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Maigret and the April Visitor

by Murielle Wenger

original French

The papers on his desk rippled at the slightest puff of air. The window was wide open, letting in the noises of the street and the characteristic odor of Parisian springtime. Maigret lit a new pipe, sighed as he regarded with a reluctant eye the report he was working on, then got up and went to the window, like someone giving in to a desire too long held in check. His look wandered over the quays, the Seine, which was this morning the same fresh green as the chestnut buds, and the passers-by, among them women brightly dressed in their first spring outfits, giving patches of color.

The telephone rang, and Maigret regretfully left his observation post to answer. At the other end of the line, he heard Janvier's voice...

"We've done it, boss! We've located Stan!"

"Where are you?"

"In a café on the corner of the Rue Saint-Antoine. Verduret is watching the entrance to the hotel right across the street. We've been following the Polish woman since yesterday, and this morning she went into this hotel. Verduret, who took over at 8:00, just told me that he saw a guy go in whose description matches Stan's. What should we do?"

"I'll send Lucas over. He's in charge of this case so it's for him to finish it up."

Lucas had hardly left with Maigret's final instructions when the phone rang again. This time it was Torrence.

"Is that you, Boss?" (as if it could have been anyone else!) "Thouret just left his house and is heading toward the metro. What should I do, follow him?"

Maigret wanted to shrug his shoulders. He grumbled, "Of course you should follow him! What else do you want to do?"

"Me, I don't know. I was thinking that maybe you..."

"Don't think too much, Torrence… For the moment, simply follow Thouret. All I want to know at this point is who he meets, who he talks with, etc. Clear?"

"Clear, Boss," replied Torrence, sounding like a little boy who'd been scolded.

Maigret returned with a sigh to reading his report. He'd only finished a single sentence when the telephone rang once more. The Chief Inspector stared at it as if considering sending it flying across the room. He decided, however, to lift the receiver.

"Boss? Lapointe here. Madame Blanc has returned home."

Maigret nearly said "So?", but remembered in time that he'd instructed the young inspector to keep watch for the concierge of the Rue Rambuteau, and to let him know when she returned.

"Wait for me," he answered. "I'll be there fifteen minutes."

Maigret took two pipes from his desk and shoved them into his pockets. He had recovered his good mood, for the prospect of escaping from his office on such a day delighted him. The bright April sun, the soft breeze which curled the Seine into little wavelets, didn't all that deserve going out to savor it? This was no time to be stuck indoors, for sure!

Happy as a lark, he headed for the door, whistling as he opened it. Passing before Joseph's glass cage, he gave him a happy wave of the hand, then took the stairs whose dust was turned golden by a ray of sun angling across it.

He'd descended but a few steps when he heard himself called. It was Joseph. "Monsieur Chief Inspector, Monsieur Chief Inspector! They're looking for you!"

Maigret wanted to continue on his way without answering... Nevertheless, he stopped, already convinced that this was going to spoil his promenade...

"What is it?" he asked Joseph, who'd caught up with him, out of breath from having run down the stairs.

"It's Monsieur the Director. He just called your office, but you'd already gone out. He absolutely wants to see you."

Maigret frowned. What could the Chief want, since he'd only left him half an hour earlier, after the daily report? There was no serious business in progress – Guichard hadn't mentioned anything special a while earlier...

Maigret remounted the stairs, muttering to himself. There it goes, he'd bet on it! It was finished, his little springtime escapade!

Maigret walked down the hall to the Chief's office. For once no one was waiting on the red velvet bench. He knocked at the door, and a voice called out to come in.

The Chief was sitting at his desk, and the light of the sun, filtered through the muslin curtain, backlit his white and silky hair, giving him a sort of halo. Across from him, in the green armchair, was seated a man at whom he smiled (and Maigret would have sworn that he'd given him a wink) when he saw that it was the Chief Inspector who'd entered. The stranger turned, rose and advanced towards Maigret, his hand held out. He was in his fifties, with blue eyes, a neat beard, an engaging smile, and something about him that suggested that he was a foreigner.

"Maigret, I'd like to introduce you to someone who greatly admires you."

Guichard's voice was tinged with its habitual tone of affectionate mockery. The Chief knew that Maigret had a great horror of those visitors who, after displaying their admiration, finally arrived at posing the inevitable question about the Chief Inspector's "methods". Maigret, according to the circumstances, was content to grumble that he had no methods, and if the visitor insisted, finished by declaring to him in a serious tone, hardly tinged with sarcasm, that he "never thought" and that he "knew nothing" and then, depending on how he felt about the person, he'd either claim urgent business and escape, or invite his "admirer" along for a drink, and, with the aid of the Calvados, end up declaring to his somewhat disoriented visitor that this was it, his method – to eat well, drink a lot, and ruminate while smoking a pipe, seated in the corner of a brasserie or a little neighborhood café.

Maigret shook the man's hand, all the while trying to discover his profession... Was he a journalist? Criminologist? Provincial Deputy? Guichard, a malicious glint in his look, as if he guessed Maigret's thoughts, stretched out the suspense. Finally, realizing no doubt that it was the visitor who would be the most vexed by the situation, he proceeded with the introductions.

"The gentleman is a professor, and comes to us straight from Honolulu."

"Professor of what?" Maigret asked himself, not daring to formulate his question out loud. He'd already just about settled on the location of Honolulu, somewhere out in the Pacific. He didn't want to make himself look foolish or ignorant, above all in front of his Chief, who, obviously, was greatly enjoying the situation. What could a professor come from so far away have to do with him, Maigret, Chief Inspector of the Parisian Police Judiciare?

"M. Trussel," continued Guichard, "maintains an internet site about you."

The Chief Inspector's face must have been funny to see, for Guichard made a great effort not to break out laughing, and Maigret thought he saw him direct another wink towards the visitor.

Ah, a website! Maigret, who'd never really gone beyond the heroic epoch of the beginnings of the telephone (he hardly knew how to use the public phone booths which had little by little invaded the streets of the capital, preferring instead to call from a café... which gave him a pretext to avail himself of a glass of white wine or a beer!), paid only the slightest attention to new technology, leaving it to the younger inspectors to manipulate all these strange engines for which he felt not the slightest affinity.

"M. Trussel," continued Guichard, "had the opportunity to come to Paris, and he'd like to verify some information with you, to make his website more complete. I think you should be able to give him some of your time."

The Chief's tone, while it was amused, contained nonetheless an implicit order. Maigret knew that Guichard valued the reputation of Police Headquarters, and he was keen to confirm that the publications which appeared about it were as accurate as possible. And also because he'd once invited a young novelist to come and discover the 'backstagte' PJ, as Maigret would certainly remember, for the novelist in question had been inspired by the Chief Inspector to turn out an entire series of novels.

Like it or not, Maigret understood that he had to respond to the visitor's questions, and he invited him to follow. Guichard had bid him farewell with a ceremonious "I'm looking forward to meeting you again, Monsieur", to which he'd felt obliged to add, "I think that with the Chief Inspector, you'll not be disappointed with your visit..." At that Maigret had nearly bristled... but he contented himself with a shrug of his shoulders. Besides, he had a pretty favorable impression of this professor, he confessed to himself. The visitor didn't try to show off, and he didn't have that self-important assurance of young Sim at the beginning of their relationship, which had somewhat irritated Maigret before he and the novelist, tempered by the years, had ended up becoming friends.

"M. Trussel, shall we go to my office?"

"With pleasure. I must confess that I've always dreamed of seeing it in reality. I'm especially impatient to learn the exact number of pipes you have there".

Maigret smiled in spite of himself. Well, he might as well acknowledge that he appreciated the humor of his guest! He replied in the same tone, "To tell the truth, I'm sure I couldn't answer that question myself. I actually think I've never counted my pipes. As far back as I remember, I've always had at least one within reach, and that's been sufficient."

His visitor smiled in turn. They entered Maigret's office just as the telephone began to ring. The Chief Inspector lifted the receiver.

"Hello? Is that you, Boss?"

Lapointe! Maigret had completely forgotten the meeting he'd arranged! The receiver in one hand, his pipe in the other, he regarded with a meditative look the professor, who was holding out to him a lit match. The two men looked at each other and smiled. "After all, why not?" Maigret said to himself.

"Lapointe ? I'm sorry, I was held up. But don't worry, I'm coming."

"Okay, Boss."

"Oh, by the way, I won't be alone. I'll have with me a professor straight from Honolulu..."

Maigret hung up without giving Lapointe a chance to recover from his surprise and ask any questions. He turned to his visitor, "Do you like choucroute, M. Trussel?"

"I've never had a chance to try it, but I'd very much like to. But I believe you have to rejoin your inspector..."

"Oh, don't worry about that. We'll pick up Lapointe on the way. There's an excellent brasserie on the Rue Rambuteau, and we can eat there before going to see the concierge. And then, that'll give you a chance to meet Lapointe…"

"I'd be delighted."

"What's more, you can talk to him about your website thing... He's much more knowledgeable than me about these new techniques. I confess that myself…"

"Oh I've no doubt that rather than staring at a computer, you'd prefer to be out on a stakeout in some entranceway, even in the rain..."

"Yes, even in the rain, as you say. Only today it's not raining, and there's a beautiful sun, and we shouldn't let that go to waste…"

"Right you are. A rendezvous with a bright and beautiful sun of April in Paris, that shouldn't be missed... especially on April 7!

Murielle Wenger

translation: S. Trussel
Honolulu, April 2007

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