Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Madman of Bergerac by Georges Simenon (Penguin Mystery 1932)

What he found strange was not Samuel's profession, but to find in a place like Bergerac links extending from Warsaw to Algiers.

People like this Samuel—he had dealt with hundreds in his time. And he had always studied them with curiosity that was mixed with some other feeling—not quite repulsion—as they belonged to a different species altogether from the one we call human.

You'd find them as barmen in Scandinavia, as gangsters in America, as casino owners in Holland, or else as headwaiters or theater directors in Germany, or wholesalers in North Africa.

And now they were cropping up again in this peaceful little town of Bergerac, which you would have taken for the most remote place imaginable from all the terror, sordidness, and tragedy that their doings involved.

Eastern and Central Europe between Budapest and Odessa, between Tallinn and Belgrade, an area teeming with a mass of humanity. In particular, there hundreds of thousands of hungry Jews whose only ambition was to seek a better existence in some other land. Boat-loads and trainloads of emigrants with children in their arms, and dragging their old folk behind them, resigned, tragic faces queuing at border checkpoints.

There were more Poles in Chicago than Americans . . . France alone had absorbed trainloads and trainloads. In every town in the country there were people who at every birth, death, or marriage had to spell their outlandish names letter by letter at the town hall . . . 

Some were legal emigrants, with their papers in order. Others didn't have the patience to wait, or were unable to obtain a visa.

That's where Samuel came in, Samuel and his like. Men who spoke ten languages, who knew every frontier in Europe. the rubber stamp of every consulate, and even the signatures of the officials. They could see to everything!

Their real activity would be concealed behind the façade of some other business, preferably international.

Postage stamps. What could be better?

To Mr A. Levy, Chicago.


I am this day dispatching two hundred rare Czechoslovakian stamps with orange vignettes . . . 

There was another traffic, too, which no doubt interested Samuel, as it did most of his kind.

In the maisons spéciales of South America it was French girls who formed the quality. Their purveyors worked in Paris on the Grands Boulevards. But the smaller fry, the cheaper end of the market, came from Eastern Europe. Country girls who left home at fifteen or sixteen, returning—if ever they did—at twenty, with their dowries in their pockets.

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