Authors: Georges Simenon
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
“I must go and get ready for my act,” sighed Betty. “Don’t expect anything wonderful. It’s good enough for that lot, anyhow—all they want is to look at legs!”
The orchestra had started a rumba, and Maigret beckoned to Tania, who had come down from the platform. Fred nodded to her to accept the invitation.
“You want to speak to me?”
In spite of her name she had no trace of a Russian accent, and Maigret soon discovered that she had been born in the Rue Mouffetard.
“Sit down and tell me what you know about Arlette.”
“We weren’t particularly friendly.”
“Because she put on airs and I didn’t like it.”
The words came out with decision. This was a girl with a very good opinion of herself, and she was not in the least intimidated by Maigret.
“Did you quarrel?”
“We didn’t even go that far.”
“Did you never speak to each other?”
“As seldom as possible. She was jealous.”
“Of me. She couldn’t admit that anyone else could be in the very least interesting. She thought she was the only person in the world. I don’t like that sort of thing. She couldn’t even dance—never had a lesson in her life. All she could do was take her clothes off, and if she hadn’t shown them everything she had to show, her act would have had nothing to it at all.”
“You’re a dancer?”
“I was taking ballet lessons before I was twelve.”
“And is that the kind of dancing you do here?”
“No. Here I do Russian folk dances.”
“Did Arlette have a lover?”
“Certainly she did; but she must have felt he was nothing to be proud of, so she never mentioned him. All I know is, he was old.”
“How do you know that?”
“We all undress together, upstairs. Several times I’ve seen bruises on her. She’d try to hide them with a coat of cream, but I have sharp eyes.”
“Did you ask her about them?”
“Once. She told me she’d fallen downstairs. But she can’t have fallen downstairs every week. And when I noticed the position of the bruises, I understood. Only old men have those nasty habits.”
“When did you first notice this?”
“At least six months ago, almost as soon as I began to work here.”
“And it went on?”
“I didn’t look at her every night, but I often noticed bruises. Anything else you want to ask me? It’s time I went back to the piano.”
As soon as she had taken her seat again, the lights went out, a spotlight was turned on the dance-floor, and Betty Bruce bounded into the middle of it. Behind him, Maigret could hear men’s voices trying to speak French, and a woman’s voice teaching them how to say ‘
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi
?’ They were laughing and repeating, one after another, ‘
Fred came across without a word, his shirt-front glimmering through the darkness, and sat down opposite Maigret. Betty Bruce, keeping approximate time to the music, stretched one leg straight in the air and hopped abqut on the other foot, her tights clinging closely to her body and a strained smile on her face. Then she let herself fall to the floor, doing the splits.
hen his wife woke him with his morning coffee, Maigret’s first thought was that he had not had enough sleep and that his head was aching. Then, opening his eyes wide, he wondered why his wife was looking so brisk, as though she had a delightful surprise for him.
“Look!” she said, as soon as his rather shaky hands had grasped the cup.
She drew back the curtain, and he saw that it was snowing outside.
He was pleased, of course; but there was a muddy taste in his mouth which indicated that he must have had more to drink than he had realized at the time. That was probably because Désiré, the waiter, had opened the bottle of champagne that was only supposed to be there for show, and he had poured himself some, without thinking, between two glasses of brandy.
“I don’t know if it will settle, but anyhow it’s more cheerful than the rain.”
Maigret didn’t very much care whether it settled or not. He liked every kind of weather—especially the extreme kinds, which were reported in the papers next day—torrential rain, hurricanes, bitter cold, or scorching heat. He liked snow, too, because it reminded him of his childhood; but he wondered how his wife could find it cheerful in Paris—especially that morning. The sky was even heavier than on the previous day, and against the white snow, the black, shiny roofs looked still blacker, the houses still more drab and dirty, and the curtains at most of the windows still dingier than usual.
It took him some time, while eating his breakfast and getting dressed, to sort out his memories of the night before. He had not had much sleep. He had stayed at Picratt’s till it closed—that was at least half past four—and then he had felt he ought to imitate Arlette by calling at the
in the Rue de Douai for a final glass.
He would have been hard put to it to give a brief summary of what he had found out. For long periods he had sat alone in his box, puffing slowly at his pipe and gazing at the dance-floor or the clients, in that strange light which made everything look unreal.
As a matter of fact, he reflected, he could have left earlier: he had stayed on, partly out of indolence and partly because it amused him to watch the people, and the behaviour of Fred, Rose, and the girls.
They made up a little world of their own, seeing practically nothing of the life that ordinary people lived. Désiré, the two musicians, and the rest of them went to bed just as the alarm clocks were beginning to ring in most houses, and they slept through the greater part of the day. Arlette had led that life not really waking up till she came into the reddish glow of Picratt’s lamps, and seeing hardly anyone except the men who came there, who had had too much to drink and been brought in by the Grasshopper as they left other joints.
Maigret had watched Betty who, aware of his attention, responded by showing off her whole bag of tricks—with a sly wink at him every now and then.
Two clients had come in about three o’clock, when she had finished her act and gone upstairs to dress. They were already well lit up, and as the place was rather too quiet at the moment, Fred had vanished into the kitchen—evidently to call Betty back at once.
She had gone through her dance again—this time entirely for the benefit of the newcomers, waving her leg in the air right in front of their noses and ending up with a kiss on the bald pate of one of them. Before going away to change she sat on the other man’s knee and took a sip of champagne from his glass.
Was that how Arlette went on? She was probably more subtle in her methods.
The men spoke a little French, but not much. Betty kept repeating to them: ‘
Cinq minutes…Cinq minutes…Moi revenir
…” and holding up the fingers of one hand. She did come back a few minutes later, wearing her spangled dress, and called to Désiré of her own accord to bring another bottle.
Tania, meanwhile, was busy with a solitary client whose gloom deepened as he drank; he held her by one bare knee and was no doubt confiding his conjugal misfortunes to her at great length.
The two Dutchmen’s hands moved to and fro, but never let go of Betty. They were laughing loudly, their faces growing gradually redder, and bottles were arriving at their table in rapid succession. Once emptied, these bottles were put under the table, and Maigret finally realized that some of them had already been empty when they were brought. That was the trick—as Fred’s glance admitted.
Maigret had got up once and gone to the cloakroom. There was a lobby here, with brushes, combs, and powder and rouge laid out on a shelf, and Rose had followed him in.
“I’ve remembered something that may perhaps help you,” she said. “It was seeing you come in here that reminded me. It’s usually here that the girls get talking to me, while they’re doing themselves up. Arlette was no chatterbox, but she did tell me a few things about herself, and I guessed others.”
She offered him soap and a clean towel.
“She certainly didn’t come from the same class as the rest of us. She never talked about her family to me, or to anyone else so far as I know, but she several times mentioned the convent where she had been to school.”
“Do you remember what she said?”
“If anyone spoke about some woman being harsh and unkind—especially about the sort of woman who puts on a good-natured air to cover her mean ways, Arlette would say softly:
That’s like Mother Eudice
“And one could tell she spoke from unhappy memories. I asked her who Mother Eudice was, and she said she was the person she hated most in all the world, and she had done her the most harm. She was the Mother Superior of the convent, and she’d taken a dislike to Arlette. I remember the girl once said:
I’d have gone to the bad if it was only to spite her
“She never told you what convent it was?”
“No, but it can’t have been far from the sea, because she often talked in a way that showed she’d lived by the seaside as a child.”
Funnily enough, all the time she was talking, Rose was treating Maigret like a client, automatically brushing his coat-collar and shoulders.
“I believe she hated her mother, too. That was less definite, but it’s the sort of thing a woman notices. One evening there were some real swells here, doing the rounds in style—including a Cabinet Minister’s wife who really did look like a great lady. She seemed depressed and absent-minded; took no interest in the show, drank very little, and hardly listened to what the others were saying.
“I knew all about her, and I said to Arlette—in here, as usual, while she was doing up her face:
“It’s brave of her to go about like this—she’s been having all kinds of trouble lately.”
“At which Arlette said, with a sneer:
“I distrust people who’ve had troubles, especially women. They make that an excuse for trampling on other people.”
“It’s only a hunch, but I’d swear she was thinking of her mother. She never spoke of her father—if that subject came up, she’d turn her head away.
“That’s all I can tell you. I always thought she was a girl from a good family, who’d kicked over the traces. They’re the worst of all, that kind, and that would explain a lot that seems mysterious.”
“You mean her obsession about attracting men?”
“Yes. And the way she set about it. I’m no infant in arms myself. I did the same job at one time, and worse, as you probably know. But not the way she did. That’s why there’s nobody to take her place. The genuine ones, the professionals, never put so much energy into it. Look at them. Even when they let themselves go you can feel they’re not really enjoying it.”
Fred came across to Maigret’s table every now and then and sat down for a few words with him. On each of these occasions Désiré brought them glasses of brandy and water, but Maigret noticed that the liquid in Fred’s glass was always the paler of the two. As he drank his own he thought of Arlette and Lapointe, sitting together in this same box on the previous evening.
Inspector Lognon would deal with the Countess, in whom Maigret felt little or no interest. He had known too many women of that kind—middle-aged, nearly always on their own, nearly always with a brilliant past life, who took to drugs and sank rapidly into utter degradation. There were probably a couple of hundred of them in Montmartre, and several dozen, slightly higher in the social scale, in comfortable flats in Passy and Auteuil.
It was Arlette who interested him, because he had not yet managed to place her, or to understand her completely. “Hot stuff, was she?” he asked Fred at one moment.
Fred replied, with a shrug:
“Oh, I don’t bother much about the girls, you know. It’s quite true what my wife told you yesterday. I go to join them in the kitchen, or upstairs while they’re changing. I don’t ask them what they think about it, and the whole thing passes over very quickly.”
“You never met her outside this place?”
“In the street?”
“No. I mean, did you never make a date with her?”
He had the impression that Fred hesitated, glancing towards the far end of the room, where his wife was sitting.
“No,” he said at last.
He was lying. That was the first thing Maigret discovered on arriving at the Quai des Orfèvres next morning (he was late and missed the report). The atmosphere in the Inspectors’ office was lively. Maigret began by telephoning to the Chief, to apologize and to say that he would come along as soon as he had heard what his men had to say.
When he rang, Janvier and young Lapointe came hurrying to his door in a neck-and-neck race.
“Janvier first,” he decided. “I’ll call you presently, Lapointe.”
Janvier looked as knocked-up as Maigret himself, and had obviously spent part of the night in the streets.
“I was rather expecting you to look in on me at Picratt’s.”
“I meant to. But the farther I went, the busier I got. In fact I haven’t been to bed at all.”
Janvier took from his pocket a paper covered with notes.
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. I called at practically every small hotel between the Rue Châteaudun and the Montmartre boulevards, and showed the girl’s photograph in all of them. Some of the proprietors pretended not to recognize her, or tried to dodge the question.”
“And the result?”
“She was known at at least ten of these hotels.”
“Did you try to find out whether she’d often been there with the same man?”
“That was the point I pushed hardest of all. Apparently she hadn’t. It was usually about four or five o’clock in the morning when she turned up, and the men she brought were well loaded—probably clients from Picratt’s.”
“Used she to stay long with them?”
“Never more than an hour or two.”
“Did you discover whether she took money from them?”
“When I asked that, the hotel-keepers looked at me as though I was cracked. She went twice to the Moderne with a greasy-haired young man who was carrying a saxophone case.”
“That’d be Jean-Jean, the musician from the night club.”