Maigret was sleeping heavily, his breathing shallow.
"Maigret, telephone!" (As Mme Maigret always called her husband by his family name.)
He sighed, his hand groping in the emptiness finding the receiver. Mme Maigret could make out a nasal, impatient whisper and sometimes a few words: "Crime... in flight... serious... search for..."
The commissioner hung up.
"You're not going to go, are you? You still have a fever, and besides, it's not even 6:00 o'clock yet..."
Maigret was already dressing in silence. From time to time he coughed, while Mme Maigret, resigned, heated coffee, the shutters open onto a low March sky, where a fine rain was falling.
"Come back quickly, at least. If you could see the head you have!"
Maigret shrugged his shoulders, made a vague gesture and reclosed the door. On the first floor, he stopped to light his pipe. And on the way down he raised the collar of his overcoat and grumbled, bathed in a bad sweat.
The Place des Vosges was swept by a sour wind that smelled like soot and Maigret felt like going back home. But he got to the neighboring station and went up to the first car.
"To the P.J., boss?" asked the driver, who knew the commissioner.
Maigret grumbled, wedged himself into the corner of the cab and closed his eyes.
Lucas was waiting for him, close to a stove already red.
"Well?" greeted Maigret. He sat down with a brief moan and offered his hands toward the heat.
Lucas gave a sigh.
"A dirty business. Marcenac, the son-in-law of the Dufaure-Verneuils, was killed tonight, apparently shot. Do you know the Dufaure-Verneuils?"
A numbness was spreading over Maigret. He wanted to sleep.
The Dufaure-Verneuils... He pictured the Baron, his monocle, his cane. The Baron had owned the leading racing stable in Paris. He had died in a hunting accident; a tangled enough business that no one had dared to deepen. The Baroness was a Valmont d'Aigreuse. She had been famous for her beauty.
"It'll be necessary to try to avoid a scandal," said Lucas.
Maigret's back didn't budge and Lucas wondered if the commissioner had heard him. He put out the lamp. The wet, pallid day entered the room, along with the first noises of the street.
A coughing fit shook Maigret. Decidedly this wasn't going well! Lucas hesitated. Finally he added:
"We've notified the Public Prosecutor's office and Identity. Janvier's gone over there... But if you are suffering..."
He didn't finish. Maigret rose heavily, opened the door, made a gesture with his head to Lucas. They left together.
Janvier joined them at the Cassoulet, a small bar from which they could see the Dufaure-Verneuil's hotel. Maigret, slouched on his stool, his bowler pushed back, sipped a grog while looking out on the dark street where cars left straight and clean traces like rails. A policeman paced up and down before the gate of the hotel. The inspector spoke. From time to time, he dunked a croissant into his glass and hurried to swallow a gulp to continue his narration.
"Nothing's been stolen. In sum, it's a simple crime of passion. She left by the service entrance that opens onto the Rue de l'Yvette. Her lover must be have been waiting for her and by now, they are far gone!"
"Didn't the servants hear anything?" asked Lucas.
"No. We'll have to interrogate them further, of course. But they sleep on the third floor, and a revolver shot doesn't make a lot of noise..."
"And he couldn't have called out, made some kind of noise, something?"
"Impossible. He died immediately, or so it seems. There was no trace of blood on the carpet, except where he fell."
"Was the weapon recovered?"
"Not yet. His wife probably took it with her. We'll see."
Maigret didn't say anything. He didn't think. His head hurt, and he felt tired. Janvier's words arrived to him confusedly and he gave way to an invincible somnolence, as sometimes arrives in the summer at the barber's. Rain now drew strange faces on the windows; the policeman had taken refuge behind a door. Maigret was thinking that in just one more month he would no longer belong to the P.J. He pictured a small house, very close to the Loire. There were melons in the garden, tomatoes, rectangles of pale lettuce, and a footpath through the grapevines descending toward the willows. Now, the Dufaure-Verneuils!... Maigret sneezed, and he suddenly rediscovered the bar, the rain, Janvier and Lucas, as if coming out of a dream. He made a sign; the two inspectors rose, put on their slickers again. The commissioner hadn't even opened his mouth. They crossed the street, all three, Maigret behind. His legs trembled from tiredness. And he had to climb another flight of stairs, to wait for someone to come and open the door, while the North wind spattered frozen drops on his neck and ears. He was furious with himself, and this Marcenac that...
The vast hall was silent. Behind a chambermaid they mounted a monumental staircase, their feet sinking into a costly dark, geometric carpet.
"Filthy rich," observed Lucas in a low voice.
They penetrated a small modern room. Low pieces of furniture, flowers, pictures, enormous armchairs. And still the silence, a gloomy, suppressed silence, that increased the commissioner's uneasiness and made audible to him the accelerated beating of his arteries. They didn't even hear the judge come in, whose voice made them start.
"An orderly affair," he announced to Maigret with a happy air. "It only remains for you to catch Mme Marcenac."
Maigret grumbled something and saw in a mirror Lucas, by gestures, giving the judge to understand that he would do better not to pursue the conversation. He also saw his own chalky face, contorted, his poached eyes and his flaming cheekbones. He smiled weakly and made an effort to say: "Lead me there..."
The procession passed through immense, sumptuous rooms, where an odor of varnish and stuffiness floated. Maigret, whose fever sharpened his sense of smell, discovered besides, intermittently, the smell of English cigarettes.
Marcenac had been killed in his office. He had fallen forward and was lying terribly crumpled up. The photographer from Identity finished his work and arranged his devices. No obvious disorder. Maigret let his eyes wander over the library, the worktable where some papers were left, the soberly decorated walls. No sense of a drama taking shape in such surroundings. The deceased himself was correct: elegant clothes, immaculate shoes. Maigret nodded his head without quite knowing why and turned toward the judge. Then he saw Mme Dufaure-Verneuil, staring with a cold expression. She sat on a low couch; she must have been very beautiful. In spite of the early hour, she was dressed with care and, when she moved, she displaced around her a light heliotrope perfume. Maigret noticed that he had kept on his bowler; he removed it now, and no one could have said if he had made a salute or had repaired a carelessness. He didn't linger and, without a look at the dead man, moved away, massive, impenetrable.
Inspector Janvier ran up to him:
"Don't you want to see Dr Maugis and M. Violle?"
Maigret didn't answer.
"He doesn't seem very pleasant," said the District Commissioner who knew Maigret by reputation.
"He's ill," observed Lucas flatly.
Decidedly the investigation had begun painfully. Maigret would have wanted to be alone. All these people irritated him, even Lucas whose worried and reproachful look he felt, even the excellent Janvier whom the boss's illness filled with visible anxiety. And this hotel where one choked... The central heating gave a soft heat that reigned everywhere. Maigret sweated but still had to make an effort not to let his teeth chatter.
"Excuse me, Mademoiselle, where is the office, please?"
The maid, surprised, considered with distrust this thickset man with the vague eyes, who mopped his forehead.
"Follow me, Monsieur."
They went down a narrow staircase and arrived in the basement where a vast kitchen gleamed with copper. Maigret, noticing at first glance the stove, took off his overcoat and sat down astride a chair, his back to the fire. He sighed with joy without paying any attention to the couple eating lunch at the small table. The man rose.
"Would Monsieur care for something?"
Maigret regarded him, stuffed his pipe slowly, struck a match on the sheet metal of the stove behind him.
"Does Monsieur have need of something?"
Then, for the first time since his rising, Maigret smiled; he pointed his finger toward the table:
"A cup of coffee and some aspirin tablets."
Relieved visibly, the man nodded and left.
"Chauffeur?" said Maigret.
"Yes, Monsieur," answered the woman, while bringing a steaming cup. "He is my husband. He is the chauffeur and headwaiter. And me, I cook."
"What are your names?"
"Renée, and my husband, Julian. But Madame doesn't like my name. So she calls me Marie."
Julian came back with some aspirin on a tray. Maigret smiled again.
"You've been here a long time?"
It was Julian that answered, while he observed with distrust the commissioner's gestures.
"Since the death of Monsieur the Baron; that will be ten years in three weeks."
"And the small blonde who led me here?"
"She is new," said Renée quickly. "She's only been here a month."
Silence. Seeing that Maigret didn't ask for anything else, the man and woman went back to eating. Maigret relaxed. The fire roasted the small of his back, his head cleared. He pushed his hot pipe into his pocket and suddenly felt an irresistible desire to eat. He rose.
The bread was fresh. He turned down the jam that Marie offered him, cut a slice of ham that he wedged onto his bread.
"If Mme Maigret saw me!" he mused. "I'm being foolish, no doubt. I'm going to be completely sick." But his appetite did him good. He poured himself a glass of Beaujolais, clicked his tongue.
After being a little shy at first, the man and the woman gained confidence.
"Have they caught her?"
Maigret beamed. He walked back and forth between the table and the stove. The tablet began to produce its effect.
"Tell me what you know," he said, mouth full. (And as Julian was going to speak, he interrupted him and, pointing his knife toward Renée:) "You!"
"We don't know much, Monsieur. We were awakened at 5:30. Madame announced to us that her son-in-law had been killed and that Madame had disappeared."
"Who is that Madame?"
"Madame's daughter, Mme Marcenac. She said that Mme Marcenac had killed her husband and that she had run away by the Rue de l'Yvette. And indeed the Rue de l'Yvette door was not closed inside."
"Did Mme Marcenac have reasons to be angry with her husband?"
"I don't believe so, Monsieur. She had married him against the will of Madame. There were violent disputes before the marriage. I don't know precisely why, you know, Monsieur! Madame doesn't tell me her business. But one learns quickly of these things!"
"M. Marcenac wasn't a good match?"
"Oh, but he was, Monsieur! Surely he was very good..."
"That is not what I meant. Was he rich?"
"Oh! He was not as rich as Madame! But he seemed very appropriate. He wasn't proud..."
"He didn't deceive his wife?"
"Surely not, Monsieur! He always lavished attention on her."
"What was his attitude towards his stepmother?"
"He was very polite. He tried to be pleasant. He often drove M. Patrice around by car, even though he's not that easy to deal with."
Maigret stopped eating. Lucas had not spoken to him of Patrice.
"Who is that, this Patrice?"
Renée opened her eyes wide.
"But he is the son of Madame. He is M. Dufaure-Verneuil."
"Why haven't I seen him?"
The same expression of astonishment painted itself on Renée's face.
"Why? Doesn't Monsieur know? M. Patrice is an invalid. He can hardly walk, because of an illness that he had in his youth, polo... poli..."
"That's it. He uses crutches! At this hour he is back in bed again."
"How old is he?"
"Twenty, I believe."
Maigret relighted his pipe. His headache had gone away. He was beginning to see the characters of the drama.
"And M. Violle, who is that?"
"He is a friend of Madame's. He comes very often."
"And Dr Maugis?"
"He is the family's doctor."
Maigret smoked in small puffs, his bowler covering his eyes. He thought.
"What was the profession of the deceased?"
"He didn't have one, Monsieur."
"And before his marriage?"
"Ah, that, I don't know."
"Do you like your boss?"
The question made the two domestics start. But the commissioner had such an easy-going expression that it drove away all distrust.
"She is a little hard; but she is not mean."
"She pays well," added Julian.
"Who cleans the Marcenac's rooms?"
"I do," said Renée.
"Can I see Mme Marcenac's room?"
"Why, certainly, Monsieur."
Mme Marcenac's room was furnished very meagerly. Maigret looked with astonishment at the bed, the chairs, the narrow cupboard. It was all almost poor.
An intense odor of violet perfume floated in the heavy air.
The vast dimensions of the room, the paneling, the decorated ceiling, and then... the furniture, more than modest...
The bed was unmade. Maigret passed to the bathroom, fingered small bottles, glasses. He nosed about slowly, his eyes flickering.
"Did you know that Mme Marcenac had broken this small bottle of perfume?"
"No, Monsieur. She must have broken it last night."
"Mme Marcenac wore slippers, didn't she?"
"Yes, Monsieur. Pink slippers."
Maigret came back. He regarded the room once more, sucking his empty pipe mechanically. Something close to the window attracted his attention. He lowered himself, passed his fingers over the parquet floor. Renée thought she heard him swear him between his teeth.
"When was this window opened?"
"It hasn't been opened, Monsieur. Madame is often chilly and doesn't like fresh air."
He came down again without hurrying. In the kitchen, Julian had hung the commissioner's damp overcoat up to dry. He was polishing some shoes.
"Would Monsieur like another cup of coffee?"
Maigret remained silent. Hands in pockets, he contemplated the kitchen without seeing, and the range of his reflections. Surprised and a little worried, the servants became quiet and Julian stopped his brushing.
"To judge by the portrait that I have just seen upstairs," said Maigret finally, "doesn't Mme Marcenac look a lot like her mother?"
Renée, interrogated, pouted.
"Their features are pretty much similar, but the expression is not the same. And then Mme Marcenac is smaller and thinner than her mother."
Maigret pointed to the pair of high-heeled dancing shoes that Julian was smearing with cream.
"Those are Mme Dufaure-Verneuil's shoes, aren't they?"
He held out his hand.
"That's right," observed Julian. "They're muddied again."
Maigret withdrew his hand and moved away.
At that moment Lucas appeared. He stopped on the doorstep, surprised and a little upset. Maigret slipped on his overcoat.
"How's it going, Lucas? I'm coming. What have you done about Mme Marcenac?"
"Nothing yet. We were waiting for you. I'm going to send her photo to the newspapers, alert the stations..."
"If you wish..."
Lucas glanced towards Maigret. "He's delirious," he thought.
"And the police doctor?"
"We'll have the answer in a little while."
"Oh, no hurry," said Maigret carelessly.
And then, turning to Julian and Renée, standing and respectful:
"Excellent, this Beaujolais," he said.
Before leaving, he poured himself another two fingers, enjoying again Lucas' consternation.
"I wonder," whispered Maigret mildly, "why you disturbed me."
"Are you feeling worse?" asked Janvier with solicitude.
Lucas, sulky, heated his brandy in his fist. The sky was clearing a little and a chilly sunbeam slipped obliquely onto the bottles of aperitif. The Cassoulet, at this hour, was empty. Lucas gave up trying to understand Maigret's slowness. Why had the commissioner come back to the bar? What was he waiting for? Impossible to pull two words from him. And now he asked why... Lucas emptied his glass in one gulp and threw a coin on the table.
"Leaving?" asked Maigret. "Are you going to chase after the criminal?"
"But, damn it all, we have to do something! I wonder if she doesn't have six or seven hours lead on us. I'm going to do the stations..."
"If you wish..."
"Again that phrase..."
Never had the commissioner led an investigation in such a disorganized manner. He sat on a bronchitis that was visible. He should have abandoned his part.
Maigret called Lucas back.
"Visit the hotels around Saint-Lazare station and phone me here as soon as you find something."
Lucas observed Maigret's face. Was the commissioner speaking seriously? Did he know something? Maigret, elbows on the table, smoked in small puffs, impenetrable. Lucas slammed the door behind him. A silence fell. There was the sound, somewhere behind a partition, of a faucet running, and the noise of a brush on a floor. A boy moved bottles and observed the two men from time to time.
Maigret thought of the Dufaure-Verneuils. The son-in-law, petty, married by caprice, probably. The son...
"What do you think of Patrice?"
Janvier made a pout, precisely as Renée had done, one hour before.
"A sad case, a little red-head, an invalid, what..."
Yes, an invalid who tyrannized his family. Maigret imagined him on his crutches, roaming in the darkness of rooms whose mirrors reflected his oscillating silhouette. And the son-in-law, insignificant, shy, who courted Patrice, took him out, permitted him all his fantasies, cringing before his haughty mother-in-law. Lucienne... Did she love her husband, or had she stayed faithful to her young girl's dream, to the memory of the one who would rescue her from her mother, from her brother, from the hotel, the oppressive luxury... And then the disappointment had come. Hadn't she fought... That shabby room, wasn't it the proof that Lucienne had wanted to make her husband forget the role of the eternally obligated, of the eternal beggar that he had ended up accepting? Her room, her own place, the only place in the house the power of the Dufaure-Verneuils couldn't invade. The invalid himself could never enter there, the invalid of the English cigarettes... "Your husband," as Mme Dufaure-Verneuil knew how to say it. Maigret heard her and was ashamed for Lucienne. For the world, the undesirable couple was forbidden to abandon the hotel. For the world! ... and also for Patrice... It was necessary to amuse the invalid, to drive him to the movies, well... It was necessary that Patrice didn't seem to be abandoned to the mercenary cares of a domestic. It was necessary that...
Maigret shook his pipe and gulped down his nearly cold grog.
"Janvier, go quickly to the Police Doctor. I need his report."
The inspector understood that things had started to move. He took off in a hurry and disappeared.
... Yes, it was something like boredom that had passed in the Baroness's eyes, when Maigret had looked at her; like boredom, or rather like a hindrance. Maigret made an effort to recover his impression but he couldn't concentrate. A painful emptiness immediately dug in behind his eyes and his temples started to pound again. She had accused her daughter, quietly, calmly, in the tone of someone giving testimony. It was Janvier who had remarked on it, while crossing the street to the Cassoulet. On reflection, it was hindrance. She had to expect questions and Maigret's look had taken her unawares. Maigret held all the strings, felt all the characters. Why did they bother him? It was all so simple, if sordidly simple... He sighed. Again, his breathing was burdensome and a torpor slipped imperceptibly over his limbs. The sky had darkened. A gray light floated into the bar and, behind the partition, the faucet ran endlessly. A vague qualm tormented the commissioner. Let's go! It was necessary to finish!
Just as he rose, Janvier reappeared.
"What caliber?" questioned Maigret.
"Time of death?"
"Toward 11:00 o'clock."
"No. He had passed out, but death was prolonged. If someone had heard the shot, if someone had immediately arrived, he could have been saved."
"Ah! As for that, she's a beautiful one..."
"But no, she's..."
Maigret stopped, shrugged.
"Wait, stay here. When Lucas comes back, come get me."
M. Violle was about sixty. Chubby face, gray hair, brush mustache, striped trousers, clear gaiters. Maigret took it all in at a glance.
"It's the friend," he said to himself, and he bristled, made himself even heavier, more vicious. He was in a hurry to finish.
"How were you notified of the crime?"
"Why, well, you see, it was... I was awakened this morning... that is, the bell rang. Mme Dufaure-Verneuil and Dr Maugis informed me of the death of Marcenac and then..."
"What time was it?"
"Let's see, wait, it was, I believe, 5:30, yes, that's it. I remember that..."
"Why hadn't Mme Dufaure-Verneuil phoned?"
"She had just wakened up the doctor, and as I live nearby, she wanted, you see, to make me part of the awful news. She explained to me... it was a terrible blow, poor thing, that..."
"Why do you say 'poor thing'?"
"Because Jeanne, in short Mme Dufaure-Verneuil, if you prefer, loved her son-in-law deeply..."
"A lie," whispered Maigret, annoyed. "Continue!"
M. Violle, disconcerted, crossed and uncrossed his hands nervously. He sputtered more and more, but the commissioner ended up understanding that Mme Dufaure-Verneuil, having awakened a little before 5:00, had descended first to see if Patrice, suffering, had slept well. She had seen the light then in the office and had discovered Marcenac's body. So as not to disturb Patrice, she had not wanted to telephone from the office, as the rooms were separated only by a partition. She had gotten dressed and had run to Dr Maugis. On the way back, they had brought Violle.
So the story held together. That could explain Mme Dufaure-Verneuil's mud-stained slippers.
"Patrice didn't hear the shot?"
"Patrice had taken a sleeping draft. The dear child has a very fragile constitution. For several days he has been anxious, agitated. Dr Maugis takes care of him. He could tell you better than I..."
"And how did Mme Dufaure-Verneuil establish that her daughter was the murderess?"
"Mme Marcenac was not in her room, and the door of the Rue de l'Yvette was open. Under those circumstances..."
M. Violle, vexed, was quiet.
"A nice crime, in a way," thought Maigret. "Almost no evidence. The noise of the gunshot? One could always proceed to a reconstruction." But the commissioner was sure that it would prove nothing.
He sighed. His task would be perhaps a little less easy than he had believed. Anyway, he had nothing more to extricate from this puppet.
"I would want to see Mme Dufaure... in short, the Baroness."
And he turned his back on his interlocutor, planting himself before a picture - a Venus coming out of a wave - that occupied a panel of the room.
He felt feverish again and almost succumbed to the temptation to return to his office, but he understood, by a faint rustling of cloth, that the Baroness had entered. He didn't turn around.
On her side, Mme Dufaure-Verneuil kept the silence.
Oh well, fine; if she wanted a fight...
Maigret pivoted all at once. His eyes immediately shot to those of the Baroness and, instantaneously, he recovered his impression of the morning. He stared at her with insolence, and she sustained this assault with haughtiness and disdain, quietly.
"What happened last night?"
The commissioner's terseness didn't appear to surprise her. Standing, her head now turned toward the window where the rain drew its gullies, in a monotonous voice, she produced a narrative that resembled, word for word, the one of the small old man. - In fact, what was his name? Violle, or something like that. - Maigret didn't even listen to the Baroness...
A beautiful woman, for she had been a beautiful woman. Twenty years earlier, she had been notorious for her misconduct... "A creature," Mme Maigret would have said.
Suddenly the commissioner interrupted her:
"Did your son-in-law often take Patrice out?"
Mme Dufaure-Verneuil brought her eyes back slowly to Maigret.
"Why do you ask me that?"
"Where is your son?"
"In his room. He is very tired. He has been wakened up, naturally, by the arrival of the police, and the news of his brother-in-law's death affected him strongly."
"Did your daughter have a revolver?"
"She took her husband's, from the drawer of the office."
"What motive could she have had?"
"I have no idea. I imagine that she didn't like her husband very much."
"My son-in-law didn't have any... luck when he undertook something. He never finished his degree in law, he had wanted to take up a trade and, finally, he didn't do anything."
"Didn't your fortune maintain the household?"
"Certainly. But my daughter would still have wanted her husband to work."
But the commissioner knew all that. He didn't even ask her if Lucienne had a lover. He was also decided on that point.
What tarnished the Baroness's eyes imperceptibly, was fear, he was now sure. But the Baroness remained admirably mistress of her voice, of her gestures. By her reserve, her coldness, she erased Maigret from her world, seeing him as a petty cop, a cad.
Maigret, at another time, might have enjoyed making her lose some of her composure and her pride. "To what good?" He shivered. To fall sick one month before his retirement. True bad luck... And the house that waited over there for him, close to the glimmering Loire... because there it was sunny, Maigret was sure.
The silence prolonged itself between them, hardly uneasy with the noise of horns and the sizzling of tires on the wet pavement of the street. Maigret paced back and forth, without hurrying. He looked at his watch. "She takes me for a clumsy boor," he thought. "And in one hour all will be finished."
He approached the window, raised the curtain. Of passersby, one only saw umbrellas, shiny and polished, that seemed to slide along the asphalt.
Suddenly, Lucas appeared on the stairway.
Maigret passed in front of Mme Dufaure-Verneuil and left without a word.
"I found her suitcase..." (Lucas was out of breath; he had been running) "in a hotel close to the Saint-Lazare station. She had filled in her card as well. She arrived about 15 minutes before midnight and took a room, then left nearly immediately. The night clerk recognized her photo. He is definite. I searched her suitcase; no possible doubt. We now have it. I've already..."
Maigret, his brows knit, stopped him. A new certainty made itself clear to him. The suitcase, that was foreseen. But if by misfortune... He had not one minute more to lose.
"What's that you say?"
Already Maigret had grasped him by the arm and was pushing him towards the door.
"Go, run, take a taxi. Wait, this is the number..."
Again this memory that quit. He got excited and Lucas saw the sweat that formed around his ears.
Maigret ran after the maid who was at the end of the hall. They hardly exchanged two words. Already Maigret was back, launching an address at Lucas: 2, Rue Delzous.
"Search the entire house. Go, full speed!"
"But this is the house of..."
"Go, damn it!"
Maigret leaned against the wall. A growl filled his head, he wanted to sit. And suddenly, he realized that Lucas probably had no weapon. He went slowly to the door of the stairway.
The inspector had reached the gate. He retraced his steps.
Maigret threw him his gun, closed the door again and sat down on the floor, his bowler next to him. He undid his collar and breathed deeply. If only he could have vomited! He had been wrong to eat. Let's go! Again a small effort, the last.
He went back down the hall, taking small steps, stopped one instant before Patrice's room. There was whispering inside.
Maigret, without knocking, turned the handle.
Patrice and his mother turned around, slightly pale. There stood Maigret, enormous, livid, bedraggled, looked at them with a distraught air.
"By what right, Monsieur..."
The Baroness, beside herself, walked suddenly towards the commissioner, who closed the door again behind him.
But he didn't even see her. He regarded Patrice.
The invalid was much as he had imagined him. A poor face, thin and pockmarked, wrinkled around the eyes, a vaguely sensual and sly expression. He sat in front of a small secretary desk of which he had pushed in the drawer at Maigret's entrance. He held onto the key in his gnarled and hairy hand, one of these beastly hands of a sick teenager.
Maigret repulsed Mme Dufaure-Verneuil.
"Now, give it to me."
Patrice remained frozen, while little by little, his features wrinkled up. Maigret would have sworn that his ears trembled.
"Give it to me," repeated the commissioner.
It was instantaneous. The hand had dived into the drawer, the shot had sounded and Patrice, now collapsed on an elbow, was sobbing.
"Imbecile," said Maigret, while collecting the revolver.
It was a 6,35.
He withdrew the cylinder. "Three cartridges and one in the chamber: four. One in the wall, five, and the other..."
The Baroness had sat down on the corner of a chair.
No one moved. Patrice's sobs made a kind of soft murmur, like the faucet behind the partition at the Cassoulet.
Maigret took off his overcoat and sat down astride a chair between the mother and the son.
"Why did you kill him?"
With authority, he raised Patrice's chin, who made the gesture of an upset and angry child.
"Little scoundrel," said Maigret, in a tone nearly cordial. "Something to do with a woman, right?"
He reached for a small album at the bottom of the open drawer, thumbed it, nodding his head. Special photographs! Maigret knew them. Thus, the invalid and his pathetic brother-in-law occupied their leisure. The poor Marcenac resisted, probably. So Lucienne came to know. She sensed things well. But if he refused to come with Patrice, this one could manage it so that his living was cut off. Then, one evening, Marcenac, in a fit of conscience maybe, gets angry... He threatens to tell all to Patrice's mother. And Patrice, at the end of his tether, kills him...
"Whose was the revolver? Marcenac bought it for you, didn't he?"
Patrice inclined his head
"What was it, did you need to feel something? Did you terrorize him?"
He threw the album on the Baroness's knees, and she let it slip to the floor.
And suddenly, Maigret understood that she knew. She was not unaware of anything of her son's distractions. But by pride, she forgave him. It was Marcenac that she hated, Marcenac who walked without crutches, Marcenac that her daughter had preferred, and who, prisoner of Lucienne, prisoner of Patrice, prisoner of the Dufaure-Verneuils, turning in this hotel in the too-hot air, gave in little by little until the evening when the invalid...
"Did you imagine to save your son then by accusing your daughter?"
Patrice and his mother started.
The commissioner, in a low voice, followed his thought.
"You gave a soporific to Patrice and hid the weapon. It was 11:00 o'clock. You thought then of Dr Maugis. No doubt he was unable to refuse you?"
For the first time, the Baroness blushed before her son.
"You were going to inform him of the accident. The two of you combined an astute plan. He brings chloroform and, in her room, you drug the sleeping Lucienne. And, while the doctor takes her in his car to hide her in his own apartment nearby, you throw the linen hastily into a suitcase and you go to the nearest station. Your daughter resembles you. This resemblance will fool a sleepy night clerk easily. You rent a room. The police will believe that Lucienne took the train, will make the interminable searches, will exert useless efforts... Unfortunately, you accumulated mistakes. It is not so easy, you see, to be a criminal. First your daughter's abduction was risky at one o'clock when there may be passers-by, even in as quiet a street as the Rue de l'Yvette. And then you forget to leave the slippers in the room, and to remake the bed. If Mme Marcenac had wanted to kill her husband, she would not have gone to bed, I imagine. In brief, this carelessness would have been sufficient to denounce you. But the doctor came back during your absence and committed two more blunders. As the odor of chloroform persisted, he opened the window and rain entered: the floor was still wet this morning. Finally, to erase all trace of odor, he broke a small bottle of perfume. In that way he attracted attention to what he wanted to conceal."
"It was sufficient to look into the room to note, to read the abduction. However, if your daughter had been removed, suspicion could only fall again on you. And you had so many reasons to be angry at Lucienne... Patrice is your son, isn't he?"
Mme Dufaure-Verneuil's lips contracted, but she mastered herself and her face didn't even shudder when the commissioner added:
"No one cared to look at Marcenac during those long hours. And yet, he was not quite dead. Someone could still have saved him."
Maigret collected the album, put it in his pocket. Patrice wasn't crying anymore.
"Follow me," said Maigret.
Patrice, submissively, gathered his crutches.
Then, the Baroness, without a gesture, without a word, collapsed on her side, having fainted dead away.
Maigret ran to Lucas in the hallway, breathless.
"Do you have her?"
"She is below, in a taxi. And we have the Doc."
"It was time," sighed Maigret. "They probably had the intention to kill her also to rid themselves more easily of her. I had first of all thought about a hospital. Maugis necessarily has connections. He could have made Mme Marcenac disappear discreetly. But he was also able, in one moment of panic, to murder her. And her mother would not even have protested."
Maigret came in, exhausted, stars dancing before his eyes. Mme Maigret, worried, prepared a hot water bottle and put on the cover, without losing sight of her husband.
The commissioner's teeth chattered.
He heard Mme Maigret sigh vaguely: "And I'd made a fricandeau!" And he sank into sleep.