Romeo and Juliet
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Georges Simenon


SIGNED, PICPUS

Translated by David Coward

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Contents

1. Did Picpus Lie?

2. The Sweating Man

3. The Girl in the Red Hat

4. Monsieur Blaise Catches Two Pike

5. A Man Complains

6. Maigret Discovers Picpus

7. The Inspector Says Nothing

8. Madame Le Cloaguen’s Revenge

9. The Night of Onion Soup

10. The Honest Dishonest Man

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PENGUIN CLASSICS
SIGNED, PICPUS

‘I love reading Simenon. He makes me think of Chekhov’

– William Faulkner

‘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

‘One of the greatest writers of the twentieth century … Simenon was unequalled at making us look inside, though the ability was masked by his brilliance at absorbing us obsessively in his stories’

Guardian

‘A novelist who entered his fictional world as if he were part of it’

– Peter Ackroyd

‘The greatest of all, the most genuine novelist we have had in literature’

– André Gide

‘Superb … The most addictive of writers … A unique teller of tales’

Observer

‘The mysteries of the human personality are revealed in all their disconcerting complexity’

– Anita Brookner

‘A writer who, more than any other crime novelist, combined a high literary reputation with popular appeal’

– P. D. James

‘A supreme writer … Unforgettable vividness’

Independent

‘Compelling, remorseless, brilliant’

– John Gray

‘Extraordinary masterpieces of the twentieth century’

– John Banville

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.

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.

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1. Did Picpus Lie?

Three minutes to five. A white light flashes in the huge map of Paris which fills the whole of one wall. An operator puts down his sandwich, plugs a line jack into one of the myriad holes that is a telephone switchboard.

‘Hello? Is that the fourteenth arrondissement? … Has your bus left yet?’

Maigret, trying hard to look unconcerned, with the sun full on him, wipes his forehead. The operator mutters a few monosyllables, unplugs the jack, reaches for his sandwich and murmurs for the benefit of the detective chief inspector from the Police Judiciaire:

‘A Bercy!’

In the jargon, a ‘Bercy’ is a drunk. It is August. Paris reeks of tarmac. The noise from the Cité in the heart of Paris drifts in through the large, open windows into this room which is the nerve centre of the Police Emergency Service. Below, in the courtyard of the Préfecture de Police, two vans full of policemen are visible, ready to leave whenever the word is given.

Another light winks on, this time in the eighteenth arrondissement. Sausage sandwich down. Plug in.

‘Hello? … Ah, Gérard! … On duty? … What’s happening your end? … Right! … Fine! …’

Defenestration. It’s the method of choice of poor people who commit suicide, especially the old men and, oddly enough, especially in the eighteenth arrondissement. Maigret knocks out his pipe on the window-sill, refills it and glances up at the clock. Yes or no: has someone killed the clairvoyant?

The door opens. Sergeant Lucas, short, podgy, flustered. He wipes his brow too.

‘Still nothing, chief?’

Like Maigret, he has just walked across the boulevard which separates the headquarters of the Police Judiciaire from the Préfecture. A neighbourly call.

‘So, our man’s there …’

‘Mascouvin?’

‘He’s as pale as papier mâché. He’s insisting on talking to you. He’s saying suicide is the only way out left to him …’

Another light comes on. Maybe this is it? No … Just a brawl out at Saint-Ouen.

The phone rings. The commissioner of the Police Judiciaire, for the inspector.

‘Maigret? … Got something? … Anything? …’

The irony in his voice is audible. Maigret is getting angry. He is hot. He’d give anything for a freshly drawn beer. And for the first time in his life he is almost on the point of wanting a crime, the crime he is expecting, to happen. Absolutely! If the clairvoyant is not killed at exactly five o’clock or rather, as was written on the blotting-pad, ‘at five in the afternoon’, then he’ll have to put up with months of sarcastic smiles and jokes, some funnier than others.

‘Go and bring me Mascouvin.’

God knows but the man looks like a joker! He turned up the previous evening at the Police Judiciaire with gloom written all over him, and wouldn’t take no for an answer, his face twitching with a nervous tic, insisting loudly on speaking to Detective Chief Inspector Maigret in person.

‘It’s a matter of life and death!’ he said.

A small, thin man, rather dull to look at, neither young nor old, exuding the stale smell of a bachelor who does not look after himself. He pulls his fingers and cracks his knuckles while telling his tale, the way a schoolboy recites his lesson.

‘Fifteen years I’ve worked for Proud and Drouin, property dealers on Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle. I live alone in a two-roomed flat, 21, Place des Vosges … Every evening I go for a game of bridge in a club in Rue des Pyramides … For the last two months, I’ve been having a run of bad luck. I’ve lost all my savings … I owe the countess 800 francs …’

Maigret only half-listens, thinking that one half of the population of Paris is on holiday and that at that moment the other half is downing cold drinks under the awnings of pavement cafés. Who was this countess? Well, the sad little man explains. An upper-class lady who has been through hard times and set up a bridge club in Rue des Pyramides. A good-looking woman. It’s obvious: this small dull man is in love.

‘Today, at four o’clock, inspector, I took a thousand-franc note from my employers’ till.’

He could not have cut a more tragic figure if he’d wiped out an entire family. He continues with his confession, still cracking his fingers. After the offices of Proud and Drouin closed for the day, he wandered around the boulevards with the thousand-franc note in his pocket. He was racked by guilt. He walked into the Café des Sports at the corner of Place de la République and Boulevard Voltaire, where he usually has a lonely drink before his evening meal.

‘Can I have pen and paper, Nestor?’

For he called the waiter by his Christian name. Yes, he will write to his employers. He will confess everything and send the thousand-franc note back! His luck has deserted him for too long! He has been losing steadily for two months. The countess he silently adores only has eyes for a retired army captain and is always strict in making Mascouvin pay up what he owes her.

Surrounded by the bustling crowd, he stared at the blotting-pad which lay open in front of him. Mechanically, he had put his pince-nez down on the blotter and looked at it there with his large, short-sighted eyes. It was at that moment that the strange thing happened. One of the lenses, acting as a mirror, reflected the criss-cross, hatched ink marks which had dried on the blotter. Mascouvin made out the words: will kill … He looked more closely … The lens restored the original image:

Tomorrow, at five in the afternoon, I will kill …
Tomorrow, at five in the afternoon, I will kill the clairvoyant.
Signed, Picpus.

Five past five. The operator has had time to finish eating his sausage, which smells of garlic, for the white lights on the map of Paris have remained dormant. A sound of footsteps on the stairs. It is Lucas bringing sad little Mascouvin.

The previous evening, Maigret told him to go home, turn up for work as usual and put the thousand francs back where they belonged. As a precaution, Lucas had followed him. At about nine o’clock, Mascouvin was hanging around in Rue des Pyramides but did not go into the countess’s building. He spent the night at home in Place des Vosges. Next morning he went to his office and at midday ate his lunch in a cheap café on Boulevard Saint-Martin.

Then, at four thirty, when it was all getting too much for him, he suddenly left the sombre offices of Proud and Drouin and headed off towards Quai des Orfèvres.

‘I can’t stand it any more, inspector … I daren’t look my employers in the face … It seems like …’

‘Sit down … Don’t say anything …’

Eight minutes past five! A glorious sun lights up the teeming streets of Paris; the men are in shirt-sleeves and the women are almost naked under their light dresses. Meanwhile, the police are keeping watch on eighty-two clairvoyants, some more far-sighted than others.

‘You don’t think, Maigret, it could be a hoax?’

Lucas is worried about his chief, who stands to make himself a laughing-stock. A light goes in the third arrondissement.

‘Hello? … Right … Fine …’

The operator turns to Maigret and sighs:

‘Another Bercy … But it’s not Saturday …’

Mascouvin, unable to stop fidgeting and pulling his fingers, opens his mouth:

‘Excuse me, sir … I’d just like to say …’

‘Well don’t!’ snarls Maigret, shutting him up.

Come on, yes or no, is this Picpus going to make up his mind and kill himself a clairvoyant?

The light of the eighteenth arrondissement again.

‘Hello? … Detective Chief Inspector Maigret? … I’ll put him on …’

Maigret’s heart misses a beat as he grabs the receiver.

‘Hello … Yes … The station in Rue Damrémont? … Say again? … 67A, Rue Coulaincourt … Mademoiselle Jeanne? … A clairvoyant?’

His voice is loud and urgent. His face lights up.

‘Come on, look lively! … Lucas, take him back … You never know …’

Joseph Mascouvin, like a sleepwalker, the lugubrious kind of sleepwalker, follows the two men down the dusty stairs. A police car is waiting in the courtyard.

‘67A, Rue Coulaincourt … And step on it …’

On the way, Maigret flicks through the list of clairvoyants and fortune-tellers which had been drawn up the evening before. He had ordered a discreet watch to be kept on them … Of course, Mademoiselle Jeanne’s name is not on it! …

‘Faster!’

And now this clown Mascouvin asks timidly:

‘Is she dead?’

For a moment, Maigret wonders if he is as simple-minded as he looks. He’ll find out sooner or later!

‘Gun?’ whispers Lucas.

‘Knife.’

There is no need to look at the numbers on the houses. Just opposite Place Constantin-Pecqueur, a small crowd identifies the house where the crime has just occurred.

‘Shall I wait for you?’ stammers Mascouvin.

‘Come inside with us … Come along! Keep up!’

The uniformed policemen give way to let Maigret and Sergeant Lucas through.

‘Fifth floor. On your right.’

No lift. The house is clean, quite comfortable. Tenants out on the landings, all as it should be. On the fifth floor, the police chief in charge of the eighteenth arrondissement precinct holds out his hand to Maigret.

‘Come in … It’s only just happened … Stroke of luck that we were informed so soon, as you’ll see.’

They walk into virtually full sunlight. The small living room has a bay window, now wide open, which leads out to a balcony with a view over the city. The room is daintily stylish, hushed, with light-coloured curtains, Louis XVI armchairs, tasteful curios and knick-knacks. A local doctor straightens up.

‘There’s nothing I can do … The second thrust of the knife was the one that killed her …’

The room is too small for the number of people now in it. After filling his pipe, Maigret takes off his jacket and reveals a pair of mauve braces which his wife bought for him the previous week. The police chief smiles at the sight of the braces, which, even more extravagantly, are made of silk. Maigret scowls.

‘So? … What have you got? … I haven’t got all day …’

‘Well. I haven’t had time to gather much information, not least because the concierge isn’t the chatty sort. You have to dig words out of her, like pulling teeth … A Mademoiselle Jeanne, real name Marie Picard, born Bayeux …’

Maigret has raised the sheet which has been thrown over the body. Fine-looking woman, and no mistake. Fortyish. Well upholstered, well groomed, hair blonde but maybe not naturally so?

‘She wasn’t registered as a medium and didn’t advertise. But she had regular customers, most of them quite well-heeled apparently, who used to come here to consult her …’

‘How many clients did she see this afternoon?’

‘The concierge, Madame Baffoin, Eugénie Baffoin, doesn’t know. She reckons it’s none of her business. Says not all concierges are as nosy as they are made out to be. At a few minutes after five, this lady here …’

A small, brisk woman, also middle-aged, gets to her feet. The hat she is wearing is a touch ridiculous. She explains:

‘I knew Mademoiselle Jeanne. She used to come down to Morsang sometimes for a few days. Do you know Morsang? … It’s on the Seine, just upstream from Corbeil, where the dam is … I run the inn there, the Beau Pigeon … Isidore had been out fishing, he caught some fine tench, and since I was coming to Paris anyway, I thought …’

The tench, wrapped in green leaves, still fresh, are there, in a basket.

‘Well, I knew she’d be pleased, for she did like her fish …’

‘Had you known Mademoiselle Jeanne long?’

‘Maybe five years or so? … One time she stayed with us for a month …’

‘Alone?’

‘What do you take her for? … Anyway, I popped in here while I was doing my shopping … The door wasn’t shut … Being as it was half open, I called: “Mademoiselle Jeanne! … It’s just me, Madame Roy …” Then, since there was no answer, I came in … She was sitting at that little table, bent over. Tell the truth, I thought she was sleeping … I put my hand out to shake her and …’

So at about seven minutes past five, Mademoiselle Jeanne, a clairvoyant, was already dead from two stab wounds in the back.

‘Has the weapon been found?’ asks Maigret, turning to the police chief.

‘No.’

‘Any furniture broken?’

‘Nothing … No signs of a struggle … It doesn’t seem as if the murderer went into the bedroom … This way …’

He opens a door. The bedroom is as cheerful as the living room. A genuine boudoir, all light colours. The nest of a flirtatious woman who likes her comfort.

‘And you say the concierge …’

‘Claims she doesn’t know anything … Madame Roy went down to the bar next door to phone us. We found her waiting downstairs, by the door. There’s just one detail … Hold on, here’s the locksmith I sent for … In here, please … Open this door, would you?’

Maigret happens to look up and sees Mascouvin sitting on the edge of his chair. The clerk from Proud and Drouin says:

‘I feel as if my heart’s giving out, inspector …’

‘That’s too bad!’

Later, when the people from the prosecutor’s office and the specialist team from Criminal Records show up, it will get a lot worse! If only Maigret had time for a beer in the Café Manière!

‘As you can see,’ the police chief is telling him, ‘the apartment has this living room, a rustic-style dining room there, the bedroom, a box-room and …’

He nods towards a door where the locksmith is at work.

‘I assume it’s the kitchen …’

A master-key turns in the lock. The door opens.

‘Huh! … What are you doing in there? … Who are you? …’

It’s so unexpected it’s almost comic. In a small, spotlessly neat kitchenette, where no plates or dirty glasses have been left lying about, what is revealed but an old man perched on the edge of the table, solemnly waiting.

‘Speak up! … What are you doing here?’

The elderly gent stares in bewilderment at the two men who are challenging him and finds nothing to say. The oddest thing is that in the middle of August he is enveloped in a greenish overcoat. His cheeks are hidden by an ill-kempt beard. He looks away, his shoulders droop.

‘How long have you been here, in this kitchen?’

He concentrates, as if he hasn’t quite understood, then takes out his pocket-watch and opens the front.

‘Forty minutes,’ he says eventually.

‘So that means you were here at five o’clock?’

‘I got here before that …’

‘Were you here when the crime was committed?’

‘What crime?’

He is hard of hearing and leans his head towards his interrogator the way deaf people do.

‘You mean you don’t know that …’

The sheet over the corpse is lifted. The old man stares in amazement and stands rooted to the spot.

‘Well?’

He does not answer. He wipes his eyes. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s crying, for Maigret has already observed that his eyes were watery to start with.

‘What were you doing in the kitchen?’

He stares at them again. It’s as if words have no meaning for him.

‘How is it that you were locked inside the kitchen?’ he is asked again. ‘The key wasn’t on the inside. It isn’t outside either …’

‘I don’t know …’ he whispers quietly, like a child who’s afraid of getting the stick.

‘What don’t you know?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Have you got any papers?’

He searches through his pockets, awkwardly, wipes his eyes again, sniffles, and finally hands over a wallet with initials on it picked out in silver. The police chief and Maigret exchange looks.

Is this old man really senile or is he acting a role and doing it to perfection? From the wallet, Maigret takes out an identity card and reads it aloud.

‘Octave Le Cloaguen, retired ship’s doctor, age: sixty-eight, 13, Boulevard des Batignolles, Paris.’

‘Clear the room!’ Maigret barks suddenly.

Joseph Mascouvin gets meekly to his feet.

‘Not you … Stay here, dammit! … And sit down!’

It is literally stifling for the ten or fifteen people in this doll-sized flat.

‘You sit down too, Monsieur Le Cloaguen! … And you can begin by telling me what you were doing in this house.’

Le Cloaguen gives a start. He has heard the sound of the words but has not understood their meaning. Maigret repeats his question and is obliged to shout.

‘Oh, yes! … Sorry … I’d come …’

‘To do what?’

‘To see her …’ he stammered, motioning to the body under the sheet.

‘You wanted to know what the future has in store for you?’

No reply.

‘Tell me, were you, yes or no, one of her clients? …’

‘Yes … I’d come …’

‘And what happened?’

‘I was sitting here … Yes, on this gilt chair … Someone knocked on the door … Like this …’

He goes to the door. It seems possible that he intends to run off. But no, it’s only to knock in a particular, jerky way.

‘Then, she said …’

‘All right, tell us … What did she say?’

‘She said: “Quick, in here!” … and she pushed me into the kitchen …’

‘Was she the one who locked you in?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘What happened then?’

‘Nothing … I sat on the table … The window was open … I looked out into the street …’

‘After that?’

‘After that, nothing … A lot of people came … I didn’t think I should show my face …’

He speaks quietly, slowly, almost ruefully and then suddenly asks a very unexpected question:

‘You wouldn’t have any tobacco on you?’

‘Cigarette?’

‘Tobacco.’

‘You smoke a pipe?’

Maigret holds out his pouch. Le Cloaguen takes a twist of tobacco and puts it in his mouth with visible satisfaction.

‘There’s no point telling my wife …’

Meanwhile, Lucas has been searching the flat. Maigret knows exactly what he is looking for.

‘Well?’

‘Nothing, sir … The key to the kitchen isn’t anywhere here … I also asked an officer to go down and take a look around in the street, in case it was thrown out of the window …’

Maigret sums up, for the benefit of Le Cloaguen:

‘So in short, you say you got here just before five to consult the clairvoyant. At two or three minutes to five, someone knocked on the door in a distinctive way, and Mademoiselle Jeanne pushed you into the kitchen … Have I got that right? … You looked out at the street, then you heard voices and you didn’t move a muscle … You didn’t even look through the keyhole.’

‘No … I thought she was entertaining visitors …’

‘You’ve been before?’

‘Every week.’

‘Over a long period?’

‘Very long.’

Gaga or not gaga?

There is great excitement in the neighbourhood. More than 200 people have collected in the street below by the time the vehicles bringing the prosecutor’s people arrive. Outside are sunshine, bright colours, café terraces where it is very pleasant to sit in front of a cold beer. Maigret puts his jacket back on because the important gentlemen are coming up the stairs.

‘Ah! It’s you, detective chief inspector,’ says the deputy public prosecutor. ‘Am I to understand that we have an interesting case here?’

‘Yes, apart from the fact that so far I’m having to deal with two lunatics!’ Maigret mutters to himself.

First the moron Mascouvin, who never takes his eyes off Maigret’s bulky figure! And then there’s this old man who chews tobacco and sniffles!

More cars arrive. This time, it’s the journalists.

‘Listen, Lucas … Get these two characters out of here … I’ll be back at headquarters in half an hour.’

It is then that Mascouvin comes out with a priceless remark.

After shaking his head and looking for his hat all round the living room, which is now a mess, he murmurs with the seriousness with which he does everything:

‘You do realize, inspector,’ he observes, ‘that it was Picpus who killed the clairvoyant!’

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2. The Sweating Man

Curiously enough, it was as he sat staring mechanically at a hand, a man’s hand on a knee covered by worn cloth, that Maigret all at once felt in some way involved in what had happened and stopped thinking of the man at his side as just another regular customer, though a somewhat colourful one.

Back there in Rue Coulaincourt, it had been a circus, to use Maigret’s word for it. He hated being descended on by the public prosecutor’s officers. In the mêlée, the inspector had thought that Octave Le Cloaguen had looked like a cranky old man who seemed permanently bewildered. At the very most, Maigret had been intrigued by the vacant stare which suddenly came over his pale eyes, as if his soul had momentarily been transported elsewhere. A question would be put to him two, three times, eventually the words would finally sink in, and he would furrow his brow as he tried to understand.

Later, at Quai des Orfèvres, in his office which the sun had turned into a Turkish bath, a perspiring Maigret, repeatedly mopping his face, had questioned him thoroughly, but the results were more or less unhelpful. Le Cloaguen never got flustered. He even gave the impression that he was trying his best to please the inspector. And whereas Maigret kept wiping his forehead and the back of his neck with his handkerchief, the old man’s skin stayed perfectly dry, despite the overcoat which he had not taken off. Maigret had taken note: it confirmed his suspicion.

And now both men were being driven along in an open taxi. It was eight in the evening, and the streets of Paris were filled with a pleasant coolness. Le Cloaguen did not move, and Maigret, without thinking of anything in particular, was staring at the old man’s right hand, which was resting on his knee, a strangely long hand with gnarled joints and skin so parchment-like that in places it looked as if it might split, like dried-up bark. The top of the index finger was missing.

Was it this hand …? Maigret’s mind was working … A hand could do so many things in the course of a lifetime, and what over a period of sixty-seven years had this hand …?

Suddenly a drop of water landed on the taut skin and scattered. At that point, they were driving along Rue de Wagram, a street lined on both sides by cafés and cinemas, through the happy noise and bustle of the crowds. Maigret looked up. The man was looking straight ahead of him, his features as stiff as ever, but a fringe of sweat had spread across his forehead.