The door was so rotten that it would no longer serve even as firewood. It was Maigret who pushed it open. Standing on the threshold, he could see what the Police Superintendent had meant when he had promised him a surprise.
It was a fair-sized room, and the panes of both windows had been replaced with cardboard or stiff paper. The uneven floor, with gaps of more than an inch between the boards, was covered with an incredible litter of bric-a-brac, most of it broken, all of it useless.
Dominating the room was an iron bedstead on which lay, fully dressed, on an old straw mattress, a man who was unmistakably dead. His chest was covered with clotted blood, but his face was serene.
His clothes were those of a tramp, but the face and hands suggested something very different. He was elderly, with long silvery hair shot through with bluish highlights. His eyes, too, were blue. Maigret was beginning to feel uneasy under their fixed gaze, when the Superintendent closed them.
The man had a white moustache, slightly turned up at the ends, and a short Vandyke beard, also white.
Apart from this, he was close-shaven, and Maigret saw, with renewed surprise, that his hands were carefully manicured.
“He looks like an elderly actor got up as a tramp,” he murmured. “Did he have any papers on him?”
“None. No identity card, no old letters, nothing. Several of my inspectors, all assigned to this district at one time or another, came and had a look at him, but none of them recognized him, though one thought he might have seen him once or twice rummaging in trash cans.”
The man was very tall and exceptionally broad-shouldered. His trousers, which had a tear over the left knee, were too short for him. His tattered jacket, fit only for the rag bag, was lying crumpled on the filthy floor.
“Has the police doctor seen him?”
“Not yet. I’m expecting him any minute. I was hoping you’d get here before anything had been touched.”