Penguin is publishing the entire series of Maigret novels.
'Compelling, remorseless, brilliant.' - John Gray
'One of the greatest writers of the twentieth century . . . Simenon was unequalled at making us look inside, though the ability was masked by his brilliance at absorbing us obsessively in his stories.' - The Guardian
'A supreme writer . . . unforgettable vividness.' - The Independent
About the Author
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Copyright © Pietr the Latvian first published, in serial, as Pieter-le-Letton, in Ric et Rac 1930
This translation first published in Penguin Classics 2013
The Carter of La Providence first published as Le Charretier de la Providence by Fayard 1931
This translation first published in Penguin Classics 2014
The Grand Banks Café first published as Au Rendez-Vous des Terre-Neuvas by Fayard 1931
This translation first published in Penguin Classics 2014
The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien first published as Le Pendue de Saint-Pholien by Fayard 1931
This translation first published in Penguin Classics 2014
Copyright 1930, 1931 by Georges Simenon Limited
Translation of Pietr the Latvian copyright © 2013 by David Bellos
Translation of The Carter of La Providence and The Grand Banks Café © 2014 by David Coward
Translation of The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien © 2014 by Linda Coverdale
GEORGES SIMENON © Simenon.tm
MAIGRET © Georges Simenon Limited
Cover photographs © Harry Gruyaert
Front cover design © Alceu Chiesorin Nunes
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About the Author
Pietr the Latvian
1. Apparent age 32, height 169 …
2. Mixing with Millionaires
3. The Strand of Hair
4. The Seeteufel’s First Mate
5. The Russian Drunkard
6. Au Roi de Sicile
7. The Third Interval
8. Maigret Gets Serious
9. The Hit-man
10. The Return of Oswald Oppenheim
11. Arrivals and Departures
12. A Woman With a Gun
13. The Two Pietrs
14. The Ugala Club
15. Two Telegrams
16. On the Rocks
17. And a Bottle of Rum
18. Hans at Home
19. The Injured Man
The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien
1. The Crime of Inspector Maigret
2. Monsieur Van Damme
3. The Herbalist’s Shop in Rue Picpus
4. The Unexpected Visitor
5. Breakdown at Luzancy
6. The Hanged Men
7. The Three Men
8. Little Klein
9. The Companions of the Apocalypse
10. Christmas Eve in Rue du Pot-au-Noir
11. The Candle End
The Carter of La Providence
1. Lock 14
2. The Passengers on Board the Southern Cross
3. Mary Lampson’s Necklace
4. The Lover
5. The YCF Badge
6. The American Sailor’s Cap
7. The Bent Pedal
8. Ward 10
9. The Doctor
10. The Two Husbands
11. Right of Way
The Grand Banks Café
1. The Glass Eater
2. The Tan-Coloured Shoes
3. The Headless Photograph
4. The Mark of Rage
5. Adèle and Friend
6. The Three Innocents
7. Like a Family
8. The Drunken Sailor
9. Two Men on Deck
10. What Happened on the Third Day
11. The Océan SailsABOUT THE AUTHOR
Georges Simenon was born on 12 February 1903 in Liège, Belgium, and died in 1989 in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he had lived for the latter part of his life. Between 1931 and 1972 he published seventy-five novels and twenty-eight short stories featuring Inspector Maigret.
Simenon always resisted identifying himself with his famous literary character, but acknowledged that they shared an important characteristic:
My motto, to the extent that I have one, has been noted often enough, and I’ve always conformed to it. It’s the one I’ve given to old Maigret, who resembles me in certain points … ‘understand and judge not’.
Penguin is publishing the entire series of Maigret novels.
PENGUIN CLASSICSINSPECTOR MAIGRET
‘I love reading Simenon. He makes me think of Chekhov’
— William Faulkner
‘A truly wonderful writer … marvellously readable – lucid, simple, absolutely in tune with the world he creates’
— Muriel Spark
‘Few writers have ever conveyed with such a sure touch, the bleakness of human life’
— A. N. Wilson
‘One of the greatest writers of the twentieth century … Simenon was unequalled at making us look inside, though the ability was masked by his brilliance at absorbing us obsessively in his stories’
‘A novelist who entered his fictional world as if he were part of it’
— Peter Ackroyd
‘The greatest of all, the most genuine novelist we have had in literature’
— André Gide
‘Superb … The most addictive of writers … A unique teller of tales’
‘The mysteries of the human personality are revealed in all their disconcerting complexity’
— Anita Brookner
‘A writer who, more than any other crime novelist, combined a high literary reputation with popular appeal’
— P. D. James
‘A supreme writer … Unforgettable vividness’
‘Compelling, remorseless, brilliant’
— John Gray
‘Extraordinary masterpieces of the twentieth century’
— John Banville
PIETR THE LATVIANTranslated by David Bellos
1.Apparent age 32, height 169 …
ICPC to PJ Paris Xvzust Krakowvimontra m ghks triv psot uv Pietr-le-Letton Bremen vs tyz btolem.
Detective Chief Inspector Maigret ofthe Flying Squad raised his eyes. It seemed to him that the cast-iron stove in themiddle of his office with its chimney tube rising to the ceiling wasn’troaring properly. He pushed the telegram away, rose ponderously to his feet,adjusted the flue and thrust three shovels of coal into the firebox.
Then he stood with his back to thestove, filled his pipe and adjusted his stud collar, which was irritating his neckeven though it wasn’t set very high.
He glanced at his watch. Four p.m. Hisjacket was hanging on a hook on the back of the door.
Slowly he returned to his desk, mouthinga translation as he went:
International Criminal PoliceCommission to Police Judiciaire in Paris: Krakow police report sighting Pietrthe Latvian en route to Bremen.
The International Criminal PoliceCommission, or ICPC, is based in Vienna. Broadly speaking, it oversees the struggleagainst organized crime in Europe, with a particular responsibility for liaisonbetween the various national police forces on the Continent.
Maigret pulled up another telegram that was similarlywritten in IPC, the secret international police code used for communication betweenall the world’s police forces. He translated at sight:
Polizei-Präsidium Bremen to PJParis: Pietr the Latvian reported en route Amsterdam and Brussels.
Another telegram from the NederlandscheCentrale in Zake Internationale Misdadigers, the Dutch police HQ, reported:
At 11 a.m. Pietr the Latvianboarded Étoile du Nord, compartment G. 263, car 5, destination Paris.
The final message in IPC had been sentfrom Brussels and said:
Confirm Pietr the Latvian on boardÉtoile du Nord via Brussels 2 a.m. in compartment reported by Amsterdam.
Behind Maigret’s desk there was ahuge map pinned to the wall. The inspector was a broad and heavy man. He stoodstaring at the map with his hands in his pockets and his pipe sticking out the sideof his mouth.
His eyes travelled from the dotrepresenting Krakow to the other dot showing the port of Bremen and from there toAmsterdam and Paris.
He checked the time once again.Four-twenty. The Étoile du Nord should now be hurtling along at sixty miles an hourbetween Saint-Quentin and Compiègne.
It wouldn’t stop at the border. Itwouldn’t be slowing down.
In car 5, compartment G. 263, Pietr theLatvian was presumably spending his time reading or looking at the scenery.
Maigret went over to a door that openedonto a closet, washed his hands in an enamelbasin, ran a comb through thick dark-brown hair flecked with only a few silverstrands around the temple, and did his best to straighten out his tie – he’dnever learned how to do a proper knot.
It was November and it was getting dark.Through the window he could see a branch of the Seine, Place Saint-Michel, and afloating wash-house, all in a blue shroud speckled by gas lamps lighting up oneafter the other.
He opened a drawer and glanced at adispatch from the International Identification Bureau in Copenhagen.
Paris PJ Pietr-le-Letton 32 16901512 0224 0255 02732 03116 03233 03243 03325 03415 03522 04115 04144 0414705221 …
This time he made an effort to speak thetranslation aloud and even went over it several times, like a schoolchild reciting alesson:
Description Pietr the Latvian:apparent age 32 years, height 169 cm, sinus top straight line, bottom flat,extension large max, special feature septum not visible, ear unmarked rim, lobelarge, max cross and dimension small max, protuberant antitragus, vex edge lowerfold, edge shape straight line edge feature separate lines, orthognathous upper,long face, biconcave, eyebrows thin fair light, lower lip jutting max thicklower droop, light.
This ‘word-picture’ of Pietrwas as clear as a photograph to Inspector Maigret. The principal features were thefirst to emerge: the man was short, slim, young and fair-haired, with sparse blondeyebrows, greenish eyes and a long neck.
Maigret now also knew the shape of hisear in the minutest detail. This would enable him to make a positive identificationin a milling crowd even if the suspect was in disguise.
He took his jacket off the hook andslipped his arms into it, then put on a heavy black overcoat and a bowler hat.
One last glance at the stove, whichseemed on the verge of exploding.
At the end of the corridor, on the stairlanding that was used as a waiting room, he reminded Jean:
‘You won’t forget to keep mystove going, will you?’
The wind swirling up the stairs took himby surprise, and he had to shelter from the draught in a corner to get his pipe tolight.
Wind and rain blew in squalls over theplatforms of Gare du Nord despite the monumental glass canopy overhead. Severalpanes had blown out and lay in shards on the railway tracks. The lightingwasn’t working properly. People huddled up inside their clothes.
Outside one of the ticket windows analarming travel notice had been posted:
Channel forecast: gale-forcewinds.
One woman, whose son was to catch theFolkestone boat train, looked upset; her eyes were red. She kept on telling the boywhat he should do, right up to the last minute. In his embarrassment he had nochoice but to promise not to go out on deck.
Maigret stood near platform 11 wherepeople were awaiting the arrival of the Étoile du Nord. All the leading hotels, aswell as Thomas Cook, had their agents standing by.
He stood still. Other people wereagitated. A young woman clad in mink yetwearing only sheer silk stockings walked up and down, stamping her heels.
He just stood there: a hulk of a man,with shoulders so broad as to cast a wide shadow. When people bumped into him hestayed as firm as a brick wall.
The yellow speck of the train’sheadlamp appeared in the distance. Then came the usual hubbub, with porters shoutingand passengers tramping and jostling their way towards the station exit.
A couple of hundred passengers paradedpast Maigret before he picked out in the crowd a short man wearing a broad-checkedgreen travelling cape of a distinctly Nordic cut and colour.
The man wasn’t in a hurry. He hadthree porters behind him. Bowing and scraping, an agent from one of the grand hotelson the Champs-Élysées cleared the way in front of him.
Apparent age 32, height169 … sinus top …
Maigret kept calm. He looked hard at theman’s ear. That was all he needed.
The man in green passed close by. One ofhis porters bumped Maigret with one of the suitcases.
At exactly the same moment a railwayemployee began to run, shouting out something to his colleague standing at thestation end of the platform, next to the barrier.
The chain was drawn closed. Protestserupted.
The man in the travelling cape wasalready out of the station.
Maigret puffed away at his pipe in quickshort bursts. He went up to the official who had closed the barrier.
‘A crime … They’vejust found …’
‘Carriage 5? …’
‘I think so …’
The station went about its regularbusiness; only platform 11 looked abnormal. There were fifty passengers stillwaiting to get out, but their path was blocked. They were getting excited.
‘Let them go …’ Maigretsaid.
‘Let them go …’
He watched the last cluster move away.The station loudspeaker announced the departure of a local train. Somebody wasrunning somewhere. Beside one of the carriages of the Étoile du Nord there was asmall group waiting for something. Three of them, in railway company livery.
The stationmaster got to them first. Hewas a large man and had a worried look on his face. Then a hospital stretcher waswheeled through the main hall, past clumps of people who looked at it uneasily,especially those about to depart.
Maigret walked up the side of the trainwith his usual heavy tread, smoking as he went. Carriage 1, carriage2 … He came to carriage 5.
That’s where the group wasstanding at the door. The stretcher came to a halt. The stationmaster tried tolisten to the three men, who were all speaking at the same time.
‘Police! Where is he?’
Maigret’s presence providedobvious relief. He propelled his placid mass towards the centre of the franticgroup. The other men instantly became his satellites.
‘In the toilet …’
Maigret hauled himself up onto the trainand saw that the toilet door on his rightwas open. On the floor, in a heap, was a body, bent double in a strangely contortedposture.
The conductor was giving orders from theplatform.
‘Shunt the carriage to theyard … Hang on! … Track 62 … Let the railway policeknow …’
At first he could only see the back ofthe man’s neck. But when he tipped his cap off its oblique angle, he could seethe man’s left ear. Maigret mumbled to himself: lobe large, max cross anddimension small max, protuberant antitragus …
There were a few drops of blood on thelinoleum. Maigret looked around. The railway staff were standing on the platform oron the running board. The stationmaster was still talking.
So Maigret clenched his pipe between histeeth even harder and turned the man’s head over.
If he hadn’t seen the traveller inthe green cloak leave the station, if he hadn’t seen him taken to a car by aninterpreter from the Majestic, he could have had doubts.
It was the same physiognomy. The samefair toothbrush moustache under a sharply defined nose. The same sparse blondeyebrows. The same grey-green eyes.
In other words: Pietr the Latvian!
Maigret could hardly turn around in thetiny washroom, where the tap was still running and a jet of steam was seeping fromsome poorly sealed joint.
He was standing right next to thecorpse. He pulled the man’s upper body upright and saw on his chest, on hisjacket and shirt, the burn-marks made by gunshot from point-blank range.
It was a big blackish stain tinged withthe dark red of coagulating blood.
One detail struck the inspector. He happened to notice oneof the man’s feet. It was twisted on its side, as was the whole body, whichmust have been squashed into a corner so as to allow the door to close.
The shoe was black and happened to be ofa very cheap and common kind. Apparently it had been re-soled. The heel was worn onone side, and a coin-shaped gap had opened up in the middle of the sole.
The local chief of the railway policehad now reached the carriage and was calling up from the platform. He was aself-confident man wearing a uniform with epaulettes.
‘So what is it, then? Murder?Suicide? Don’t touch anything until the law gets here, OK? Be careful!I’m the one who’s in charge. OK?’
Maigret had a tough time disentanglinghis own feet from the dead man’s legs to extricate himself from the toilet.With swift, professional movements he patted the man’s pockets. Clean as awhistle. Nothing in them at all.
He got out of the carriage, His pipe hadgone out, his hat was askew and he had a bloodstain on his cuff.
‘Well, if it isn’tMaigret! … What do you make of it, then?’
‘Not much. Go have a lookyourself …’
‘If you say so … Did youcall the prosecutor’s office?’
‘As soon as Iheard …’
The loudspeaker crackled with somemessage or other. A few people had noticed there was something unusual going on andstood in the distance, watching the empty train and the group of people standingnext to the running board of carriage 5.
Maigret strode off without saying a word. He left thestation and hailed a cab.
‘Hôtel Majestic! …’
The storm had got even worse. Gustsswept down the streets and made pedestrians totter about like drunks. A roof tilesmashed onto the pavement. Buses, and more buses.
The Champs-Élysées was almost entirelydeserted. Drops of rain had begun to fall. The porter at the Majestic dashed out tothe taxi with a huge red umbrella.
‘Police! … Has someonefrom the Étoile du Nord just checked in?’
That prompted the porter to fold hisumbrella.
‘Yes, sir, that true.’
‘Green cape … Fairmoustache …’
‘That right. Sir goreception.’
People were scrambling to shelter fromthe rain. Maigret got inside the hotel just in time to avoid drops as big as walnutsand cold as ice.
Despite this, the receptionists andinterpreters behind the polished wood counter were as elegant and efficient asever.
‘Police … A guest in agreen cape … Small fair mousta—’
‘Room 17, sir. His bags are ontheir way up right now …’
2.Mixing with Millionaires
Inevitably Maigret was a hostile presencein the Majestic. He constituted a kind of foreign body that the hotel’satmosphere could not assimilate.
Not that he looked like a cartoonpoliceman. He didn’t have a moustache and he didn’t wear heavy boots.His clothes were well cut and made of fairly light worsted. He shaved every day andlooked after his hands.
But his frame was proletarian. He was abig, bony man. Iron muscles shaped his jacket sleeves and quickly wore through newtrousers.
He had a way of imposing himself just bystanding there. His assertive presence had often irked many of his owncolleagues.
It was something more thanself-confidence but less than pride. He would turn up and stand like a rock with hisfeet wide apart. On that rock all would shatter, whether Maigret moved forward orstayed exactly where he was.
His pipe was nailed to his jawbone. Hewasn’t going to remove it just because he was in the lobby of theMajestic.
Could it be that Maigret simplypreferred to be common and self-assertive?
You just couldn’t miss the manwearing a big black velvet-collared overcoat in that brightly lit lobby, whereexcitable society ladies scattered trails of perfume, tinkling laughter and loud whispers amidst the unctuouscompliments of impeccable flunkeys.
He paid no attention. He wasn’tpart of the flow. He was impervious to the sound of jazz floating up from thedance-floor in the basement.
The inspector started to go up one ofthe stairs. A liftboy called out and asked if he wanted to take the lift, butMaigret didn’t even turn round.
At the first landing someone askedhim:
‘Are you lookingfor …?’
It was as is if the sound waveshadn’t reached him. He glanced at the corridors with their red carpetsstretching out so far that they almost made you sick. He went on up.
On the second floor he read the numberson the bronze plaques. The door of no. 17 was open. Valets with striped waistcoatswere bringing in the luggage.
The traveller had taken off his cloakand looked very slender and elegant in his pinstripe suit. He was smoking a papirosaand giving instructions at the same time.
No. 17 wasn’t a room, but a wholesuite: lounge, study, bedroom and bathroom. The doors opened onto two intersectingcorridors, and at the corner, like a bench placed by a crossroads, there was a huge,curved sofa.
That’s where Maigret sat himselfdown, right opposite the open door. He stretched out his legs and unbuttoned hisovercoat.
Pietr saw him and, showing neithersurprise nor disquiet, he carried on giving instructions. When the valets hadfinished placing his trunks and cases on stands, he came to the door, held it openfor an instant to inspect the detective, then closed it himself.
Maigret sat there for as long as it tookto smoke three pipes, and to dismiss tworoom-service waiters and one chambermaid who came up to inquire what he was waitingfor.
On the stroke of eight Pietr the Latviancame out of his room, looking even slimmer and smarter than before, in a classicallytailored dinner jacket that must have come from Savile Row.
He was hatless. His short, ash-blondhair was already thinning. His hairline was set far back and his forehead notespecially high; you could glimpse a streak of pink scalp along the parting.
He had long, pale hands. On the fourthfinger of his left hand he wore a chunky platinum signet ring set with a yellowdiamond.
He was smoking again – another papirosa.He walked right up to Maigret, stopped for a moment, looked at him as if he feltlike saying something, then walked on towards the lift as if lost in thought.
Ten minutes later he took his seat inthe dining room at the table of Mr and Mrs Mortimer-Levingston. The latter was thecentre of attention: she had pearls worth a cool million on her neck.
The previous day her husband had come tothe rescue of one of France’s biggest automobile manufacturers, with theresult that he was now its majority shareholder.
The three of them were chatting merrily.Pietr talked a lot, but discreetly, with his head leaning forwards. He wascompletely at ease, natural and casual, despite being able to see thedetective’s dark outline through the glazed partition.
Inspector Maigret asked reception toshow him the guest list. He wasn’t surprised to see that Pietr had signed in under the name of Oswald Oppenheim,ship-owner, from Bremen.
It was a foregone conclusion that he hada genuine passport and full identity papers in that name, just as he no doubt did inseveral others.
It was equally obvious that he’dmet the Mortimer-Levingstons previously, whether in Berlin, Warsaw, London or NewYork.
Was the sole purpose of his presence inParis to rendezvous with them and to get away with another one of the colossal scamsthat were his trademark?
Maigret had the Latvian’s filecard in his jacket pocket. It said:
Extremely clever and dangerous.Nationality uncertain, from Baltic area. Reckoned to be either Latvian orEstonian. Fluent in Russian, French, English and German. High level ofeducation. Thought to be capo of major international ring mainly involved infraud. The ring has been spotted successively in Paris, Amsterdam (Van Heuvelcase), Berne (United Shipowners affair), Warsaw (Lipmann case) and in variousother European cities where identification of its methods and procedures wasless clear.
Pietr the Latvian’sassociates seem to be mainly British and American. One who has been seen mostoften with him and who was identified when he presented a forged cheque for cashat the Federal Bank in Berne was killed during arrest. His alias was MajorHoward of the American Legion, but it has been established that he was actuallya former New York bootlegger known in the USA as Fat Fred.
Pietr the Latvian has beenarrested twice. First, in Wiesbaden,for swindling a Munich trader out of half a million marks; second, in Madrid,for a similar offence involving a leading figure at the Spanish royal court.
On both occasions he used thesame ploy. He met his victims and presumably told them that the stolen sums weresafely hidden and that having him arrested would not reveal where they were.Both times the complaint was withdrawn, and the plaintiffs were probably paidoff.
Since then has never been caughtred-handed.
Is probably in cahoots with theMaronnetti gang (counterfeit money and forged documents) and the Cologne gang(the ‘wall-busters’).
There was another rumour doing the roundsof European police departments: Pietr, as the ring-leader and money-launderer of oneor more gangs, was said to be sitting on several million that had been split upunder different names in different banks and even invested in legitimateindustries.
The man smiled subtly at the story MrsMortimer-Levingston was telling, while with his ivory hand he plucked lusciousgrapes from the bunch on his plate.
‘Excuse me, sir. Could I pleasehave a word with you?’
Maigret was speaking toMortimer-Levingston in the lobby of the Majestic after Pietr and Mortimer’swife had both gone back up to their rooms.
Mortimer didn’t have the athleticlook of a Yank. He was more of the Mediterranean type.
He was tall and thin. His very smallhead was topped with black hair parted down the middle.
He looked permanently tired. His eyelidswere weary and blue. In any case he led an exhausting life, somehow managing to turnup in Deauville, Miami, Venice, Paris, Cannes and Berlin before getting back to his yacht andthen dashing off to do a deal in some European capital or to referee a major boxingmatch in New York or California.
He looked Maigret up and down in lordlyfashion.
‘And you are …?’
‘Detective Chief Inspector Maigretof the Flying Squad …’
Mortimer barely frowned and stood thereleaning forwards as if he had decided to grant just one second of his time.
‘Are you aware you have just dinedwith Pietr the Latvian?’
‘Is that all you have tosay?’
Maigret didn’t budge an inch. Itwas pretty much what he’d expected.
He put his pipe back in his mouth –he’d allowed himself to remove it in order to speak to the millionaire – andmuttered:
He looked pleased with himself.Levingston moved off icily and got into the lift.
It was just after 9.30. The symphonyorchestra that had been playing during dinner yielded the stage to a jazz band.People were coming in from outside.
Maigret hadn’t eaten. He wasstanding calmly and patiently in the middle of the lobby. The manager repeatedlygave him worried and disapproving looks from a distance. Even the lowliest membersof staff scowled as they passed by, when they didn’t manage to jostle him.
The Majestic could not stomach him.Maigret persisted in being a big black unmoving stain amidst the gilding, thechandeliers, the comings and goings of silk evening gowns, fur coats and perfumed,sparkling silhouettes.
Mrs Levingston was the first to come back down in thelift. She had changed, and now wore a lamé cape lined with ermine that left hershoulders bare.
She seemed astonished not to find anyonewaiting for her and began to walk up and down, drumming the floor with hergold-lacquered high heels.
She suddenly stopped at the polishedwooden counter where the receptionists and interpreters stood and said a few words.One of the staff pushed a red button and picked up a handset.
He looked surprised and called abellboy, who rushed to the lift.
Mrs Mortimer-Levingston was visiblyanxious. Through the glass door you could see the sleek shape of an American-madelimousine standing at the kerb.
The bellboy reappeared, spoke to themember of staff, who in his turn said something to Mrs Mortimer. She protested. Shemust have been saying:
Maigret then went up the staircase,stopped outside suite 17, knocked on the door. As he’d expected after thecircus he’d just watched, there was no answer.
He opened the door and found the loungedeserted. Pietr’s dinner jacket was lying casually on the bed in the bedroom.One trunk was open. A pair of patent-leather shoes had been left at opposite ends ofthe carpet.
The manager came in and grunted:
‘You’re already here, areyou?’
‘So? … Vanished, has he?Levingston as well! Is that right?’
‘Now there’s no need to gooverboard. Neither of them is in his room, but we’ll probably find themsomewhere else in the hotel.’
‘How many exits are there?’
‘Three. The main entrance on theChamps-Élysées … Then there’s the entrance in the covered mall, andthe service entrance on Rue de Ponthieu …’
‘Is there a security guard? Callhim …’
The telephone worked. The manager was ina temper. He took it out on an operator who couldn’t understand him. He kepthis gaze fixed on Maigret, and it was not kind.
‘What does all this mean?’he asked as he waited for the guard to come up from the glass-walled box where hewas on duty beside the service entrance.
‘Nothing, or almost, as yousaid …’
‘I hope there’s not beena … a …’
The word crime, dreaded likethe plague by hoteliers the world over from the humblest lodging-house landlord tothe manager of a luxury resort, just would not pass his lips.
‘We’ll find out.’
Mrs Mortimer-Levingston appeared.
‘Well? …’ sheinquired.
The manager bowed and mutteredsomething. A figure appeared at the far end of the corridor – an old man with astraggly beard and ill-cut clothes at odds with the luxurious appearance of thehotel. He was obviously meant to stay in the back, otherwise he too would have beengiven a fine uniform and been sent to the barber every day.
‘Did you see anyone goout?’
‘In the last fewminutes …’
‘A guy from the kitchen, Ithink … I wasn’t paying attention … A guy with acap …’
‘Was he short? Fair?’Maigret interrupted.
‘Yes … I think so … Iwasn’t watching … He was quick …’
‘I dunno … I went roundthe corner to buy the paper …’
Mrs Mortimer-Levingston began to loseher temper.
‘Well now! Is that how you conducta manhunt?’ she said to Maigret. ‘I’ve just been told you’rea policeman … My husband might have been killed … What are youwaiting for?’
The look that then fell upon her wasMaigret through and through! Completely calm! Completely unruffled! It was as ifhe’d just noticed the buzzing of a bee. As if what he had before him wassomething quite ordinary.
She was not accustomed to being lookedat in that way. She bit her lip, blushed crimson beneath her make-up and stamped herheel with impatience.
He was still staring at her.
Because he was pushing her to the limit,or perhaps because she didn’t know what else to do, Mrs Mortimer-Levingstonthrew a fit.
3.The Strand of Hair
It was nearly midnight when Maigret gotback to his office on Quai des Orfèvres. The storm was at its peak. The trees on theriverbank were rattling back and forth and the wash-house barge was tossing about inthe waves.
The building was almost empty. At leastJean was still at his post in the lobby at the entrance to a corridor of emptyoffices.
Voices could be heard coming from theduty room. Then, further down, there was light streaking out from beneath a door – adetective or an inspector working on some case. One of the official cars in thecourtyard below was running its engine.
‘Is Torrence back?’ Maigretasked.
‘He’s just comein.’
‘It was so hot in your office Ihad to open the window. There was condensation running down your wall!’
‘Get me some beers and sandwiches.None of that soft white bread, mind you.’
He pushed a door and called out:
Detective Torrence followed his chief tohis office. Before he’d left Gare du Nord Maigret had called Torrence on thetelephone and told him to keep going on the case on his own.
Inspector Maigret was forty-five and his junior wasbarely thirty years old. Even so, there was something solid and bulky about Torrencethat made him an almost full-scale model of his boss.
They’d conducted many casestogether without ever saying an unnecessary word.
Maigret took off his overcoat and hisjacket and loosened his tie. He stood for a while with his back to the stove to letthe heat seep in. Then he asked:
‘The Prosecution Service had anemergency meeting. Forensics took photographs but couldn’t find anyfingerprints – except the dead man’s, of course. They don’t match any wehave on record.’
‘If I remember correctly,don’t they have a file on our friend from the Baltic?’
‘Just the“word-picture”. No fingerprints, no anthropometric data.’
‘So we can’t be sure thatthe dead man is someone other than Pietr.’
‘But there’s no guaranteethat it is him, either!’
Maigret had taken out his pipe and apouch that had only a sprinkling of brown dust left in it. Mechanically Torrencehanded him an opened packet of shag.
There was a pause. Tobacco crackled inMaigret’s pipe. Then came a sound of footsteps and tinkling glassware on theother side of the door, which Torrence opened.
The waiter from Brasserie Dauphinebrought in six glasses of beer and four thick-stuffed sandwiches on a tray, which helaid on the table.
‘Are you sure that’ll beenough?’ he asked, seeing that Maigret had company.
Maigret started drinking and munchingwithout putting his pipe out, though he did push a glass over to hisassistant’s side of the desk.
‘I questioned all the staff whowere on the train. There’s definite proof that someone was on board without aticket. Could be the victim, could be the culprit! We’re assuming he got on atBrussels, on the track side. It’s easier to hide in a Pullman car than in anyother because each carriage has a lot of luggage space. Pietr had tea in therestaurant car between Brussels and the French border and spent his time flickingthrough a pile of French and English newspapers, including the financial dailies. Hewent to the toilet between Maubeuge and Saint-Quentin. The head waiter remembersthat because as he went past him Pietr said, “Take a whisky to myseat”.’
‘And he went back to his seatlater on?’
‘Fifteen minutes later, he wasback at his regular place with a whisky in front of him. But the head waiterdidn’t see Pietr again, since he didn’t go back by way of the restaurantcar.’
‘Did anybody try to use the toiletafter him?’
‘Sure! A lady traveller tried toget in, but the lock was jammed. It wasn’t until the train got to Paris that astaff member managed to force it open. The mechanism had been clogged with ironfilings.’
‘Up to that point, had anybody seteyes on the second Pietr?’
‘Absolutely not. He would havebeen very noticeable. He was wearing shoddy clothes and would have stood out a mileon a de luxe express.’
‘What about the bullet?’
‘Shot at point-blank range.Automatic revolver, 6 mm. The shot caused such burning of the skin that according tothe doctor the victim would have died from the heat shock alone.’
‘Any sign of astruggle?’
‘None at all. The pockets wereempty.’
‘I know that …’
‘Sorry! However, I did find thisin a small button-down pocket on the inside of his waistcoat.’
Torrence then extracted from his walleta folded piece of transparent paper inside which you could see a strand of brownhair.
‘Hand it over …’
Maigret hadn’t stopped eating anddrinking all the while.
‘A woman’s hair? Or achild’s?’
‘Forensics says it’s awoman’s hair. I left him a few strands that he’s promised to examineclosely.’
‘And the autopsy?’
‘All done by 10 a.m. Probable age:thirty-two. Height 1 m 68 cm. No hereditary abnormalities. One of his kidneys was inpoor shape, which could mean he was a boozer. Stomach contained tea and otherdigested matter that couldn’t be identified straight away. They’ll workon the analysis tomorrow. Now the examination is over the body is being kept on iceat the morgue.’
Maigret wiped his mouth, stationedhimself in his favourite position in front of the stove and held out his hand, whichTorrence mechanically supplied with a packet of tobacco.
‘For my part,’ Maigret saideventually, ‘I saw Pietr, or whoeverhas taken over his role, check in at Hôtel Majestic and have dinner with theMortimer-Levingstons, which seems to have been arranged in advance.’
‘Yes, that’s right. Afterthe meal, Pietr went back to his suite. I warned the American. Mortimer then went tohis room. They were obviously planning to go out as a threesome, since Mrs Mortimercame down straight after, in full evening gear. Ten minutes later, both men hadvanished. Our Latvian had switched his evening wear for less swanky clothes.He’d put on a cap, and the guard just assumed he was a kitchen worker. ButLevingston left as he was, in formal attire.’
Torrence said nothing. In the long pausethat ensued, you could hear the fire roaring in the stove and the window panesrattling in the storm.
Torrence finally broke the silence.
‘Luggage?’ he asked.
‘Done. Nothing there! Just clothesand underwear … The usual accoutrements of a first-class traveller. Not ascrap of paper. The Mortimer woman is certain that her husband has beenmurdered.’
Somewhere a bell rang. Maigret openedthe drawer in his desk where that afternoon he’d put all the telegrams aboutPietr the Latvian.
Then he looked at the map. He drew aline with his finger from Krakow to Bremen, then to Amsterdam, Brussels andParis.
Somewhere near Saint-Quentin, a briefhalt: a man died.
In Paris, the line came to a full stop.Two men vanish from the middle of the Champs-Élysées.
All that’s left are suitcases in a suite and MrsMortimer-Levingston, whose mind is as empty as Pietr’s travelling chest.
The gurgle from Maigret’s pipe wasgetting so annoying that the inspector took a swatch of chicken feathers fromanother drawer, cleaned the shaft, then opened the stove door and flung the soiledfeathers in the fire.
Four of the beer glasses were empty butfor sticky froth marks on the rim. Somebody came out of one of the offices on thecorridor, locked his door and went away.
‘Who’s a lucky man!’Torrence observed. ‘That’s Lucas. Tonight he got a tip-off from somemoneyed brat and arrested a pair of drug dealers.’
Maigret was poking the fire, and when hestood up his face was crimson. In routine fashion he picked up the translucentpaper, extracted the strand of hair and turned it over in the light. Then he wentback to the map and studied the invisible track of Pietr’s journey. It made asweeping arc of almost 180 degrees.
If he had started out from Krakow, thenwhy had he gone all the way north to Bremen before swerving back down to Paris?
He was still holding the slip of paper.He muttered:
‘There must have been a pictureinside this once.’
In fact, the tissue was a glassineenvelope, a slipcover of the kind photographers use to protect customers’orders. But it was an obsolete size known as ‘album format’ that couldonly now be found in provincial backwaters. The photo that this cover must haveprotected would have been about half the size of a standard postcard, printed onoff-white glacé paper on cardboard backing.
‘Is anyone still there at the lab?’ Maigretsuddenly asked.
‘I guess so. They must still beprocessing the photos of the Étoile du Nord affair.’
There was only one full glass left onthe table. Maigret gulped it down and put on his jacket.
‘You’ll comealong? … Those kinds of portrait photos usually have the name and addressof the photographer printed or embossed on them …’
Torrence got the point. They set offthrough a labyrinth of passageways and stairs up into the attic floors of the LawCourts and finally found the forensics lab.
An expert took the slipcover, ran itthrough his fingers, almost sniffed at it. Then he sat at an arc lamp and wheeledover a carriage-mounted multiplying glass.
The principle is straightforward: blankpaper that has been in protracted contact with another sheet that has been printedor written on eventually acquires an imprint of the letters on that other sheet. Theimprint cannot be seen by the naked eye, but photography can reveal it.
The fact that there was a stove in thelab meant that Maigret was destined to end up there. He stood watch for the bestpart of an hour, smoking pipe after pipe, while Torrence trailed the photographer ashe came and went.
At long last the darkroom door opened. Avoice cried out:
‘We’ve got it!’
‘The photo credit is: LéonMoutet, Art Photography, Quai des Belges, Fécamp.’
Only a real expert could decipher theplate. Torrence, for instance, could only see a blur.
‘Do you want to see thepost-mortem photos?’ the expertasked cheerfully. ‘They’re first-rate! But it was a tight fit insidethat railway toilet! Would you believe it, we had to hang the camera from theceiling …’
‘Have you got an outsideline?’ Maigret asked, gesturing towards the phone.
‘Yes … the switchboardshuts down at nine, so before she goes off the operator connects me to theoutside.’
Maigret called the Majestic and spoke toone of the desk interpreters.
‘Has Mr Mortimer-Levingston comeback in?’
‘I’ll find out for you, sir.To whom do I have the honour of …’
‘No, sir, he’s notback.’
‘What about Mr OswaldOppenheim?’
‘Not back either, sir.’
‘What is Mrs Mortimer upto?’
‘I asked you what Mrs Mortimer isdoing.’
‘She is … I think she isin the bar …’
‘Do you mean she’sdrunk?’
‘She has had a few cocktails, sir.She said she would not go up to her suite until her husband comesback … Do you …?’
‘Hello? … This is themanager speaking,’ another voice broke in. ‘Any progress? Do you thinkthis will get into the papers? …’
Cruelly, Maigret hung up. To please thephotographer he took a look at the first proof photos laid out in the drying trays,still gleaming wet. While doing that he was talking to Torrence.
‘You’re going to settle in at the Majestic,old pal. The main thing is to take no notice whatsoever of the manager.’
‘What about you,patron?’
‘I’m going back to theoffice. There’s a train to Fécamp at 5.30, It’s not worth going home andwaking up Mme Maigret. Hang on … The Dauphine should still be open. Onyour way, order me up a beer …’
‘Just one …?’ Torrenceinquired, with a deadpan expression on his face.
‘As you like, old pal! Thewaiter’s smart enough to know it means three or four. Have him throw in a fewsandwiches as well.’
They traipsed down an unending spiralstaircase in single file.
The black-gowned photographer was lefton his own to admire the prints he’d just made. He still had to numberthem.
The two detectives parted company in thefreezing courtyard.
‘If you leave the Majestic for anyreason, make sure one of our men holds the fort,’ Maigret instructed.‘I’ll telephone the front desk if I need to get intouch …’
He went back to his office and stokedthe fire so vigorously he could have snapped the grate.
4.The Seeteufel’s First Mate
The station at La Bréauté, on the mainline to Le Havre, where Maigret had to change trains at 7.30 a.m., gave him aforetaste of Fécamp.
The ill-lit station buffet had grimywalls and a counter offering only a few mouldy pieces of cake alongside a miserablefruit stack made of three bananas and five oranges.
The foul weather had even more impacthere than in Paris. Rain was coming down in buckets. Crossing from one track to theother meant wading through knee-deep mud.
The branch-line train was a ricketyaffair made up of carriages on their way to scrap. In the pale half-light of dawnyou could hardly make out the fuzzy shapes of farmhouses through the peltingrain.
Fécamp! The air was laden with the smellof herring and cod. Mountains of casks. Ships’ masts peering over thelocomotive. Somewhere a siren blared.
‘Quai des Belges?’
Straight ahead. All he had to do waswalk through slimy puddles gleaming with fish scales and rotting innards.
The photographer was also a shopkeeperand a newspaper vendor. He stocked oilskins, sailcloth pea-jackets and hempen ropealongside New Year’s greeting cards.
A weakling with very pale skin: as soonas he heard the word ‘police’ he called his wife to the rescue.
‘Can you tell me what photo was inthis slipcover?’
It dragged on. Maigret had to squeeze words out of himone by one and do his thinking for him.
In the first place, the technicianhadn’t used that format for eight years, ever since he’d acquired newequipment to do postcard-sized portraits.
Who might have had his or her photographtaken eight or more years ago? Monsieur Moutet took a whole fifteen minutes toremember that he’d got an album with archive copies of all the portraits donein his establishment.
His wife went to get it. Sailors cameand went. Kids came in to buy a penny’s worth of sweets. Outside, ships’tackle scraped on the dock. You could hear the waves shifting shingle along thebreakwater.
Maigret thumbed through the archivealbum, then specified what he was looking for:
‘A young woman with extremely finebrown hair …’
That did it.
‘Mademoiselle Swaan!’ thephotographer exclaimed. He turned up the snapshot straight away. It was the onlytime he’d had a decent subject to photograph.
She was a pretty woman. She lookedtwenty. The photo fitted the slipcover exactly.
‘Who is she?’
‘She’s still living inFécamp. But now she’s got a clifftop villa five minutes from theCasino …’
‘Is she married?’
‘She wasn’t then. She wasthe cashier at the Railway Hotel.’
‘Opposite the station, Isuppose?’
‘Yes, you must have seen it onyour way here. She was an orphan from some small place around here … LesLoges … Do you know where I mean? … Anyway, that’s how she got to meet a traveller stayingat the hotel … They got married … At the moment she’sliving in the villa with her two children and a maid …’
‘Mr Swaan doesn’t live inFécamp?’
There was a pause. The photographer andhis wife exchanged glances. The woman answered:
‘Since you’re from thepolice, I suppose we’d better tell you everything. Anyway you’d find itall out in the end, but … They’re only rumours, but … MrSwaan almost never stays in Fécamp. When he does come he stops for a few days at themost … Sometimes it’s just a flying visit … He first camenot long after the war … The Grand Banks were being reorganized, afterfive years’ interruption. He wanted to look into it properly, so he said, andto make investments in businesses that were being started up again. He claimed to beNorwegian … His first name is Olaf … The herring fishermen whosometimes go as far as Norway say there are plenty of people over there who havethat name … Nonetheless, people said he was really a German spy.That’s why, when he got married, his wife was kept at arm’s length. Thenwe discovered he really was a sailor and was first mate on a German merchantman, andthat was why he didn’t show up very often … Eventually peoplestopped bothering about him, but we’re still wary …’
‘You said they hadchildren?’
‘Two … A little girl ofthree and a baby a few months old …’
Maigret took the photograph out of thealbum and got directions to the villa. It was a bit too early to turn up. He waitedin a harbour café for two hours, listening to fishermen talking about the herringcatch, which was at its height. Fivetrawlers were tied up at the quay. Fish was being unloaded by the barrelful. Despitethe wind and rain, the air stank.
To get to the villa he walked along thedeserted breakwater and around the shuttered Casino still plastered with lastsummer’s posters. At last he got to a steep climb that began at the foot ofthe cliff. As he plodded up he got occasional glimpses of iron railings in front ofvillas. The one he was looking for turned out to be a comfortable-looking red-brickstructure, neither large nor small. He guessed that the garden with its white-gravelpaths was well tended in season. The windows must have had a good view into the fardistance.
Maigret rang the bell. A great Danecame to sniff at him through the railings, and its lack of bark made it seem all themore ferocious. At the second ring, a maid appeared. First she took the dog back tohis kennel, and then asked:
‘What is it about?’
She spoke with the local accent.
‘I would like to see Mr Swaan,please.’
She seemed hesitant.
‘I don’t know if sir isin … I’ll go and ask.’
She hadn’t opened the gate. Rainwas still pouring down, and Maigret was soaked through. He watched the maid go upthe steps and vanish inside the house. Then a curtain shifted at a window. A fewmoments later the maid reappeared.
‘Sir will not be back for severalweeks. He is in Bremen …’
‘In that case I would like to havea word with Madame Swaan …’
The maid hesitated again, but ended up opening thegate.
‘Madame isn’t dressed. Youwill have to wait …’
The dripping detective was shown into aneat lounge with white curtains and a waxed floor. The furniture was brand new, butjust the same as you would find in any lower-middle-class home. They weregood-quality pieces, in a style that would have been called modern around 1900.
Light oak. Flowers in an‘artistic’ stone vase in the middle of the table. Crochet-workplace-mats. On the other hand, there was a magnificent sculpted silver samovar on aside-table. It must have been worth more than the rest of the room’s contentsput together.
Maigret heard noises coming from thefirst floor. A baby could be heard crying through one of the ground-floor walls;someone else was mumbling something in a soft and even voice, as if to comfort it.At last, the sound of slippered feet gliding along the corridor. The door opened.Maigret found himself facing a young woman who had dressed in a hurry so as to meethim.
She was of medium height, more plumpthan slim, with a pretty and serious face that betrayed a pang of anxiety. Shesmiled nonetheless and said:
‘Why didn’t you take aseat?’
Rivulets of rainwater flowed fromMaigret’s overcoat, trousers and shoes into little puddles on the polishedfloor. In that state he could not have sat down on the light-green velvet of thearmchairs in the lounge.
‘Madame Swaan, Ipresume? …’
‘Yes, monsieur …’
She looked at him quizzically.
‘I’m sorry to disturb youlike this … It’s just a formality … I’m with the ImmigrationService … We’re conducting a survey …’
She said nothing. She didn’t seemany more or less anxious than before.
‘I understand Mr Swaan is a Swede.Is that correct?’
‘Oh no, he’sNorwegian … But for the French I guess it’s the samething … To begin with, I myself …’
‘He is a ship’sofficer?’
‘He’s first mate on theSeeteufel, out of Bremen …’
‘As I thought … So he isin the employ of a German company?’
‘The ship-owner is German,yes … At least, on paper …’
‘I don’t think I need tokeep it from you … You must be aware that the merchant fleet has been incrisis since the war … Even here you can find ocean-going captainswho’ve been unable to find commissions and who have to take positions as firstor even second mates … Others have joined the Newfoundland or the NorthSea fishing fleets.’
She spoke quite fast, but in a gentleand even tone.
‘My husband didn’t want totake on a commission in the Pacific, where there’s more work, because hewouldn’t have been able to come back to Europe more than once every twoyears … Shortly after we got married, some Americans bought theSeeteufel in the name of a German shipping firm … Olaf firstcame to Fécamp looking specifically for more schooners to buy … Now youmust see … The aim was to run booze to the USA … Substantialfirms were set up with American money … They have offices in France,Holland, or Germany … The truth is that my husband works for one of these companies. TheSeeteufel sails what’s called Rum Alley. Itdoesn’t really have anything to do with Germany.’
‘Is he at sea at themoment?’ Maigret asked, keeping his eyes on that pretty face, which struck himas an honest and even at times a touching one.
‘I don’t think so. You mustrealize that the sailings aren’t as regular as those of a liner. But I alwaystry to keep abreast of the Seeteufel’s position. At the moment heought to be in Bremen, or very nearly there.’
‘Have you ever been toNorway?’
‘Never! I’ve actually neverleft Normandy, so to speak. Just a couple of times, for short stays inParis.’
‘With your husband?’
‘Yes … On our honeymoon,as well.’
‘He’s got fair hair,hasn’t he?’
‘Yes … Why do youask?’
‘And a thin, close-cropped blondmoustache?’
‘Yes … I can show you apicture of him if you like.’
She opened a door and went out. Maigretcould hear her moving about in the bedroom next door.
She was out for longer than made sense,and the noises of doors opening and closing and of comings and goings around thehouse were just as illogical.
At last she came back, looking somewhatperplexed and apologetic.
‘Please excuse me …’she said. ‘I can’t manage to put my hand on that photo … Ahouse with children is always upside down …’
‘One more question … Tohow many people did you give a copy of this photograph of yourself?’
Maigret showed her the archive printhe’d been given by the photographer.Madame Swaan went bright red and stuttered:
‘I don’tunderstand …’
‘Your husband presumably hasone?’
‘Yes … We were engagedwhen …’
‘Does any other man have aprint?’
She was on the verge of tears. Thequiver of her lips gave away her distress.
‘Thank you, madame. That will beall.’
As he was leaving a little girl slippedinto the hallway. Maigret had no need to memorize her features. She was the spittingimage of Pietr the Latvian!
‘Olga! …’ her motherscolded, as she hustled her back through a half-open door.
Maigret was back outside in the rain andthe wind.
‘Goodbye, madame …’
He caught a final glimpse of her throughthe closing door. He was aware that he had left her at a loss, after bursting in onher in the warmth of her own home. He picked up a trace in her eyes of somethinguncertain but undoubtedly akin to anxiety as she shut her front door.
5.The Russian Drunkard
You don’t boast about these kindsof things, they would raise a laugh if they were mentioned out loud, but all thesame, they call for a kind of heroism.
Maigret hadn’t slept. From 5.30 to8 a.m. he’d been shaken about in draughty railway carriages. Ever sincehe’d changed trains at La Bréauté he’d been soaked through. Now hisshoes squelched out dirty water at every step and his bowler was a shapeless mess.His overcoat and trousers were sopping wet.
The wind was slapping him with morerain. The alleyway was deserted. It was no more than a steep path between gardenwalls. The middle of it had turned into a raging torrent.
He stood still for quite a while. Evenhis pipe had got wet in his pocket. There was no way of hiding near the villa. Allhe could do was stick as close as possible to a wall and wait.
Anyone coming by would catch sight ofhim and look round. He might have to stay there for hours on end. There was nodefinite proof that there was a man in the house. And even if he were there, whyshould he come out?
Grumpy as he was, Maigret filled his wetpipe with tobacco all the same, and wedged himself as best he could into a cranny inthe wall …
This was no place for a detective chiefinspector of the Police Judiciaire. Atmost it was a job for a new recruit. Between the age of twenty-two and thirtyhe’d stood this sort of watch a hundred times over.
He had a terrible time getting a matchto light. The emery board on the side of the box was coming off in strips. If one ofthe sticks hadn’t finally ignited, maybe even Maigret would have given up andgone home.
He couldn’t see anything fromwhere he was standing except a low wall and the green-painted railing of the villa.He had brambles at his ankles and a draught all down his neck.
Fécamp was laid out beneath him, but hecould not see the town. He could only hear the roar of the sea and now and again asiren or the sound of a car.
After half an hour on watch he saw awoman with a shopping basket, who looked like a cook, making her way up the steepslope. She only saw Maigret when she passed close by him. His huge, unmoving shapestanding next to the wall in a wind-swept alley so scared her that she started torun.
Perhaps she worked for one of the villasat the top of the rise? A few minutes later a man appeared at the bend and stared atMaigret from afar. Then a woman joined him, and both went back inside.
It was a ridiculous situation. Theinspector knew there wasn’t one chance in ten that his surveillance would beof any use.
Yet he stuck it out – just because of avague feeling that didn’t even deserve to be called an intuition. In fact itwas a pet theory of his that he’d never worked out in full and remained vaguein his mind, but which he dubbed for his own use the theory of the crack in thewall.
Inside every wrong-doer and crook there lives a humanbeing. In addition, of course, there is an opponent in a game, and it’s theplayer that the police are inclined to see. As a rule, that’s what they goafter.
Some crime or offence is committed. Thematch starts on the basis of more or less objective facts. It’s a problem withone or more unknowns that a rational mind tries to solve.
Maigret worked like any other policeman.Like everyone else, he used the amazing tools that men like Bertillon, Reiss andLocard have given the police – anthropometry, the principle of the trace, and soforth – and that have turned detection into forensic science. But what he sought,what he waited and watched out for, was the crack in the wall. In otherwords, the instant when the human being comes out from behind the opponent.
At the Majestic he’d seen theplayer. But here, he had a premonition of something else. The tidy, quiet villawasn’t one of the props that Pietr used to play his hand. Especially the wifeand the children he’d seen and heard: they belonged to a different physicaland moral order.
That’s why he was waiting, albeitin a foul mood, for he was too fond of his big cast-iron stove and his office withglasses of frothy beer on the table not to be miserable in such awful weather.
He’d started his watch a littleafter 10.30. At half past noon he heard footsteps scrunching the gravel and swift,practised movements opening the gate, which brought a figure to within three metresof the inspector. The lie of the land made it impossible for Maigret to retreat. Sohe stood his ground unwaveringly, or, to be more precise, inertly, standing on twolegs that could be seen in the roundthrough the sopping wet trousers that clung to them.
The man leaving the villa was wearing apoor-quality belted trenchcoat, with its worn-out collar upturned. He was alsowearing a grey cap. The get-up made him look very young. He went down the hill withhis hands in his pockets, all hunched up and shivering because of the contrast intemperature.
He was obliged to pass within a metre ofthe Detective Chief Inspector. He chose that moment to slow down, take a packet ofcigarettes out of his pocket and light up. It was as if he’d positively triedto get his face into the light so as to allow the detective to study it indetail!
Maigret let him go on a few paces, thenset off on his tail, with a frown on his face. His pipe had gone out. His wholebeing exuded a sense of displeasure as well as an ardent desire to understand.
The man in the trenchcoat looked likethe Latvian and yet did not resemble him! Same height: about 1 m 68cm. At a pinch hecould be the same age, though in the outfit he was wearing he looked closer totwenty-six than thirty-two. There was nothing to determine that this man was not theoriginal of the ‘word-picture’ that Maigret knew by heart andalso had on a piece of paper in his pocket.
And yet … it was not the sameman! For one thing, his eyes had a vaguer, more sentimental expression. They were alighter shade of grey, as if the rain had scrubbed them. Nor did he have a blondtoothbrush moustache. But that wasn’t the only thing that made himdifferent.
Maigret was struck by other details. Hisoutfit was nothing like that of an officer of the merchant fleet. It didn’t even fit the villa, given the comfortablemiddle-class style of living that it implied.
His shoes were worn and the heels hadbeen redone. Because of the mud, the man hitched up his trouser legs, showing fadedgrey cotton socks that had been clumsily darned.
There were lots of stains on thetrenchcoat. Overall, the man fitted a type that Maigret knew well: the migrantlow-lifer, predominantly of Eastern European origin, who slept in squalid lodginghouses and sometimes in railway stations. A type not often seen outside Paris, butaccustomed to travelling in third-class carriages when not riding the footboards orhopping freight trains.
He got proof of his insight a fewminutes later. Fécamp doesn’t have any genuine low dives, but behind theharbour there are two or three squalid bars favoured by dockhands and seamen. Tenmetres before these places there’s a regular café kept clean and bright. Theman in the trenchcoat walked right past it and straight into the least prepossessingof the bars, where he put his elbow on the counter in a way that Maigret saw rightthrough.
It was the straightforwardly vulgarbody-language of a guttersnipe. Even if he’d tried, Maigret couldn’thave imitated it. The inspector followed the man into the bar. He’d ordered anabsinthe substitute and was just standing there, wordless, with a blank stare on hisface. He didn’t register Maigret’s presence, though the inspector wasnow right next to him.
Through a gap in the man’s jacketMaigret could see that his linen was dirty. That’s not something that can besimulated, either! His shirt and collar – now not much more than a ribbon – had been worn for days, maybe forweeks on end. They’d been slept in – God knows where! They’d beensweated in and rained on.
The man’s suit was not unstylish,but it bore the same signs and told the same miserable story of a vagrant life.
The glass was empty, and the barmanrefilled it, serving Maigret a measure of spirits at the same time.
‘So you’re back in theseparts again? …’
The man didn’t answer. He downedhis drink in one gulp and gestured for a refill straight away.
‘Anything toeat? … I’ve got some pickled herring …’
Maigret had sidled up to a small stove,and stood in front of it to warm his back, now as shiny as an umbrella.
‘Come to think of it … Ihad a man in here last week from your part of the world … Russian he was,from Archangelsk … Sailing a Swedish three-master that had to put in toport because of the bad weather … Hardly had time to drink his fill, I cantell you! … Had a devil of a job on his hands … Torn sails,snapped yards, you name it …’
The man, now on his fourth imitationabsinthe, was drinking steadily. The barman filled his glass every time it wasempty, glancing at Maigret with a conniving wink.
‘As for Captain Swaan, Iain’t seen him since you was here last.’
Maigret shuddered. The man in thetrenchcoat who’d now downed his fifth neat ersatz absinthe staggered towardsthe stove, bumped into the detective and held out his hands towards the warmth.
‘I’ll have a herring, allthe same …’ he said.
He had a quite strong accent – a Russianaccent, as far as the detective could judge.
There they were, next to each other, shoulder toshoulder, so to speak. The man wiped his face with his hand several times, and hiseyes grew ever more murky.
‘Where’s myglass? …’ he inquired testily.
It had to be put in his hand. As hedrank he stared at Maigret and pouted with disgust.
There was no mistaking that expression!As if to assert his opinion all the more clearly, he threw his glass to the ground,leaned on the back of a chair and muttered something in a foreign tongue.
The barman, somewhat concerned, found away of getting close to Maigret and whispering quietly in a way that was nonethelessaudible to the Russian:
‘Don’t take any notice ofhim. He’s always like that …’
The man gave a drunkard’sstrangled laugh. He slumped into the chair, put his head in both his hands andstayed like that until a plate of herring was pushed over the table between hiselbows. The barman shook his shoulder.
‘Eat up! … It’lldo you good …’
The man laughed again. It was more likea bitter cough. He turned round so he could see Maigret and stare at himaggressively, then he pushed the plate of herring off the table.
‘More drink! …’
The barman raised his arms and gruntedas if it was an excuse:
‘Russians, I ask you!’
Then he put his finger to his head andturned it, as if he was tightening a loose screw.
Maigret had pushed his bowler to the back of his head.His clothes were steaming, giving off a grey haze. He was only up to his secondglass of spirits.
‘I’ll have someherring!’ he said.
He was still eating it with a slice ofbread when the Russian got up on unsteady legs, looked around as if he didn’tknow what to do and grinned for the third time when he set eyes on Maigret.
Then he slumped down at the bar, took aglass from the shelf and a bottle from the enamel sink where it was being kept coolin water. He helped himself without watching how much he was taking and smacked histongue as he drank.
Eventually he took a 100 franc note outof his pocket.
‘Is that enough, you swine?’he asked the waiter.
He threw the banknote up in the air. Thebarman had to fish it out of the sink.
The Russian struggled with the doorhandle, which wouldn’t open. There was almost a fight because the barman triedto help his customer, who kept elbowing him away.
At long last the trenchcoat faded awayinto the mist and rain along the harbour-side, going towards the station.
‘That’s an odd’un,’ the barman sighed, intending to be heard by Maigret, who waspaying his bill.
‘Is he often in?’
‘Now and again … Once hespent the whole night here, on the bench where you’resitting … He’s a real Russian! … Some Russian sailors whowere here in Fécamp at the same time as he was told me so … Apparentlyhe’s quite educated … Did you look at his hands? …’
‘Don’t you think he’sgot the same looks as Captain Swaan? …’
‘Oh! So you know him … Well, of course hedoes! But not so much as you’d mistake one for the other … All thesame … For ages I thought it was his brother.’
The beige silhouette vanished round acorner. Maigret started to walk faster. He caught up with the Russian just as he wasgoing into the third-class waiting room at the station. The man slumped onto a benchand once again put his head in his hands.