Maigret, Lognon and the Gangsters, page 1
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Maigret, Lognon and the Gangsters
Translated by WILLIAM HOBSON
Maigret, Lognon and the Gangsters
‘Extraordinary masterpieces of the twentieth century’
– John Banville
‘A brilliant writer’
– India Knight
‘Intense atmosphere and resonant detail . . . make Simenon’s fiction remarkably like life’
– Julian Barnes
‘A truly wonderful writer . . . marvellously readable – lucid, simple, absolutely in tune with the world he creates’
– Muriel Spark
‘Few writers have ever conveyed with such a sure touch, the bleakness of human life’
– A. N. Wilson
‘Compelling, remorseless, brilliant’
– John Gray
‘A writer of genius, one whose simplicity of language creates indelible images that the florid stylists of our own day can only dream of’
– Daily Mail
‘The mysteries of the human personality are revealed in all their disconcerting complexity’
– Anita Brookner
‘One of the greatest writers of our time’
– The Sunday Times
‘I love reading Simenon. He makes me think of Chekhov’
– William Faulkner
‘One of the great psychological novelists of this century’
‘The greatest of all, the most genuine novelist we have had in literature’
– André Gide
‘Simenon ought to be spoken of in the same breath as Camus, Beckett and Kafka’
– Independent on Sunday
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Georges Simenon was born on 12 February 1903 in Liège, Belgium, and died in 1989 in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he had lived for the latter part of his life. Between 1931 and 1972 he published seventy-five novels and twenty-eight short stories featuring Inspector Maigret.
Simenon always resisted identifying himself with his famous literary character, but acknowledged that they shared an important characteristic:
My motto, to the extent that I have one, has been noted often enough, and I’ve always conformed to it. It’s the one I’ve given to old Maigret, who resembles me in certain points . . . ‘understand and judge not’.
Penguin is publishing the entire series of Maigret novels.
In which Maigret has to deal with Madame Lognon with her infirmities and her gangsters
‘All right . . . All right . . . Yes . . . Of course . . . Of course . . . I promise I’ll do everything I can. That’s right . . . Goodbye . . . What? . . . I said goodbye . . . No offence taken . . . Good day, monsieur . . .’
For what was probably the tenth time, although he had given up counting, Maigret hung up the telephone, relit his pipe with a reproachful look at the long, cold rain falling outside his window and, grabbing his pen, bent over the report he had begun an hour earlier, which was still less than half a page long.
As he began writing again, he was actually thinking about something else. He was thinking about the rain, that particular rain before winter really sets in which has a way of getting down your neck and into your shoes, of sluicing off your hat in big drops, a rain for head colds, grimy and dreary, that makes people want to stay at home, where they linger at their windows like ghosts.
Is it boredom then that makes them ring up? Of the eight or ten telephone calls, more or less in succession, not even three were of any use. And now it was ringing again. Maigret looked at the telephone as if he wanted to smash it to pieces with his fist, then finally barked:
‘Madame Lognon insists on talking to you personally.’
In this weather, when he was already feeling exasperated, Maigret thought it must be a practical joke, suddenly hearing the name of the police officer nicknamed Inspector Hard-Done-By on the other end of the line: Lognon, the most lugubrious individual in the entire Parisian police force, a man whose bad luck was so proverbial some people claimed he was cursed.
It wasn’t even Lognon on the telephone but Madame Lognon. Maigret had only met her once, at their apartment on Place Constantin-Pecqueur in Montmartre, but since then he no longer bore the inspector any hard feelings. He still gave him a wide berth but now pitied him with all his heart.
‘Put her on . . . Hello, Madame Lognon?’
‘I apologize for disturbing you, detective chief inspector . . .’
She articulated every syllable in that affected way people do when they want to impress on you that they have received a good education. Maigret noted that it was Thursday, 19 November. The black marble clock on the mantelpiece showed eleven in the morning.
‘I wouldn’t have taken the liberty of insisting on speaking to you personally if I didn’t have a most urgent reason . . .’
‘You know us, my husband and I. You know that . . .’
‘I absolutely must see you, inspector. Horrible things are happening, and I’m frightened. If my health didn’t prevent me, I would rush straight to Quai des Orfèvres. But, as you know, I have been confined to this fifth floor of mine for years now.’
‘If I understand you correctly, you would like me to come there?’
‘Please will you, Monsieur Maigret?’
This was quite something. Her request was polite but firm.
‘Isn’t your husband at home?’
‘He has disappeared.’
‘What? Lognon’s disappeared? Since when?’
‘I don’t know. He’s not in his office, and no one knows where he is. The gangsters came back this morning.’
‘The gangsters. I’ll tell you everything. If Lognon is furious, then so be it. I am too frightened.’
‘Do you mean that people have been in your apartment?’
‘Did they force their way in?’
‘While you were there?’
‘Did they take anything?’
‘Possibly some papers. I haven’t been able to check.’
‘Did this happen this morning?’
‘Half an hour ago. But the other two had already come the day before yesterday.’
‘How did your husband react?’
‘I haven’t set eyes on him since.’
‘I’m on my way.’
Maigret wasn’t convinced. Not entirely. He scratched his head, chose a couple of pipes, which he slipped into his pocket, then half-opened the door to the inspectors’ office.
‘Anyone heard any news of Lognon lately?’
That name always brought a smile to everyone’s lips, but no, no one had heard anything about him. Despite his burning ambition to be part of Quai des Orfèvres, Inspector Lognon in fact belonged to the second district of the ninth arrondissement, and his office was in Rue de la Rochefoucauld station.
‘If anyone asks for me, I’ll be back in an hour. Is there a car downstairs?’
He put on his bulky overcoat, found a small police car in the courtyard and gave the address on Place Constantin-Pecq
The Lognons’ building was a nondescript, century-old apartment block without a lift. Maigret climbed the five storeys, sighing. Finally a door opened without his needing to knock, and Madame Lognon, her eyes and nose red, let him in, murmuring:
‘I am so grateful to you for coming! If you only knew how much my poor husband admires you.’
This wasn’t true. Lognon loathed him. Lognon loathed everyone who was lucky enough to work at Quai des Orfèvres, every detective chief inspector, every officer of a higher rank than him . . . He loathed the older officers for being older than him and the younger officers for their youth. He . . .
‘Sit down, inspector . . .’
She was short and thin, with messy hair, and she was wearing a flannel dressing gown in a hideous shade of mauve. There were dark rings under her eyes, her nostrils were pinched, and she constantly brought her hand to the left side of her chest like someone with a bad heart.
‘I thought it best not to touch anything, so you could see for yourself . . .’
The apartment was cramped: dining room, living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom, all so small the furniture prevented you from opening the doors completely. On the bed a black cat was curled into a ball.
Madame Lognon had shown Maigret into the dining room, and it was obvious the living room was never used. Rather than silver, the sideboard was full of papers, books and photographs, and its drawers had been ransacked. Letters were strewn across the floor.
‘I think,’ he said, unsure whether to light his pipe, ‘that you’d better begin at the beginning. You mentioned gangsters just now on the telephone.’
By way of introduction, she said in the resigned tones of the long-suffering:
‘You may smoke your pipe.’
‘You see, since Tuesday morning . . .’
‘That’s to say, the day before yesterday?’
‘Yes. This week Lognon is on night shift. On Tuesday morning he came home just after six o’clock, as usual. But instead of going to bed straight after a bite to eat, he paced around the apartment for over an hour until I felt dizzy.’
‘Did he seem worried?’
‘You know how conscientious he is, inspector. I am always telling him he is too conscientious: he is ruining his health, and no one ever shows him a blind bit of gratitude for it. Forgive me for speaking so frankly, but you must admit that he has never been treated as he deserves. All he thinks about is his work, he worries himself sick . . .’
‘So, on Tuesday morning . . .’
‘At eight, he went to the market to do the shopping. I am ashamed to be no better than a helpless woman, practically good for nothing, but it isn’t my fault. The doctor has forbidden me to use the stairs, and so of course Lognon has to buy what we need. It’s no job for a man like him, I know. Every time, I . . .’
‘On Tuesday morning . . .?’
‘He did the shopping. Then he told me that he had to go to the office, that he probably wouldn’t be long and that he would have a sleep in the afternoon.’
‘Did he talk about the case he was working on?’
‘He never does that. If I ever make the mistake of asking him about it, he’ll say he is bound by professional confidentiality.’
‘Did he come back afterwards?’
‘Yes, around eleven.’
‘The same day?’
‘Yes. Tuesday, around eleven in the morning.’
‘Was he still on edge?’
‘I don’t know if he was on edge or if it was his cold, because he had caught a head cold. I insisted he took something. He told me he would take something later, when he had time, that now he had to go out again, but that he would be back before dinner.’
‘Did he come home?’
‘Wait. My God, I’ve suddenly thought of something! What if I never see him again? And to think of how I reproached him, telling him that he didn’t care about his wife, only his work . . .’
Maigret waited with a resigned air, perched awkwardly on a chair with an uncomfortably straight back, which was too flimsy for him to dare tip back.
‘Maybe a quarter of an hour after he left, or perhaps not even that, around one o’clock, I heard footsteps on the stairs. I assumed they were going up to her on the sixth floor, a woman who, between ourselves . . .’
‘Yes. Footsteps on the stairs . . .’
‘They stopped on my landing. I had just gone back to bed, as the doctor ordered me to do after meals. There was a knock on the door, which I didn’t answer. Lognon has advised me never to answer when people don’t say who they are. You can’t do the sort of work he does without having enemies, can you? I was amazed when I heard the door opening, then footsteps in the hall, then in the dining room. There were two of them, two men who looked into the bedroom and saw me, still in bed.’
‘Could you get a good look at them?’
‘I told them to go away, threatened to call the police. I even reached out a hand to the telephone, which is on the bedside table.’
‘One of the two, the shorter one, showed me his gun, saying something in a language I didn’t understand, probably English.’
‘What did they look like?’
‘I don’t know how to put it. They were very well dressed. Both of them were smoking cigarettes. They had kept their hats on. They seemed surprised not to find something or someone.
‘“If it is my husband you want to see . . .” I started.
‘But they weren’t listening. The taller one went round the apartment, while the other watched me. I remember that they looked under the bed, in the wardrobes.’
‘They didn’t search the chest of drawers?’
‘Those two didn’t, no. They barely stayed five minutes, didn’t ask me anything, then quietly left as if their visit was perfectly normal. Of course, I rushed to the window and I saw them talking on the pavement next to a big black car. The taller one got in, and the other walked to the corner of Rue Caulaincourt, where I think he went into the bar. I immediately rang my husband’s office.’
‘Was he there?’
‘Yes. He had just arrived. I told him what had happened.’
‘Did he seem surprised?’
‘It is hard to say. He always sounds strange on the telephone.’
‘Did he ask you to describe the two men?’
‘Yes. I did.’
‘Do so again.’
‘They were both very dark, like Italians, but I’m sure what they were speaking wasn’t Italian. I think the one in charge was the tall one – a handsome man, I must say, just a shade overweight, in his forties. He looked as if he had come straight from the barber’s.’
‘And the short one?’
‘Coarser, with a broken nose and boxer’s ears and a gold front tooth. He was wearing a pearl-grey hat and a grey coat, the other one a brand new camel hair coat.’
‘Did your husband come straight home?’
‘Didn’t he send anyone from the local station?’
‘He didn’t do that either. He told me I wasn’t to worry, even if he didn’t come home for a few days. I asked him what I would do for food, and he said that he would take care of it.’
‘Yes. The following morning, the local shops delivered what I needed. They came by again this morning.’
‘Did you hear from Lognon yesterday, during the day?’
‘He telephoned me twice.’
‘Once, around nine o’clock.’
‘Do you know where he called you from?’
‘No. He never tells me where he is. I don’t know how the other inspectors are with their wives, but he . . .’
‘Let’s move on to this morning’s visit.’
‘Just after ten. I didn’t look at the alarm clock. Perhaps ten thirty.’
‘Was it the same men?’
‘There was only one, and I had never seen him before. He did not knock, just marched straight in as if he had a key. Perhaps he used a master key? I was in the kitchen, peeling my vegetables. I got up from my chair and saw him in the doorway.
‘“Don’t move,” he said to me. “Whatever you do, don’t scream. I’m not going to hurt you.”’
‘Did he have an accent?’
‘Yes. He made some mistakes in his French. This one looked like a typical American, I’m sure: tall, with blond, almost red, hair and broad shoulders, and he was chewing gum. He looked around curiously, as if it was the first time he had seen a Parisian apartment. The moment he glanced in the sitting room, he spotted the certificate Lognon was awarded for twenty-five years’ service.’
The certificate, enclosed in a black wooden frame with gold inlay, had Lognon’s name and rank written in round hand.
‘“A cop, eh,” the man said to me. “Where is he?”
‘I said that I didn’t know, which did not seem to bother him in the slightest. Then he started opening drawers, going through the papers and throwing them back any old how, so that they sometimes fell on the floor. He found a photograph of the two of us taken fifteen years ago. He looked up at me, nodding his head, then put the photo in his pocket.’
‘Basically, he didn’t seem to be expecting that your husband would be in the police?’
‘He wasn’t particularly surprised, but I’m convinced that he didn’t know when he got here.’
‘Did he ask you what unit he was in?’
‘He asked me where he could find him. I said I had no idea, my husband never talked to me about his work.’
‘He didn’t push it?’
‘He kept on reading whatever he could get his hands on.’
‘Was your husband’s police accreditation in the drawer?’
‘Yes. The man put some of the documents in his pocket with the photo. Then he found a bottle of calvados on the top shelf of the sideboard and poured himself a large glass.’
Other author's books:
- Maigret Defends HimselfMaigret and the Saturday CallerMaigret and the TrampMaigret's AngerMaigret and the GhostMaigret and the Nahour CaseMaigret and the Old PeopleMaigret and the Good People of Montparnasse
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