The Big Sleep, USA, 1946, Director Howard Hawks
Nobody tells the same tale twice. Think about it, smart guy Eddie Mars walks into this trap made by a two bit detective called Philip Marlowe. Every day is how often I think about what happened next. No one believes me but it was Sid that opened fire first. Me, I like to think things through. Sid was different, was never partial to thinking. Sid fires, bang, bang, bang, and my old trigger finger has to be in on the action. Eddie was a good boss. The man had manners and he had it figured, too. Women said he was handsome, even with that small scar he had under his right eye. The guy dressed well. What Eddie Mars spent on clothes I don’t like to think about. Maybe if I did, it would stop me thinking about how I plugged my own boss, a guy who never said a cross word to me.
Eddie collected people, and I was one of them but I’d been around. Sid was different. Sid was a dope with a grin to match but Eddie liked Sid. Ambition is a curse in the rackets, and Sid didn’t have it. Sid was loyal. After we killed Eddie, I stayed with the smart guys. Even if it was an accident, somebody had to take the fall for Eddie, and Sid was the popular choice. Me, I work and breathe but the boys made sure I don’t do so well. You’ve noticed the missing fingers. Wait till you see me walk. The fingers I don’t miss but the wounds in my leg have teeth that get sharper the older they get.
In this kind of business you meet a lot of guys that have tempers. I wouldn’t say Sid had a temper but he was prickly. He liked the last word. Sid was that kind of guy. The detective Marlowe was the same. More than once I’ve asked myself would Sid have been as quick to pull the trigger if he hadn’t wanted it so much to be Marlowe walking out the door. I mean, it was dark but if we’d just looked. If Sid had just let Eddie walk forward a couple of steps so we could see him or just hear him say something. Sid didn’t wait, and he sure as hell didn’t like Marlowe.
The place is still there in Las Olindas. It’s still open and fancy although now they use it as a hotel for the loaded. A lot of the Las Olindas crowd moved to this casino that they had hid at the back of the Florentine Gardens, which was a big swanky restaurant owned by a big wheel called Mark Hansen. These days at the Las Olindas you don’t need an ID to stay there, just a Cadillac. When Eddie ran it as a casino for the high rollers, he called it The Cypress. All sorts played the tables. We had movie stars, rich businessmen, mob guys and drop dead babes that wanted some of what the rich guys had. I’m no looker but sometimes the babes would fall off prickly trees. With nowhere to go they just wanted a guy to show them a good time in good places. That I can do.
In the back of The Cypress they had a room where some of the hot musicians from Hollywood relaxed. No gambling, just music and top dollar booze. Vivienne Rutledge liked to go there and warble the odd tune. The musicians went along with her because the fancy lady had cash and powerful friends. But she couldn’t do with a tune what those Hollywood folks did. To be fair the babe had style. Eddie Mars called it class. This is where Eddie went wrong. He didn’t just collect people. People you can live with. Eddie liked to collect dames, the upper berth kind, you know what I’m saying? Marlowe never had more than two bits but he also picked up fine upholstery along the way. He even latched on to Vivienne Rutledge. She dropped the name Rutledge and not long after that Vivienne dropped Marlowe. The dames didn’t stick to Marlowe but for Eddie Mars they were like glue. Adhesive honey, Sid called it, and Eddie Mars laughed. For Sid and Eddie, that was as good as it got.
Carmen Sternwood sure stuck to Eddie. She was sweet looking but poison. Marlowe figured that she had killed Sean Regan because Regan wasn’t quite so warm to her as she was to him. Her own father said she liked to pull the wings off flies. Carmen was the spider, and this Irish guy Regan died without any wings. After Marlowe had done all the figuring the Sternwood family used some of their ample dosh to put Carmen away somewhere fancy. Marlowe was not stupid. He had worked for the DA and Marlowe figured quick but I still don’t know how he called Carmen for killing Regan. Maybe it was intuition.
I knew you’d ask me that. Because she was such a sweet looking kid, I’m not going to believe it was Carmen shot Geiger. The way she used to stand there with a tilted grin and sucking her thumb, any man would have ideas. I know, I said I’d keep this delicate. What was she doing in Geiger’s house? They weren’t studying no Bible, that’s for sure. I heard the chauffeur, this guy called Taylor that worked for the family, was really warm to Carmen and him watching the love of his life get as high as a kite and strip for dirty photos was not to his taste. There was a big row, I heard, and Taylor and not Carmen shot Geiger. What she did or didn’t do we’ll never know because there is just too much money around the babe, you know what I’m saying? Bad, damaged or just plain evil, take your pick. What I know is this, if the woman had been put in a home a year sooner, three men no make that six would still be driving around LA. The six dead? Include my thumbs and I have just enough fingers to count. Okay you count then, poor Sid, Owen Taylor, Eddie Mars, Sean Regan, Joe Brodie, Harry Jones, and Geiger the book guy who had the porn racket. And I’m forgetting Lash Canino. Marlowe nailed Canino. Count again. There are four blackmail pinches in that lot. Maybe they had it coming, and maybe because Eddie was also dipping his fingers in the pot he deserved what happened. But I sure wish my trigger finger hadn’t reacted that night. That particular finger was the first the guys took.
I met Marlowe last fall. By then Vivienne Rutledge was long gone. Marlowe was just the same as I’d remembered. He still had the mouth and he didn’t carry a torch for no one. Marlowe had been working up in Hollywood. He should have been loaded but as always he didn’t have two bits. I bought the beers. Some old bootlegger called Joe Kennedy had gone respectable and bought into this studio. What was the name? Three letters, not MGM, that’s it, RKO. The way Marlowe tells it, this guy Kennedy wanted to make cheap movies but there was some psycho writer on the RKO payroll called Dixon Steele and Steele may be his name but Steele he wasn’t. This Dixon Steele already had problems. He bathed in booze and liked to knock ladies around. Steele was in no mood to be polite to an ex-mobster like Kennedy. Mr Dixon Steele reckoned his typewriter deserved better than junk scripts for cheap movies. Marlowe was hired to keep Kennedy and Steele apart. Well, Marlowe didn’t last long which may be why he didn’t have two bits. Marlowe said this guy Kennedy was one lousy piece. You watch, Pete, he said. One day he’ll be running the country.
That was Marlowe. The rich brought out the worst in him. I bought the beers. Even after what happened there was never no bad blood between Marlowe and me. I didn’t always like what came out of his mouth but I had him figured. He thought people were rotten, no exceptions including himself. Sid thought the insults with Marlowe were personal. I told Sid, get wise, Marlowe is like that with everybody. There was no room for Marlowe to carry a torch. He carried crosses.
Eddie had the charm but he was always a mob guy. Where do you think he got the cash to open The Cypress? Eddie had friends, and in the rackets that means getting favours but also taking your turn when favours need to be done, you know what I’m saying. I don’t know what his game was with the Sternwood bunch. Eddie put the pinch on them twice, so he was taking advantage. But he was also doing them a favour. Only Eddie can say, and we all know what happened to him. Eddie had cash, connections, a casino which he could skim, and his own schemes. Eddie Mars was better than blackmail. But the two dames had class and style. They turned his head. He even let people think his wife had run off with this Irish guy Regan. That doesn’t sound like a straight blackmail pinch to me.
The time I bought Marlowe the booze I asked him to explain how he figured Carmen for killing Regan. He never answered me straight. Instead he goes through the whole damned business again. I listen and spend all what’s in my wallet. I didn’t say before. Marlowe likes an Old Forester bourbon chaser with his beers. The dish behind the bar knew Marlowe. She was once a taxi driver, and they remembered one another. Some guys are like that. They collect dames. Eddie did. Sid and me would show them a good time but we weren’t collectors.
Howard Jackson is sick at the moment which is why there is not a TOUGH GUYS IN THE ROOM blog this week. Those blogs will resume when he has recovered his health.
Meanwhile enjoy a blog from the series OFFENDED SHADOWS.
The latest book from Howard Jackson, LONG AFTER THIS, is available here.