McGroder, standing, surveyed the faces along the the line of portable chairs in the gallery. Most were merely curious, expectant; but Brenda Berger, seated furthest from the dark stains on the floor and next to the family lawyer, Mr Marley, was squinting back tears, her head downcast, her shoulders convulsing. Winston Pereira had approached her with comforting gestures but she had rebuffed him. Mr Marley had then shaken his head at Pereira, as if to indicate that there was no point in trying. Pereira was now seated at the other end of the row, closest to the stains.
Standing well behind the young detective, Maigret was hunched and sucking on his pipe, eyes down.
“Firstly, I’d like to thank you all for coming at short notice.”
“We’d really like to know why this is necessary, Detective McGroder. I can’t see the point in assembling right where the events occurred. It’s certainly not helping my client’s state of mind.”
“I quite understand, Mr Marley. It’s just that it’s been hard to collate everything that’s been noted so far…And I hope all appreciate that the police are confronted with the strangest of puzzles…”
“Is that a reason to be so theatrical? And are we now to be treated to a scene where some arch-detective expounds on the case, pointing fingers at different parties before finally offering his resolution?”
Now Maigret stepped forward.
“Messieurs et mesdames, this little gathering, which will be very short, was in fact the result of my urging. I will soon be gone from your country, and my time is short. I thought I might perhaps – how shall I say? – put what theories I have before you; and also hear your theories or ideas, just in case the combination of minds might produce something. Excuse my clumsy English. But, you see, faced with such a puzzle, who can know if there is a purpose served till something is tried? And to justify the inconvenience, I at least can offer a small measure of comfort, of good news.”
His audience sat forward a little, Brenda Berger raised her head.
“My friends, two crimes constitute what occurred in this gallery a few nights ago. Or four crimes, if one separates each theft from each murder…”
Alderman Collins stood up amid the shocked murmurs.
“Well, I’m no famous sleuth, but I can count…I’ve got a hot dinner waiting for me…it might not be hoit cuisine, as they say, but it’s my dinner…though I’d be lucky if it’s still hot. And I’d advise Mr Marley to escort his client away from here…McGroder, I might seem like a country dill to you but I can count. I can count one murder here, not two. And I can count to eighty, which is about the age of our French visitor. Eighty in the shade, more likely. I’d say it’s time for you to give it away, mon ah-mi. Two murders now! You might think I’m just good for counting pills, but I’ve got a friend or two in higher places, higher etch-elons, you might call them in French, and they’ll be hearing about this…”
“Ah, please forgive me, Mr Collins. Perhaps I have been – the word? – cryptical, yes, too cryptical…And this may well be a sign of the advance of years…far too many years. But stay for a little good news at least. Can you not delay just a moment? In fact, let us have no delay. Clive, the picture. Would you assist me?”
McGroder followed him to the large seascape and lifted it from the bottom. Maigret reached in, fiddled about, then drew out the stolen von Guerard. Amid gasps, he held it up to show.
“As you can see, the picture has never left the gallery. It was concealed here for a purpose, and by some person or persons with easy access to the gallery. This was the first theft, fruit of the first murder, as I shall explain…”
There were no protests now. Maigret’s audience froze.
“Let me now explain that first murder.
“The thief is interrupted in the gallery by the owner of the painting. With no other recourse, our thief, well known to the owner, attacks and kills her. Now, because our thief has access to the gallery at any time, it is not necessary to remove the painting, merely to hide it. For the escape, as for the entry, there is a high ladder at the window, which is no longer barred. What is of further interest: a feather, matching that used in a sort of hunting hat often worn by the guilty, is found at the base of the ladder…”
“Tally!” screamed Brenda Berger. But Mr Marley placed a calming hand on her shoulder. Tally was also a client.
“These aren’t theories! They sound like claims, accusations even! And very odd ones! Tread carefully, sir.”
“Excuse me, Mr Marley. But it will do no harm if you all hear me out…”
Cynthia Hobbes-Talbot rose in her place.
“You can continue this farce with my lawyers, just one of whom is Mr Marley. And he is the nicest one. Yes, I wear hunting hats, and, yes, I have access to this gallery. But unless you can explain how I can climb through plate glass and be in two places at one time…”
“Ah, madame, no need, no need. Once again, I am being too cryptical…My age, no doubt…Your crimes were, in any case, as light as the feather of a blue jay…But first let me put down this picture before I drop it…Yes, madame, there was no harm in the theft or even in the murder you committed.”
Heads were shaking in bewilderment; Tally stood stiff and glared.
“You all perhaps forgot – understandable in the circumstances – that you were among a large gathering of friends who were here to play a very British parlour game. You were here to play at solving a crime involving a body in a library – though in this case a gallery was to serve.
“Miss Naomi Berger was, of course, the pretend victim. How quickly one forgets, hein? And who was the pretend perpetrator? Why, a person who desired to own the painting by von Guerard, non? A person able to come back later to retrieve the painting. Was the old plaster at the edge of the frame worth damaging deliberately for the sake of adding a clue to the game? Some damage to the already damaged premises did not matter. Soon the whole complex would be changed, renewed, non? Outside the gallery, the blue jay feather caught my attention not because it was on the ground but because it had been lodged there, with a pebble to keep it in place. A deliberate and purely theatrical clue!
“Miss Tally, you were only guilty in the night’s game, a game which was never concluded and which all forgot.
“Now we come to the second murder, and to the events which made you all forget that game…
“When you entered the gallery together, you found an unmoving body, a body you thought to be alive, in what you thought was a pool of theatrical blood. Eh bien…
“That body was alive. And the blood was indeed fake!”
“Please attend, Miss Tally. After Miss Brenda Berger showed alarm about her sister, who confirmed that the lady was in fact dead?”
Eyes shifted to Winston Pereira, who immediately confirmed:
“I, and then Mr Collins, a pharmacist, the other person in the room most qualified to judge. And Naomi was dead, I can assure you!”
“Ah, yes. One other person, a person known to be nervous, excitable – forgive me Mr Collins – and whose poor sight was made worse by his lack of close vision spectacles – again, forgive me, Mr Collins. A person who was not prompted to inspect the wound, but rather distracted from it…”
“I can’t spend my life taking specs on and off…As to excitable, that depends on your definition of…”
“Mr Collins, we do not wish you to be any other way, but sometimes there are those who know to exploit our…our little ways. Returning to the subject…
“All were commanded by Dr Winston Pereira to leave the gallery. All co-operated. He remained there alone, already drenched in what seemed to be blood. Now, when he knew himself and the still unmoving Miss Berger to be out of sight…
“That was when he was able to cut her throat with a very sharp and precise instrument, such as doctors own and know to use well!
“A matter of seconds!
“Now the lady really was dead – and bleeding much! And Dr Pereira had no need to explain all the blood. How many who kill with a knife have such fortune? But you should be aware, Dr Pereira, that theatrical blood, known as Kensington Gore, has a very different appearance to real blood when dry. When I examined the floor I observed dried real blood and dried theatrical blood. I still see both on the floor: the fake blood which Miss Berger smeared on herself and dripped on the floor, as part of the game, and the real blood which you caused to flow when it was assumed that the lady had already been murdered. The simplest test will show the difference between the two stains.”
“But for the sealing of the window by the handyman, of which only the handyman was aware, all would have gone well with your plan. Even we police would have assumed that a thief had been interrupted while trying to steal a painting. Since the window was unbarred and the ladder was against it, it was easy to believe that the presumed killer and the painting had both gone out and down that way, the culprit closing the window behind him to slow down any pursuit. There would have been no suspicion of any of the guests, and no locked room mystery…
“But, unfortunately for the actual killer, the window had been nailed shut by Roland Cassin. As in everything, Mr Cassin was thorough and careful…There was no budging that window. Nobody had come or gone that way.
“Which meant that instead of a violent burglary of an obvious sort we now had a locked room mystery on our hands, a seemingly impossible crime. And that led me to seek out Commissioner Maigret, on the remote off-chance that he would consent to help in the investigation. And the long shots came home. The long shots against you, doctor, and against your clever plan.”
Pereira rose from his chair, puffing out his chest and placing hands on hips.
“Look here, that lady was dead when we all found her. Do you really think someone would lie for so long and just allow me to butcher her? For the sake of a game? And I would want my good friend Naomi dead for what reason? I also know a lawyer or two…and a Prime Minister in Colombo, for that matter. This nonsense has gone far enough!”
Pereira strode toward the door.
“Someone stop him!”
Maigret and McGroder ignored the pleas, and Winston Pereira was able to make a fast exit from the gallery. Brenda Berger began to shriek:
“He got her drunk! I knew it! You were right, Tally. He’s had his eye on Naomi for years. Jealousy! He couldn’t have her, so…so this!…Can’t you stop him, arrest him? Mr McGroder!”
“No need for me to stop him. There’s a policeman on the other side of that door, a detective called Don Dibble. He could stop a Bondi tram just by looking at it.”
The group, without Pereira, had calmed; Brenda’s sobs had subsided. Cynthia Hobbes-Talbot had taken command of the conversation:
“Certain things, commissioner, still don’t make sense.”
“No, Miss Tally. They do not.”
“I understand that Winston was in on the game with Naomi, would have known about the fake blood…It doesn’t surprise that Naomi – since she liked some drama and did things to extremes – would go to the trouble of using fake blood to make herself the best corpse possible. But she would have have gestured to us all that she was okay, so the game could continue. She wouldn’t just lie there in a pool of fake blood. Pereira made her unconscious somehow, but only after she had applied the fake blood perfectly and taken the perfect position on the floor…It’s too neat!”
“I told you, Tally. He got her drunk! He got my sister drunk!”
“Naomi wasn’t drunk, Brenda. A drunk just falls down. We’ve both seen Naomi drunk. How could Winston get her to lie so still for so long, after she had set herself up perfectly as a corpse? How do you do that with such…such precision?…And where was the booze? She didn’t walk into that gallery drunk. Then there’s motive. Jealousy as motive…I don’t know…Commissioner?”
“Hélas, mesdames, I cannot know all these things so quickly or so easily. Perhaps the interrogation of Dr Pereira will render more. I have only hours left in Australia, a day at most, so I must now leave the matter in the hands of Mr McGroder and his friend Don Dibble. Those are capable men. I have little inklings – is that the word? – about the doctor and his motives, but they are uncertain, too uncertain…and my mind moves to other things now…”
“What other things?”
“Oh, firstly to your splendid liqueurs, madame. Is it permissible? Can I propose a round of drinks before I take my leave of your beautiful mountains for the last time?”
“You certainly may.”
“Mes amis, will you all stay a few minutes longer, to share a last little celebration with an old man? You can always re-heat your dinner a little, non, Mr Collins?”
The remaining guests all nodded. McGroder:
“I’ll help Miss Berger get the drinks.”
“Oh, no need, detective.”
“Well, in the circumstances, miss. Safety, security and all that…”
“Of course. But call me Brenda. I’m a lone woman in these mountains now, and I need friends.”
She gave one of her confident chuckles as she wiped her eyes. She was again the resilient Berger, the flirtatious Brenda.
“The only thing is…he won’t be out there…Will he?”
“No, Miss…Brenda, I mean…Don Dibble has taken him somewhere else. Pereira will be isolated for quite a while.”
When Brenda and McGroder returned with trays of drinks, Maigret, in apparent off-duty mood, had the group well entertained. The chairs had been placed in a circle. Some quiet laughter after the shocks of the last half-hour was what they all needed.
Drinks were served, with Maigret choosing the armagnac, which he was content to merely watch and swirl about in the glass.
“Drink up, commissioner! Don’t wait for us.”
“Oh, give me a little moment.”
“Not like you!”
“Ah, the advance of years…Even one’s drinking is slowed…”
Finally, all were seated with their drinks, though McGroder had only a glass of water with which to celebrate. Brenda Berger seemed revived:
“I’d like to give thanks and propose a toast…I think we all know to whom. Commissioner Maigret, to your health and long life! And I’d add that if I was twenty years older…or if a certain gentleman was twenty younger…Well, if there is anything more attractive than a Frenchman with brains…You all know what I mean…”
“Ah, madame, you flatter me…”
“No, I don’t flatter. Bergers don’t flatter. I don’t know how you do it, commissioner. You appear to be thinking nothing when you are thinking the most. You lull, you lure…It’s just extraordinary. Even your biographer has no idea your English is fluent. Nothing is more attractive to a woman than a man with a real brain. So many men these days just have adding machines between their ears and call it intelligence…”
“Madame…you flatter me…”
“Not at all, commissioner.”
“Ah, but I must insist you not flatter me.”
“Commissioner, you must understand that we women are not like you men. The way to our hearts…”
At that moment, Maigret hurled his full glass of armagnac over his shoulder. It shattered on the floor somewhere behind him. The others fell silent, gaped.
Now he stood up. His face was petrified fury.
“Madame, as I said, you flatter me.”
“Ah, les fauves…les fauves...”
“Commissioner, I have to protest this treatment of my clients…”
Mr Marley reared up.
The sheer decision in Maigret’s shift forced them all to silence. Suddenly, he was larger, an inexplicable force. The lawyer eased back down on to his chair.
“We have successfully isolated your lover, madame. I assure you that you will have no more chances to reconcile your stories.”
“Your lover, Dr Pereira!”
“Me? Me with…with that blackamoor!”
“You, madame. With him. And your rehearsed rejections of Dr Pereira have made it only more obvious.”
Mr Marley: “Look here, you’d better have proof of this or…”
“The proof will be in many places. Once one knows what to look for, proof of such things is easy. The first proof for me, madame, was a record of vehicle use, left on your desk, in your handwriting. Your handwriting, by the way, will also be of interest…”
“You were in my rooms? The Berger private rooms? That can’t be legal…”
“Such fine points of law can be for later. The crime was committed in this complex, the police were entitled to search the complex. You agreed to that. You invited me, a person with no authority here, to inspect all. So I did.”
“My door was locked!”
“Indeed? I found it open. Mr McGroder is of another opinion, perhaps. Who can know when a door is locked or merely stuck? But I found it open. Madame, your record of vehicle use is very precise. It does you credit. Of special interest are all those visits to a certain address, not far from here, itemised perfectly. And when Mr McGroder was so kind as to drive me to the address of Dr Pereira, our trip was not wasted. My interest was not in talking to Pereira, but merely in distances. The distance was precisely the same as the distance you so often recorded. It was the distance you travelled only last night, when you said you were to be in Sydney.”
“I…I didn’t write anything in my book for yesterday…”
“You no doubt were mindful to avoid that. But the only miles you made since your last trip – which was recorded – were to that address! The – what is the word? – the odomètre, the counter on your vehicle, which I so much admired, showed you did not travel to Sydney at all. Some calls to your charitable society friends have confirmed this. And when your car arrived here this morning, it arrived from the other direction to Sydney. The direction of Dr Pereira’s home! Even my poor ears could tell. A little alarmed by my presence here, you felt the need for a conference with your lover? Certainly, on your return, you were eager to inform me of the end to the airport strike! We are still waiting on your phone records, and those of Dr Pereira. They will reveal much more.”
Brenda Berger burst into sobs. In between those sobs:
“It’s true…You may as well all know…about me and Winston. But it’s not what you think…I was a fool…knew I was being used…but…You all have to believe me!…I thought I loved him!…We had to be so discreet…He was black and Catholic…I suppose he knew Naomi would be on to him…come between us. Maybe that was why…why he did what he did to her. If only Naomi had been with me these last few years she would have…I’m sorry, Tally. I know you would have intervened for my good if you’d known…But I thought I loved him! How does one stop being a woman?”
Mr Marley placed an arm around Brenda’s shoulders.
“Maigret, I think it would be best if…”
“Assez! Enough comedy, madame! My time is short!”
“Maigret, you can’t just…”
“Taisez-vous, maître! You can decide soon enough which member of the Berger family deserves your loyalty! For now, I give you a tale – the impressions by an outsider, a foreigner – of two sisters.
“One sister is extremely…conservatrice, shall we say. I do not know all the English words…But she is a lover of héritage, of heritage, of traditions; she is obsessed by a dream of restoring her family’s heritage. But she is ill, mentally ill or sick of spirit, confined to hospitals. She trusts to her sister, to whom she grants delegation – what is the expression? – ah yes, power of attorney, over her fifty-one percent share of the family business. Yes, we were able to ascertain that number today.
“The other sister is younger, more practical, more attached to common things. She is also a calculator, like many whose vision is narrow. She tells her sick sister of plans to restore Sans Souci, knowing that there will be rumours in any case. She signs many papers to enable this restoration, signs on her own behalf and on behalf of her sister…You can see that Detective McGroder and his friends have been very busy today…
“And all is well, until something very improbable occurs. Just a short time before final negotiations on the future of Sans Souci, the sister of fifty-one percent recovers dramatically, returns home, and, as Mr Marley would be aware, annuls her sister’s power of attorney. She waits in excitement for the renovation of her beloved family heritage – not knowing that the renovation is actually a conversion to one of the world’s biggest casinos! Approval is so certain that the entire project has been organised in great detail.
“Yes. Sans Souci will be a vast hall of machines à sous, of poker machines. After the interior is destroyed there will, of course, be places for gambling tables and rooms for prostitutes, no doubt. The bandstand and conservatory will be demolished for parking. One of the principal partners in the project has the adorable name of New Jersey Slot. Another partner is called…let me think…I must consult my piece of paper…Bugliosi Laundry and Hospitality Services! An enchantment, non? And I am told that a very powerful Australian publisher has a large stake in some of the partner organisations. He is a man who might easily dictate to an old or new government how it must endow Australia with its first great casino. They say he feels more inclined to a new government. More eager, perhaps, this future minister, this Mr Macken? Make-Happen Macken…is that not what they call him?
“And another partner will be a person by the name of Brenda Berger. I do not know what Consulting Executive means, but Miss Berger will also be one of those.
“Sans Souci’s future. Not a corrupt and cheerful Pigalle of the old days, but a cheerless – is that a word? – factory of gambling. It will be known as the Blue Mountains Grand, and it will even have a big flashing sign out the front…Yes, Mr Marley, you were not aware, were you? That is to your credit. I have nothing against such enterprises, but as the friend and representative of the late Naomi Berger…Try to imagine, Mr Marley…
“A marché aux putains, a gambling palace with rows of poker machines…and a sign of many colours that goes blink-blink, flash-flash, all through the night…
“Now, what are the chances that Miss Naomi Berger, with control of the family fortunes, would ever sign the papers to permit such a thing? And that signature was due within days!”
Brenda Berger turned to her lawyer.
“Walter! He can prove nothing, except that Sans Souci was due to become a legal casino. And that I was having an affair with Winston. Do you really think…?”
“I…Brenda…I…don’t know what to think…I need time…”
“There is no time, but there is indeed proof, maître! Proof of the worst. Proof that Winston Pereira was doing the bidding of Brenda Berger when he cut her sister’s throat.”
“Madame, I have been known to share a drink with many criminals, murderers even. But the reason I threw away my precious armagnac is that there are some with whom I will not drink. I call them les fauves! They are those who have ceased to be human.”
“No proof, old man! Now leave my home. Pack quickly and go. And anyone who believes a word of his lies can leave here forever. Even you, Tally.”
But Cynthia Hobbes-Talbot was unmoved.
“I’ve been known to shoot a few fauves in my time. Proceed with your proof, commissioner. Make it good. Naomi was my closest friend, and I preferred Naomi drunk and crazy to most people sane and sober. There was a woman for you! So I want to hear all. If I have to enforce silence from anyone here present I will. Does anyone doubt that? No, I thought not. Go on, commissioner, but make it a very good shot or take no shots at all.”
“Merci, madame. I elect to take the shot. And it would be best if Miss Berger attended to me here and now, because otherwise she will be attending in a less comfortable place this very night…
“Mr Collins, what are the most common complaints of those obliged to take salts of lithium? I mean, what side effect do they dislike most often?”
“Well, depending on definitions, if I had to single out one…”
“You do have single out one, Mr Collins.”
“Well, the thirst, the dry mouth…”
“Exactly. Remember that Brenda Berger was very insistent on her sister taking her lithium salts. In fact, that is all she took before entering the gallery, apart from one drink of red vermouth. So the lady was neither drunk nor drugged upon entering the gallery. She was excited, and she was soon to experience the effects of dry mouth. Now, as Mr Collins can confirm, those who take lithium are inclined to drink even before thirst and dryness of mouth take effect, so unpleasant is this common side-effect. A small measure, but well conceived by those intending the lady’s death.
“Picture in your minds what proceeds inside…
“The painting has already been hidden, the ladder and feather are in place. Those clues and possibly others will lead to Miss Tally as the criminal in the parlour game. It only remains for Naomi to smear herself in fake blood and take up a position as a convincing corpse. As arranged, she lifts a few of the wooden tiles of the old parqueterie to take out the flask of fake blood. When she does so, she sees a very full glass of red vermouth next to the flask. It is placed on a note which reads ‘FOR AFTER’. It is a very characteristic note from her sister, encouraging her to take a drink when her parlour game preparations are done – because her sister has been participating with her in preparations for the game! The affectionate note – just the most minuscule of risks – gives a sister’s approval to the taking of the drink, making it more certain. For the killers need to be certain that the drink is ingested.”
“We shall see, madame. But I warn you to beware of Miss Tally. She grows impatient of interruption…
“So, a glass of vermouth. Nothing more than a nice surprise. Of course, Naomi, with the thirst from her lithium salts and love of red vermouth, does not hesitate. Whether she drinks before or after dribbling the blood on her neck and the floor…she drinks!
“She places the flask and glass back in the hiding place and replaces the tiles. She does everything neatly, as always, with care not to spread the blood to where it should not be.
“But, perhaps because of these habits of neatness, she compresses the piece of paper and pushes it into her tight clothing. By instinct? Or is it for her a sentimental memento?
“Now, this glass has contained no old style of cocktail for sleeping. No. It is my guess that some very recent drugs, perhaps a mix of kétamine, or one of the benzodiazépines – I am sure the English words are close – were selected by Dr Pereira. It is important that the victim not vomit or collapse but merely fall into a deep sleep, close to anaesthesia, after adopting a desired position on the floor. The new drugs, which I have studied a little, can be manipulated far better than such clumsy old substances as chloral hydrate, though a little pinch of that too might have gone into the potion which was given to Naomi.
“After Dr Pereira has despatched his victim he only needs to retrieve the glass and flask, then replace the tiles. He walks out of the gallery later, drenched in fake blood and real blood, carrying the instruments of the crime in his pockets, and nobody is entitled to suspect. The chance of anyone guessing or finding these very modern drugs in Naomi’s body was tiny. And if they did, it could all be put down to the lady’s old drug manie.
“Except for the nails in the window, all would have gone as planned. Who can doubt it? There are no perfect murders – but this was good!”
“All lies, no proof. Don’t listen to him, Tally. Walter…”
“Ah, but you forget that little piece of paper, in your handwriting, madame. And the message written with one of your distinctive pens, perhaps? No cheap implements in your office! There were three items to retrieve from under the wooden tiles, but Pereira got only two. Perhaps you both forgot about it, and, in fact, who would make anything of a tiny piece of used paper with a meaningless message? We were lucky that Detective McGroder kept it only by impulse, since it seemed to have no relevance. Or perhaps we are lucky that he has…le nez, the nose!
“The red glass stain on the paper…it will show the chemicals present in the drink you left for your sister. Even if no laboratory in Australia is equipped to detect these new substances, there are laboratories in Germany. And we have not yet begun to trace Dr Pereira’s activities with the ordering or theft of drugs. Who knows what has been left on his clothing, about his house? No doubt other sorts of evidence are trailing about Sans Souci, now we know what to look for. As to motive, you stood to gain millions or lose millions within days…
“As a bonus, you now stood to gain not forty-nine but one hundred percent!
“In every case where the stakes are so high, the possible penalty so severe, there is this thing that the guilty does which goes too far, in order to win. You filled the glass too much so your sister would drink more and notice less of the flavour of the drugs. The glass spilled a little. You added a personal, affectionate note in case your sister hesitated to drink…you did not think that a note is not like a flask or a glass, that it may not be put back in place…You were too obvious in your rejection and blaming of Dr Pereira…
“The task of the investigator is to find that…that petit truc…that little thing which is the product of excess of calculation, of nerves, of anxieté. It is the thing which people look back on and question “why?”…”why did they complicate?” Ah, but evil is a maker of tangles. Evil fears what is straight and simple.
“Madame, now it begins, the flood of evidence…The dam wall has leaked and will soon burst…This is how it always happens.”
“Lies! It was Winston! Obviously!”
“Ah, madame, you must remember that there may be honour or love or loyalty among some thieves, but never among les fauves, those who depart humanity. Your lover Winston is at this moment saying much the same things concerning you.
“But I advise you to go quietly along with Mr McGroder. I don’t like the expression of Miss Tally.”
Cynthia Hobbes-Talbot’s glare and nod were indeed those of a hangman.
“Sage advice, Commissaire Maigret. Take her out of here. Lead her out of my friend’s home.”
“There, you are, commissioner: two huge valleys and the sandstone neck between them. I just couldn’t let you leave without seeing all this under a full moon.”
“And I am very glad, mon petit. Very glad…”
In the strong moonlight, the pale green of the Megalong bottom land, the gleaming sandstone of Narrowneck, the vast murk of the Jamison beyond it: all could be seen clearly from the deserted lookout.
“Commissioner…you understand that the casino deal may collapse…that a new NSW government may not happen…all because of the work you’ve done this last day. It seems strange that a single mind, reasoning well, can…I don’t know what I’m saying, but you understand, don’t you?”
Maigret, after a shrug:
“There will be places for people to gamble, there will be government of some complexion, non? As for my mind, as for reason…remember to inhabit before you reason. Do I express that well?”
“I think I’m getting it. Do you think…just maybe…that this Simenon got you right, at least in some ways? That your method is not to have a method?”
“You know I do not comment on that Belgian gentleman. Or read his books. But a time will come, perhaps, when you are faced with a very great intelligence, someone or something you cannot defeat by reason because your reason is by far the weaker. If you remember to live, to inhabit, to absorb…no reason or calculation can withstand – what is the word? – the sympathy – yes! – the persistence in sympathy. But that is enough said about all that…Cloud coming from over there!”
Above the Jamison, the dark bulk of a front was moving toward them, nudging a faint gust before it.
“That could be the snow they forecast…So much for the full moon. I suppose you’ll be wanting to get going. Still time for a drink…”
“Oh, I do not need that right now.”
“You don’t want a drink? You?”
Maigret breathed in deep. “No. Not now. I don’t know why. It is good to be with you here, Clive. Let us wait for the snow…”
After some minutes spent in silence, the first flakes came drifting down. Maigret extended both hands and opened his upturned mouth, like a child would do. He moved in a slow dance, gaping up and around, shedding his age, so much like a child, one seeing snow for the first time. Then he noticed something.
“Clive, that white thing over to the right…is that not Sans Souci? Up there, to the right, on the top of the cliff…”
“That? Yes, that’s the old place. Looks pretty small from here, doesn’t it?”
Maigret said nothing for a while, then:
“Yes. It is a very small thing now…”