Murder in a Minor KeyA Maigret pastiche
by Murielle Wenger
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.
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.
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.
Mme Maigret smiled, "But you know, it's going to be strange when you retire."
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."
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?"
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."
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?"
Lapointe arrived with Moers and the crew from Criminal Records.
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.
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?"
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?"
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..."
The Director, to gain courage, poured himself second glass of Armagnac, offering once more to Maigret, "Would 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..."
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."
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?"
"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?"
"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?"
There was a knock on the door of the office. It was Lapointe.
Maigret rose with a sigh. "Do you have anything else to tell me, M. Sergent?"
The Director hesitated, then added, "Do you think the press will be alerted? It's never good publicity for us, this kind of affair..."
The director shook Maigret's hand. "Thank you, Chief Inspector."
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.
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."
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!"
"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."
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?"
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.
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..."
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...?"
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."
Mme Crémier regarded the inspector before her. "I wouldn't swear that there hadn't been a passing fancy or two. But nothing more."
"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."
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?"
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."
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?"
"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..."
"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?"
"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."
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?"
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."
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.
"Hello, Monsieur Director? I have Chief Inspector Maigret here for you. Hold on please."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maigret, who had a horror of sleeping at other people's homes, refused politely, but firmly, his former inspector's offer.
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."
The concierge grinned, "Not many, it was mainly his girlfriend who came to see him, and sometimes to spend the night."
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..."
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!"
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.
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."
"How long did Bertrand Crémier remain on your premises?"
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?"
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.
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?"
"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."
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 left, and Maigret settled at his desk, stuffing a new pipe. He was about to pick up the phone when Lapointe entered.
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..."
The phone rang. "Hello. It that you, Janvier?"
"Hello, Monsieur Chief Inspector. This is Justin Colleboeuf."
"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..."
Maigret hung up. He rose heavily, filled a new pipe and opened the door of the inspectors' office.
"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? "
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."
Maigret was briefly silent. "I understand. One last question, Mme Crémier. Was it in Paris that you met your husband?"
"Have you learned anything further in your investigation?"
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.
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...
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?"
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.
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?"
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?"
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."
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 filled his pipe automatically. A silence, then he asked, "Do you take care of M. Richard's laundry?"
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?"
A little later, Lapointe joined Maigret in the small café where he was dreamily sipping a beer.
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?"
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.
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..."
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?"
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?"
A new silence. Then, "You know who I am?"
There was again a silence. Maigret's pipe crackled.
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."
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 was surprised all the same.
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.
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.
"Here. Look well, Monsieur Chief Inspector. It was here that it started, and here that it ended too."
"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..."
"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..."
"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... "
Astonishment, but especially sorrow in the gray eyes of Richard.
"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..."
"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."
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.
"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...'"
"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..."
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.
"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.
"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..."
"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..."
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..."
Richard left a long silence. Maigret worried that the man might shut himself off, not continue his account. But he had to!
"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."
"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?"
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."
"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."
"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."
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.
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."
translation: Stephen Trussel
Honolulu, September, 2006