The Big Sleep: Chapter: 9,10

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Marlowe reads the morning papers to see if Geiger’s death has been reported. Bernie Ohls, chief investigator for the Los Angeles district attorney’s office, calls to ask, in a “cagey cop voice,” whether Marlowe met with General Sternwood. Marlowe acknowledges the meeting but says nothing further, but he grips the phone “tight enough to crack it” when Ohls says—cheerfully—that a Buick belonging to the Sternwoods has washed up on the beach—with a body in it. Marlowe asks whether the dead man is Regan, but Ohls feigns surprise at the question and asks Marlowe to come with him to pier.

AtOhls’ office, Marlowe learns that the dead man is not Regan but a younger man. Ohls probes for information about Regan but isn’t offended when Marlowe won’t offer any, and they drive down the coast to Lido, at breakneck pace. The black Buick, still in hoist chains, rests on a barge’s deck. Its front end and paint are damaged, but not its tires, and in the front seat is “a slim dark-haired kid who had been good-looking not so long ago.” His forehead is bruised. Above the pier Marlowe and Ohls see the splintered white fence through which the car smashed around ten the night before. Another officer at the scene discards the theory that the driver was drunk since “the hand throttle’s set halfway down” and the driver had been “sapped on the side of the head.” But the man who dived into the water to secure the hoist chains assumes that the wreck was suicide because the driver would have had to hit the fence quite hard to break through and launch the car into the ocean.

A doctor arrives and, after examining the corpse, gives the cause of death as a broken neck and identifies a blackjack as the source of the bruise. Nothing more can be learned at the scene, so Ohls and Marlowe leave, and Marlowe tells Ohls that the dead man is the Sternwood’s young chauffeur. Ohls knows him—Owen Taylor, who has a record for driving Carmen to Yuma, a crime under the Mann Act, which prohibited driving minors across state lines for immoral purposes. The Sternwoods arranged for Taylor to be released, after which they rehired him, even after learning that he had a record for attempted robbery in another state. “They seem to be a screwy family,” Marlowe observes wryly. Ohls drops Marlowe off in Hollywood on the way to tell the Sternwoods about their chauffeur, and Marlowe heads back to Geiger’s shop.


The introduction of Ohls provides readers with a foil for Marlowe. Both men are investigators, both are smart and dedicated. But Ohls’ cheerful demeanor contrasts Marlowe’s darker outlook on life, and as a representative of law enforcement, Ohls is also more “by the book” than Marlowe has to be. Both, however, are thoughtful and interested in motivations. Considering Regan’s disappearance, Ohls observes in his understated way, “When a guy out of the liquor traffic marries into a rich family and then waves good-bye to a pretty dame and a couple million legitimate bucks—that’s enough to make even me think.”


Not a thing seems to have changed at Geiger’s rare book shop, except that the blonde shop assistant seems nervous. Marlowe, back in his role of customer, says that his first visit was “just a stall.” In fact, he’s got something Geiger will want to buy—“Something he’s wanted for a long time.” The assistant says that perhaps Geiger will be in tomorrow. He offers to take the merchandise to Geiger’s house, but she sputters that Geiger is out of town. The tall young man flits through the shop and disappears through the partition, but not before Marlowe catches a glimpse of another man working the shelves in the back room. Marlowe agrees to come back tomorrow, to the assistant’s visible relief.

Marlowe finds a young cab driver willing to take a “tail job,” and they follow the man from Geiger’s back room across the city to an apartment house on Brittany Street. Inside, Marlowe sees the name Joseph Brody on the mailbox for Apartment 405 and recalls that a Joe Brody blackmailed the General for $5,000 to “stop playing with Carmen and find some other little girl to play with.” Marlowe sees Geiger’s employee stacking heavy boxes in the elevator. He lights a cigarette and watches, to the man’s annoyance. “Watch the weight, bud,” he advises in a friendly way. “Where’s the stuff going?” Assuming that Marlowe is the manager, the man complains that he has to lug six heavy boxes of books all the way to Brody’s apartment. Marlowe takes the cab to his office and tips the clever driver well. To his surprise, he has a client.


Marlowe has little respect for wealth or influence, but it is in his character, as a man who does his work well, to admire others who are good at their jobs. His encounter with the unnamed cab driver is a case in point. When they lose the tail, the driver cleverly finds a way to locate it again, and when the driver gives Marlowe “a dog-eared business card,” Chandler has Marlowe make the point that usually he throws such cards away immediately, but “for once” he hangs on to the card. Marlowe’s ability to judge character and to know what matters—prowess and energy, in any job—is displayed in this brief encounter.

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