The Big Sleep: Chapter: 29,30
Marlowe, still handcuffed, walks past the now-dark garage, playing out Canino’s intentions in his mind. Canino would come back and escort Mona to the brown coupe. He would dispatch Marlowe silently—no gunfire—and then drive away with Mona, telling her that Marlowe would eventually loosen the ropes and escape. He would preserve Mona’s belief that Mars is a good man and that Canino is only her watchdog. Marlowe reaches the highway and finds his repaired car—ready to be driven away and hidden, he assumes. He retrieves his other gun and hides in the darkened ditch, waiting for Canino to return.
When Canino enters the house, Marlowe, still handcuffed, crouches behind the brown coupe. The keys are still in the ignition; “Canino was very sure of himself.” He imagines the conversation inside the house and knows that he only has to wait for Canino to come out in the light; the shot will be easy. But Marlowe can’t wait. The threat to Mona is too great. He tosses gravel against the window screen, and the sound, in the quiet night, was “like a dam bursting.” He hides behind the car as the house goes dark, but the cagey Canino doesn’t come out. Marlowe ups the ante by starting the car, and Canino reacts, firing three shots out the window. Marlowe lets out “a wailing groan,” which becomes “a wet gurgle, choked with blood. I let the gurgle die sickeningly, one choked gasp. It was nice work.” Canino laughs—again so sure of himself—a “large booming laugh.” The car runs, the rain falls, and then Mona steps onto the porch, so tense that Marlowe describes her as “a wooden woman.” Canino crouches behind her, using her as a human shield. She complains that she can’t see anyone in the rain, and he jabs a gun in her back. Then she stops and screams, a “beautiful thin tearing scream that rocked me like a left hook.” Marlowe is behind the wheel, she screams, so Canino thrusts her aside and shoots. Marlowe has lost count of the shots but hopes Canino still has bullets as he confronts the killer with a question: “Finished?” Colt against his ribs, handcuffed but still accurate, Marlowe shoots Canino four times, and “after that there wasn’t a sound from him.”
Mona stands rigidly as Marlowe retrieves Canino’s gun. She didn’t want Marlowe to come back, but he says, “We had a date. It was all arranged.” He laughs “like a loon.” Monafinds the key in Canino’s clothes and uncuffs Marlowe, asking “bitterly” if he had to kill Canino. “I suppose you did,” she decides.
Mona, whom readers have just met, shows herself to be several things in this chapter. First, she is not, as Canino assumes, “dumb.” She’s had time to think, and she has accepted what Marlowe told her about the hit man. Second, she is brave and quick-witted, able to stand up to the stress of Canino’s use of her as “a bulwark of defense,” to misdirect Canino’s attention, and to deal calmly with the death of her watchdog. Mona, to whom Marlowe is deeply attracted, is the kind of woman he can respect. She may have misread Mars, but her loyalty and courage impress Marlowe.
It is “another day,” sunny this time, and Marlowe is back in the Missing Persons Bureau officer of Captain Gregory. The LAPD know that Marlowe killed Canino, but Gregory doesn’t care about guilt in the matter. He wants to explain why he didn’t go after Mona. “Maybe I knew,” he offers. Perhaps he let Mars play out his game for professional or personal reasons. Marlowe denies having thought this. Gregory says that he’s “a plain ordinary copper. Reasonably honest.” He wants to see Mars and other racketeers “spoiling their manicures in the rock quarry at Folsom,” but it’s not going to happen because “we just don’t run our country that way.”
Even so, Gregory doesn’t think that Mars killed Regan. Gregory questioned Mars just last night, and Mars admitted that he had his wife in hiding but denied employing Canino or knowing Jones or Brody or anything about Geiger’s occupation. But he wonders where Mona went. Marlowe says that the homicide department turned her loose after she made her statement. Dissatisfied with Marlowe’s responses, Gregory advises him to leave the Sternwood alone if he wants to help them and to give up searching for Regan. Marlowe surprises the captain by agreeing to both.
Marlowe goes home to sleep but can’t; his brain “ticked like a clock.” He sits up suddenly as the idea that has been forming coalesces: “That old buzzard knows something.” He lets his memory of events run in loops: He drove with Mona to LA, stopped at a drugstore to phone Ohls and report the murder, and then drove on to Wilde’s house to make statements. With two homicide detectives and a medical examiner, he returned to the Fulwider Building, where Jones’s body is waiting. Back at Wilde’s house, he was signing his statement when Mars entered and greeted Mona with “Hello, sugar.” She didn’t respond. Then everyone left but Wilde, who vowed never again to let Marlowe go unpunished.
The phone rings, interrupting the loop; it’s Norris, asking Marlowe to come see the General, so he cleans up, gets Carmen’s little gun, and drives to the Sternwood mansion. Norris, “acid-blue eyes . . . as remote as ever,” escorts Marlowe to the General’s room, which lies behind a “massive old door” that deposits Marlowe onto “about a quarter mile of carpet” leading to “a huge canopied bed like the one Henry the Eighth dies in.” These reminders of the Sternwoods’ wealth contrast with the helplessness of the dying man in the bed, whose “black eyes were still full of fight” though the “rest of his face still looked like the face of a corpse.”
Sternwood wants to know why Marlowe looked for Regan when that was not part of his job. Marlowe alleges that the General wanted him to, but the old man replies, “I didn’t ask you to. You assume a great deal. I usually ask for what I want.” He feels that Marlowe betrayed his trust—“no doubt unintentionally.” Marlowe is not angry and in fact is willing to give back some of his pay if his work was “unsatisfactory.”Sternwood asks why Marlowe was at the Missing Persons Bureau that morning, but Marlowe evades the question and instead wonders if the Geiger case wasn’t actually a test of Marlowe’s skills and admits that he suspected that the General was worried that Regan might have been involved in the blackmail. Now he knows that “Regan wasn’t that sort of guy in all probability.” He met with Gregory, he says, because Vivian, in their first meeting, mentioned that “they”—the Missing Persons Bureau investigators—had found Regan’s car. So he acted on a hunch and let Wilde think that the General had hired him to find Regan.
Now, Marlowe thinks, he has a new puzzle to solve. Why did Geiger—“a man in a shady racket, in a vulnerable position, protected by a racketeer and having at least some negative protection from some of police”—send over evidence and, in a gentlemanly way, ask the General to pay Carmen’s debts? This doesn’t add up—unless Geiger was in fact trying to find out whether “there was something put pressure on you.” Regan was that worrying something. The General didn’t want Geiger paid off because of the threat of further blackmail—money was not the issue. Vivian and Carmen were not the issue, either, because “you’ve more or less written them off.” The General hired Marlowe because he is “still too proud to be played like a sucker—and you really liked Regan.”
At first the General seems offended, but then he offers a thousand dollars more if Marlowe will find Regan—not to bring him back, not to restore his marriage to Vivian, but merely to know that the man is all right, wherever he is. If Regan needs funds, the General will get money to him. His affection for Regan is clear and has motivated his actions all along. Marlowe agrees to take the case and leaves the exhausted old man to his rest.
Chandler often follows action-packed chapters with explanatory chapters that involve lots of dialogue but not much action. This chapter explains, in complicated detail, Marlowe’s defense of his activities, and his explanation to the General helps readers who may feel a bit lost pull the narrative’s threads together. But the chapter also reveals much more of the General’s character. He is a man of many triumphs and many regrets, but what matters to him most is the loyal friendship of other men. He apologizes to Marlowe for his concern about Regan: “I guess I’m a sentimental old goat. . . . And no soldier at all. I took a fancy to that boy. He seemed pretty clean to me. I must be a little too vain about my judgment of character. Find him for me, Marlowe. Just find him,” he pleads.