The House of Anxiety
by Georges Sim
THE HOTEL ROOM
Maigret was uncomfortable about his prisoner he intended neither to charge him, nor to ask a judge to sign a warrant against him. Under those circumstances, it was difficult to remain within the limits of legality while still protecting the needs of his investigation.
On the whole, the situation was this: Henry Demassis, who was somehow mixed up in the affair, wanted, for reasons that he refused to confess, to escape from his surroundings and the police.
When he had found himself caught, he had shown signs of terror. Arrested, he had cried all night long.
If Maigret had seen some way in which he could have set him free while having him secretly followed, he would have been sorely tempted. But this was not the case.
Therefore, for the most part with a fairly clear conscience, the commissioner kept the young man at his disposal. There remained only a few delicate questions to set right.
Which is why, once in Paris, instead of conducting his companion to the Dépôt, Maigret had brought him to his own office.
"So you still have nothing to say?"
On the train, they had not exchanged ten sentences. True, the atmosphere had been icy, the dawn cold and pallid. Every traveler, the collar of his overcoat raised, had snuggled as deeply as possible into his corner. There had been five in the compartment. Five small clouds of vapor that escaped from lips, while the window streamed.
"I am anxious to reassure you that I am innocent, and that I will possibly hold you to account for what will happen... I didn't kill my uncle. Even you haven't once dared to suggest that. Therefore, you have no valid reason to withhold my liberty and, were it not for the punch that I attempted to give you, this would be an odious abuse of power..."
Now that Maigret was on home ground, and especially as he caressed an old pipe with a charred bowl, he felt self-assured enough. He regarded the young man with curiosity, comparing him to that other young man, Christian Gastambide.
"Why, since last Monday, didn't you try to see Hélène again?"
No answer. Not a start. Demassis stared straight ahead with a stubborn air.
"Why didn't you did write to her at the poste restante? And why does this attitude coincide precisely with the investigations that you made at the Avenue of Paris?"
Certainly, Henry showed a certain astonishment. He could hardly pretend that the blow hadn't carried home. Yet he remained silent. One might even have believed that these words reassured him in some way, as if the commissioner himself were tangled up in knots.
"I repeat for the twentieth time, that I have nothing to tell you."
"And nothing to hide?"
"Of no consequence."
"Albert told your mother everything."
"Ah..." he responded with indifference.
But suddenly, Maigret stopped, gazing into space. He remained thus for several minutes, lost in his own reflections, until a smile was born on his lips, and he burst out in a loud laugh.
He gave a cordial slap on Demassis' shoulder. "Imbecile that I was!"
This time the young man showed his concern.
"Now I understand these jaunts in Paris, this running away to Le Havre... And wouldn't you just as well have taken the train for Marseille or Bordeaux?
He rang for the office boy.
"Tell Inspector Torrence to come and keep an eye on this gentleman until my return... Understood?"
"Where are you going?" asked Henry in spite of himself.
"Do you really want to know? Why, exactly where you were trying to keep me away from!"
It was true. He jumped into a car and had himself driven to the Boulevard des Batignolles. There he had no difficulty locating the Hôtel Beauséjour, which was nothing but an apartment, on the door of which a handwritten card announced: "Rooms with bath by the month and the day. Moderate prices."
On the right of the hall, a small office.
"The room of the young man who left yesterday morning without warning!"
There is not a manager of furnished room in Montmartre who hasn't learned to recognize a member of the police.
"Something wrong? Nothing serious, I hope?"
"I suppose you want to talk about the one who filled out his card under a false name. An agent of the hotel squad told me about him yesterday morning. I wanted to throw the lovely out the door, but he didn't give me the time. He dashed in around eleven... and left immediately."
"And the girl?"
The hotelman was shaken. "What girl?"
"Don't play the fool with me! You know the score!"
"Yes, all alone."
"At what time?"
"She didn't receive a letter, a phone call?"
"No... That is, someone came for her, in the afternoon... But she was already gone."
"What kind of visitor?"
"A small man in fancy cutaway, very chic, who got out of a man's car..."
"I'm listening, M. Commissioner..."
"Was it you who told her to disappear?"
"Don't waste your breath! Her lover gone, and as you'd seen the police on his heels, you went up to warn her."
"Get on with it!"
"I suspected that he was going to get himself run in, that's true! And in that case, the girl would have been left with me! These kids never have any money. What I wanted, was for her to leave. I went up, as you say... To convince her to leave, I told her that the police were surely going to come..."
"What did she do?"
"She was all shook up. I insisted. Then she put on her hat... She had such a strange expression that I asked her if she had any money. Still not saying a word, she opened her bag, and I remember that it contained just two ten-franc notes and some loose change."
"Good! Then you're all set!" I said.
"She looked me in the eye. And, when she looked at me that way, I was somehow put at ease, because of the color... In short, she left."
"You didn't see her again?"
"No. But last night I was talking about her to a tenant, Mr. Léon, who's been in the district for a long time. He knows her."
"Wait a minute! First tell me since what day precisely this girl and her companion were here."
"Wait... Yes... That's easy... Armistice Day was Tuesday, wasn't it? They arrived in the evening, a little before dinner. They had a magnificent car. The young man who left came in after I had already lain down."
"And after that?"
"What do you mean?"
"Did they often go out?"
"Well, he went out every day to do their marketing. He told me that she wasn't feeling very well and that she wanted to stay in the room..."
"When you went up yesterday, did you find her in bed?"
"Who made up the room?"
"Alice, the chambermaid. Do you want me to call her?"
They could hear her sweeping the first floor landing. She come down, wiping her hands on her apron.
"While doing the room of the blonde girl, did you ever notice anything strange?"
The domestic looked at her boss, seeking advice.
"It's me you should be looking at!" said Maigret. "What time did you go up?"
"Between ten and eleven..."
"Was she already up?"
"Always... She didn't move from her armchair, which she had dragged close to the window. All the time I was there, she stared straight ahead, in the clouds..."
"She never said anything to you?"
"Nothing more than yes or no, or leave me..."
"Sometimes he'd help me out, so that I'd finish more quickly. I really believe that she wasn't well and that the least sounds gave her pain. If I accidentally dropped something, I'd see her jump..."
"Have you cleaned the room since they left?"
"What did you find?"
"His luggage. A suitcase with a suit and toilet kit. I left everything in the office."
"It's here," said the manager, pointing to a travel bag in brown leather under the key rack.
"No, nothing! She only owned what she had on."
"Thank you. You can go."
Maigret turned toward the hotelman.
"Is your M. Léon here?"
"He's probably still sleeping, since he works late in the evening. He's an accordionist."
"Please have him come over."
Alice was recalled. Five minutes later, a tall redheaded young man came down, hair tousled, a pajama top over formal trousers, his stockingless feet in dancing shoes.
"What is it?" he asked, mistrustfully, looking by turns at the two men.
"It's this gentleman who..."
"Police!" cut in Maigret. "It appears that you knew your neighbor..."
"The little blonde?"
"Well, you could say I knew her without knowing her."
"Where did you meet her?"
"She sometimes came to dance at the Bal Rochechouart, where I play... But she's not a regular customer."
"With friends, yes."
"Do you know where she lived before coming here?"
"Yes... She had a room with Big Irma... toward the end of Rue Tholozé. But as for the number... Wait... There's a shoemaker on the ground floor, and nearby, a cleaners whose shop is painted blue..."
"What does she do?"
"I couldn't tell you... but I believe she worked. For example, two or three times customers wanted to take her home and she refused..."
"Thank you. I assume you don't know her name?"
"She was called Ninie. But her family name..."
He sketched a vague gesture. The commissioner stuffed his pipe with a voluptuous slowness, turned toward the manager.
"In short, she left the hotel yesterday at noon..."
"Noon, yes... A little earlier..."
"And you don't know where she went. She didn't say what she intended to do."
"She was never talkative, as you must realize by what Alice told you. All I can tell you myself, is that she started off down the boulevard..."
"What name did the man who came in the afternoon ask for?"
"He just said the room number, no name."
"Did he appear surprised?"
"He insisted. Then he shrugged his shoulders, with an unhappy air."
Maigret glanced at Demassis' suitcase.
"Take care of that till you hear from me!" he decided.
He went out, heading slowly toward the Rue Lepic, turning right on Rue Tholozé.
It didn't take long to find the house that had been described to him. There was only one boutique painted blue on the street, and as the accordionist had said, it was a laundry.
Maigret entered, found the concierge, who was cleaning the staircase with torrents of dirty water.
"Is Mlle Ninie at home?"
"She isn't there."
"Do you know when she'll be back?"
"She won't be back."
It was distrust personified.
The old woman put aside her cloth to come and look her visitor in the face.
"Ah! I see. The police! Why didn't you say so?"
"Is she up there?"
"Neither Irma, nor Mlle Ninie. The latter won't be back, according to the young man who came to look for her in a car..."
"Do I know? Wait... Sunday... Monday... Yes, it was Monday."
"The first time, it could have been half past four..."
"And the second?"
"Maybe an hour later... But it wasn't the same young man... It was a friend..."
"Was Irma in the room?"
"No... She had to be at the Cyrano."
"And you wouldn't happen to know where I could find her at this hour?"
"All I know is that she was loaded. And, suddenly, the room wasn't good enough for her anymore. She probably needs a luxury hotel. If you want to see her, I believe that at dinnertime you'll probably find her at the Franco-Italien... She almost always eats there..."
"Is the room up there empty?"
"You think so! One down, ten to go..."
"Can I go up?"
"There's someone there. But, since it's the police... It's the fourth on the left. Shout 'Lolo' through the door. That's her name. She'll open it for you... But she may be hard to wake up..."
While climbing the stairs, the commissioner put into order the new elements that hadn't stopped flowing since he'd guessed the reason for Demassis' flight.
"If he was so anxious to take me across France, it was to avoid my stepping foot in the hotel. Therefore there's something or someone here."
And there was someone! A second Hélène!
So the face of the problem changed. A new character emerged. A certain Ninie, who lived in Montmartre, frequented the Moulin-Rouge and resembled feature for feature Mlle Gastambide.
Was it possible that Hélène and Ninie were one and the same person?
"Impossible!" retorted Maigret, who had seen Hélène all week long in Montreuil.
But at what moment had he been face-to-face with the young bourgeoise of Montreuil? And when, on the contrary, with the roguish girl of Montmartre?"
The concierge affirmed that a young man had come to look for her tenant on Monday around five o'clock. Wouldn't that have been Demassis? But Demassis had no reason to remove Ninie, to compromise himself for her. And Ninie didn't seem to have any reason to be worn down to the point of being kept in her room.
Which of the two had appeared at the Quai des Orfèvres, the night of the drama? Which had killed? And which was now in flight, roaming Paris with but a few francs in her pocket? Which one fretted while attending to the cares of the "anguished" household in the apartment in Montreuil, between Évariste Gastambide and Christian?
II. 5. Lolo's friend