Overview: Prewar Paris - where buses still sported outside platforms and every neighborhood its own bistro, policemen took time for human problems, and car fumes hadn't yet smothered the smell of chesnut blossoms - serves as the setting for these seventeen stories, featuring Simenon's legendary Jules Maigret. Here the Chief Inspector goes about his business in a variety of settings and circumstances, revealing much about his life and his career not found elsewear; we are even given the chance to see Maigret on his retirement from the Quai des Orfevres and to see him indulge in some freelance sleuthing. This volume, along with Maigret's Christmas, completes the collection of Simenon's short detective fiction and adds many fascinating titles to the Maigret mosaic. 

 

Maigret's Pipe - Seventeen Stories by Georges Simenon Book Chapter One

 

MAIGRET’S PIPE
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48th episode

in the Maigret Saga

La Pipe de Maigret
I. The House Where Things Change Places
It was half past seven. In the Director’s office, Maigret had heaved a sigh of mingled relief and exhaustion, the sigh of a heavy man at the close of a hot July day, and he had automatically pulled his watch from his waistcoat pocket. Then he had reached out to collect his files from the mahogany desk. The baize door had closed behind him and he had gone out through the waiting-room. Nobody was sitting on the red armchairs. The old office messenger was in his glazed cubby-hole. The corridor of Police Headquarters was a long, empty stretch of sunlit greyness.

His movements were familiar ones. He went back into his own room, where a persistent smell of tobacco lingered in spite of the wide open window overlooking the Quai des Orfèvres. He laid his files down on a corner of the desk, knocked out his pipe, which was still warm, against the window ledge, came back to sit down and automatically reached out for a different pipe to the right, where it ought to have been.

It was not there. There were three pipes, one of them a meerschaum, lying beside the ashtray, but his favourite, the one he was looking for, the one he came back to with the most pleasure and always carried about with him, a thick briar pipe with a slightly curved stem which his wife had given him for a birthday present ten years before, and which he called his good old pipe, was not there.

Surprised, he felt his pockets and thrust his hands into them. He looked on top of the black marble chimney piece. Actually, he was scarcely thinking. There was nothing extraordinary about not finding one of one’s pipes right away. He walked round the room two or three times and opened the cupboard where there was an enamel washbasin.

He was hunting as anyone might have done, but it was rather stupid of him, since he had not opened that cupboard all afternoon, whereas when Judge Coméliau had rung him up a few minutes after six he had been smoking that very pipe.

Then he rang for the office messenger.

“I say, Emile, has nobody come in here while I was with the Chief?”

“Nobody, sir.”

He hunted through his pockets once again, his jacket pockets and his trouser pockets. He was looking sulky and the fruitless search made him feel hot.

He went into the Inspectors’ room, because he had occasionally left one of his pipes there. There was nobody in the room, and it was odd and pleasant to find the premises of Headquarters so empty, with a holiday feeling about the place. There was no pipe there. He knocked at the door of the Chief’s room; the Chief had just gone out. He went in, but he knew beforehand that his pipe was not there, because he had been smoking a different one when he had gone in at about half past six to talk about certain pending cases and also about his forthcoming departure for the country.

Twenty minutes to eight. He had promised to be back home in the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir by eight o’clock, for his sister-in-law and her husband were expected for dinner. What else had he promised to do? To bring back some fruit. That was it. His wife had asked him to buy peaches.

But on the way home, in the sultry evening air, he went on thinking about his pipe. It worried him almost unconsciously, as any trivial but inexplicable incident worries one.

He bought the peaches, went home, and kissed his sister-in-law, who had put on weight again. He poured out drinks. That was when he should have been smoking his favourite pipe.

“Had a busy day?”

“No. Things are fairly quiet.”

There are periods like that. Two of his colleagues were on holiday; the third had rung up in the morning to say that relatives from the country had just descended on him and that he was taking two days’ leave.

“You’ve got something on your mind, Maigret,” his wife commented during dinner.

And he dared not confess that it was his pipe that was preoccupying him. To be sure, he wasn’t treating the matter over-seriously, but it dampened his spirits nonetheless.

At two o’clock — yes, he had sat down at his desk at a few minutes past two. Lucas had come to talk to him about a case of currency fraud, then about Inspector Janvier, whose wife was expecting another child.

Then, quite peacefully, having taken off his jacket and loosened his tie, he had drawn up a report on a suicide which had for a short time been mistaken for a crime. He had been smoking his big pipe then.

Next, Gégène, a petty pimp from Montmartre who had wounded his girl with a knife — ‘just given her a little jab’, as he said. But Gégène had not gone near the desk. In any case he had been handcuffed.

Liqueurs were being handed round. The two women were talking cookery. The brother-in-law was listening vaguely as he smoked a cigar, and the noises from the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir drifted up to the open window.

He had not even left his office that afternoon to go for a beer to the Brasserie Dauphine.

Then there had been that woman… what was her name? Roy or Leroy. She had made no appointment. Emile had come in to announce ‘a lady and her son’.

“What’s it about?”

“She won’t say. She insists on speaking to the Chief.”

“Bring her in.”

By pure chance there was a gap in his timetable, for otherwise he would not have seen her. He had attached so little importance to this visit that now he could scarcely remember the details of it.

His sister-in-law and her husband left. His wife commented, as she tidied the room: “You weren’t very talkative this evening. Is something going wrong?”

No. Everything was fine, except for the loss of the pipe. Night had begun to fall and Maigret, in his shirt sleeves, sat with his elbows on the window sill, like thousands of other Parisians who were now enjoying the cool of the evening at their windows, smoking their pipes or cigarettes.

The woman — her name must have been Leroy — had sat down exactly opposite the Superintendent, stiffly, as people do who have determined to be on their dignity. A woman of about forty-five, one of those who, towards middle age, begin to shrivel up. Maigret himself preferred those who grow plump with age.

“I have come to see you, Monsieur le Directeur…”

“The Director isn’t here. I am Superintendent Maigret.”

And here one detail recurred to him. There had been no reaction from the woman; presumably she did not read the papers and had never heard speak of him. She had seemed somewhat annoyed at not being taken to the Head of the Police Judiciaire in person, and had given a little wave of the hand as though to say:

“Well, it can’t be helped, I’ll have to put up with it.”

On the other hand the youth, whom Maigret had as yet scarcely noticed, had given a sudden start and turned a keen, eager gaze on the Superintendent.

“Aren’t you coming to bed, Maigret?” asked Madame Maigret, who had just turned down the bed and begun to undress.

“Presently.”

Now, exactly what had that woman been telling him? She had talked so much! Volubly, insistently, like those people who attach considerable importance to their slightest words and who are always afraid of not being taken seriously. It’s an obsession with some women, particularly with those who are nearing fifty.

“We live, my son and I…”

Perhaps it was just as well she went on talking, for Maigret was only listening to her with half an ear.

She was a widow, for one thing. She had said she’d been a widow for some years, five or ten, he didn’t remember. A longish period, since she complained of the hard time she’d had bringing up her son.

“I’ve done everything for him, Superintendent.”

How could one pay attention to the sort of remarks made by all women of the same age in the same position, with identical pride and a similar plaintive look? The mention of her widowhood, by the way, had provoked an incident. What was it? Oh yes…

She had said: “My husband was a professional army officer…” And her son had corrected her:

“Sergeant-major, Maman. In the Commissariat, at Vincennes.”

“Excuse me… When I say officer, I know what I’m talking about. If he hadn’t died, if he hadn’t killed himself working for superiors who couldn’t hold a candle to him and who left him all the work to do, he’d have been an officer today…”

Maigret had not forgotten about his pipe. On the contrary, he was on the right track; the proof being that the name Vincennes was somehow associated with the pipe. He had been smoking it, he was certain, when the word was uttered. After which there had been no further mention of Vincennes.

“Excuse me. Where do you live?”

He had forgotten the name of the quai, but it was close to the Quai de Bercy, at Charenton. He remembered visualizing a very broad quai, with warehouses and barges unloading.

“A small one-storeyed house between a café at the corner and a big block of flats.”

The young man was sitting at the corner of the desk, with his straw hat — for he had a straw hat—on his knees.

“My son didn’t want me to come and see you, Monsieur le Directeur — excuse me, Superintendent. But I said to him: ‘If you’ve nothing on your conscience, there’s no reason why…’ ”

What colour was her dress? Blackish, with touches of mauve; one of those dresses worn by middle-aged women who want to look distinguished. A rather elaborate hat, which had probably been altered more than once. Dark cotton gloves. She was listening to herself speaking. She began all her sentences with:

“Just imagine…” or else: “As everyone will tell you…”

Maigret, who had put on his jacket again to receive her, felt hot and drowsy. It was a chore; he wished he had sent her straight to the Inspectors’ room.

“More than once, on coming home I’ve noticed that somebody had been there during my absence.”

“Excuse me. Do you live alone with your son?”

“Yes. And at first I thought it might have been him. But it happened while he was at work.”

Maigret glanced at the youth, who was looking vexed. A familiar type: probably about seventeen, tall and thin, with a spotty face, reddish hair and freckles round his nose.

Was there something shifty about him? His mother was to say so presently, for there are some people who like speaking ill of their nearest and dearest. Shy, in any case, and withdrawn. He stared at the carpet, or at some object or other in the room, and when he thought himself unobserved he would cast a keen glance at Maigret.

He was not happy to be there, that was obvious. He did not feel that his mother was doing the right thing. Perhaps he was somewhat ashamed of her, of her pretentiousness, of her loquacity?

“What is your son’s occupation?”

“He’s a hairdresser.”

And the youth declared with some bitterness:

“Just because one of my uncles has a hairdressing salon at Niort, mother has got it into her head that…”

“There’s nothing to be ashamed of in being a hairdresser. The point is, Superintendent, that he couldn’t have left the place where he works, near the République. In any case, I made sure of that.”

“Forgive me. You suspected your son of coming home in your absence and so you kept a watch on him?”

“Yes, Superintendent. I don’t suspect anyone in particular, but I know that men are capable of anything.”

“What could your son have come home to do without your knowledge?”

“I don’t know.”

Then, after a pause:

“Brought in women, perhaps! Three months ago I found a letter from a girl in his pocket. If his father…”

“How can you be certain that someone came into your house?”

“For one thing, one can feel it immediately. As soon as I opened the door I could tell…”

Not very scientific, but natural enough and not unconvincing. Maigret had himself experienced such impressions.

“And what else?”

“Next, various small details. For instance, although I never lock the door of the wardrobe, I found that the key had been turned.”

“Is anything valuable kept in your wardrobe?”

“Our clothes and our linen, plus some family heirlooms, but nothing has gone, if that’s what you mean. And in the cellar a packing-case had been moved.”

“What did it contain?”

“Some empty jars.”

“In short, nothing is missing from your house?”

“I don’t think so.”

“How long is it since you first had the impression that somebody was visiting your home?”

“It’s not an impression. It’s a certainty. About three months.”

“In your opinion, how many visits have there been?”

“Perhaps ten altogether. After the first occasion there was a long gap of about three weeks when nobody came. Or else I didn’t notice. Then two visits in quick succession. Then another gap of three weeks or longer. During the last few days there have been several visits, and the day before yesterday, when there was that terrible storm, I found footmarks and traces of damp.”

“You don’t know whether they were a man’s or a woman’s footmarks?”

“Probably a man’s, but I’m not sure.”

She had said a great deal more. She had poured forth information unsolicited! The previous Monday, for instance, she had deliberately taken her son to the cinema, because hairdressers don’t work on Mondays. So she’d kept him under her eye. They had been together all afternoon. They had gone home together.

“And somebody had been there!”

“And yet your son didn’t want you to speak to the police?”

“That’s just it, Superintendent. That’s what I can’t understand. He saw the marks, just as I did.”

“You saw the marks, young man?”

He preferred not to speak, assuming a stubborn look. Did this mean that his mother was exaggerating, that she was talking nonsense?

“Do you know how the person or persons got into the house?”

“Through the door, I suppose. I never leave the windows open. The wall is too high for anyone to get in through the yard and they’d have to come through the yards of the neighbouring houses.”

“Did you see any marks on the lock?”

“Not a scratch. I even examined it with my late husband’s magnifying glass.”

“And nobody has the key to your house?”

“Nobody. There’s my daughter, of course” (here the young man gave a slight start) “but she lives at Orléans with her husband and her two children.”

“Are you on good terms with her?”

“I’ve always told her she shouldn’t have married such a useless fellow. Apart from that, since we never see one another…”

“Are you often out? You told me you were a widow. I imagine the pension you get from the Army is inadequate?”

She assumed an air of modest dignity.

“I work for my living. To begin with, I mean after my husband’s death, I took in lodgers — two of them. But men are such dirty creatures. If you’d seen the state in which they left their rooms!”

At the time, Maigret had not been consciously listening, yet now he could recall not only her words but her intonations.

“For the past year I have been companion to Madame Lallemant, a very respectable lady, the mother of a doctor. She lives alone, near to Charenton lock, just across the way, and every afternoon I… She’s more like a friend, if you see what I mean.”

Actually Maigret had not taken the matter very seriously. The woman might have been a crackpot; he was not interested. She was typical of those visitors on whom one is forced to waste half an hour. As it happened, the Director had come into the office, or rather had peeped in as he often did. He had cast one glance at the visitors, and he too had realized from the look of them that nothing of importance was involved.

“Can you spare a moment, Maigret?”

They had stood together for a short while in the next room, discussing a warrant for arrest which had just been telegraphed from Dijon.

“Torrence will see to it,” Maigret had said.

He had not been smoking his best pipe, but a different one. He must, presumably, have laid down his best pipe on the desk a little earlier, when Judge Coméliau had rung him up. But at that point he had not been thinking about it.

He had gone back into the room and stood by the window, his hands behind his back.

“In short, Madame, you’ve had nothing stolen?”

“I suppose not.”

“I mean you’re not lodging a complaint of burglary?”

“I cannot do so, since…”

“You simply have the impression that in your absence somebody, during the last few months and particularly during the last few days, has taken to entering your house?”

“And even once during the night.”

“Did you see anyone?”

“I heard someone.”

“What did you hear?”

“A cup fell down in the kitchen and broke. I went downstairs immediately.”

“Were you armed?”

“No. I am never frightened.”

“And there was nobody there?”

“Nobody was there any longer. The broken pieces of the cup were lying on the floor.”

“And you have no cat?”

“No. No cat and no dog. Animals make too much mess.”

“Couldn’t a cat have got into the house?”

The young man, on his chair, looked increasingly anguished.

“You’re trying the Superintendent’s patience, Maman.”

“In short, Madame, you don’t know who breaks into your house and you have no idea what they could be looking for there?”

“None whatsoever. We’ve always been respectable people and…”

“If I may give you one piece of advice, it’s to get your lock changed. Then we shall see if the mysterious visits persist.”

“And the police will do nothing?”

He was propelling them towards the door. It was nearly time for him to visit the Director in his office.

“In any case, I’ll send round one of my men tomorrow. But short of keeping watch on the house all day and all night, I can’t really see…”

“When will he come?”

“You told me you were at home in the mornings.”

“Except when I’m doing my shopping.”

“Will ten o’clock suit you?… Tomorrow at ten. Goodbye, Madame. Goodbye, my boy.”

He pressed the bell. Lucas came in.

“It’s you?… Will you go to this address tomorrow morning at ten o’clock. You ’ll find out what it’s all about.”

He spoke without conviction. Police Headquarters share with newspaper offices the privilege of attracting every sort of crank and crackpot.

Now, sitting at his window where the cool evening air was beginning to steal over him, Maigret was grumbling:

“That blasted kid!”

For it was the boy, without a shadow of a doubt, who had pinched his pipe from the desk.

“Aren’t you coming to bed?”

He went to bed. He was cross and sulky. He felt hot and sticky in bed and he grumbled again before going to sleep. And next morning he woke up without zest, as one does after falling asleep with something unpleasant on one’s mind. It was not a presentiment and yet he was very conscious — as was his wife, though she dared not mention it — that the day was starting badly. Moreover, there were thunderclouds about and the air was already sultry.

He walked along the embankment to the Quai des Orfèvres, and twice he automatically felt in his pocket for his favourite pipe. He climbed the dusty staircase, breathing heavily. Emile greeted him with:

“There’s somebody to see you, sir.”

He cast a glance into the glass-walled waiting-room and there he saw Madame Leroy, sitting on a chair upholstered in green plush, perched on the edge as though ready to spring. She caught sight of him and duly rushed up to him, tense and angry and anxious, a prey to countless varied feelings; grasping the lapels of his jacket, she shouted:

“What did I tell you? They came back last night. My son has disappeared. Will you believe me now? Oh! I quite realized that you thought I was crazy. I’m not such a fool. And see here, see here…”

She was fumbling wildly in her handbag, and pulled out a blue-edged handkerchief which she brandished triumphantly.

“This… Yes, isn’t this a proof? We’ve got no handkerchiefs with blue on them at home. And yet I found this on the floor beside the kitchen table. And that’s not all.”

Maigret stared gloomily down the long corridor, where the morning’s activities were in full swing and where people turned back to stare at them.

“Come with me, Madame,” he sighed.

It was just his bad luck. He had felt it coming. He pushed open the door of his office and hung up his hat in its usual place.

“Sit down. I’m listening to you. You tell me that your son…”

“I tell you that my son disappeared during the night and that heaven knows what’s become of him now!”

II. Joseph’s Slippers
It was not easy to know exactly what she thought about her son’s fate. A short while before, at Police Headquarters, during the fit of weeping that had broken out with the suddenness of a summer storm, she had lamented:

“You see, I’m convinced they’ve killed him. And there you were, doing nothing at all. Don’t imagine I don’t realize what you were thinking. You took me for a lunatic. Yes, you did! And now he’s probably dead. And I shall be left all alone and helpless.”

But now, as their taxi sped along under the spreading branches that overshadowed the Quai de Bercy like an avenue in some country town, her features had resumed their hardness, her glance its keenness, and she said:

“He’s a weak creature, you see, Superintendent. He’ll never be able to resist women. Just like his father, who gave me such a dreadful time!”

Maigret was sitting beside her in the taxi and Lucas in front beside the driver.

Outside the boundaries of Paris, in the Charenton district, the embankment still bore the name Quai de Bercy. But there were no more trees; factory chimneys on the other side of the Seine, and on this side warehouses and suburban villas, built while the area was still almost rural and now hemmed in by blocks of flats. At a street corner, a café-restaurant painted aggressively red, with yellow lettering, a few iron tables and two skimpy bay-trees in tubs.

Madame Roy — no, Leroy — tapped on the window excitedly.

“It’s here. Please don’t pay attention to the untidiness. I needn’t tell you I never thought about doing the housework.”

She searched her bag for a key. The door was dark brown and the outer walls a smoky grey. Maigret had time to make sure that there were no traces of housebreaking.

“Please come in. I suppose you’ll want to go round all the rooms. Look! the pieces of the cup are still lying where I found them.”

She had spoken the truth when she said the place was clean. There was no dust anywhere. Tidiness prevailed. But good heavens, how depressing it was! More than depressing, dismal. An excessively narrow passage, the lower half painted brown and the upper half dark yellow. Brown doors. Wallpaper that had been there for at least twenty years, so faded as to be colourless.

The woman went on talking. Perhaps she talked to herself when she was all alone, because she could not bear the silence.

“What surprises me most is that I didn’t hear anything. I sleep so lightly that I wake up several times during the night. But last night I slept like a log. I’m wondering…”

He looked at her.

“You’re wondering whether somebody didn’t give you a drug to make you sleep?”

“That’s impossible. He couldn’t have done that. Why? Tell me, why should he have done that?”

Was she going to become aggressive again? Sometimes she seemed to be accusing her son and at other times to be making him out a victim. Meanwhile Maigret moved through the little house with such ponderous slowness as to give the impression of immobility. Like a sponge, he was steeping himself in the surrounding dankness.

And the woman dogged his footsteps, observing his every gesture, his every look, mistrustful, trying to guess at his thoughts.

Lucas, too, was watching his Chief’s reactions, baffled by this odd and somewhat eccentric investigation.

“The dining-room is on the right, on the other side of the passage. But when we were alone — and we were always alone — we used to eat in the kitchen.”

She would have been highly surprised and possibly indignant if she had suspected that what Maigret was automatically hunting for as he looked around was his pipe. He went up the staircase, which was even narrower than the passage, with a rickety handrail and creaking steps. She came up behind him, explaining — for she felt a perpetual urge to explain:

“Joseph slept in the room on the left… Good heavens, I said slept, as if…

“You’ve not touched anything?”

“Nothing at all, I give you my word. As you see, the bed’s unmade. But I’d wager he hasn’t slept in it. My son is a very restless sleeper. In the morning I always find the sheets all tangled up and the blankets on the floor. He sometimes talks in his sleep and even calls out…”

The Superintendent peered into a wardrobe that stood facing the bed.

“Are all his clothes here?”

“No, and that’s just it. If they were, I’d have found his suit and his shirt on a chair, for he was hopelessly untidy.”

It might have been surmised that the young man, hearing a noise in the night, had gone down into the kitchen and been attacked by the mysterious visitor or visitors.

“Did you see him in bed last night?”

“I always came to kiss him goodnight in bed. Last night I came up as usual. He was undressed. His clothes were on the chair. As for the key…”

An idea occurred to her. She explained:

“I always stayed downstairs last and locked the door. I kept the key in my room, under my pillow, so that…”

“Did your late husband often spend a night out?”

She replied, with pained dignity:

“He did so once, after we’d been married three years.”

“And from then on you took to keeping the key under your pillow?”

She made no reply, and Maigret felt convinced that the father had been kept under as strict a watch as the son.

“So this morning you found the key in its usual place?”

“Yes, Superintendent. I didn’t think of it right away, but now it comes back to me. So he can’t have wanted to run away, can he?”

“One moment. Your son went to bed. Then he got up and dressed again.”

“Look! Here’s his tie on the floor. He didn’t put on his tie.”

“And his shoes?”

She quickly turned towards a corner of the room where two well-worn shoes lay at some distance one from the other.

“Nor his shoes. He’s gone off in his slippers.”

Maigret was still looking for his pipe, unsuccessfully. He did not exactly know what else he was looking for. He was making a haphazard search of this shabby, dreary room in which the young man had lived. There was a blue suit in the wardrobe, his ‘best suit’ which presumably he wore only on Sundays, and a pair of patent leather shoes. A few shirts, almost all worn and mended at collar and cuffs. A packet of cigarettes that had been opened.

“By the way, did your son smoke a pipe?”

“At his age, I’d not have allowed him to. A fortnight ago he came home with a small pipe that he must have bought in some cheap store, for it was shoddy stuff. I took it out of his mouth and threw it in the fire. His father, even at the age of forty-five, had never smoked a pipe.”

Maigret sighed as he went on to Madame Leroy’s bedroom. She kept saying:

“You must excuse the untidiness. The bed isn’t made.”

The banal pettiness of the whole thing was nauseating.

“Upstairs there are attics where we slept during the early months of my widowhood, when I took lodgers. Tell me, since he hasn’t put on his tie or his shoes, do you suppose…”

And Maigret, at the end of his tether:

“I’ve no idea, Madame!”

For the past two hours, Lucas had been conscientiously searching the house in every nook and cranny, while Madame Leroy followed him, saying from time to time:

“Look, on one occasion this drawer was opened. The pile of linen on the upper shelf had been disturbed.”

Outside, the heavy sunlight poured down like honey, but in the house a perpetual grey twilight reigned. Maigret went on soaking things in like a sponge; but he could not face following the others as they went back and forth.

Before leaving the Quai des Orfèvres, he had got a detective to telephone to Orléans to make sure the married daughter had not paid a visit to Paris recently. That trail led nowhere.

Could it be that Joseph had had a key made for himself without his mother’s knowledge? But then, if he had planned to leave last night, why had he not worn his tie, and above all his shoes?

Maigret now knew what those slippers of Joseph’s were like. Out of thrift, Madame Leroy had made them herself from scraps of stuff and cut the soles from a piece of felt.

Everything in the place looked poverty-stricken, and the poverty was all the more distressing because it was never admitted.

The former lodgers? Madame Leroy had told him about them. The first who had come, when she had put a notice in the window, was an old bachelor, a clerk at Soustelle’s, the wholesale wine merchants whose house he had noticed while driving along the Quai de Bercy. “A respectable, well-bred man, Superintendent. Or rather, can you call a man well-bred when he empties his pipe all over the place? And then he had a habit of getting up in the night and going downstairs to heat himself some tea. One night I got up and I met him in his nightshirt and underpants on the stairs. And yet he was an educated man.”

The second room had first been occupied by a stonemason, a foreman, she said, though her son would probably have corrected her. The stonemason had wanted to marry her.

“He kept on telling me about his savings, about a house he owned near Montluçon to which he wanted to take me when we were married. Note that he never said or did anything I didn’t approve of. When he came in I would tell him: “Wash your hands, Monsieur Germain.” And he would go and wash them under the tap. It was he who cemented the yard for me one Sunday, and I had to insist on paying for the cement.”

Then the mason had left, possibly discouraged, and he had been replaced by a Monsieur Bleustein.

“A foreigner. He spoke French very well, but with a slight accent. He was a commercial traveller and he only spent one or two nights a week in the house.”

“Had your lodgers their own keys?”

“No, Superintendent, because in those days I was always at home. When I had to go out, I slipped the key into a crack in the front wall of the house, behind the drainpipe, and they knew where to find it. One week Monsieur Bleustein did not come back. I found nothing in his room but a broken comb, an old cigarette-lighter and some tattered underwear.”

“Had he not given you notice?”

“No. And yet he was a well-bred man too.”

There were a few books on the sewing machine, which stood in one corner of the dining-room. Maigret glanced through them casually. They were cheap novels, chiefly adventure stories. Here and there, in the margin of a page, two interlaced initials had been traced, sometimes in pencil, sometimes in ink: J and M, the M almost always larger and more elaborately drawn than the J.

“Do you know anyone whose name begins with M, Madame Leroy?” he called up the stairs.

“With M?… No, not that I can think of. Let’s see… There was my husband’s sister-in-law whose name was Marcelle, but she died in childbirth at Issoudun.”

It was noon when Lucas and Maigret met outside.

“Shall we have a drink, Chief?”

And they sat down together in the little red bistro at the street corner. They were both equally depressed; Lucas was in rather a bad temper.

“What a set-up!” He sighed. “By the way, I discovered this scrap of paper. And guess where? In the kid’s packet of cigarettes. He must have been scarred stiff of his mother, since he actually hid his love letters in his cigarette packets!”

It was, in fact, a love letter:

Joseph dear,

You hurt my feelings yesterday when you said I despised you and would never marry a man like you. You know that I’m not that sort of person and that I love you as much as you love me. I’m sure you’re going to become somebody one day. But please, don’t wait for me so near the shop. You’ve been noticed, and Madame Rose, who does the same thing herself but who’s an old cat, has been making remarks about it. Wait for me by the métro from now on. Not tomorrow, because mother’s coming to take me to the dentist. And above all, don’t get any more such ideas into your head. Love and kisses,

Mathilde

“So that’s it!” said Maigret, thrusting the paper into his wallet.

“That’s what?”

The J and the M. Life! It begins like that and it ends in a dismal little house redolent of resignation.

“When I think that young bastard pinched my pipe!”

“Do you really believe he was kidnapped?”

Lucas clearly did not. Nor did he believe in any of old Madame Leroy’s stories. He was sick of the whole case already and could not understand the attitude of his chief, who seemed to be gravely pondering over some idea or other.

“If he hadn’t pinched my pipe…” Maigret began.

“Well, what does that prove?”

“You can’t possibly understand. I’d be easier in my mind. My bill, please, waiter.”

They waited for the bus side by side, looking at the almost deserted quai where, since it was the lunch break, cranes stood idle with their jibs in the air and barges seemed to be asleep.

In the bus, Lucas remarked: “Aren’t you going home?”

“I want to call in at the office.”

And suddenly, with an odd brief laugh through lips that held the stem of his pipe:

“Poor wretch… I mean that sergeant-major who may have been unfaithful to his wife once in his life and who for the rest of his days was locked into his own house every night!”

Then, after brooding for a moment: “Have you noticed, Lucas, in cemeteries, that there are many more husbands’ graves than widows’? “Here lies so and so, died 1901.” And underneath, a more recent inscription: “Here lies so and so, widow of so and so, died 1930.” She’s gone to join him, true, but twenty-nine years later!”

Lucas did not attempt to understand, but took another bus to go home and have lunch with his wife.

While the Records Department was busy investigating all the Bleusteins who might have been in trouble with the Law, Maigret was busy with pending business and Lucas spent most of the afternoon in the République district.

The thunder still held off. The heat was increasingly oppressive, with a leaden sky tinged with purple like an infected boil. Ten times at least Maigret had involuntarily reached out for his favourite pipe, which was not there; and each time he had muttered:

“That blasted kid!”

Twice he called the switchboard to ask: “Anything from Lucas?”

Surely it couldn’t have been such a complicated business to question Joseph’s workmates at the hairdresser’s and through them to identify the girl Mathilde who wrote him affectionate notes.

For one thing, Joseph had stolen Maigret’s pipe.

For another, that same Joseph, although fully dressed, had been wearing slippers — if you could call them slippers — the night before.

Maigret suddenly broke off reading a police report and asked to be put through to the Records Department. He enquired with uncharacteristic impatience:

“Well, what about those Bleusteins?”

“We’re working on them, Superintendent. There are lots of them, some genuine and some bogus. We’re checking dates and addresses. In any case I’ve found none recorded as living in the Quai de Bercy at any time. As soon as anything turns up I’ll let you know.”

Finally Lucas appeared, sweating, having taken time to swallow a glass of beer at the Brasserie Dauphine before coming up.

“We’ve got it, Chief. It wasn’t easy, I can tell you. I’d have thought it would be plain sailing. Not at all! Our Joseph is a queer fish, who keeps himself to himself. Imagine the hairdressing establishment — it calls itself Palace-Coiffure — a long narrow room, with fifteen or twenty swing-back chairs in a row facing mirrors, and the same number of attendants… It’s a mad rush from morning till night there. There are customers hurrying in and out, being trimmed and lathered and lotioned…

“ ‘Joseph?’ the boss said to me — he’s a fat grizzled little fellow — ‘which Joseph, anyway? Oh yes, the spotty one. Well, what has Joseph been up to?’

“I asked his permission to question his staff, and there I was, going from one chair to the next, and they were all grinning and winking at one another.

“ ‘Joseph? No, I never went out with him. He always left by himself. Did he have a girl? Maybe… although with a mug like that…’

“And they’d snigger.

“ ‘Secrets? He was a regular clam. His lordship was ashamed of being a hairdresser and he wouldn’t have condescended to keep company with the likes of us.’

“You see the sort of thing, Chief. And, besides, I had to wait till each customer had been dealt with. The boss was beginning to find me in the way.

“At last I got to the cash desk. The cashier was a dumpy little lady of about thirty, with a gentle sentimental expression.

“ ‘Has Joseph been doing something silly?’ she asked first.

“ ‘No, no, Mademoiselle. Quite the contrary. He had a girl friend in the neighbourhood, hadn’t he?’ ”

Maigret grunted: “Cut it short, will you?”

“Particularly as it’s high time to get going if you want to see the girl. In short, it was through the cashier that Joseph used to get the messages from Mathilde when she couldn’t keep her dates with him. The one I found in the packet of cigarettes must have been sent the day before yesterday. A kid used to dash into the hairdresser’s and hand over the note to the cashier, whispering: ‘For Monsieur Joseph’.

“Luckily the cashier saw the boy, on several occasions, going into a leather-goods shop in the Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle.

“That was how, one thing leading to another, I eventually ran Mathilde to earth.”

“You’ve said nothing to her, I hope?”

“She doesn’t even know I’m interested in her. I simply asked her employer if he had an assistant called Mathilde. He pointed her out to me behind the counter. He offered to call her; I asked him to say nothing. If you’d like… It’s half past five. The shop closes in half an hour.”

“Excuse me, Mademoiselle…”

“No, Monsieur.”

“Just one word…”

“Please leave me alone.”

A rather pretty little person, who assumed that Maigret… Well, he had no alternative. “Police.”

“What? And you want to speak to me?”

“I’d like a word with you, yes, about your boyfriend.”

“Joseph?… What has he done?”

“I don’t know, Mademoiselle. But I should like to know where he is at this moment.”

And just as he said the words, he thought: “Damn, that was a silly thing to do.”

He had blundered, like any beginner. He realized it when he saw her glancing round anxiously. What had impelled him to speak to her instead of following her? Hadn’t she arranged to meet Joseph beside the métro station? Hadn’t she expected to see him there? Why did she slow down her pace instead of going on her way?

“I suppose he’s at work as usual.”

“No, Mademoiselle. And probably you know that as well as I do, or even better.”

“What d’you mean?”

It was rush hour on the boulevards. Long processions of people were moving towards the entrance to the métro and diving down the stairs.

“Let’s wait here a moment, please,” Maigret said, forcing her to remain in the neighbourhood of the station.

She was evidently on edge. She kept looking around wildly. She was an eighteen-year-old with a fresh, round little face and the self-assurance of a typical Parisian girl.

“Who told you about me?”

“Never mind that. What do you know about Joseph?”

“What do you want to know about him that I can tell you?”

The Superintendent was also scanning the crowd, aware that if Joseph caught sight of him with Mathilde he would probably make himself scarce.

“Did your boyfriend ever talk to you about an imminent change in his position? Come on! You’re going to lie to me, I feel sure.”

“Why should I lie?”

She had bitten her lip.

“You see! You’re asking me questions so as to give yourself time to make up a lie.”

She tapped on the pavement with her heel.

“For one thing, what proof is there that you really are police?”

He showed her his card.

“You’ll admit that Joseph had a complex about the mediocrity of his situation.”

“What of it?”

“He suffered from it painfully, to an excessive degree.”

“Maybe he didn’t want to remain a hairdresser’s assistant. Is that a crime?”

“You’re well aware that that’s not what I mean. He loathed the house he lived in and the sort of existence he led. He was even ashamed of his mother, wasn’t he?”

“He never said so to me.”

“But you sensed it. So recently he must have spoken to you about a change in his way of life.”

“No.”

“How long have you known one another?”

“A little over six months. It was during the winter. He came into the shop to buy a wallet. I realized that he thought they were too expensive, but he dared not tell me so and he bought one. That evening I saw him on the pavement. He followed me for several days before he ventured to speak to me.”

“Where did you use to go together?”

“Most of the time, we could only meet for a few minutes outside the shop. Sometimes he would take the métro with me as far as Championnet station, which is near my home. Occasionally we went to the cinema together on a Sunday, but that was difficult on account of my parents.”

“Did you never go to his home in his mother’s absence?”

“Never, I swear. Once he showed me his house from a distance, so that I should understand.”

“That he was very unhappy… Don’t you see?”

“Has he done anything wrong?”

“No, no, young lady. He has simply disappeared. And I’m depending on you a little, not very much I must admit, to find him again. I needn’t ask you whether he had a room somewhere in town.”

“You obviously don’t know him. In any case he hadn’t enough money. He handed over all his wages to his mother. She left him barely enough to buy himself a few cigarettes.”

She blushed.

“When we went to the cinema we each paid for ourselves, and once when…”

“Go on…”

“Goodness, why not… there’s no harm in it… Once, a month ago, when we went into the country together, he hadn’t enough money to pay for lunch.”

“Whereabouts did you go?”

“Towards the Marne. We got off the train at Chelles and went for a walk between the Marne and the canal.”

“Thank you, Mademoiselle.”

Was she relieved to have seen no sign of Joseph in the crowd? Or disappointed? Both, probably.

“Why are the police looking for him?”

“Because his mother asked us to. Don’t worry, Mademoiselle. And believe me: if you have any news of him before we do, let us know immediately.”

When he turned back, he saw her moving hesitantly down the métro stairs.

A note was waiting for him on his desk at Police Headquarters.

A certain Stéphane Bleustein, aged thirty-seven, was killed on February 15th, 1919, in his apartment in the Hôtel Negresco at Nice, where he had been staying for a few days. Bleustein had a good many visitors, often late at night.

The crime was committed with a revolver of 6mm/35, which has not been found.

The inquest held at the time failed to identify the criminal. The victim’s belongings had been thoroughly searched by the murderer and the room was found next morning in indescribable disorder.

As for Bleustein himself, he remains a somewhat shadowy figure and inquiries have failed to discover where he came from. When he arrived in Nice he had been travelling on the express train from Paris.

Fuller information can no doubt be obtained from the Security Branch at Nice.

The date of the murder corresponded with that of Bleustein’s disappearance from the Quai de Bercy, and Maigret, reaching out once more for his missing pipe and not finding it, grumbled irritably:

“The blasted little fool!”

III. Inquiries on Behalf of the Next of Kin
There are certain phrases which, on a railway journey for instance, stick in one’s mind and which fit the rhythm of the train so closely that one can’t get rid of them. One such was haunting Maigret while driving in an old creaking taxi, and the rhythm was emphasized by the beating of heavy rain against the floppy roof.

ln-qui-ries-on-be-half-of-the-next-of-kin. In-qui-ries-on-be-half…

For after all he had no reason to be here, plunging along in the darkness with a pale-faced, tense young girl beside him and little Lucas sitting meekly on the folding seat. When somebody like Madame Leroy comes to bother you, one ought to cut short her lamentations.

“Nothing has been stolen from you, Madame? You’re not lodging a complaint? In that case I’m sorry, but…”

And even if her son has disappeared:

“You say he’s left home? If we had to look for all the people who leave home, the entire police force would do nothing else and even so we’d not have enough men available.”

“Inquiries on behalf of the next of kin.” That’s what they call them. Undertaken only at the expense of those who request them. As for the results…

They are always very worthy people, moreover, whether old or young, men or women, with kindly expressions, gentle puzzled eyes, humble insistent voices:

“You can take my word for it, Superintendent, that my wife — and I know her better than anyone — has not gone off of her own free will.”

Or someone’s daughter, “such an innocent, affectionate girl…”

And there are hundreds like that every day. “Inquiries on behalf of the next of kin.”; No point in telling them that it would be better for them if their wife or daughter were not to be found again, because that would mean disillusionment! Inquiries on behalf…

And Maigret had let himself become involved yet again! The car had left Paris and was speeding along the highway, outside the scope of the Police Judiciaire. He had no business to be there. He would not even get his expenses refunded.

It was all on account of a pipe. The thunderstorm had broken out just as he was alighting from a taxi in front of the house in the Quai de Bercy. When he rang, Madame Leroy was all alone in the kitchen eating bread and butter and a pickled herring. In spite of her anxiety she had tried to conceal that herring!

“Do you recognize this man, Madame?”

And she replied unhesitatingly, though with surprise:

“It’s my former lodger, Monsieur Bleustein. It’s funny… In the photograph he’s dressed like a…”

Like a gentleman, yes, whereas at Charenton he had looked like a nobody. That photograph had had to be hunted for in the archives of a leading newspaper because, for some unknown reason, it was not to be found in those of the police.

“What does this mean, Superintendent? Where is this man? What has he done?”

“He’s dead. Tell me now. I see,” and he glanced round the room, noticing that cupboards and drawers had been emptied, “that you’ve had the same idea as myself.”

She reddened. She was already on the defensive. But this evening the Superintendent was short of patience.

“You’ve been making an inventory of everything in the house. Don’t deny it. You wanted to know whether your son had taken anything away, didn’t you?”

“There’s nothing missing, I give you my word. What are you thinking? Where are you going?”

For he was rushing off in a great hurry, getting back into his taxi. More time wasted, stupidly, too. A short while ago, he had had the girl there in front of him, in the Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle. But he had forgotten to ask her for her exact address. And now he needed her. Luckily the owner of the leather-goods shop lived on the premises.

Another taxi. Heavy raindrops were pattering on the tarmac. People were hurrying; the taxi kept skidding.

“Rue Championnet, no.67…”

He burst into a small room where four people — father, mother, daughter, and a twelve-year-old boy — were sitting round a small table, eating soup. Mathilde sprang up, terrified, her mouth open to cry out.

“Please excuse me; I need your daughter’s help to identify a customer she has seen in the shop. Mademoiselle, will you be good enough to follow me?”

Inquiries on behalf of the next of kin! Oh, it’s a very different matter when you’re faced with an obliging corpse that gives you hints straight away, or when you’re running after a murderer whose possible reflexes are easily guessed.

Whereas when you’re dealing with amateurs, with their weeping and worrying! And there are Father’s and Mother’s feelings to consider!

“Where are we going?”

To Chelles.”

“Do you think he’s there?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea, Mademoiselle. Driver, please stop first at the Quai des Orfèvres.”

And there he had picked up Lucas, who was expecting him.

Inquiries on behalf of the next of kin. He was sitting in the back of the cab with Mathilde, who tended to keep slipping against him. Heavy drops of water seeped through the battered roof and fell on to his left knee. In front of him was the glowing tip of Lucas’s cigarette.

“Can you remember Chelles clearly, Mademoiselle?”

“Oh, yes!”

Of course she could! Wasn’t it her happiest romantic memory? The only time they had escaped from Paris and had run along together through the long grass beside the river!

“Do you think you’ll be able to show us the way, in spite of the darkness?”

“I think so. Provided we start from the station. Because we went there by train.”

“You told me you had lunch at an inn?”

“Yes, a tumble-down sort of inn, so dirty and sinister-looking that we were frightened. We took a road alongside the Marne. At one point it became just a path. Wait a minute… On the left there’s an abandoned lime-kiln. Then about five hundred metres further on, a small one-story house. We were quite surprised to find it there.

“We went in. There was a zinc counter on the right… whitewashed walls with a few colour-prints, and a couple of iron tables and a few chairs… The man…”

“You’re speaking of the landlord?”

“Yes. A little dark fellow who looked as if he might be something else. I don’t quite know how to tell you. One imagines things. We asked if we could get something to eat and he gave us some pâté and sausage and then he warmed up some rabbit for us. It was very good. The landlord chatted with us, he told us about the anglers who use his inn. Besides, there was a whole heap of fishing rods in a corner. When you don’t know, you imagine things.”

“Are we there?” Maigret asked through the pane of glass, for the driver had stopped.

A little station with a few lights amid the blackness.

“To the right,” the girl said. “Then second on the right again. That was where we asked our way. But why do you think Joseph might have come here?”

For no reason! Or rather because of that pipe, although he dared not admit that.

Inquiries on behalf of the next of kin! It would make him a laughingstock. And yet…

“Straight on, now, driver,” Mathilde broke in. “Until you come to the river. There’s a bridge, but instead of crossing it you turn left. Take care, the road’s narrow.”

“Admit it, my dear; your Joseph must have talked about a possible and even a probable change in his situation.”

Later on, she might perhaps become as hard as old Madame Leroy, who had once been a girl herself, probably a pretty affectionate girl.

“He was ambitious.”

“I’m not speaking about the future. I mean right away.”

“He wanted to be something other than a hairdresser.”

“And he expected to have some money, didn’t he?”

She was in agonies. She was so afraid of giving her Joseph away!

The taxi was crawling along a rough road beside the Marne, and on their left they could make out some shabby bungalows and a few more pretentious villas. Here and there a light showed, or a dog barked. Then suddenly, at about a kilometre’s distance from the bridge, the ruts grew deeper and the taxi stopped. The driver declared:

“I can’t go any farther.”

The rain was falling harder than ever. When they got out of the car it drenched them, and everything around them was wet, the slimy mud under their feet, the bushes through which they pushed their way. A little farther on they had to walk in single file, while the taxi-driver sat grumbling in his cab and probably settled down for a nap.

“It’s funny. I didn’t think it was so far. Can’t you see any house yet?”

The Marne was flowing close by them. They were splashing through puddles. Maigret walked in front, parting the branches. Mathilde followed close behind him and Lucas brought up the rear, as calm as a Newfoundland dog.

The girl was beginning to be frightened.

“I certainly recognized the bridge and the lime-kiln. We can’t possibly have taken the wrong road.”

“There’s every reason,” Maigret muttered, “why the way seems longer to you today than when you came with Joseph. Look, there’s a light on the left.”

“That’s the place, I’m sure.”

“Hush! Try not to make a noise.”

“Do you believe that…?”

Maigret said, with sudden sharpness: “I don’t believe anything. I never believe anything, Mademoiselle.”

He let them come level with him, and spoke in a low voice to Lucas.

“You wait here with the girl. Don’t move unless I call you. Lean forward, Mathilde. From here one can make out the front of the house. Do you recognize it?”

“Yes, I’d swear to it.”

Maigret’s broad back was already blocking out the small light from her.

And she was left to herself, her clothes soaking, in total darkness, in pouring rain, by the riverside, with a little man she did not know and who was calmly smoking one cigarette after another.

IV. The Anglers’ Rest
Mathilde had not exaggerated when she described the place as shady-looking and almost sinister. A sort of dilapidated arbour stood beside the little house, whose shutters were closed over grimy windows. The door had been left open, since the storm had only just begun to cool the air.

Yellow light shone on a dirty floor. Maigret suddenly emerged from the darkness. He stood in the doorway, looking larger than life-size, and raising a finger to the brim of his hat he muttered, with his pipe between his lips:

“Good evening, gentlemen.”

Two men were sitting talking at an iron table on which stood a bottle of marc and a couple of thick glasses. One of the men, a small dark fellow in shirt-sleeves, looked up calmly, showing some slight surprise, then rose to his feet, hitching up his trousers, and muttered: “Good evening…”

The other man had his back turned, but he was obviously not Joseph Leroy. He was a heavily built man in a light grey suit. Oddly enough, in spite of the unusual character of Maigret’s belated appearance, he never moved: it even looked as though he was restraining himself from giving a start. A china clock on the wall, advertising something or other, said ten past twelve, but it must have been later than that. Was it natural that the man should not have had sufficient curiosity to turn round and see who was coming in?

Maigret stood there, near the counter, the water streaming down from his clothes and making dark patches on the grey floor.

“Can you let me have a room, patron?”

The landlord, to gain time, had gone over to stand behind the bar counter, where there were only three or four dubious-looking bottles on a shelf, and asked:

“Can I give you something?”

“If you want to. I asked if you had a room vacant.”

“I’m sorry, no. Have you come on foot?”

It was Maigret’s turn to avoid replying, and he said:

“I’ll have a marc.”

“I fancied I heard a car engine.”

“That’s quite possible. Have you or haven’t you a room vacant?”

The other man’s back was still turned, a few metres away from him, a back as motionless as though it were carved out of stone. There was no electricity. The room was lit only by a wretched oil lamp.

Why had the man not turned round… why had he kept so stiffly, painfully still…

Maigret felt anxious. He had just made the rapid calculation that, in view of the dimensions of the café and of the kitchen that could be glimpsed behind it, there must be at least three rooms on the upper floor. He could have sworn, judging from the appearance of the patron, the shabbiness of the premises, and a certain look of general neglect and disorder, that there was no woman about the house.

Now he had just heard someone walking stealthily overhead. This must be significant, for the landlord automatically glanced up and looked annoyed.

“Have you many people staying just now?”

“Nobody. Apart from…”

He indicated the man, or rather the man’s motionless back, and Maigret suddenly felt aware of imminent danger; he understood that he must act very quickly, without a blunder. He had time to see the man’s hand reach towards the lamp on the table, and he sprang forward.

He was too late. The lamp had crashed to the ground with a clatter of broken glass, while a smell of paraffin filled the room.

“I thought I knew you, you bastard!”

He had managed to grab the man by the jacket. He tried to get a firmer hold, but the other struck out to free himself. They were in total darkness. The open door was a vaguely glimmering rectangular shape. What was the landlord doing? Would he attempt to rescue his customer?

Maigret hit out in his turn. Then he felt his hand being bitten; he flung himself with all his weight upon his opponent, and they rolled on to the floor together, amongst fragments of glass.

“Lucas!” Maigret shouted with all his might. “Lucas…”

The man was armed; a hard shape in his jacket pocket was unmistakably a gun, and Maigret struggled to prevent him from slipping his hand into the pocket.

The landlord did not stir. He made no sound. He must have been standing motionless, perhaps unconcerned, behind his bar counter.

“Lucas!”

“Coming, Chief.”

Outside, Lucas was running over ruts and through puddles, calling out:

“You stay where you are, I tell you. D’you hear? I forbid you to follow me.”

He was presumably speaking to Mathilde, who must have been pale with fright.

“If you dare to bite me again, you brute, I’ll knock your face in. Understood?”

Maigret, with his elbow, was preventing the man from getting at his gun. His opponent was as vigorous as himself, and alone in the darkness Maigret might not have got the better of him. They had collided with the table, which had overturned on top of them.

“Over here, Lucas. Your torch.”

“Coming, Chief.”

And suddenly a shaft of pale light shone on the two men whose limbs were intertwined.

“Good Lord, it’s Nicolas! Fancy meeting you here!”

“Of course I’d recognized you myself, just from your voice.”

“Give us a hand, Lucas. He’s a dangerous customer. Give him a good knock to keep him quiet. Don’t be afraid; he’s tough!”

And Lucas hit the man on the head as hard as he could with his little rubber truncheon.

“Now hand me the bracelets. I didn’t expect to find this brute here. There, that’s it now. You can get up, Nicolas. You needn’t pretend to have passed out. You’ve got a harder head than that. Patron!”

He had to shout a second time, and it was odd to hear the landlord’s voice speaking quietly out of the darkness, from beside the bar-counter:

“Messieurs…”

“Isn’t there another lamp or a candle in the house?”

“I’ll get you a candle. If you ‘ll shine your torch into the kitchen…”

Maigret had bound his wrist with his handkerchief to staunch the blood; the man had given it a sharp bite. Sobs were heard beside the door; Mathilde, presumably, who did not know what was going on and who thought perhaps that it was Joseph with whom the Superintendent…

“Come in, my dear. Don’t be afraid. I think it’s nearly over. You, Nicolas, sit here, and if you dare to move…”

He laid his gun and his opponent’s on a table, within his reach. The landlord came back with his candle, as calmly as though nothing had happened.

“Now,” Maigret said, “go and fetch me the young fellow.”

There was a moment’s hesitation. Was he going to deny all knowledge?

“I tell you to go and fetch me the young fellow, d’you understand?” And, as the landlord moved towards the door:

“Has he got a pipe, by the way?”

Between sobs, the girl was asking:

“You’re sure he’s here and nothing’s happened to him?”

Maigret made no reply; he was listening intently. Upstairs the landlord was knocking at a door. He was speaking urgently, in a low voice; now and then a sentence could be overheard:

“It’s some gentlemen from Paris and a young lady. You can open the door. I promise you…”

And Mathilde, in tears: “He might have been killed…”

Maigret shrugged and went towards the staircase himself.

“Mind that parcel, Lucas. You recognized our old friend Nicolas, didn’t you? I thought he was safely locked up in Fresnes!”

He went slowly up the stairs and pushed the landlord away from the door.

“Why don’t you go downstairs now? Give the girl something to set her up, a toddy or something of the sort. Well, Joseph?”

At last a key turned in the lock. Maigret pushed open the door.

“Isn’t there any light?”

“Wait a minute. I’ll light a candle. There’s a bit of one left.”

Joseph’s hands were shaking, and his face, when the candlelight shone on it, was convulsed with terror.

“Is he still down there?” he gasped.

His mind was in a whirl and his words poured forth in confusion.

“How did you find me? What did they tell you? Who’s the girl?”

It was a rustic bedroom with a high bed, unmade, and a chest of drawers which must recently have been pushed against the door as though to withstand a siege.

“Where have you put them?” asked Maigret, as though it was the most natural thing in the world.

Joseph looked at him in stupefaction and realised that the Superintendent knew everything. He could not have shown more amazement if God the Father had come bursting into his room.

He fumbled wildly in the back pocket of his trousers and pulled out a tiny parcel wrapped in newspaper.

His hair was untidy and his clothes creased. Maigret instinctively glanced at his feet, which were shod in shapeless slippers.

“My pipe…”

This time the boy was on the verge of tears and his lips trembled in a childish pout. Maigret wondered whether he was not about to fall on his knees and beg for pardon.

“Keep calm, young man,” he warned him. “There are people downstairs.” And with a smile he accepted the pipe that the boy held out to him, trembling more desperately than ever.

“Hush! Mathilde is coming up the stairs. She hadn’t the patience to wait for us to come down. Tidy your hair.”

He picked up a jug to pour some water into the basin, but the jug was empty.

“No water?” Maigret asked in some surprise.

“I drank it.”

Of course! Why had he not thought of it? That pale face, those drawn features, those lifeless eyes.

“You’re hungry?”

And, conscious of Mathilde’s presence on the dark landing, he remarked without turning round:

“Come in, my dear… You’ll keep it cool, if you’ll take my advice. He loves you very much, of course, but what he needs first of all is something to eat.”

V. How Joseph Ran Away
It was a pleasure, now, to listen to the rain pattering on the leaves all round them and especially to breathe the cool, damp night air through the wide open door.

Joseph was still so tense that despite his hunger he had scarcely been able to swallow the pâté sandwich brought him by the landlord, and his Adam’s apple kept rising and falling.

As for Maigret, who was at his second or third glass of marc, he was now smoking his favourite pipe, restored to him at last.

“You see, young man, without wishing to encourage you to petty larceny, I must point out that if you hadn’t pinched my pipe I really believe your body would have been fished up some day out of the rushes in the Marne. Maigret’s pipe, eh?”

And in fact Maigret spoke these words with a certain satisfaction, like a man whose pride is pleasantly tickled. Somebody had pinched his pipe, as others might pinch the pencil of a great writer, the paintbrush of a famous painter, a handkerchief or other trivial object belonging to a favourite star.

This the Superintendent had understood from the start. “Inquiry on behalf of the next of kin”… A case with which he ought not really to have been concerned.

The point was that a boy who suffered from a sense of inferiority had stolen his pipe. And the following night that boy had disappeared. And he had constantly tried to dissuade his mother from consulting the police.

Because he wanted to conduct the inquiry himself, of course. Because he felt capable of doing so. Because, with Maigret’s pipe between his teeth, he fancied himself…

“When did you realize that it was diamonds that the mysterious visitor was looking for in your home?”

Joseph nearly lied, out of vanity, then changed his mind after a glance at Mathilde.

“I didn’t know it was diamonds. I thought it must be something small, because the smallest crannies had been searched and even tiny pillboxes opened.”

“Say, Nicolas! Hey, Nicolas!”

Nicolas sat glaring fixedly, slumped on a chair in a corner, his handcuffed fists on his knees.

“When you killed Bleustein at Nice…”

Not a flicker of reaction passed over the man’s bony face.

“D’you realize I’m talking to you? When you did Bleustein in at the Negresco, didn’t you understand that he was swindling you? Aren’t you going to come clean? Well, that’ll come. What did Bleustein tell you? That the diamonds were in the house in the Quai de Bercy? Sure. But you ought to have realized that little things like that are easy to hide. Perhaps he’d told you the wrong hiding-place? Or had you thought yourself cleverer than you are? No, no. Don’t talk so much. I’m not asking you where the diamonds came from. We’ll know that tomorrow, after the experts have looked at them.

“It was bad luck that you got picked up on an old charge just at that moment. What was it? A burglary in the Boulevard Saint-Martin, if I’m not mistaken? By the way, that was jewellery too, wasn’t it? After all, you’re a specialist… You got three years for that. And just three months ago, when you were let out, you came prowling round that house. You’d got the key that Bleustein had had made for himself… What’s that you say?… Okay, just as you please.”

The youth and the girl were looking at him in amazement. They could not understand Maigret’s sudden cheerfulness, because they did not know what a strain he had been undergoing during the last few hours.

“You see, Joseph — hello, so I’ve begun to tutoyer you — it was all quite simple. A stranger gets into a house three years after that house has stopped taking lodgers… I immediately thought of someone who’d been released from jail. An illness wouldn’t have gone on for three years. I should have examined the lists of discharged prisoners straight away and I’d have happened on our friend Nicolas… Have you a light, Lucas? My matches are soaked.

“And now, Joseph, tell us what took place that crucial night.”

“I was determined to find out. I thought it must be something very valuable, something worth a fortune…”

“And since your mother had brought me into the case you wanted at all costs to find out that very night.”

Joseph hung his head.

“And in order not to be disturbed, you poured Lord knows what into your mother’s tisane.”

He did not deny it. His Adam’s apple rose and fell faster.

“I did so want a different sort of life!” he stammered almost inaudibly.

“You went downstairs in your slippers. Why were you so sure you’d find whatever it was that night?”

“Because I’d already searched the whole house except the dining-room. I’d divided the house into sections. I was sure it could only be in the dining-room.”

A trace of pride was perceptible under his dejection and humility, as he declared:

“I found them!”

“Where?”

“You may have noticed that in the dining-room there’s an old ceiling lamp with sconces holding imitation candles made of china. I don’t know why it occurred to me to unscrew the candles. Inside there were little twists of paper and in these there were some hard objects.”

“One minute! When you came down from your room, what were you planning to do if you should be successful?”

“I don’t know.”

“You weren’t planning to run away?”

“No, I swear.”

“But perhaps to hide the treasure somewhere else?”

“Yes.”

“In the house?”

“No. Because I was expecting you to come and search it yourself and I was sure you’d find the diamonds. I’d have hidden them at the hairdresser’s. Then, later on…”

Nicolas laughed derisively. The landlord was standing quite still with his elbows on his bar-counter, and his shirt made a white patch in the semi-darkness.

“When you discovered about the sconces…”

“I was just putting the last of them back in place when I felt someone beside me. At first I thought it was Mother. I switched off my torch, which I’d been using to see with. There was a man there and he kept coming nearer, and then I rushed to the door and out into the street. I was very frightened. I ran. The door slammed. I was in my slippers, I had no hat and no tie on. I went on running and I could hear steps behind me.”

“You couldn’t keep up with this young greyhound, Nicolas!” mocked Maigret.

“Near the Bastille there were some policemen on the beat. I walked while I was near them, because I was sure the man wouldn’t dare attack me just then. So I reached the Gare de l’Est, and that’s what gave me the idea…”

“The idea of Chelles, to be sure. A romantic memory! And then?”

“I stayed in the waiting-room until five in the morning. There were people there. And so long as I was in a crowd…”

“I understand.”

“Only, I didn’t know who was after me. I kept looking at everybody in turn. When the booking office opened I slipped between a couple of women. I asked for my ticket in a whisper. Several trains were leaving at about the same time. I got into one after another, crossing the railway lines.”

“Say, Nicolas, it seems as though this kid gave you even more trouble than he gave me!”

“So long as he didn’t know where my ticket was for, you see? At Chelles I waited till the train was moving before I got out.”

“Not bad! Not bad!”

“I rushed out of the station. There was nobody in the streets. I started running again. I didn’t hear anyone behind me. I got here and I asked for a room straight away, because I was all in, and I was anxious to get rid of…”

He was still trembling at the thought of it.

“Mother never allowed me much pocket money. In the room I discovered that I only had fifteen francs and a few telephone tokens. I wanted to go off again and get home before Mother…”

“And then Nicolas came.”

“I saw him through the window, getting out of a taxi five hundred metres away. I realized straight away that he must have gone as far as Lagny and taken a cab and that at Chelles he had picked up my trail. Then I locked myself in. When I heard steps in the stairway I pulled the chest of drawers against the door. I was sure he would kill me.”

“Without a qualm,” muttered Maigret. “Only he didn’t want to give himself away in front of the landlord. Isn’t that so, Nicolas? So he settled down here, assuming that you would come out of your room at some point, if only to get something to eat.”

“I ate nothing. I was afraid, too, that he might take a ladder and come in at night by the window. So I kept the shutters closed. I dared not go to sleep.”

Steps could be heard outside. Now that the storm was over, the taxi-driver had begun to worry about his fares.

Then Maigret knocked out his pipe against his heel, filled it again and stroked it with satisfaction.

“If you’d been unlucky enough to break it…” he grunted. Then, without a break:

“Come on, all of you, let’s go! By the way, Joseph, what are you going to tell your mother?”

“I don’t know. It’ll be terrible.”

“Not at all, not at all! You went down into the dining-room to do some detecting. You saw a man going out. You followed him, proud of playing policeman.”

For the first time, Nicolas opened his lips. He commented contemptuously:

“If you think I’m going to help you play that game!”

Maigret replied, imperturbably:

“We’ll see about that presently, won’t we, Nicolas? You and I together, in my office… Say, driver, it’s going to be a tight fit in your car! Shall we be off?”

A little later he whispered to Joseph, who was huddled in a corner of the seat beside Mathilde:

“I’ll give you another pipe, you know! An even bigger one if you like.”

“Only,” the boy retorted, “it won’t be your pipe!”

— rue de Turenne, Paris: June 1945