Confessions (2nd Year N° 10)
February 4, 1937, p 22-26
Georges Simenon decides:
On the retirement
What the most famous French detective novelist never dared to imagine in one of his novels has just occurred last week.
"And the blond young man with the glasses?" I asked.
Chief Inspector Maigret was content to look at me as if to say, "Don't you know yet that the bespectacled young man at the beginning of a novel is never the right one?"
"But still," I countered, "the sweeper..."
"Ah, yes!" he said, "The sweeper..."
And there was a funny smile beneath his Gallic mustache.
"You won't deny that secret organizations were interested..."
Maigret grumbled, received reports from people who claimed to have heard other people say that they knew something.
It was Saturday, the Maigret of the eighth or ninth chapter, when he only had forty pages left to discover the guilty party. At those moments, he was more taciturn than usual and grumbled a lot more than he spoke, except to direct a vulgarity at someone who interrupted him.
Was it the four cartridges he was concerned about? Was it the stiletto, which, according to some, revealed the involvement of a Spaniard, and to others, an Italian?
In the third chapter, in other words, around Wednesday, there had been talk of a woman's revenge.
In the fourth it had been the issue of the victim's double life...
Maigret didn't falter, smoked, received visitors, pursued his ideas ponderously.
And then on Sunday, as he sat in his office before the scattered documents, I saw him suddenly gather up all his papers, rise with a sigh, pick up his overcoat and grab his bowler.
"Impossible!" I exclaim. "You haven't found the solution yet. We're only in the ninth chapter and..."
"Are you coming?" he asks me. "I have to close the office."
"Are you going back to the scene?"
"You're not going to tell me you're about to make an arrest?"
We were in the hallway of the P.J. and Maigret calmly removed the placard affixed to his door on which his name and title were inscribed.
"That's it," he said simply.
"You can see well enough! I'm leaving. I'm going home. Home do you understand?"
"But the bespectacled young blond man... the sweeper... the secret association that..."
"That doesn't concern me anymore. It is January 31. As of midnight, I am no longer Divisional Chief Inspector and..."
And so it was by retirement that the last investigation of Chief Inspector Maigret's ended.
You ask which Maigret this is about? I'm speaking of the true one, of course. Or actually of the false, since he is not called Maigret, but Guillaume. Or rather no, I was right, it is certainly about the true one, since it was he who served as model for the forgery.
After all, it would perhaps be simpler to begin at the beginning...
Now Chief Inspector Maigret (this time, actually the one in my novels) Chief Inspector Maigret, I say, was born by the most extraordinary coincidence, the...
In fact, he was not even born in France, but in Holland, in 1929 or in 1930, when my boat, tired from a summer in the northern seas, had left its natural element and stood up in a boatyard, delivered into hands of the caulkers.
You may not know about caulkers. These are people who, with great hammer blows, try to stuff as much oakum as they can between the planks of a boat. From morning till night they pound away, and in my cabin you would have believed yourself beneath the great bell of a cathedral on Easter Sunday.
Since I had to work at any cost, not least of all to pay those chaps, I found, at the back of the harbor, a schooner, grounded for years, and in which, by some miracle, there was only about four inches of water.
It was there that Maigret was born, with me seated on one crate, my machine on another, my feet balanced on bricks that formed unsteady islets, and some astonished rats playing the roles of the ox and the donkey of the crèche.
I hadn't read Conan Doyle, nor Wallace, nor the works of Locard, Grotz or Reiss. I had never set foot in the Quai des Orfèvres, nor the rue des Saussaieses, and as for policemen, the only ones I knew were the ones I saw on street corners with their white batons.
How did I get it into my head to write detective novels? I have no idea. Maybe merely because my publisher had asked me to do some cosmopolitan novels like Maurice Dekobra's.
I thought to myself, "In the end it's a profession like any other. And so those guys must be people like any other..."
And I conceived of a Maigret like everyone else, a decent sort, following his profession as conscientiously as possible.
The novel finished, I sent it off to Paris, and as the caulkers were done with my boat, I put to sea, and arrived at Wilhelmshafen, where I tied up to a piling of a bridge to begin a new book.
The next day, the authorities asked me to get settled elsewhere, and I chose an islet formed by about forty rusting torpedo boats.
You would expect the birth of Maigret to be laborious. I was just on the second chapter when a counterespionage chap appeared, (a real policeman, this one, the first, actually, that I had seen so close up!) and asked me urgently why I had chosen a German harbor for my typing exercises. After which, unconvinced of the innocence of my work, he settled into my cabin, and for the next few hours, studied my copy.
"What does this sentence mean, precisely?" he asked suspiciously.
Or, "Why have you put these three small stars after this passage?"
He was my first reader. A fairly unenthusiastic one, since he gave me forty-eight hours to leave the German waters in the company of my incomplete Maigret.
An incomplete Maigret a good description full of good will, certainly, but little informed of the regulations that govern his profession, or even sometimes of the laws of his own country. In his ardor he confused the Police Judiciaire with the Sûreté Générale, inspectors with sergeants, gendarmes with gardes mobiles, and he pushed his humility to the extent of handling all his stake-outs in person, feet soaking wet, in the pouring rain. As for judicial delegations, I believe he had no idea what they were.
Even being my own child and having been born in the hold of a stranded ship, I still felt he didn't look all that convincing, and so one fine day, taken with scruples, I took myself timidly to the Quai des Orfèvres, to see "the real thing."
Well, I was certainly very surprised to hear M. Xavier Guichard, then chief of the P. J., ask me with his most mischievous smile, "Would you like me to present you to Chief Inspector Maigret?"
And he presented him to me, a Maigret of flesh and blood, a grouchy and palpable Maigret, headstrong as a mule, so headstrong in fact, that he persisted in smoking cigarettes without realizing that he was supposed to have a pipe clenched in his teeth.
But, on the other hand, his way of looking at you straight in the face as if you were transparent...
And his way of listening to you with the air of thinking about something else...
And his way of suddenly crystallizing his thoughts with a resounding "Merde!"...
What could I do with my Maigret? Look at the other and imitate him without the cigarette, of course! In short, he should resemble Chief Inspector Guillaume as much as possible. To be like him to the extent of breaking with all traditions of novelistic policemen... and not to be a genius.
I know that Chief Inspector Guillaume wouldn't want it so, and that he'd be the first to shudder at the idea of what would happen if policemen started being geniuses.
Wouldn't he want Maigret, likewise, in the beginning, in the office of his model, to grumble, "It's a piece of cake!"
Parbleu, yes, it's as simple as could be. A gentleman or a lady who has committed murder, or a theft, or an indecent assault, or whatever, will, if they confess, receive so many years in jail, if not the guillotine.
And then there is another gentleman whose profession it is to make them confess it all in front of him.
In the morning, at the stroke of 9:00, there are some who, with a calm step, while smoking a pipe or cigarette, file into the chief's office. Paris has just lived though one more night, and its dramatic existence will be summed up in some statements, in some telegrams that the boss fingers casually.
"So, Guillaume, your boys showed up in the rue d'Hauteville..."
"No problem. I'll have them locked up in another three or four days..."
Guillaume's boys, who had drilled through ceilings twenty times in one month, always at jewelers or furriers. If one said "Guillaume's boys," it meant that he was in charge of them and that for a month he'd been watching them, waiting for the moment to nab them.
Someone reads a newspaper in which it is written bitterly, "It seems that the police have given up their search for the killer of the tobacconist of the rue Picpus. The investigation, which lasted three months, has been closed."
This is not true. An investigation is never closed. But are we going to explain to people who don't know, that sometimes there is nothing to do but wait, and that, in the end, in one month or ten, the killer, who has been under surveillance, will come to be taken?
"Mysterious crime. The investigation will certainly reveal surprises..."
But no! Maigret is now sucking on his pipe dreamily, as he had seen his colleague Guillaume sucking on his unlit cigarette. All that is literature! It is necessary to let the chatterboxes talk. When you've spent forty years in "la maison," you recognize the crime of a madman. It is likely that this affair now surrounded by such an uproar will find its solution among the clientele of asylums and psychiatrists.
"Shooting on the rue de Douai..." remarks the chief.
And Maigret grumbles:
"Dubois, see if you can bring me Big Louis..."
He will let Big Louis stew for two or three hours in the waiting room before exclaiming, "Oh no! Were you out there all this time and no one told me? What a waste! Especially as it's just a formality... Come in.. Sit down... A cigarette?... Is your brother well?... Oh, right! A buddy of mine just met him Wednesday in Marseilles..."
The "little formality" is going to last eight hours, maybe more, and end up with the arrest of a half-dozen malefactors.
Try that on your police geniuses with their cigarette ash and powerful magnifying glasses, or, like the American "G-Men" we see in the movies, with their high-speed autos and submachine-guns.
Maigret preferred to hide himself in a corner of Chief Inspector Guillaume's office, and it was there that one day, not so long ago, he got his best lesson...
"Please be seated, my dear sir..."
It may seem like nothing, but when Chief Inspector Guillaume says "my dear sir" to a character that he has sit in front of him, in his banal civil servant's office...
"I am distressed to have made you wait. I was with my boss on some other matter... In fact, what was it I wanted to ask you...?
It is here that Chief Inspector Guillaume is a hundred percent Maigret. Seemingly distracted, he tugs his Gallic mustache, shuffles his papers, offers his cigarette case.
"Ah, yes, I remember, now... Wasn't it at ten o'clock that the bill-collector Truphème presented himself at your place with the note?"
"At ten o'clock, yes..."
"Isn't that ridiculous... The inspector forgot to write it in his statement..."
It's called the "third degree." Nothing less impressive. Nothing more cordial. But nothing more tragic.
The man, who is seated uncomfortably on the edge of his chair and who arrived, free, at the Quai des Orfèvres, is called Mestorino. They have nothing on him, not the smallest beginning of proof, and twice already, in this same office, he has been interrogated without result. Which doesn't prevent Chief Inspector Guillaume from believing that he killed the bill-collector Truphème, and deciding that tonight he will get a confession.
"I won't keep you long. But since you are here..."
Mestorino is so well there that he will remain there for eighteen hours, on the same chair, in front of the same Chief Inspector who, in a little while, will have beer and sandwiches brought up, and will continue the interview while eating.
"The way I understand it, since you had paid your debt, the bill-collector must have had your thirty thousand francs on him when he was murdered. The killer stole this money. So if we knew the serial numbers of the bills..."
"I didn't note them..."
"Of course! How could you foresee what was going to happen. Myself, I never notice the numbers of my banknotes. However, there could be another means. You must not have had thirty thousand francs at home. You must have taken them out of your bank... Isn't it possible that they might know the numbers?"
"I have no idea."
"Those bills... were they new?"
"I don't know..."
"That's too bad! Make an effort. It would be a big help... From which bank did you withdraw this money?"
"I don't remember..."
Whew! The end of round one: It is obvious that Mestorino didn't have the thirty thousand francs and that the note had not been paid.
"Aren't you thirsty? Should I have them send up a demi?"
"Thank you..." manages the other, his throat dry.
"Where were we... Ah, yes... Wait! Where did I put my copy of the Code?"
And the Chief Inspector searches everywhere, telephones, calls an inspector, until he is finally in possession of the book wherein he is looking for God knows what.
"Good! As I thought! You don't risk much. It is obvious that you didn't kill Truphème... (a good laugh)... It's not question of that, is it? On the other hand, I am going to be obliged to charge you with false testimony... You can look up the sentence yourself. Because you won't make me believe you that you paid that note. It's self-evident, my friend. It would be best for you to come clean. In addition to which, since you don't have a police record, you will no doubt get off..."
Silence. The waiter brings up another beer.
"Listen, Mestorino. I am going to tell you how things happened. When Truphème came, you hadn't had time to get to the bank and you asked him to come back. He, knowing you, knowing that you were sincere, left you the note and said that he would be back at noon. However, at noon, he didn't come back, for the good reason that he had been murdered elsewhere. You then had the imprudence to keep the note without confessing that it had not been paid. At most we are speaking of... what, attempted fraud? What does the Code say on that topic? You have it in your hand..."
End of round two. Hours pass. Night comes, the hallways are emptied and only a few journalists wait on a bench.
"Good! You admit that you didn't pay the note. It is too late now to go back on that, since you've signed it. It only remains for me to inform you that, according to several witnesses, Truphème didn't trust you at all, so he never would have left an unpaid note with you. Your business was going badly that was common knowledge. Several times, the bill-collector had been rude to you. I am persuaded that that morning he was more insolent than usual, that maybe he threatened you, which would explain a gesture of anger on your part. Let's suppose that his head had hit the corner of the desk... You have the Code in front of you. Look up negligent homicide. I can't recall the penalty right now..."
After the night, the grayish early morning, the house that fills itself up again with comings and goings, of people who half-open the door and see Mestorino still in the same place, the ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts and bread crumbs on the desk.
"Confess, my friend, and then you can sleep. You'll feel so much better afterwards!"
And the first confession won't be the killer's words, but a sickening odor that will suddenly fill the room, betraying the moral and physical collapse of Mestorino.
"Sign, go ahead! And then go lie down..."
People sometimes tell me, "This brute of a Maigret will never do anything good. He is too sentimental. Sometimes, during an investigation, tears come to his eyes..."
And Maigret answered me while launching a puff of smoke placidly, "Do you believe Guillaume is made of wood! He cries, of course, and I also cry, and in the end..."
Then he told me point-blank, "Do you know who Mestorino asked for when he was despondent in his cell, to brace himself up? Chief Inspector Guillaume!"
And he added, as if it were inconsequential, "Those are only the affairs the newspapers speak of. There are the others, a lot more numerous, family affairs most often, that are adjusted by whispers behind the padded doors, to the accompaniment of sobs..."
And there is also a cordial way to send someone up the river:
"You're a little fool, that's what you are! You wanted to look shrewd, to show your little friend that you were a tough guy, and you took down the tobacconist like the cretin that you are, without even being careful enough to wear gloves. It's all over for you. Some other time..."
And that's where the kid starts to blubber and to ask for forgiveness as he would of his mother!
"In the Bois de Boulogne this morning, was discovered the body of a..."
Maigret, mine, has been retired for three years, but the other, who served as his model, went to the Bois de Boulogne in a taxicab, and bent over the body, while photographers flashed.
"A serious business, Chief Inspector!"
The Chief Inspector grumbles.
"A sensational affair..." writes the newspapers.
And the boss himself whispers, "A delicate matter..."
The Chief Inspector, always grumbling, goes on in his own sweet way, without being moved, for it's not because a crime is incredibly mysterious and that the dailies dedicate four columns of the front page to it, that you get carried away.
It's the beautiful job, that's the one, the really interesting job, that comes your way every two or three years...
...The young bespectacled man... The sweeper with the careful language... The secret police and the Mafia...
Tuesday... Wednesday... Thursday... Testimonies... Investigations... Friday... Witnesses that collapse and others that are born... Verifications and cross-examinations... Saturday... Sunday...
And then the Chief Inspector takes his overcoat, puts on his hat and...
And the one who was the model for my Maigret leaves to join the other quietly in retirement, while philosophically smoking his... I was going to write his pipe!
But why the devil does he persist in smoking cigarettes?
As for the solution to the enigma of the Bois de Boulogne, he can always read about it in the newspapers!
Copyright by « Confessions » 1937.
translated by Stephen Trussel