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The House of Anxiety
by Georges Sim
Part One

7

SCRATCHES

The silence lasted more than five minutes. Évariste Gastambide crossed the living room, then the dining room, casting sly looks at Maigret and Hélène.

The girl continued to set the table, in a clumsy, disorganized way. The first words were pronounced by the father, who suddenly walked over to the table, seized a fork placed next to a plate, and threw it on the floor, roaring, "This is not mine!"

The gesture was brutal. Immediately afterwards, the man went to his room where he shut himself in. A tear had finally rolled down Hélène's cheek, but she turned her head. She continued bustling, not knowing anymore what she was doing, taking out a plate, putting it back in the buffet, waiting outside the kitchen door for water to begin to boil, retracing her steps, listening in the direction of her father's room.

Standing in a corner, Maigret didn't move. He waited. He felt that some truth was hidden in these contradictory attitudes, but was incapable of looking for it in any methodical way.

"Is he often like that?" he wondered in a half-whisper.

She didn't answer. A sob filled her throat, causing her to choke. The door of the apartment opened. The girl stopped, as if she expected a new danger. But, when she recognized Christian, she hurried towards him.

She probably wanted to throw herself into his arms, but something prevented her. Maigret, who couldn't see the young man in full light, didn't understand immediately.

She mumbled, "What happened, Christian...?"

"Nothing... Hush!"

He saw the commissioner, made a slight movement of retreat, and then uttered with forced laughter, "Ah! You're here again, are you! Didn't I arrange that well?"

*
*   *

His face was now illuminated. There were three large scratches, one of which was fairly deep, on the right side of his nose. He must have had to stem the blood all the way home, as he still had a handkerchief rolled in a ball in his hand. Some new red drops formed.

"Pleasures of a car! Where's my father?"

Hélène indicated the bedroom.

"Fine! Well done, old man!" It was to himself, or rather to his image reflected in a mirror, that he addressed this remark. He had the air of a man who'd been in a fight.

"A collision?" quizzed Maigret, looking him in the eye.

"As you say. Nothing serious, fortunately. Well! Shall we eat!" he cried, to put end to the conversation.

"The uncooked soup?"

The commissioner's situation was delicate. He didn't have anything more to do there. And yet he really would have given a lot to remain, to be present at the domestic evening in that incredible household.

"I'll leave now..." he said, while going to get his hat in the living room. "Excuse me for having disturbed you."

"Not at all! On the contrary!" exclaimed Gastambide, in such a way that there was no possibility of knowing whether he was perfectly serious or laughing at him.

Maigret headed toward the foyer. Christian hurried to show him out.

While passing before the door of the kitchen, the commissioner didn't hesitate to commit an impropriety. The door was half-open. But he could only see the gas burner. He poked his head in, and saw Hélène, her two elbows on the table, sobbing silently. She must have sensed his presence, for she turned, held herself upright.

"Don't pay any attention..." said Christian in a low voice, once they were on the landing. I warned you that they were both batty."

"Do you often meet your sister at the Cyrano?"

"Me? Never!" He answered very quickly.

"But she told me that this afternoon..."

"Oh, yes, this afternoon... But that was just a coincidence, you see? She had shopping to do in the city. And, as I had the car, I proposed..." The explanation threatened to be long.

"Good evening!" cut in Maigret, heading for the staircase.

As he crossed the passageway, the door of the loge opened up. "M. Commissioner..." called Mme Foucrier. "Won't you come in for a moment?"

He accepted the invitation. She was dining, tête-à-tête with her husband, who had a compress around his forehead.

"Is it indiscreet to ask if you've found anything? Please don't be angry with me... But the Captain was, for us, like family..."

"The investigation has only begun..."

"It's incomprehensible, isn't it?"

"Is there a wall at the back of the court?"

"It's too high to climb without a ladder. And there is no ladder in the house. And so when there's a repair to be made, a bell to arrange, or a lamp to change, I have to go next door to the painter..."

"One more thing... Does M. Christian spend all his nights here?"

"Not always... But he's at that age, isn't he?"

"Last Saturday?"

"Of that I'm sure. He was here... At half- past nine he went down to get some cigarettes. He stopped in here a moment..."

"And did you see him going up again?"

"As I see you... I set the timer."

"Has no one come since Sunday?"

"What do you mean?"

"Has no one asked you about the crime? Did no one try to enter the apartment on the third floor?"

She blushed, seemed to make up her mind. "Well, actually, yes. M. Henry..."

"Wait! Wait!"

"It's better to tell the truth, isn't it? Especially as he was straightforward with me... He said that since the killer hadn't been found, he would himself be likely to fall under suspicion. So, he'd decided to investigate on his own."

"Did he go up?"

"No! He wouldn't have been able to get in, since you have the only two keys. But he asked me a number of questions..."

"About?"

She blushed once more, but this time she was content to answer, "About all the tenants..."

"Not about someone in particular? For example, Mlle Hélène?"

"No..." she said, diverting her head.

"Nor about M. Christian?"

"No more than the others."

An idea came him. "It was M. Henry who thought about the garage wall, wasn't it? And he tried to climb it?"

"Yes! This morning, quite early. But he couldn't do it, although he's something of a sportsman."

"Did he leave for Nice?"

"I don't think so..."

"Did he ask you to not to speak of his visit?"

"Yes and no. He didn't specifically ask me not to tell you. But he told me that he preferred that no one knew that he was working on it..."

"In sum, he didn't go up... He wasn't even on the staircase?"

"No."

"Thank you, Madame Foucrier."

"You don't suspect him anymore, do you? Yesterday, I started to feel that..."

"No, please don't worry about him. Good night. And better health!"

He left, raising the collar of his overcoat. Stopping for an instant on the sidewalk, he saw the dark shape of a long car parked about fifty meters away. On the other sidewalk, a man was standing in the shadow, the red glow of his cigarette visible.

Maigret was about to cross the street to accost him, as he was sure it was Demassis, but he changed his mind, contenting himself with passing in front of the car, noting its make and plate number.

A quarter of an hour later, from a small café in the Porte de Montreuil, he called the garage where Christian Gastambide worked.

"Police! Some information, please. Did you have an accident this afternoon? A broken windshield on a car driven by one of your employees?"

"No accident."

"And all your cars returned?"

"All. Intact! You can come round to verify it yourself..."

This time, Maigret allowed himself to go home by taxi.


II. 1. The Drunken Man

TOPPart I. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 — Part II. 1 2 3 4 5Part III. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

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