CHAPTER I : NUMBER 514, SERIES 23 --- 10/10
At seven o'clock in the evening, astonished at receiving no news, the head of the detective-service, M. Dudouis, called at the Rue Clapeyron in person. He put a few questions to the men who were watching the house and then went up to Maitre Detinan, who took him to his room. There he saw a man, or rather a man's two legs struggling on the carpet, while the body to which they belonged was stuffed up the chimney.
"Hi!... Hi!..." yelped a stifled voice.
And a more distant voice, from right above, echoed:
"Hi!... Hi!..."
M. Dudouis laughed and exclaimed:
"Well, Ganimard, what are you playing sweep for?"
The inspector withdrew his body from the chimney. He was unrecognizable, with his black face, his sooty clothes and his eyes glowing with fever.
"I'm looking for him," he growled.
"For whom?"
"Arsene Lupin.... Arsene Lupin and his lady friend."
"But what next? You surely don't imagine they're hiding up the chimney?"
Ganimard rose to his feet, put his five soot-covered fingers on the sleeve of his superior's coat and, in a hollow, angry voice, said:
"Where would you have them be, chief? They must be somewhere. They are beings of flesh and blood, like you and me; they can't vanish into thin air."
"No; but they vanish for all that."
"Where? Where? The house is surrounded! There are men on the roof!"
"What about the next house?"
"There's no communication."
"The flats on the other floors?"
"I know all the tenants. They have seen nobody. They have heard nobody."
"Are you sure you know them all?"
"Every one. The porter answers for them. Besides, as an additional precaution, I have posted a man in each flat."
"We must find them, you know."
"That's what I say, chief, that's what I say. We must and we shall, because they are both here ... they can't be anywhere else. Be easy, chief; if I don't catch them to-night, I shall to-morrow.... I shall spend the night here!... I shall spend the night here!..."
He did, in fact, spend the night there and the next night and the night after that. And, when three whole days and three nights had elapsed, not only had he failed to discover the elusive Lupin and his no less elusive companion, but he had not even observed the slightest clue upon which to found the slightest supposition.
And that is why he refused to budge from his first opinion:
"Once there's no trace of their flight, they must be here!"
It is possible that, in the depths of his mind, he was less firmly convinced. But he refused to admit as much to himself. No, a thousand times no: a man and a woman do not vanish into space like the wicked genii in the fairy-tales! And, without losing courage, he continued his searchings and investigations, as though he hoped to discover them hidden in some impenetrable retreat, bricked up in the walls of the house.