FLASHBACK: In Inspector Maigret’s old haunt – 36 Quai des Orfévres

This article comes from issue 2 back when Cara Black’s second book was out.

In Inspector Maigret’s old haunt – 36 Quai des Orfévres

By Cara Black

The morning had finally arrived, after months of correspondance, manuevering through the proper bureaus, wangling letters of introductions, writing THE application, I stood at 36 quai des Orféres in sun-mottled Paris. Officially approved, with a coveted appointment for a tour of the Police Préfecture! Patricia Cornwell, the only other American writer to achieve such a distinction had preceeded me. With notebooks, taperecorder and camera ready in my backpack, I took a deep breath, inhaled the brisk Seine scented

October air and showed my ID and appointment letter to the blue-uniformed flic.

“Oui Mademoiselle,” he said, “take a left in the courtyard, go through the tall doors and up to the third floor.”

I mounted the 532 steps to the fabled Brigade Criminelle (once known as the Suréte in Simenon’s Inspector Maigret’s novels), showed my ID again and was buzzed inside the grilled area leading to the several floors occupied by the Brigade Criminelle.

A thin-lipped female inspector led me to Michele, the press attache’s office, seated me and left. Alone in the chill office, I examined the police training diplomas on the wall and years of Michele’s service. Impressive.

Michele rushed in smiling, pearls blue tailored suit and short brown hair. “Allez-y,” she said spreading charts of the Préfecture’s organziation and chain of command across her desk. For twenty minutes, all in French between phone calls, she explained the system Napoleon devised to organize the different branches of the police and judicial system. As far as I could tell, they still couldn’t gang up on

Napoleon or Chirac to oust either one.

“Now we go to lunch,” she said. That much I understood perfectly.

We left the Brigade, met her husband outside 36 quai des Orfévres as he parked his motorcyle. Jean-Claude, tall and with his helmet under his arm, spoke wonderful English having studied software in Chicago. We crossed the Pont Saint Michel and into St. Germain.

On narrow rue de la Harpe we entered a small coved door and descended stairs to a vaulted medieval cellar, the flic’s luncheon hangout. Buzzing and lit by flickering tapers in glass jam jars.

“Bonjour Michele,” said the beaming woman/owner, “your table’s waiting.”

We sat against the stone wall and Jean-Claude clarified some of the police organizations as we clicked our glasses of rosé. “Santé.”

The menu listed the ‘flics special’. Michele nodded and ordered for us. The long banquette tables were filled with plainclothes flics hunched in conversation and laughter. A half-Asian man all in black entered, kissed Michele on both cheeks and huddled with her for an intense conversation.

“He’s head of the computer division, an old friend,” Jean-Claude explained. “It’s who you know that counts in the Brigade.”

Like anywhere else.

Michele and Jean-Claude, as he explained, lived in the banlieu a suburb outside Paris and their five year old daughter taken care of by doting grandparents.

After a savory lunch, bottle of wine and joking with the inhabitants of our table, at least everyone was laughing, we left for the Brigade again.

This time, the guard grinned at Michele and waved us through. Back in Michele’s office, more diagrams of the police organization punctuated by more phone calls. I couldn’t help overhearing. The most interesting one concerned a press conference she had to prepare regarding an investigation of a stolen Rodin sculpture in the 14th arrondissment. Too bad my camera battery had died along with my tape recorders! But my notebook was filling up fast.

“On y va?” Michele stood, kissed my cheeks and led me to an upper floor. Good, now the real thing.

She knocked on a massive wooden door and we entered an office overlooking the Seine. “The Commissaire,” she whispered.

A man in his thirties stood and shook my hand, “Welcome to Inspector Maigret’s ‘office’.” He winked and introduced me to the other inspectors and I figured Maigret’s old kerosene heater and pipe were long gone. “Now for the tour.”

A younger commissaire escorted me out into the hall and up some back mustard colored steps. Several other flics met us on the stairs and the commissaire introduced me.

“Aaaah Patreecha Cornwaahl, oui” said a barrel-chested laughing flic, “again, non?”

I tried to explain but in the crowded stairs doubt he understood my mangled French. Everytime we ran into this flic he’d grin, point his forefinger, lift his thumb and go ‘bang, bang’. The gard á vue cells where suspects are kept up to 48 hours smelled of disinfectant and carried the mustard yellow color motif. I doubted café au lait and croissants were served in the morning. Nets hung, to prevent suicides,

in the detention area a hollow courtyard style area surrounding the main reception four stories below.

In the young commissaires office overlooking stone walls, he showed me a current suspects dossier. He kept apologizing that his new computer hadn’t been installed yet and explained that he’d trained at the FBI’s Quantico. Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen computers on

anyones desk.

“Like to see the view from the roof?”

Why not? Did special police work happen up there?

“You won’t mind the blood will you?” he asked.

Gulp. “Of course not, I’d love to see everything.”

“We hang the crime scene garments in the attic. Dries out better up there but we have to go past them.”

What about my DNA, fibers from my clothing…wouldn’t that compromise the evidence. But if it didn’t bother the commissaire, why should I worry. We spent a long time searching for the key to the door, meeting more flics in hallways and I kept being introduced as the Amerian writer. In the end, we couldn’t locate the key much as I wish we’d found it. And to this day I believe everyone thought that Patricia Cornwall had come for another visit.

Cara Black writes the Aimée Leduc Investigation series set in Paris.. Her website is www.carablack.com


50thintertwinedCrimespree is going to be celebrating our 5oth issue and as part of that we will be having a party at Once Upon A Crime bookstore in Minneapolis on Feb 23rd from noon to 4