Marlowe enters the overly white, overly ornamented room that belongs to Vivian Sternwood Regan and notes, in his characteristically laconic fashion, that the heavy air promises rain. Vivian has arranged herself on a chaise-longue to appeal, with her long, shapely legs on display. Lovely and strong, Vivian sips her drink and appraises Marlowe with a “cool level stare.” She thinks her father has hired Marlowe to find Rusty, whom she describes as “earthy and vulgar at times” but “very real.” Marlowe tells her to appeal to the Missing Persons Bureau, but the General refuses to bring the police into the issue. When Marlowe asks when Rusty left, Vivian angrily objects to his manners. “They’re pretty bad,” he responds icily. “I grieve over them during long winter evenings.” But he won’t tell her what she wants to know: why the General has hired him.
Marlowe leaves as Vivian frets. On the way to his car, he can see in the distance the oil fields that made the Sternwoods rich. Rain is coming; he puts the top up on his convertible and heads to the library to do a little research on the rare book market.
During their first meeting, Vivian and Marlowe size each other up in a showdown of egos. Vivian assumes that Marlowe will succumb to her sexual charm, then begs, then accuses, and finally insults to learn why he’s there. Marlowe stays cool, with some effort, even when she calls him a “big dark handsome brute” and threatens to throw a Buick at him. “I loathe masterful men,” she says, yet she clearly finds him attractive, the more so as he defies her. The conflict between the two creates suspense that Chandler then delays satisfying by holding Vivian out of the action for several chapters.
Marlowe heads to Geiger’s rare book shop; the owner of an adjacent shop gives him a “faint knowing smile” as he enters. The shop is plush; not a run-down, second-hand, or old book is on the shelves, which are lined with expensive-looking books with tooled leather bindings. A wooden partition separates the store from a back room, and a young woman “with enough sex appeal to stampede a businessmen’s lunch” asks what he wants. Marlowe puts on horn-rimmed glasses, pitches his voice high, and poses esoteric questions that a dealer in rare books should know. Not surprisingly, the woman can’t answer, and she reports that Geiger is out and will be for some time. When Marlowe says he’ll wait, the woman considers making a phone call but doesn’t.
However, when a “tall hungry-looking bird” of a man comes in, the woman waits on him immediately, allowing him access through the partition after he pays money. He exits with a wrapped book, and Marlowe follows him. The tall man tries to evade Marlowe but eventually abandons the book in the crook of a tree behind a bar and hurries away. Marlowe retrieves the book, noting laconically, “Nobody yelled at me.”
Even minor characters who show up for a page or two only receive Chandler’s descriptive attention. The shop assistant, for example, could be just a pretty young woman who comes over to help a customer. Instead, she “swayed” toward Marlowe in “a tight black dress that didn’t reflect any light,” fabric that encourages Marlowe to look at her “long thighs.” The customer, by contrast, is compared to a woodpecker and a stalk of celery. Chandler populates his fictional world with interesting people, even when they have small roles to play and not even a line to speak.