A collection of short fiction by me, some of it published elsewhere, nothing under anyone else’s copyright, except for one or two pieces (uncertain).

This is an amateur’s shot at reviving short fiction as pure yarn. Some of the stories are a touch serious or reflective, not so plot-heavy. But much of what you get here is just bedside popcorn, so be warned. Expect some all-artificial product with heavy plotting, twists, unmaskings and the like. In some cases, a story is just a rambling account; even then, I may try to incorporate a twist, through sheer stubbornness or bad taste.

I try not to treat characters as furniture or mere plot pivots, but they are sketched, rather than painted. I’m not afraid of using the now unfashionable adverb or other descriptive flourish – but let’s move that story along!

Lit-fic and creative writing may be fine things, but there is none of that to be had here. My prose will rarely be sinewy, luminous, supple, lucid, muscular, spare or taut. I won’t use the word “arc” at all, unless the topic is geometry. Things will merely drop, fall or tumble, they will not arc. I’ve got it in for “arc”.

In most of my gloomy stories, I contrive happy or uplifting endings, even when such seem impossible. That’s just to cheer everybody up, myself included. In accounts of villainy, bad guys won’t always get their comeuppance, but if if you wait till that last paragraph…maybe!

For those who find this undertaking to be dated and lacking a worthy purpose, you are probably right. If you find some of the stories downright pulpy, you are certainly right.

As a mercy to those who prefer more substance, even in their lighter reading, my intention is to stop after fifty entries, though that is an intention, not, as they say in Australian politics, a core commitment. [Note: began publishing more stories August 2013. See? Told you it was just an intention.]


In the historical category, two views of the French Revolution, by two if its shapers. Meet the Great Survivors…



A chain letter down the centuries…


Overlapping our fantasy category, a venerable Jewish doctor admits his age…


A sleepy queen entertains…


An unlikely encounter in post-war Rome, over bad carbonara.


Romane memento!


The Middle East, and all that.


Rocky life of a saint. Ouch.













It’s never over till…


Speaking of the game…


Thinking of redecorating…



In the category of crime and detection, an insurance expert has trouble unwinding on holidays, relates some favourite cases…




A master criminal roams the bush, visits the city. We don’t approve of him at all, however…








Maigret comes to Australia. Really!















Evil is not an Ikea purchase. My best opening sentence?


Are you insured?


You will pay if you skip this one:


A twisty track:



In the category of fantasy and the improbable, some ghosts…





Strange entities…




Bent fairy tales…





Guardian angels: not the glamour job you’d think.



That little opinion of yours…


There’s even a time travel yarn. An easy, pulpy read. You won’t know where the minutes went…


God knows what this is about…


Or what this is about…


My answer to Mr Chips…


In the end, you just have to fight…

REXIE (Part 1 of 3)

REXIE (Part 2 of 3)

REXIE (Part 3 of 3)


Australian interest, bush first…








Some Sydney stories, some names changed, of necessity…






Sydney in that Decade of Greed, and whatever you call the nineties…





Sports fans!


Getting that perfect balance between no-life and no-work…



Stories modern and medieval, from the pilgrim ways…








Novella length.  Come on, they can’t all be short…



A miscellany of pulp: a bit silly, most with strong final twists, what you want…











Uh-oh. He writes poetry…








The serial, Life of Saint Locusta, is now available as a read-through novel. It is the same text as published on this short fiction site in episodes, but arranged as ordinary chapters in chronological order. It looks like a single post with a single date on it, but if you scroll down you are likely to find new chapters from time to time.

Life of Saint Locusta: a serial.

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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!”

“But how…?”

“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.”

Now McGroder:

“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.”

“My lover!”

“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…”

Posted in CRIME/DETECTION | 4 Comments


“It’s…it’s so odd. I mean…things like this are tragic, of course…principally tragic…But it’s also odd, though not in a funny sense, that you are sitting here with us, Mr Maigret…or Monsieur Maigret, I should say. Is it Mister or…? Doesn’t matter? No, I say it’s odd because we were joking about you – not in any pejorative way! – on the evening of the murder…Well, we have to assume it was murder…Though such a mystery! An actual locked room type of mystery…and now you, this famous detective we were mentioning just before the…the misfortune – must admit I thought you were fictional…all those Inspector Maigret books…”

Alderman Bert Collins had escorted his two visitors to the rear of his small Katoomba pharmacy. The cramped store room was all but bare of stock, so the three had been able to find space for their three stools.

He was bald, pale, wispy, the only bulk and colour about him being the heavy black-rimmed specs with especially deep bifocal sections. His speech and movements were nervous – and frequent! Judging by the modest scale of his business and the exasperated manner of the one shop girl, Alderman Collins may have been better suited to the endless discussions and delays of municipal politics than to pharmacy.

Maigret profited from a break in the stream of chatter:

“Mr Collins, do you have any thoughts which have come to you since the unfortunate event?”


“Oh…anything at all. Details, and such like. About what happened that night.”

“Details? Only had my driving specs on…not intending to read…Can’t wear this tonnage of eyewear everywhere I go…Well…It depends what you mean by details. What clothes people were wearing…how people reacted…”

“Yes. Call to mind how people reacted. That would be excellent.”

“Well…people and their reactions…that’s all subjective, isn’t it? I mean…”

“Anything at all!” Even Maigret was showing an edge of impatience.

“Anything, you say? Well…Most people were upset, obviously…Although Tally…Miss Hobbes-Talbot…she kept a cool head. First to notice about the painting…Most people would be too shocked, but not Tally.”

“Consistent with the lady’s character?”

“Consistent? It depends on what you mean by…”

“Was she normally cold, practical?”

“Well…cold is strong. I’d say cool…cool and practical. Yes, those are the words…those are the mots justes, if I remember my French well…Only did French to Intermediate, but…”

“I understand you are some sort of elected official? You were aware of certain developments to do with this great hotel, the Sans Souci?”

“Well, you might say I was something of a help there. You see, the Berger family…not very good with politics away from the higher conservative circles. I was able to smooth the way with Council…Not that Council would have been against saving a heritage gem like Sans Souci – did I pronounce that correctly? – still, there are always stumbling blocks, objections. The Bergers thought my connections to the Labor Party were something of a scandal…till I was able to smooth the way for them with certain Labor people. I was able to say to So-and-so: ‘So-and-so, you have a son or a daughter who might be wanting a weekend  job, or maybe a good deal on a wedding reception’ and suddenly So-and-so sees the whole thing from a new perspective…”

“There was no real controversy about restoring or renovating the complex?”

“Oh, God no! For years we’ve feared the place would be pulled down before it fell down. No, no…it was just some details… Councillor So-and-so worrying about construction dust or wear on the roads, and me saying to Councillor So-and-so: ‘Do you want to save our eggs till they rot or break them and make an omelette now?’ That’s what you have to do in politics…And when someone was needed to show some money people and a Labor luminary around the place, I was there to do that, smoothe any ruffles, plus cross the t’s, dot the i’s…what I do…”

Now McGroder interrupted:

“Pat Macken. I understand he was here on a visit.”

“Yes, yes…He rang me, said he’d got wind of the development, wanted to come out and look the place over. Everyone knows he could be the next Works Minister. The government was on side, why not put the opposition on side? Especially Macken’s faction of the opposition. Let me tell you: this new Labor lot want to move the state along. Forget commos, union bruisers and all that. Keep your eye on Paul Furst. Furst means “premier”, you know. Speed reader, three books a week. Book a day when he’s on holiday. Anyway, I fixed it up…and no apologies for that. Brenda Berger was there – her sister was indisposed, as you know. It all went well, no small thanks to the ability of some to reach across the aisle, as it were. It’s all very well to say you don’t approve of such-and-such a party, but – this is entre nous, if I pronounce correctly – Macken’s got more between his ears than half the Liberals who run the state now…Not saying I’m pro-Labor…I’m just there to oil the machinery, grease the cables, to say to So-and-so that such-and-such might be in So-and-so’s own interest…Of course, the whole thing was moving ahead much faster than I liked, but with big finance the way it is now…all electronic…These supermarkets owned by investors who punt squeezy little profit margins on overnight money markets anywhere in the world…That’s why Franklins are cheap, you know. It’s not brotherly love. They want volume. It’s the volume, not the margin, for those big finance boys…Special computers or adders that plug into phones…You have to appreciate the scale, the speed, the hairline margins…It’s up to us toilers at the coal face to fit in, adapt or die…”


Outside the pharmacy, each turned to the other to say something – then merely grinned. At last Maigret:

“Mr Collins has a very active mind. I am so pleased he could speak to us…I wish we could have spoken to Mr Collins…Now, you say that the lawyer also has an office near here?”

“Just down the road, on the other side of the pub there.”

“Good, good…And is this pub open yet?”

“Commissioner, it’s not even half past nine…”


Mr Marley was almost a fantasy lawyer: elderly, pin stripe-suited, silver-haired, not pompous, but with measure in every word and movement. Any more measured and he would have been sly, perhaps. He had seated his two visitors at a small but ornate table in what he called, ambitiously, his conference room.

“I don’t have a lot of time this morning, but what I have is yours. Can I offer either of you gents a cup of tea or coffee? Even a small glass of sherry or port, in view of the cold, might be in order…”

McGroder was quick to refuse for both of them.

Marley continued: “There’s not a lot more I can tell you about the events of the night. Nobody acted in a suspicious way, nobody was in a position to leave the assembled company of guests let alone enter the gallery. I don’t wish to pre-empt your responsibilities or decisions…but whoever committed the crime was clearly not one of the guests. Since the window was nailed up and there were no other entry or exit points…I suppose we are looking at one almighty puzzle. If I read the likes of Agatha Christie – which I don’t – I might have some theories. As it stands…just an impossible puzzle! ”

“So it would seem, maître…But you understand the need to find a thread, any thread, to grasp, when there is so little of substance…Is there a detail, something which remains in the mind, though not connected to anything else? Sometimes Nature deposits these little things into our minds…”

“I understand and agree. My work is nothing but detail, commissioner. But nothing has come to mind since the events. Nothing. I remain bewildered.”

“And you are, I believe, the representative of the family for this matter of the restoration of Sans Souci?”

“Not the representative. I am one representative.”

“There were other lawyers engaged?”

“More like an army of lawyers, most in Sydney, one in Melbourne, one in London. Another in America, in New Jersey, for some reason…It was a very large matter, involving a huge amount of finance and planning…More than that, I don’t feel at liberty to say. Or rather…I can’t say gentlemen. Understood? My role was limited, you may as well know. Mostly intimate family matters, probate, powers-of-attorney. I held Berger family documents, still hold them…For this matter of the renovation I liaise with Blue Mountains Council, State Planning Authority, National Parks even…things close to home…Now the estate of Naomi Berger, of course…But, in globo, this project is a very large affair, well beyond the  scope of Marley Crabbe Solicitors.”

“And pressing?”

“Yes. You may as well know that things had come to a head quickly. Co-operation had been sought from all quarters, Labor dignitaries were courted even, in case there were union hurdles, a new government, that sort of thing. These things can dawdle on for decades, and the people involved in this ambitious restoration are not the types to dawdle. It will soon be no secret – though I’d still appreciate much discretion from you both – that two of the names involved are Sir Andrew Adele and Rosefields Pty Ltd. Mr McGroder will understand and explain.”

Maître, it seems to me that there is one good thing in all this. At least the late Miss Berger had recovered her health in time to enjoy the prospect of this…this renaissance.

“As you say, commissioner, that was an unexpected blessing. While it lasted.”


When they stepped out of the solicitor’s offices, the north-westerly wind was thrashing the bleak main street from out of two valleys. The squat Victorian shop fronts with their fading paint and worn signage expressed only indifference to the scant numbers of shoppers.

“Not too fancy these days, old Katoomba. And not much business on a winter weekday.”

“It would seem to be a little…Decrepit is the word?”

“Yes, commissioner, there used to be mining in the valley and tourists up the top. Now there’s little of either. People come to live here now for the cheap houses and grand views. I suppose if they’re not working they’re at home now looking at the view and saving money. Except for the ones at the pub. Would you like to see the view of the Jamison Valley? It’s the most famous of all, and it’s just down the end of the street.”

“Oh, perhaps something liquid to warm the body before we do more things today. You mentioned the pub…These old bones…The pub, it is open now, non?”

“Well…just, I suppose. It’s gone ten o’clock.”

Alors…And you say we do not have far to go to where the lady lives?”

“No, her home is in Leura. It’s not far from here, almost a suburb of Katoomba – though it’s kept its tone for some reason. It’s the money end of the mountains: mansions, gardens, flowering cherries everywhere, lots of trees that change colour in the autumn. We can be there in minutes…”

“I have been told to ask for a taste of proper pot still rum before I leave Australia. What do you know about proper pot still rum, mon petit?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all, commissioner.”


They had driven down a broad street flanked by healthy carpets of lawn, well-maintained picket fences, winter-bare trees and walls of conifers. All was tended but profuse, in the way of old wealth everywhere. A turn then short drive down an overgrown lane brought them to Wellbelove, one of the homes of the Hobbes-Talbot grazier dynasty. Here, as McGroder had explained, not without prickliness, lived the happily unmarried Cynthia Hobbes-Talbot, eldest daughter of the wealthiest branch of the family.

To Maigret’s amusement, McGroder drove his Holden along the drive beyond the entry as if in fear of scattering the crunching gravel.

A two storey home, all white, with eaves, veranda and portico of the plain but generous sort which balance without pomp, was hugged on the cold south side by ancient evergreens. Lawns and gardens undulated, rambled in a way they never did in France – which Maigret recognised as a better, and altogether English, way.

In front of the house a woman dressed in riding clothes and tweed hat was playing with three large dogs, lean with hairy coats. Curiously, they were not barking. When she saw the car approach she waved absently and continued to play with her animals. After McGroder had halted the car in the middle of the gravel drive and the two men got out, the lady paid them no further heed at all. Cynthia Hobbes-Talbot was not annoyed by interruption. She did not recognise interruption. At last, as they approached her:


McGroder, to Maigret’s continued amusement, halted, as if the order was somehow for him. The dogs immediately sat, content to pant and cast their eyes toward the visitors.

“Borzois. Interesting breed. Coursers. Quiet, but not easy to train. Don’t know if that’s because they’re too smart or too stupid…What can I do for you gentlemen?”

“Miss Hob…Hobbes-Talbot, I…”

“Oh, call me Tally. I’m sick of people trying to vault over that double name. So, how is your locked room mystery going, Detective McGroder?”

“Well, slowly. Still covering all angles. I’d like you to meet Commissioner Maigret. He’s from France…”

“I know who the gentleman is. Was told he was in the mountains. Hello. Should I call you commissioner? I understand commissaire is a different rank to commissioner.”

“It is indeed, madame. That has already been pointed out to me in the last day. I feel that since I win on the exchange I should accept the title of commissioner.”

A snappy chuckle from the woman, shot out almost too quickly. She was someone who hated to hesitate, who needed to stay even in any game.

“Well, do you have any news or updates for me? Or do you have more questions? Lucky you caught me in. Hound Breeders West had to cancel a meeting because the secretary was unwell. I hope you haven’t come to see how heart-broken I’m looking – or not looking. Naomi was my friend and I’m furious that this has happened. But don’t expect me to go blubbering or putting life on hold. That’s not my way, and it wasn’t Naomi’s way. Nor Brenda’s. Now, what can I do to help you catch whoever did this? Is it about the painting, detective?”

“Well, since you are someone with expertise in Australian art…”

“Let’s say rural art, shall we? Most of my collection is from the British Isles. With some African and Australian.”

“Well, since you were the only person outside the Berger family with personal access to the gallery, and you know the contents well…”

“I hope you’re not forgetting that I was outside the gallery, in full view, doing a very audible countdown with the very watch you see on my wrist. So if anybody was able to dart away and somehow appear inside the gallery, it wasn’t me.”

Madame – I hope Mr McGroder will allow me to take up the conversation – of course we do not think any such thing about you. But if you could give us some idea of the value or desirability of the von Guerard…whether it could be disposed of with ease if it were stolen…”

“Let’s clear that up now. The piece was of great interest and of considerable value, what with all the interest in early colonial work. I offered to buy it, if that’s what you wanted to hear…”

“We didn’t know that, actually.”

“Well now you do, Detective McGroder. And let me tell you the circumstances. Firstly, I like that painting. Secondly, the two Berger girls were not cash-rich in recent times and I thought it would be wise to sell the painting off rather than merge it into some vast restoration or renovation project where they would no longer have sole ownership. I told them straight out.”

“Both sisters?”

“I visited Naomi in her last funny farm and put it to her. She said she wanted to keep everything together, regardless of ownership. You know, it was the prospect of restoring Sans Souci to former glory which kick-started her whole recovery. The prospect of  work and a challenge, that’s what cured her. Far more than any witch doctors or potions, I can assure you.”

“And the other Miss Berger?”

“She was happy if Naomi was happy. Brenda would do nothing to upset her sister or the restoration plans.”

“Well, thank you for your time, Miss…Tally.”

“One other thing, gentlemen. You will hear rumours about a…about a Sapphic, as they say, relationship between me and the Berger girls. Especially between me and Naomi. Let me say right now that the rumours were always false. We three, ever since childhood, were aware that there would be a lot of eager men in our futures. So we formed a sort of unofficial society – against eager men! We each decided not to marry anyone who owned less than we owned. Simple, don’t you think? We helped one another hold out till maturity – not easy when Naomi was off the rails – then, in maturity, we found we needed hard-working accountants and lawyers who could be readily dismissed, not lazy husbands who stuck about. Does that horrify you? I know the other two have had their adventures with men, may have almost tumbled…but our society against eager men still stands!”

Madame, one appreciates such frankness…And this Dr Pereira? Was he merely a mutual friend?”

“I should hope so. That type can play all he likes at English chumminess and manly decency and all that. Pleasant enough, but he’s a foreigner, an Asian, no money, with his head still in the village…and probably a wife or two back in the village. Never the twain! I told ’em as much. Never the twain!”

“And this sudden coldness between the doctor and Miss Berger?”

“Unreasonable. Brenda seems to be blaming him in some vague way. Maybe he’d been encouraging Naomi to drink, not being as strict as a doctor should be. Most likely, Brenda is just striking out. She’d rather do that than grieve passively. But if it puts some distance between her and Pereira, I say it’s a good thing.”

“Another eager man, madame?”

“Just so, commissaire.”


As they drove away…

“Commissioner, any more visits?”

Maigret was staring at something in the cup of his hand.

“Eh? No. I think we have interviewed enough. Is it time for lunch, you think?”

“Still early.”

“Well, an early lunch then. Your afternoon will be strenuous, mon petit. While I take some necessary rest and possibly some sleep, I will ask you to make a number of calls, dig for certain information. Are you willing?”

“Of course. I can work out of the Katoomba police rooms.”

“You have a friend in the police, in Sydney, the type who can…transiger…How do I say?…The type who can cut through, if you know what I mean?”

“I know what you mean. I have a friend called Don Dibble, just turned detective, same age as me. He looks like a high pile of used bricks, talks like a bear with a headache. But those are just appearances. If we ask him to drop everything and dig for information he’ll be willing and he’ll know what to do. He’s got grit.”


“He’s got what you’ve got, commissioner.”

Ah bon.”

There was silence. Then Maigret lifted the feather he had been inspecting, the same one he had picked up on the ground beneath the gallery window.

Geais bleu…I think the English words are blue jay. It’s a blue jay feather. Common decoration. A Canadian bird, I think…”

“I’ve heard of blue jays…”

“Did you notice the feathers in Miss Tally’s hat?”

McGroder braked and pulled over to the side of the road.

“Commissioner! You mean…”

But Maigret merely lifted an index finger to side of his nostril, grinned just a little.

“The other thing you must do for me is to assemble all these people in the gallery, this very night. The doctor, Miss Tally, the lawyer, the pharmacist, Miss Berger…all of them. Tell them the purpose is to clarify certain details, at the request of an old man about to depart Australia, now that the airport strike is ended. But tell them they must come. Get your very large friend from Sydney to drag them if necessary. Say it is merely for a summation or conference, nothing more. If you like, hint that you are indulging me.

“But assemble them tonight in the gallery!”

Posted in CRIME/DETECTION | 2 Comments


After locking and leaving the Jaguar, they paused to confer near McGroder’s much humbler Holden. Maigret leaned his aged bulk against its bonnet and gratefully caught some early sun full on.

“As we age we begin to understand lizards and other such creatures with cold blood…reptiles, I think is the English word?”

“Well, at least our winters are sunny here. May explain the size and numbers of our reptiles.”

“Ah, yes, this sun is good…”

“So, commissioner, you said you’d like to meet some of the people…”

“The doctor to begin with, I think. He was first to inspect the body, non?

“Well, it was Brenda who first approached the body…but, yes, I suppose it was Winston Pereira who confirmed that Naomi was actually dead, that the blood was real, not part of a game.”

“And you say there is now some anger against this man? From the sister?”

“It seems Brenda blamed him a bit for not discouraging her sister from drinking. She felt – she still feels – Naomi might have stood a better chance if completely sober. Not that she was drunk at all, but, as you know, emotion, sudden bereavement…Brenda just wants to lash out, I suppose.”

“And we cannot say, in any case, what the victim might have defended herself against in that locked room, non? What or who or how?”

“That’s right. A drink or two could hardly make a difference. I suppose it’s just emotion on Brenda’s part, someone to blame. Not as if anyone had control over Naomi. She was strong-minded. Whatever she did to get into a mess, she’d taken charge of her own cure, like everyone has to do in the end, I suppose. Pereira was their mutual friend, not Naomi’s psychiatrist. Anyway, after all her drug and mental problems she was making an effort to drink less, and it seems she hadn’t been drinking at all before she took just the one, immediately before the parlour game.”

“And you say she took medication also?”

“Yes, but not anything which could affect her behaviour quickly. Just lithium salts. She was in a good frame of mind and quite sober when she entered the room.”

“Lit…Lis..?…Ah, yes. It is the same word in French and English. Carbonate de lithium. One maintains a certain level in the body for a continued effect. It helps the mood of some. Modest amount of alcohol is permitted. I believe patients do not like the parching effect…”

“You study these things, commissioner?”

“I have much spare time now and some very large volumes on things which might have a rapport with the study of crime. Otherwise one might be driven to reading fiction. Simenon, even!”

McGroder could only force a laugh. He was impatient to know, and catching Maigret’s true thoughts was just an added strain on his patience. Why these swings between secrecy and flippancy? Was it a French thing?

“So, you’d like to see Pereira first? He’s unlikely to be home. His work is mostly at Lithgow Hospital, down the other side of the mountains. Of course, we could always drive to Lithgow…”

“Ah, no. To his home, Clive. And directly!”

“Shouldn’t we ring first? I mean, if he’s not home…”

“Well then, we can breathe in a little more mountain air. And breathe in a little more of the lives of these people. The doctor lives out that way, does he not?”

Maigret pointed away from the Sydney side of the mountains, toward the north-west.

“Why, yes. He lives at Blackheath, a few miles from here. How did you know?”

A shrug, then:

“You mentioned he works down the other side of the mountains. So I perhaps assumed he might live a little closer to his place of work.”


A shrug.



On the way to Blackheath Maigret was silent and McGroder made no attempts to draw him out. The young man was even allowing himself a sulk, perhaps. At last Maigret:

“We are taking the most direct way to this man’s house? The normal way?”

“Yes. We drive along this main ridge then, at Blackheath shops, make a right turn and a left turn…Does it matter?”

“Oh, it might, mon petit. You never know. We may catch the doctor at home. Will there be anyone else there?”

“I doubt it.”

“A single man? No family here?”

“No, he came out from Ceylon under some special government plan for doctors.”

“And he works here and not in Sydney for a reason?”

“I think it’s a way for someone ambitious to get a start in Australia. Certain professional people from Asia accept positions in less fancy places – Lithgow is coal mining – either because there is plenty of work for them, or because they are sent there.”

“And this does not violate your laws against…against darker people?”

“Those laws don’t exist, commissioner. Never have.”

Again, a tone of sulk.

“I see. And what is your impression of this doctor?”

“Well…A big, good-looking bloke. Very social, they tell me. Lower grade cricketer. Still young enough to play in the local Rugby side. A bit posh, like a lot of Rugby Union types.”


“You know, talks a bit English, David Niven mo, smokes a pipe, leather patches on his coat…”

“But you yourself played Rugby…”

“Rugby League. League is for my…my type.”

“Ah, la Ligue…the Rugby League is the game of thirteen, non?”

“That’s right. Rugby Union is for fifteen players. Being French I suppose you’d know how all that works.”

“Our national thirteen, our rugby-à-treize side, les Chanteclairs, is very strong, just not well known in the north. It recently beat Australia twice, did it not? But it seems odd that the two types of rugby belong to different classes in the same place.”

“Well, it’s not as definite as that. The footy you play shouldn’t matter socially, but here it sort of does. Hard to explain. We mostly descend from bloody convicts or nobodies in this country, but we have to make our social distinctions somehow.”

Maigret laughed, ignoring the other’s faintly sour mood.

“I understand a little, being from the Auvergne. In France, Rugby means you are too much from the south. And what is here called Rugby League, jeu-à-treize, means you are worse than that. The Vichy government had the game banned, its grounds and possessions confiscated, and after the war it was still…Those words you used…convicts and…”

“Convicts and nobodies?”

“Just so. It was a game of convicts and nobodies.”

Maigret chuckled away quietly, then:

“Are you a convict or a nobody, young Clive?”

“Me? No convicts in my family tree. We’d shoot them if we had any. I’m a nobody, for sure…What about you, commissioner?”

“Hmm. Voyons, voyons…Alas, I fear I am more convict.”

By the time the car drew into a driveway in the back streets of Blackheath the two men were almost at ease again. Or Maigret had used his charm to make it so for a while! The ease would pass, McGroder could be sure.


“No cars here. I’d say he’s gone to work for sure.”

“Perhaps you could knock.”

McGroder opened his door to get out.

“Since you insist…”

“I hope you don’t mind if I stay here in the car. The morning is cold and my bones are slow.”

“I’ll be back in a minute.”

Sure enough, McGroder walked to the front door of the modest timber home, knocked, waited, then came back.

“Nobody there. Seems we’ve wasted a trip, commissioner.”

“It does seem so.”

“Who else would you like to talk with? I’ve got the schedules for most of the people who were witnesses. The family lawyer, the local politician who’s also a pharmacist, the lady with the double surname…”

“Those three will be enough.”

“Enough? Then you already have some idea…”

“Oh, who can say? I think I now know some things…but if I tell you what those things are that will make two of us who think they know, and know the same things. Better to shop, to gather…non? Like the housewife with the big thing on wheels, or the mushroom hunter, non?”

“If you say so.”

Patience, mon petit. But I think I need to move my limbs or I will be stuck in this seat till the summer comes. Is there a place we can walk in the sun a little?”

“As a matter of fact there is. Just down on the edge of this town. And it’s quite a place.”


The forest slopes dressed the sides of sandstone cliffs like half-fallen robes. The base of the valley was still a winding lake of mist, that looked like it could stretch to the Pacific through fold after fold of valley wall.

Impressionant! It is…almost too much space, too much for the eye!”

“You’re not the first traveller from Europe to say something like that. Charles Darwin came here last century, saw this, and was bowled over. Maybe he stood right where we’re standing. It’s called the Grose Valley, commissioner. We’re on the Sydney side of the ridge here. Up high the soil is thin, the gums are straggly. But down there are rivers, gorges, streams, waterfalls…and blue gums the size of city buildings.”

Maigret was silent, stared out. At last:

“So strange that someone would kill to own a small representation of all this…while the thing itself is here for free, and many just pass it by…”

“You think…the painting…?”

“Oh, who can say? I was being…métaphorique, perhaps. I mean merely that we ignore the greater in order to own the lesser…that we…Ah, even in French it would be hard to say what I mean…I think…I think the morning will be well spent interviewing our three witnesses. And then…”

“And then?”

“Lunch, of course!”

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McGroder woke to muffled thuds and rattles from the corridor. Still in pyjamas, he opened the door of his “Blenheim” suite and peered out, expecting to see Brenda Berger or one of her remaining staff.

Instead he saw a fully dressed Maigret fiddling near the door of the Berger family apartments at the end of the corridor.


Ah, bonjour, mon petit. I knew you had already looked in the victim‘s rooms, but, one never knows...fresh eyes

McGroder advanced down the corridor, embarrassed not just by his pyjamas.

“Commissioner, there’s no point trying to force it. And I already tried the master key on that door last night, just to check. It can’t be opened. I’m assuming the Berger rooms are off limits in any case. I admit I don’t know the exact laws on admission to private quarters after consent to inspect the general premises, and I hope you don’t find me too…too Anglo, too British about this…”

“But the lady told us to feel free to investigate…” Maigret continued to fiddle with the door.

“Commissioner! Please! It can’t be opened. And I’d have trouble justifying an intrusion like this if we could open it. We’ve already gone over Naomi’s rooms and belongings, with her sister’s consent. Brenda showed us everything,  gave us full access…”

“But since this is where the victim lived…and since I am here…”

“In any case, it’s locked, the master key won’t work, so if you want to take a look we’ll have to wait for Miss Berger to get back from Sydney. Of course, it would be useful if we had your perspective on anything to do with…”

The door to the Berger apartments swung open.

“Commissioner, how on earth…?”

With one hand Maigret pocketed something small which jangled. He raised the other hand and tapped his straightened index finger against a nostril, making a French gesture made familiar to non-French by the likes of Maurice Chevalier, perhaps. A gesture of conspiracy, of say-nothing, of self-congratulation?

“Really, commissioner, if Miss Berger comes back early from Sydney and finds us…”

“Then we should be quick, non?”

Maigret stepped in.

“Let me…let me put on my dressing gown, or something…”

“Oh, don’t bother, Clive. We will be here just a minute or two. Time enough to breathe in the lives of these people. Not to know, just to breathe in.”

Flustered, McGroder followed, tightening the cord of his pale purple-striped pyjamas, a dubious gift from his mother.

“I suppose if we’re quick…and if we can avoid touching anything…”

“But of course we will be quick! There is breakfast to think about…Ah, what an interesting apartment. So fresh!”

The large living room was not what they expected. Unlike the rest of Sans Souci, here everything was new. The open plan apartment had the look of a modern London flat of the most expensive sort, though without the affectations of pop art or psychedelia: abstract-patterned rugs and curtains, low seating with lower coffee tables, the whole decor in shades of tan reaching to yellow and orange. Yet there was a quality, a solidity, which still said “Berger”.

“Commissioner, where are you going?”

Maigret had walked up a step and through a broad archway into a space which looked like an office, judging from the polished timber shelving and cabinets visible from the main room. By the time McGroder had joined him, he was idly flipping through the pages of a record book left on the massive partner’s desk which occupied the centre of the office.


“Oh, don’t worry. I will not leave a smudge or displace anything.”

“But what are you looking for?”

Maigret continued to flip through the pages of the book, pausing on what looked to be a final entry. At last:

“Looking for? How should I know what to look for? But show me the victim’s room, then we can be thinking of some breakfast. I would settle for even le Nescafé…

They crossed the living room and went to the end of a hall.

“Here on the west side, the valley side…this is – or was – Naomi’s apartment within the family apartment. The facing door there on the road side is Brenda’s, but I hope you’re not going to…”

Mais non. To enter a lady’s office is one thing, to enter her sleeping place is another…No, Clive, we will spend a few seconds looking at the late sister’s room, then – then le Nescafé!”

Naomi’s room was not locked. What they saw on entering was something far more like the Sans Souci surrounding them, though here the heritage had not faded. The mahogany of furnishings, skirting and window frames still had its polish; traditional drapes and Wilton rugs were mysteriously without a hint of wear or even use; the deep, contrasting colours on ceiling rose and cornices fairly gleamed when McGroder turned on the light.

“She’d only been back home a fortnight, but I’m told this is how she had it always: perfect order and maintenance.”

“And what one might call love for the old, for the original?”

“I reckon so. That’s how the lady was. In the time after getting back here she’d planned and sketched like mad for the renovation – or whatever it was they were planning. She’s left a whole portfolio on that desk over there. It’s all to do with matching old colours and fabrics. Would you like to take a look?”

“In fact, I would like breakfast. This has been enough breathing-in, I think. But this renovation or restoring…would this have effected the…what word am I seeking?…Ah, yes, would this have effected the proprietorship of the painting, or of other such things?”

“I think the word is ownership. You mean the painting you found? I suppose a major restoration project involving insurance and partnerships and so on would effect everything here.”

“So someone would be in a hurry, with so much change pressing?”

“In a hurry to steal a painting?”

“That. Or other things.”

“I reckon there’s a chance. Hard to know for sure. You think…?”

“I think some toast, some coffee…maybe even a little rum or brandy for the coffee if the morning is cold…”


They had found some frozen sliced bread, butter and a selection of French jams in quaint pots. Huddled near an electric radiator at the lounge bar where Maigret had first met Brenda Berger, the two were able to toast their bread and boil up water for instant coffee. The threat to add alcohol to the coffee was suspended for the time being. McGroder was beginning to suspect that Maigret’s constant tippling was a mask or deflection more than a craving. By drinking he geared down his thinking and convinced others that he had stopped thinking.

But Maigret did not stop thinking, or masking, or deflecting.

“Commissioner, have you a plan for the day? You said there were people you’d like to meet.”

“Indeed, indeed. But first we should wait for Miss Berger to return, non?”

“I’m not sure when that will be. She has a comfortable flat near the middle of Sydney, in Elizabeth Bay.”

“No, she will be back quickly.”

“You’re sure?”


“I see.”

“But when she gets here she will be able to give me the good news that the airport strike is over and I will be able to return to France.”

“The strike is over?”

“Yes. There is a radio in my room. It seems that all parties reached agreement last night.”

“Well, I suppose you’ll be wanting to arrange your flight immediately…”



A maddening pause was followed by:

Eh bien, maybe just a little cognac in the next cup of coffee dust. Just to take away the dust taste. Not for you, mon petit? And when Miss Berger does arrive I see no reason to mention the finding of the painting. We will keep that to ourselves. The painting is now secure since we have the police lock on the gallery. Why not keep our discovery a secret for a while, hein? A secret not just to Miss Berger but to everybody. Leave it for a little coup-de-théatre, but later, when we know more.”

McGroder was burning to know how much Maigret knew already. As if he would say!


The growl of a motor and skittling of gravel from outside.

“Why don’t we go and greet the lady?”

“How do you know it’s her, commissioner? It could be Roland Cassin…”

“He starts work after his children are in school. He told me so. And that is not the sound of a workman’s truck. Come, quickly.”

“But…can’t we wait here?”

“I like cars.”

Maigret was already heading toward the main entrance. McGroder could only follow, surprised by the other’s haste.

As they stepped out they saw Brenda Berger, emerging from a new Jaguar, briefcase in hand.

“Oh, good morning, gentlemen. Started early to beat the Sydney traffic. I hope you’ve been comfortable.”

“Very, madame.”

“I’m so sorry I was called away, but life doesn’t stop. Work helps a tiny bit when nothing else does. Have you been able to make progress?”

“Ah, much as I wish to help in this matter of your sister, I am afraid, ah, well…” His voice trailed into a mutter as he gave his customary shrugs.

“We really do appreciate your interest, commissaire. And I know Naomi would have adored meeting you…”

Her voice choked as she covered her face with her free hand.

“Ah, madame…”

“No, I’m all right. Crying is not my way. It wasn’t Naomi’s way, even when things were at their worst…Commissioner, I have some good news for you. The airport strike is over.”

“As you say, that is very good news. May we help you with any parcels?”

“Oh no. I have just the briefcase. I keep clothes in Sydney for overnight.”

Madame, may I ask a little courtesy of you?”

“Why, of course.”

“It is just that I am very fond of cars, especially cars such as this. I was only just saying to Clive…Madame, would you permit me just to sit…”

“More than that! Take it for a spin! Keep it for the day!”

“Oh no. This driving on the left…I never did that and never will. I was in great confusion in London just crossing the road. No, no. If you will just permit me to sit in those marvellous leather seats and inspect the controls…”

“Of course. Please do. You don’t mind if I go in? I have calls to make.”

As Brenda made her way inside, Maigret sat in the driver’s seat of the Jaguar 420G , caressing the dashboard and upholstery with admiration.

“A fine car. A very fine car. And that aroma of the leather! You like this sort of British car, Clive?”

McGroder, tired of not knowing what was conversation and what was teasing, leaned down to answer, with just the faintest accusation in his tone:

“Well, you might be surprised to learn that our family car was a Peugeot 403. And I’d really like to own a 404.”

“Very flattering. And surprising. The general and Mr Pompidou would be pleased. Well, enough of all this…”

With an old man’s sighed groan, Maigret heaved himself out of the bucket seat .

“Um, commissioner.”


“I’d like to ask you if there is anything about this car which interests you. I mean, with regard to the case.”

“With regard to the case?”

“Yes. But I’m afraid that if I do ask you that question you will just change the subject.”

“The subject?”

“Yes. I’m afraid you will change the subject.”

Ah, bon.”

Maigret looked skyward.

“Will this strong wind from the inland pick up again, do you think? You know, Clive, at my age, cold and wind…”


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They walked back along the corridor and through the main lounge to reach the accommodation building. From there they ascended to the Melba and Prince of Wales Wings, once a high tariff precinct for the famous and wealthy, with several rooms qualifying as “royal”, “vice-regal” or “ministerial” by some long forgotten standard. The future Edward VIII and Dame Nellie had been guests there, as photos and portraits along the walls testified; and the Bergers had their own lavish quarters at the very end of the north corridor.

“Commissioner, Miss Berger has left me with a master key, so we can take our pick of rooms for the night. Only the rooms at the end of the Melba Wing here, near the Bergers’ own rooms, have their central heating going, so I suppose we should choose from them.”

“I hope I can call on you to help me with my suitcase, Clive. I am good when the walking is flat, but since leaving our immeuble near Bastille I have lost the habit of stairs.”

“I’ll fetch both our cases while you take a breather. So…which room?”

“Any room. If the windows are strong against this wind and do not shake and make ghost noises I would enjoy a view over the valley.”

“Oh, the wind will likely drop later. And you’ll find everything is perfectly made and fitted, probably by some specialist craftsman imported from Spain or Italy. We’ll put you on the west side. Here…let’s try Palmerston, if the name isn’t too British for you.”

“Not at all. The British and I have fought together when…Well, I am not to say too much about that time, especially to Simenon, but I remember them fondly, my years in London.”


When McGroder returned with the luggage Maigret was puffing away, his big frame merged into a throne-sized armchair of mahogany and velvet, specially ordered furniture which had quite possibly accommodated some royal Bertie or George decades before. He had one foot posted on a long, low sill as he stared down on the Megalong Valley, framed perfectly by the vista window.

“Quite a view, isn’t it, commissioner?”

No response.

“Commissioner, would you like me to help you…?”

“Tell me of any little thing, young Clive.”


“Tell me of the little thing, the thing so trivial you would not wish to mention it. Something that comes to mind, without force…if I am making myself understood.”

“You mean…anything at all?”

“Perhaps, if that suits you. But I was thinking about our matter, our case. That would make more sense, non? There is often some small thing about a case which means little, but which stays in the mind. I was thinking of this.”

McGroder sat down on the edge of the elaborate poster bed and said nothing for a while. Then:

“There’s nothing, really…although…”


“This is almost nothing, but…”

“If it has stayed in your mind, it is something perhaps. Please tell, mon petit.”

“Well, we found a note of sorts stuffed in Naomi Berger’s clothes. But it didn’t really mean anything.”

“It was in a pocket?”

“No. As I mentioned, the lady was dressed like a jazz dancer or…sort of what we call a beatnik. I’m sure you have that style in Paris. You probably invented it.”

Bohémien style, perhaps. But we too say the word beatnik.”

“Anyway, she was dressed only in black tights and top, like a modern jazz dancer. Seems she’d been in that scene for a while: coffee-lounges, bongo drums, all that. I often had to chase around those places for marijuana and other drugs when I was stationed in the city. Naomi had decided to dress in the style of her youth, just for the evening because she was leading the games. Usually she was a stickler for formality. Didn’t like anything common. Her beatnik clothes probably came from Paris and cost more than most people’s best suits. I’m not criticising, just going by what her friends said.”

“Ah yes, the game called Body in the Library. Perhaps she needed to be free in her movements. To sacrifice formality only for games and sport: now that is very British! So this note or piece of paper, it was somehow in her clothes?”

“Stuck down her top. We assumed she’d just found it lying around somewhere and picked it up. She was fanatically tidy, and especially fussy about any mess in Sans Souci. It wasn’t really a note. Someone had likely put a drink on a piece of paper, maybe to avoid marking furniture. There was a circular red stain, like from a glass. May have been her own piece of paper she was cleaning up, since her favourite drink was red vermouth.”

“No words?”

“Just the two words ‘FOR AFTER’. They were written in capitals, but in a special decorative way. Maybe that was why I held on to it. There was a certain style to it. Like somebody cared…But, really, it’s just the sort of scrap anyone might have stuck down in their clothes, or forgotten in a pocket. You couldn’t seriously call it evidence.”

Maigret was silent, puffed away. Then:

“You have this piece of paper still?”

“I do, in fact. It wasn’t really evidence but for some reason I just stuffed it in my briefcase rather than let it go to Parramatta with the body. I don’t know why, but I wanted it here, not there. A small, irrelevant thing…Maybe I wanted it as some sort of contact, something to remind. Did I do wrong?”

No response again, for far too long. At last:

“You can show me this piece of paper?”


When McGroder returned Maigret was puffing just a little harder, all his attention still on the stupendous view, as shadows lengthened across the valley and the low winter sun was beginning to shine obliquely through the vista window.

McGroder handed the piece of paper to Maigret, who grunted a faint “merci”. He looked it over for a few seconds only before turning about and handing it back.

Eh bien, we must be off for dinner soon, don’t you think? You know the way to this restaurant where the steak is local and good? No doubt I will have to beg the cook to keep mine very rare…”

“Commissioner, do you make anything of that piece of paper?”

But there was only a shrug by way of answer.



Apart from some barely amused face-pulls at the lumps of tinned pineapple in his prawn cocktail and the overdone state of his “very rare” steak, Maigret had been an excellent and easy dinner companion. A young woman at another table had recognised the old detective and asked for his autograph; he had been downright charming in signing a menu for her.

When he settled back with a pipe and liqueur glass he commented as if continuing the conversation from hours ago:

“I think it was good that you kept the piece of paper.”

“You mean the paper I found in Naomi’s clothing?”

“Just so. It was good to keep it.”

“You think it means anything? The stain or the words? Or just the fact that she had it on her?”

McGroder was sure there would be another maddening shrug followed by silence. However…

“We will be meeting some people tomorrow, as I think. People caught up in this case. What little habits do they have? Are they neat? Do they have pockets in their tights? Do they ever wear such clothes? Do they drink red vermouth? So many things to think about, all from a piece of paper. I kept a feather, you kept a piece of paper. No logic, no clue. Just something one wishes to put in one’s pocket…something that whispers to us…”

“But is there anything about the bit of paper, beyond general things…Do you think?”

This time there was a maddening silence.

Dinner finished.

Maigret working.

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