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Murder in a Minor Key

A Maigret pastiche

by Murielle Wenger

[original French]


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The rain ended around 3:00 a.m., the patter of drops on the windowpane stopping abruptly. Chief Inspector Maigret rose, stretched, and yawned like a tired man. Lucas and Janvier, bags under their eyes, cheeks dark with day-old beards, were in the same condition. Maigret sighed. "Well done, boys. Have him sign this statement and we can all get some sleep." He picked up a glass in which the dregs of some beer remained, finished it off in a gulp and grimaced – it was lukewarm and flat.

On the other side of the room slumped a man, elbows on his knees, head between his hands, with the exhausted look of one who has just lost a rough battle. Inspector Janvier placed a typed sheet in front of him and handed him a pen. With a gesture of submission, the man signed, not bothering to reread the text. The two inspectors led him away, while the chief turned to the window, without a glance at the man he'd just driven to confess... after many hours of interrogation, which had left Maigret as exhausted as the culprit.

It was always a difficult moment for him, this point when he had the feeling of having won a battle against a man, for he knew that this man would find himself in front of a judge, in a courtroom, and that he'd undoubtedly not find there the sort of empathy which the Chief Inspector felt for those like him, in particular those who'd "come up through the ranks," who'd set themselves outside the standards of society. At those times, he no longer knew if he'd obtained success by wringing a confession from a criminal, having to some extent fulfilled his duty as a police officer, or if, on the contrary, he'd just betrayed his destiny as a man.

Maigret remained a long time before his window, vaguely following the headlights of the rare cars which passed in the street. The last pearls of rain rolling down the pane gave the impression that everything was bathed in the water of the Seine, that it had not only invaded the quays and streets, but also the buildings of the Police Judiciaire, and Maigret felt like he was at the bottom of an aquarium.

Janvier and Lucas returned from the Depot, haggard looking, but slightly smiling, as with relief. "So, Chief," said Lucas, "this time, we got him!"

Maigret shook himself, and turned toward the two men. He looked at his inspectors as if he were coming back from far away... "You're right, old man, after all, we succeeded," he replied with a rather bitter tone, causing the two men to regard him with astonishment. But they knew him well enough to realize that this state of mind wouldn't last, that the next day they'd find him ready to immerse himself completely in a new affair.

"All right if we go, Boss?" asked Janvier, who was in a hurry to get back to his family.
"Go ahead, boys. I don't want to see either one of you before this afternoon. If I need someone this morning, I'll take Lapointe or Torrence."
"But Boss... you're not going home?" asked Lucas.
"Oh yes, I'll go back for a couple of hours sleep, but I have to be at Report. The Chief absolutely wants to finish with this jewel gang before the weekend.
"Did Tornari talk, then?" asked Janvier, who hadn't been on that case.
"Not yet, but the judge has high hopes that little Delphine will be able to convince him to sit down at the table. He's very attached to her and their child, and he knows well that if he cooperates it'll be taken into account, and he'll get off a little easier."

The three men left the Quai des Orfèvres. Janvier took his car to return to his house in the suburbs, while Maigret and Lucas shared a taxi.

Mme Maigret turned over when her husband slipped into the bed. "Is it finished?" she asked.
"Yes," sighed Maigret, "he confessed."
"What time should I wake you?"
"It's 4:00. Let me sleep till 8:00."
"Not later?"
"No. I have to see the Chief for Report at 9:00."
"They can't do without you, for once?"
"We absolutely must finish with this jewel gang. The sooner we get Tornari's confession, the better. Good night, Mme Maigret."
"Good night. Try not to think about it too much."
The inspector sought his wife's lips in the darkness, then sank into a sleep crossed with bad dreams.


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When the odor of coffee awakened him, he had the impression of hardly having fallen asleep. After finishing a cup of the scalding liquid, he entered the bathroom, where he grimaced at his image in the mirror. "I have a nasty face, this morning," he thought while he shaved.

"Coming home for lunch?" his wife asked as she helped him on with his overcoat.
"I do not know yet. What are you making?"
"A fricandeau with sorrel."
"I'll try to get back, but I can't promise you."
"I know. I have experience."

Mme Maigret smiled, "But you know, it's going to be strange when you retire."
"Why's that?"
"Because I'll have to learn to prepare meals at a fixed time, and what's more, to eat at the same time every day, with a husband who will oversee my cooking."
"You say silly things, Mme Maigret."

The Chief Inspector kissed his wife and descended the stairs. Outside, the sky remained gray, but it wasn't raining. Maigret decided to walk to the Quai. His hands in his overcoat pockets, pipe in his teeth, he delighted in the spectacle of the streets, stopping sometimes in front of a pork butcher's, sniffing in passing the sweet scents wafting from a bakery, or the slightly acid emanations of a dairy.

This perambulation of the streets of Paris was for Maigret a way of drowning the problems of the night, of reestablishing himself in the everyday world, after having been immersed for several days in an investigation which took all his energy.

It was almost serenely that he climbed the dusty staircase of the Police Judiciaire, to which he always returned with the same pleasure. He threw a passing glance into the waiting room at the green velvet armchairs. For once – and it was rare – there was no one sitting beneath the rows of photographs of policemen fallen in the line of duty.

He opened the door of the inspectors' room. Torrence was telling a funny story to Lapointe, and the two men laughed heartily. Maigret smiled, greeted them cordially, and went into his office. He took a quick look through the stack of correspondence, discovered nothing worth bothering with, took out the file on the jewel gang, and went to Report.

At 10:30, he was sitting in his office, deciding between two pipes, when Lapointe knocked on the door. "Come in, my boy."
Although the inspector had been with him for more than ten years, and already had a family with three children, he remained for Maigret, "little Lapointe".
"Boss, we've just had a call from the Director of the Opera. He'd like to see you immediately."
"But what can he want with me?"
"I don't know, he didn't want to tell me what it was about, but he insisted so strongly that I promised you'd come as quickly as possible."

Maigret left the Quai in a small black car driven by Lapointe, who was happy to accompany his chief. Traffic was heavy, but he wove skillfully through the lanes, and was soon parking the car on a street parallel to that of the Opera. The two men were greeted by the Director, who'd awaited them in front of a service entrance. Small, bald, portly, Albert Sergent had directed the Opera for many years, and was ordinarily extremely amiable. He was always ready with a good joke, to partake of copious repasts, or to invite the prettiest women of Paris to his table. But at this moment, a concerned look had replaced his usual affability. He led Maigret and Lapointe into the room which served as his office. "Thank you, Chief Inspector, for having come so quickly." He lit a cigar with a slightly feverish gesture. "I won't offer you one, as I believe that you prefer your pipe?"
"Yes, that's so. What can I do for you, M. Sergent? I must say I was a little surprised by your call..."

The Director obviously didn't know where to begin. He set his cigar in the ashtray, and with the air of diving right in... "A major problem, Chief Inspector. I've been struck with a terrible blow."

He hesitated, and Maigret put on his most pleasant face to encourage him. "I'm listening, M. Sergent."
"I don't know how to explain. Yesterday evening... or rather... No, come with me."

He rose decisively from his armchair, and inviting the two men to follow him, led them through the mazes of the corridors of the Opera. After leaving the ground floor, where reception and the cloakroom were located, they descended a staircase whose entry was masked by a tapestry, the existence of which no one could have suspected. There was no more gilt, and, in effect, they were backstage. "These," explained the Director, "are the areas where we store our equipment."

He stopped in front of a half-open door, which he pushed with a fatalistic gesture, after sending Maigret a beseeching look, as if begging his assistance, or even indulgence. The Chief Inspector entered, and immediately understood the Director's hesitation. Lying in the middle of the floor was a body, from which a bloody trail spread to a gilded hanging rolled up on itself.

Maigret turned to his inspector, "Telephone the PJ – Have Moers and his men come as quickly as possible. Then call the Prosecutor's office. No, wait..." He drew his watch from his pocket. "It's 11:00. Let them finish their lunch, then call them at 2:00. That'll leave us time to do our work."

Lapointe, who knew Maigret's horror of the invasions of the Prosecutor's crew, smiled in spite of himself, then went to the Director's office to carry out his orders. Maigret leaned over the extended body, which appeared gigantic in the crowded little room. "Who is he?" he asked.

The Director, leaning against the doorframe, sighed. "You don't recognize him? His photo has been in the papers, and he was even on television when he became first violin of the Opera orchestra. You're not interested in music?"
"I seldom have time, and it's rather my wife who has the artistic interests. What's his name, your first violin?"
"Bertrand Crémier"
"Has he been in your orchestra long?"
"Almost six years. He'd previously worked with the symphony orchestra of Toulouse. When he arrived in Paris, he was immediately noticed by our conductor, who gave him the position of first violin after 18 months. He is, or rather, was, a great violinist..."
"When did you discover the body?"
"A machinist found him this morning while looking in here for something for tonight's performance."
"And where is he now, this machinist?"
"Onstage, working on the scenery."
"I'll see him presently."

Lapointe arrived with Moers and the crew from Criminal Records.
"Doctor Paul is on his way," said the inspector. "I was able to reach him at home."
"Let's go," Maigret said to the Director, "we're not useful here any more. We'll talk to your machinist."
They went up two levels, and Sergent led Maigret to the Opera stage, amidst the noises of hammer and saw.
"Jean," called the Director, "come down here a minute."

A tall skinny boy came down from the ladder on which he'd been perched hanging a multi-colored July 14 garland, and approached the two men.
"You're the one who discovered Crémier's body this morning?"
"Yes, Chief Inspector. And I thought it was especially strange, you know, after what had happened yesterday evening."
"Yesterday evening?"
The machinist hesitated, and turned to the Director, to whom he murmured, "You haven't said anything to him?"

The Director, obviously ill at ease, looked in turn at the machinist and then at Maigret, who, not understanding what was going on, said, "Don't you think it'd be simpler if you told me everything?"
"Shall we return to my office? It will be easier for me to explain there, rather than with everyone around."
"Certainly." Maigret turned to the machinist. "Don't leave the theater before having seen my inspector. Tell him exactly what occurred this morning when you discovered the body."

In Sergent's office, he invited Maigret to sit down, then moved toward a small low piece of furniture which contained a row of colored bottles. "A small glass, Chief Inspector?"
"No, thank you."
"Please do... I need a pick-me-up and I don't like to drink alone. Just a little Armagnac which I have brought in directly from the country."
"If you insist..."

The Director filled the glasses, then dropped with a large sigh into his armchair.

Maigret drank a mouthful of Armagnac, indicated with a small gesture that he appreciated the beverage, and then, setting his glass on the desk, "M. Sergent, if you'd tell me exactly what occurred yesterday..."

The director sighed once again. "M. Maigret, it's all so complicated. I don't know how to explain without you imagining..."
"Imagining what?"
"I wouldn't like to make an accusation lightly, however..."
"Please go ahead... since I know nothing at all about this, it's very difficult for me to understand what you're getting at."

The Director, to gain courage, poured himself second glass of Armagnac, offering once more to Maigret, "Would you...?"
"No, thank you."

Sergent downed his glass at a shot, then launched out... "All right. So that you understand the situation well, I must explain that when Crémier was named first violin, there was, of course, someone already in that position..."
"Did his predecessor take it badly?"
"Quite. You understand, Joseph Richard – the former first violin – had occupied the position for more than five years, and to see himself suddenly replaced by another musician... that was hard to swallow."
"When the conductor decided to replace him, were there any complaints about him?"
"No. Richard is a good musician, he filled his role of first violin to everyone's satisfaction during those five years, but..."

The Director lit a new cigar. "You can smoke your pipe, Chief Inspector. You see, if Joseph Richard is a good violinist, you must realize that Crémier was more highly endowed, had a greater talent. It was difficult for the conductor to say that out of the blue to Richard."
"So the discussion between the conductor and Richard went badly?"
"Yes. Richard had wanted to leave the orchestra, and I had to intervene personally to persuade him to remain. We negotiated an increase in his salary, and assured him that he was essential to the orchestra – you can only imagine the arguments we employed."
"And he agreed to remain?"
"And for four years, he has accepted this situation?"

Maigret sighed in his turn. "All the same, it couldn't have been easy for him to see himself supplanted in his role, and to continue to play in this orchestra in a position much more modest than he had occupied. How could he accept seeing his rival receiving all the cheers and the compliments that should have been his?"
"I don't know. He seemed to have accepted the situation rather easily. There were no stories, no arguments between them."
"But something happened yesterday evening, didn't it? "
"How did you guess?"
"It's not very difficult, considering how you've introduced me to things. So, what happened yesterday evening?"

"Well, Joseph Richard arrived very late for the dress rehearsal, which had never happened before, as he'd always made a point of being on time for rehearsals. Rather he has the custom of arriving somewhat early, something he's even teased about. In short, yesterday afternoon, all the musicians were already set up. He made no apology, but on the contrary, advanced with something like bravado to the conductor, whom he regarded with a snigger, not saying a word, and then he turned to Crémier, whom he treated in the same way. The first violin pretended not to notice his arrogant attitude, and the rehearsal started. Nothing else occurred at that time, but the musicians told me later that they'd had the impression Richard had been drinking before he arrived."

"Was that often the case with him?"
"It's precisely that which is so odd. Until then, I'd believed that Joseph Richard never drank alcohol at all. I'd even thought it was because of a liver disease or something of the sort."
"Then what happened?"

"The rehearsal finished uneventfully. The musicians went off to await the performance. And then, yesterday evening, when the orchestra was set up, they realized that Bertrand Crémier wasn't there. They called him at his home, but he hadn't been there all day. They tried the cafés where he sometimes went to have a glass, but they couldn't find him anywhere. You can imagine the situation, the performance about to start, the hall full... we couldn't cancel the evening. Finally, the conductor came up with a solution. He asked Joseph Richard to replace the first violin on the spur of the moment."

"And did he accept?"
"It was a fine revenge for him, wasn't it? He must have had a fantastic evening... finding once more the place he'd occupied, receiving, at the end, the applause he must have missed..."
"And how did the performance end? Did Crémier reappear?"
"No. And that's not all. Joseph Richard had exceeded himself, it should be noted. At the end of the show, the conductor wanted to have him return to the stage. But he'd disappeared."
"He wasn't in the musicians' dressing room, not in the wings... impossible to find..."
"You tried today?"
"Yes, of course. But in vain. No one has seen him since yesterday evening, not in any of his usual places."
"He hadn't returned home?"
"Is he married?"
"No. He's lived alone for years in a furnished room on the Rue Lafayette."

There was a knock on the door of the office. It was Lapointe.
"Boss, Moers and his men have finished. Doctor Paul wants to know whether they can remove the body."
"Yes, tell them to go ahead. Did you question the machinist?"
"Done. Do you want me to read you his statement?"
"Not now."

Maigret rose with a sigh. "Do you have anything else to tell me, M. Sergent?"
"I don't believe so."

The Director hesitated, then added, "Do you think the press will be alerted? It's never good publicity for us, this kind of affair..."
"In any case, it will certainly be necessary to inform people. What will you do about tonight's performance? You no longer have a first violin, since one has died and the other disappeared."
"I'll discuss it with the conductor. I don't know if we can do without a first violin this evening..."
"And for other evenings?"
"You're right. A solution must be found quickly."

The director shook Maigret's hand. "Thank you, Chief Inspector."
"You're welcome. I'll undoubtedly return to see you for the continuation of the investigation. Will you please provide my inspector with the addresses of Crémier and Richard? I'll notify Mme Crémier, and then I'll visit the manager of Richard's apartment."


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Outside, the weather had changed. A light and lively sun announced spring, a little early, since it was only the 3rd of March. This pre-spring atmosphere gave Maigret a thirst, and he led Lapointe into a small café across from the Opera. The two men ordered a white wine, whose sharp flavor harmonized with the sparkling air.
"So what do you think of all that?"
"I don't know, Boss. In any case, it's a peculiarly muddled affair."
The Chief Inspector sighed. "I hope we see things a little more clearly after our visit with Mme Crémier. Let's go."

The Crémiers had a pretty house on the Avenue de Courcelles, and it was a pleasure to drive along the streets, where the pedestrians had found a more cheerful pace since the rain had yielded to the radiant sun. Light clouds set white spots in a watercolor blue sky.

A small, pretty maid showed them into a room with Empire furniture, whose red velvet reflected the sumptuous rays of the sun which penetrated by the high windows. "I'll notify Madame. One moment, Messrs."
The two men waited, admiring the beautiful paintings on the wall. "A man of taste, this Crémier," thought Maigret. "Two Degas, a Corot, and a Sisler of the first period. Splendid!"

A woman in her forties, those forties particular to Parisian women who take care of themselves, elegant and distinguished, her hairstyle simple but carefully done, her dress sober, but from a good house, advanced toward them with a polished and slightly astonished smile. "Mathilde tells me that you're from the police? I can't imagine what could be the object of your visit..."

Maigret was surprised. Sergent had told him that he'd phoned Mme Crémier when they'd sought her husband the previous evening. But she didn't have the anxious look of a woman whose husband hasn't reappeared since the day before. "You have news of your husband, Madame?"

She took on an even more astonished air. "Of course! He must have just now arrived in Vichy!"
"I'm sorry, I don't quite understand. Are you saying that your husband has gone to Vichy? How do you know that?"

"He telephoned me yesterday evening before the performance, to say that he'd been engaged for a single evening, decided at the last minute, because the President was going to Vichy with the Chinese delegate, who'd expressed a desire to listen to a concert. The Vichy orchestra is quite famous, but it appears that their first violin was indisposed, and they asked my husband to replace him on short notice." She showed her pride. "My husband's reputation is well established, and his talent is recognized far and wide."
"I don't doubt it, Madame. You say that he telephoned you yesterday evening?"
"Yes, around 6:00."
"And you haven't heard from him since?
"You're not concerned?"
"No, why should I be? I know that yesterday evening's performance finished extremely late. My husband would have taken the first train to Vichy. He'll undoubtedly call me as soon as he's installed in his hotel."
"I'm afraid not, Madame."
"What are you trying to say?"

Seeing the Chief Inspector's hesitation, Mme Crémier showed her first sign of concern. The presence of the police officers then appeared to her to take on another significance. "Something has happened to him. That's why you're here, isn't it?"
"Sadly, yes, Madame."
"Has there been an accident?"
"Not exactly, Madame. I regret to inform to you that your husband has died."

Mme Crémier opened her eyes wide with incredulity. Her pupils drowned in a flood of tears, she put her hands in front of her face, and wavered slightly.
"You should sit down, Madame."

She didn't sit, but rather let herself fall into a wingchair. With a gesture, she invited Maigret and Lapointe to sit as well. The inspector seated himself awkwardly on a tapestry-embroidered footstool, while Maigret half-sat on a chair he half expected to find cracking under his weight.

"But... then what did happen? You said it's not a question of an accident. My husband had a strong heart, so it couldn't have been a heart attack..."
"Your husband was found this morning in the basement of the Opera, murdered..."

Mme Crémier opened her mouth as if to cry out, but no sound exited. She let her back fall against the chair, as if she might faint. Maigret was about to call the maid, but Mme Crémier regained control of herself. "Who could...?"
"We don't know, Madame. The investigation has only begun. Did your husband have any enemies?"
"Who could have had anything against him? He never hurt anyone. He led the life of a violinist. Music was his only passion."

She gave a small apologetic smile. "I don't know if what he felt for me was passion. We shared many things, but he lived especially for his music."
"You have children?"
"Sadly, no. When we met, I'd already undergone an operation which prevented me from having any."
"He knew that?"
"Yes, I'd told him before our marriage. But he loved me enough to go ahead."
"Excuse my asking a question somewhat brutal, under the circumstances..."
"I can guess what it is. I think that he knew women before me. But he never told me of any more serious relationship."
"And after your marriage?"

Mme Crémier regarded the inspector before her. "I wouldn't swear that there hadn't been a passing fancy or two. But nothing more."
"You're sure?"
"We other women, we can sense that. I knew my husband well, Chief Inspector, and you'll be following a false trail if you look for a jealous husband who could...." She left the sentence unfinished.

"I'm sorry, Madame, for bringing up unpleasant things. But my calling obliges me not to dismiss any assumption a priori, and I must sometimes put painful questions."
"I understand and I forgive you. Now, if you will permit me, I'd like to be by myself. When will I be able to see him?"
"We'll return his body to you after..." Maigret hesitated.
"After the autopsy, you're trying to say? I'm not afraid of the words, Chief Inspector. Life has taught me how to face things."
"I admire your courage, Madame, and I thank you for having received us with this frankness."
Mme Crémier extended her hand to them, and the little maid showed them out.

Lapointe walked next to his chief. In spite of the years, he couldn't overcome a certain awkwardness with respect to his boss, an awkwardness due to his unbounded admiration for Maigret. He didn't dare ask him questions, especially when he seemed to be "thinking inside", as Lapointe called it. Nevertheless, he risked, "What do you think of Mme Crémier, Boss?"

Maigret turned a smiling face toward the young man. He greatly liked the inspector, who was for him a little like the son he'd never had. He awarded him a degree of indulgence he didn't always grant his other inspectors, even his closest, like Janvier or Lucas. "And you, what do you think?"
Lapointe swallowed. He was always afraid to say something silly in front of his chief. "She... she impressed me. I don't know how to say it..."
"She has class..." Maigret said nothing else, but the inspector believed he understood.


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The furnished rooms where Joseph Richard lived were on the Rue Lafayette. The manager, a large, badly dressed woman, whose breasts seemed ready to jump out of her half-buttoned blouse, received them in her room on the ground floor. "M. Richard? No, he hasn't returned."
"He notified you?"
"No, but he'll surely come back. It's not the first time..."
"What do you mean? Does he sometimes stay away for several days?"
The woman smiled. "That happens, yes, from time to time."
"How frequently?"
"I don't know. Maybe every six months he disappears for two or three days, then he returns as if nothing had happened."
"And he's never told you where he went in those cases?"
"No, and I wouldn't have asked him. Moreover, he's not very talkative."
"He never talks about his life?"
"No, very little. Usually, I like to chat with my tenants, but he has such a way of ignoring questions that it makes you not want to insist."
"You've nothing else you could tell us? You don't have any suspicion of where he might be?"
"No, I'm sorry, Messrs. "

The Chief Inspector rose with a sigh, then took his leave and found himself, with Lapointe close on his heels like a faithful dog, in the street pulsing with sun. "We're floundering," he muttered, as it to himself. "Nobody knows anything, nobody can give us the beginning of trail. Crémier didn't have enemies, Richard didn't have acquaintances... where are we supposed to look?"
Lapointe shrugged his shoulders comically, indicating that he had no idea.

"Do you know what you're going to do? You'll go back to see Albert Sergent. You'll ask him whether he knows the places Richard usually went. If need be, question the other musicians. Perhaps they'll know if he went to cafés, billiard rooms, whatever. Manage to find me a trail..."
"Okay, Boss. Should I bring you back to the Quai first?"
"No, thanks. I'm going to walk a little."
Lapointe didn't insist. He knew that his chief needed to "ruminate", and that he'd get better results while strolling the teeming streets of Paris. ..

"Ah, Chief Inspector Maigret, it's been a long time since we've had the pleasure of seeing you in the district!" The owner of the Petit Calvados, jovial, cordial, bustled around the policeman. Maigret had decided to lunch in this restaurant, famous for its andouillettes. He'd telephoned Mme Maigret to warn her that he wouldn't be back, that he was in the midst of his investigation... which was half true. He'd actually had enough time to lunch at home, but he felt the need to remain immersed in the same district as the characters he'd just been discovering. A way of feeling them, becoming familiar with their daily lives, in effect.

It was the manager of Joseph Richard's apartment who'd indicated to him that the musician frequented the Petit Calvados. So Maigret had settled down with a table close to the window, from which he could regard with a vague eye the passers-by in the street, while eating an andouillette and crispy chips, well fried, with a small fruity Beaujolais.

When the patron served him his coffee – and the brandy he'd offered him with it – the Chief Inspector asked him about Richard, but he'd had little to say. "Yes, from time to time Joseph Richard took his meals here, but not in a regular way." "No, he'd always come in alone." All that didn't add much to what they already knew, as he told Lapointe when he found him in his office. "In spite of which, I nevertheless learned something interesting, which confirms what Albert Sergent told us. Joseph Richard drank only water with his meals, and the owner of the Petit Calvados had never seen him taking any alcohol."

"And what do you deduce from that, Boss?"
"I never deduce, as you ought to know, son (as Maigret called Lapointe in effusive moments). But it indicates something to us, anyway. When Richard came to the rehearsal yesterday, the other musicians had the impression that he'd been drinking. So Richard was operating somehow outside his normal state. Why? When we know why, our investigation won't be far from over. And you, did you learn anything from the Director of the Opera?"

"Nothing useful, Boss. But one of the musicians remembered a detail. Richard once spoke to him about his origins, and told him that he'd passed his childhood in the Vendée, near Luçon.

Maigret smiled at the memory of some investigations he'd carried out there. "Telephone the central police station at Luçon and ask for Chief Inspector Méjat. He was one of my inspectors a few years ago. Ask him to find out any information on Richard, his family, etc."
"I'm on it, Boss."

Maigret stuffed a pipe and stood before the window. While his eyes automatically followed a barge passing under the Saint-Michel bridge, he relived his memories of the Vendée as he'd known it a few years earlier, and his mouth watered at the thought of a mouclade he'd savored there...

The phone rang. Maigret lifted the receiver and heard the merry voice of Doctor Paul, the medical examiner with the famous beard. "I suppose, old man, that you'd prefer to know my initial conclusions before receiving my written report?"
"As always, of course. So, what did you discover?"
"First of all, that this Bertrand Crémier enjoyed good health, and was built to live to a hundred. He had a slight propensity for plumpness, but that's not mortal in itself. You know something about that, don't you, my old friend Maigret?"
"My wife – and my doctor, Doctor Pardon – would like to see me losing a few pounds, but if it means giving up my beer, no thank you! Let's move on. What else did you find?"
"Death was instantaneous. He was shot point blank, right in the heart."
"The time of death? Could you determine it?"
"I'd say between 6:00 and 8:00 o'clock yesterday evening, but it's difficult for me to be more precise. I found the digested remains of a meal in his stomach. He must have last eaten around 1:00."
"Nothing else?"
"Nothing very significant. I'll send you my report."
"Thank you, Doctor. So long."
"See you soon. We're going to meet at Pardon's next week, if I'm not mistaken?"
"Exactly. Pardon promised us a rouelle de veau with lentils this time."
"I can hardly wait!"

There was a knock on the door, and Lapointe entered. "I have your information, Boss. Chief Inspector Méjat sends his best regards." The inspector consulted his notes. "Richard no longer has any family in Luçon. He was an only child, and his parents died more than 15 years ago. Richard's father was a notary. Méjat found a maid who'd worked for the Richard family, and she remembered that Joseph had left to study music at the Academy in Toulouse. According to her, the Richards were good bosses. A family without stories, according to what Méjat could learn. He'll try to find out more."
"Thank you, Lapointe."

The Chief Inspector stuffed a new pipe, then sat down at his desk, unconsciously playing with a box of matches. Silence lasted a few moments, then Maigret raised his head toward his inspector.
"So, you say that Richard went to Toulouse?"
"Right, Boss."
"And didn't Sergent mention Toulouse to us this morning?"
"Yes, I think he said that Crémier had been first violin in the Toulouse symphony orchestra..."
Maigret's eyes had a gleam that Lapointe knew well.
"Call Sergent, will you?"

"Hello, Monsieur Director? I have Chief Inspector Maigret here for you. Hold on please."
"Hello, M. Sergent. How are you today?"
"Hello, M. Maigret. We're looking for a substitute first violin for this evening, but it's difficult." Sergent gave out a large sigh. "If only Richard would reappear! He's put us in a hellish spot!"
"I am sorry to hear that. Say, can you tell me if Crémier and Richard knew each other before Crémier came to Paris? It would seem they both were in Toulouse."
"No, they never mentioned it to me. Given the way in which Crémier replaced Richard, they were rather cool to each other and didn't associate apart from the Opera, as best I know."
"One more thing, M. Sergent. Was Richard particularly attached to any of the other musicians?"
"He kept very much to himself, you know. But perhaps Florent Cadet, one of the violinists, will be able to give you some information. It seems to me that they were sometimes together."
"Do you have his address?"
"Yes, wait... Here. He lives in the suburbs, 17 Boulevard des Capucines, in Juvisy."
"Thank you. Good luck for this evening!"
Maigret hung up again. He turned to Lapointe, who still waited in front of his desk.
"Go over to Juvisy, to this address. Perhaps Richard said something to this Florent Cadet. Try to pump him a little. Me, I'll go back to Mme Crémier."

Maigret pushed open the door of the Escargot bar, and sat down on a high stool in front of the zinc counter. The owner, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, was rinsing glasses, which he replaced on a rack behind him. A sunbeam coming through the window played on the bottles, painting colored reflections on the counter. The policeman ordered a white wine, then moved toward the phone booth.
"It that you, Mme Maigret? What are you making for dinner?"
"I was thinking of heating up the fricandeau I'd cooked for today's lunch."
"Splendid! I'll be there in half an hour!"

Standing on the rear platform of the bus bringing him back to the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, Maigret savored his pipe as the Parisian landscape unrolled. He looked at the streets, the crowd, without seeing them, replaying in his mind the discussion he'd had with Mme Crémier, whom he'd returned to see. The dignity of this woman made a great impression on him. Unfortunately, she hadn't told him anything new about her husband, and she didn't know Joseph Richard, of whom her husband, she'd assured him, had never spoken to her. However, Maigret had the impression that he should continue to dig in this direction... He thought, or rather he felt that the relationship between Crémier and Richard was at the heart of the drama. "Provided that Lapointe obtains some information from Florent Cadet," he thought.

Mme Maigret opened the door before he had time to take his key from his pocket. With a gesture at the same time familiar and filled with tenderness, she took his hat, and helped him remove his overcoat and jacket. He went to wash his hands, and then they sat down at the table.

The fricandeau was succulent, and Maigret had accompanied it with a fruity Pouilly which left his body feeling pleasantly heavy. He read his newspaper drowsily, and when the television drama was over (a police serial which Mme Maigret liked to watch, and which induced amused smiles in the Chief Inspector), they went to bed.


Top     1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     10     Epilogue

The next morning, the weather was radiant again, and Maigret made his way to his office on foot, enjoying the spectacle of the waking Paris streets. The Seine was shining in the sun, the barges had a newly-painted gleam, and all the scene, from the fishermen installed at the edge of water, to the cars honking, and the little secretaries running late to their offices, all that had the air of a stage set, or a painting by a Sunday artist...

Lapointe, who wore a suit that morning which harmonized with spring, entered Maigret's office bright and cheerful. Maigret smiled at him, and he smiled back. It was a morning when you wanted to smile at life.
"Boss, I've got some information on Richard. This Florent Cadet loves to talk – he didn't want to let me go yesterday, but I learned some interesting things. Lapointe had the frisky air of a dog bringing back game to its master.
"Fine, sit down and tell me."

The inspector opened his note-book. "Here. M. Cadet sometimes lunched with Richard. They didn't meet each other often, but Richard all the same shared some confidences with Cadet, especially one evening after a performance which had finished with a small party – with plenty of drinking – on the occasion of the conductor's birthday. The whole orchestra had gone to Pigalle, and the revel went on late into the night. Cadet told me that some musicians, himself and Richard included, had ended up in a striptease boite, and they'd finished off several bottles of champagne. I'll sketch you the details. Florent had to accompany Richard back to his place, because Richard, who wasn't used to drinking, had made a large exception that night. He was quite drunk, and Cadet helped him get to bed. Richard turned rather sad with drink, and he cried, telling of his life to Cadet. He spoke to him about his parents, his childhood in Luçon, his studies in Toulouse, but Cadet doesn't remember all the details. Of course, he'd also been drinking considerably. However, he remembers one thing, because Richard insisted strongly on the subject, it appears. In Toulouse, Richard had met a young woman, with whom he'd fallen in love, but whom he couldn't marry."

"Why not?"
"Cadet doesn't remember, but he had the impression that Richard wanted to make him understand that he wasn't the only one in love with the young lady, and that she'd preferred the other to him. And that was why Richard, who really loved her, had never married."
"Could he give you any other details about the young lady?"
"No. When Cadet tried to bring the subject up during another conversation, Richard dodged the questions and never wanted to speak about it again, as if he regretted having done so that famous night. What do you think of that, Boss?"
"I don't know."

Maigret looked at him distractedly. He stuffed his pipe, then murmured as if to himself, "There's a woman in the story. Perhaps it's a trail to be followed..."

"Hello, Mme Maigret? Can you prepare my small blue bag with a change of linen? I'm leaving for Toulouse."
"For Toulouse? Yes, I'll take care of it." Mme Maigret, over the years, had gotten to the point where she was no longer astonished by anything. How many times already had she received a phone call from her husband, at any hour of the day or night, announcing that he didn't know when he'd return, that an interrogation was under way at the PJ, or that he was leaving for Heaven knows where?

Maigret had gone to find the examining magistrate in charge of the case, and by luck it wasn't Coméliau this time, because it would have been difficult for him to obtain from his "best enemy" authorization to leave Paris to continue his investigation. Obviously, the Chief Inspector could have had someone from the Toulouse Flying Squad make certain inquiries, but who other than Maigret himself would have been able to feel and, by impregnating himself in the atmosphere which he was going there to seek, to arrive at an understanding of the drama that Maigret believed he'd achieve? Moreover, he'd have had a difficult time indeed giving precise instructions to an inspector... Could he say to him, "Sniff around in all the corners, sit down where Richard sat, walk in the street where Crémier lived, and try to understand?" Was this a serious way to request information? Still, it was as if Maigret wanted to deal with this business himself, and that was why he'd asked the judge to authorize his trip to Toulouse. By phoning the secretary of the Toulouse symphony orchestra, he'd obtained Crémier's old address, and it was there, on arriving in the pink city, that he intended to start.

In the train which carried him toward the south, Maigret was dozing in his seat. On a sort of scruple, he'd decided against taking a berth. Lulled by the rhythm of the coach, his thoughts had become hazier, and he'd slipped into a sleep filled with a strange dream. He saw himself on the stage of the Opera, a violin in his hand. He was unable to play it, and a laughing character, who resembled a caricature of Joseph Richard, showed him a bow which he'd held hidden behind his back. Maigret understood that he needed this bow to be able to play the violin. Then he saw another, even vaguer character, who was perhaps Bertrand Crémier, and who brought toward him a fair young woman whom he held by the hand. She offered him a box, which the policeman opened, to discover a gilded bow. Maigret seized the bow and just as he was about to caress the strings of the violin with it, the door of his compartment opened, and the trainman announced, "Toulouse, 20 minutes stop!" The violin flew away with its bow, and the Chief Inspector awoke.

On exiting the station, Maigret regretted having kept on his dark suit, because it was already very hot, and not a breath of wind moved the leaves of the trees on the square. He'd checked his bag, and he started toward a small café whose orange awning, already descended in front of the pane, was a tempting color. He ordered a demi, because it was too early for the pastis whose anise odor permeated the café. He got directions to the apartment where Crémier had lived, and walked, in spite of the heat, toward the center of the city.

Unfortunately, the concierge was new in the building, and the one who'd preceded her had died two years before.
"And among the tenants, are there any who were here at the time of M. Crémier?"
The concierge reflected, "Perhaps Mlle Tardi. She was here before me. Try her. She's on the third floor, the door on the left.
"Is she in now?"
"Of course! The poor dear, she doesn't go out much any more, because of her legs."

By luck, the building had an elevator, which Maigret used with relief. He knocked on the door on the left, and it was an old woman, very small, sharp and smiling, who introduced him into an apartment noisy with the cries of birds. In the room which served as a living room were a good dozen cages containing brightly-colored parakeets.
"Aren't they beautiful, my birds, Monsieur? And then, they do keep me company."
The elderly spinster invited the Chief Inspector to sit down, and he chose a chair which seemed to him most able to support his weight.
"Have you lived in this house for a long time, Mlle Tardi?"
"Ah, it will be 18 years this autumn, Monsieur."
"Did you know the other tenants? M. Crémier, for example?"
"M. Crémier? I knew him so well! Such a nice man, and his lady, too!"
"He was married?"
The old woman had a mischievous smile. "I don't know if they were married, but in any case, it was as if they were. They were adorable, both, and they had the air of being so much in love!"
"Do you know the woman's name?"
"M. Crémier called her Minouche, but she told me once that her name was Michele."
"Did you have much contact with them?"
"I couldn't say that, but if we'd meet on the staircase, we always spoke a little. I believe that she especially liked to chat. She was a little bored, the poor child!"
"She didn't work?"
"No. She took care of her household, and sometimes went out in the afternoon, perhaps to meet her friend."
"Did she speak to you of her family?"
"No. I only know that I spoke to her once about my brother, who's a ship owner at La Rochelle, and she told me that she knew the area rather well. I had the idea that she came from there."

Maigret felt a shiver which made his pipe shake in his teeth. For him, the combination of the two place names formed clear evidence – La Rochelle and Luçon! Only some 30 miles between the two cities. And if Minouche had lived in Luçon, like Joseph Richard...!

The Chief Inspector had the impression that a vague and confused gleam had started to shine on this business. Already, he listened with only half an ear to what the old lady told him, and he surprised her by abruptly taking from his pocket a photograph of Joseph Richard, which he'd found among the papers in Richard's room.
"Do you know this man?"
She leaned toward the portrait. "No, that doesn't say anything to me, and I have a rather good memory for faces."
"You never saw him in the building? He never visited M. Crémier?"
"No, I don't believe so. But you know, I don't spend my time spying on my neighbors. He could have come without my seeing him."
"Of course. Thank you all the same." And he added, more for himself than for the old woman, who didn't understand what he meant, "It's no longer of any importance, now."
He took leave of Mlle Tardi, by politely refusing the glass of chartreuse which she'd insisted on offering him.

Breathing heavily, wiping his forehead with his handkerchief, Maigret climbed the stairs which led to the central police station of Toulouse. He made himself known to the orderly, who led him to the Chief Inspector's office, where he was met be a small portly man, with a round face.
"Boss, it's you!"
"Vauquelin! What are you doing here! I thought you were still in Nice!" Inspector Vauquelin had worked with Maigret, before being appointed to Nice.
"I got promoted, Boss, I was appointed Chief Inspector in Toulouse two years ago."
"My congratulations, old man!"

The two men exchanged memories of the time when Vauquelin was with the PJ, and then Maigret came to the subject of his visit. He wanted to ask the Toulouse Inspector to find the address of Crémier and his partner, before they'd settled into Mlle Tardi's building.
"I'll put a couple of men on it immediately, Boss, but it will probably take some time. Are you spending the night in Toulouse?"
"I'd have preferred returning this evening, but I don't want to lose the trail. I have the impression that I still have something to learn here. Do you know a good hotel, not too far?"
"No question of that, Boss, I'll have my wife prepare the guest room."

Maigret, who had a horror of sleeping at other people's homes, refused politely, but firmly, his former inspector's offer.
"As you wish. But at least you'll come to our house for dinner."

Vauquelin insisted so sincerely that Maigret, who didn't want to disappoint him, accepted the invitation. And in fact he didn't regret it, because Mme Vauquelin, a small, plump woman who was always laughing, turned out to be a true cordon-bleu chef. As she explained to Maigret, she'd initially thought of serving him an authentic Toulouse cassoulet, but because of the heat, she'd decided to prepare something a little less heavy. He thus feasted on a succulent rabbit in mustard sauce, accompanied by risotto with asparagus tips. After the dinner, which made it easier for him to understand Inspector Vauquelin's comfortable plumpness, his host accompanied him to a small hotel, modest but well run, where Maigret slept a relatively peaceful sleep, taking into account the heat and the copious meal he'd been served by Mme Vauquelin.

The next morning, the city awoke to the same overpowering sun, and Maigret was already apprehensive about his route through the overheated streets. He went initially to the central police station, where Vauquelin's men had worked well – one had found the trail of Crémier and Minouche in a small furnished room in the downtown area, and Maigret, who didn't want to waste time, and was looking forward to rejoining his wife (whom he'd called the night before at bedtime), went without further delay to the address they'd found for him.

The building had only three floors, and the entry was flanked by a mimosa in a large blue pot. The concierge, a small, very thin man with black hair, emerged from his room from which, in spite of the early hour, already escaped emanations of pepper and garlic. The man, who was from Marseilles, as he'd made a point of specifying in a proud accent, remembered Crémier well. "A very calm man, very nice, very proper."
"Did he receive visitors?"

The concierge grinned, "Not many, it was mainly his girlfriend who came to see him, and sometimes to spend the night."
"What was she like? Do you remember her name?"
"She was a pretty bit of girl, very fair hair, a little curly. She smiled all the time. I don't know her name, I remember only that M. Crémier called her Minouche. Perhaps her name was Michele, or Mireille... "
"You don't know anything else about her? Where she worked, for example?"
"No, I'm sorry, Monsieur. Why are you looking for her?"
"I'd like to find out what happened to her."
"She didn't marry M. Crémier? They seemed so in love..."
"No. Bertrand Crémier married, but a different woman."
"So... I never would have thought it... But why didn't he marry Minouche? Did he tell you? You spoke to him? Is it he who's looking for her?"
"No. M. Crémier is dead. He was murdered."

The concierge caught his breath. "So... And do they know who killed him? Don't tell me it was Minouche, in a fit of jealousy..."
"We don't know anything yet. We're seeking the killer, and that's why I'm trying to find information about people who knew Crémier. By the way, do you know this man?"

Maigret took from his pocket the photograph of Richard. The concierge leaned over the photo, after setting on his nose glasses which gave him the air of a notary. He exclaimed, "Why, it's M. Richard!"
"You know him?"
"Of course I know him! He lived here for three years!"
"At the same time as Crémier?"
Maigret was quivering with impatience. Could it be that he'd already touched the goal of his investigation?

The concierge's laugh confirmed it, "Of course! They were very close. They often shared their meager dinner, because they weren't rich at that time, and they were both living from hand to mouth. I'd see them returning at night, tired, their violin cases under their arms, and in their hands a small paper bag containing but a single sandwich.
"Was this at the same time as Crémier knew Minouche?"

The man scratched his head. "Wait... No, I don't think so. It was only after M. Richard left that M. Crémier brought back the young lady one day."
"A long time afterwards?"
"I don't know. Perhaps six months, or a year later? I don't remember very well any more. All that is more than 15 years ago."
"And you're sure that Richard never saw her here?"
"Yes. M. Richard never set foot in the house again after his departure."
"He never returned to visit his friend Crémier?"
"No, never, so I assumed they'd had a falling out after an argument."
"You heard them fighting?"
"No, but as I didn't understand why M. Richard had left, I just imagined..."
"Did you speak to M. Crémier about it?"
"Once, when M. Crémier was still alone, before the arrival of Minouche, I asked him whether he wasn't sad not to have his friend with him anymore, and I tried to learn why M. Richard had gone."
"Did Crémier explain it to you?"
"No. He just said, with a sad little smile that I remember very well, "Everyone is free to lead his life as he wishes..."

"How long did Bertrand Crémier remain on your premises?"
"A year. One day, he announced that he'd found a position with the Toulouse orchestra. He was terribly happy! He told me he wanted to find a larger house, nearer to his work."
"He was still with Minouche?"
"Yes, of course, it was also for that that he wanted to find a larger apartment, to be able to live with her. The room he occupied here wasn't suitable for two."
"Did he give you his new address?"
"And he never returned? You've never seen him since?"
"No, never."
Maigret sighed. The trail of the two men seemed to escape him once more.
"Sorry not to be able to tell you more, Monsieur Chief Inspector."
"Thank you nevertheless. You've been very helpful."

Leaning on the counter, the Chief Inspector enjoyed the pastis he'd ordered. He regarded vaguely the customers in the bar, who came to take their aperitif, seeking in the shaded and cool room to escape the sweltering heat of full noon which overpowered the city. Maigret hesitated to order a bouillabaisse, whose spicy odor escaped from the kitchen, where he could see the flamboyant owner, white hat posed lopsidedly on his head, amidst a merry hubbub. In the end, he decided to settle for a sandwich. He wasn't really hungry, initially because of this crushing heat to which he wasn't accustomed, but more especially because what he'd learned from the concierge evoked in him a multitude of hazy thoughts he was trying to put in order.

His head swarmed with images, which passed by like a film... Bertrand Crémier and Joseph Richard in their room, dividing a sandwich before playing some old tunes together on their violins, giving themselves small concerts to forget their misery. Then the image of a blonde girl occupied the Chief Inspector's thoughts... a thousand questions attacked him... How and where had Crémier known Minouche? What did she do in her life? Had Richard and Crémier argued because of her? Maigret had a very clear impression that the concierge had shaded the truth – though where he got this intuition he wouldn't have been able to say – that the young woman had been the cause of the separation of the two men.

"Hello, Mme Maigret? I'll arrive this evening at 8:00 o'clock at Lyon Station. Do you have something to nourish a husband exhausted by the heat but famished?"
"What would you say to a cold lobster with mayonnaise?"
"Splendid! See you this evening!"

Maigret hardly looked at the landscape unraveling across the windows of the coach. He was glad to return to Paris and springtime. This sweltering summery heat of Toulouse did not agree with him, and he'd had enough of traversing the streets and stopping every 30 feet or so to catch his breath and wipe his forehead. And further, the innumerable glasses of beer he'd imbibed to refresh himself weighed a little heavily on his stomach. He closed his eyes and tried to line up all the elements they'd unearthed so far. Before taking his train, he'd passed by the police station, from which he'd called Luçon. Méjat had bent over backwards to provide him the information he'd asked for, and had assured him of an essential fact, that Maigret had already guessed at the time of his conversation with old Mlle Tardi. Minouche, Crémier's beautiful blonde friend, had lived in a small village a few miles from Luçon, where her father had been an accountant in a haulage company. Maigret didn't believe in coincidences, and he was sure he'd find that young Richard and Minouche had known each other there.


Top     1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     10     Epilogue

The following day it rained, and the Chief Inspector was almost happy for it, as the gloomy weather harmonized well with his mood that morning. He'd discovered many things on his journey to Toulouse, but the investigation had hardly progressed. They still hadn't found Joseph Richard, nor was there any trace of young Minouche. Maigret had the impression of marking time, which was making him grouchy. His inspectors had easily understood his mood on seeing him arrive, heavy and silent, and they were careful not to ask him anything. Word got around, and the inspectors' room was rather quiet, everyone listening for what was happening in Maigret's office, with an ear out for his slightest call. But he remained obstinately shut up in there, handling administrative paperwork as if the fate of the whole PJ depended on it.

At noon, he'd picked up his phone, but not to summon an inspector, which he rarely did like that anyway, preferring to just open the door and call out a name sharply, or even to enter his subordinates' room himself, and to sit down familiarly on the corner of a table. This time he'd simply phoned the Brasserie Dauphine to have them send up sandwiches and beer. And that too, was an indicator of his mood, for he usually preferred to lunch with one of his close inspectors, like Janvier or Lapointe, taking them along to some small restaurant known for its andouillettes or blanquette.

Standing in front of the window, where long gray trails of raindrops beaded, he'd eaten his two sandwiches and finished his two beers, munching savagely, without a word, without turning away for a moment. Then he'd gone back to his paperwork.

It was only at 3:00 that he'd opened the door of his office and called for Lucas, without even throwing a glance to confirm his presence in the inspectors' room. Lucas had grown increasingly portly over the years, the silver tinging his temples making him resemble a faithful old dachshund. He went in to his chief, winking in complicity to his colleagues on the way.

The Chief Inspector had sat down at his desk, and was busy lining up his pipes by order of size. Without raising his eyes to Lucas, he passed him the photograph of Joseph Richard. "Have copies of this distributed to all police stations, train stations and border posts, with the description of our man. And have it put in the newspapers."

As his inspector made no reply, Maigret looked up. "You're wondering why I'm doing this, since you know I generally prefer to wait until someone's been accused?"
Lucas dared to reply, "That's it, Boss. Usually, it's your last resort..."
"That's true. But don't forget that in this case, we don't have the slightest trail to start on. And yes, anyone could have killed Bertrand Crémier. Anyone – or almost anyone – could have had access to the storage rooms of the Opera. But what reason would someone have had to kill him? He had no known enemies, no intrigues, nothing shady in his life. And the only thing we've got is the fact that he and Joseph Richard knew each other in Toulouse. And then Joseph Richard disappeared!. Is there a connection between that disappearance and Crémier's death? I don't know, I'm seeking, groping... And I have the impression that young Minouche is mixed up in it in some way or other as well..."
Lucas was careful not to interrupt his chief, whom he'd seldom seen so talkative. It wasn't often that Maigret spoke his thoughts aloud!

"And now, old man, I'll ask you to put yourself to work on something not very exciting, but which will perhaps bring us somewhere. Take one or two men with you, go up to Lodgings and comb through all the hotels and furnished rooms. I want you to make me a list of all the establishments whose owners were there at least 10 years ago."
"What are we looking for, Boss?"
Maigret threw Lucas a surprised glance, perhaps a little disappointed that his most senior collaborator didn't follow what could pass for his reasoning.
"You haven't guessed? I'm looking for a trace of Minouche! I have the impression that she and Crémier came to Paris together to settle, after they left Toulouse. That's no doubt why I didn't find any trace of them after the last address I went to yesterday."
Lucas, with whom Maigret had not discussed in detail his trip to the south, sensed that it wasn't the moment to insist, and he left the office for the inspectors' room, where he requisitioned Janvier and Torrence, not too happy to get covered with dust in the Lodgings archives.

Maigret, installed before his window, pipe in his teeth, watched a barge that had just whistled twice to pass under the Saint Michel bridge. At a knock on his door, he emitted a vague growl, which could pass for an invitation to enter.
Janvier handed him a sheet of paper. "That wasn't so easy, Boss! Those hotel lists are a mile long! The three of us spent two hours combing through them! For a job...."
But the Chief Inspector was in no mood to listen patiently to recriminations, and he cut him off abruptly.
"You found the names?"
"Yes, three addresses only. The owners of hotels change more frequently than you could believe."
"Good. Have Torrence and Lucas each take an address, and you the third. Go right now, and do it quickly. I'm only interested in one thing, whether the Crémier-Minouche couple lived in one of the those hotels, and for how long."
"Got it, Boss."

Janvier left, and Maigret settled at his desk, stuffing a new pipe. He was about to pick up the phone when Lapointe entered.
"I've got some news, Boss. Chief Inspector Méjat has just phoned. By questioning people around Luçon, he discovered that Minouche was, on her mother's side, Joseph Richard's cousin."
Maigret started. "You're sure?"
"Yes, Méjat will send you a copy of his interrogations. In any case, it's now certain that Minouche and Richard knew each other well in Luçon, and in fact, since childhood. Méjat said they'd found an old lady who'd been a friend of Richard's mother, and she told him that Richard's parents and Minouche's parents had often spent time together when their children were young, but that then they'd had a falling out."
"Do we know why?"
"No. The old woman never heard that from her friend. The only thing she's sure of is that this estrangement occurred rather late, when Richard and Minouche were already adolescents."

Maigret drew on his pipe, his glance lost in the wreaths of blue smoke which stretched toward the ceiling. Lapointe said nothing more, watching his chief, who seemed plunged in a deep effort of reflection. The silence lasted fairly long, then Maigret looked up at his inspector, a gleam in his eyes... "Suppose the estrangement occurred because of Richard and Minouche..."
"Are you suggesting... Do you think that Richard and Minouche...?"
"I don't think anything yet... I have the impression that this whole story revolves around these two characters. Crémier only comes in later... How can I say it... I feel that at the bottom of it all, there's a story of a couple... the thing is to learn who the members of this couple were...."

The phone rang. "Hello. It that you, Janvier?"
The voice of the inspector on the other end of the wire was excited.
"Boss, we've got it!"
"You've got what?"
"I've found it! I'm at the Hotel des Abbesses in the Place Maubert. Shall I put the hotel manager on?"
His tone of voice was both pleased and mysterious.
"You can't question him yourself?" grumbled Maigret.
"I did, but I'd like you to hear his story directly."
"Fine." The Chief Inspector sighed. "Put him on."

"Hello, Monsieur Chief Inspector. This is Justin Colleboeuf."
"Hello, M. Colleboeuf. Are you the owner of the hotel?"
"No, not the owner, just the manager. The owner is M. Emile. You perhaps knew him at the time when he was a waiter at the Brasserie Alsacienne. It seems he received a small inheritance and bought this hotel 15 years ago. But his health wasn't very good, and he engaged me as manager. I knew him when I was also a waiter. But not at the Brasserie Alsacienne. In fact, he was known at the races..."
Maigret interrupted his chatter impatiently. "You became manager immediately?
"Yes. Now it's going on 15 years that I've been here, and as I said to your inspector, I knew many of the guests. And I have an excellent memory, it's important in this business, and..."
"Do you remember among your customers a M. Crémier?"
"I certainly do! Your inspector showed me the photograph. But even without that, I'd have remembered him. When you think about it, there was so much talk at the time about little Minouche, and her story, I'm not about to forget..."

"What story?"
"But, as I said to your inspector, I'm astonished that you don't know about it, being the police... But then, it was Chief Inspector Amadieu who did the investigation at the time. He was also a Chief Inspector from the Quai des Orfèvres, wasn't he?"
"The investigation of what?"
"But, that of the death of this poor young lady!"
Maigret let his pipe go out. Janvier picked up the phone again. His voice was more and more animated.

"Hello, Boss, did you hear? Minouche was found dead in this hotel 10 years ago! But it wasn't you who did the investigation, since..."
Since Maigret wasn't in Paris at the time, damn! There'd been that unpleasant business where someone had tried to get rid of Maigret, and he'd been obliged to take a somewhat forced "vacation" at his house in Meung-sur-Loire. They discovered that the author of the machination was a shady financier whose sordid history of blackmail had been uncovered by Maigret. The cabal had failed, and Maigret had a nauseating memory of that cloudy period, especially as he'd been temporarily "replaced" by Inspector Amadieu, a dry and ambitious man whom he'd hardly liked, and who'd tried to benefit from his provisional nomination to replace Maigret definitively.
"Thank you, Janvier. Ask the manager to tell you in detail as much as possible of what he remembers of the story. Then try the local police station. Maybe there are still some agents who remember what happened."
"Okay, Boss."

Maigret hung up. He rose heavily, filled a new pipe and opened the door of the inspectors' office.
"Lucas? Get me the files on a murder 10 years ago in the Hotel des Abbesses. Bring me everything you can find."
Lucas asked no questions. He recognized Maigret's mood, and knew it wasn't the moment to ask for explanations.
The Chief Inspector sat down at his desk, drew a few pensive puffs on his pipe, and extended his hand to pick up the phone.

"Hello, Mme Crémier. Chief Inspector Maigret here. Forgive me for disturbing you once more, but there's a question I forgot to ask you last time. Can you tell me how long you were married to Bertrand Crémier? "
"Nine years. More exactly, it would have been nine years this autumn."
"And how long did you know each other before the marriage?"
"Hardly a year. Bertrand spoke very quickly about marriage. It was I who required him to wait a little until we knew each other better before making a decision."
"Why was that?"
"I don't know." Mme Crémier sighed softly. "At the time, I didn't think much about it. But later, and especially... these last few days, I had the impression that he'd needed at the time to remake his life, as they say, but really to remake it as a new life, starting over, trying to forget what came before."
"You never questioned him about the life he'd lived before knowing you?"
"No, Bertrand had a rather secretive side, And I didn't consider it my right to question him. I waited for him to make his confidences."
"And did he?"

Another sigh. "Not really. He spoke to me about his childhood, his parents, but now that I think of it, I know nothing of his adolescence, his years as a young adult. All things considered, I really only knew him for the time we lived together."
"And you never sought to find out?"
"No. You see, the present that we shared was enough for me. I tried to be at his side, to support him in his work, but as I told you before, his passion was primarily music."
"In short, you were satisfied with the place he granted you?"
"Yes. But make no mistake there, M. Maigret. That place was enough for me, and I was happy in it. I was satisfied with the present, and to know his past wouldn't have brought me any more..."
"You had the impression that there were things in his past which could have been, let's say.... unpleasant?"
"Possibly. In any case, I didn't feel the need for excavating his past."
"And now?"
"To what good? My memories of the time I lived with him will be enough for me. In any event, it's the future which concerns me a little, rather than the past..."

Maigret was briefly silent. "I understand. One last question, Mme Crémier. Was it in Paris that you met your husband?"
"No. In Bordeaux. He was a violin teacher at the Bordeaux Academy, where I was a secretary."
"Had he been in Bordeaux a long time?"
"No. He'd just been appointed there. That was actually how we met – he came to audition for the position and I was charged with accommodating the candidates. We hit it off immediately...."
"Do you know what he did before coming to Bordeaux?"
"Yes, he played with the Toulouse symphony."
"It was in Bordeaux that you were married?"
"Yes. We remained three years in Bordeaux, then Bertrand was invited to take part in an exchange between the Bordeaux Academy and that of Paris. He gave some concerts within the framework of that exchange, and was noticed by the conductor of the Opera symphony, which engaged him. We then settled in Paris."
"Had you already been to Paris before that?"
"Myself, no. Until then, I'd always lived in Bordeaux."
"And your husband?"
"He'd spent six months in the city during a tour of the Toulouse symphony, when he was still with them."
"Thank you, Mme Crémier."

"Have you learned anything further in your investigation?"
Maigret hesitated. "It's still rather hazy. When I know more, I'll come and see you."
"Thank you. In fact, if I ask at all, it's rather out of obligation. You must find me a little egoistic and not very curious to know who my husband's murderer is. But I assure you that I'm not certain I want to stir up the past. Because it's in the past that you're seeking the reason for his death, isn't it?"
"Yes, Madame. And you don't particularly wish to know this past..."
"Indeed. My memories of these past nine years are enough for me."
"I understand. Thank you and goodbye, Mme Crémier. And take care."
"Goodbye, Chief Inspector."

Pensively, Maigret hung up the phone. He was definitely impressed by this woman and touched by her attitude toward life. He was lighting a new pipe when Lucas entered and handed him a thick file.
"Here's the file on the Minouche case, Boss."
"You found it easily?"
"Pretty easily, yes. You know our files are well maintained."
Maigret opened the file. Ten years earlier, a chambermaid had discovered, at the Hotel des Abbesses, the lifeless body of a young woman, lying on her bed. She'd been strangled. The woman was registered under the name Michele Crémier, wife of Bertrand Crémier. They'd lived there six months. It was at the time when Crémier had been on tour with the Toulouse symphony. They'd done a very complete investigation, questioning all the people who could have known the couple. Doctor Paul had established the hour of the crime at between 3:00 and 4:00 o'clock in the afternoon. Crémier's alibi had been confirmed. At that time, he'd been in rehearsal with the orchestra for a concert that same evening. They'd tried to establish the comings and goings in the hotel, but in the afternoon, anyone could have entered the establishment without being noted, especially as the manager recognized that some rooms on the first floor were used for "casual" stays, using the common expression, and so they didn't pay much attention to who came and went. The business had been classified, or rather left, unsolved, for lack of evidence.

In spite of the tragedy of the story, Maigret couldn't stop himself from feeling slightly malicious thoughts about Inspector Amadieu. He'd hardly been troubled at not being able to find the culprit and leaving an unpunished crime. Had it been Maigret, he would surely have... Well, no vengeful pride! If there was some truth for the Chief Inspector to discover, it was in the current crime that it was to be found...


Top     1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     10     Epilogue

That evening, Maigret took his wife to the cinema. She'd been rather surprised to receive a phone call from her husband at 6:00. "I'll be there in half an hour. Have you already started to make dinner?"
"To tell the truth, I hadn't been expecting you home so early. My poulet bonne femme isn't on the stove yet."
"Good. Leave your chicken and put on that little dress I gave you for Christmas. We're going out."
"Where to?"
"What do you say to a movie?"
"Why not? But don't you want to eat first?"
"But of course! I'm inviting you out to dinner, Mme Maigret!"
"But, your investigation..." Louise had objected, knowing the habits of her Chief Inspector husband, who liked to "stew" on a case, and not leave the milieu and the characters he'd just discovered... which usually resulted in a meal of sandwiches and beer swallowed in the corner of his office.
"My investigation? It's like your chicken, had you cooked it... it needs to simmer."
And so the Maigrets had dined on choucroute at the Chope-du-Nègre before going into a movie theater on the boulevards, where the Chief Inspector had laughed heartily at Charlot's jokes. They'd returned home arm-in-arm, enjoying the mildness of the pre-spring evening.

In the morning the weather was still fine, and Maigret walked along the quays on his way to the office. A barge moored at Pont-Marie brought back old memories, while a fisherman inaugurated the spring tide right under his windows. Maigret smiled as he climbed the stairs of the PJ, which, scorning the spring atmosphere, maintained its drab gray dust, as if wanting to recall him to his duty as an investigator. He'd already lost the carefree air he'd had since awakening and during his meander through the morning streets of Paris, and he pushed open the door of the inspectors' office with the same effort with which he'd have pushed through a crowd. It was certainly a crowd that he was seeking to recreate with all the characters he'd encountered in his investigation.

Lapointe and Janvier, who were already typing at their machines, raised their heads and exchanged a glance. They'd already sensed in the chief's manner that things weren't going as he liked.
"Isn't Lucas here?"
"He's at the Porte d'Italie. A brawl with a stabbing. Someone killed. Will you go?"
A negative gesture from Maigret. Lucas could manage! No story of a brawl was going to divert him from this case!
"The newspapers?"
Janvier understood immediately. "Nothing from there yet. No news of Joseph Richard. Nobody's seen him. Lucas left a note on your desk."
Lucas's note said, "Méjat phoned. He has some news in connection with the Richard business."

Maigret called the station at Luçon. When he had Méjat on the line he couldn't stop himself from thinking an absurd thought. Did Méjat, now Chief Inspector, still slick down his hair with brilliantine? He might have already gone bald with age, and in that case... Maigret could hardly keep from laughing, imagining the cranium of the Luçon policeman, smooth and polished with brilliantine!

He regained a serious air when Méjat told him he'd succeeded, after questioning numerous people, in unearthing a former colleague of Minouche's father, also an accountant. This colleague was eighty years old and lived in an old folks home at La Rochelle. According to Méjat, he still had all his wits and you could believe what he said. Méjat had skillfully questioned him, and the old accountant had wound up telling him what the girl's father had entrusted to him at the time under a promise of secrecy. The girl had fallen in love with her cousin, Joseph Richard, and after the refusal of the two families to let them marry, they'd fled the city. All trace of them had been lost, they'd shown no sign of life to their parents, and it was from that event that the estrangement between the two families dated. Minouche's father reproached Richard's father for Joseph's eloping with his daughter, and Joseph's father blamed Minouche's parents for not having supervised her enough.

Maigret thanked Méjat, hung up and chose a new pipe from his desk. While packing tobacco into the bowl, he tried to create an image, to feel this new couple. What he'd said the day before to Lucas – or was it to Janvier, he couldn't remember – about this investigation, corresponded well to a certain truth. There was a story of a couple at the bottom of it all. Only there'd not been only one couple in the story, but at least two. Initially, Minouche and Richard. That couple, he could hardly imagine. He was much better able to sense the Crémier-Minouche pair, or at least he could imagine them more easily. On the other hand, he could hardly picture young Minouche, according to what he knew, as Joseph Richard's lover. What had attracted the girl to this pale, dull boy, whom it was hard to even imagine as young and gallant? The small photograph that Maigret had taken from the room on the Rue Lafayette did not speak well of Richard... a long, pale face, bags under his eyes, and a too-large nose to boot. Could it be possible that this sad catch had been more dashing in his youth? Maigret didn't think so.

Maigret had returned from Report and was relighting his pipe when the phone rang. A voice in a panic on the line. "Hello, is this Chief Inspector Maigret?"
"This is Mme Bourcier, the manager of the rooms on the Rue Lafayette. Do you remember me?"
"Yes, Madame. M. Richard's landlady."
"That's right. Please come quickly, Monsieur Chief Inspector. Someone's broken into M. Richard's apartment!"
"Yes! Burglarized! Please come."
Maigret took down his hat and overcoat, and opened the door of the inspectors' office.
"Lapointe, are you free?"
"I'm writing up this report..."
"Leave your report. Get a car and wait for me in the courtyard.".

At the Rue Lafayette, the manager opened the door abruptly as soon as she saw Maigret getting out of the small black car of the PJ. She must have been watching for him through the square of her window. As she preceded the Chief Inspector and Lapointe up the staircase, Maigret asked, "When did you realize that the apartment had been burglarized?"
"This morning, when I brought up the mail to the old Monsieur on the third floor, I noticed in passing that M.. Richard's door was half-open. I found that odd. Only M.. Richard has the key, and he hasn't returned."
"Did you ever go into his apartment while he was gone? You have a duplicate key, I assume?"
"Yes. I go in to air from time to time."
"When was the last time?"
"Two days ago."
"You're sure you didn't go in yesterday? You could have forgotten to close the door."
The large woman was indignant: "No. I haven't been in that apartment for two days. And I always lock the door when I leave. Moreover, if I'd forgotten to do so, I'd have noticed the open door sooner."

They arrived on the floor. Maigret noted that there were no scratches on the lock, and they entered the apartment, where Lapointe launched a surprised glance at Maigret. "Funny sort of burglar, Boss. You'd say he hadn't touched a thing."
Indeed, there was no trace of disorder in the rooms, no open cupboards, no pile of scattered papers, nothing of what one usually finds after a break-in. Maigret turned to the landlady. "You entered the apartment a few moments ago?"
"You didn't straighten things up?"
"But no! I touched nothing. I went down immediately to inform you."
"You did the housework for M.. Richard, didn't you?"
"Do you have the impression that there's anything missing?"

The woman's eyes were fixed on the policeman, and she answered, with an intonation of panic in her voice, "Yes. There is something missing. His violin."
Maigret started. "His violin? Are you sure? He hadn't taken it with him when he left?"
"No. And that had astonished me. It was very important to him. I wasn't allowed to touch it when I dusted."
"Where was it?"
"In his bedroom, on the shelf next to his bed. I saw it there the day before yesterday when I came in to air the room. And it was strange to think of M. Richard without his violin."
"Nothing else is missing? You looked in the closets?"
"No. When I saw that the violin wasn't there, it was such a shock that I almost ran out of the apartment."
"You didn't hear any suspicious noises, last night or this morning?"
"And no one from outside entered the house yesterday evening?"
"Can someone get in at night without your knowing it? The tenants have a key to the front door of the house, I suppose?"
"No. I have a cord beside my bed, like a concierge. If someone wants to enter at night, they have to ring."

Maigret filled his pipe automatically. A silence, then he asked, "Do you take care of M. Richard's laundry?"
"Yes, or actually, no, not exactly. I have a cousin who's a laundress. She lives two blocks from here. I proposed to M.. Richard to give her his clothing to be washed and ironed."
"Did M.. Richard bring it to her himself?"
"No, I brought it to my cousin."
"So, you know his wardrobe fairly well..."

The large woman looked at him in surprise, wondering where he was going from there. The Chief Inspector pointed with his pipe stem to the two doors of the clothes cabinet which faced the bed. "Would you please examine the contents?"
The landlady opened the closet. On one side were shelves where underwear, shirts and ties were carefully folded, and on the other, a rod supported four suits on hangers."
"Is anything missing?"
She considered the piles of linens, then passed her hand over the suits. She turned with a frightened look toward the policeman and exclaimed, "His gray striped suit... it isn't there any more!"
"What are you saying?"
"When I came to air the room the day before yesterday, I brought back the last of the underwear my cousin had ironed. I'm sure I saw his gray suit there!"
"You're certain?"
"Yes. M. Richard has six suits. When he left, he must have taken his brown, since the last time I saw him he was wearing the blue."
"So he'd packed a bag, before leaving?"
"I suppose so, since it's no longer here. When you came the other day, I told you he sometimes goes off on the spur of the moment, but he always took a bag with a change of clothes. That's why I hadn't really worried."
"And this striped gray suit?"
"I'm certain I saw it the day before yesterday. Moreover, look!"
The woman bent down and picked up a hanger from the bottom of the closet."
"The suit was on this hanger. M. Richard had a mania for order. He wouldn't have left a hanger on the floor of the closet."
"Is any other clothing missing?"
The woman shook her head. "I can't say. I don't know the exact number of his shirts or pairs of socks..."
Maigret slowly glanced around the room, then left, followed by the landlady and Lapointe.
"Thank you for having informed us, Mme Bourcier. I'll send technicians presently to check for prints. Would you show my inspector to your room so that he can phone?"
Then, turning to Lapointe, "Do what's necessary. I'll wait for you across the street, at the Auvergnat's.

A little later, Lapointe joined Maigret in the small café where he was dreamily sipping a beer.
"It's done, Boss. Moers and his men will be there in 15 minutes."
"Well, you wait for them. I'm going back to the Quai."
"I'll have them get you their results as soon as possible?"

Maigret seemed so disinterested that Lapointe went so far as to ask, "You think they won't find anything? You think the burglar isn't in our files?"
The Chief Inspector sighed. "I don't think anything, my boy. I seek..."
"You have an idea?"
"Not really... It's still vague..."
Maigret's looked so lost that Lapointe didn't insist. Maigret left him and hailed a taxi. Sitting in the cab, smoke leaving his pipe gently, his eyes following without seeing the passers-by in the street, he seemed to be dozing.


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It was 11:30. Maigret lifted the phone to inform his wife that he wouldn't be home for lunch. Mme Maigret didn't ask any questions. At the sound of his voice, she understood that her husband had arrived at that phase of his investigation where he only needed to ruminate in his corner, being satisfied to swallow sandwiches and too many demis, seeking to set up, like pieces of a puzzle or pawns on a chessboard, the characters with whom he'd been living for the past few days.

Carrying his plate in his hand, the waiter from the Brasserie Dauphine entered the office at the same time as Lapointe.
"Set that over there. Thank you, Joseph."
The waiter closed the door again.
Maigret seized a demi and gulped it down. Then to Lapointe, "In a little while, you can go off and eat peacefully at the Brasserie Dauphine. Now, what did Moers say?"
"No prints that we have in the files. The only ones they found are those of the landlady and another person, probably Richard himself. Nothing else. You think the burglar wore gloves?"
Maigret smiled.
"You don't believe in this burglar, do you Boss?"
"And you?"

Lapointe made a face. "It's pretty odd, this theft of a violin and a suit, and furthermore, a burglar who searches without leaving a trace..."
"Perhaps he wasn't searching?"
"You think it was somebody who knew the apartment? But who? According to what everyone says, Richard hardly had anyone over to his place. And why steal a violin and his suit? The violin, well, that has a certain value..."
"And if it wasn't stolen?"
"What do you mean? You think the manager..."
"No, I think she's sincere. She seemed really frightened, not pretending."
"Consider a little. Who could need this violin, and especially the suit? Why wait so long to accomplish the theft? If someone had wanted those objects, there was plenty of opportunity earlier. If he waited this long, it's because he didn't need them until now. And don't forget that the manager didn't hear anything suspicious at night. So the "robber" had to enter the house without being noticed, and open the door of the apartment with a key of his own."
"You mean..."

Maigret sought a pipe on his desk. "Yes. I believe it was Richard himself who returned. He could enter the building by giving any name known to the manager. Awakened in the middle of the night, half asleep, she probably pulled the cord without thinking of who'd really returned. After your lunch, go back to the Rue Lafayette. Check with the landlady all the re-entries and exits of all the tenants, and based on what she heard, verify with each of them."

"But why would Richard sneak into his place to get his suit and violin? Couldn't he just return naturally, as when he returned from one of his trips?"
"That's exactly why I think it was him. If he didn't simply return as usual, it was because he had a reason. He undoubtedly also took some clean underwear, along with the suit."
"But why sneak in?"
"That's the question, my little Lapointe! Why does a man sneak into his own apartment, to only take some clothing and a violin? If it was Richard, why didn't he come back home, take his place again in the Opera, and return to his normal life?"
"You think he has something to hide?"
"I think, in fact, that he must be hiding himself. And why? That's the whole question..."
You're thinking of Crémier's murder?"
"Exactly. I don't believe in coincidences, Lapointe. Richard disappeared the night of Crémier's murder. He knew Crémier in Toulouse, he was the cousin of little Minouche with whom he'd eloped, and Minouche was Crémier's mistress. If Richard..."

The ringing of the phone cut him off. "Monsieur Chief Inspector? It was the voice of the operator. "There's someone who'd like to speak to you, but he doesn't want to give his name. Shall I pass him to you all the same?"
"One moment."
Maigret called to Lapointe. "You can go eat, my boy. Don't forget the Rue Lafayette."
Lapointe left and Maigret took up the receiver again. "You can connect me."
A click, then silence. Maigret became impatient and frowned. He heard at the other end of the line a strange sound which he was at first unable to identify, until he realized it was that of a bow on a violin when the note is held a long time. Suddenly, the strident sound was replaced by moving music, releasing such nostalgia as to bring you to tears. Then once again, no sound. Maigret kept silent.
Finally, a voice, slightly raucous, a monotone. "Monsieur Chief Inspector?"
"You heard?"

A new silence. Then, "You know who I am?"
"Then you also know why I'm calling?"
"You're sure?"
"Then tell me why..."
"Because you want to speak to me..."
"You know very well. And also because you've had enough, and you're tired..."

There was again a silence. Maigret's pipe crackled.
"How can you know?"
"Because I understand...."
"You think so?"
The voice was a little sarcastic. Maigret was afraid to lose the contact, of saying a word which would startle him, or drive him away...
The voice again, "You've nothing else to say?"
"Wouldn't it be simpler if you were to come here and tell me all about it?"
"And afterwards?"
"What do you mean?"
"Once I've told you everything, what will happen?"
"That won't be up to me, as you well know..."
"You think I'll forfeit my head, don't you?"
"We can't guess what a jury will decide..."
"So, if you think I'll be convicted, why would I come to see you?"
"To find relief..."

Maigret had purposely made use of this word. He knew the man would understand. It wasn't a question of his freedom, but of relieving himself of the weight he carried in his heart."
"Monsieur Chief Inspector, if I agree to speak with you, can I ask something in exchange?"
"What is it?"
"I'd like to meet you somewhere outside your office. Would it be possible to meet in front of the service entrance of the Opera?"
Maigret thought he understood. He replied, "I'll be there in 15 minutes."
"Thank you."
"On your side, promise me..."
"Not to do anything foolish?" The voice was bitter with irony. Don't worry. If I were going to do what you're thinking, I'd have done it already."


Top     1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     10     Epilogue

Maigret had Janvier drive him. He asked him to wait in the car after dropping him off on the Avenue de l'Opera. Janvier took a cross-street, which brought him out in front of the service entrance. A man dressed in gray, rather thin and nondescript, waited on the corner. Maigret approached. He hesitated to offer his hand, and to compose himself, lit a pipe which he took from the pocket of his jacket.
The man didn't know how to begin. Finally, he said, "You came on foot?"
"My inspector parked on the Avenue de l' Opera. He'll wait for us."
"He might have a long wait."
Always this bitter and ironic tone!
"It doesn't matter. He's been warned."
"Of what?"
"That this may take some time. Shall we go in?"

The man was surprised all the same.
"How did you guess?"
"Guess what?"
"That I wanted to go in and see..."
"Where it happened? Your request, a few moments ago, was so clear!"
"Then, you know everything?"
"No, not everything. But I feel it. And I believe I understand."

Maigret pushed open the door, and Joseph Richard followed him. At this hour, the corridors were still empty and quiet. The machinists were eating at the corner café, the actors and musicians of the orchestra never came before late afternoon. It was curious, though, that the door wasn't locked, and Maigret reflected that anyone at all could have entered the Opera and concealed themselves there as they wished. The Chief Inspector turned to the man.
"This door is never supervised, is it? That's how..."
"I could leave afterwards, without being seen, yes...."

The two men, one behind the other, took the staircase which led to the basement. Richard walked in front, and Maigret couldn't help feeling some pity for this man whose meager silhouette underlined his colorlessness, but at the same time the tragic in him.
Richard pushed open the door of the room where the body of Crémier had been discovered. Turning around, he threw a long glance at the policeman, before entering the room, always so crammed with material. The memory of the murder was marked only by a spot of brown a little dark on the ground. Richard walked to the middle of the room, stopped in front of the spot, lowered his head and stood quietly. Long minutes passed thus. The man remained plunged in contemplation, while Maigret hesitated to light the pipe he'd automatically filled. Richard finished by shaking himself, as if it from a dream – or a nightmare. Then he spoke, his voice a monotone, with a nuance of poignant irony painful to hear...

"Here. Look well, Monsieur Chief Inspector. It was here that it started, and here that it ended too."
Maigret kept silent, but his attitude and silence were somehow encouraging, and Richard began again.
"I would never have believed that one day..."
His voice was strangled. Maigret spoke gently, "Would you like me to help you, M. Richard?"
He raised his eyes to the policeman, eyes filled with tears, and nodded yes. Maigret began to speak...
"You were 20, Minouche was 18. She was beautiful, and you were in love..."
Richard stopped him, a bitter crease in the corner of his mouth. "Me, I loved here. And I thought that she loved me."
"It wasn't true?"

"You see, Monsieur Chief Inspector, I believed for a long time that I knew Minouche well. Oh, of course, sometimes I questioned myself. I thought she was too good for me. I wasn't conceited, I knew well that I wasn't handsome, but I believed that she loved me for the rest, for what I was at heart..."
Richard felt the need to move toward the small basement window, through which a dull light entered the cluttered room. With his back to Maigret, he continued.

"I was mistaken. Minouche didnt love me for myself, but for what I represented – a means of escaping her family, freedom to do what she liked... Perhaps I would never have understood if..."
"If you hadn't met Crémier?"
Richard turned back toward the Chief Inspector, his tone more sarcastic than ever.
"No! I knew well before that! When we left Luçon, Minouche and I, she wanted me to take her to Paris. Paris! She spoke only of that! The theatre, department stores, the opera, famous dressmakers. Madness! She imagined the good life. She thought that I could offer all that to her! And I..."
"So as not to disappoint her, you promised her everything..."

"Yes. But we initially left for Toulouse, where I'd decided to finish my violin studies. I'd promised her it wouldn't be long, that I'd quickly find a position with the Toulouse orchestra, and that I could be engaged in Paris. But time passed, and not quickly enough for Minouche. Impatient, she wanted to leave for Paris. She soon started to complain, saying I didn't have enough ambition, and the arguments became increasingly numerous. We'd lived together for four years, when one day... "
He went silent. Maigret give him an encouraging glance. He began again...
"I gave violin lessons to earn a little more money – for Minouche there was never enough – in addition to my classes at the academy. One afternoon, I went to the home of a young girl, to whom I was to give a lesson. She was ill. Not having any other classes that day, I decided to return home, and to surprise Minouche. I'd take her out to a restaurant. She always complained about my having to work all day!"
"She didn't work?"
"She didn't want to! She said that since I'd taken her from her parents, it was up to me to provide for her. She spoke only of Paris, saying that there she could become an actress. She saw only that, the cinema! In the end, she complained that I held her back, prevented her from living her life, as she put it!"
"Why didn't you let her leave?"

Astonishment, but especially sorrow in the gray eyes of Richard.
"I loved her, Monsieur Chief Inspector! I couldn't imagine living without her! And then, I felt responsible for her... I'd taken her from her family, it was up to me to take care of her."
"Let's return to the afternoon you were speaking of."

"I arrived at our hotel, and was surprised to find the door of our room locked. Minouche wasn't there. Initially, I wasn't concerned, perhaps she'd gone out to do some shopping in the district... I waited. Two hours later, she returned. I was at the window and saw her arrive in a sports car. A man with the look of young movie actor got out of the car, opened the door for her. She got out and threw herself into his arms. They held a long embrace, then he set out again in his car. Minouche ascended to our room and found me. I was incapable of moving, of saying a word, I looked at her in shock. I didn't understand, or rather I didn't want to understand. Minouche cried out, then looked at me and shrugged her shoulders. Oh, her look, so scornful, I think I'll never be able to forget it! I believe it was because of that look that everything happened! Then she became transformed with fury. I'd never seen her like that. She said everything to me that she had on her mind, treated me like less than nothing, saying that I was an imbecile, that I'd never amount to anything, that I didn't understand her, I don't know what else. I asked about the guy in the sports car..."
"What did she say? 'He, at least, is a man. He has ambition! He wants to become a movie producer! And since you saw us, I won't have to give any long explanation. I'm leaving with him next week for Paris!'"
I cried, I begged, I did everything, humiliated myself like no man should. She remained cold and distant."
"You left her?"
"No. I couldn't. I still loved her, despite everything. You cannot understand, Chief Inspector, you never saw her, you never saw her eyes, her lips, her body..."
It was like a fever. Richard trembled, he seemed to relive the scene, more than 20 years afterwards!
"What happened then?"

"An unexpected event. The day Minouche was to leave with her friend with the sports car, he had an accident on the road. He was killed. I admit today that I blessed heaven – or hell, who knows? – for that providential accident. I believed that Minouche would return to me. But no! She stayed with me a few more weeks, but the arguments were increasingly frequent, she became more and more distant. One morning, she announced that she was leaving me for good. That day, I understood that I could no longer hold her. I let her go."
"She went to Paris."
"That's what I believed. That would undoubtedly have been better. Perhaps I'd have ended up forgetting her. But our paths were to cross again. In Toulouse, I got to know a young violinist, at the Academy..."
"Bertrand Crémier."
"Yes. Chance had us settle in the same hotel, because I'd moved after Minouche left. I could no longer live in that room filled with her memory. I became friendly with Crémier. For three years, we shared our passion for music, our hard times. We had confidences, but curiously, I never spoke to him about Minouche."
"Why not?"
"I don't know. A kind of decency prevented me. Or maybe I was ashamed to show myself in a humiliating position? He, on the other hand, spoke to me rather readily about his conquests. He was a good-looking man, him.

What a sound of envy mixed with hatred in this "him" that left Richard's mouth! Maigret understood. Richard, weak and plain compared with Crémier, who had what is called a fine presence... Undoubtedly, Crémier had been a handsome young man, while Richard was already unimposing.
Richard continued feverishly.
"One evening when I awaited Crémier in my room to share a meager meal, as we often did before playing a little music together, he arrived late. While eating, he said to me, with a mysterious air, 'I'm in love.'"
"I started to joke, to tease him about his loves, which were frequent and hardly constant, but he stopped me."
"No, this time, it's serious."

"I'd never seen him like that. He told me about meeting a girl, an extra whom he'd just run across at the Toulouse theatre where he'd gone for a rehearsal – he'd been engaged as part of a violin quartet which was to do a new piece being performed there. He'd been immediately conquered by her, and his delay that evening was due to the fact that he'd accompanied her back to her home. Nothing else had happened, which was astonishing, Crémier not being accustomed to letting things go for long. With his way of describing her, talking about her, I understood that he was really smitten. Each evening, when we met, he told me of the progress of his love. I had to find in those confidences a kind of bitter pleasure in turning over my own memories... "

Richard wiped his brow. There was a heavy silence, during which Maigret relit the pipe he'd let die out. Richard began again.

"One evening, a few weeks later, Crémier told me that the girl was going to move in with him. He wanted to introduce her to me. We planned to meet the following day for lunch at the Brasserie des Artistes, opposite the theatre. At noon, I was a little late. When I arrived at the Brasserie, Crémier and his friend were already seated at a table. Crémier held the girl's hand in his, looking at her with such love as I'd never seen in him. I only saw the girl from the back, but it was a shock. I'd have recognized in a thousand that blonde and curly hair which escaped from a small fur hat, the curve of a shoulder which I'd so many times cherished! Minouche! It was she!"

"Paralyzed, unable to take a step, I stood still in the entrance of the Brasserie. Crémier saw me, beckoned me to approach. Ah, I should have fled, left the Brasserie, left the city! Perhaps then nothing would have happened! But I don't know what demon pushed me. I gained control of myself, advanced to their table. Crémier said to his partner, 'Let me introduce to you Joseph, my best friend...'"
"Minouche raised toward me a limpid glance, undisturbed. I understood then that she'd known. She'd already known who the friend was about whom Crémier had certainly spoken to her. She'd known that it was me. Crémier smiled, still holding Minouche's hand, and a savage desire came over me to shout the truth to him!"

"But I didn't! I sat down at their table. We ate, and Minouche and I played the game, pretending that we'd never met before. Why this comedy? Even today, I don't understand it. Me, I felt a bitter pleasure in re-examining the woman I'd loved so much. But she? Why hadn't she acknowledged to Crémier her relationship with me? The comedy continued for a few weeks. How much longer would it have lasted? The situation became all the more absurd since I realized that I still loved her. I had scruples about betraying Crémier, but the more the weeks passed, the more the idea of having Minouche again began to haunt me. I'd learned from Crémier the address of her hotel. One afternoon when we were both in a class at the Academy, I pretended a migraine and went to her room. I forced my way in, no longer able to hold myself back. She treated me to all the names, shouted at me that she hated me, and I believe that I'd have forced her nevertheless had not a neighbor on the same floor, alerted by the noise, come knocking on the door to ask what was wrong. I could no longer continue like that. I packed my bag and I left my room, without a word of goodbye for Crémier."

"I left for Paris. I found work – I gave violin lessons, and I took some courses at the Academy. In spite of my pleasure in playing, I couldn't manage to forget Minouche. Her image remained with me night and day. The nights were especially abominable."

"The sixth year that I was in Paris, my professor at the Academy proposed that I take part in a series of concerts which were to be given for Christmas. For these concerts, prestigious orchestras were to come from all over France. Among them was the symphony orchestra of Toulouse. By monstrous luck the concerts ended shortly after New Year's day. The professor who'd organized them invited all the musicians to dinner to thank them. At the restaurant, we met the musicians from Toulouse, who were prolonging their New Year's celebrations before returning to their city, and they had their girlfriends with them. Crémier was there, but without Minouche. Overcoming my embarrassment, I greeted him along with his comrades, and inquired about Minouche. He told me that she'd been tired, that they'd celebrated too much the day before, and that she'd remained at the hotel to rest. I questioned him skillfully to learn where they were staying. As he'd already been drinking heavily, he became sentimental, saying that he regretted my departure from Toulouse, reproaching me for having abandoned them, him and Minouche, without a word of explanation. I cut him short and rejoined my companions."

"I no longer knew what I was doing. In a fog, I imagined Minouche asleep in her hotel room, sprawled in the abandoned way I remembered and which had moved me so much. I drank heavily, and in my growing intoxication, began to believe, little by little, that Minouche could also belong to me, since it was I who'd loved her first. My mind, befuddled by alcohol, gave me a thousand good reasons, justified me and pushed me to a madness which I would have resisted – at least so I believe – if I'd been in my normal state!"

"I rose, making sure that Crémier was still with drinking with his comrades. I pretended tiredness and left the restaurant. I don't know how I arrived at the hotel, how I could ascend and find her door. Another piece of luck, that Minouche hadn't locked the door – perhaps, overcome by tiredness, she'd forgotten? I entered, and approaching her bed I staggered against a chair, and the noise woke her. She cried out. I wanted to reassure her, to tell her that I meant her no harm, that I loved her, but I was too drunk, the words came deformed from my mouth. She rose, her unbuttoned shirt revealing a round, firm breast which threw me into a panic. I took her violently in my arms. She struggled. She tried to shout. I put my hand over her mouth. I wanted to kiss her, but I read in her eyes such hatred that I moved back in spite of myself. Then she said to me, in a voice low and hissing as I'd never heard from her, that she'd never loved me, that I'd been for her only a means to leave her family. And she added that I was an incompetent, that if she compared to me to Crémier, I was worthless, that I didn't reach his ankles as a violinist. It was too much. I flung myself at her, shook her, begging her to keep silent. But she burst out laughing, a laughter which stung, treating me as pathetic, a failed musician. And then, I gripped her throat, to make her stop, to prevent that insulting laughter, so as no longer to hear her sarcasm. Tighter... tighter..."


Top     1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     10     Epilogue

The man had almost howled. Fists clenched, he panted. Maigret's teeth bit down so strongly on the stem of his pipe that the ebonite cracked.
Richard unloosened his fists slowly. A subsidence of all his being followed the acute crisis. Maigret no longer needed to raise questions to get him to speak. The man had reached the point of breakdown where he needed to confess, to speak unfettered to release himself from his past. The Chief Inspector didn't move a muscle, his whole attitude expressing compassion, the benevolence of a lenient confessor. Joseph Richard's monotone resumed as he continued his account...

"I felt Minouche gone limp in my hands. I released her, and she sank slowly to the ground. I was overwhelmed. Slowly, I realized what I'd done. I looked at her a long time, then left the room. No one had seen me enter, no one saw me leave. I walked the streets aimlessly. I considered entering a still-open bar, but the thought of alcohol nauseated me. I ended up returning to my hotel, passing the remainder of the night lying on my bed, my eyes wide open. Something was broken in me, and I don't know how I found the force to continue to live as before. The police never questioned me at the time of their investigation into Minouche's death."

"Amadieu was a good police officer, but he didn't try to understand," murmured Maigret, relighting his pipe.
Richard didn't hear him. He was so intensely reliving his past that his eyes were staring at images only he could see. He resumed...

"Time passed. A little later I was hired by the Opera orchestra, as first violin. What revenge! I'd have liked for Minouche to have been there so I could have proven her wrong. I was gifted, for they'd chosen me as first violin! I had five years of happiness, or in any case of satisfied self-esteem, where I thought that I was the best. I was applauded, everyone admired my talent. All my time passed in music, I lived for it, trying to forget all the rest..."
"Did you ever think of Minouche?" asked Maigret gently.
Richard gave him a tragic look, filled with the greatest despair he'd ever seen.
"I thought of her unceasingly, Monsieur Chief Inspector. But without remorse for what I'd done. Only an immense regret not to have known how to make her love me."
Once more he turned to the small window. A long silence. Maigret didn't move, suddenly afraid the contact with the man had been broken. He didn't want to be relentless, but he had to lead this confession to its end, as painful as it was.
"Please continue, M. Richard," said the Chief Inspector, with as sympathetic a tone as he could employ.

"Five years ago, one of the violinists of the orchestra retired. A substitute was sought. They put out an advertisement and a candidate presented himself..."
"Bertrand Crémier."
"How did your reunion go?"
"Well. Surprisingly well. Crémier had never had the least suspicion of me. He was married, and I imagined that he'd forgotten Minouche, though I was mistaken, as I learned much later! During a year and half, we only saw each other during rehearsals and concerts. When we met, we exchanged pleasantries. We both sensed that our old friendship had died. No doubt if things had remained as they were, the situation wouldn't have changed. He had his place with the orchestra, I was first violin. I almost managed to forget that we'd once been rivals for a woman."
"A woman that you had killed, M. Richard."

He started, raising feverish eyes to the policeman. "I know, but all that seemed to me like a nightmare I was trying to forget. Sometimes I thought it had been a dream, that I hadn't killed her..."
"And Crémier, did he speak to you about her?"
"No, we carefully avoided the subject. Moreover, we really didn't meet that often. I had no more contact with him than with the other musicians."
"I know. You are a recluse, M. Richard. A man alone, who sees his life apart from others."
"You understand that?"
"Yes, you were always alone, even when you were with Minouche. It was also for that that she didn't love you – you lived too much in your own world, in your own thoughts. You watched yourself live. Even today, you are still looking at your life, taking a certain pleasure in analyzing yourself. Minouche dreamed of a brilliant man who'd show her the world, who'd open for her the doors of life, and not of someone who'd confine her to await his return, and who only spoke to her of himself."
"How could you know?"
"Look at yourself, M. Richard, and consider Bertrand Crémier! The first man who replaced you in Minouche's affection, the cinema producer, wasn't he different from you? And undoubtedly Minouche found others, after him and before Crémier!"
"You think so too?"
"It's so obvious! Admit that you yourself ended up understanding what kind of woman Minouche was! Crémier was seductive, elegant, he had an easy manner, he liked talking with people..."
"It's as if you knew him yourself..."
"I've developed a picture of him, listening to those who knew him."

Richard left a long silence. Maigret worried that the man might shut himself off, not continue his account. But he had to!
The Chief Inspector asked, "What was your reaction when Crémier replaced you as first violin?"
Richard raised his head high, and launched Maigret a savage look.
"I thought that he'd stolen my position, as he'd stolen Minouche from me!"
"Why did you stay in the orchestra? Why did you put up with seeing him receive in your place the applause you thought of as yours? Why did you remain all those years in his shadow?"

"In the beginning, I must have told myself unconsciously that it was a way to expiate my crime. It was like my punishment, a just reward. I'd taken his partner, he'd taken my place as first violin. I'd killed his love, he'd killed my glory. I felt a bitter pleasure in seeing him in the foreground, seeing myself relegated to the role of an underling."
"Then why did you suddenly decide that you couldn't continue?"
Richard looked at Maigret with astonishment:
"You understood that too? Yes, it's true. I'd accepted my punishment. And that lasted four years. Four years of humiliation, obliteration! And I accepted it, I let it happen. Crémier's fame grew, and everyone forgot that I'd once been first violin!"
The man had a dry laugh which it hurt to hear. After a moment, he began again, in his more than ever monotonous voice...
"Eight days ago, I had a small heart attack. It wasn't the first time – I'd already had alarms. For years I've taken medication for it, but this time, the crisis was more violent. I couldn't leave my bed all day. In the evening I started to feel afraid, afraid of dying there, all alone. No doubt any man who believes he's reached his last hour takes stock of his life. If he's a believer, he'll humble himself before God, confess to a priest. I'm no longer a believer, and so I confessed to myself. I looked at myself without indulgence, thinking of what I'd been, of what I really was. It's difficult, Chief Inspector, to leave your self-esteem and to look at yourself with a neutral eye. I was my own judge. I opened my eyes on myself, and I finally accepted the obvious. I'm not a great musician, I never have been. They'd taken me on as first violin, certainly, but only because under the circumstances at that time, they could find no one else. I finally understood that if Crémier were applauded in my place, it wasn't only because he was first violin, but because of his talent, because he was a better musician. And then I cried, Chief Inspector, I cried for hours."

"In the morning, I rose, woozy, out of sorts. My heart crisis had passed, but I felt a certain weakness, a vacuum. I left, intending to go for coffee in the bar where I usually had my breakfast. When I found myself seated at the counter, I saw my face in the mirror. I don't know what came over me, but I ordered a cognac instead of the coffee. The alcohol burned my throat. I ordered a second. I hadn't had a drink for a long time. I've never supported it well. I had a third glass and left, walking the streets aimlessly. An idea began to haunt me, an idea which, along with the effects of the alcohol, invaded me little by little, becoming an obsession: I wanted to avenge myself, avenge my humiliation, my spoiled life... someone had to pay! Not for a moment did the idea cross my mind that this someone could be me! I returned home to get the revolver I've kept for years in my night table. Opening the drawer, I found a photograph of Minouche I'd forgotten was there. Her eyes looked out vaguely, you understand, she didn't look at me, not at me! She'd had that same way of looking beyond me, as if I didn't exist, when I'd grasped her neck!"

"I dashed out of the hotel, with the intention of finding Crémier and killing him. I believe if I'd suddenly found him in front of me, I'd have shot him, and then turned the weapon on myself. A simple material detail decided things differently. The distance to his place being too far to travel on foot, I took a taxi. Along the way, my hand gripped the weapon in my pocket, and little by little the cold metal calmed me. My rage and fever became a calculated reflection. I realized that I wanted to kill him, but that I didn't want to be taken. I was no longer sure that I wanted to die. Feigning a lapse of memory, I asked the driver to make a U-turn. I returned to my hotel, lay down on my bed, and prepared a detailed plan which would enable me to kill Crémier without being suspected. I decided to wait until the evening to act. Under some unspecified pretext – I had time to imagine one – I'd lure him to the basement of the Opera, where at that hour there'd be little chance of anyone passing, and there I'd kill him. Then I'd flee. I envisaged taking with me all the money I had."

"Where did you plan to go?"
"I wanted first of all to leave Paris. Actually my original idea was even to leave France. I'd perhaps have gone to America. I imagined that I could make a new life there!"
Again Richard's ironic and heartrending laughter. "But I would never have left for America! I'd have always found confronting me in the mirror... myself, a failure! A man who hadn't known how to do anything well in his life – a poor musician, a poor lover – a man whose only claim to glory was two murders! I understood that I could never find relief... I didn't even have the courage to kill myself! I've never had courage. I'm not courageous. The proof of it is that I had to drink to force myself to do what I'd promised myself to do. Not enough courage even to be a murderer!"
"It doesn't take courage to kill," said Maigret softly. "Murder is not an act of courage."

A silence. Maigret lit a new pipe. He no longer worried that the man would stop He was committed, he'd go to the end of his confession, it had become a need for him. Richard began again.

"I continued to drink. At noon, I ate nothing, only swallowing a few glasses of white wine. So as not to arouse suspicion, I went to the dress rehearsal. And then I had to find a way to lure Crémier into the basement. I pondered all day on it. The rehearsal finished at 5:00. The musicians usually deposited their instruments in the room reserved for them, then returned home, or grabbed something to eat at a restaurant, returning around 7:00 to prepare for the performance. Like the others, I entered the room. I had a note in my pocket, which I discreetly slipped into Crémier's violin case. It read, "If you want to find out the truth about Minouche's death, go to the storage room in the basement at 7:30."
"I'd thought long on the contents. I knew that Crémier would need a very good reason to respond to this kind of message. In the end I decided that, in spite of his marriage, he'd still preserve his love for Minouche."

"At 7:00, I discreetly used the service entrance, which I knew was never watched, and went to the basement. The half hour of waiting was a horror. I believe I'd have left before Crémier arrived, if I hadn't been under the influence of the alcohol. I'd drunk even more, and heavily, before returning to the Opera. At 7:30, I heard steps approaching the room. I gripped my revolver tightly. I trembled, but there was no retreat. For a moment I considered a long discourse, where I'd have gone through all my complaints, my feelings, what I'd discovered about him and myself... But then, what would be the point?"

"He entered, already in his tuxedo, which he wore with an elegance that I'd never had, could never have! In a flash, I remembered his smile as he held Minouche's hand the first time I'd seen them together, then the applause of the house when he played! He'd stolen my love! He'd stolen my glory! He was the criminal! He had to pay!"

"I fired. A single shot, full in the chest. I'd aimed at his white shirt, which made an immaculate target against his dark jacket. The shirt turned red, and he fell."
"I felt nothing, not even relief, and that was the most terrible. I left the room, discreetly gained the street, and returned to my lodging with the intention of making preparations for my departure. I was packing my bag when my landlady told me I was wanted on the phone... The conductor of the Opera was asking me to replace Crémier, who couldn't be found! I hesitated, and then my thirst of revenge won out... to once again know the applause of the house, the triumph! So I played in Crémier's place. But I didn't feel the pleasure I'd expected. I felt that I was only a substitute, a makeshift, the second fiddle I'd been all my life!"

"Hardly had the performance ended when I fled the Opera. I walked until I found a cab to take me to the station. I still didn't know where I was going, but I knew I had to leave Paris, this city which had caused me so much pain. At the ticket counter, I hesitated to name my destination, then suddenly had an inspiration. I asked for a one-way for La Rochelle. From there, I hoped to return to Luçon. I didn't know yet what I wanted to do there, but I wanted to find once more my childhood memories, and perhaps retrieve my love for Minouche. I took the train, and got off at La Rochelle, but I didn't have the courage to go any further. I'd first thought of taking a room at the hotel, but I'd had time to mull it over on the train. If I were a suspect, they'd surely pass out my description, and I was likely to be recognized. I then remembered a farm far from the city, where we'd taken refuge, Minouche and I, when we'd fled Luçon, before leaving for Toulouse. I had a taxi take me there. The old woman who'd accommodated us then had died, and her son, who'd taken over, didn't recognize me. I told him I was traversing the area on my holidays, taking rooms with the locals, which I preferred to the anonymity of hotels. I pretended to like meeting people."

"I stayed four days on the farm, expecting to continue in that way indefinitely, moving from hamlet to hamlet, farm to farm, unready to make any major decisions. I walked to the next little village, to catch the bus which crisscrossed the area. The bus stop was in front of the post office, which also acted as a tobacconist's. Since they sold newspapers as well, I automatically bought a Paris one, which told of Crémier's death. They reported that it was you who'd taken charge of the investigation. I don't know why, but I wanted to return to Paris. I was attracted by the idea of coming back to tell you everything. I took the bus, but to return to La Rochelle, where I rented a car, thinking that while you'd probably given my description to the stations, it was unlikely that there'd be roadblocks. I returned to Paris. To be even safer, I left the car in the suburbs and took the metro.

"And you went back to your apartment, hiding yourself from the manager."
He wore his ironic smile. "You know that too? Yes, I wanted to find you, but I wanted to be presentable. All my life, I've wanted to be presentable. I like to be well dressed, perhaps to compensate for my physique."
"So you took your gray suit, which you're wearing now, aren't you?"
"And the violin?"
At that point Richard looked at Maigret in a way he hadn't before. He seemed to take on again a certain dignity, to find the pride which he'd lost.
"It was all I had left, Chief Inspector. In the end, it was my only friend, the only one that didn't betray me. Music was all I had left."

Maigret and Richard left the basement. Together, they crossed the street, joining Janvier on the Avenue de l'Opera. Maigret had Richard sit in the back, had sat down beside him. As the car slipped through Paris, Richard turned to the policeman.
"May I ask something?"
"Go ahead."
"Before coming to see you, I checked my violin at the station. Could we retrieve it?"
Maigret leaned over to Janvier, "Stop at the station before going to the Quai."


Top     1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     10     Epilogue

The small black car pulled over opposite the Depot. Maigret got out, followed by Richard. They passed through the gate. Richard was led to a cell, which he entered at the same time as the Chief Inspector. The two men looked at each other for a long time without exchanging a word. Just at the moment Maigret was about to leave, Richard spoke. "Chief Inspector! Can I ask one last favor? I'd like to play my violin once more."
Maigret turned to the guard, "Find his violin."
When the instrument had been brought back, Richard took it and said to Maigret,
"Would you like to listen, Chief Inspector?"
Maigret said nothing, but agreed with a movement of his head, then stuffed a pipe.
A throbbing and desperate melody rose in the cell, as the policeman climbed with slow and heavy steps the dusty stairs of the PJ.


translation: Stephen Trussel
Honolulu, September, 2006

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