FARMER: You steal the water from the valley, ruin the grazing, starve my livestock— who's paying you to do that, Mr. Mulwray, that's what I want to know!
The irony is that Mulwray is actually on this farmer's side. It's Noah Cross and his cronies at the water department who are stealing the water, and Hollis has been unraveling their scheme.
MORTY: Can you believe it? We're in the middle of a drought, and the water commissioner drowns. Only in L.A.
It's pretty ironic, for sure. But it's not coincidental, since Hollis was really murdered.
GITTES: Okay, go home, but in case you're interested, your husband was murdered. Somebody's been dumping thousands of tons of water from the city's reservoirs and we're supposed to be in the middle of a drought. He found out about it and he was killed. There's a waterlogged drunk in the morgue, involuntary manslaughter if anybody wants to take the trouble - which they don't. It seems like half the city is trying to cover it all up, which is fine by me. But Mrs. Mulwray, I goddamned near lost my nose. And I like it. I like breathing through it. And I still think that you're hiding something.
Does Jake really care only because of his nose? That might just be tough guy talk. He seems to care about the city, and, later, Evelyn herself.
EVELYN: Hollis felt the public should own the water but I don't think my father felt that way. Actually, it was over the Van der Lip. The dam that broke.
GITTES: Oh, yeah?
EVELYN: Yes. He never forgave him for it.
GITTES: Never forgave him for what?
EVELYN: For talking him into building it, he never forgave my father...They haven't spoken to this day.
Hollis resists building a new dam because he knows its part of a scheme to help Noah steal water. These public works projects seem to be for the public good, but they're actually serving the interests of a privileged few.
RED FACED FARMER: The water department's been sending you people to blow up my water tanks! They threw poison down three of my wells! I call that a funny way to irrigate—who'd hire you for a thing like that?
The angry farmer totally contradicts what the deputy chief of the water department, Yelburton, told Jake. Now Jake knows that the water department isn't actually helping the farmers out here—rather, it's making the water shortage worse in order to further Noah Cross's plan.
GITTES: There's no time to be shocked by the truth. The coroner's report proves that he had salt water in his lungs when he was killed. Just take my word for it, all right? Now, I want to know how it happened, and I want to know why, and I want to know before Escobar gets here because I don't want to lose my license...I want to make it easy for ya. You were jealous. You had a fight. He fell. He hit his head. It was an accident but his girl is a witness. So you had to shut her up. You don't have the guts to harm her, but you got the money to keep her mouth shut. Who is she? And don't give me that crap about your sister because you don't have a sister.
Jake can imagine Evelyn accidentally killing Hollis, but he can't imagine the truth—all the nasty details about incest and about how Noah murdered Hollis. Even though he's a hardboiled detective, the truth is far more hardboiled than he is.
CROSS: Hollis was always fascinated by tide pools. You know what he used to say?...That's where life begins. Sloughs, tide pools. When he first come out here, he figured if you dumped water into the desert sand and let it percolate down to the bedrock, it would stay there instead of evaporate the way it does in most reservoirs. You only lose 20% instead of 70 or 80. He made this city.
GITTES: That's what you were going to do in the valley.
CROSS: That's what I am doing. If the bond issue passes Tuesday, there'll be eight million dollars to build an aqueduct and reservoir. I'm doing it.
Noah wants to control the very source of life itself—water. This will grant him absolute power, making him more important than any local politician.