The Big Sleep: Chapter: 25,26
The next morning, Marlowe nurses a hangover: “Women made me sick,” he says. But he cleans up and heads out into the rain, noting the gray Plymouth down the street. Who? A cop with too much time on his hands?Another detective, hoping to snag a client? As Marlowe drives by the Plymouth, he sees a small man behind the wheel. As before, the man tails him. Marlowe parks in the lot by his building and then walks covertly to where the Plymouth is parked and jerks the door open. The small man looks at him nervously, and Marlowe asks, “Can’t you make your mind up?” The driver denies that he is following anyone. “This jalopy is,” Marlowe spits back. “Maybe you can’t control it.” He lays out his morning plan—breakfast, then time in his office—and invites the driver to come in and talk because he’ll “only be oiling my machine gun.”
Marlowe is filling out the deposit slip for Sternwood’s check with the driver taking him up on his sarcastic invitation. The small, intense man is a former liquor runner named Harry Jones who has fallen on hard times and has information about Joe Brody that he hopes Marlowe will buy. Agnes, Geiger’s former shop assistant, is out of custody and has sent Jones, who loves her, with information about why Brody risked blackmailing the Sternwoods about eight months ago. Jones wants $200, enough for him and Agnes to get safely out of town, and claims the information will help Marlowe find Regan. “Two C notes buys a lot of information in my circle,” Marlowe says skeptically, but the desperate Jones spills what he has: Mars had Regan “bumped off,” he says, and “leaned back as if he had just been made a vice-president.”
Marlowe is not impressed and tells Jones to “beat it,” but Jones knew Regan personally and gives this account: Regan was “sweet on” a singer named Mona Gant who “changed her name to Mars.” So Regan married “a rich dame that hung around the joints like she couldn’t sleep well at home.” This is of course the high-strung Vivian, and she and Regan don’t get along. He didn’t care about the Sternwood money and “was looking over into the next valley all the time,” for the next better thing. Mona, meanwhile, had her own place away from Mars’s club because she fretted over his criminal activities; Regan had told Mars, in front of witnesses, that if Mars’s criminal activities ever endangered Mona, Regan would “be around to see him.”
Marlowe knows all this, but Jones explains that in September, he suddenly stopped seeing Regan in his usual haunts. Jones hears that Mona “lammed out” with Regan but that, strangely, Mars is “acting like he was best man, instead of being sore.” Jones tells Brody, who decides to blackmail both Mars and the Sternwoods about the supposed affair. Brody tails Lash Canino, a vicious hit man that Mars sometimes hires, to see whether Mars has sent the killer for hire after Regan, but Brody loses the tail. Jones pauses, and Marlowe says that the little man still has not given him information worth $200. Calmly, Jones says, “Would you give the two hundred dollars to know where Eddie’s wife is?” Agnes tailed Mona to a hideout about 40 miles away, Jones says, where Mrs. Mars is keeping out of sight to make it look like she ran off with Regan.
Marlowe is willing to pay for Mona’s location, so the men agree to meet at Jones’s employer’s office that night to exchange cash for the location. Night is better, Jones says, because “It’s a leery job—buckin’ guys like Eddie Mars.”
In this long, information-packed chapter, connections are made. Readers begin to see how apparently unrelated players in the various scams and criminal enterprises are connected. Yet Marlowe himself wonders, after Jones leaves, if Jones’s story is true: “It had the austere simplicity of fiction rather than the tangled woof of fact.” Chandler is perhaps using his narrator to mock his own writing gently, since in fact the novel’s plot is complex, not simple.
Rain sloshes the streets as Marlowe heads out to meet Jones at the rundown Fulwider Building, home to “Painless dentists, shyster detective agencies, small sick businesses that had crawled there to die . . . a nasty building.” He bypasses the sleeping elevator attendant and takes the filthy fire stairs to the fourth floor. Before he can enter the office, he hears the “sharp, bird-like voice of Harry Jones,” talking to Canino, who replies in a sinisterly purring voice “like a small dynamo.” Quietly, Marlowe forces another door to the office and slips into the adjoining room. He overhears Canino explaining to Jones that Mars knows Jones went to see Marlowe (“the peeper,” Canino calls him). Jones reveals that he and Agnes intend to blackmail Marlowe, who kept information about Carmen’s visit to Brody from the police (as did Agnes, who knew that information was valuable). Marlowe, they think, will raise the money from the Sternwoods. It has nothing to do with Mars, Jones insists when Canino asks him where Agnes is. Canino seems almost convinced, since he’s heard that Carmen was “just a shill for Geiger” and not connected to Mars’s criminal enterprises. He asks Jones whether “the peeper” has paid yet, and Jones laughs and says they plan to meet tomorrow.
Canino keeps asking where Agnes is, threatening Jones with a gun, until finally Jones produces an address. Canino says that they’ll go visit Agnes to make sure her story squares with Jones’s, in which case “everything is jakeloo” and Jones and Agnes will be free to leave LA. Jones agrees, and Canino says that they should drink on it. Marlowe hears a drawer being opened, a drink being poured, and then a “sharp cough” and “violent retching” followed by a thud: “The purring voice said gently, ‘Youain’t sick from just one drink, are you, pal?” Marlowe hears Jones’s breathing slow, then stop, and then hears Canino leave. Rushing into the room, Marlowe sees the poisoned Jones slumped in his chair, skin bluish. Marlowe smells “the odor of bitter almonds” in the vomit on Jones’s coat; the poison was cyanide. He steps around Jones’s body to call information on the address Jones had given and then dials the phone there. There’s no Agnes at that residence: Jones saved Agnes by coming up with a false address. Thinking fast, Marlowe dials the manager of the residence and poses as a cop to find out who lives at the address. As he goes through Jones’s pockets, the phone rings—he decides to answer. It’s Agnes. She needs the money and wants to talk to Jones, but Marlowe tells her that Jones “blew” to get away from Mars. So she agrees to meet Marlowe in the parking lot and tell him Mona’s location. Marlowe is glad to leave the terrible little office with its dead resident.
This chapter’s tone is creepy, full of dread and dust and death. From the setting itself—a decaying building where failing businesses go to die—to the cold conversation between Jones and Canino, which readers know can only end in Jones’s death, Marlowe’s narration of this chapter conveys horror. Marlowe himself, when he addresses Jones’s body, speaks “in a voice that sounded queer to me.” He’s shaken, and readers are shaken, by the introduction of Canino, who seems almost sociopathic as he calmly interrogates, lies, and then murders. Readers are left to wonder what may become of the car salesmen who live in the apartment that Jones named, since Canino is “driving fast through rain to another appointment with death.”