The Cellars Of The Majestic

Paperback | January 26, 2016

bySimenon, GeorgesTranslated byHoward Curtis

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The dark side of glamorous expat life in Paris is brought to life in this new translation, book twenty-one in the new Penguin Maigret series.

Maigret investigates the murder of Mrs. Clark, the wife of a wealthy American industrialist, whose strangled body is found in the basement of an upscale hotel near the Champs-Élysées. Maigret’s inquiries take him from the endless corridors of the Hotel Majestic to the countryside of the Bois de Boulogne and sun-drenched Cannes, into a world of prostitution, drug addiction, and blackmail.

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The dark side of glamorous expat life in Paris is brought to life in this new translation, book twenty-one in the new Penguin Maigret series.Maigret investigates the murder of Mrs. Clark, the wife of a wealthy American industrialist, whose strangled body is found in the basement of an upscale hotel near the Champs-Élysées. Maigret’s in...

Georges Simenon (1903–1989) was born in Liège, Belgium. Best known in the English-speaking world as the author of the Inspector Maigret books, his prolific output of more than four hundred novels and short stories have made him a household name in continental Europe.Howard Curtis is a prizewinning translator of French, Italian, and Spa...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:176 pages, 7.8 × 5 × 0.4 inPublished:January 26, 2016Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:024118844X

ISBN - 13:9780241188446

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Georges Simenon ------------------------------ THE CELLARS OF THE MAJESTIC Translated by Howard Curtis Title Page Copyright About the Author Praise for Georges Simenon 1. Prosper Donge’s Tyre 2. Maigret Goes Cycling 3. Charlotte at the Pélican 4. Gigi and the Carnival 5. The Spittle on the Window 6. Charlotte’s Letter 7. The Evening of ‘What’s He Saying?’ 8. When Maigret Dozed Off 9. Monsieur Charles’ Newspaper 10. Dinner at the Coupole 11. Gala Evening at the Police Judiciaire EXTRA: Chapter 1 from The Judge’s House ABOUT THE AUTHOR Georges Simenon was born on 12 February 1903 in Liège, Belgium, and died in 1989 in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he had lived for the latter part of his life. Simenon always resisted identifying himself with his famous literary character, but acknowledged that they shared an important characteristic: My motto, to the extent that I have one, has been noted often enough, and I’ve always conformed to it. It’s the one I’ve given to old Maigret, who resembles me in certain points …‘understand and judge not’. Penguin is publishing the entire series of Maigret novels. PENGUIN CLASSICS THE CELLARS OF THE MAJESTIC ‘I love reading Simenon. He makes me think of Chekhov’ – William Faulkner ‘A truly wonderful writer … marvellously readable – lucid, simple, absolutely in tune with the world he creates’ – Muriel Spark ‘Few writers have ever conveyed with such a sure touch, the bleakness of human life’ – A. N. Wilson ‘One of the greatest writers of the twentieth century … Simenon was unequalled at making us look inside, though the ability was masked by his brilliance at absorbing us obsessively in his stories’ – Guardian ‘A novelist who entered his fictional world as if he were part of it’ – Peter Ackroyd ‘The greatest of all, the most genuine novelist we have had in literature’ – André Gide ‘Superb … The most addictive of writers … A unique teller of tales’ – Observer ‘The mysteries of the human personality are revealed in all their disconcerting complexity’ – Anita Brookner ‘A writer who, more than any other crime novelist, combined a high literary reputation with popular appeal’ – P. D. James ‘A supreme writer … Unforgettable vividness’ – Independent ‘Compelling, remorseless, brilliant’ – John Gray ‘Extraordinary masterpieces of the twentieth century’ – John Banville 1. Prosper Donge’s Tyre A car door slamming. That was always the first noise of the day. The engine still running outside. Charlotte was presumably shaking the driver’s hand. Then the taxi drove away. Footsteps. The key in the lock and the click of a light switch. A match was struck in the kitchen, and the gas stove made a phffft sound as it came on. Slowly, like someone who has spent all night standing up, Charlotte climbed the overly new staircase. She came noiselessly into the bedroom. Another light switch. A bulb came on, with a pink handkerchief over it as a lampshade and wooden tassels at the four corners of the handkerchief. Prosper Donge had not opened his eyes. Charlotte looked at herself in the wardrobe mirror as she undressed. When she got down to her girdle and brassiere, she sighed. She was as fat and pink as a Rubens, but she was obsessive about squeezing herself in. Once naked, she rubbed the flesh where there were marks. She had an unpleasant way of getting into bed, kneeling on it first, which made the base tilt to one side. ‘Your turn, Prosper!’ He got up. She quickly huddled into the warm hollow he had left behind, pulled the blankets up to her eyes and stopped moving. ‘Is it raining?’ he asked as he flushed the toilet. A vague grunt. It didn’t matter. The water for shaving was ice cold. Trains could be heard passing. Prosper Donge got dressed. From time to time, Charlotte sighed, because she couldn’t get to sleep while the light was on. He had one hand already on the doorknob and was stretching his right arm towards the light switch when he heard a thick voice: ‘Don’t forget to go and pay the instalment for the wireless.’ On the kitchen stove, the coffee was hot, too hot. He drank it standing up. Then, like all those who make the same gestures at the same time every day, he wrapped a knitted scarf around his neck and put on his coat and cap. Finally, he took his bicycle, which was in the passage, and pushed it outside. Invariably, at that hour, he was greeted by a breath of cold, damp air, and there was wetness on the cobbles, even though it hadn’t rained; the people asleep behind the closed shutters would probably know only a warm, sunny day. The street, lined with detached houses and little gardens, sloped steeply downwards. Sometimes, between two trees, the lights of Paris could be glimpsed, as if at the bottom of a chasm. It was no longer night, but it wasn’t yet day. The air was mauve. The lights were coming on in a few windows, and Prosper Donge braked before he got to the level crossing, which was closed. He had to get across through the gates. After the Pont de Saint-Cloud, he turned left. A tugboat followed by its string of barges was whistling furiously, asking for the lock gate to be opened. The Bois de Boulogne … The lakes reflecting a paler sky, with swans waking up … Just as he reached Porte Dauphine, the ground suddenly felt harder beneath Donge’s wheels. He went a few more metres, then got off and had a look. His rear tyre was flat. He looked at his watch. It was ten to six. He began walking quickly, pushing his bicycle, and there was a slight mist in front of his lips, while the heat of the effort burned his chest inside. Avenue Foch … Closed shutters in all the mansions … A high-ranking officer, followed only by his orderly, was trotting along the bridle path … Light behind the Arc de Triomphe … He was hurrying now … He felt really hot … Just at the corner of the Champs-Élysées, a policeman in a cape, standing near the news stand, cried out: ‘Flat tyre?’ He nodded. Three hundred metres to go. The Hotel Majestic, on the left, with all its shutters closed. The streetlamps were no longer giving out much light. He turned into Rue de Berri, then Rue de Ponthieu. A little bar was open. Two buildings further on, a door that passers-by never noticed, the service entrance of the Majestic. A man was just coming out. A suit could be glimpsed under his grey coat. He was bare-headed. He had slicked-back hair, and Prosper Donge assumed it was the dancer, Zebio. He could have glanced into the bar to make sure, but the thought never occurred to him. Still pushing his bicycle, he entered a long grey passage lit by a single light. He stopped by the clocking-on machine, turned the wheel, inserted the card into his number, 67, and as he did so glanced at the little clock on the machine, which showed ten past six. A click. It was now an established fact that he had entered the Majestic at ten past six in the morning, ten minutes later than usual. Such, at least, was the official statement of Prosper Donge, the head coffee maker for the luxury hotel on the Champs-Élysées. As for what happened next, he claimed that he had continued to act as he did every morning. At that hour, the vast basement areas with their complicated corridors, their multiple doors, their walls painted grey like the gangways of a freighter, were deserted. Through the glass partitions, all you could see, here and there, were the dim bulbs with their yellowish filaments which constituted the night lighting. Everything had glass partitions, the kitchens on the left, then the bakery. Opposite, the room known as the couriers’ room, where the higher-ranking staff ate, along with the guests’ private domestics, their chambermaids and chauffeurs. A bit further along, the dining room for the lower-grade staff, with its long white wooden tables and its benches like the kind you find in schools. Finally, dominating the basement like the bridge of a ship, a smaller glass cage, where the bookkeeper sat, the man whose job it was to check everything that came out of the kitchens. As he opened the door to the coffee room, Prosper Donge had the impression that someone was climbing the narrow staircase that led to the upper floors, but paid no attention. That at least was what appeared subsequently in his statement. Just as Charlotte had done on entering their suburban house, he now struck a match, and the gas made a phffft sound under the smallest of the percolators, the one that came on first for the few guests who got up early. Only once he had done that did he go into the locker room. This was quite a large room along one of the corridors. There were several wash-basins, a greyish mirror and, along the walls, tall, narrow metal lockers, each bearing a number. With his key, he opened locker 67. He took off his coat, scarf and hat. He changed shoes: for his day’s work he preferred elastic-sided shoes, which were softer. He put on a white jacket. A few more minutes … At half past six, the basement areas started coming to life … Up above, everything was asleep, apart from the night porter, who was waiting in the deserted lobby to be relieved. The percolator hissed. Donge filled a cup with coffee and set off up the staircase, which was like one of those mysterious staircases you find backstage in theatres that lead to the most unexpected places. When he opened a narrow door, he found himself in the lobby cloakroom. Nobody would have guessed the door was there, covered as it was with a large mirror. ‘Coffee!’ he announced, placing the cup on the cloakroom counter. ‘How’s it going?’ ‘Fine!’ the night porter grunted as he approached. Donge went back downstairs. His three women, the Three Fat Ladies as they were known, had arrived. They were lower-class women, all three ugly, one of them old and bad-tempered. They were already washing cups and saucers in the sink, making a great clatter. As for Donge, he did what he did every day, arranged the silver coffee pots in order of size: one cup, two cups, three cups … Then the little milk jugs … the teapots … In the bookkeeper’s glass cage, he glimpsed Jean Ramuel, his hair dishevelled. ‘He must have slept here again!’ he observed. For three or four nights now, the bookkeeper, Ramuel, had been sleeping at the hotel rather than going home, which was somewhere in Montparnasse. As a rule, that was forbidden. At the very end of the corridor, near the door concealing the stairs to the lower basement, where the wines were kept, there was indeed a room with three or four beds. But theoretically they were reserved for those members of staff who needed a breather between busy periods. Donge waved a brief hello to Ramuel, who responded with a similarly vague gesture. Next, it was the turn of the head chef, huge and self-important, who had just returned from Les Halles with a lorry that parked in Rue de Ponthieu to be unloaded by his assistants. By half past seven, at least thirty people were bustling about in the basements of the Majestic. Bells started ringing, the dumb waiters came down, stopped and went back up with trays, while Ramuel stuck white, blue and pink slips on the iron spikes lined up on his desk. At that hour, the day porter, in his light-blue uniform, was just taking over the lobby and the mail clerk was sorting through the mail in his box room. It must be sunny in the Champs-Élysées but, in the basement, the only thing you were aware of was the rumbling of the buses making the glass partitions vibrate. A few minutes after nine – at exactly 9.04, as they were able to establish – Prosper Donge left the coffee room and a few seconds later entered the locker room. ‘I’d left my handkerchief in my coat!’ he stated when he was questioned. Be that as it may, he now found himself alone in the room with its hundred metal lockers. Did he open his own? Nobody was there to witness it. Did he get his handkerchief? It was possible. There weren’t a hundred, but exactly ninety-two lockers, all numbered. The last five were empty. Why did it occur to Prosper Donge to open locker 89, which, not belonging to anyone, wasn’t locked? ‘I did it without thinking …’ he asserted. ‘The door was ajar … I never imagined …’ What was in this locker was a body which must have been pushed into it in an upright position and had collapsed in on itself. It was the body of a woman of about thirty, very blonde – artificially blonde, in fact – wearing a thin black woollen dress. Donge did not cry out. Looking quite pale, he approached Ramuel’s glass cage and bent down to speak through the opening. ‘Come and have a look …’ The bookkeeper followed him. ‘Stay here … Don’t let anyone get too close …’ Ramuel rushed upstairs, emerged in the lobby cloakroom and spotted the porter in conversation with a chauffeur. ‘Has the manager arrived?’ The porter gestured with his chin towards the manager’s office. Standing by the revolving door, Maigret was on the point of knocking his pipe against his heel to empty it. Then he shrugged and put it back between his teeth. It was his first pipe of the morning, the best one. ‘The manager’s expecting you, sir …’ The lobby was not very busy yet. There was only an Englishman arguing with the mail clerk, and a young girl walking on her long grasshopper legs, carrying a hatbox, which she was presumably delivering. Maigret walked into the manager’s office. The manager shook his hand without a word and indicated an armchair. A green curtain concealed the glass door, but you just had to pull it slightly to see everything that was happening in the lobby. ‘Cigar?’ ‘No, thanks …’ They had known each other for a long time. They didn’t need many words. The manager was wearing striped trousers, a dark jacket with edging and a tie that seemed to have been cut out of some stiff material. ‘Here …’ He pushed a registration form across the table. Oswald J. Clark, industrialist, of Detroit, Michigan (USA). Coming from Detroit. Arrived 12 February. Accompanied by: Mrs Clark, his wife; Teddy Clark, 7, his son; Ellen Darroman, 24, governess; Gertrud Borms, 42, maid. Suite 203. Phone calls. The manager answered impatiently. Maigret folded the form in four and slipped it into his wallet. ‘Which one is it?’ ‘Mrs Clark …’ ‘Ah!’ ‘The hotel doctor, whom I telephoned immediately after alerting the Police Judiciaire, and who lives nearby, in Rue de Berri, is downstairs. He says Mrs Clark was strangled between six and six thirty in the morning.’ The manager was glum. Pointless telling a man like Maigret that it was a disaster for the hotel and that if there was any way of hushing the whole thing up … ‘So the Clark family have been here for a week …’ Maigret said. ‘What kind of people are they?’ ‘Oh, perfectly respectable … He’s a tall, strong-looking American, a cool character, about forty … Perhaps forty-five … His wife – poor thing – must have been French originally … Twenty-eight or twenty-nine … I didn’t see much of her … The governess is pretty … The maid, who works as the child’s nurse, fairly ordinary, rather forbidding … Oh, by the way, I almost forgot … Clark left for Rome yesterday morning …’ ‘By himself?’ ‘From what I gathered, he’s in Europe on business … He owns a factory that makes ball bearings … He has to visit the major capitals, and in the meantime decided to leave his wife, son and staff in Paris …’ ‘What train?’ Maigret asked. The manager picked up the telephone. ‘Hello! Porter? … What train did Mr Clark take yesterday? … That’s right, 203 … Did you send any luggage on to the station? … He only took a travelling bag? … A taxi? … Désiré’s taxi? … Thanks … ‘Did you hear that, inspector? He left at eleven yesterday morning by taxi, Désiré’s taxi, which is almost always parked in front of the hotel. He only had a travelling bag with him …’ ‘Do you mind if I also make a phone call? … Hello! Police Judiciaire, please, mademoiselle … Police Judiciare? … Lucas? … Go straight to Gare de Lyon … Find out about trains to Rome since eleven o’clock yesterday morning …’ As he continued to give instructions, his pipe went out. ‘Tell Torrence to find Désiré’s taxi … Yes … Usually parked outside the Majestic … Find out where he took a passenger, a tall, slim American he picked up yesterday from the hotel … OK …’ He looked for an ashtray to empty his pipe. The manager handed him one. ‘Are you sure you don’t want a cigar? … The nurse is beside herself … I thought it best to inform her … As for the governess, she didn’t sleep at the hotel last night …’ ‘What floor is the suite?’ ‘Second floor … With a view of the Champs-Élysées … Mr Clark’s room, separated by a sitting room from his wife’s room … Then the child’s room, the nurse’s and finally the governess’s … They asked to be put together …’ ‘Is the night porter still here?’ ‘No, but I know, from needing him once, that he can be contacted by phone … His wife is the concierge of a new apartment block in Neuilly … Hello! … Get me …’ Within five minutes, they had learned that Mrs Clark had gone to the theatre by herself the previous evening and had got back a few minutes after midnight. The nurse hadn’t gone out. As for the governess, she hadn’t dined at the hotel and hadn’t been back all night. ‘Shall we go downstairs and have a look?’ Maigret sighed. There were more people in the lobby by now, but none of them suspected the drama that had taken place while everyone was asleep. ‘We’ll go this way … Would you please follow me, inspector? …’ As he said this, the manager frowned. The revolving door was moving. A young woman in a grey tailored suit came in at the same time as a ray of sunlight. Passing the mail clerk, she asked in English: ‘Anything for me?’ ‘That’s her, inspector, Miss Ellen Darroman …’ Fine, well-fitting silk stockings. The prim and proper look of someone who has taken great care over her grooming. No trace of fatigue on her face but, on the contrary, a pink glow caused by the brisk air of a fine February morning. ‘Do you want to talk to her?’ ‘Not just yet … One moment …’ Maigret walked over to an inspector he had brought with him, who was standing in a corner of the lobby. ‘Don’t let that young woman out of your sight … If she goes into her suite, stand outside the door …’ The cloakroom. The big mirror swung open on its hinges. Maigret and the manager found themselves on the narrow staircase. All at once, there was no more gilt, no more pot plants, no more elegant bustle. A kitchen smell rose from below. ‘Does this staircase serve all the floors?’ ‘There are two like this … They go from the lower basement to the attics … But you have to know the place well to use them … On each floor, for example, there’s just a little door like all the others, without a number, and it would never occur to any of the guests …’ It was nearly eleven. Now there were no longer just fifty, but more like a hundred and fifty people swarming about the basement, some in white chefs’ hats, the others in waiters’ uniforms or cellarmen’s aprons, and the women, like Prosper Donge’s Three Fat Ladies, doing the heavy work … ‘This way … Make sure you don’t slip or dirty your clothes … The corridors are narrow …’ Through the glass partitions, everybody was watching the manager and above all the inspector. Jean Ramuel continued grabbing the slips he was being passed, almost in mid-air, and checking the contents of the trays at a glance. The jarring element was the unexpected figure of a policeman standing guard outside the locker room. The doctor, who was very young, had been informed of Maigret’s arrival and was smoking a cigarette as he waited. ‘Close the door …’ The body was there, on the floor, surrounded by all the metal lockers. The doctor, still smoking, murmured: ‘She must have been grabbed from behind … She didn’t struggle for long …’ ‘And the body wasn’t dragged along the floor!’ Maigret added, examining the dead woman’s dark clothes. ‘There’s no trace of dust … Either she was killed here, or she was carried here, most likely by two people, because it’d be difficult in this maze of narrow corridors …’ In the locker where she had been discovered, there was a crocodile-skin handbag. Maigret opened it and took out an automatic revolver, which he slipped into his pocket after checking the safety catch. Nothing else in the bag apart from a handkerchief, a compact and a few banknotes that amounted to no more than a thousand francs. Behind them, the hive was buzzing. The dumb waiters kept going up and down, bells rang endlessly, and, behind the glass partition of the kitchens, you could see heavy copper saucepans being handled and dozens of chickens being put on the spit. ‘Everything has to be left where it is until the examining magistrate gets here,’ Maigret said. ‘Who was it who found …?’ He was pointed in the direction of Prosper Donge, who was cleaning one of the percolators. He was a tall man with red hair, the kind of red hair that is called carrot-coloured. He might have been about forty-five or forty-eight. He had blue eyes and a pockmarked face. ‘Have you employed him for long?’ ‘Five years … Before that, he was at the Miramar in Cannes …’ ‘Reliable?’ ‘As reliable as could be …’ A glass partition separated Donge and Maigret. Through the glass, their eyes met, and the blood rushed to Donge’s cheeks: like all redheads, he had delicate skin. ‘Excuse me, sir … Detective Chief Inspector Maigret is wanted on the telephone …’ It was Jean Ramuel, the bookkeeper, who had just emerged from his cage. ‘If you’d like to take the call here.’ A message from the Police Judiciaire. Since eleven o’clock the previous day, there had been only two express trains for Rome. Oswald J. Clark had caught neither. As for the driver, Désiré, who had been reached by phone in a bistro where he was a regular, he stated that he had driven his previous day’s fare to the Hotel Aiglon on Boulevard Montparnasse. Voices on the staircase, including a young woman shrilly protesting in English to a valet who was trying to bar her way. It was the governess, Ellen Darroman, who was charging straight at them. 2. Maigret Goes Cycling His pipe between his teeth, his hands in the pockets of his huge overcoat with its legendary velvet collar, his bowler hat pushed back a little on his head, Maigret watched as she shouted vehemently at the manager. You just had to observe the inspector to sense that it wasn’t going to be easy to establish a rapport between him and Ellen Darroman. ‘What’s she saying?’ he sighed, interrupting her, unable to understand a word. ‘She’s asking if it’s true that Mrs Clark has been murdered, and if anyone has phoned Rome to inform Oswald J. Clark; she wants to know where the body has been taken and if …’ But the girl didn’t let him finish. She had listened impatiently, with knitted brows, then given Maigret a withering glance, and now was starting up again, even angrier than before. ‘What’s she saying?’ ‘She wants me to take her to see the body and …’

Editorial Reviews

“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.” —The Guardian“I love reading Simenon. He makes me think of Chekhov.”—William Faulkner“The greatest of all, the most genuine novelist we have had in literature.”—André Gide“A supreme writer . . . unforgettable vividness.”—The Independent“Superb . . . The most addictive of writers . . . A unique teller of tales.”—The Observer“Compelling, remorseless, brilliant.”—John Gray“A truly wonderful writer . . . marvellously readable—lucid, simple, absolutely in tune with the workd he creates.”—Muriel Spark“A novelist who entered his fictional world as it he were a part of it.”—Peter Ackroyd“Extraordinary masterpieces of the twentieth century.”—John Banville