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A MAN’S HEAD
Translated by David Coward
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in French as La tête d’un homme by Fayard 1931
This translation first published in Penguin Books 2014
Copyright 1931 by Georges Simenon Limited
Translation copyright © David Coward, 2014
GEORGES SIMENON ® Simenon.tm
MAIGRET ® Georges Simenon Limited
Cover photograph (detail) © Harry Gruyaert /Magnum Photos.
Front cover design by Alceu Chiesorin Nunes
All rights reserved
The moral rights of the author and translator have been asserted
About the Author
1. Cell 11, High Surveillance
2. The Sleeping Man
3. The Torn Newspaper
4. General Headquarters
5. The Man Who Liked Caviar
6. The Inn at Nandy
7. Little Man
8. A Man in the House
9. The Next Day
10. A Cupboard with a Surprise
11. Four Aces
12. The Fall
EXTRA: Chapter 1 from The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Georges Simenon was born on 12 February 1903 in Liège, Belgium, and died in 1989 in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he had lived for the latter part of his life. Between 1931 and 1972 he published seventy-five novels and twenty-eight short storiesfeaturing Inspector Maigret.
Simenon always resisted identifying himself with his famous literary character, but acknowledged that they shared an important characteristic:
My motto, to the extent that I have one, has been noted often enough, and I’ve always conformed to it. It’s the one I’ve given to old Maigret, who resembles me in certain points … ‘understand and judgenot’.
Penguin is publishing the entire series of Maigret novels.
A MAN’S HEAD
‘I love reading Simenon. He makes me think of Chekhov’
— William Faulkner
‘A truly wonderful writer … marvellously readable – lucid, simple, absolutely in tune with the world he creates’
— Muriel Spark
‘Few writers have ever conveyed with such a sure touch, the bleakness of human life ’
— A. N. Wilson
‘One of the greatest writers of the twentieth century … Simenon was unequalled at making us look inside, though the ability was masked by his brilliance at absorbing us obsessively in his stories’
‘A novelist who entered his fictional world as if he were part of it’
— Peter Ackroyd
‘The greatest of all, the most genuine novelist we have had in literature’
— André Gide
‘Superb … The most addictive of writers … A unique teller of tales’
‘The mysteries of the human personality are revealed in all their disconcerting complexity’
— Anita Brookner
‘A writer who, more than any other crime novelist, combined a high literary reputation with popular appeal’
— P. D. James
‘A supreme writer … Unforgettable vividness’
‘Compelling, remorseless, brilliant’
— John Gray
‘Extraordinary masterpieces of the twentieth century’
— John Banville
1. Cell 11, High Surveillance
When a bell somewhere rang twice, the prisoner was sitting on his bunk with his two large hands clasped about his folded knees.
For the space of perhaps a minute he did not move, as if suspended in time; then with a sudden release of breath, he stretched his arms and legs and stood up in his cell, a huge man, ungainly, his head too big, his arms too long and his chesthollow.
His face was unreadable, expressing only numbness or perhaps a kind of inhuman indifference. Yet before he moved across to the door with the spyhole, now closed, he brandished a fist towards one of the walls.
On the other side of that wall was an identical cell, one of the cells on the Santé prison’s High Surveillance wing.
In it, as in four other cells, was a convicted criminal waiting for either a stay of execution or the arrival of the solemn party of men who would come one night and wake him without saying a word.
Every day for five days, every hour, every minute, the other prisoner had groaned, at times in a low monotonous whimper, at others accompanied by screams, tears, howls of defiance.
Number 11 had never set eyes on him, knew nothing of him. At most, judging by his voice, he could make a guess that his neighbour was young.
At this moment, the groaning was weary, mechanical, while in the eyes of the man who had just got to his feet there was a flash of hatred, and he clenched his large-knuckled fists.
From the corridor and passageways, from the exercise yards, from every part of the fortress that is the Santé prison, from the streets surrounding it, from Paris, no sound reached him.
Except for the moaning of the man in cell 10.
Number 11 pulled jerkily on his fingers, then froze twice before reaching out to put one hand on the door.
The cell light was on, as laid down in regulations for High Surveillance watch.
Normally, a guard was required to be on duty in the corridor, to open the doors of all five prisoners every hour.
Number 11’s hands played around the lock with a gesture made solemn by a tremor of fear.
The door swung open. The guard’s chair was there. No one was sitting on it.
The man began walking, very fast, bent double, his senses reeling. His face was dead white, and only the red-tinged lids of his greenish eyes had any colour.
Three times he stopped and went back the way he had come because he had taken a wrong turning and had come up against locked doors.
At the end of one corridor he heard voices. Guards were smoking and chatting in a duty room.
Finally he found himself in a yard, where the darkness was punctured at intervals by the round discs of lamps. A hundred metres ahead, in front of the outer gate, a sentry was walking to and fro.
To one side was a lighted window through which a man could be seen, pipe in mouth, bent over a desk littered with papers.
Number 11 wished he could have taken another look at the note he had found three days earlier stuck to the bottom of his dinner pail, but he had chewed and swallowed it following the instructions of whoever had sent it. For while, only an hourbefore, he had known what it said by heart, there were now parts of it which he could not remember exactly.
At 2 a.m., 15 October, your cell door will be left open and the guard will be busy elsewhere. If you follow the directions as marked below …
The man passed a burning hand over his forehead, stared in terror at the discs of light and almost cried out loud when he heard footsteps. But they came from the other side of the wall, from the street. Free people were talking out there, and theirheels clacked on the pavement.
‘When I think they charge fifty francs a seat …’
It was a woman’s voice.
‘Yes, but they have expenses …’ came a man’s voice.
The prisoner felt his way along the wall, stopped because his foot had encountered a stone, listened, so whey-faced, cutting such an odd figure with those interminable arms which dangled loosely, that if this had been happening anywhere else peoplewould just have assumed he was a drunk.
The small knot of men was waiting less than fifty metres from the invisible prisoner, in a recess of the wall, near a door on which was written: Bursar’s Office.
Detective Chief Inspector Maigret had chosen not to lean against the blackened brick wall. With his hands thrust into the pockets of his overcoat, he was standing so squarely on his strong legs, so absolutely still, that he gave the impression oflifeless bulk.
But at regular intervals there came the dragging sizzle of his pipe. His eyes were watchful, but he couldn’t quite eradicate the apprehension in them.
A dozen times at least, he must have nudged the shoulder of Coméliau, the examining magistrate, who would not stay where he had been put.
Coméliau had come directly from a social engagement in evening dress, his thin moustache neatly trimmed and with more colour in his cheeks than usual.
Close to them, with a scowl on his face and the collar of his coat turned up, stood Monsieur Gassier, governor of the Santé, who was trying to distance himself from what was happening.
There was a slight chill in the air. The sentry by the gate stamped his feet, and his breath rose in the air like thin columns of steam.
The prisoner, who avoided areas that were lit, could not be seen. But however careful he was to make no noise, he could still be heard moving around, and the onlookers were able, after a fashion, to follow his every movement.
After ten minutes, the examining magistrate shuffled nearer to Maigret and opened his mouth to say something. But the inspector gripped his shoulder with such strength that the magistrate desisted, sighed and from a pocket mechanically took acigarette, which was snatched from his hands.
All three had understood. Number 11 did not know the way and at any moment might stumble into a patrol.
And they could do nothing about it! They could hardly lead him by the hand to the place at the foot of the wall where the parcel of clothes had been left for him and where a knotted rope dangled.
At intervals a vehicle drove past in the street outside. Sometimes there were also people talking, and their voices echoed in a particular way in the prison yard.
All the three men could do was to exchange glances. The look in the governor’s eyes was bad-tempered, sarcastic, fierce. Coméliau, the examining magistrate, was aware of his own growing anxiety, and the apprehension too.
Maigret alone did not flinch, his strength of will ensuring that he remained confident. But if he had been standing in a strong light, his brow would have been observed to glisten with sweat.
When the half-hour struck, the man was still dithering, all at sea. But one second later, the three watching men were all startled and felt the same shock.
They had not heard the release of breath, they had rather sensed it, they could feel the feverish haste of their man who had just stumbled over the parcel of clothes and seen the rope.
The footsteps of the sentry continued to mark the rhythm of passing time. The magistrate took his opportunity and hissed:
‘You’re sure he …?’
Maigret turned such a look on him that he fell silent. The rope twitched. They made out a lighter stain against the dark wall: the face of number 11, who was using his powerful wrists to haul himself up.
It took an age. It took ten, twenty times longer than they had anticipated. And when he reached the top, it looked as if he had given up, because he had completely stopped moving.
They could make him out now, or at least his silhouette, lying flat on the top of the wall.
Was he paralysed by vertigo? Was he hesitating about dropping down into the road? Were there passers-by or a courting couple crouching in some recess who were stopping him?
Coméliau snapped his fingers impatiently. The governor muttered:
‘I don’t suppose you need me any more …’
The rope was hauled up so that it could be dropped down the other side. The man disappeared.
‘If I didn’t have such confidence in you, detective chief inspector, I swear I’d never have let myself be mixed up in anything like this. All the same, I still think Heurtin is guilty. And what if he manages to get away from you? What then?’
‘Will I see you tomorrow?’ was all that Maigret asked.
‘I’ll be in my office any time after ten.’
They shook hands without saying anything more. The governor held out a hand grudgingly and, as he left, muttered a few indistinct words.
Maigret remained close to the wall for a few moments longer and did not move off towards the gate until he had heard someone running off as fast as he could. He gave a wave to the guard on duty, looked up and down the empty street and walked alongit and then into Rue Jean-Dolent.
‘Did he get away?’ he asked a dark figure which hugged the wall.
‘Headed towards Boulevard Arago. Dufour and Janvier are on his tail.’
‘You can go home now.’
Maigret, his mind elsewhere, shook the officer’s hand, moved off with his stolid tread, head down, lighting his pipe as he went.
It was four in the morning when he pushed open the door of his office on Quai des Orfèvres. With a sigh he took off his overcoat, swallowed half the contents of a glass of warm beer which had been left among his papers and sat heavily into hischair.
In front of him was a fat manila file on which a police clerk had written in a flowery hand: Heurtin Case.
He waited for three hours. The bare electric bulb was surrounded by a cloud of smoke, which stirred at the slightest movement of air. From time to time, Maigret got up to poke the stove then returned to his seat but not before removing first hisjacket, then his collar and finally his waistcoat.
The phone was within easy reach, and at around seven o’clock he lifted the receiver just to make sure that they had not forgotten to give him an outside line.
The buff-coloured file was open. Reports, newspaper cuttings, witness-statements and photographs had spilled out on to the desk, and Maigret stared at them distantly, sometimes reaching for a document not so much to read it as to confirm a train ofthought.
The whole collection was topped by a newspaper cutting with a forceful headline spread over two newspaper columns:
Joseph Heurtin, killer of Madame Henderson and her maid, sentenced to death this morning.
Maigret was smoking continuously, keeping an anxious eye on the telephone, which remained obstinately silent.
At ten past six, it rang, but it was a wrong number.
From where he sat, the inspector could read parts of various documents, though he now knew them by heart.
Joseph Jean-Marie Heurtin, 27, born Melun, a delivery man for Monsieur Gérardier, a florist in Rue de Sèvres …
The man’s photograph was visible. It had been taken a year before in a fairground booth at Neuilly. A big man with unusually long arms, triangular-shaped head, washed-out complexion and clothes which denoted a vulgar dress sense.
Brutal Killing at Saint-Cloud
Rich American stabbed to death along with her maid
It had happened in July.