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Cahiers Simenon 8, 1994

 

Maigret at Fouquet's

Robert J. Courtine

[original French]

 

Maigret pushed the revolving door at Fouquet's. It was eight o'clock in the evening, and he was hot. The 18th of January, but in the afternoon the temperature had suddenly soared. That morning had been dry and briskly cold, and Mme Maigret had herself tied his thick woolen scarf around his neck: "If you don't get back early..." And then, abruptly, the weather had completely changed. Tomorrow's newspapers would no doubt headline this sudden hot spell. There had been nothing like it since January of 1893!

Frowning, his hat stuck on his dripping forehead, pipe clenched in his teeth and the holy scarf around his neck, Maigret stood there, planted in the middle of the restaurant. The cloakroom girl rushed out, then stopped, astonished at this massive man frozen in the middle of the room. She was new. A headwaiter intervened: "Good evening, Commissioner, a table? Would you perhaps prefer to stop at the bar?" Maigret, grumbling, let himself be relieved of his overcoat, headed toward the bar and took a spot close to the telephone. "A porto! No, a fine with water! No! A... whatever, just give me a beer!"

The commissioner emptied his glass without a pause, mopped his forehead with a big handkerchief with discreet blue stripes, stuffed his pipe. The telephone rang. "For you, commissioner," said Vonick, the second barman.

"Yes? Lucas?"

"He's at the Place de l'Alma. He went down on the banks, seemed to hesitate. But Janvier was on his heels, and he came back up again. Now, he's on the bridge. He looks at water, then at Janvier, somewhat reproachfully. He doesn't dare step over the parapet, with Janvier right beside him."

And as Maigret didn't say anything, "Fine, well, I'm going back..."

"That's it, keep it up... Lapointe?"

"Behind Janvier, boss."

Maigret heaved a sigh, hung up, signaled to Vonick for another beer and, heavily, turned around toward the tables in the bar.

At the back, in the newly decorated part opening onto the terrace, Raimu and his inseparable Maupi, Marcel Pagnol and Georges Simenon were chatting. Simenon spotted him, rose and came over to offer his hand.

"Well, Commissioner, on the hunt or out on the town?" The commissioner sighed, looked at his historiographer, shrugged his shoulders: "You have a very beautiful pipe, Georges!" And as he was looking over the assembled faces,

"A beautiful crowd, isn't it?" retorted the novelist. "But nothing for you, I imagine..."

At that moment, the telephone rang once more. "For you, Commissioner!"

It was Lucas again. "He came back here. I'm phoning from the brasserie on the Alma which he just entered, Lapointe on his heels. They ordered whisky. Doubles! If they keep this up, they're going to both be in great shape!"

Maigret smiled. Young Lapointe, as they'd called him at the Quai since he'd first arrived there already fifteen years ago, with the look of a student, had rather filled out.

He put down the receiver, rekindled his pipe. An anxious wrinkle appeared on his forehead. Had he been right to accuse Bredonville? And then to give him his head?

Simenon had just rejoined his friends. Other tables emptied, then quickly filled again. Maigret recognized faces, some famous, seen in passageways of the P.J. with his colleagues of the Security branch. A well-known producer was speaking loudly, no doubt to impress the young thing that had come in with him. Two foreigners were signing papers. An aging actress simpered while fingering her false pearls, answering an old man, who...

"Monsieur Maigret, telephone..."

"Hello! Yes?"

It was Lucas again. "He's now across the way, at the Relais. He's drinking whisky. No, Janvier went in with him, but he ordered a Vittel. Should we continue?"

Poor Lucas! He didn't understand, wondered if the commissioner wasn't just speculating. He was startled by his boss's order: "We'll have to find out whether he's armed."

After he hung up, Maigret ordered another beer, but he let the head collapse without drinking again. He tried to reconstruct the scene that he'd played a few days earlier, in Gérard Bredonville's office. Had he made a mistake? Two days ago, Stephen Brodsky, one of those producers whose name you never see in the credits, had been killed by a shot from a revolver, that hadn't been recovered. But then it had quickly come to light that there had been an argument the night before, between Brodsky and his right hand man, Gérard Bredonville.

A young man of a good bourgeois Bourbonnais family, with a passion for the cinema after having more or less sampled journalism, Bredonville had been promoted by Brodsky to head his Phœnix Films. Too bad if no film had ever seen the light of day, if the ends of the month always precipitated swindles, so that following a shady business of overdrafts, Gérard had had to send an S.O.S. to an old uncle in Moulins who, after quite a bit of persuading, had finally come up with the funds to save the day. Had Gérard realized how he'd been trapped by his partner? Had he threatened to denounce Brodsky's crimes? And hadn't Brodsky, in return, pointed out that it would be Bredonville, himself, who would wind up in jail? He didn't have an alibi for the hour of the crime (which the police physician had fixed at between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m.). He swore he'd left for Moulins at 6:00, after his altercation with the swindler. The rest was confused. Maigret had interrogated him, on his return, in the very office of the crime, before the traces of chalk that sketched the victim's body on the worn-out carpet. He denied everything. They hadn't recovered the weapon. It would be difficult to prove that Bredonville had left Paris later than he said, and that he hadn't had a flat, as he claimed, outside of Bézards. They didn't remember him at the small Cosnes-on-Loire bar where he said he'd had a quick sandwich and a glass of Sancerre...

Should he have taken him to the Quai? To have him "sing," as Torrence and Lucas put it? Maigret had hesitated.

"Listen, my boy," he grumbled finally, "you're wrong to deny it, to defend yourself. After all, Brodsky was trash. He no doubt threatened you. If you confess, you'll probably get a few years at most, maybe not even... I should bring you in myself, but it's late, and I'm hungry. You're free to go. I'm going across the street, to grab a bite at Fouquet's. If you decide to, just come over and talk to me a little later."

He'd gotten up. He'd kept on his heavy overcoat and was dying of the heat. He'd signaled to Lucas to meet him in the hallway: "Follow him with Janvier, who's waiting below. If necessary, one of you call Lapointe and have him join you. Look out that he doesn't try to make trouble..."

"You believe he's going to come back to you, boss?

"I don't know. As long as we don't blow it, which would leave us in a fine mess. That would be one for Judge Coméliau... Okay! Let's do it..."

Which is how he'd found himself again at the bar at Fouquet's.

"Hello! Lucas, yes! At the bar of the George-V with Janvier this time? Is he armed? Did Lapointe jostle him to make sure while they were coming out of the Relais? Good! Say good-evening to Nino the barman for me."

"Another beer, Monsieur Commissioner?"

"No, I'll move to a table..."

Even more heavily, he passed through the restaurant, sat down at a table on the right, directly in front of Maurice Casanova, the owner. M. Charles brought the menu: "We have a lovely fresh salmon Bellevue, Monsieur Maigret!"

"And what's in there?"

(He pointed at the silver steam-cart.)

"Hot ham with spinach, Monsieur Commissioner.

"Some ham, yes, with fries, and while waiting, that what's-it, yes, the salmon. And some beer!"

Even before the salmon arrived, he was recalled to the phone at the bar.

"Maigret, yes! In the Vieux Berlin? A beer, this time? Good. He seems to be coming this way! We'll see..."

They were serving him some beautiful slices of ham on the bone, of a molten pink like the sun rising out of the sea, with a monumental dish of French fries.

Bredonville entered. He was still a kid, really. He seemed disorientated, although he had, these last few months, come here quite often. In spite of the heat, he seemed to shiver. Janvier, who'd entered behind him, backed off and went out at the commissioner's wink. Bredonville vacillated, saw him. A bitter grin tensed his lips. Maigret, holding back a big internal sigh, didn't say anything, didn't seem to see him.

"Well, are you happy now?"

The commissioner raised his head. "Oh! It's you. Sit down and have something with me, you must be hungry, since you came back from Moulins without taking the time to eat lunch. Some ham? But yes, with some fries. Waiter, more fries! And a beer!"

Bredonville ate in tiny bites, casting brief astonished looks at this heavy man who, right in front of him, was visibly feasting on crisp and golden French fries. An intense moment for Maigret of grossly Epicurean pleasure and diffuse reflection.

"What's he thinking about?" wondered Bredonville. "Putting me in handcuffs? And if I persisted in pleading innocent? Do they still beat people up at the Quai?"

He would certainly have been astonished if he'd known that at that moment Maigret was thinking of that blasted scarf, which, since noon, he'd been blaming himself for having accepted from his wife that morning!

And even more so when Maigret signaled to the waiter to bring cheese. The platter, coming from the Saint-Hubert farm, was magnificent: "Give me some of the fourme," said the commissioner. "And also a little of that one, the goat cheese, yes. It looks like the Chambérat of Bourbonnais, doesn't, Gérard? You see I'm from those parts myself, from Saint-Fiacre, where my father was a manager..."

At that point Gérard Bredonville broke down. Tears filled his eyes.

"I killed him, Commissioner, it's true. But I swear to you..."

"I know, my boy, I know... Let's have some coffee, and then we'll go quietly up to the Quai..."

He paid, rose, immense. They brought him his coat, his hat and his thick woolen scarf, lovingly knitted by Mme Maigret. He stuffed his pipe slowly. At the bar, there were not many people, and Simenon and his friends had left, maybe for the screening of a film. Of a film with a true producer. A pity. He would have liked to have shaken his hand, to have told him... To have told him what? That he'd finished his investigation in a few hours, almost without leaving Fouquet's?

Had Lucas drunk a glass on the enclosed terrace, while waiting? Had he eaten a sandwich?

Lucas came in. "Call a taxi," said Maigret. "And then you can go home. But, first, telephone Mme Maigret for me, and tell her that I'll be another hour."

And turning toward the young man who, hunched over his coffee, swallowed a last tear, "Are you coming, young man!"


50 years later... Fouquet's in 1998

Raimu: stage name of Jules Auguste Muraire [1883-1946] noted French cinema actor of the 1930s. Raimu starred in the 1942 Simenon film Les inconnus dans la maison.
(Marcel) Maupi, stage name of Marcel Barberin [1881-1949], French film actor of the 1930s and 40s.
Marcel Pagnol [1895-1974], French film director and playwright, founder of magazines Les Cahiers du Sud and Les Cahiers du Film, the first filmmaker elected to the Académie France (1946).
translation, notes by Stephen Trussel

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