The House of Anxiety
by Georges Sim
The remainder of the morning, and a part of the afternoon, passed in painful disorder. And Superintendent Maigret gave hardly any sign of life.
His two hands in his pockets, he came and went, stood ten minutes immobile in a corner, left, opened a drawer in passing or picked up an object without interest and put it down again somewhere else.
The photographers of the Criminal Records Office had been the first to invade the apartment, with their ladders and devices, their lamps. At the same moment someone had come to tell the concierge that her husband was asking for her, and she ran off. The magnesium left the air heavy with smoke. Thick lenses were aimed at the body, first from above, then from the left, the right, from multiple angles.
The police physician had entered silently. He waited for the moment to intervene, impatient, because he was planning to join friends in Cher for a hunt, and he'd been called at the precise moment when he'd been loading his rifles and ammunition into his car.
The Public Prosecutor's office arrived two minutes later, so that there were more than a dozen people bustling about the room, which wasn't all that big. The concierge reappeared, blotting her red eyes. A specialist examined every object, in search of fingerprints.
A clerk, seated at Captain Truffier's desk, took notes. As for the Examining Magistrate, he had told Maigret, "Of course, you'll remain on the case... I'll make the first observations and then give you free rein... Your opinion?"
"I have none."
"Disturbing, the caretaker's declaration. If indeed the murderer is someone from the house..."
Mme Demassis, the sister of the dead man, made a dramatic entrance. She was a chubby, still pretty woman, with bleached hair and a well-cared-for face, powder discreetly covering fine wrinkles. She was clothed elegantly, wrapped in a mink coat.
"Henry!" she called from the doorway. She didn't see her son in the agitated crowd. "It was the valet who told me..."
Suddenly she discovered the body, cried out sharply, and threw himself into the arms of the young man who advanced toward her. "My God! My God! My poor Georges..."
It developed into a small scene. Tears, smelling salts brought by the concierge, words flowing without meaning... "Who would have imagined it... and I who... in such circumstances..."
The good Mme Foucrier was everywhere at once, silent and bustling. Her face was pale, her eyes red.
A man in black appeared, signaled to Maigret, who approached the judge. "The van is downstairs..."
It was about the hearse from the Medico-Legal Institute. Someone took Mme Demassis into the bedroom. She protested, claiming she wanted to stay near her brother's body.
When she was allowed to come back into the office, ten minutes later, the body had disappeared. Heavy steps could still be heard on the staircase, where something large and hard the stretcher bumped into the walls.
The physician had gotten back to his car, which he drove himself. He left first, in order to get dressed in his whites, rubber gloves and mask.
The photographers arranged their devices. The judge took leave of Maigret.
"You'll only have to inform me when there's something new... With you in charge, I can relax!"
But the superintendent welcomed flattery with the amenity of a porcupine. No one had yet noticed that there was no heat in the room. It was sudden as soon as the apartment emptied out, he felt the cold fall on his shoulders.
Mme Demassis, seated in an armchair, blotted her eyes, looking vaguely in front of her while Maigret questioned her son.
"Can you tell me whether your uncle usually kept large sums of money at home?"
"Almost always, yes. In this drawer. He had horror of banks, since he'd lost about twenty thousand francs in a crash once, in Indochina."
"Was this drawer opened yesterday evening in your presence?"
Mme Demassis didn't understand. She was unaware of her son's visits to Montreuil-sous-Bois. Henry looked at her as if to say, "I'll explain everything..."
And he answered Maigret, "I'm pretty sure there was some money. It's easy to check, as he kept his cash in an old worn-out wallet..."
Maigret opened the drawer, didn't see a wallet. He searched the rest of the desk without result.
"Thank you," he said. "that's all for now. Wait, I'm sorry, one question... Have you ever seen M. Truffier in the company of a very blonde girl?"
His tone of voice didn't ring true.
"Were you aware of any mistress?"
"My poor Georges!" protested Mme Demassis, turning toward the room where the body had lain a little earlier and where now there was only a brownish stain on the carpet.
"My uncle had passed the age of such adventures. He was only interested in geography and history..."
The superintendent rose to indicate that the interview was finished. The young man's mother asked again, "Do you think someone killed my brother for his money?"
"I don't know. I don't know anything, madam. Perhaps, later this week, I'll be over to pay you a visit..."
He addressed himself to Henry, "Do you intend, nevertheless, to go to Nice?"
It was Mme Demassis who answered, "But he must! We have a branch there, and there is current business that..."
The three of them had arrived at the door, which Maigret opened. He had the impression that someone was descending the staircase quickly. But it was in vain that he bent over the rail.
When he closed the door again, he was alone in the apartment, which seemed a scene of devastation, although in fact there wasn't that much of a mess. It was the heavy, frozen, atmosphere the emptiness was almost audible to all senses.
The superintendent sat down at the Captain's desk, picked up the book that Truffier had been reading when he'd been surprised by his killer.
"... around us, small snowy petrels, quick and nervous..."
He looked at his watch. It was one o'clock. He rang for the concierge, who arrived less than two minutes later.
"Mlle Gastambide didn't go out?"
"No... No one has left... except for young M. Maréchal..."
"You haven't seen her?"
"She hasn't left the apartment."
"Did M. Gastambide speak to you?"
"He came into my lodge about a quarter of hour ago. He asked me what happened."
"He didn't offer any opinion?"
"No, he just sighed, 'Another one!'"
"I don't know. I suppose that he meant 'another crime!' There have been so many recently. But to think that this time it's in our own house... and that it's the Captain who..."
"What is M. Gastambide's profession?"
"He's in business... but I don't know what kind of business. He appears to have been very rich at one time. He has that look. He's not like others... One feels that he's a man who knew a different life... Just look at his pelisse..."
"Does his son work?"
"At an automobile showroom, on the Champs-Élysées."
"And his daughter?"
"Mlle Hélène? Oh, she doesn't do anything..."
Maigret, while speaking, had put his hat on his head. He looked for his overcoat with its velvet collar, which Mme Foucrier helped him put on.
"I'm going to lock the door," he said. "Do you have a key to the apartment?"
"Yes, the Captain gave me one."
"Please let me have it. If anyone comes, remember to let me know. And I'll want to be informed of the comings and goings of all the tenants. As a matter of fact, there is at least one tenant who can leave without you're being aware of it..."
"Who is that?"
"The butcher! By the door of his shop!"
"Naturally! But as far as I'm concerned he's not like a tenant. He's separate. And especially since he's so rough!"
"Well, people without education... It's not the same world as the tenants of the house..."
"Does his lodging communicate with the inside of the building?"
"There's a small door to the courtyard. And as for that, in the summer I'm always arguing with them, because they put their garbage out there... so we're plagued by flies."
Maigret left, followed by Mme Foucrier. He closed the door carefully, slipping a small piece of paper into the crack.
The following morning at eight o'clock, he was installed in a small bar, the Copains d'Auvergne, situated directly across from the building. He ordered a coffee with brandy, and asked for a copy of the commercial phone book, to make himself look less obvious. But he never lost sight of the door, in front of which the trash cans were once again to be found.
He saw the Tassets go in, the young couple who had gotten off the tram with a suitcase and a basket in which they must have brought back butter and eggs from their parents. The Maréchals, father and son, were the first to leave and to head toward the bus stop, after having bought their newspaper in a notions shop.
At nine o'clock, a man in a pelisse left in his turn. It was evidently M. Gastambide, with a large Moroccan leather portfolio under his arm and a busy air, full of self-importance.
His son must not have been up yet, for he didn't show his face till well past ten, and then he waited for a taxicab for a quarter of an hour rather than taking the tram.
A little later, Mme Foucrier went out. She was away from her lodge at the time when a young girl, very blonde, dressed in a black suit, came out quickly, stopped, waited impatiently at the gas lamp with the green band indicating the bus stop, and finally hailed an empty cab which was passing.
Maigret just had time to pay his bill and jump onto the tram platform.
By the time he reached the Porte de Montreuil the cab was only a hundred meters ahead. Maigret took one in turn, and the two cars continued up the Rue d'Avron, circled the Place de la Nation, slowed down in the populous Faubourg Saint-Antoine and finally arrived at the Bastille.
There, Mlle Gastambide got out, paid her fare, and turned into the Rue de la Bastille where she went directly into a post office.
It was the Bureau 42.
I. 4. Wrong Move