The Big Sleep: Chapter: 23,24
A woman walks with “arrogant carriage” toward Marlowe till the masked man stops her. Visibility is so bad that the pair “seemed to be part of the fog,” but Marlowe hears the man threaten to shoot the woman unless she hands over her purse. Of course, it is Vivian, with her stellar winnings. She makes a rasping sound as Marlowe, who recognizes the thief’s odd chuckle, steps forward and says, “Hi, Lanny.” Marlowe’s gun is out, so Lanny surrenders the purse and his gun and then, when Marlowe tells him, flees. Marlowe returns the purse to Vivian, who is hardly grateful for his rescue. She wants to know why he’s at the club, and he says that Mars wanted to see him and that he came hoping to learn something about Regan. Vivian seems not to care what has become of her husband; she “clicked her teeth in annoyance” and demands that Marlowe walk her to the garage. Larry Cobb, her date, is still passed out drunk in the backseat of his Cadillac. The garage attendant offers to call one of Cobb’s drivers to come get him. Vivian shoves a handful of bills at the astonished man and says to do so because she “really wouldn’t want Mr. Cobb to die like that—with his mouth open.” She orders Marlowe to drive her home and takes his arm, suddenly shaking as if the robbery has just hit her.
They drive to a drugstore, where Marlowe suggests that “a little black coffee and a smattering of rye” would help her. She’d rather get drunk, but he buys the coffee and adds the rye, though liquor is not allowed in the drug store. “My heart’s in my mouth doing this,” he remarks sarcastically as he pours the rye. The police have better things to do than enforce liquor laws, he knows, and will look the other way for a cut anyway. Vivian’s face is “taut, pale, beautiful, and wild,” with “wicked eyes.” Marlowe asks what Mars has on her that he would send a “loogan”—an armed man to recoup Mars’s losses—after her. Vivian evades the question but admits that she worries about Carmen and her father because she doesn’t “want him to die despising his own blood. It was always wild blood, but it wasn’t always rotten blood.” She accuses Marlowe of being like all cops—“a killer at heart . . . one of those dark deadly quiet men who have no more feelings than a butcher has for slaughtered meat.” But he sets her right: He didn’t kill Geiger, Lundgren, or Brody.
They leave the drugstore and drive toward the coast, where they park and watch the waves. Something is nudging at Marlowe, “a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness,” when Vivian insinuates herself into his arms and demands, “Hold me close, you beast.” They kiss, she shivers, and then she asks him to take her to his apartment. He asks again what Mars has on her, which causes her to stiffen. “So that’s the way is it,” she says. Marlowe replies, “Kissing is nice, but your father didn’t hire me to sleep with you.” Furious but calm, she threatens to scream if he asks about Mars again—implying that she could accuse him of attempted rape. He doesn’t take the bait, and she begins to tear up a handkerchief from her purse with her teeth as she denies that anything exists between Mars and her other than gambling debts. She sulks as he drives her home and slams both the car door and the mansion door behind her.
Guns, naturally, figure in the plot heavily, and Marlowe deduces information from them. Carmen’s delicate gun, for example, with its engraved message, reveals her relationship with Owen Taylor. Guns empower characters to get what they want—if the characters can hang on to their guns. As Marlowe takes Lanny’s gun, he remarks, “Somebody’s always giving me guns. I’m weighted down with them till I walk all crooked.”
This chapter also shows Vivian at her worst: imperious, uncaring, desperately seeking something she can’t even name. She throws herself at Marlowe, who is not unwilling to enjoy her company, but she must have him on her terms. The same struggle for dominance that characterized their first meeting plays out in this chapter, and as at their first meeting, Marlowe wins, and Vivian is left frustrated.
Marlowe gets to his apartment needing a drink and some rest but quickly becomes aware that he is not alone. Perfume is in the air, and Carmen is in his bed, under the blankets, giggling and biting her thumb in her usual slutty way. The thought that was coalescing in Marlowe’s mind is derailed again by Carmen’s giggling statement, “I’m all undressed.” She flings the covers aside to prove it. “That’s nice,” Marlowe replies calmly. “But I’ve already seen it all.” Carmen covers herself again and says that the manager let her in when she showed him the card that Marlowe gave Vivian. “You’re cute,” she says (again), but Marlowe says that while he appreciates her offer, he is tired and doesn’t care to dress her again. Carmen just wants to show that she’s naughty, he says, while he has a professional standard to uphold. He feels for Carmen, thinking as he looks at her that “a vague glimmer of doubt” has set in: “It’s so hard for women—even nice women—to realize that their bodies are not irresistible.” He offers to trade her a drink for her getting dressed, at which she hisses. When he brings the drink in, she hisses again and sits naked in his bed, “her mouth open a little, her face like scraped bone,” and something behind her dead eyes that he “had never seen in a woman’s eyes.” Then in a machine-like way, Carmen calls Marlowe “a filthy name,” and he suddenly cannot stand her to be there, in his room, his private space, the only space he has in the world. He says—“carefully”—that she has three minutes to dress and leave, or he will throw her out naked and toss her clothes after her. Hissing, teeth chattering, she dresses, eyes “full of some jungle emotion,” and leaves. He hears her drive away and then looks at the imprint of “her small corrupt body” in his bed. Then he tears the bed to pieces “savagely.”
In this chapter, a chess game that Marlowe is playing with himself functions to let readers know what he thinks about the sordid case he’s taken on. While Carmen giggles, he moves a knight in a problem he’s laid out for himself and realizes that he can’t solve the chess problem, “like a lot of my problems.” Later, as he tries to persuade Carmen to get dressed and leave, he moves the knight back because “Knights had no meaning in this game. It wasn’t a game for knights.” Readers can interpret these comments variously. They may suggest that, while the case has its “damsels in distress,” and while Marlowe does protect his clients, Carmen and Vivian are so damaged by their lives of too much money and too little accountability that no one can save them from themselves. Carmen herself becomes even more animalistic in this chapter. She hisses, snake-like, chatters like a rodent, and is compared to a blackbird and to a predator with glinting teeth. While Marlowe may feel some pity for Carmen, he is also sickened by her.