Private detective Philip Marlowe encounters the alcoholic Terry Lennox, a World War II veteran who had been wounded and who had spent time as a prisoner of war. Lennox is married to the incredibly wealthy Sylvia Lennox, daughter of multimillionaire Harlan Potter. When Marlowe first meets Lennox, Lennox’s wife Sylvia dumps him from her car for being too drunk. Marlowe helps Lennox, and a sort of friendship ensues; the two of them meet occasionally for gimlets at a bar called Victor’s.
One night, Lennox appears at Marlowe’s house, asking him for a ride to the airport in Tijuana, just across the Mexican border. Marlowe realizes that something drastic has happened but will not let Lennox implicate him as an accessory by telling his story. Marlowe drives Lennox to Tijuana and is arrested upon his return to Los Angeles, where he spends several days in jail. He learns that Lennox has been accused of savagely killing his wife. Despite harsh treatment by the police, Marlowe refuses to divulge any information about Lennox. Before long, Marlowe is released. He finds that Lennox has presumably killed himself in a small town in Mexico, leaving behind a confession. A gangster named Mendy Menendez warns him not to pursue the Lennox case. Upon returning home, Marlowe finds a letter from Lennox waiting for him, written before his confession. It also requests that Marlowe not investigate the case, and it contains a five-thousand-dollar bill.
Before long, Marlowe is contacted by publisher Howard Spencer and Eileen Wade, the wife of Roger Wade, a writer of popular historical swashbuckler novels. Wade, not for the first time, has disappeared in an alcoholic haze; Eileen and Howard Spencer wish to hire Marlowe to find Wade and bring him back. Marlowe is at first reluctant but finally takes the case. Marlowe soon discovers that Wade has been in the care of a shady physician, Dr. Verringer, who exorts monery from the alcoholics and drug addicts whom he treats.
Marlowe brings Wade home, and before long Spencer and Wade have another proposition...
(The entire section is 841 words.)