The Big Sleep: Chapter: 7,8
Marlowe enters a wide room decorated exotically with Asian accents and plush upholstery. Odors assault his nose, including those of cordite, the residue of camera flash bulbs, and ether. Carmen Sternwood is seated in a teak chair, “in the pose of an Egyptian goddess,” smiling inanely and apparently insensible, with “mad eyes.” Other than expensive jade earrings, she is nude—and beautiful. Yet Marlowe views her “without either embarrassment or ruttishness. . . . She was just a dope.”
The other inhabitant of the room is Geiger, dressed in an elaborately embroidered coat and “very dead” from three gunshot wounds. His body lies on the rug by the camera he had just been operating. Investigating the room, Marlowe makes several discoveries: laudanum, an opiate, is in use—it’s likely what drugged Carmen. The photographic plateholder is gone, and with it negatives of this particular photo shoot. Marlowe struggles to get enough of Carmen’s clothing on her to cover her as she giggles and drools; slapping her doesn’t help. He drags her to her feet and shows her Geiger’s body, which she thinks is “cute.” Then he checks Geiger’s bedroom and finds a key that fits a locked box in Geiger’s desk. Inside he finds a blue leather book in code, which he takes, replacing the box after wiping his prints off it. The conscientious detective turns off the gas logs before half-carrying Carmen to her car and driving her home.
This chapter confirms that Geiger not only sells artsy photography but also produces it—or did until someone killed him. Chandler’s straightforward description of the nude Carmen—“small, lithe, compact, firm” with skin that has “the shimmering luster of a pearl” is somewhat daring for his day (and was not acceptable in the film adaptation). Chandler can only hint, however, at what Marlowe suspects about Geiger by describing his bedroom: “It was neat, fussy, womanish” with a flounced bedspread and “perfume on the triple-mirrored dressing table.” Setting is often revealing in the novel, and here it suggests that Geiger can also view the naked Carmen without a feeling of “ruttishness.”
Marlowe pulls the Packard up at the Sternwood mansion and is met immediately by the efficient Norris, polite and stoic as always. The General is asleep, so Norris and Mathilde, Vivian’s maid, are able to take Carmen in discreetly to care for her. Norris offers to call a cab, but Marlowe declines. “As a matter of fact I’m not here. You’re just seeing things,” he assures Norris. Marlowe walks the half hour back to Geiger’s house and goes in to continue investigating. The body is gone, and the bloody rug has been replaced. Marlowe uses Geiger’s keys to open a second bedroom, which is as spare and masculine as Geiger’s is frilly. He can see marks on the carpet where the body was dragged; he knows it wasn’t the police, who would still be on the scene with chalk and cameras, or the killer, who had no doubt fled “to distant places.”
Marlowe drives home to shower and eat. Then he works on the code in Geiger’s notebook, which appears to contain more than four hundred names and addresses—clients, he guesses. Tired, he sleeps fitfully and dreams about the case.
Marlowe’s continued investigation in this chapter demonstrates his ability to look beneath and beyond physical details and divine motivations. He knows that the “law” didn’t discover Geiger’s body because they’d still be on-site, “just about getting warmed up with their pieces of string and chalk and their cameras and dusting powders and their nickel cigars”—enjoying the carnage, in fact. The killer, he assumes, would have seen Carmen but would not know whether she had seen and could identify him—hence his flight. What Marlowe does know is that whoever came in so quickly to get the body “had meant business. Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”