Wearing a “mannish shirt and tie,” Mrs. Regan turns her nose up at the furniture in Marlowe’s waiting room. She makes a half-hearted apology for her rudeness the day before, and Marlowe replies with a half-hearted apology of his own. He then guides her into his main office.
Mrs. Regan is here to do business, as indicated by her masculine outfit. In this way, Chandler emphasizes the differentiated gender roles in this culture. While not allies, it seems Mrs. Regan needs something from Marlowe, so she offers to call off their feud from the previous day.
Mrs. Regan comments that the office is not showy, to which Marlowe responds that one does not make much money when staying within the limits of the law, and he is “painfully” so.
Marlowe’s response accuses the rich of immorality, and identifies him as morally upstanding, suggesting that is the direct cause of his poverty. Working one’s way up the social ladder would therefore require illegal tactics, he implies.
Lighting a cigarette, Mrs. Regan asks how Marlowe got into the business of being a private detective. He asks her how she married an “ex-bootlegger,” and she reminds him not to start an argument.
Marlowe’s instinctive response is to answer questions with questions, to provide no information but to acquire information from his adversary. Marlowe’s attitude reveals his belief there is always something to defend oneself from.
Mrs. Regan tells Marlowe she has been trying to track him down all day. When he asks if it’s about Owen, her face and tone reveal sympathy for the dead boy. They discuss Owen’s past, including the attempted elopement with Carmen and his police record. Mrs. Regan says the record just means he “didn’t know the right people.”
Mrs. Regan waves away any suggestion of Owen’s wrongdoing by suggesting that everyone in the country has been on the wrong side of the law at some point—only the rich and well-connected get away with their crimes. As such, Owen’s criminal record says more about the country’s legal system and socioeconomic climate than about that one particular boy.
However, Mrs. Regan explains that she didn’t come to talk about Owen. She passes Marlowe an envelope, out of which the detective pulls a photograph of Carmen from the night before, naked on the chair in Geiger’s house.
Carmen’s misdeeds are following her just as Owen’s followed him. While everyone might be guilty of immorality, that doesn’t stop wrongdoers from turning on one another.
Marlowe asks Mrs. Regan how much money “they” have asked for. She explains that a woman called her demanding $5,000, today, or the photos will be sent to the media. Marlowe dismisses that threat, and asks what else was threatened. Mrs. Regan hesitates, but adds that the woman threatened an unspecified police angle too, which Mrs. Regan doesn’t understand.
The third blackmailing attempt related to Carmen, the girl’s wild lifestyle leaves her family vulnerable to all kinds of attacks. Carmen’s debauched behavior threatens the family’s respectability. As such, Chandler illustrates that immoral behavior brings only pain for the individual and those surrounding them. Also, there is always someone ready to pounce at an opportunity to make some money.
Responding to Marlowe’s questions, Mrs. Regan explains Carmen was home ill last night, while she was losing at roulette at Eddie Mars’s casino. Mrs. Regan says the Sternwoods like to play games to lose—like marrying a husband who goes missing, or, in the General’s case, being crippled by a falling race horse in his fifties.
Mrs. Regan gives examples of the Sternwood’s bad luck, but emphasizes that the family bring this bad fortune on themselves as their wild antics expose them to undue risk. In this way, Chandler suggests that really there is no bad luck, only bad decisions spiraling out of control.
Marlowe asks Mrs. Regan why Owen had the car, but she doesn’t know the answer—he wasn’t given permission. He then asks her if she can raise the $5,000, which she thinks she might have to borrow instead of asking the General for it. She says Eddie Mars might lend it to her.
Mrs. Regan opts not to involve her father, most likely to protect her sister and to spare them both the shame of him finding out. Her shame reveals that Mrs. Regan does in fact have a moral compass, as she knows right from wrong. She simply doesn’t always choose to do the right thing.Choosing instead to borrow money from a gangster, Mrs. Regan must move in dubious social circles, albeit wealthy ones.
Mrs. Regan suggests telling the police about the blackmailers, but Marlowe says he knows she doesn’t consider that a real option. He says he might able to sort it out, which Mrs. Regan approves of. They share a drink.
Marlowe and Mrs. Regan know that involving the police will only complicate matters, and prefer to deal with the issue themselves, suggesting the Sternwoods have more to hide than Carmen’s nude photos.
Smiling, Mrs. Regan says Eddie ought to help her out as Mars’s wife ran away with her husband Rusty. Marlowe is uninterested, saying he doesn’t think Rusty is involved in this, adding that Mrs. Regan has gotten all the information she can from him.
Mrs. Regan brings back the contentious topic of her missing husband, a topic Marlowe both continues to avoid and believes Mrs. Regan is being untruthful about. His unfriendly tone shocks Mrs. Regan, reminding her that Marlowe has not become her ally.
Mrs. Regan tells Marlowe that Rusty is not “a crook.” He has money of his own, which he stashed in his clothes at all times. He doesn’t need low-paying blackmail jobs, she asserts.
Mrs. Regan’s defensive tone underlines the social hierarchies within the criminal world. Her husband made his money selling alcohol illegally during Prohibition, and is not a lowly blackmailer. The only clear distinction is that Rusty made a lot of money, thus making him respectable.
As Marlowe sees Mrs. Regan to the door, she asks again what the General has hired Marlowe for. She flirts with Marlowe a little but he doesn’t take the bait. She laughs and leaves.
Although parting from each other on better terms than their last meeting, the two are still playing to win, seeking to glean more information from the other than they give away.
Alone, Marlowe calls Ohls on his office phone. Ohls has told the Sternwood butler, Norris, about Owen, and checked the chauffeur’s belongings—there is no suicide note. The chief investigator has also confirmed the whereabouts of all the family the previous night. Most of the family were at home, Ohls says, apart from Mrs. Regan who was out at a casino. Marlowe tells Ohls he should do something about the illegal gambling, and Ohls simply laughs at the suggestion. Ohls asks if Marlowe can offer him anything on the case, and the latter declines.
The police have confirmed Mrs. Regan’s alibi for the previous night, so Marlowe and the reader know she cannot have murdered Geiger. This confirms her honesty in not understanding the police angle the blackmailers had threatened over Carmen’s nude photos. Marlowe’s honesty also emerges, as he opposes the illegal gambling taking place in the city. But Ohls is more of a realist, laughing at Marlowe’s notion that the police can simply stop wrongdoing given the depths of corruption in the city. Marlowe still holds back information from Ohls, still not reporting Geiger’s murder or asking for help on the nude photo angle. He is not totally honest, then, as he prioritizes his client’s interests.