Bibliography   Reference   Forum   Plots   Texts   Simenon   Gallery   Shopping   Film   Links

Paris-soir, Feb. 6, 1937, p. 5


Citizens, the police are keeping watch

At night, in a large room with an iron door,
there are four of them, four officials, seemingly relaxing,
who are intently focused on the thousand dramas of the sleeping city

by Georges SIMENON

"Zero!" said the mustached man, who'd just filled a pipe and glanced up at the board on which not a single bulb was lit.

The hands of the clock show 11:30... in a few minutes it will be time for the theaters to let out, and the cinemas... the last metros, the last buses, the lights going off one after another behind the shutters, and the silent, stealthy hunt through the empty streets... of taxis in quest of the rare night owls.

In the large room, closed by an iron door, but whose two windows are open to the night, there are four of them, four civil servants, seemingly relaxing. Two wear gray smocks, while another, too warm, is in shirtsleeves. The fourth, who'd just finished his bread and sausage, gathers up the crumbs, rolls his greasy paper in a ball and tosses it into the stove.

On the left is an enormous piece of furniture that looks like something from a telephone exchange, with hundreds of little lamps ready to light up. On the right is a telegraph machine which comes to life every few moments. Lastly, above us, we can hear the steps of the "loner", a fifth man who waits alone with his equipment to send out a radio call.

The theaters and cinemas empty out. Paris goes to sleep. A little while ago, when I arrived, I went to the wrong door, and wandered for half an hour through the deserted corridors of Police Headquarters, passing rows of empty offices, continually coming back to the same intersections lit by nightlights.

There are only four men here, plus another upstairs, nevertheless, tonight, nothing will happen in Paris without...

13th Arrondissement ! Agent call !

Just then, a lamp the size of a cough drop lit up on the map of Paris attached to the wall. It's the lamp of the 13th arrondissement and its flashing indicates that the Emergency car of that arrondissement has just gone out.

A murder in that area, near Gentilly or Ivry ?... A fight in some bistro at the Porte d'Italie ?...

The operator has already seized his phone, putting him in direct contact with the main police station of the 13th.

"Hello! M.P.1 here. Your car has gone out. What's happening?"

The station there, Place d'Italie, knows nothing yet. It was one of their agents who'd broken the glass of the call box in the Rue de Tolbiac, requesting back-up.

Nothing to do but wait. Minutes pass. Meanwhile another lamp lights up, from the 18th.

"Hello! M.P. here! Your car has just gone out... What?... Thanks..."

The operator explains to me with a smile. The car of the 18th had taken advantage of the calm to go and fill up with gas.

"Hello! 13th?... Yes... Thanks...

Neither a murder nor a bar fight in the Rue de Tolbiac.

"A Bercy!" the operator tells me.

"A what?"

"A Bercy fever, if you prefer. That's what we call drunks. That one didn't want to be carted away..." .

The light of the 13th goes out. The car has returned. The drunk is trying to explain himself to the sergeant, and in a few minutes he'll be sleeping off his wine on a cell cot, behind a barred door.

Cars and more cars!

The telegraph's turn! The mustached man takes a call and immediately begins to send a message to all stations.

"Car?" asks an unconcerned colleague.

"You said it!"

That is, a stolen car, the twelfth or thirteenth of the day. It's the time. People leave the theater, and, not finding their car, dash to the phone.

But now another phone is in use (there's one in each corner) and a short conversation is taking place.

"At Beaujon?... Understood... You'll have to..."

This officer is very young. He calls out to his mustached colleague, still busy sending his message in Morse code.

"Say, didn't you tell me that Bourrelier was complaining?

"He came by a little while ago to say he can't take it..."

"Good! He'll be happy now..."

And the young man picked up another receiver...

"Hello! Epinettes station? Bourrelier is on duty? This is M.P.! Tell him to go to Beaujon right away... Yes!... we're urgently awaiting him..."

For at Beaujon, they've just brought an elderly woman who was hit by a bus and needs a blood transfusion. A thousand Parisian policemen are blood donors, ready at any time to rush to the hospital.

They've gotten used to it. Their bodies have too much blood. Bourrelier, just now, who's over six feet tall and as broad as an icebox, has arrived out of breath.

"What, still no customer for me? Well! I'll end up suffocating..."

In an hour or two, he'll return to his station at Epinettes, fresh and relieved. Unless the old woman reacts like the one last month. An old recidivist, tattooed from head to foot, who'd gotten three bullets in the gut. Bourrelier settles in at his bedside. The transfusion begins when suddenly the guy opens his eyes and sees the uniform, struggles like the devil to pull out the tube yelling,

"Giving me a cop's blood! Me!... I'd rather die..."

The concierge's flower pot

Midnight... One o'clock... A call from the 14th, a drunk, a Bercy...

Yesterday, the car the car of the 18th went out 17 times. Of course it was Sunday, and all the bars of Porte d’Italie were full...

Today, Monday, it's a miracle if anything happens. Or else it'll be something unexpected, something serious, that comes up when everything's calm...

In the districts the agents play dominos or checkers, since cards are forbidden. The cells are almost empty... here and there a prostitute, who has the habit, or a flower-seller kept for an hour or two, on principle.

Two o'clock... Wait! The 3rd lights up in turn. Is it finally a real crime, a clever robbery, some sensational affair that will fill tomorrow's papers?

"Hello! M.P. here! Your car has gone out..."

Five minutes, no more, and we know what has happened. Some tipsy tenants, returning home on the Boulevard Beaumarchais, had stumbled over a flower pot. They decided that the concierge had set the pot in their way to make them angry, and they'd broken her windows.

That's all! Three o'clock... Someone ill in the 17th who must be taken to the hospital... A car stolen this afternoon which the 16th just found abandoned on a drive in the Bois de Boulogne... Someone who no doubt wanted to offer his girlfriend a romantic car ride...

My four men drink the coffee they've made and fill new pipes.

In the next moment, perhaps?... But no! The picture remains dark. Paris sleeps... Or at least...

For there are dramas which make no sound. To confirm that the night was uneventful, we must wait till 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning, when the concierges bring up the mail and the newspapers, when the hotel maids knock on the room doors...

Who knows whether, within the confines of the 18th an old woman won't be found, asphyxiated by gas, or in some apartment in the 9th, an inert couple, stiffened by cocaine?

Almost certainly, in the neighborhood of the Rue d’Hauteville or Rochechouart, a merchant will find his shutters cut with bolt-cutters, furs or radios taken...

A drowning in the Saint-Martin Canal?

Four o'clock... Five o'clock... The sky becomes pale, the tugs begin to whistle on the Seine...

An official makes his assessment of the night... four, five, six Bercy... Eight prostitutes... The concierge with the flower pot...

The Paris thermometer remains at zero.

1 Municipal Police.

original French: Citoyens, la police veille"

Home  Bibliography  Reference  Forum  Plots  Texts  Simenon  Gallery  Shopping  Film  Links