up. Marlowe does withhold a few details, “not knowing just why, at the moment, I left out one of them”—that Carmen went to Brody’s apartment and that Mars was at Geiger’s house that afternoon.
With cold anger, Cronjager accuses Marlowe of being responsible for Brody’s death because Marlowe didn’t report Geiger’s death. When Wilde questions whether Brody might have killed Geiger, Marlowe shows his ability to judge character. Brody “was a crook, but not the killer type,” while Taylor had “the motive, jealous rage, and the opportunity” to murder Geiger. The men muse on why Lundgren hid the body at first, and Marlowe guesses that he merely moved it to the garage till he could properly lay it out. They examine the evidence: the photos, the blue notebook, the card demanding money—while Cronjager gripes that Marlowe still hasn’t revealed all he knows and Marlowe insists on protecting the Sternwoods’ privacy. If Wilde and Cronjager press the issue, Marlowe threatens, he will point out to the Grand Jury that Geiger’s store was clearly a front for pornography and that “the Hollywood police allowed it to operate, for their own reasons.”
Wilde understands Marlowe’s position, but he smiles wryly at the idea that General Sternwood can keep his family away from public speculation for long: “Those girls of his are bound certain to hook up with something that can’t be hushed, especially that little blonde brat.” He suspects that what the General really wants to know is that Regan is not involved in the blackmail scheme.
This long, complicated chapter—short on action and heavy on dialogue—adds a new conflict to the novel. Marlowe’s methods are not appreciated by the LAPolice Department or the DA’s office, and his insistence on protecting his clients may land him “in Dutch with half the law enforcement in the county,” Wilde warns. But Marlowe has to sell his services, even if he angers the people who he hopes will be his allies.