The House of Anxiety
by Georges Sim
The express arrived at Le Havre at nine o'clock in the evening. Demassis, who had no luggage, walked through the bulk of the city, ending up at the gloomy waterfront, where he wandered around for over an hour.
Maigret was always behind him. Henry knew it. They had often exchanged glances.
The Léviathan was getting under way for New York, and the commissioner briefly considered that the young man might dash aboard at the last minute. But he did no such thing.
At eleven o'clock, he settled into a restaurant, and Maigret ate in the same room.
Toward midnight, he went into a cabaret, leaned against the bar. He hadn't addressed a word to anyone. All in all, since he'd been followed, the only move he'd made had been his visit to Doctor Chauveau's. And maybe even there he'd merely rung the bell as a ruse!
The remainder: goings and comings intended to shake the policemen.
Was he really trying to lose them? Did he expect to? Maigret thought it over, and decided it wasn't so.
In the beginning, maybe, when he'd felt Torrence on his heels, Demassis had tried to shake him off. He'd gone into buildings with two exits. But he'd realized that the inspector would stick with him, and from then on, he'd just been tossing about.
Maigret began to get angry. He had a horror of anything he didn't understand. And now he didn't understand anything at all about this presumably intelligent young man's attitude.
Unlike Christian, Henry Demassis didn't try to get drunk. He ordered a brandy and water because he had to drink something, but his glass remained half full.
They went out once more, one behind the other. They walked through streets they didn't know, finally entering a desolate district.
Demassis turned quickly into an alley on the right. Maigret turned the same corner twenty seconds later.
Only his instincts made him jump aside in time. He hadn't seen anything. The alley was black. He'd only sensed a quivering, somehow registered the sudden absence of footsteps.
He received the blow of Demassis' fist, but not full in the face, as his aggressor had intended. It glanced off his shoulder.
And from then on, it was all Maigret. He outweighed his adversary by more than sixty pounds. He had a revolver in pocket. His fists were clubs. He didn't even bother to take out his weapon. As the young man charged again, he wrapped his arms around his head and turned him around. While he received some kicks to his legs, it was nothing he couldn't put up with.
"Enough?" he asked.
His superiority showed clearly that of a man to whom fights of this kind were customary, who fights without emotion, without a trace of jumpiness.
Demassis, on the other hand, was panicked, hitting out in all directions, without wanting to recognize the pointlessness of his efforts. To finish it off, as he was getting tired of avoiding his clumsy blows, Maigret gave him a great jolt, sending him rolling a full fifteen feet away.
"Look, it's over," he grumbled.
Henry stood up slowly, went to collect his hat that had rolled into the gutter.
"Are you going to arrest me?"
"What do you expect!"
"What will you charge me with, assault and battery?"
"I'll go with you, but I warn you, I'm innocent. You have to understand that. Do you hear?"
They left the alley.
"You have to consider... I give you my word that I didn't kill..."
"A question I'm really not at all interested in keeping you on a leash, by which I mean in handcuffs. But you have to give me your word that you won't make any attempt to escape."
"In that case, we can chat..."
Maigret, with a familiar gesture, searched his pockets for his pipe. He didn't find it and suddenly remembered that he'd had it in his lips at the time of the attack. He swore.
"Let's go back! I have to find my pipe!"
And he started looking for it. At first Demassis waited stiffly. Then he bent mechanically. A few minutes later, they were both on hands and knees.
"Here's a piece of it," said the prisoner.
The pipe had broken when it fell. The commissioner didn't say anything, grabbed the bowl from his hands, threw it far away and walked in silence.
He'd had that pipe with him for twelve years. It had participated in about hundred arrests.
"Do you still plan on charging me?"
His voice was quivering. Probably with anguish and even fear. But fear of what?
It was the question that Maigret put to himself for a good moment and to which he couldn't find a satisfactory answer.
"If I were to let you go, what would you do?" he quizzed roughly, while looking him in the face.
"I don't know..."
"Would you go to Paris?"
"Maybe... Yes, probably."
"I haven't thought about it... it's possible."
"In that case, can you tell me why you're here? Hey! If you can give me an answer to that I'll send you off to hang somewhere!"
His lost pipe was no doubt a large part of the energy behind these last words.
"Well! Is that all you have to say?"
"I don't have anything to answer..."
"In other words, you don't know why you're here! Do you know at least the reason why you abandoned, in a garage in Saint-Cloud, an auto worth two hundred thousand francs? Or the reason why, having an apartment and servants in the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, you camped for eight days in a lousy room in Batignolles?
Silence. Labored breathing.
"Don't you even know? Do you have no more idea than that what you were doing at Professor Chauveau's?"
"I don't have anything to say!"
"Give me a cigarette!" snorted Maigret, tormented because he had nothing to smoke.
"I don't have any."
They had come back to the harbor, without realizing it, and they found themselves thick in the district, bumping into sailors and roustabouts.
"So tell me, if you'd had a weapon, a little while ago, when you attacked me, would you have used it?"
Demassis thought carefully, "I believe so, yes."
"And you still don't know why?"
Maigret rarely lost his temper. This time, he couldn't control himself. Not that he gesticulated, or raised his voice. But he was breathing heavily. "And you're twenty-five years old?"
At certain moments, he felt that he wanted to crash his thick fist down on the skull of the young man.
"Oh damn! I'll arrest you anyway. Too bad..."
A patrol passed. "Where's the police station?"
"Behind the church on the corner."
He led his prisoner there.
"Keep this boy for me until tomorrow!" he ordered, after having identified himself. "Understood?"
Early the next morning he went to check on Demassis. He found him seated on a bench where two vagabonds were sleeping. He hadn't closed his eyes. Possibly Maigret had never seen anyone brought to such a point by anguish, to be only a shade of himself.
"Let's go!" he said nevertheless. "We have a train in an hour."
While crossing the station, he asked the man on duty, "What did he do during the night?"
Henry heard, but cared so little for others' opinions he didn't even blush.
II. 4. The Hotel Room