As the last note of the chant escaped the Blessed Chapel a great silence fell, and with it came an even greater disquiet.
The silence stretched on. And on.
These were men used to silence, but this seemed extreme, even to them.
And still they stood in their long black robes and white tops, motionless.
These were men also used to waiting. But this too seemed extreme.
The less disciplined among them stole glances at the tall, slim, elderly man who had been the last to file in and would be the first to leave.
Dom Philippe kept his eyes closed. Where once this was a moment of profound peace, a private moment with his private God, when Vigils had ended and before he signaled for the Angelus, now it was simply escape.
He closed his eyes because he didnt want to see.
Besides, he knew what was there. What was always there. What had been there for hundreds of years before he arrived and would, God willing, be there for centuries after he was buried in the cemetery. Two rows of men across from him, in black robes with white hoods, a simple rope tied at their waists.
And beside him to his right, two more rows of men.
They were facing each other across the stone floor of the chapel, like ancient battle lines.
No, he told his weary mind. No. I mustnt think of this as a battle, or a war. Just opposing points of view. Expressed in a healthy community.
Then why was he so reluctant to open his eyes? To get the day going?
To signal the great bells that would ring the Angelus to the forests and birds and lakes and fish. And the monks. To the angels and all the saints. And God.
A throat cleared.
In the great silence it sounded like a bomb. And to the abbots ears it sounded like what it was.
With an effort he continued to keep his eyes closed. He remained still, and quiet. But there was no peace anymore. Now there was only turmoil, inside and out. He could feel it, vibrating from and between the two rows of waiting men.
He could feel it vibrating within him.
Dom Philippe counted to one hundred. Slowly. Then opening his blue eyes, he stared directly across the chapel, to the short, round man who stood with his eyes open, his hands folded on his stomach, a small smile on his endlessly patient face.
The abbots eyes narrowed slightly, in a glare, then he recovered and raising his slim right hand, he signaled. And the bells began.
The perfect, round, rich toll left the bell tower and took off into the early morning darkness. It skimmed over the clear lake, the forests, the rolling hills. To be heard by all sorts of creatures.
And twenty-four men, in a remote monastery in Québec.
A clarion call. Their day had begun.
* * *
Youre not serious, laughed Jean-Guy Beauvoir.
I am, nodded Annie. I swear to God its the truth.
Are you telling me, he picked up another piece of maple-cured bacon from the platter, that your father gave your mother a bathmat as a gift when they first started dating?
No, no. That would be ridiculous.
Sure would, he agreed and ate the bacon in two big bites. In the background an old Beau Dommage album was playing. La complainte du phoque en Alaska. About a lonely seal whose love had disappeared. Beauvoir hummed quietly to the familiar tune.
He gave it to my grandmother the first time they met, as a hostess gift, thanking her for inviting him to dinner.
Beauvoir laughed. He never told me that, he finally managed.
Well, Dad doesnt exactly mention it in polite conversation. Poor Mom. Felt she had to marry him. After all, who else would have him?
Beauvoir laughed again. So I guess the bar is set pretty low. I could hardly give you a worse gift.
He reached down beside the table in the sunny kitchen. Theyd made breakfast together that Saturday morning. A platter of bacon and scrambled eggs with melted Brie sat on the small pine table. Hed thrown on a sweater this early autumn day and gone around the corner from Annies apartment to the bakery on rue St-Denis for croissants and pain au chocolat. Then Jean-Guy had wandered in and out of the local shops, picking up a couple of cafés, the Montréal weekend papers, and something else.
Whatve you got there? Annie Gamache asked, leaning across the table. The cat leapt to the ground and found a spot on the floor where the sun hit.
Nothing, he grinned. Just a little je ne sais quoi I saw, and thought of you.
Beauvoir lifted it into plain sight.
You asshole, Annie said, and laughed. Its a toilet plunger.
With a bow on it, said Beauvoir. Just for you, ma chère. Weve been together for three months. Happy anniversary.
Of course, the toilet plunger anniversary. And I got you nothing.
I forgive you, he said.
Annie took the plunger. Ill think of you every time I use it. Though I think youll be the one using it most of the time. You are full of it, after all.
Too kind, said Beauvoir, ducking his head in a small bow.
She thrust the plunger forward, gently prodding him with the red rubber suction cup as though it was a rapier and she the swordsman.
Beauvoir smiled and took a sip of his rich, aromatic café. So like Annie. Where other women might have pretended the ridiculous plunger was a wand, she pretended it was a sword.
Of course, Jean-Guy realized, he would never have given a toilet plunger to any other woman. Only Annie.
You lied to me, she said, sitting back down. Dad obviously told you about the bathmat.
He did, admitted Beauvoir. We were in Gaspé, in a poachers cabin, searching for evidence when your father opened a closet and found not one but two brand-new bathmats, still in their wrapping.
As he spoke he looked at Annie. Her eyes never left him, barely blinked. She took in every word, every gesture, every inflection. Enid, his ex-wife, had also listened. But there was always an edge of desperation about it, a demand. As though he owed her. As though she was dying and he was the medicine.
Enid left him drained, and yet still feeling inadequate.
But Annie was gentler. More generous.
Like her father, she listened carefully and quietly.
With Enid he never talked about his work, and she never asked. With Annie he told her everything.
Now, while putting strawberry confiture on the warm croissant, he told her about the poachers cabin, about the case, the savage murder of a family. He told her what they found, how they felt, and who they arrested.
The bathmats turned out to be the key pieces of evidence, said Beauvoir, lifting the croissant to his mouth. Though it took us a long time to figure it out.
Is that when Dad told you about his own sad history with bathmats?
Beauvoir nodded and chewed and saw the Chief Inspector in the dim cabin. Whispering the story. They werent sure when the poacher would return, and they didnt want to be caught there. They had a search warrant, but they didnt want him to know that. So as the two homicide investigators deftly searched, Chief Inspector Gamache had told Beauvoir about the bathmat. Of showing up for one of the most important meals of his life, desperate to impress the parents of the woman hed fallen hopelessly in love with. And somehow deciding a bathmat was the perfect hostess gift.
How could you have thought that, sir? Beauvoir had whispered, glancing out the cracked and cobwebbed window, hoping not to see the shabby poacher returning with his kill.
Well, now, Gamache had paused, obviously trying to recall his own thinking. Madame Gamache often asks the same question. Her mother never tired of asking either. Her father, on the other hand, decided I was an imbecile and never mentioned it again. That was worse. When they died we found the bathmat in their linen closet, still in its plastic wrapping, with the card attached.
Beauvoir stopped talking and looked across at Annie. Her hair was still damp from the shower theyd shared. She smelled fresh and clean. Like a citron grove in the warm sunshine. No makeup. She wore warm slippers and loose, comfortable clothing. Annie was aware of fashion, and happy to be fashionable. But happier to be comfortable.
She was not slim. She was not a stunning beauty. Annie Gamache was none of the things hed always found attractive in a woman. But Annie knew something most people never learn. She knew how great it was to be alive.
It had taken him almost forty years, but Jean-Guy Beauvoir finally understood it too. And knew now there was no greater beauty.
Annie was approaching thirty now. Shed been a gawky teenager when theyd first met. When the Chief Inspector had brought Beauvoir into his homicide division at the Sûreté du Québec. Of the hundreds of agents and inspectors under the Chiefs command, hed chosen this young, brash agent no one else had wanted as his second in command.
Had made him part of the team, and eventually, over the years, part of the family.
Though even the Chief Inspector had no idea how much a part of the family Beauvoir had become.
Well, said Annie with a wry smile, now we have our own bathroom story to baffle our children with. When we die theyll find this, and wonder.
She held up the plunger, with its cheery red bow.
Beauvoir didnt dare say anything. Did Annie have any idea what shed just said? The ease with which she assumed theyd have children. Grandchildren. Would die together. In a home that smelled of fresh citron and coffee. And had a cat curled around the sunshine.
Theyd been together for three months and had never talked about the future. But hearing it now, it just seemed natural. As though this was always the plan. To have children. To grow old together.
Beauvoir did the math. He was ten years older than her, and would almost certainly die first. He was relieved.
But there was something troubling him.
We need to tell your parents, he said.
Annie grew quiet, and picked at her croissant. I know. And its not like I dont want to. But, she hesitated and looked around the kitchen, and out into her book-lined living room, this is nice too. Just us.
Are you worried?
About how theyll take it?
Annie paused and Jean-Guys heart suddenly pounded. Hed expected her to deny it. To assure him she wasnt the least bit worried whether her parents would approve.
But instead, shed hesitated.
Maybe a little, Annie admitted. Im sure theyll be thrilled, but it changes things. You know?
He did know, but hadnt dared admit it to himself. Suppose the Chief didnt approve? He could never stop them, but it would be a disaster.
No, Jean-Guy told himself for the hundredth time, itll be all right. The Chief and Madame Gamache will be happy. Very happy.
But he wanted to be sure. To know. It was in his nature. He collected facts for a living, and this uncertainty was taking its toll. It was the only shadow in a life suddenly, unexpectedly luminous.
He couldnt keep lying to the Chief. Hed persuaded himself this wasnt a lie, just keeping his private life private. But in his heart it felt like a betrayal.
Do you really think theyll be happy? he asked Annie, and hated the neediness that had crept into his voice. But Annie either didnt notice or didnt care.
She leaned toward him, her elbows and forearms resting on the croissant flakes on the pine table, and took his hand. She held it warm in hers.
To know were together? My father would be so happy. Its my mother who hates you.
Seeing the look on his face she laughed and squeezed his hand. Im kidding. She adores you. Always has. They think of you as family, you know. As another son.
He felt his cheeks burn, to hear those words, and felt ashamed, but noticed that once again Annie didnt care, or comment. She just held his hand and looked into his eyes.
Sort of incestuous, then, he finally managed.
Yes, she agreed, letting go of his hand to take a sip of café au lait. My parents dream come true. She laughed, sipped, then set the cup down again. You do know hell be thrilled.
Annie paused, thinking. I think hell be stunned. Funny, isnt it? Dad spends his life looking for clues, piecing things together. Gathering evidence. But when somethings right under his nose, he misses it. Too close, I guess.
Matthew 10:36, murmured Beauvoir.
Its something your father tells us, in homicide. One of the first lessons he teaches new recruits.
A biblical quote? asked Annie. But Mom and Dad never go to church.
He apparently learned it from his mentor when he first joined the Sûreté.
The phone rang. Not the robust peal of the landline, but the cheerful, invasive trill of a cell. It was Beauvoirs. He ran to the bedroom and grabbed it off the nightstand.
No number was displayed, just a word.
He almost hit the small green phone icon, then hesitated. Instead he strode out of the bedroom and into Annies light-filled, book-filled living room. He couldnt speak to the Chief standing in front of the bed where hed just that morning made love to the Chiefs daughter.
Oui, allô, he said, trying to sound casual.
Sorry to bother you, came the familiar voice. It managed to be both relaxed and authoritative.
Not at all, sir. Whats up? Beauvoir glanced at the clock on the mantle. It was 10:23 on a Saturday morning.
Theres been a murder.
It wasnt, then, a casual call. An invitation to dinner. A query about staffing or a case going to trial. This was a call to arms. A call to action. A call that marked something dreadful had happened. And yet, for more than a decade now every time he heard those words, Beauvoirs heart leapt. And raced. And even danced a little. Not with joy at the knowledge of a terrible and premature death. But knowing he and the Chief and others would be on the trail again.
Jean-Guy Beauvoir loved his job. But now, for the first time, he looked into the kitchen, and saw Annie standing in the doorway. Watching him.
And he realized, with surprise, that he now loved something more.
Grabbing his notebook he sat on Annies sofa and took down the details. When he finished he looked at what hed written.
Holy shit, he whispered.
At the very least, agreed Chief Inspector Gamache. Can you make arrangements, please? And just the two of us for now. Well pick up a local Sûreté agent when we arrive.
Inspector Lacoste? Should she come? Just to organize the Scene of Crime team and leave?
Chief Inspector Gamache didnt hesitate. No. He gave a small laugh. Were the Scene of Crime team, Im afraid. Hope you remember how to do it.
Ill bring the Hoover.
Bon. Ive already packed my magnifying glass. There was a pause and a more somber voice came down the line. We need to get there quickly, Jean-Guy.
Daccord. Ill make a few calls and pick you up in fifteen minutes.
Fifteen? All the way from downtown?
Beauvoir felt the world stop for a moment. His small apartment was in downtown Montréal, but Annies was in the Plateau Mont Royal quartier, a few blocks from her parents home in Outremont. Its a Saturday. Not much traffic.
Gamache laughed. Since when did you become an optimist? Ill be waiting, whenever you arrive.
And he did, placing calls, issuing orders, organizing. Then he threw a few clothes into an overnight bag.
Thats a lot of underwear, said Annie, sitting on the bed. Are you planning to be gone long? Her voice was light, but her manner wasnt.
Well, you know me, he said, turning from her to slip his gun into its holder. She knew he had it, but didnt like to actually see it. Even for a woman who cherished reality, this was far too real. Without benefit of plunger I might need more tighty whities.
She laughed, and he was glad.
At the door he stopped and lowered his case to the ground.
Je taime, he whispered into her ear, as he held her.
Je taime, she whispered into his ear. Look after yourself, she said, as they parted. And then, as he was halfway down the steps she called, And please, look after my father.
I will. I promise.
Once he was gone and she could no longer see the back of his car, Annie Gamache closed the door and held her hand to her chest.
She wondered if this was how her mother had felt, for all those years.
How her mother felt at that very moment. Was she too leaning against the door, having watched her heart leave? Having let it go.
Then Annie walked over to the bookcases lining her living room. After a few minutes she found what she was looking for. The bible her parents had given her, when shed been baptized. For people who didnt attend church, they still followed the rituals.
And she knew when she had children shed want them baptized too. She and Jean-Guy would present them with their own white bibles, with their names and baptism dates inscribed.
She looked at the thick first page. Sure enough, there was her name. Anne Daphné Gamache. And a date. In her mothers hand. But instead of a cross underneath her name her parents had drawn two little hearts.
Then Annie sat on the sofa and sipping the now cool café she flipped through the unfamiliar book until she found it.
And a mans foes, she read out loud, shall be they of his own household.
She could see shadows, shapes, like wraiths moving back and forth, back and forth across the frosted glass. Appearing and disappearing. Distorted, but still human.
Still the dead one lay moaning.
The words had been going through her head all day, appearing and disappearing. A poem, half remembered. Words floating to the surface, then going under. The body of the poem beyond her grasp.
What was the rest of it?
It seemed important.
Oh, no no no.
The blurred figures at the far end of the long corridor seemed almost liquid, or smoke. There, but insubstantial. Fleeting. Fleeing.
As she wished she could.
This was it. The end of the journey. Not just that days journey as she and her husband, Peter, had driven from their little Québec village into the Musée dArt Contemporain in Montréal, a place they knew well. Intimately. How often had they come to the MAC to marvel at some new exhibition? To support a friend, a fellow artist? Or to just sit quietly in the middle of the sleek gallery, in the middle of a weekday, when the rest of the city was at work?
Art was their work. But it was more than that. It had to be. Otherwise, why put up with all those years of solitude? Of failure? Of silence from a baffled and even bemused art world?
She and Peter had worked away, every day, in their small studios in their small village, leading their tiny lives. Happy. But still yearning for more.
Clara took a few more steps down the long, long, white marble hallway.
This was the more. Through those doors. Finally. The end point of everything shed worked toward, walked toward, all her life.
Her first dream as a child, her last dream that morning, almost fifty years later, was at the far end of the hard white hallway.
Theyd both expected Peter would be the first through those doors. He was by far the more successful artist, with his exquisite studies of life in close-up. So detailed, and so close that a piece of the natural world appeared distorted and abstract. Unrecognizable. Peter took what was natural and made it appear unnatural.
People ate it up. Thank God. It kept food on the table and the wolves, while constantly circling their little home in Three Pines, were kept from the door. Thanks to Peter and his art.
Clara glanced at him walking slightly ahead of her, a smile on his handsome face. She knew most people, on first meeting them, never took her for his wife. Instead they assumed some slim executive with a white wine in her elegant hand was his mate. An example of natural selection. Of like moving to like.
The distinguished artist with the head of graying hair and noble features could not possibly have chosen the woman with the beer in her boxing glove hands. And the pâté in her frizzy hair. And the studio full of sculptures made out of old tractor parts and paintings of cabbages with wings.
No. Peter Morrow could not have chosen her. That would have been unnatural.
And yet he had.
And she had chosen him.
Clara would have smiled had she not been fairly certain she was about to throw up.
Oh, no no no, she thought again as she watched Peter march purposefully toward the closed door and the art wraiths waiting to pass judgment. On her.
Claras hands grew cold and numb as she moved slowly forward, propelled by an undeniable force, a rude mix of excitement and terror. She wanted to rush toward the doors, yank them open and yell, Here I am!
But mostly she wanted to turn and flee, to hide.
To stumble back down the long, long, light-filled, art-filled, marble-filled hallway. To admit shed made a mistake. Given the wrong answer when asked if shed like a solo show. At the Musée. When asked if shed like all her dreams to come true.
Shed given the wrong answer. Shed said yes. And this is where it led.
Someone had lied. Or hadnt told the whole truth. In her dream, her only dream, played over and over since childhood, she had a solo show at the Musée dArt Contemporain. She walked down this corridor. Composed and collected. Beautiful and slim. Witty and popular.
Into the waiting arms of an adoring world.
There was no terror. No nausea. No creatures glimpsed through the frosted glass, waiting to devour her. Dissect her. Diminish her, and her creations.
Someone had lied. Had not told her something else might be waiting.
Oh, no no no, thought Clara. Still the dead one lay moaning.
What was the rest of the poem? Why did it elude her?
Now, within feet of the end of her journey all she wanted to do was run away home to Three Pines. To open the wooden gate. To race up the path lined with apple trees in spring bloom. To slam their front door shut behind her. To lean against it. To lock it. To press her body against it, and keep the world out.
Now, too late, she knew whod lied to her.
Claras heart threw itself against her ribs, like something caged and terrified and desperate to escape. She realized she was holding her breath and wondered for how long. To make up for it she started breathing rapidly.
Peter was talking but his voice was muffled, far away. Drowned out by the shrieking in her head, and the pounding in her chest.
And the noise building behind the doors. As they got closer.
Thiss going to be fun, said Peter, with a reassuring smile.
Clara opened her hand and dropped her purse. It fell with a plop to the floor, since it was all but empty, containing simply a breath mint and the tiny paint brush from the first paint-by-number set her grandmother had given her.
Clara dropped to her knees, pretending to gather up invisible items and stuff them into her clutch. She lowered her head, trying to catch her breath, and wondered if she was about to pass out.
Deep breath in, she heard. Deep breath out.
Clara stared from the purse on the gleaming marble floor to the man crouched across from her.
It wasnt Peter.
Instead, she saw her friend and neighbor from Three Pines, Olivier Brulé. He was kneeling beside her, watching, his kind eyes life preservers thrown to a drowning woman. She held them.
Deep breath in, he whispered. His voice was calm. This was their own private crisis. Their own private rescue.
She took a deep breath in.
I dont think I can do it. Clara leaned forward, feeling faint. She could feel the walls closing in, and see Peters polished black leather shoes on the floor ahead. Where hed finally stopped. Not missing her right away. Not noticing his wife was kneeling on the floor.
I know, whispered Olivier. But I also know you. Whether its on your knees or on your feet, youre going through that door. He nodded toward the end of the hall, his eyes never leaving hers. It might as well be on your feet.
But its not too late. Clara searched his face. Seeing his silky blond hair, and the lines only visible very close up. More lines than a thirty-eight-year-old man should have. I could leave. Go back home.
Oliviers kindly face disappeared and she saw again her garden, as shed seen it that morning, the mist not yet burned off. The dew heavy under her rubber boots. The early roses and late peonies damp and fragrant. Shed sat on the wooden bench in their backyard, with her morning coffee, and shed thought about the day ahead.
Not once had she imagined herself collapsed on the floor. In terror. Longing to leave. To go back to the garden.
But Olivier was right. She wouldnt return. Not yet.
Oh, no no no. Shed have to go through those doors. They were the only way home now.
Deep breath out, Olivier whispered, with a smile.
Clara laughed, and exhaled. Youd make a good midwife.
Whatre you two doing down there? Gabri asked as he watched Clara and his partner. I know what Olivier usually does in that position and I hope that isnt it. He turned to Peter. Though that might explain the laughter.
Ready? Olivier handed Clara her purse and they got to their feet.
Gabri, never far from Oliviers side, gave Clara a bear hug. You OK? He examined her closely. He was big, though Gabri preferred to call himself burly, his face unscored by the worry lines of his partner.
Im fine, said Clara.
Fucked up, insecure, neurotic and egotistical? asked Gabri.
Great. Som I. And sos everyone through there. Gabri gestured toward the door. What they arent is the fabulous artist with the solo show. So youre both fine and famous.
Coming? asked Peter, waving toward Clara and smiling.
She hesitated, then taking Peters hand, they walked together down the corridor, the sharp echoes of their feet not quite masking the merriment on the other side.
Theyre laughing, thought Clara. Theyre laughing at my art.
And in that instant the body of the poem surfaced. The rest of it was revealed.
Oh, no no no, thought Clara. Still the dead one lay moaning.
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
* * *
From far off Armand Gamache could hear the sound of children playing. He knew where it was coming from. The park across the way, though he couldnt see the children through the maple trees in late spring leaf. He sometimes liked to sit there and pretend the shouts and laughter came from his young grandchildren, Florence and Zora. He imagined his son Daniel and Roslyn were in the park, watching their children. And that soon theyd walk hand in hand across the quiet street in the very center of the great city, for dinner. Or he and Reine-Marie would join them. And play catch, or conkers.
He liked to pretend they werent thousands of kilometers away in Paris.
But mostly he just listened to the shouts and shrieks and laughter of neighborhood children. And smiled. And relaxed.
Gamache reached for his beer and lowered the LObservateur magazine to his knee. His wife, Reine-Marie, sat across from him on their balcony. She too had a cold beer on this unexpectedly warm day in mid-June. But her copy of La Presse was folded on the table and she stared into the distance.
Whatre you thinking about? he asked.
My mind was just wandering.
He was silent for a moment, watching her. Her hair was quite gray now, but then, so was his. Shed dyed it auburn for many years but just recently had stopped doing that. He was glad. Like him, she was in her mid-fifties. And this was what a couple of that age looked like. If they were lucky.
Not like models. No one would mistake them for that. Armand Gamache wasnt heavy, but solidly built. If a stranger visited this home he might think Monsieur Gamache a quiet academic, a professor of history or literature perhaps at the Université de Montréal.
But that too would be a mistake.
Books were everywhere in their large apartment. Histories, biographies, novels, studies on Québec antiques, poetry. Placed in orderly bookcases. Just about every table had at least one book on it, and often several magazines. And the weekend newspapers were scattered on the coffee table in the living room, in front of the fireplace. If a visitor was the observant type, and made it further into the apartment to Gamaches study, he might see the story the books in there told.
And hed soon realize this was not the home of some retiring professor of French literature. The shelves were packed with case histories, with books on medicine and forensics, with tomes on Napoleonic and common law, fingerprinting, genetic coding, wounds and weapons.
Murder. Armand Gamaches study was filled with it.
But still, even among the death, space was made for books on philosophy and poetry.
Watching Reine-Marie as they sat on the balcony, Gamache was once again struck by the certainty hed married above himself. Not socially. Not academically. But he could never shake the suspicion he had gotten very, very lucky.
Armand Gamache knew hed had a great deal of luck in his life, but none more than having loved the same woman for thirty-five years. Unless it was the extraordinary stroke of luck that she should also love him.
Now she turned her blue eyes on him. Actually, I was thinking about Claras vernissage.
We should be going soon.
True. He looked at his watch. It was five past five. The party to launch Clara Morrows solo show started at the Musée at five and would end at seven. As soon as David arrives.
Their son-in-law was half an hour late and Gamache glanced inside their apartment. He could just barely make out his daughter Annie sitting in the living room reading, and across from her was his second in command, Jean Guy Beauvoir. Kneading Henris remarkable ears. The Gamaches German shepherd could stay like that all day, a goofy grin on his young face.
Jean Guy and Annie were ignoring each other. Gamache smiled slightly. At least they werent hurling insults, or worse, across the room.
Would you like to leave? Armand offered. We could call David on his cell and ask him to just meet us there.
Why dont we give him another couple of minutes.
Gamache nodded and picked up the magazine, then he lowered it slowly.
Is there something else?
Reine-Marie hesitated then smiled. I was just wondering how youre feeling about going to the vernissage. And wondering if youre stalling.
Armand raised his brow in surprise.
* * *
Jean Guy Beauvoir rubbed Henris ears and stared at the young woman across from him. Hed known her for fifteen years, since he was a rookie on homicide and she was a teenager. Awkward, gawky, bossy.
He didnt like kids. Certainly didnt like smart-ass teenagers. But hed tried to like Annie Gamache, if only because she was the bosss daughter.
Hed tried and hed tried and hed tried. And finally
And now he was nearing forty and she was nearing thirty. A lawyer. Married. Still awkward and gawky and bossy. But hed tried so hard to like her hed finally seen beyond that. Hed seen her laugh with real gaiety, seen her listen to very boring people as though they were riveting. She looked as though she was genuinely glad to see them. As though they were important. Hed seen her dance, arms flailing and head tilted back. Eyes shining.
And hed felt her hand in his. Only once.
In the hospital. Hed come back up from very far away. Fought through the pain and the dark to that foreign but gentle touch. He knew it didnt belong to his wife, Enid. That bird-like grip he would not have come back for.
But this hand was large, and certain, and warm. And it invited him back.
Hed opened his eyes to see Annie Gamache staring at him with such concern. Why would she be there, hed wondered. And then he knew why.
Because she had nowhere else to be. No other hospital bed to sit beside.
Because her father was dead. Killed by a gunman in the abandoned factory. Beauvoir had seen it happen. Seen Gamache hit. Seen him lifted off his feet and fall to the concrete floor.
And lie still.
And now Annie Gamache was holding his hand in the hospital, because the hand she really wanted to be holding was gone.
Jean Guy Beauvoir had pried his eyes open and seen Annie Gamache looking so sad. And his heart broke. Then he saw something else.
No one had ever looked at him that way. With unconcealed and unbound joy.
Annie had looked at him like that, when hed opened his eyes.
Hed tried to speak but couldnt. But shed rightly guessed what he was trying to say.
Shed leaned in and whispered into his ear, and he could smell her fragrance. It was slightly citrony. Clean and fresh. Not Enids clinging, full-bodied perfume. Annie smelled like a lemon grove in summer.
Hed embarrassed himself then. There were many humiliations waiting for him in the hospital. From bedpans and diapers to sponge baths. But none was more personal, more intimate, more of a betrayal than what his broken body did then.
And Annie saw. And Annie never mentioned it from that day to this.
To Henris bafflement, Jean Guy stopped rubbing the dogs ears and placed one hand on the other, in a gesture that had become habitual now.
That was how it had felt. Annies hand on his.
This was all hed ever have of her. His bosss married daughter.
Your husbands late, said Jean Guy, and could hear the accusation. The shove.
Very, very slowly Annie lowered her newspaper. And glared at him.
Whats your point?
What was his point?
Were going to be late because of him.
Then go. I dont care.
Hed loaded the gun, pointed it at his head, and begged Annie to pull the trigger. And now he felt the words strike. Cut. Travel deep and explode.
I dont care.
It was almost comforting, he realized. The pain. Perhaps if he forced her to hurt him enough hed stop feeling anything.
Listen, she said, leaning forward, her voice softening a bit. Im sorry about you and Enid. Your separation.
Yeah, well, it happens. As a lawyer you should know that.
She looked at him with searching eyes, like her fathers. Then she nodded.
It happens. She grew quiet, still. Especially after what youve been through, I guess. It makes you think about your life. Would you like to talk about it?
Talk about Enid with Annie? All the petty sordid squabbles, the tiny slights, the scarring and scabbing. The thought revolted him and he must have shown it. Annie pulled back and reddened as though hed slapped her.
Forget I said anything, she snapped and lifted the paper to her face.
He searched for something to say, some small bridge, a jetty back to her. The minutes stretched by, elongating.
The vernissage, Beauvoir finally blurted out. It was the first thing that popped into his hollow head, like the Magic Eight Ball, that when it stopped being shaken produced a single word. Vernissage, in this case.
The newspaper lowered and Annies stone face appeared.
The people from Three Pines will be there, you know.
Still her face was expressionless.
That village, in the Eastern Townships, he waved vaguely out the window. South of Montréal.
I know where the townships are, she said.
The shows for Clara Morrow, but theyll all be there Im sure.
She raised the newspaper again. The Canadian dollar was strong, he read from across the room. Winter potholes still unfixed, he read. An investigation into government corruption, he read.
One of them hates your father.
The newspaper slowly dropped. What do you mean?
Well, he realized by her expression he might have gone too far, not enough to harm him or anything.
Dads talked about Three Pines and the people, but he never mentioned this.
Now she was upset and he wished he hadnt said anything, but it at least did the trick. She was talking to him again. Her father was the bridge.
Annie dropped her paper onto the table and glanced beyond Beauvoir to her parents talking quietly on the balcony.
She suddenly looked like that teenager hed first met. She was never going to be the most beautiful woman in the room. That much was obvious even then. Annie was not fine-boned or delicate. She was more athletic than graceful. She cared about clothes, but she also cared about comfort.
Opinionated, strong-willed, strong physically. He could beat her at arm-wrestling, he knew because theyd done it several times, but he actually had to try.
With Enid he would never consider trying. And she would never offer.
Annie Gamache had not only offered, but had fully expected to win.
Then had laughed when she hadnt.
Where other women, including Enid, were lovely, Annie Gamache was alive.
Late, too late, Jean Guy Beauvoir had come to appreciate how very important it was, how very attractive it was, how very rare it was, to be fully alive.
Annie looked back at Beauvoir. Why would one of them hate Dad?
Beauvoir lowered his voice. OK, look. Thiss what happened.
Annie leaned forward. They were a couple of feet apart and Beauvoir could just smell her scent. It was all he could do not to take her hands in his.
There was a murder in Claras village, Three Pines
Yes, Dad has mentioned that. Seems like a cottage industry there.
Despite himself, Beauvoir laughed. There is strong shadow where there is much light.
Annies look of astonishment made Beauvoir laugh again.
Let me guess, she said. You didnt make that up.
Beauvoir smiled and nodded. Some German guy said it. And then your father said it.
A few times?
Often enough that I wake up screaming it in the middle of the night.
Annie smiled. I know. I was the only kid in school who quoted Leigh Hunt. Her voice changed slightly as she remembered, But most he loved a happy human face.
* * *
Gamache smiled as he heard the laughter from the living room.
He cocked his head in their direction. Are they finally making peace, do you think?
Either that or its a sign of the apocalypse, said Reine-Marie. If four horsemen gallop out of the park youre on your own, monsieur.
Its good to hear him laugh, said Gamache.
Since his separation from Enid, Jean Guy had seemed distant. Aloof. Hed never been exactly exuberant but Beauvoir was quieter than ever these days, as though his walls had grown and thickened. And his narrow drawbridge had been raised.
Armand Gamache knew no good ever came from putting up walls. What people mistook for safety was in fact captivity. And few things thrived in captivity.
Itll take time, said Reine-Marie.
Avec le temps, agreed Armand. But privately he wondered. He knew time could heal. But it could also do more damage. A forest fire, spread over time, would consume everything.
Gamache, with one last look at the two younger people, continued his conversation with Reine-Marie.
Do you really think I dont want to go to the vernissage? he asked.
She considered for a moment. Im not sure. Lets just say you dont seem in a hurry to get there.
Gamache nodded and thought for a moment. I know everyone will be there. I suppose it might be awkward.
You arrested one of them for a murder he didnt commit, said Reine-Marie. It wasnt an accusation. In fact, it was said quietly and gently. Trying to tease the truth of her husbands feelings from him. Feelings he himself might not even be aware he had.
And you consider that a social faux pas? he asked with a smile.
More than just a social faux pas, Id say, she laughed, relieved to see the genuine humor in his face. A face now clean-shaven. No more moustache. No more graying beard. Just Armand. He looked at her with his deep brown eyes. And as she held them she could almost forget the scar above his left temple.
After a moment his smile faded and he nodded again, taking a deep breath.
It was a terrible thing to do to someone, he said.
You didnt do it on purpose, Armand.
True, but his time in prison wasnt more pleasant because of that. Gamache thought for a moment, looking from the gentle face of his wife out into the trees of the park. A natural setting. He so yearned for that, since his days were filled with hunting the unnatural. Killers. People who took the lives of others. Often in gruesome and dreadful ways. Armand Gamache was the head of homicide for the famed Sûreté du Québec. He was very good at his job.
But he wasnt perfect.
Hed arrested Olivier Brulé for a murder he didnt commit.
* * *
So what happened? Annie asked.
Well, you know most of it, dont you? It was in all the papers.
Of course I read the reports, and talked to Dad about it. But he never mentioned that someone involved might still hate him.
Well, as you know, it was almost a year ago, said Jean Guy. A man was found dead in the bistro in Three Pines. We investigated and the evidence seemed overwhelming. We found fingerprints, the murder weapon, stuff stolen from the dead mans cabin in the woods. All of it hidden in the bistro. We arrested Olivier. He was tried and convicted.
Did you think hed done it?
Beauvoir nodded. I was sure of it. It wasnt just your father.
So how come you changed your mind? Did someone else confess?
No. You remember a few months ago, after that raid on the factory? When your father was recovering in Quebec City?
Well, he began to have his doubts, so he asked me to go back to Three Pines to investigate.
And you did.
Jean Guy nodded. Of course hed gone back. Hed do anything the Chief Inspector asked of him. Though he himself had no such doubts. He believed the right man was in prison. But hed investigated, and discovered something that had truly shocked him.
The real murderer. And the real reason for the killing.
* * *
But youve been back to Three Pines since you arrested Olivier, said Reine-Marie. This wont be the first time youll have seen them.
She too had visited Three Pines and become friends with Clara and Peter and the others, though she hadnt seen them in quite a while. Not since all this had happened.
Thats true, said Armand. Jean Guy and I took Olivier back after his release.
I cant even imagine how that felt for him.
Gamache was quiet. Seeing the sun gleaming off snowbanks. Through the frosted panes of glass he could see the villagers gathered in the bistro. Warm and safe. The cheery fires lit. The mugs of beer and bowls of café au lait. The laughter.
And Olivier, stalled. Two feet from the closed door. Staring at it.
Jean Guy had gone to open it, but Gamache had lain a gloved hand on his arm. And together in the bitter cold theyd waited. Waited. For Olivier to make the move.
After what seemed an age, but was probably only a few heartbeats, Olivier reached out, paused for one more moment, then opened the door.
I wish I couldve seen Gabris face, said Reine-Marie, imagining the large, expressive man seeing his partner returned.
Gamache had described it all to Reine-Marie, when hed returned home. But he knew that no matter how much ecstasy Reine-Marie imagined, the reality was even greater. At least on Gabris part. The rest of the villagers were elated to see Olivier too. But
What is it? Reine-Marie asked.
Well, Olivier didnt kill the man, but as you know a lot of unpleasant things about him came out in the trial. Olivier had certainly stolen from the Hermit, taken advantage of their friendship and the mans frail state of mind. And it turned out that Olivier had used the stolen money to secretly buy up a lot of property in Three Pines. Gabri didnt even know about that.
Reine-Marie was quiet, considering what shed just heard.
I wonder how his friends feel about that, said Reine-Marie at last.
So did Gamache.
* * *
Olivier is the one who hates my father? asked Annie. But how could that be? Dad got him out of prison. He took him back to Three Pines.
Yes, but the way Olivier sees it, I got him out of prison. Your father put him in.
Annie stared at Beauvoir, then shook her head.
Beauvoir went on. Your father apologized, you know. In front of everyone in the bistro. He told Olivier he was sorry for what he did.
And what did Olivier say?
That he couldnt forgive him. Not yet.
Annie thought about that. How did Dad react?
He didnt seem surprised, or upset. In fact, I think hed have been surprised had Olivier suddenly decided all was forgiven. He wouldnt have really meant it.
Beauvoir knew the only thing worse than no apology was an insincere one.
Jean Guy had to give Olivier that. Instead of appearing to accept the apology, Olivier had finally told the truth. The hurt went too deep. He wasnt ready to forgive.
And now? asked Annie.
I guess well see.
A TRICK OF THE LIGHT. Copyright 2011 by Three Pines Creations, Inc.
Up the stairs they raced, taking them two at a time, trying to be as quiet as possible. Gamache struggled to keep his breathing steady, as though he was sitting at home, as though he had not a care in the world.
Sir? came the young voice over Gamaches headphones.
You must believe me, son. Nothing bad will happen to you.
He hoped the young agent couldnt hear the strain in his voice, the flattening as the Chief Inspector fought to keep his voice authoritative, certain.
I believe you.
They reached the landing. Inspector Beauvoir stopped, staring at his Chief. Gamache looked at his watch.
In his headphones the agent was telling him about the sunshine and how good it felt on his face.
The rest of the team made the landing, tactical vests in place, automatic weapons drawn, eyes sharp. Trained on the Chief. Beside him Inspector Beauvoir was also waiting for a decision. Which way? They were close. Within feet of their quarry.
Gamache stared down one dark, dingy corridor in the abandoned factory then down the other.
They looked identical. Light scraped through the broken, grubby windows lining the halls and with it came the December day.
He pointed decisively to the left and they ran, silently, toward the door at the end. As he ran Gamache gripped his rifle and spoke calmly into the headset.
Theres no need to worry.
Theres forty seconds left, sir. Each word was exhaled as though the man on the other end was having difficulty breathing.
Just listen to me, said Gamache, thrusting his hand toward a door. The team surged ahead.
I wont let anything happen to you, said Gamache, his voice convincing, commanding, daring the young agent to contradict. Youll be having dinner with your family tonight.
The tactical team surrounded the closed door with its frosted, filthy window. Darkened.
Gamache paused, staring at it, his hand hanging in the air ready to give the signal to break it down. To rescue his agent.
Beside him Beauvoir strained, waiting to be loosed.
Too late, Chief Inspector Gamache realized hed made a mistake.
Give it time, Armand.
Avec le temps? Gamache returned the older mans smile and made a fist of his right hand. To stop the trembling. A tremble so slight he was certain the waitress in the Quebec City caf hadnt noticed. The two students across the way tapping on their laptops wouldnt notice. No one would notice.
Except someone very close to him.
He looked at mile Comeau, crumbling a flaky croissant with sure hands. He was nearing eighty now, Gamaches mentor and former chief. His hair was white and groomed, his eyes through his glasses a sharp blue. He was slender and energetic, even now. Though with each visit Armand Gamache noticed a slight softening about the face, a slight slowing of the movements.
Avec le temps.
Widowed five years, mile Comeau knew the power, and length, of time.
Gamaches own wife, Reine-Marie, had left at dawn that morning after spending a week with them at miles stone home within the old walled city of Qubec. Theyd had quiet dinners together in front of the fire, theyd walked the narrow snow-covered streets. Talked. Were silent. Read the papers, discussed events. The three of them. Four, if you counted their German shepherd, Henri.
And most days Gamache had gone off on his own to a local library, to read.
mile and Reine-Marie had given him that, recognizing that right now he needed society but he also needed solitude.
And then it was time for her to leave. After saying good-bye to mile she turned to her husband. Tall, solid, a man who preferred good books and long walks to any other activity, he looked more like a distinguished professor in his mid-fifties than the head of the most prestigious homicide unit in Canada. The Sret du Qubec. He walked her to her car, scraping the morning ice from the windshield.
You dont have to go, you know, he said, smiling down at her as they stood in the brittle, new day. Henri sat in a snow bank nearby and watched.
I know. But you and mile need time together. I could see how you were looking at each other.
The longing? laughed the Chief Inspector. Id hoped wed been more discreet.
A wife always knows. She smiled, looking into his deep brown eyes. He wore a hat, but still she could see his graying hair, and the slight curl where it came out from under the fabric. And his beard. Shed slowly become used to the beard. For years hed had a moustache, but just lately, since it happened, hed grown the trim beard.
She paused. Should she say it? It was never far from her mind now, from her mouth. The words she knew were useless, if any words could be described as that. Certainly she knew they could not make the thing happen. If they could she would surround him with them, encase him with her words.
Come home when you can, she said instead, her voice light.
He kissed her. I will. In a few days, a week at the most. Call me when you get there.
Daccord. She got into the car.
Je taime, he said, putting his gloved hand into the window to touch her shoulder.
Watch out, her mind screamed. Be safe. Come home with me. Be careful, be careful, be careful.
She put her own gloved hand over his. Je taime.
And then she was gone, back to Montreal, glancing in the rear-view mirror to see him standing on the deserted early morning street, Henri naturally at his side. Both watching her, until she disappeared.
The Chief Inspector continued to stare even after shed turned the corner. Then he picked up a shovel and slowly cleared the nights fluffy snowfall from the front steps. Resting for a moment, his arms crossed over the handle of the shovel, he marveled at the beauty as the first light hit the new snow. It looked more pale blue than white, and here and there it sparkled like tiny prisms where the flakes had drifted and collected, then caught, remade, and returned the light. Like something alive and giddy.
Life in the old walled city was like that. Both gentle and dynamic, ancient and vibrant.
Picking up a handful of snow, the Chief Inspector mashed it into a ball in his fist. Henri immediately stood, his tail going so hard his entire rear swayed. His eyes burning into the ball.
Gamache tossed it into the air and the dog leapt, his mouth closing over the snowball, and chomping down. Landing on all fours Henri was once again surprised that the thing that had been so solid had suddenly disappeared.
Gone, so quickly.
But next time would be different.
Gamache chuckled. He might be right.
Just then mile stepped out from his doorway, bundled in an immense winter coat against the biting February cold.
Ready? The elderly man clamped a toque onto his head, pulling it down so that it covered his ears and forehead, and put on thick mitts, like boxing gloves.
For what? A siege?
For breakfast, mon vieux. Come along, before someone gets the last croissant.
He knew how to motivate his former subordinate. Hardly pausing for Gamache to replace the shovel, mile headed off up the snowy street. Around them the other residents of Quebec City were waking up. Coming out into the tender morning light to shovel, to scrape the snow from their cars, to walk to the boulangerie for their morning baguette and caf.
The two men and Henri set out along rue St-Jean, past the restaurants and tourist shops, to a tiny side street called rue Couillard, and there they found Chez Temporel.
Theyd been coming to this caf for fifteen years, ever since Superintendent mile Comeau had retired to old Quebec City, and Gamache had come to visit, to spend time with his mentor, and to help with the little chores that piled up. Shoveling, stacking wood for the fireplace, sealing windows against drafts. But this visit was different. Like no other in all the winters Chief Inspector Gamache had been coming to Quebec City.
This time it was Gamache who needed help.
So, mile leaned back, cupping his bowl of caf au lait in slender hands. Hows the research going?
I cant yet find any references to Captain Cook actually meeting Bougainville before the Battle of Qubec, but it was 250 years ago. Records are scattered and werent well kept. But I know theyre in there, said Gamache. Its an amazing library, mile. The volumes go back centuries.
Comeau watched his companion talk about sifting through arcane books in a local library and the tidbits he was unearthing about a battle long ago fought, and lost. At least, from his point of view lost. Was there a spark in those beloved eyes at last? Those eyes hed stared into so often at the scenes of dreadful crimes as theyd hunted murderers. As theyd raced through woods and villages and fields, through clues and evidence and suspicions. Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears, mile remembered the quote as he remembered those days. Yes, he thought, that described it. Chasmed fears. Both their own, and the murderers. Across tables across the province he and Gamache had sat. Just like this.
But now it was time to rest from murder. No more killing, no more deaths. Armand had seen too much of that lately. No, better to bury himself in history, in lives long past. An intellectual pursuit, nothing more.
Beside them Henri stirred and Gamache instinctively lowered his hand to stroke the shepherds head and reassure him. And once again mile noted the slight tremble. Barely there now. Stronger at times. Sometimes it disappeared completely. It was a tell-tale tremble, and mile knew the terrible tale it had to tell.
He wished he could take that hand and hold it steady and tell him it would be all right. Because it would, he knew.
Watching Armand Gamache he noticed again the jagged scar on his left temple and the trim beard hed grown. So that people would stop staring. So that people would not recognize the most recognizable police officer in Qubec.
But, of course, it didnt matter. It wasnt them Armand Gamache was hiding from.
The waitress at Chez Temporel arrived with more coffee.
Merci, Danielle, the two men said at once and she left, smiling at the two men who looked so different but seemed so similar.
They drank their coffees and ate pain au chocolat and croissants aux amandes and talked about the Carnaval de Qubec, starting that night. Occasionally theyd lapse into silence, watching the men and women hurrying along the icy cold street outside to their jobs. Someone had scratched a three-leaf clover into a slight indent in the center of their wooden table. mile rubbed it with his finger.
And wondered when Armand would want to talk about what happened.
It was ten thirty and the monthly board meeting of the Literary and Historical Society was about to start. For many years the meetings had been held in the evening, when the library was closed, but then it was noticed that fewer and fewer members were showing up.
So the Chairman, Porter Wilson, had changed the time. At least, he thought hed changed the time. At least, it had been reported in the board minutes that it had been his motion, though he privately seemed to remember arguing against it.
And yet, here they were meeting in the morning, and had been for some years. Still, the other members had adjusted, as had Porter. He had to, since it had apparently been his idea.
The fact the board had adjusted at all was a miracle. The last time theyd been asked to change anything it had been the worn leather on the Lit and His chairs, and that had been sixty-three years ago. Members still remembered fathers and mothers, grandparents, ranged on either side of the upholstered Mason-Dixon Line. Remembered vitriolic comments made behind closed doors, behind backs, but before children. Who didnt forget, sixty-three years later, that devious alteration from old black leather to new black leather.
Pulling out his chair at the head of the table Porter noticed it was looking worn. He sat quickly so that no one, least of all himself, could see it.
Small stacks of paper were neatly arranged in front of his and every other place, marching down the wooden table. Elizabeth MacWhirters doing. He examined Elizabeth. Plain, tall and slim. At least, she had been that when the world was young. Now she just looked freeze-dried. Like those ancient cadavers pulled from glaciers. Still obviously human, but withered and gray. Her dress was blue and practical and a very good cut and material, he suspected. After all, she was one of those MacWhirters. A venerable and moneyed family. One not given to displays of wealth, or brains. Her brother had sold the shipping empire about a decade too late. But there was still money there. She was a little dull, he thought, but responsible. Not a leader, not a visionary. Not the sort to hold a community in peril together. Like him. And his father before him. And his grandfather.
For the tiny English community within the walls of old Quebec City had been in peril for many generations. It was a kind of perpetual peril that sometimes got better and sometimes got worse, but never disappeared completely. Just like the English.
Porter Wilson had never fought a war, being just that much too young, and then too old. Not, anyway, an official war. But he and the other members of his board knew themselves to be in a battle nevertheless. And one, he secretly suspected, they were losing.
At the door Elizabeth MacWhirter greeted the other board members as they arrived and looked over at Porter Wilson already seated at the head of the table, reading over his notes.
Hed accomplished many things in his life, Elizabeth knew. The choir hed organized, the amateur theater, the wing for the nursing home. All built by force of will and personality. And all less than they might have been had he sought and accepted advice.
The very force of his personality both created and crippled. How much more could he have accomplished had he been kinder? But then, dynamism and kindness often didnt go together, though when they did they were unstoppable.
Porter was stoppable. Indeed, he stopped himself. And now the only board that could stand him was the Lit and His. Elizabeth had known Porter for seventy years, since shed seen him eating lunch alone, every day, at school and gone to keep him company. Porter decided she was sucking up to one of the great Wilson clan, and treated her with disdain.
Still, she kept him company. Not because she liked him but because she knew even then something it would take Porter Wilson decades to realize. The English of Quebec City were no longer the juggernauts, no longer the steamships, no longer the gracious passenger liners of the society and economy.
They were a life raft. Adrift. And you dont make war on others in the raft.
Elizabeth MacWhirter had figured that out. And when Porter rocked the boat, she righted it.
She looked at Porter Wilson and saw a small, energetic, touped man. His hair, where not imported, was dyed a shade of black the chairs would envy. His eyes were brown and darted about nervously.
Mr. Blake arrived first. The oldest board member, he practically lived at the Lit and His. He took off his coat, revealing his uniform of gray flannel suit, laundered white shirt, blue silk tie. He was always perfectly turned out. A gentleman, who managed to make Elizabeth feel young and beautiful. Shed had a crush on him when shed been an awkward teen and he in his dashing twenties.
Hed been attractive then and sixty years later he was still attractive, though his hair was thin and white and his once fine body had rounded and softened. But his eyes were smart and lively, and his heart was large and strong.
Elizabeth, Mr. Blake smiled and took her hand, holding it for a moment. Never too long, never too familiar. Just enough, so that she knew shed been held.
He took his seat. A seat, Elizabeth thought, that should be replaced. But then, honestly, so should Mr. Blake. So should they all.
What would happen when they died out and all that was left of the board of the Literary and Historical Society were worn, empty chairs?
Right, we need to make this fast. We have a practice in an hour.
Tom Hancock arrived, followed by Ken Haslam. The two were never far apart these days, being unlikely team members in the ridiculous upcoming race.
Tom was Elizabeths triumph. Her hope. And not simply because he was the minister of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church next door.
He was young and new to the community, having moved to Quebec City three years earlier. At thirty-three he was about half the age of the next youngest board member. Not yet cynical, not yet burned out. He still believed his church would find new parishioners, the English community would suddenly produce babies with the desire to stay in Quebec City. He believed the Qubec government when it promised job equality for Anglophones. And health care in their own language. And education. And nursing homes so that when all hope was lost, they might die with their mother tongue on caregivers lips.
Hed managed to inspire the board to believe maybe all wasnt lost. And even, maybe, this wasnt really a war. Wasnt some dreadful extension of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, one which the English lost this time. Elizabeth glanced up at the oddly petite statue of General James Wolfe. The martyred hero of the battle 250 years ago hovered over the library of the Literary and Historical Society, like a wooden accusation. To witness their petty battles and to remind them, in perpetuity, of the great battle hed fought, for them. Where hed died, but not before triumphing on that blood-soaked farmers field. Ending the war, and securing Qubec for the English. On paper.
And now from his corner of the lovely old library General Wolfe looked down on them. In every way, Elizabeth suspected.
So, Ken, Tom said, taking his place beside the older man. You in shape? Ready for the race?
Elizabeth didnt hear Ken Haslams response. But then she didnt expect to. Kens thin lips moved, words were formed, but never actually heard.
They all paused, thinking perhaps this was the day he would produce a word above a whisper. But they were wrong. Still, Tom Hancock continued to talk to Ken, as though they were actually having a conversation.
Elizabeth loved Tom for that as well. For not giving in to the notion that because Ken was quiet he was stupid. Elizabeth knew him to be anything but. In his mid-sixties he was the most successful of all of them, building a business of his own. And now, having achieved that Ken Haslam had done something else remarkable.
Hed signed up for the treacherous ice canoe race. Signed on to Tom Hancocks team. He would be the oldest member of the team, the oldest member of any team. Perhaps the oldest racer ever.
Watching Ken, quiet and calm and Tom, young, vital, handsome, Elizabeth wondered if maybe they understood each other very well after all. Perhaps both had things they werent saying.
Not for the first time Elizabeth wondered about Tom Hancock. Why hed chosen to minister to them, and why he stayed within the walls of old Quebec City. It took a certain personality, Elizabeth knew, to choose to live in what amounted to a fortress.
Right, lets start, said Porter, sitting up even straighter.
Winnie isnt here yet, said Elizabeth.
We cant wait.
Why not? Tom asked, his voice relaxed. But still Porter heard a challenge.
Because its already past ten thirty and youre the one who wanted to make this quick, Porter said, pleased at having scored a point.
Once again, thought Elizabeth, Porter managed to look at a friend and see a foe.
Quite right. Still, Im happy to wait, smiled Tom, unwilling to take to the field.
Well, Im not. First order of business?
They discussed the purchase of new books for a while before Winnie arrived. Small and energetic, she was fierce in her loyalty. To the English community, to the Lit and His, but mostly to her friend.
She marched in, gave Porter a withering look, and sat next to Elizabeth.
I see you started without me, she said to him. I told you Id be late.
You did, but that doesnt mean we had to wait. Were discussing new books to buy.
And it didnt occur to you this might be an issue best discussed with the librarian?
Well, youre here now.
The rest of the board watched this as though at Wimbledon, though with considerably less interest. It was pretty clear who had the balls, and who would win.
Fifty minutes later theyd almost reached the end of the agenda. There was one oatmeal cookie left, the members staring but too polite to take it. Theyd discussed the heating bills, the membership drive, the ratty old volumes left to them in wills, instead of money. The books were generally sermons, or lurid Victorian poetry, or the dreary daily diary of a trip up the Amazon or into Africa to shoot and stuff some poor wild creature.
They discussed having another sale of books, but after the last debacle that was a short discussion.
Elizabeth took notes and had to force herself not to lip-synch to each board members comments. It was a liturgy. Familiar, soothing in a strange way. The same words repeated over and over every meeting. For ever and ever. Amen.
A sound suddenly interrupted that comforting liturgy, a sound so unique and startling Porter almost jumped out of his chair.
What was that? whispered Ken Haslam. For him it was almost a shout.
Its the doorbell, I think, said Winnie.
The doorbell? asked Porter. I didnt know we had one.
Put in in 1897 after the Lieutenant Governor visited and couldnt get in, said Mr. Blake, as though hed been there. Never heard it myself.
But he heard it again. A long, shrill bell. Elizabeth had locked the front door to the Literary and Historical Society as soon as everyone had arrived. A precaution against being interrupted. Though since hardly anyone ever visited it was more habit than necessity. Shed also hung a sign on the thick wooden door. Board Meeting in Progress. Library will reopen at noon. Thank you. Merci.
The bell sounded again. Someone was leaning on it, finger jammed into the button.
Still they stared at each other.
Ill go, said Elizabeth.
Porter looked down at his papers, the better part of valor.
No, Winnie stood. Ill go. You all stay here.
They watched Winnie disappear down the corridor and heard her feet on the wooden stairs. There was silence. Then a minute later her feet on the stairs again.
They listened to the footsteps clicking and clacking closer. She arrived but stopped at the door, her face pale and serious.
Theres someone there. Someone who wants to speak to the board.
Well, demanded Porter, remembering he was their leader, now that the elderly woman had gone to the door. Who is it?
Augustin Renaud, she said and saw the looks on their faces. Had she said Dracula they could not have been more startled. Though, for the English, startled meant raised eyebrows.
Every eyebrow in the room was raised, and if General Wolfe could have managed it, he would have.
I left him outside, she said into the silence.
As if to underscore that the doorbell shrieked again.
What should we do? Winnie asked, but instead of turning to Porter she looked at Elizabeth. They all did.
We need to take a vote, Elizabeth said at last. Should we see him?
Hes not on the agenda, Mr. Blake pointed out.
Thats right, said Porter, trying to wrestle back control. But even he looked at Elizabeth.
Whos in favor of letting Augustin Renaud speak to the board? Elizabeth asked.
Not a hand was raised.
Elizabeth lowered her pen, not taking note of the vote. Giving one curt nod she stood. Ill tell him.
Ill go with you, said Winnie.
No, dear, you stay here. Ill be right back. I mean, really? She paused at the door, taking in the board and General Wolfe above. How bad could it be?
But they all knew the answer to that. When Augustin Renaud came calling it was never good.
"All of them? Even the children?" The fireplace sputtered and crackled and swallowed his gasp. "Slaughtered?"
There was silence then. And in that hush lived all the things that could be worse than slaughter.
"Are they close?" His back tingled as he imagined something dreadful creeping through the woods. Toward them. He looked around, almost expecting to see red eyes staring through the dark windows. Or from the corners, or under the bed.
"All around. Have you seen the light in the night sky?"
"I thought those were the Northern Lights." The pink and green and white shifting, flowing against the stars. Like something alive, glowing, and growing. And approaching.
Olivier Brulé lowered his gaze, no longer able to look into the troubled, lunatic eyes across from him. He'd lived with this story for so long, and kept telling himself it wasn't real. It was a myth, a story told and repeated and embellished over and over and over. Around fires just like theirs.
It was a story, nothing more. No harm in it.
But in this simple log cabin, buried in the Quebec wilderness, it seemed like more than that. Even Olivier felt himself believing it. Perhaps because the Hermit so clearly did.
The old man sat in his easy chair on one side of the stone hearth with Olivier on the other. Olivier looked into a fire that had been alive for more than a decade. An old flame not allowed to die, it mumbled and popped in the grate, throwing soft light into the log cabin. He gave the embers a shove with the simple iron poker, sending sparks up the chimney. Candlelight twinkled off shiny objects like eyes in the darkness, found by the flame.
"It won't be long now."
The Hermit's eyes were gleaming like metal reaching its melting point. He was leaning forward as he often did when this tale was told.
Olivier scanned the single room. The dark was punctuated by flickering candles throwing fantastic, grotesque shadows. Night seemed to have seeped through the cracks in the logs and settled into the cabin, curled in corners and under the bed. Many native tribes believed evil lived in corners, which was why their traditional homes were rounded. Unlike the square homes the government had given them.
Olivier didn't believe evil lived in corners. Not really. Not in the daylight, anyway. But he did believe there were things waiting in the dark corners of this cabin that only the Hermit knew about. Things that set Olivier's heart pounding.
"Go on," he said, trying to keep his voice steady.
It was late and Olivier still had the twenty-minute walk through the forest back to Three Pines. It was a trip he made every fortnight and he knew it well, even in the dark.
Only in the dark. Theirs was a relationship that existed only after nightfall.
They sipped Orange Pekoe tea. A treat, Olivier knew, reserved for the Hermit's honored guest. His only guest.
But now it was story time. They leaned closer to the fire. It was early September and a chill had crept in with the night.
"Where was I? Oh, yes. I remember now."
Olivier's hands gripped the warm mug even tighter.
"The terrible force has destroyed everything in its way. The Old World and the New. All gone. Except . . ."
"One tiny village remains. Hidden in a valley, so the grim army hasn't seen it yet. But it will. And when it does their great leader will stand at the head of his army. He's immense, bigger than any tree, and clad in armor made from rocks and spiny shells and bone."
The word was whispered and disappeared into the darkness, where it curled into a corner. And waited.
"Chaos. And the Furies. Disease, Famine, Despair. All are swarming. Searching. And they'll never stop. Not ever. Not until they find it."
"The thing that was stolen."
The Hermit nodded, his face grim. He seemed to see the slaughter, the destruction. See the men and women, the children, fleeing before the merciless, soulless force.
"But what was it? What could be so important they had to destroy everything to get it back?"
Olivier willed his eyes not to dart from the craggy face and into the darkness. To the corner, and the thing they both knew was sitting there in its mean little canvas sack. But the Hermit seemed to read his mind and Olivier saw a malevolent grin settle onto the old man's face. And then it was gone.
"It's not the army that wants it back."
They both saw then the thing looming behind the terrible army. The thing even Chaos feared. That drove Despair, Disease, Famine before it. With one goal. To find what was taken from their Master.
"It's worse than slaughter."
Their voices were low, barely scraping the ground. Like conspirators in a cause already lost.
"When the army finally finds what it's searching for it will stop. And step aside. And then the worst thing imaginable will arrive."
There was silence again. And in that silence lived the worst thing imaginable.
Outside a pack of coyotes set up a howl. They had something cornered.
Myth, that's all this is, Olivier reassured himself. Just a story. Once more he looked into the embers, so he wouldn't see the terror in the Hermit's face. Then he checked his watch, tilting the crystal toward the fireplace until its face glowed orange and told him the time. Two thirty in the morning.
"Chaos is coming, old son, and there's no stopping it. It's taken a long time, but it's finally here."
The Hermit nodded, his eyes rheumy and runny, perhaps from the wood smoke, perhaps from something else. Olivier leaned back, surprised to feel his thirty-eight-year-old body suddenly aching, and realized he'd sat tense through the whole awful telling.
"I'm sorry. It's getting late and Gabri will be worried. I have to go."
Olivier got up and pumping cold, fresh water into the enamel sink he cleaned his cup. Then he turned back to the room.
"I'll be back soon," he smiled.
"Let me give you something," said the Hermit, looking around the log cabin. Olivier's gaze darted to the corner where the small canvas sack sat. Unopened. A bit of twine keeping it closed.
A chuckle came from the Hermit. "One day, perhaps, Olivier. But not today."
He went over to the hand-hewn mantelpiece, picked up a tiny item and held it out to the attractive blond man.
"For the groceries." He pointed to the tins and cheese and milk, tea and coffee and bread on the counter.
"No, I couldn't. It's my pleasure," said Olivier, but they both knew the pantomime and knew he'd take the small offering. "Merci," Olivier said at the door.
In the woods there was a furious scrambling, as a doomed creature raced to escape its fate, and coyotes raced to seal it.
"Be careful," said the old man, quickly scanning the night sky. Then, before closing the door, he whispered the single word that was quickly devoured by the woods. Olivier wondered if the Hermit crossed himself and mumbled prayers, leaning against the door, which was thick but perhaps not quite thick enough.
And he wondered if the old man believed the stories of the great and grim army with Chaos looming and leading the Furies. Inexorable, unstoppable. Close.
And behind them something else. Something unspeakable.
And he wondered if the Hermit believed the prayers.
Olivier flicked on his flashlight, scanning the darkness. Gray tree trunks crowded round. He shone the light here and there, trying to find the narrow path through the late summer forest. Once on the trail he hurried. And the more he hurried the more frightened he became, and the more fearful he grew the faster he ran until he was stumbling, chased by dark words through the dark woods.
He finally broke through the trees and staggered to a stop, hands on his bent knees, heaving for breath. Then, slowly straightening, he looked down on the village in the valley.
Three Pines was asleep, as it always seemed to be. At peace with itself and the world. Oblivious of what happened around it. Or perhaps aware of everything, but choosing peace anyway. Soft light glowed at some of the windows. Curtains were drawn in bashful old homes. The sweet scent of the first autumn fires wafted to him.
And in the very center of the little Quebec village there stood three great pines, like watchmen.
Olivier was safe. Then he felt his pocket.
The gift. The tiny payment. He'd left it behind.
Cursing, Olivier turned to look into the forest that had closed behind him. And he thought again of the small canvas bag in the corner of the cabin. The thing the Hermit had teased him with, promised him, dangled before him. The thing a hiding man hid.
Olivier was tired, and fed up and angry at himself for forgetting the trinket. And angry at the Hermit for not giving him the other thing. The thing he'd earned by now.
He hesitated, then turning he plunged back into the forest, feeling his fear growing and feeding the rage. And as he walked, then ran, a voice followed, beating behind him. Driving him on.
"Chaos is here, old son."
THE BRUTAL TELLING. Copyright 2009 by Louise Penny.
A RULE AGAINST MURDER / THE MURDER STONE (Chapter 1)
In the height of summer the guests descended on the isolated lodge by the lake, summoned to the Manoir Belle-chasse by identical vellum invitations, addressed in the familiar spider scrawl as though written in cobwebs. Thrust through mail slots, the heavy paper had thudded to the floor of impressive homes in Vancouver and Toronto, and a small brick cottage in Three Pines.
The mailman had carried it in his bag through the tiny Quebec village, taking his time. Best not to exert yourself in this heat, he told himself, pausing to remove his hat and wipe his dripping head. Union rules. But the actual reason for his lethargy wasnt the beating and brilliant sun, but something more private. He always lingered in Three Pines. He wandered slowly by the perennial beds of roses and lilies and thrusting bold foxglove. He helped kids spot frogs at the pond on the green. He sat on warm fieldstone walls and watched the old village go about its business. It added hours to his day and made him the last courier back to the terminal. He was mocked and kidded by his fellows for being so slow and he suspected that was the reason hed never been promoted. For two decades or more hed taken his time. Instead of hurrying, he strolled through Three Pines talking to people as they walked their dogs, often joining them for lemonade or thé glacé outside the bistro. Or café au lait in front of the roaring fire in winter.
Sometimes the villagers, knowing he was having lunch at the bistro, would come by and pick up their own mail. And chat for a moment. He brought news from other villages on his route, like a travelling minstrel in medieval times, with news of plague or war or flood, someplace else. But never here in this lovely and peaceful village. It always amused him to imagine that Three Pines, nestled among the mountains and surrounded by Canadian forest, was disconnected from the outside world. It certainly felt that way. It was a relief.
And so he took his time. This day he held a bundle of envelopes in his sweaty hand, hoping he wasnt marring the perfect, quite lovely thick paper of the top letter. Then the handwriting caught his eye and his pace slowed still further. After decades as a mail carrier he knew he delivered more than just letters. In his years, he knew, hed dropped bombs along his route. Great good news: children born, lotteries won, distant, wealthy aunts dead. But he was a good and sensitive man, and he knew he was also the bearer of bad news. It broke his heart to think of the pain he sometimes caused, especially in this village.
He knew what he held in his hand now was that, and more. It wasnt, perhaps, total telepathy that informed his certainty, but also an unconscious ability to read handwriting. Not simply the words, but the thrust behind them. The simple, mundane three- line address on the envelope told him more than where to deliver the letter. The hand was old, he could tell, and infirm. Crippled not just by age, but by rage. No good would come from this thing he held. And he suddenly wanted to be rid of it.
His intention had been to wander over to the bistro and have a cold beer and a sandwich, chat with the owner Olivier and see if anyone came for their mail, for he was also just a little bit lazy. But suddenly he was energized. Astonished villagers saw a sight unique to them, the postman hurrying. He stopped and turned and walked briskly away from the bistro, toward a rusty mailbox in front of a brick cottage overlooking the village green. As he opened the mouth of the box it screamed. He couldnt blame it. He thrust the letter in and quickly closed the shrieking door. It surprised him that the battered metal box didnt gag a little and spew the wretched thing back. Hed come to see his letters as living things, and the boxes as kinds of pets. And hed done something terrible to this particular box. And these people.
Had Armand Gamache been blindfolded hed have known exactly where he was. It was the scent. That combination of woodsmoke, old books and honeysuckle.
"Monsieur et Madame Gamache, quel plaisir." Clementine Dubois waddled around the reception desk at the Manoir Bellechasse, skin like wings hanging from her outstretched arms and quivering so that she looked like a bird or a withered angel as she approached, her intentions clear. Reine-Marie Gamache met her, her own arms without hope of meeting about the substantial woman. They embraced and kissed on each cheek. When Gamache had exchanged hugs and kisses with Madame Dubois she stepped back and surveyed the couple. Before her she saw Reine-Marie, short, not plump but not trim either, hair graying and face settling into the middle years of a life fully lived. She was lovely without being actually pretty. What the French called soignée. She wore a tailored deep blue skirt to mid- calf and a crisp white shirt. Simple, elegant, classic.
The man was tall and powerfully built. In his mid- fifties and not yet going to fat, but showing evidence of a life lived with good books, wonderful food and leisurely walks. He looked like a professor, though Clementine Dubois knew he was not that. His hair was receding and where once it had been wavy and dark, now it was thinning on top and graying over the ears and down the sides where it curled a little over the collar. He was clean- shaven except for a trim moustache. He wore a navy jacket, khaki slacks and a soft blue shirt, with tie. Always immaculate, even in the gathering heat of this late June day. But what was most striking were his eyes. Deep, warm brown. He carried calm with him as other men wore cologne.
"But you look tired."
Most innkeepers would have exclaimed, "But you look lovely." "Mais, voyons, you never change, you two." Or even, "You look younger than ever," knowing how old ears never tire of hearing that.
But while the Gamaches ears couldnt yet be considered old, they were tired. It had been a long year and their ears had heard more than they cared to. And, as always, the Gamaches had come to the Manoir Bellechasse to leave all that behind. While the rest of the world celebrated the New Year in January, the Gamaches celebrated at the height of summer, when they visited this blessed place, retreated from the world, and began anew.
"We are a little weary," admitted Reine-Marie, subsiding gratefully into the comfortable wing chair at the reception desk.
"Bon, well well soon take care of that." Now, Madame Dubois gracefully swivelled back behind the desk in a practiced move and sat at her own comfortable chair. Pulling the ledger toward her she put on her glasses. "Where have we put you?"
Armand Gamache took the chair beside his wife and they exchanged glances. They knew if they looked in that same ledger theyd find their signatures, once a year, stretching back to a June day more than thirty years ago when young Armand had saved his money and brought Reine-Marie here. For one night. In the tiniest of rooms at the very back of the splendid old Manoir. Without a view of the mountains or the lake or the perennial gardens lush with fresh peonies and first-bloom roses. Hed saved for months, wanting that visit to be special. Wanting Reine-Marie to know how much he loved her, how precious she was to him.
And so theyd lain together for the first time, the sweet scent of the forest and kitchen thyme and lilac drifting almost visible through the screened window. But the loveliest scent of all was her, fresh and warm in his strong arms. Hed written a love note to her that night. Hed covered her softly with their simple white sheet, then, sitting in the cramped rocking chair, not daring to actually rock in case he whacked the wall behind or barked his shins on the bed in front, disturbing Reine-Marie, hed watched her breathe. Then on Manoir Bellechasse notepaper hed written, My love knows no
How can a man contain such
My heart and soul have come alive
My love for you
All night he wrote and next morning, taped to the bathroom mirror, Reine-Marie found the note.
I love you.
Clementine Dubois had been there even then, massive and wobbly and smiling. Shed been old then and each year Gamache worried hed call for a reservation to hear an unfamiliar crisp voice say. "Bonjour, Manoir Belle-chasse. Puis-je vous aider?" Instead hed heard, "Monsieur Gamache, what a plea sure. Are you coming to visit us again, I hope?" Like going to Grandmas. Albeit a grander grandmas than hed ever known.
And while Gamache and Reine-Marie had certainly changed, marrying, having two children and now a granddaughter and another grandchild on the way, Clementine Dubois never seemed to age or diminish. And neither did her love, the Manoir. It was as though the two were one, both kind and loving, comforting and welcoming. And mysteriously and delightfully unchanging in a world that seemed to change so fast. And not always for the better.
"Whats wrong?" Reine-Marie asked, noticing the look on Madame Duboiss face.
"I must be getting old," she said and looked up, her violet eyes upset. .Gamache smiled reassuringly. By his calculations she must be at least a hundred and twenty.
"If you have no room, dont worry. We can come back another week," he said. It was only a two- hour drive into the Eastern Townships of Quebec from their home in Montreal.
"Oh, I have a room, but Id hoped to have something better. When you called for reservations I should have saved the Lake Room for you, the one you had last year. But the Manoirs full up. One family, the Finneys, has taken the other five rooms. Theyre here"
She stopped suddenly and dropped her eyes to the ledger in an act so wary and uncharacteristic the Gamaches exchanged glances.
"Theyre here . . . ?" Gamache prompted after the silence stretched on.
"Well, it doesnt matter, plenty of time for that," she said, looking up and smiling reassuringly. "Im sorry about not saving the best room for you two, though."
"Had we wanted the Lake Room, wed have asked," said Reine-Marie. "You know Armand, this is his one flutter with uncertainty. Wild man."
Clementine Dubois laughed, knowing that not to be true. She knew the man in front of her lived with great uncertainty every day of his life. Which was why she deeply wanted their annual visits to the Manoir to be filled with luxury and comfort. And peace.
"We never specify the room, madame," said Gamache, his voice deep and warm. "Do you know why?"
Madame Dubois shook her head. Shed long been curious, but never wanted to cross- examine her guests, especially this one. "Everyone else does," she said. "In fact, this whole family asked for free upgrades. Arrived in Mercedes and BMWs and asked for upgrades." She smiled. Not meanly, but with some bafflement that people who had so much wanted more.
"We like to leave it up to the fates," he said. She examined his face to see if he was joking, but thought he probably wasnt. "Were perfectly happy with what were given."
see another day, and always surprised to be here, in this old lodge, by the sparkling shores of this freshwater lake, surrounded by forests and streams, gardens and guests. It was her home, and guests were like family. Though Madame Dubois knew, from bitter experience, you cant always choose, or like, your family.
"Here it is." She dangled an old brass key from a long keychain. "The Forest Room. Its at the back, Im afraid."
Reine-Marie smiled. "We know where it is, merci."
One day rolled gently into the next as the Gamaches swam in Lac Massawippi and went for leisurely walks through the fragrant woods. They read and chatted amicably with the other guests and slowly got to know them.
Up until a few days ago theyd never met the Finneys, but now they were cordial companions at the isolated lodge. Like experienced travellers on a cruise, the guests were neither too remote nor too familiar. They didnt even know what the others did for a living, which was fine with Armand Gamache.
It was mid- afternoon and Gamache was watching a bee scramble around a particularly blowsy pink rose when a movement caught his attention. He turned in his chaise longue and watched as the son, Thomas, and his wife Sandra walked from the lodge into the startling sunshine. Sandra brought a slim hand up and placed huge black sunglasses on her face, so that she looked a little like a fly. She seemed an alien in this place, certainly not someone in her natural habitat. Gamache supposed her to be in her late fifties, early sixties, though she was clearly trying to pass for considerably less. Funny, he thought, how dyed hair, heavy make- up and young clothes actually made a person look older.
They walked on to the lawn, Sandras heels aerating the grass, and paused, as though expecting applause. But the only sound Gamache could hear came from the bee, whose wings were making a muffled raspberry sound in the rose.
Thomas stood on the brow of the slight hill rolling
down to the lake, an admiral on the bridge. His piercing
blue eyes surveyed the water, like Nelson at Trafalgar.
Gamache realized that every time he saw Thomas he
thought of a man preparing for battle. Thomas Finney was
in his early sixties and certainly handsome. Tall and dis
tinguished with gray hair and noble features. But in the
few days theyd shared the lodge Gamache had also noted
a hint of irony in the man, a quiet sense of humor. He was
arrogant and entitled, but he seemed to know it and be
able to laugh at himself. It was very becoming and
Gamache found himself warming to him. Though on this
hot day he was warming to everything, especially the old
Life magazine whose ink was coming off on his sweaty
hands. Looking down he saw, tattooed to his palm, .
Thomas and Sandra had walked straight past his elderly parents who were lounging on the shaded porch. Gamache marvelled yet again at the ability of this family to make each other invisible. As Gamache watched over his half- moon glasses, Thomas and Sandra surveyed the people dotted around the garden and along the shore of the lake. Julia Martin, the older sister and a few years younger than Thomas, was sitting alone on the dock in an Adirondack chair, reading. She wore a simple white one-piece bathing suit. In her late fifties she was slim and gleamed like a trophy as though shed slathered herself in cooking oil. She seemed to sizzle in the sun, and with a wince Gamache could imagine her skin beginning to crackle. Every now and then Julia would lower her book and gaze across the calm lake. Thinking. Gamache knew enough about Julia Martin to know she had a great deal to think about.
On the lawn leading down to the lake were the rest of the family, the younger sister Marianna and her child, Bean. Where Thomas and Julia were slim and attractive, Marianna was short and plump and unmistakably ugly. It was as though she was the negative to their positive. Her
clothes seemed to have a grudge against her and either slipped off or scrunched around awkwardly so that she was constantly rearranging herself, pulling and tugging and wriggling.
And yet the child, Bean, was extremely attractive, with long blond hair, bleached almost white in the sun, thick dark lashes and brilliant blue eyes. At that moment Mari-anna appeared to be doing tai chi, though with movements of her own making.
"Look, darling, a crane. Mommys a crane."
The plump woman stood on one leg, arms reaching for the sky and neck stretched to its limits.
Ten- year- old Bean ignored Mommy and continued to read. Gamache wondered how bored the child must be.
"Its the most difficult position," Marianna said more loudly than necessary, almost throttling herself with one of her scarves. Gamache had noticed that Mariannas tai chi and yoga and meditations and military calisthenics only happened when Thomas appeared.
Was she trying to impress her older brother, Gamache wondered, or embarrass him? Thomas took a quick glance at the pudgy, collapsing crane and steered Sandra in the other direction. They found two chairs in the shade, alone.
"Youre not spying on them, are you?" Reine-Marie asked, lowering her book to look at her husband.
"Spying is far too harsh. Im observing."
"Arent you supposed to stop that?" Then after a moment she added, "Anything interesting?"
He laughed and shook his head. "Nothing."
"Still," said Reine-Marie, looking around at the scattered Finneys. "Odd family that comes all this way for a reunion then ignores each other."
"Could be worse," he said. "They could be killing each other."
Reine-Marie laughed. "Theyd never get close enough to manage it."
Gamache grunted his agreement and realized happily
that he didnt care. It was their problem, not his. Besides, after a few days together hed become fond of the Finneys in a funny sort of way.
"Votre thé glacé, madame." The young man spoke French with a delightful English Canadian accent.
"Merci, Elliot." Reine-Marie shaded her eyes from the afternoon sun and smiled at the waiter.
"Un plaisir." He beamed and handed a tall glass of iced tea to Reine-Marie and a perspiring glass of misty lemonade to Gamache, then went off to deliver the rest of his drinks.
"I remember when I was that young," said Gamache wistfully.
"You might have been that young but you were never that" She nodded toward Elliot as he walked athletically across the manicured lawn in his tailored black slacks and small white jacket snugly fitting his body.
"Oh, God, am I going to have to beat up another suitor?"
"You know I would." He took her hand.
"I know you wouldnt. Youd listen him to death."
"Well, its a strategy. Crush him with my massive intellect."
"I can imagine his terror."
Gamache sipped his lemonade and suddenly puckered, tears springing to his eyes.
"Ah, and what woman could resist that?" She looked at his fluttering, watering eyes and face screwed into a wince.
"Sugar. Needs sugar," he gasped.
"Here, Ill ask the waiter."
"Never mind. Ill do it." He coughed, gave her a mockingly stern gaze and rocked out of the deep and comfortable seat.
Taking his lemonade he wandered up the path from the fragrant gardens and onto the wide veranda, already cooler and shaded from the brunt of the afternoon sun. Bert Finney lowered his book and gazed at Gamache, then smiled and nodded politely.
Kneeling in the fragrant moist grass of the village green Clara Morrow carefully hid the Easter egg and thought about raisingthe dead, which she planned to do right after supper. Wiping a strand of hair from her face, she smeared bits of grass, mudand some other brown stuff that might not be mud into her tangled hair. All around, villagers wandered with their basketsof brightly colored eggs, looking for the perfect hiding places. Ruth Zardo sat on the bench in the middle of the green tossingthe eggs at random, though occasionally she'd haul off and peg someone in the back of the head or on the bottom. She had disconcertinglygood aim for someone so old and so nuts, thought Clara.
'You going tonight?' Clara asked, trying to distract the old poet from taking aim at Monsieur Béliveau.
'Are you kidding? Live people are bad enough; why would I want to bring one back from the dead?'
With that Ruth whacked Monsieur Béliveau in the back of his head. Fortunately the village grocer was wearing a cloth cap.It was also fortunate he had great affection for the white-haired ramrod on the bench. Ruth chose her victims well. They werealmost always people who cared for her.
Normally being pelted by a chocolate Easter egg wouldn't be a big deal, but these weren't chocolate. They'd made that mistakeonly once.
A few years earlier, when the village of Three Pines first decided to have an egg hunt on Easter Sunday, there'd been greatexcitement. The villagers met at Olivier's Bistro and over drinks and Brie they divvied up bags of chocolate eggs to be hidden the next day. 'Ooohs' and 'Aaaaahs' tinged with envy filled the air. Would that theywere children again. But their pleasure would surely come from seeing the faces of the village children. Besides, the kidsmight not find them all, especially those hidden behind Olivier's bar.
'They're gorgeous.' Gabri picked up a tiny marzipan goose, delicately sculpted, then bit its head off.
'Gabri.' His partner Olivier yanked what was left of the goose from Gabri's massive hand. 'They're for the kids.'
'You just want it for yourself.' Gabri turned to Myrna and muttered so that everyone could hear, 'Great idea. Gay men offeringchocolates to children. Let's alert the Moral Majority.'
Blond and bashful, Olivier blushed furiously.
Myrna smiled. She looked like a massive Easter egg herself, black and oval and wrapped in a brilliant purple and red caftan.
Most of the tiny village was at the bistro, crowded around the long bar of polished wood, though some had flopped down inthe comfortable old armchairs scattered about. All for sale. Olivier's was also an antique shop. Discreet tags dangled fromeverything, including Gabri when he felt under-appreciated and under-applauded.
It was early April and fires crackled cheerily in the open grates, throwing warm light on the wide-plank pine floors, stainedamber by time and sunlight. Waiters moved effortlessly through the beamed room, offering drinks and soft, runny Brie fromMonsieur Pagé's farm. The bistro was at the heart of the old Quebec village, sitting as it did on the edge of the green. Oneither side of it and attached by connecting doors were the rest of the shops, hugging the village in an aged brick embrace.Monsieur Béliveau's general store, Sarah's Boulangerie, then the bistro and finally, just off that, Myrna's Livres, Neufset Usagés. Three craggy pine trees had stood at the far end of the green for as long as anyone remembered, like wise men who'dfound what they were looking for. Outward from the village, dirt roads radiated and meandered into the mountains and forests.
But Three Pines itself was a village forgotten. Time eddied and swirled and sometimes bumped into it, but never stayed longand never left much of an impression. For hundreds of years the village had nestled in the palm of the rugged Canadian mountains,protected and hidden and rarely found except by accident. Sometimes, a weary traveler crested the hill and looking down saw,like Shangri-La, the welcoming circle of old homes. Some were weathered fieldstone built by settlers clearing the land ofdeeply rooted trees and back-breaking stones. Others were red brick and built by United Empire Loyalists desperate for sanctuary.And some had the swooping metal roofs of the Québécois home with their intimate gables and broad verandas. And at the farend was Olivier's Bistro, offering café au lait and fresh-baked croissants, conversation and company and kindness. Once found, Three Pines was never forgotten. But it wasonly ever found by people lost.
Myrna looked over at her friend Clara Morrow, who was sticking out her tongue. Myrna stuck hers out too. Clara rolled hereyes. Myrna rolled hers, taking a seat beside Clara on the soft sofa facing the fireplace.
'You weren't smoking garden mulch again while I was in Montreal, were you?'
'Not this time,' Clara laughed. 'You have something on your nose.'
Myrna felt around, found something and examined it. 'Mmm, it's either chocolate, or skin. Only one way to find out.'
She popped it in her mouth.
'God.' Clara winced. 'And you wonder why you're single.'
'I don't wonder.' Myrna smiled. 'I don't need a man to complete me.'
'Oh really? What about Raoul?'
'Ah, Raoul,' said Myrna dreamily. 'He was a sweet.'
'He was a gummy bear,' agreed Clara.
'He completed me,' said Myrna. 'And then some.' She patted her middle, large and generous, like the woman herself.
'Look at this.' A razor voice cut through conversation.
Ruth Zardo stood in the center of the bistro holding aloft a chocolate rabbit as though it were a grenade. It was made ofrich dark chocolate, its long ears perky and alert, its face so real Clara half expected it to twitch its delicate candy whiskers.In its paws it held a basket woven from white and milk chocolate, and in that basket sat a dozen candy eggs, beautifully decorated.It was lovely and Clara prayed Ruth wasn't about to toss it at someone.
'It's a bunny rabbit,' snarled the elderly poet.
'I eat them too,' said Gabri to Myrna. 'It's a habit. A rabbit habit.'
Myrna laughed and immediately wished she hadn't. Ruth turned her glare on her.
'Ruth.' Clara stood up and approached cautiously, holding her husband Peter's Scotch as enticement. 'Let the bunny go.'
It was a sentence she'd never said before.
'It's a rabbit,' Ruth repeated as though to slow children. 'So what's it doing with these?'
She pointed to the eggs.
'Since when do rabbits have eggs?' Ruth persisted, looking at the bewildered villagers. 'Never thought of that, eh? Where did it get them? Presumably from chocolate chickens. The bunny musthave stolen the eggs from candy chickens who're searching for their babies. Frantic.'
The funny thing was, as the old poet spoke Clara could actually imagine chocolate chickens running around desperate to findtheir eggs. Eggs stolen by the Easter bunny.
With that Ruth dropped the chocolate bunny to the floor, shattering it.
'Oh, God,' said Gabri, running to pick it up. 'That was for Olivier.'
'Really?' said Olivier, forgetting he himself had bought it.
'This is a strange holiday,' said Ruth ominously. 'I've never liked it.'
'And now it's mutual,' said Gabri, holding the fractured rabbit as though an adored and wounded child. He's so tender, thoughtClara not for the first time. Gabri was so big, so overwhelming, it was easy to forget how sensitive he was. Until momentslike these when he gently held a dying chocolate bunny.
'How do we celebrate Easter?' the old poet demanded, yanking Peter's Scotch from Clara and downing it. 'We hunt eggs and eathot cross buns.'
'Mais, we go to St Thomas's too,' said Monsieur Béliveau.
'More people go to Sarah's Boulangerie than ever show up at church,' snapped Ruth. 'They buy pastry with an instrument oftorture on it. I know you think I'm crazy, but maybe I'm the only sane one here.'
And on that disconcerting note she limped to the door, then turned back.
'Don't put those chocolate eggs out for the children. Something bad will happen.'
And like Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, she was right. Something bad did happen.
Next morning the eggs had vanished. All that could be found were wrappers. At first the villagers suspected older children,or perhaps even Ruth, had sabotaged the event.
'Look at this,' said Peter, holding up the shredded remains of a chocolate bunny box. 'Teeth marks. And claws.'
'So it was Ruth,' said Gabri, taking the box and examining it.
'See here.' Clara raced after a candy wrapper blowing across the village green. 'Look, it's all ripped apart as well.'
After spending the morning hunting Easter egg wrappers and cleaning up the mess, most villagers trudged back to Olivier'sto warm themselves by the fire.
'Now, really,' said Ruth to Clara and Peter over lunch at the bistro. 'Couldn't you see that coming?'
'I admit it seems obvious,' Peter laughed, cutting into his golden croque-monsieur, the melted Camembert barely holding the maple-smoked ham and flaky croissant together. Around him anxious parents buzzed,trying to bribe crying children.
'Every wild animal within miles must have been in the village last night,' said Ruth, slowly swirling the ice cubes in herScotch. 'Eating Easter eggs. Foxes, raccoons, squirrels.'
'Bears,' said Myrna, joining their table. 'Jesus, that's pretty scary. All those starving bears, rising from their dens, ravenousafter hibernating all winter.'
'Imagine their surprise to find chocolate eggs and bunnies,' said Clara, between mouthfuls of creamy seafood chowder withchunks of salmon and scallops and shrimp. She took a crusty baguette and twisted off a piece, spreading it with Olivier'sspecial sweet butter. 'The bears must have wondered what miracle had happened while they slept.'
'Not everything that rises up is a miracle,' said Ruth, lifting her eyes from the amber liquid, her lunch, and looking outthe mullioned windows. 'Not everything that comes back to life is meant to. This is a strange time of year. Rain one day,snow the next. Nothing's certain. It's unpredictable.'
'Every season's unpredictable,' said Peter. 'Hurricanes in fall, snowstorms in winter.'
'But you've just proved my point,' said Ruth. 'You can name the threat. We all know what to expect in other seasons. But notspring. The worst flooding happens in spring. Forest fires, killing frosts, snowstorms and mud slides. Nature's in turmoil.Anything can happen.'
'The most achingly beautiful days happen in spring too,' said Clara.
'True, the miracle of rebirth. I hear whole religions are based on the concept. But some things are better off buried.' Theold poet got up and downed her Scotch. 'It's not over yet. The bears will be back.'
'I would be too,' said Myrna, 'if I'd suddenly found a village made of chocolate.'
Clara smiled, but her eyes were on Ruth, who for once didn't radiate anger or annoyance. Instead Clara caught something farmore disconcerting.
THE CRUELLEST MONTH Copyright 2007 Louise Penny
A FATAL GRACE / DEAD COLD (Chapter 1)
Had CC de Poitiers known she was going to be murdered she might have bought her husband, Richard, a Christmas gift. She might even have gone to her daughter's end of term pageant at Miss Edward's School for Girls, or 'girths' as CC liked to tease her expansive daughter. Had CC de Poitiers known the end was near she might have been at work instead of in the cheapest room the Ritz in Montreal had to offer. But the only end she knew was near belonged to a man named Saul. 'So, what do you think? Do you like it?' She balanced her book on her pallid stomach.
Saul looked at it, not for the first time. She'd dragged it out of her huge purse every five minutes for the past few days. In busi¬¨ness meetings, dinners, taxi rides through the snowy streets of Montreal, CC'd suddenly bend down and emerge triumphant, holding her creation as though another virgin birth.
'I like the picture,' he said, knowing the insult. He'd taken the picture. He knew she was asking, pleading, for more and he knew he no longer cared to give it. And he wondered how much longer he could be around CC de Poitiers before he became her. Not physically, of course. At forty-eight she was a few years younger than him. She was slim and ropy and toned, her teeth impossibly white and her hair impossibly blonde. Touching her was like caressing a veneer of ice. There was a beauty to it, and a frailty he found attractive. But there was also danger. If she ever broke, if she shattered, she'd tear him to pieces.
But her exterior wasn't the issue. Watching her caress her book with more tenderness than she'd ever shown when caressing him, he wondered whether her ice water insides had somehow seeped into him, perhaps during sex, and were slowly freezing him. Already he couldn't feel his core.
At fifty-two Saul Petrov was just beginning to notice his friends weren't quite as brilliant, not quite as clever, not quite as slim as they once were. In fact, most had begun to bore him. And he'd noticed a telltale yawn or two from them as well. They were growing thick and bald and dull, and he suspected he was too. It wasn't so bad that women rarely looked at him any more or that he'd begun to consider trading his downhill skis for cross country, or that his GP had scheduled his first prostate test. He could accept all that. What woke Saul Petrov at two in the morning, and whispered in his ears in the voice that had warned him as a child that lions lived under his bed, was the certainty that people now found him boring. He'd take deep dark breaths of the night air, trying to reassure himself that the stifled yawn of his dinner companion was because of the wine or the magret de canard or the warmth in the Montreal restaurant, wrapped as they were in their sensible winter sweaters. But still the night voice growled and warned of dangers ahead. Of impending disaster. Of telling tales too long, of an attention span too short, of seeing the whites of too many eyes. Of glances, fast and discreet, at watches. When can they reasonably leave him? Of eyes scanning the room, desperate for more stimulating company.
And so he'd allowed himself to be seduced by CC. Seduced and devoured so that the lion under the bed had become the lion in the bed. He'd begun to suspect this self-absorbed woman had finally finished absorbing herself, her husband and even that disaster of a daughter and was now busy absorbing him.
He'd already become cruel in her company. And he'd begun despising himself. But not quite as much as he despised her.
'It's a brilliant book,' she said, ignoring him. 'I mean, really. Who wouldn't want this?' She waved it in his face. 'People'll eat it up. There're so many troubled people out there.' She turned now and actually looked out their hotel room window at the building opposite, as though surveying her 'people'. 'I did this for them.' Now she turned back to him, her eyes wide and sincere.
Does she believe it? he wondered.
He'd read the book, of course. Be Calm she'd called it, after the company she'd founded a few years ago, which was a laugh given the bundle of nerves she actually was. The anxious, nervous hands, constantly smoothing and straightening. The snippy responses, the impatience that spilled over into anger.
Calm was not a word anyone would apply to CC de Poitiers, despite her placid, frozen exterior.
She'd shopped the book around to all the publishers, beginning with the top publishing houses in New York and ending with Publications Réjean et Maison des cartes in St Polycarpe, a onevache village along the highway between Montreal and Toronto. They'd all said no, immediately recognizing the manuscript as a flaccid mishmash of ridiculous self-help philosophies, wrapped in half-baked Buddhist and Hindu teachings, spewed forth by a woman whose cover photo looked as though she'd eat her young. 'No goddamned enlightenment,' she'd said to Saul in her Montreal office the day a batch of rejection letters arrived, ripping them into pieces and dropping them on the floor for the hired help to clean up. 'This world is messed up, I tell you. People are cruel and insensitive, they're out to screw each other. There's no love or compassion. This', she sliced her book violently in the air like an ancient mythical hammer, heading for an unforgiving anvil, 'will teach people how to find happiness.' Her voice was low, the words staggering under the weight of venom. She'd gone on to self-publish her book, making sure it was out in time for Christmas. And while the book talked a lot about light Saul found it interesting and ironic that it had actually been released on the winter solstice. The darkest day of the year.
'Who published it again?' He couldn't seem to help himself. She was silent. 'Oh, I remember now,' he said. 'No one wanted it. That must have been horrible.' He paused for a moment, wondering whether to twist the knife. Oh, what the hell. Might as well. 'How'd that make you feel?' Did he imagine the wince?
But her silence remained, eloquent, her face impassive. Anything CC didn't like didn't exist. That included her husband and her daughter. It included any unpleasantness, any criticism, any harsh words not her own, any emotions. CC lived, Saul knew, in her own world, where she was perfect, where she could hide her feelings and hide her failings.
He wondered how long before that world would explode. He hoped he'd be around to see it. But not too close.
People are cruel and insensitive, she'd said. Cruel and insensitive. It wasn't all that long ago, before he'd taken the contract to freelance as CC's photographer and lover, that he'd actually thought the world a beautiful place. Each morning he'd wake early and go into the young day, when the world was new and anything was possible, and he'd see how lovely Montreal was. He'd see people smiling at each other as they got their cappuccinos at the café, or their fresh flowers or their baguettes. He'd see the children in autumn gathering the fallen chestnuts to play conkers. He'd see the elderly women walking arm in arm down the Main.
He wasn't foolish or blind enough not to also see the homeless men and women, or the bruised and battered faces that spoke of a long and empty night and a longer day ahead.
But at his core he believed the world a lovely place. And his photographs reflected that, catching the light, the brilliance, the hope. And the shadows that naturally challenged the light.
Ironically it was this very quality that had caught CC's eye and led her to offer him the contract. An article in a Montreal style magazine had described him as a 'hot' photographer, and CC always went for the best. Which was why they always took a room at the Ritz. A cramped, dreary room on a low floor without view or charm, but the Ritz. CC would collect the shampoos and stationery to prove her worth, just as she'd collected him. And she'd use them to make some obscure point to people who didn't care, just as she'd use him. And then, eventually, everything would be discarded. As her husband had been tossed aside, as her daughter was ignored and ridiculed.
The world was a cruel and insensitive place.
And he now believed it.
He hated CC de Poitiers.
He got out of bed, leaving CC to stare at her book, her real lover. He looked at her and she seemed to go in and out of focus.
He cocked his head to one side and wondered whether he'd had too much to drink again. But still she seemed to grow fuzzy, then sharp, as though he was looking through a prism at two different women, one beautiful, glamorous, vivacious, and the other a pathetic, dyed-blonde rope, all corded and wound and knotted and rough. And dangerous.
'What's this?' He reached into the garbage and withdrew a portfolio. He recognized it immediately as an artist's dossier of work. It was beautifully and painstakingly bound and printed on archival Arche paper. He flipped it open and caught his breath. A series of works, luminous and light, seemed to glow off the fine paper. He felt a stirring in his chest. They showed a world both lovely and hurt. But mostly, it was a world where hope and comfort still existed. It was clearly the world the artist saw each day, the world the artist lived in. As he himself once lived in a world of light and hope.
The works appeared simple but were in reality very complex. Images and colors were layered one on top of the other. Hours and hours, days and days must have been spent on each one to get the desired effect.
He stared down at the one before him now. A majestic tree soared into the sky, as though keening for the sun. The artist had photographed it and had somehow captured a sense of movement without making it disorienting. Instead it was graceful and calming and, above all, powerful. The tips of the branches seemed to melt or become fuzzy as though even in its confidence and yearning there was a tiny doubt. It was brilliant.
All thoughts of CC were forgotten. He'd climbed into the tree, almost feeling tickled by its rough bark, as if he had been sitting on his grandfather's lap and snuggling into his unshaven face. How had the artist managed that?
He couldn't make out the signature. He flipped through the other pages and slowly felt a smile come to his frozen face and move to his hardened heart.
Maybe, one day, if he ever got clear of CC he could go back to his work and do pieces like this.
He exhaled all the darkness he'd stored up.
'So, do you like it?' CC held her book up and waved it at him.
STILL LIFE (Chapter 1)
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