The House of Anxiety
by Georges Sim
CAPTAIN TRUFFIER'S MURDER
"Close the door! Find a telephone and notify the Public Prosecutor's Office and Criminal Records. Make absolutely certain they bring along a police doctor. Wait! Send in the concierge. That's all!"
The officer was delighted to obey, happy to be unloaded of all responsibility. "Do you have an idea?"
The superintendent didn't answer, turned toward the Montreuil physician. "You can go. Send me your report as soon as possible. Thank you!"
He was alone with the concierge, who had just entered, but he didn't hurry to question her. He paced back and forth, hands in his pockets, hat pushed back.
On the wall at the front of the office was a large photograph of a man of about forty, dressed as officer of the merchant marine. It was the victim, twenty years earlier, his features less fleshy, his hair still brown.
As the concierge kept throwing troubled looks at the body, not knowing what to do with herself, Maigret opened the door of the bedroom, pulled a sheet off the bed, which hadn't been turned down, and covered the dead man, without touching him.
He picked up off the floor a piece of gray paper which had served to wrap the new books that could be seen on the desk. The label showed the letterhead of the Society of History and Geography, Boulevard Saint-Germain. It was addressed to "Captain Georges Truffier, 111, Avenue de Paris, Montreuil-sous-Bois." Some pages were already cut in one of the books, With Charcot to the South Pole, by the lieutenant of the vessel Saint-Clair.
On the shelves of his library were nothing but marine works, books related to journeys, bulletins of French, English and American geographical societies...
On the walls, photos of freighters, on board which Captain Truffier had no doubt sailed. In the backgrounds, some Chinese houses, Rio de Janeiro Bay, Rotterdam, the Statue of Liberty... sometimes some Negroes or islanders. The apartment was comfortable. The curtains were closed over the windows.
"Is there a very blonde girl in the house?"
The concierge had expected a lot of questions, but not that one. She looked at the superintendent fearfully.
"Mlle Gastambide?" she asked.
"I don't know. Very blonde? Clear eyes? A black suit?"
"That's certainly Mlle Hélène."
"Does she have a brother?"
"He is right now out on the landing, M. Christian, yes."
"Did she go out early this morning?"
This time the concierge protested, "Why no, she didn't go out at all! She spent the night in the house!"
"Are you sure of that?"
"Completely! She's a serious, proper girl. And M. Gastambide would never permit..."
"Ah, good! She has a father... A mother also?"
"No... they are only three. The father, her and M. Christian."
"What's your name?"
"As I understand it you took care of the household of..." He indicated with his hand the form under the sheet.
"I was the Captain's housekeeper, yes."
"I see. Is that how you usually called him?"
"Everybody in Montreuil called him 'the Captain'."
"Had he lived here long?"
"Since he inherited it from his father, maybe fifteen years ago. His father was a construction contractor. It was he who built all the blocks of buildings..."
"While his son sailed?"
"Yes. When the old man died, M. Georges settled here."
"Were you already the concierge?"
"No, I took the post three years later. The Captain asked me to do his housekeeping. He even had an electric bell installed so he could call me if he needed me. The button is on the left of the desk."
"I see. And you didn't hear him ring last night?"
"If I had heard, I would have come running. And I..."
"Evidently! Did the Captain have the habit of rising at eight o'clock?"
"Yes, in the winter. Earlier in the summer. I awakened him by bringing him his coffee in bed. While he got dressed, I arranged the office. Then he'd go out for a walk, almost always to the Bois de Vincennes, taking Belleau..."
"My dog, that you must have seen in the hall."
"Did the Captain take his meals here?"
"No, in the restaurant on the corner of the Avenue Michelet. At least lunch. But in the evening, especially when he was deeply into a book, he'd have me prepare him three eggs sunny-side up, or a ham omelet..."
"Did he go out after dinner?"
"Never! He lived shut in in this office and every week he'd order a new package of books."
"I don't know. The house brings in eighty thousand francs. But there are taxes and repairs..."
"Did he have others?"
"No. But he had to have had a little money put aside..."
"He never had anyone come."
"And no women?"
She smiled, in spite of her distress. "Him, women?"
"Fine, fine! I was told he had a nephew..."
"M. Henry, yes. He came by two or three times a week. He often stayed all evening. He'd ask me to keep an eye on his car."
"Did he come yesterday?"
"At eight. But he left almost immediately."
"And after his visit, you never saw the Captain again?"
"No. But it's not what you're thinking. M. Henry is a good boy and he adored his uncle. Besides, the people on the second floor heard the Captain walking around in his office at half-past ten. They told the other officer..."
"Who are these people on the second floor?"
She pronounced the name as if everyone would necessarily knew the Maréchals.
"M. Maréchal is with the Ministry of Agriculture, with his eldest son, M. Léon. The other son entered the army last month. He had his first leave eight days ago. As for the three Maréchal daughters..."
"Good! And do they occupy the entire second floor?"
"Well, there are quite a lot of them, aren't there? Without considering that one of daughters ought to live with her parents after she marries..."
"Who is there on this landing?"
"On the other side, there's Mlle Augustine, who's been a cook at a mansion for years. With a duke, I believe. She's been in bed with the flu for two weeks..."
"And on the fourth?"
"One of apartments is empty, since the people have been in the country for close to a year. On the left, there are the newly-weds, the Tassets, who left yesterday at eight o'clock for Rouen, as they do every Saturday, to visit her mother..."
"There's no fifth?"
"Nothing but the attics where each tenant has the right to a room."
"And on the first floor, the Gastambides, you said?"
"Yes. And on the ground floor, there's the butcher's shop and his lodging, behind."
"When you discovered the body, what did you do, Mme Foucrier?"
"I ran down the stairs like a madwoman! I first wanted to ask my husband for advice. But he's sick... Since the war, he's laid up two or three weeks every month gas and a shell burst that stayed in his head... Then I ran into the street. There's always a policeman in the square. I asked him to come."
"Didn't the tenants know anything yet?"
"No! While I was going up with the policeman I met one of the Maréchal daughters who was going to Mass. She called her parents. M. Christian, who heard the noise, came also. I don't know anymore. I told them..."
"You didn't see Mlle Gastambide?"
"And you're absolutely certain that no one could have gone out yesterday after ten o'clock in the evening?"
"The last time I pulled the cord, it was five minutes to ten. I'd gone to bed. Young Mlle Maréchal came back from town with one of her sisters, I don't know which..."
"And Mlle Gastambide hadn't gone out?"
"Does she ever go out in the evening?"
"Rarely. And then it's to go to the movies, almost always with her father."
Maigret still surveyed the office. At that moment there came the cry of a voice from the landing. A young man entered rapidly, shouting, without seeing anything, "Where is he?"
He stopped in front of the body, pulled off the sheet with an abrupt gesture, and stood, petrified.
"M. Henry..." cried the caretaker, who began to sob...
He was a young, elegant man, of about twenty-five. He bit his lower lip between his teeth while his eyes became troubled, tears forming at the edges of his eyes. He said only, in an inarticulate voice, "My God!"
"You left him yesterday shortly after eight o'clock, didn't you?"
He turned around completely, stared at Maigret with astonishment.
"Yes. What do you mean to say?"
"What did you come to do here at that hour?"
He started. "I hope that you don't suppose..."
"I only asked you what you came to do."
Maigret noted a hesitation.
"To say hello to my uncle."
The superintendent held the gray paper that had wrapped the books. He underlined with his nail a notation written in another ink than that of the address, and not on the label.
"Is that your uncle's writing?"
The young man was more and more uneasy.
"Did you write these words yesterday evening?"
"Yes... yesterday... but..."
"I'm sorry! Won't you tell me what it means?"
"I don't know... I..."
He was becoming feverish. On the paper were the words, "Bureau 42"
"You wrote it mechanically, while speaking?"
"Excellent! In that case you were sitting close to this desk..."
"Mme Foucrier, I hope you didn't move the chairs?"
"I didn't touch anything."
"Then they were this morning where they are now?"
"I swear it!"
"Can you then explain to me, M. Henry, why your uncle, who was at eight o'clock sitting in his armchair, stood up just to carry to another corner of the room the chair on which you were seated at the time of your visit? Because you notice that there is no chair close to the desk..."
"I don't know anymore. Maybe I remained standing..."
"And while you were standing you found yourself writing mechanically words having no connection with the conversation in progress? Did you take a pen, dip it in ink, lean over, all mechanically? What was the topic at that moment between you and your uncle?
"The trip I'm taking tonight."
"Where are you going?"
"To Nice, where we have a branch."
"Excuse me, but what is your profession?"
"My mother and I have an antique shop in the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, The Maison Demassis. That is our name."
"Is your mother the Captain's sister?"
A nod of assent.
"Has she been notified?"
"No! I'll tell her in a little while... She'll be even more upset since she was... not on the best of terms with her brother..."
"Did she know of your visits here?"
He tensed, then articulated in a dry voice, "I've had enough of your questions! I won't answer any more!"
Superintendent Maigret lit a new pipe, covered the face of the dead man, nearly started to hum.
I. 3. Mademoiselle Gastambide