The Musician's Arrest
a translation of Part 1 of George Simenon's "L'Arrestation du Musicien,"
from his (1943) collection of stories, Les Dossiers de l'Agence O.
1. Where the detective Torrence, playing his part against Commissioner Lucas, rushes in, in full illegality
"What's he look like?" Torrence had asked on the phone before deciding.
"Small, kind of grouchy looking, with a mustache like Charlot..."
"Good! It's Commissioner Lucas."
An old colleague of Torrence's at the Criminal Investigation Department. It was becoming funnier. Lucas, indeed, was a perpetual worrier. The specter of a possible blunder literally plagued him. More honest than anyone should sensibly be, especially considering he spent his time battling criminals. But the strange thing was, everyone was afraid of Lucas, because of his air of being eternally grouchy.
The arrival of Torrence and his photographer Émile at the small bar in the Rue Fromentin was much more sensational than the Montmartre street itself, which, even though it opens onto the Place Pigalle, is one of quietest of the district. Especially at six o'clock in the morning!
It was May. Lucas was wearing his overcoat, which made him appear even smaller, because, like most small men, he liked long, full overcoats.
"You look like a candle snuffer," Torrence had told him once.
Lucas was drinking coffee at a marble table, close to the window. The patron of the bar was polishing his zinc counter with chalk. An inspector, seated in front of the commissioner, was listening to his last instructions.
"All of which leads us to believe that he is armed, and a man who'd sell his skin dearly. I'll go in first and..."
Just at that instant, the door opened and Torrence walked in, as if he were at home, as if it were perfectly natural that the director of Agency O would come to drink his morning coffee, in company of his photographer, in a bar on the Rue Fromentin.
At once, Lucas was upset.
"What are you doing here?"
"What! As you can see... I was passing through the district."
"Just as we were, isn't that so Émile?"
"That's right, boss."
"Curious that we should find ourselves in front of the Hotel du Dauphiné. Say, Lucas, are you going out of your way to protect yourself lately? I saw an inspector in the Place Pigalle, and another at the end of the street, not to mention the car waiting in front of the..."
"Seriously, what are you doing here? It's not possible that you've learned of..."
Poor Lucas! It was actually easy to understand. Three quarters of hour earlier, Torrence, who'd been snoring like a Dutch top, had been called to the phone.
"Is that you, M. Torrence? This is José. Forgive me for disturbing you at this hour, but the matter is serious and urgent."
What could be happening to José? Torrence had known him for years. All the night life of Paris knew him. José is, in fact, the director of one of the best jazz spots of Montmartre, and he attracts the crowd to the Penguin Cabaret in the Rue Fontaine.
"Listen, you have to come immediately! I'm sure they're going to arrest me in a few minutes."
Torrence, hardly awake, couldn't see what connection there could be between José and the police. Indeed, just because someone works every night in a Montmartre club doesn't necessarily make him bad, and José, for his part, was a real gentleman, whose life was as regular as could be.
"Explain yourself, old friend... I promise you..."
Torrence could hear the musician's voice, but it wasn't to him that he was speaking, it was to someone who must have been next to him. José was asking, "What did he do?"
"He sat down on a step of the staircase, just in front of the door," answered a woman's voice.
"Hello! M. Torrence. Excuse me... I asked Julie... You know her, don't you? But yes, you do! She was with the Banker... Yes, we've been together for some weeks... Listen, I have to tell you what's going on in just a few words. I'm afraid that they'll decide and that afterwards it will be too late."
Without letting go of the receiver, Torrence gargled a glass of water. He even managed to pull over his pipe in which some of last night's tobacco still remained.
"Go ahead. Julie, is she the tall blonde? The one who used to do the acrobatic dance number?"
"She's doing it again. She had enough of the Banker. I'll tell you about it. We're in love. We're together right now, in the Hotel du Dauphiné, Rue Fromentin, where I usually live. Wait... I see a new one on the sidewalk across the street. Careful, Julie! Don't move the curtain. It's better if they don't know that..."
"I still don't understand..."
"The Banker came several times to try to get Julie back... You know the type..."
Why was this character called the Banker? Maybe because of his very pronounced taste for ostentatious clothes, fur coats, diamonds as big as hazelnuts. Exactly how he made his living was a mystery. There was something rather scary about him and nothing inviting in his looks.
"Anyway, to continue... Naturally I refused to send her back to him. She wouldn't want to return to him for anything in the world. She only stayed because she was terrorized. He threatened me himself... And I confess that since then, I've been somewhat nervous, especially when I went home in the middle of the night, because he's a man to shoot you in the stomach and to continue quietly on his path..."
"Oof!" Torrence managed, without letting go of the telephone, to strike a match and light his pipe.
"He's at the Penguin almost every night. He was there tonight. But what seemed strangest to me, was that he was there with some others that I thought I recognized... policemen! At first, I just wondered why they were there. You know how it goes. In our room, one sees everything. But I ended up realizing that it was me they were watching. It was on my account that they were questioning the waiters and hostesses."
"When I went back to the Rue Fromentin with Julie, there were three of them on my heels. Looking out the window I could see easily that two of them had remained on watch in the street."
"We thought about it, Julie and me. It's unnecessary to swear to you that I haven't done anything wrong. Never any cocaine, nothing at all of that kind. It was Julie who caught on."
"I'll bet this is some play of the Banker's. It's his style..." she said.
While listening, Torrence had managed to put one shoe, then another.
"We didn't sleep. We heard a policeman who came to take his watch on the same landing. He's there now, just outside our room. And at dawn, another, who must be a commissioner, arrived by car. The others have been going over to report to him. The commissioner in question is at this moment across the street in the small bar. I'm sure that he's going to come to arrest me."
"Where do you usually leave the key to your room?"
"On the board, in the hotel office."
"In that case, you must search your room as quickly as possible -- check the mattresses, look everywhere. If the Banker is trying to have you arrested, there must be something that will be able to serve as evidence against you and this something..."
"Hello! Don't hang up. I thought we'd been cut off..."
"Look, M. Torrence, we've searched everywhere. Julie already thought of this..."
"Your pockets? Your clothes? Hers? If there are pictures on the walls, look behind them. I'm coming..."
Torrence, unshaven, jumped into a taxicab. He passed by the Boulevard Raspail to pick up Émile, his inseparable Émile who passes for a photographer or an employee of Agency O, but who is actually the brains behind it.
"We're off, Émile. Funny sort of job. They're going to arrest a musician who hasn't done anything."
"Are you sure?"
"I'd put my hand in the fire on it," exclaimed the good Torrence. I've known José for years. He is a charming lad and..."
Émile knows all, reads all, sees all... you'd have to believe that days, for him, didn't have twenty-four hours, but a hundred.
"Isn't he the jazz director at the Penguin? You know, boss, it was while coming out of the Penguin that Uncle John was killed the night before last..."
"I was taking care of something else..." grumbled Torrence, vexed not to have known from the newspapers this story of Uncle John.
"An old American, terribly rich. An original, spending all his nights in Montmartre boites, and known everywhere affectionately as Uncle John. In each club, he had his own personal whisky bottle, that he had had sent over from Canada. He had his own glass marked with his number."
"They say he spent fifteen or twenty thousand francs a night, in bills that he'd pull out of his pockets by the handful."
"But someone killed Uncle John. He was found not far from the Penguin, which he had just left, stabbed in the back. His jewelry was gone, as well as the money that he'd had on him."
"And so," said Torrence dreamily, "you believe that they suspect José of having committed this sordid crime?"
"We're here. Look! There're already two inspectors on watch. Lucas does things in a big way. You'd have to think he's nervous."
Torrence was hardly installed at the table of his old colleague and the conversation had just begun between the two men when they heard a ringing. The patron disappeared into a second room, came back soon.
"Are there among you a certain M. Torrence?"
"Yes, that's me..."
Lucas raised his eyebrows. First the arrival of the director of Agency O and his inseparable Émile was unexpected. But then they'd hardly arrived when they received a telephone call...
"Hello! Yes, it's me."
"I saw you arriving. I was behind the curtain. The second window on the left, on the fourth floor. You know that this is extremely serious. I'm going crazy."
"I did what you told me. We, Julie and I, turned the whole place upside down again thoroughly. There was only one place which we hadn't thought about. It's a good thing I phoned you. You know that I am saxophonist. I have two instruments that I keep in the same case. At first, I didn't see anything. Who would have the idea to stick his hand into one of the saxophones? Well, in one of them I found a blood stained dagger!"
"Don't shout so loud. The one on the landing could hear you. This is troublesome, clearly. As I know Lucas..."
"I thought we might throw it down the toilet, but it's too big. If they find me with this dagger, I wonder..."
Torrence, just like Maigret, his old boss, had the habit of calling people "son", especially in difficult moments.
"Listen. In a few minutes you'll see an open window in front of yours. It's definitely the fourth floor, isn't it? Once they're in the hotel, they won't think any more about watching the street. In any case, they won't watch the air. You'll throw the dagger and try hard to be skillful. For the rest, we'll advise you later..."
He found Lucas, his watch in his hand.
"6:07... The legal hour of sunrise. We are going to be able to proceed with this arrest. You see, Torrence, that I am always scrupulous concerning legality. Lawyers are so rascally! And it always falls back on us again..."
He rose. "Are you coming?"
"Where? But no, old friend... I don't believe that we are here for the same thing..."
Lucas crossed the street and gathered his men.
"Tell me quickly, Patron... Who lives on the fourth floor on the left?"
"An old deaf and mute woman who..."
Torrence said a few words to Émile who sprang to the staircase. Was he wrong? Was he right? His role, in any case, was to try by all means to avoid a serious accusation weighing on his client.
While he was being served, he went to the doorstep, as if to take some air. The sky was clear. The car of the CID had come and was stopped very close to the sidewalk just in front of the Hotel du Dauphiné. Lucas did things well. The big play that one reserves for the most dangerous malefactors.
"He's only missing the gas..." grumbled Torrence, thinking about the innocuous José.
And he was looking into the air. He saw José's window open. So Émile had succeeded, under God knows what pretext, in entering the old woman's and opening her window.
As long as the musician aims well...
"Good morning, M. Torrence."
He jumped. A man was next to him, whom he didn't recognize immediately.
"I didn't expect to meet you in our district at so early an hour. I'd believed that Agency O gave you so much work that..."
It was the Banker, wrapped of a thick gray half-belted overcoat, a cigarette in his lips.
"Do you like birds?"
He was looking up into the sky too. How to prevent him from seeing? Especially as this was the moment... José was bent down, taking aim... The police must be on the staircase...
Well, here goes nothing! Torrence yelled, "How dare you insult me!" And, at the same moment, he sent his fist full into the face of his interlocutor, who, surprised, put his hand to his nose, to his eyes, wavered, tried to cling while Torrence struck him again, as the patron of the bar ran out and contemplated the scene on his doorstep: "Where are your manners? To insult honest people who didn't even speak to you..."
The other sat on the sidewalk. Useless, now, he raised his head. It was done! Finished! The accusatory dagger had passed above like lightning over the street.
"My dear M. Torrence..." said the Banker quietly while standing up, "I don't have the habit of not repaying what is given to me... Only, I, I take my time... I add interest... Do you understand?"
Someone who didn't understand what was going on was the barman, staggered to see a man whom one had just spread out on the floor with a fist stand up, nearly smiling, to mop his bloody nose and to remain there, as if he waited for more.
"You were wrong, M. Torrence. Interest, don't forget! I wonder if it's not because I pay back with interest amounting to usury that that they call me the Banker..."
The window above was closed again. Soon Lucas reappeared on the doorstep of the hotel. He held the arm of the young woman, the blonde Julie, who wore a fur coat. José followed, in handcuffs, between two inspectors.
The other policemen remained upstairs, to search the room and the bathroom minutely.
If the city was beginning lazily to come to life, the street was still desolate. What worried Torrence, was not seeing Émile come back.
"Your Calvados is served..." announced the patron.
"I'm coming... Thank you..."
Was it that by chance the old deaf-mute...? Torrence was not calm. Had he been a little too daring and skirted a little too dangerously the path of legality? Lucas greeted him. He saluted him in turn. José's look, as he got settled in the car, was calmer than one would have expected...
"There's no other way out of this building, Patron?"
"No, monsieur. Why do ask?"
The car left. The Banker moved away, still mopping his nose.
A quarter of an hour passed, a half-hour, and Torrence was there waiting, more and more worried.
He couldn't imagine, when hearing a ringing in the parlor, that it was for him.
"M. Torrence!" called the patron.
He still couldn't understand. Who could know that...
"Hello!" he shouted with impatience.
"Careful, boss, you're going to deafen me."
"Of course. I thought that with the object that I had slipped into my camera, it was maybe preferable not to make an appearance. I went by the courtyard... There's a wall, not too high, and it didn't take long to find a house with an entrance onto the boulevard..."
"Where are you now?"
"At the office, boss. I'm waiting for you. As for the old woman... Humph!"
"What? What happened?"
"Nothing serious, boss. I had my photographer's black sheet over my face and, when she opened the door, she quite simply fainted. She's going to spend her day looking for what's missing in her lodging..."