Read Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard Online
Authors: Georges Simenon
MAIGRET AND THE MAN ON THE BOULEVARD
GEORGES JOSEPH CHRISTIAN SIMENON
was born on February 12, 1903 in LiÃ¨ge, Belgium. He began work as a reporter for a local newspaper at the age of sixteen, and at nineteen he moved to Paris to embark on a career as a novelist. He started by writing pulp-fiction novels and novellas published, under various pseudonyms, from 1923 onwards. He went on to write seventy-five Maigret novels and twenty-eight Maigret short stories.
Although Simenon is best known in Britain as the writer of the Maigret books, his prolific output of over four hundred novels made him a household name and institution in Continental Europe, where much of his work is constantly in print. The dark realism of Simenon's books has lent them naturally to screen adaptation.
Simenon died in 1989 in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he had lived for the latter part of his life.
Published by the Penguin Group
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Maigret el l'homme du banc
first published 1953
This translation first published as
The Man on the Bench
Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton 1975
Published in Penguin Books 1978
Reissued with minor revisions under the title
The Man on the Boulevard
in Penguin Classics 2003
Copyright Â© 1953 Georges Simenon Ltd (a Chorion company). All rights reserved.
Translation copyright Â© Georges Simenon Ltd 1975
All rights reserved
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
Simenon, Georges, 1903â1989.
[Maigret et l'homme du banc. English]
Maigret and the man on the boulevard / Georges Simenon; translated
by Eileen Ellenbogen.
p. cm.â(A Penguin mystery)
Maigret, Jules (Fictitious character)âFiction. 2. PoliceâFranceâParisâFiction. I. Ellenbogen, Eileen. II. Title.
PQ2637.I53M257213Â Â Â Â Â 2008
843'.912âdc22Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 2007025932
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Afterwards, Maigret had no difficulty in recalling the date, October 19, because it also happened to be his sister-in-law's birthday. He even remembered the day, a Monday, since as everyone at the Quai des OrfÃ¨vres knows, murder is rarely committed on a Monday. And furthermore, as it happened, this case, unlike any other that year, had a flavor of winter about it.
A thin, cold drizzle had been falling all that Sunday, and the roofs and pavements were black and glistening. A kind of yellowish fog seeped in through the chinks in the windows, so much so that Madame Maigret had said:
“Maybe I ought to get them fitted with draft excluders.”
For the past five years at least, as autumn approached, Maigret had been promising to fit them himself the following Sunday.
“You'd better wear your winter coat.”
“Where is it?”
“I'll get it.”
It was half-past eight, and still so dark that lights were on in all the houses, and Maigret's coat smelled of moth balls.
It did not rain that day, at least not noticeably, although the pavements were still wet, and as the day wore on, and more and more people trampled them, they grew very slippery. Then, around about four in the afternoon, the yellowish fog, which had cleared since the morning, returned, blurring the light from the street lamps and windows.
When the telephone rang, neither Lucas nor Janvier nor even young Lapointe was in the Inspectors' Duty Room. It was answered by Santoni, a Corsican, who was new to the Crime Squad, having spent ten years first in the Gaming Squad and then in the Vice Squad.
“It's Inspector Neveu of the Third
, chief. He's asking to speak to you personally. He says it's urgent.”
Maigret lifted the receiver:
“What is it, laddie?”
“I'm speaking from a bistro in the Boulevard Saint-Martin. A man has just been found. He's been stabbed with a knife.”
“Right there on the boulevard?”
“No, not quite. In a sort of cul-de-sac.”
Neveu, who was an old hand at this game, knew very well what Maigret must be thinking. There is seldom much of interest to the investigator in a stabbing. Usually, especially in overcrowded areas, it is the result of some drunken brawl or a quarrel between rival gangs of Spaniards or North Africans.
Neveu hastened to add:
“There are one or two odd features about this case. I think you ought to come and see for yourself. The cul-de-sac runs between the big jeweler's and the artificial-flower shop.”
“I'll come right away.”
Maigret had never before worked on a case with Santoni. In the confined space of the little black Police Judiciaire car, he was uncomfortably conscious of the powerful smell emanating from the inspector, a little man who wore high-heeled shoes. He used hair oil, and, on his fourth finger, wore a big yellow diamond, probably paste.
People flitted by like black shadows in the dark streets, and their shoes went flip-flop on the greasy pavements. In the Boulevard Saint-Martin, two policemen wearing capes were holding back a crowd of some thirty people. Neveu, who was watching out for Maigret, opened the door of the car.
“I persuaded the doctor to stay until you got here.”
The Grands Boulevards are always jammed with people, but at this time of day the crowds were at their thickest. Above the jeweler's shop was a big clock. The hands on the illuminated dial stood at half-past five. As for the artificial-flower shop, which had only one window, grimy and thick with dust, it was so dimly lit and looked so neglected that one wondered if anyone ever went into it.
Between the two shops ran a little cul-de-sac, so narrow as to be easily missed. It was no more than a gap between two walls, unlit, and apparently leading to the sort of paved courtyard to be found all over this district.
Neveu, followed by Maigret, elbowed his way through the crowd. A few yards inside the dark cul-de-sac, several men were standing about. Two of them had flashlights. Their faces were a blur.
It was colder and damper here than on the boulevard. There was an unremitting draught. A dog, though roughly shoved aside by all and sundry, kept slinking back and getting under everyone's feet.
On the ground, against the dripping wall, lay a man, one arm bent under him, the other stretched out, so that the ghostly hand almost touched the opposite wall, barring the way.
“Is he dead?”
The doctor, a local man, nodded:
“Death must have been instantaneous.”
As if to underline these words, one of the flashlights played its circular beam back and forth over the corpse, throwing the projecting handle of the knife into eerie relief. The other flashlight illuminated the man's profile, a staring eye, and a grazed cheek where he had scraped it against the wall as he fell.
“Who found the body?”
One of the uniformed men, who had been waiting for this opportunity, came forward. His features were barely visible. All one could tell was that he was young and distressed.
“I was on my rounds. I always take a quick look into all the little passages, because people get up to all sorts of beastliness in the dark in this sort of place. I saw someone lying on the ground. At first I thought it was a drunk.”
“Already dead, was he?”
“Yes, I think so. But the body was still warm.”
“What time was this?”
“A quarter to five. I blew my whistle, and as soon as reinforcements arrived, I went off to telephone the station.”
“I took the call myself, and came straight over.”
The local police station was only a few yards away, in the Rue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth.
Neveu went on:
“I left it to a colleague to call the doctor.”
“Did no one hear anything?”
“Not as far as I know.”
Maigret noticed a door a little farther on, with a dimly lit fanlight above.
“Where does that lead?”
“Into the offices at the back of the jeweler's shop. It's hardly ever used.”
Before leaving the Quai des OrfÃ¨vres, Maigret had been in touch with the Forensic Laboratory. The technicians had just arrived with their cameras and other equipment. Like all specialists, they concentrated solely on their job, asking no questions, worrying about nothing except how they were going to be able to manage in such a restricted space.
“Where does the courtyard lead to?” Maigret asked.
“Nowhere, just blank walls. There's only one door, which was condemned years ago, leading to a building in the Rue Meslay.”
The man, it was plain to see, had been stabbed in the back when he was ten paces or so inside the cul-de-sac. Someone had silently crept in after him, and the crowds on the boulevard had streamed past unaware.
“I slipped my hand into his pocket and found this.”
Neveu held out a wallet to Maigret. Without having to be asked, one of the men from Criminal Records shone a torch on it, much more powerful than the inspector's.
It was just an ordinary wallet, not new, but not particularly worn either. The best one could say of it was that it was of quite good quality. It contained three thousand-franc notes, a few of a hundred francs, and an identity card in the name of Louis Thouret, storekeeper, of 37 Rue des Peupliers, Juvisy. There was also an Electoral Roll card in the same name, a sheet of paper on which there were five or six words scribbled in pencil, and a very old photograph of a little girl.
“Can we make a start?”
Maigret nodded. Cameras clicked and bulbs flashed. The crowd at the entrance to the little passage was growing, and the police were having difficulty in holding them back.
Next, the technicians carefully withdrew the knife and put it in a special box. Only then did they turn the body over, to reveal the face of a man between forty and fifty, with a fixed expression of utter bewilderment.
He had been unable to understand what was happening to him. He had died without understanding. There was something so childlike about his bewilderment, so incongruous in the tragic circumstances, that someone tittered nervously in the darkness.
His clothes were respectable and clean. He was wearing a dark three-piece suit and a beige spring coat, and his feet, oddly twisted, were encased in light-brown shoes, which seemed out of place on a day as somber as this.
Apart from his shoes, he was so ordinary looking that no one would have given him a second glance in the street or on one of the many cafÃ© terraces on the boulevard.
All the same, the policeman who had discovered the body remarked:
“I have a feeling I've seen him before.”
“I can't remember, but the face seems familiar. I fancy he's one of those people one sees about every day without really noticing them.”
Neveu confirmed this:
“He looks vaguely familiar to me too. Very likely he worked somewhere around here.”
Which did not go anywhere toward explaining what Louis Thouret was doing in a cul-de-sac leading nowhere. Maigret turned to Santoni, who had served for years in the Vice Squad. For there are always a certain number of eccentrics with the best of reasons for lurking in lonely places, especially in this district. Nearly all are known to the police. Occasionally one of them proves to be a person of some prominence. From time to time they are arrested. As soon as they are released, they return to their old habits.
But Santoni shook his head.
“I've never seen him before.”
Maigret's mind was made up:
“Carry on, gentlemen. When you've finished with him, have him sent to the Forensic Laboratory.”
And to Santoni he said:
“We're going to see his family, if he has one.”
If it had been an hour later, he would probably not have gone to Juvisy himself. But he had the car, and he was more than a little intrigued. The man was so utterly commonplace, a very ordinary man doing a very ordinary job.
“Let's be going then, to Juvisy.”
They stopped for a minute or two at the Porte d'Italie, to have a half of beer standing at the bar. Then they sped along the motorway, dazzled by headlights, overtaking one heavy truck after another. When they reached the railway station at Juvisy, they had to ask five people before they found one able to direct them to the Rue des Peupliers.
“It's part of the new estate, right at the far end of the town. When you get there, you'll just have to look at the street names. They're called after trees, and they all look exactly alike.”
They drove alongside the vast marshaling yard, where an endless stream of goods wagons was being shunted into one siding or another. There were twenty engines, belching smoke, whistling and panting. Wagons clashed together, shuddering on impact. On the right lay the new estate, where building was still going on. The network of narrow streets was picked out in electric lights. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of detached houses all exactly alike in size and shape. The noble trees, after which the streets were named, had not yet had time to grow. In some places the pavements had still not been surfaced, and consisted of rough verges interspersed with black holes. Elsewhere, on the other hand, there were neat little gardens, in which the flowers of late autumn were beginning to fade. Rue des ChÃªnesâ¦Rue des Lilasâ¦Rue des HÃªtresâ¦One day, maybe, it would look like one great park, always provided the jerry-built houses, which were like units in a toy construction kit, didn't disintegrate before the trees attained their full height.
Behind the kitchen windows, women were preparing dinner. The streets were deserted, their uniformity broken here and there by a little shop, brand new like everything else here, and seemingly run by amateurs.
“Try the next turning on the left.”
They went round in circles for ten minutes before finding the street name they were looking for inscribed on a blue plaque. They overshot the house, because number 37 came immediately after number 21. There was only one light showing, on the ground floor, in the kitchen. Through the net curtains they could see the somewhat bulky figure of a woman moving about.
“Let's go in,” sighed Maigret, extricating himself with some difficulty from the little car.
He emptied his pipe by tapping it on the heel of his shoe. As they went towards the house, the curtain twitched, and they caught a glimpse of a woman's face pressed against the window. Presumably a car parked at her door was an unusual sight for her. He went up the three front steps. The door was of varnished deal, with wrought-iron trimmings and two small, dark blue glass panes. He looked about for a bell, but before he could find it, a voice called out from inside:
“What do you want?”
“I'd be glad of a word with you.”
She was still none too eager to open the door.
“It's police business,” added Maigret, keeping his voice down.