When Marlowe wakes the next morning the storm has passed and Geiger’s death hasn’t made it to the papers, suggesting the police don’t know about it yet. Chief Investigator Bernie Ohls—the man who had initially put General Sternwood in contact with Marlowe—calls the detective on his home phone line.
A man was murdered the previous night and yet no one else has noticed, hinting at the depths of the city’s wider depravity. For Marlowe, at least, there is a brief reprieve, as the clear skies indicate.
Ohls informs Marlowe that one of the Sternwoods’ Buicks has been found in the sea, with a dead body inside it. The cop cannot confirm that the body isn’t that of the missing Rusty Regan, and offers to drive Marlowe down to the scene.
The story’s death toll begins to rise as another Sternwood-linked fatality crosses Marlowe’s path. Although the rain has stopped, the tide of the city’s underworld already has Marlowe firmly in its grasp.
Marlowe meets Ohls at the Hall of Justice, where the policeman confirms the body is not Regan—it’s a lad, rather than a man of Rusty’s size. Ohls asks Marlowe if he’s working the missing persons case. Marlowe offers noncommittal responses before finally admitting he’s not looking for Regan.
Ohls had put Marlowe in contact with Sternwood, so it follows that a Sternwood-linked death would drive Ohls to pick up the phone again to inform the detective. Nevertheless, Marlowe does not immediately open up to Ohls, showing his reluctance to give out information for free, even with old friends.
Ohls and Marlowe drive down to the pier on the coast highway, about 30 miles away. A crowd has gathered. The car has already been dragged back onto the deck of a large tugboat, and the two men go to inspect the damaged Buick.
The deepening mysteries tied to Marlowe’s case are stretching out across the city. This time, the detective is well and truly behind on the news, as a whole crowd has formed before he reaches the scene of this death.
The dead driver is still seated inside the vehicle, his neck bent grotesquely. The body has changed color, but Marlowe can see the boy was good looking. A bruise is visible against the boy’s now pale skin.
The decaying body reflects the city’s wider moral decay, the bruise on the boy’s head representing the violence of life in 1930s L.A.
Ohls asks the men on the scene for an update. The boy had driven the car fast through the end of the pier, they say, which has splintered. The incident must have occurred around 9:00 p.m., after the rain stopped the previous night, as the wood inside the beams of the pier is dry. The way the car landed also means it must have been half tide, meaning before 10:00 p.m. the previous night.
The previous night’s rain helps the crime scene investigators to determine the rough time of the incident, and also informs Marlowe that the boy crashed through the pier after the detective had left Geiger’s. The police’s quick work in identifying the time of the crash shows their familiarity with such scenes.
The policemen, Ohls, and Marlowe are unsure whether it is suicide or murder, as the boy has a bruise on his head but could only have driven himself along such a straight line down the pier. A man from the coroner’s office examines the body, determining that the broken neck is the cause of death and that the bruise had appeared before this.
The number of possible reasons for the boy’s death reflects the depths of wickedness in the city, as the body bears the marks of multiple violent encounters. The complexity of Marlowe’s case deepens.
Ohls and Marlowe decide to head back into town. As they drive, Marlowe tells Ohls the dead boy is the Sternwoods’ chauffeur. Ohls gives him the name— Owen Taylor. The police identified him because he has a criminal record and had tried to run away with Carmen the previous year.
Further layers of illegal activity emerge, as Owen’s checkered past comes to Marlowe’s attention. It seems the more Marlowe stays on the case, the more it appears everybody has their secrets to hide.
The story goes, Carmen and Owen ran off to Yuma, but Mrs. Regan went and fetched them back. Mrs. Regan had Owen thrown in jail, later had him released, and then the family then kept him on as a chauffeur, despite the police telling them Owen had previously served six months in jail for attempted robbery.
The Sternwood family seems to have become desensitized to questionable conduct, retaining the same chauffeur that had eloped with the youngest daughter and who had a criminal record. The question follows what kind of act could actually horrify such a family.
Ohls says he must go tell the Sternwoods now. Marlowe asks him to “leave the old man out of it.” Ohls thinks Marlowe is sympathetic that General Sternwood is missing Regan, but Marlowe responds that he doesn’t care about that case. Ohls drops Marlowe in town and drives toward the Sternwoods’ home.
In stark contrast to the shocking events Marlowe has witnessed and discovered, the detective maintains his sense of compassion. Here, he sympathizes with Sternwood, as the news of Owen’s death might affect the old man’s health. While Marlowe avoids discussing the case of missing Rusty Regan with Ohls, the issue keeps returning to his mind as it also matters to Sternwood, his client.