MAIGRET’S LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY: Chapter 11

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.”

“Perhaps?”

A shrug.

Maddening.

*

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.”

“Posh?”

“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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About mosomoso

Growing moso bamboo on the mid-coast of NSW, Australia.
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3 Responses to MAIGRET’S LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY: Chapter 11

  1. beththeserf says:

    Say, lotsa’ rich historical context in one short drive in the Blue Mountains, toff. )

  2. beththeserf says:

    My family neither either – Inventive engineers and the arts. Always tryin’
    ter make sometihin’ outa’ bitsa’ flotsam ‘n jetsam. U I suspect r *noblesse
    oblige… I like that.

    (*If ‘n that’s how yer spell it.) I

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