Authors: Georges Simenon
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
Maigret in Montmartre
Maigret and the Strangled Stripper
A book in the Inspector Maigret series
A case involving a countess's shadowy past draws Chief Inspector Maigret into the world of striptease artists and morphine addicts.
or Jussiaume, the policeman, who passed the same spots on his beat at practically the same time every night, comings and goings of this kind were so commonplace that his mind registered them automatically, rather in the way that people living near a railway station notice the trains pulling in and out.
Sleet was falling, and Jussiaume had stepped into a doorway at the corner of the Rue Fontaine and the Rue Pigalle, to shelter for a moment. The red sign of Picratt’s was one of the few still alight round there, and its reflected glow looked like splashes of blood on the wet cobblestones.
It was a Monday, when business is always slack in Montmartre. Jussiaume could have listed the order in which most of the night-clubs had closed. Now he saw Picratt’s neon sign go out in its turn; the proprietor, a short, fat man who had put on a beige raincoat over his evening clothes, came outside to wind down the shutters.
A figure—it looked like a small boy—slipped out of the door and glided off down the Rue Pigalle, towards the Rue Blanche, keeping close to the wall. Two men emerged next, one of them with a saxophone case under his arm; they turned in the direction of the Place Clichy.
Almost immediately afterwards another man came out, and set off down the Rue Notre-Dame de Lorette; the collar of his coat was turned up.
Jussiaume did not know the names of these people; in fact he scarcely knew their faces; but like hundreds of others, they had a meaning for him.
He knew that the next to come out would be a woman wearing a very short, light-coloured fur coat and perched on exaggeratedly high heels—walking very fast, as though she were scared at being out alone at four in the morning. She lived only a hundred yards away. She had to ring the bell, because the house door was shut at this hour.
Then came the last two—women, together, as usual. They walked, talking in undertones, to the street corner a few feet away from where Jussiaume was standing, and there they parted. The older and taller of the two lounged away up the Rue Pigalle. She would be going to the Rue Lepic, where he had sometimes seen her enter a house. The other woman hesitated, glanced at him as though about to say something; and then, instead of turning down the Rue Notre-Dame de Lorette, as she usually did, moved off towards the
at the corner of the Rue de Douai, which was still lit up.
She seemed to have been drinking. She wore no hat, and her fair hair shone when she passed beneath a lamp. She walked slowly, stopping now and then as though talking to herself.
“Coffee, Arlette?” asked the owner of the
, an old acquaintance.
“Laced,” she replied.
And a few seconds later the familiar smell of rum warmed up in coffee was wafted on the air. Two or three men were standing drinking at the bar, but she took no notice of them.
“She looked very tired,” the proprietor declared later.
That was probably why she had another coffee, laced with a double portion of rum—after which she fumbled rather clumsily to get money out of her bag, and paid.
Jussiaume, the policeman, saw her coming back down the street, walking even more hesitantly than on the way up. As she drew level, she caught sight of him through the darkness, turned to face him, and said:
“I want to make a statement at the police station.”
“That’s easy,” he replied. “You know where it is.”
It was almost opposite, behind Picratt’s, as it were—in the Rue de La Rochefoucauld. From where they were standing they could both see the blue lantern above the door, and the cycle patrol’s bicycles propped against the wall.
At first he thought she wouldn’t go. Then he saw her crossing the road, and she vanished into the building.
It was half past four when she walked into the ill-lit office, where Sergeant Simon was alone except for one young policeman. She said again:
“I want to make a statement.”
“Go ahead,” replied Simon good-naturedly. He had been twenty years in the district and was used to this kind of thing.
The girl was heavily made-up, and the various ingredients had run into each other a bit. She wore a black satin dress under her imitation mink coat. She swayed slightly as she stood clutching the bar which separated the policemen from the public part of the office.
“It’s about a crime.”
“There’s been a crime committed?”
There was a big electric clock on the wall, and she looked at it as though the position of the hands might be significant.
“I don’t know whether it’s
“Then it isn’t a crime,” said the sergeant, with a wink at his subordinate.
“But it probably will be committed. In fact it’s certain to be.”
“Who told you?”
She seemed to be laboriously following some train of thought.
“The two men, just now.”
“What two men?”
“Clients. I work at Picratt’s.”
“I knew I’d seen you somewhere. You do the nude act, don’t you?”
The sergeant had never set foot inside Picratt’s, but he went past the place every morning and every evening, and he had noticed an enlarged photograph of this girl displayed outside, with smaller photos of the other two.
“So some clients have been talking to you about a crime—just like that?”
“Not to me.”
“Who to, then?”
“They were discussing it together.”
“And you were listening?”
“Yes. I didn’t hear it all. They were on the other side of a partition.”
Sergeant Simon understood this point, too. When he went past the place while the cleaners were at work, the door would be open, and he could see a dark room with red curtains and upholstery, a gleaming dance-floor, and all along the walls, tables separated by partitions.
“Go on. When was this?”
“To-night. About two hours ago. Yes, it must have been two o’clock. I’d only been on once for my act.”
“What did the two visitors say?”
“The oldest said he was going to kill the Countess.”
“I don’t know.”
“Weren’t they afraid you’d overhear them?”
“They didn’t know I was there.”
“Were you alone?”
“No. With another client.”
“Someone you know?”
“His first name’s Albert: I don’t know his surname.”
“Did he hear them too?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Why shouldn’t he have heard?”
“Because he was holding my hands and talking to me.”
“While you listened to what was being said on the other side of the partition? Can you remember the actual words?”
“Are you drunk?”
“I’ve had a drop, but I know what I’m saying.”
“Do you drink like this every night?”
“Not so much.”
“Were you drinking with Albert?”
“We had just one bottle of champagne. I didn’t want to let him in for a lot of expense.”
“He isn’t rich, then?”
“He’s only young.”
“In love with you?”
“Yes. Wants me to throw up the job.”
“So you were with him when the two chaps came in and sat down in the next box?”
“You didn’t get a look at them?”
“I saw them from behind, later on, as they were leaving.”
“Did they stay long?”
“About half an hour.”
“Did they drink champagne with the other girls?”
“No. I think they ordered brandy.”
“And they began at once to talk about the Countess?”
“Not at once. I wasn’t paying attention, to begin with. The first thing I heard was something like this:
“‘You see, she’s still got most of her jewellery, but at the rate she’s going it won’t last long.’ ”
“What was the voice like?”
“A man’s voice. A middle-aged man. When they went out I saw one of them was short, stumpy, and grey-haired. It must have been him.”
“Because the other was younger, and it wasn’t a young man’s voice.”
“How was he dressed?”
“I didn’t notice. I think he had a dark suit—black, perhaps.”
“They’d left their overcoats in the cloakroom?”
“I suppose so.”
“So he said the Countess still had some of her jewels, but at the rate she was going they wouldn’t last long?”
“What did he say about killing her?”
The girl was really very young, though she did her best to seem a lot older than her real age. Sometimes, for an instant, she looked like a little girl on the verge of panic. At such moments she fixed her eyes on the clock, as though that helped her to think. She was swaying to and fro, almost imperceptibly. She must be very tired. The Sergeant noticed a slight smell of perspiration from her armpits, mingling with the scent of cosmetics.
“What did he say about killing her?” he asked again.
“I can’t remember. Don’t rush me. I wasn’t alone, I couldn’t listen all the time.”
“Albert was cuddling you?”
“No, just holding my hands. The older man said something like: ‘I’ve decided to finish it tonight.’ ”
“That doesn’t mean he’s going to kill her, though. It might mean he’s going to steal her jewels. Or perhaps she owes him money and he’s decided to have her up.”
“No,” said the girl stubbornly.
“How can you tell?”
“Because that’s not it.”
“He definitely spoke of killing her?”
“I’m certain that’s what he meant to do. I don’t remember the exact words.”
“You couldn’t possibly have misunderstood?”
“And that was two hours ago?”
“A little more.”
“And knowing a man was going to commit a crime, you waited all this time to come and tell us about it?”
“I was upset. I couldn’t leave Picratt’s before it closed. Alfonsi’s very strict about that.”
“Even if you’d explained why?”
“He’d only have told me to mind my own business, I expect.”
“Try to remember just what was said. “
“They didn’t say much, and I couldn’t hear it all. There was music going on. And then Tania came to do her act.”
For the last few minutes the sergeant had been making notes—but in an off-hand way, as though not really convinced.
“Do you know any Countess?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Is there one who comes to the joint?”
“Not many women come. I never heard it said that one of them was a Countess.”
“You didn’t manage to get a proper look at the men?”
“I didn’t dare. I was scared.”
“Scared of what?”
“That they’d guess I’d overheard them.”
“What names did they call each other by?”
“I didn’t notice. I think one of them was called Oscar, but I’m not sure. I think I’ve had too much to drink. My head aches. I’d like to go to bed now. If I’d known you weren’t going to believe me, I wouldn’t have come.”
“Go and sit down. “
“Mayn’t I go home?”
He pointed to a bench that stood against the wall, below the black and white sheets of official announcements.
Then, at once, he called her back.
“What’s your name?”
“I mean your real name. Got your identity card?”
She took the card out of her bag and handed it to him. He read aloud: ‘Jeanne-Marie-Marcelle Leleu, aged 24, born at Moulins, dancer, 42 ter., Rue Notre-Dame de Lorette, Paris.’
“So your name isn’t Arlette?”
“That’s my stage name.”
“Ever been on the stage?”
“Not in a proper theatre.”
He shrugged his shoulders and gave her back her card, after copying out the particulars.
“Go and sit down.”
Then, murmuring to his subordinate to keep an eye on her, he went into the next room, where he could telephone without being overheard, and rang up the central emergency service.
“That you, Louis? This is Simon, at La Rochefoucauld Station. There hasn’t been a Countess murdered tonight, by any chance?”
“Why a Countess?”
“I don’t know. It’s probably a cock-and-bull story. The girl seems a bit cracked, and in any case she’s as tight as they come. Makes out she heard two chaps planning to bump off a Countess—a Countess who has jewels.”
“News to me. Nothing’s come in.”
“If anything of the kind turns up, let me know.”
They chatted on for a time about this and that. When Simon got back to the outer office, Arlette had fallen asleep, as though in a station waiting-room. The resemblance was so striking that he even glanced automatically down at the floor, looking for a suitcase beside her feet.
At seven o’clock, when Jacquart arrived to take over from Sergeant Simon, Arlette was still asleep, and Simon explained the situation to his colleague. He noticed she was waking up just as he left, but he preferred not to wait.