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Other titles in the Chief Inspector Gamache Novels series:
The Brutal Telling: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Chief Inspector Gamache Novels)by Louise Penny
‘All of them? Even the children ? The fireplace sputtered and cackled 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 round, 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 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. Hed lived with this story for so long, and kept telling himself it wasnt real. It was a myth, a story told and repeated and embellished over and over and over. Over 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 felt 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 the embers 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 it a shove with the simple iron poker, sending embers up the chimney. Candle light twinkled off shiny objects like eyes in the darkness, found by the flame.
‘It wont be long now.
The Hermits 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 didnt 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 only the Hermit knew about. Things that set Oliviers 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 Hermits honoured 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.
Oliviers 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, the grim army hasnt seen it yet. But it will. And when it does their great leader will stand at the head of his army. Hes 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 theyll 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, the 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. Into 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 mans face. And then it was gone.
‘Its 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, Fury before it. With one goal. To find what was taken from their Master.
‘Its worse than slaughter.
Their voices were low, barely scraping the ground. Like conspirators in a cause already lost.
‘When the army finally finds what its 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, thats all this is, Olivier reassured himself. Just a story. Once more he looked into the embers, so he wouldnt see the terror in the Hermits 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 theres no stopping it. Its taken a long time, but its 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 38 year old body suddenly aching and realised hed sat tense through the whole awful telling.
‘Im sorry. Its 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 turned back to the room.
‘Ill be back soon, Olivier smiled.
‘Let me give you something, said the Hermit, looking around the log cabin. Oliviers 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 handed it 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 couldnt. Its my pleasure, said Olivier, but they both knew the pantomime and knew hed 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 to 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. Hed 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 has 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 hed 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.
‘You get it.
Gabri pulled up the covers and lay still. But the phone continued to ring and beside him Olivier was dead to the world. Out the window Gabri could see drizzle against the pane and could feel the damp Sunday morning settling in to their bedroom. But beneath the duvet it was snug and warm, and he had no intention of moving.
He poked Olivier. ‘Wake up.
Nothing, just a snort.
Nothing. Dear Lord, was he dead?
He leaned in to his partner, seeing the precious thining hair lying across the pillow and across the face. His eyes closed, peaceful. Gabri smelled Olivier, musky, slightly sweaty. Soon theyd have a shower and theyd both smell like Ivory soap.
The phone rang again.
‘Its your mother, Gabri whispered in Oliviers ear.
‘Get the phone. Its your mother.
Olivier sat up, fighting to get his eyes open and looking bleary, as though emerging from a long tunnel. ‘My mother? But shes been dead for years.
‘If anyone could come back from the dead to screw you up, itd be her.
‘Youre the one screwing me up.
‘You wish. Now get the phone.
Olivier reached across the mountain that was his partner and took the call.
Gabri snuggled back into the warm bed, then he registered the time on the glowing clock. Six forty-three. On Sunday morning. Of the Labour Day long weekend.
Who in the world would be calling at this hour?
He sat up and looked at his partners face, studying it as a passenger might study the face of a flight attendant during take-off. Were they worried? Frightened?
He saw Oliviers expression change from mildly concerned to puzzled, and then, in an instant Oliviers blond brows dropped and the blood rushed from his face.
Dear God, thought Gabri. Were going down.
‘What is it? he mouthed.
Olivier was silent, listening. But his handsome face was eloquent. Something was terribly wrong.
‘Whats happened? Gabri hissed.
* * *
They rushed across the village green, their raincoats flapping in the wind. Myrna Landers, fighting with her huge umbrella, came across to meet them and together they hurried to the bistro. It was dawn and the world was gray and wet. In the few paces it took to get to the bistro their hair was plastered to their heads and their clothes were sodden. But for once neither Olivier nor Gabri cared. They skidded to a stop beside Myrna outside the brick building.
‘I called the police. They should be here soon, she said.
‘Are you sure about this? Olivier stared at his friend and neighbor. She was big and round and wet and wearing bright yellow rubber boots, a lime green raincoat and gripping her red umbrella. She looked as though a beachball had exploded. But she also had never looked more serious. Of course she was sure.
‘I went inside and checked, she said.
‘Oh, God, whispered Gabri. ‘Who is it?
‘I dont know.
‘How can you not know? Olivier asked. Then he looked through the mullioned glass of his bistro window, bringing his slim hands up beside his face to block out the weak morning light. Myrna held her brilliant red umbrella over him.
Oliviers breath fogged the window but not before hed seen what Myrna had also seen. There was someone inside the bistro. Lying on the old pine floor. Face up.
‘What is it? asked Gabri, straining and craning to see around his partner.
But Oliviers face told him all he needed to know. Gabri focused on the large black woman next to him.
‘Is he dead?
What could be worse than death? he wondered.
Myrna was as close as their village came to a doctor. Shed been a psychologist in Montreal before too many sad stories and too much good sense got the better of her, and shed quit. Shed loaded up her car intending to take a few months to drive around before settling down, somewhere. Any place that took her fancy.
She got an hour outside Montreal, stumbled on Three Pines, stopped for a café au lait and croissant at Oliviers bistro, and never left. She unpacked her car, rented the shop next door and the apartment above and opened a used bookstore.
People wandered in for books and conversation. They brought their stories to her, some bound, and some known by heart. She recognized some of the stories as real, and some as fiction. But she honoured them all, though she didnt buy all of them.
‘We should go in, said Olivier. ‘To make sure no one disturbs the body. Are you all right?
Gabri had closed his eyes, but now he opened them again and seemed more composed. ‘Im fine. Just a shock. He didnt look familiar.
And Myrna saw on his face the same relief shed felt when shed first rushed in. The sad fact was, a dead stranger was way better than a dead friend.
They filed into the bistro, sticking close as though the dead man might reach out and take one of them with him. Inching toward him they stared down, rain dripping off their heads and noses onto his worn clothes and puddling on the wide-plank floor. Then Myrna gently pulled them back from the edge.
And thats how both men felt. Theyd woken on this holiday weekend in their comfortable bed, in their comfortable home, in their comfortable life, to find themselves suddenly dangled over a cliff.
All three turned away, speechless. Staring wide-eyed at each other.
There was a dead man in the bistro.
And not just dead, but worse.
As they waited for the police Gabri made a pot of coffee, and Myrna took off her raincoat and sat by the window, looking into the misty September day. Olivier laid and lit fires in the two stone hearths at either end of the beamed room. He poked the one fire vigorously and felt its warmth against his damp clothing. He felt numb, and not just from the creeping cold.
When theyd stood over the dead man Gabri had murmured, ‘Poor one.
Myrna and Olivier had nodded. What they saw was an elderly man in shabby clothing, staring up at them. His face was white, his eyes surprised, his mouth slightly open.
Myrna had pointed to the back of his head. The puddled water was turning pink. Gabri leaned tentatively closer, but Olivier didnt move. What held him spellbound and stunned wasnt the shattererd back of the dead mans head, but the front. His face.
‘Mon Dieu, Olivier, the mans been murdered. Oh, my God.
Olivier continued to stare, into the eyes.
‘But who is he? Gabri whispered.
It was the Hermit. Dead. Murdered. In the bistro.
‘I dont know, said Olivier.
* * *
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache got the call just as Sunday brunch ended and he and Reine-Marie were clearing up. In the dining room of their apartment in Montreals Outremont quartier he could hear his second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, and his daughter Annie. They werent talking. They never talked. They argued. Especially when Jean Guys wife Enid wasnt there as a buffer. But Enid was grading tests and had begged off brunch. Jean Guy, on the other hand, never turned down an invitation for a free meal. Even if it came at a price. And the price was always Annie.
It had started over the fresh squeezed orange juice, coursed through the scrambled eggs and brie, and progressed across the fresh fruit, croissants and confitures.
‘But how can you defend the use of stun guns? came Annies voice from the dining room.
‘Another great brunch, merci Reine-Marie, said David, placing dishes from the dining room in front of the sink and kissing his mother-in-law on the cheek. He was of medium build with short, thining dark hair. At 30 he was a few years older than his wife, Annie, though he often appeared younger. His main feature, Gamache often felt, was his animation. Not hyper, but full of life. The Chief Inspector had liked him from the moment, five years earlier, his daughter had introduced them. Unlike other young men Annie had brought home, mostly lawyers like herself, this one hadnt tried to out-macho the Chief. That wasnt a game that interested Gamache. Nor did it impress him. What did impress him was Davids reaction when hed met Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache. Hed smiled broadly, a smile that seemed to fill the room, and simply said, ‘Bonjour.
He was unlike any other man Annie had ever been interested in. David wasnt a scholar, wasnt an athlete, wasnt staggeringly handsome. Wasnt destined to become the next Premier of Quebec, or even boss of his legal firm.
No, David was simply open and kind.
Shed married him, and Armand Gamache had been delighted to walk with her down the aisle, with Reine-Marie on the other side of their only daughter. And see this nice man wed his daughter.
For Armand Gamache knew what not-nice was. He knew what cruelty, despair, horror were. And he knew what a forgotten, and precious quality ‘nice was.
‘Would you rather we just shoot suspects? In the dining room Beauvoirs voice had risen in volume and tone.
‘Thank you, David, said Reine-Marie, taking the dishes. Gamache handed his son-in-law a fresh dishtowel and they dried as Reine-Marie washed up.
‘So, David turned to the Chief Inspector, ‘do you think the Habs have a chance at the cup this year?
‘No, yelled Annie. ‘I expect you to learn how to apprehend someone without having to maim or kill them. I expect you to genuinely see suspects as just that. Suspects. Not sub-human criminals you can beat up, electrocute or shoot.
‘I think they do, said Gamache, handing David a plate to dry and taking one himself. ‘I like their new goalie and I think their forward line has matured. This is definitely their year.
‘But their weakness is still defense, dont you think? Reine-Marie asked. ‘The Canadiens always concentrate too much on offense.
‘You try arresting an armed murderer. Id love to see you try. You, you, Beauvoir was sputtering. The conversation in the kitchen stopped as they listened to what he might say next. This was an argument played out every brunch, every Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthday. The words changed slightly. If not tasers they were arguing about daycare or education or the environment. If Annie said blue, Beauvoir said orange. It had been this way since Inspector Beauvoir had joined the Sûreté du Québecs Homicide division, under Gamache, a dozen years earlier. Hed become a member of the team, and of the family.
‘You what? demanded Annie.
‘You pathetic piece of legal crap.
Reine-Marie gestured toward the back door of the kitchen that gave onto a small metal balcony and fire escape. ‘Shall we?
‘Escape? Gamache whispered, hoping she was serious, but suspecting she wasnt.
‘Maybe you could just shooting them, Armand? David asked.
‘Im afraid Jean Guy is a faster draw, said the Chief Inspector. ‘Hed get me first.
‘Still, said his wife, ‘its worth a try.
‘Legal crap? said Annie, her voice dripping disdain. ‘Brilliant. Fascist moron.
‘I suppose I could use a taser, said Gamache.
‘Fascist? Fascist? Jean Guy Beauvoir almost squealed. In the kitchen Gamaches German shepherd, Henri, sat up in his bed and cocked his head. He had huge oversized ears which made Gamache think he wasnt purebred but a cross between a shepherd and a satellite dish.
‘Oh oh, said David. Henri curled into a ball in his bed and it was clear David would join him if he could.
All three looked wistfully out the door at the rainy, cool early September day. Labour Day weekend in Montreal. Annie said something unintelligible. But Beauvoirs response was perfectly clear.
‘Well, I think this debates just about over, said Reine-Marie. ‘More coffee? she pointed to their espresso maker.
‘Non, pas pour moi, merci, said David, with a smile. ‘And please, no more for Annie.
‘Stupid woman, muttered Jean Guy as he entered the kitchen. He grabbed a dishtowel from the rack and began furiously drying a plate. Gamache figured that was the last theyd see of the India Tree design. ‘Tell me shes adopted.
‘No, homemade. Reine-Marie handed the next plate to her husband.
‘Screw you. Annies dark head shot in to the kitchen then disappeared.
‘Bless her heart, said Reine-Marie.
Of their two children, Daniel was the most like his father. Large, thoughtful, academic. He was kind and gentle and strong. When Annie had been born Reine-Marie thought, perhaps naturally, this would be the child most like her. Warm, intelligent, bright. With a love of books so strong Reine-Marie Gamache had become a librarian, finally taking over a department at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Montreal.
But Annie had surprised them both. She was smart, competitive, funny. She was fierce, in everything she did and felt.
They should have had an inkling about this. As a newborn Armand would take her for endless rides in the car, trying to soothe her as she howled. Hed sing, in his deep baritone, Beatles songs, and Jacques Brel songs. La Complainte de Phoque en Alaska by Beau Dommage. That was Daniels favorite. It was a soulful lament. But it did nothing for Annie.
One day, as hed strapped the shrieking child into the car seat and turned on the car, an old Weavers tape had been in.
‘In the jungle, they sang in falsetto. And as they sang, shed settled. ‘The lion sleeps tonight.
At first it had seemed a miracle. But after the hundredth trip around the block listening to the laughing child and the Weavers singing ‘Weemaway, a-weemaway, Gamache yearned for the old days and felt like shrieking himself. But as they sang the little lion slept.
Annie Gamache became their cub. And grew into a lioness. But sometimes, on quiet walks together shed tell her father about her fears and her disappointments and the everyday sorrows of her young life. And Chief Inspector Gamache would be seized with a desire to hold her to him, so that she neednt pretend to be so brave all the time.
She was fierce because she was afraid. Of everything.
The rest of the world saw a strong, noble lioness. He looked at his daughter and saw Bert Lahr, though hed never tell her that. Or her husband.
‘Can we talk? Annie asked her father, ignoring Beauvoir. Gamache nodded and handed the dishtowel to David. They walked down the hall and into the warm living room where books were ranged on shelves in orderly rows, and stacked under tables and beside the sofa in not-so-orderly piles. Le Devoir and the New York Times were on the coffee table and a gentle fire burned in the grate. Not the roaring flames of a bitter winter fire, but a soft almost liquid flame of early autumn.
They talked for a few minutes about Daniel, living in Paris with his wife and daughter, and another daughter due before the end of the month. They talked about her husband David and his hockey team, about to start up for another winter season.
Mostly Gamache listened. He wasnt sure if Annie had something specific to say, or just wanted to talk. Henri jogged into the room and plunked his head on Annies lap. She kneaded his ears, to his grunts and moans. Eventually he lay down by the fire.
Just then the phone rang. Gamache ignored it.
‘Its the one in your office, I think, said Annie. She could see it on the old wooden desk with the computer and notebook, in the room that was filled with books, and smelled of sandalwood and rosewater and had three chairs.
She and Daniel would sit in their wooden swivel chairs and spin each other round until they were almost sick, while their father sat in his armchair, steady. And read. Or sometimes just stared.
‘I think so too.
The phone rang again. It was a sound they knew well. Somehow different from other phones. It was the ringing that announced a death.
Annie looked uncomfortable.
‘Itll wait, he said quietly. ‘Was there something you wanted to tell me?
‘Should I get that? Jean Guy looked in. He smiled at Annie but his eyes went swiftly to the Chief Inspector.
‘Please. Ill be there in a moment.
He turned back to his daughter, but by then David had joined them and Annie had once again put on her public face. It wasnt so different from her private one. Just, perhaps, a bit less vulnerable. And her father wondered briefly, as David sat down and took her hand, why she needed her public face in front of her husband.
‘Theres been a murder, sir, whispered Inspector Beauvoir. He stood just inside the room.
‘Oui, said Gamache, watching his daughter.
‘Go on, Papa, she waved her hand at him. Not to dismiss him, but to free him of the need to stay with her.
‘I will, eventually. Would you like to go for a walk?
‘Its pelting down outside, said David with a laugh. Gamache genuinely loved his son-in-law, but sometimes he could be oblivious. Annie also laughed.
‘Really, Papa, not even Henri would go out in this.
Henri leapt up and ran to get his ball. The fatal words, ‘Henri and ‘out had been combined unleashing an undeniable force.
‘Well, said Gamache as the German shepherd bounded back into the room. ‘I have to go to work.
He gave Annie and David a significant look, then glanced over at Henri. His meaning even David couldnt miss.
‘Christ, whispered David good-humoredly, and getting off the comfortable sofa he and Annie went to find Henris leash.
By the time Chief Inspector Gamache and Inspector Beauvoir arrived in Three Pines the local force had cordoned off the bistro, and villagers milled about under umbrellas and stared at the old brick building. The scene of so many meals and drinks and celebrations. Now a crime scene.
As Beauvoir drove down the slight slope into the village Gamache asked him to pull over.
‘What is it? the Inspector asked.
‘I just want to look.
The two men sat in the warm car watching the village through the lazy arc of the wipers. In front of them was the village green with its pond and bench, its beds of roses and hydrangea, late flowering phlox and hollyhocks. And at the end of the green, anchoring it and the village, stood the three tall pines.
Gamaches gaze wandered to the homes that hugged the village green. There were weathered white clapboard cottages, with wide porches and wicker chairs. There were tiny fieldstone houses built centuries ago by the first settlers, whod cleared the land and yanked the stones from the earth. But most of the places around the village green were made of rose-hued brick, built by United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution. Three Pines sat just kilometers from the Vermont border and while relations now with the States were friendly and affectionate, they werent back then. The people who created the village had been desperate for sanctuary, hiding from a war they didnt believe in.
The Chief Inspectors eyes drifted up du Moulin, and there, on the side of the hill leading out of the village, was the small white chapel. St-Thomass Anglican.
Gamache brought his eyes back to the small crowd standing under umbrellas chatting, pointing, staring. Oliviers bistro was smack-dab in the center of the semi-circle of shops. Each shop ran into the next. Monsieur Beliveaus General Store, then Sarahs Boulangerie, then Oliviers Bistro and finally Myrnas New and Used Bookstore.
‘Lets go, Gamache nodded.
Beauvoir had been waiting for the word and now the car moved slowly forward. Toward the huddled suspects, toward the killer.
But one of the first lessons the Chief had taught Beauvoir when hed joined the famed homicide department of the Sûreté du Québec was that to catch a killer they didnt move forward. They moved back. Into the past. That was where the crime began, where the killer began. Some event, perhaps long forgotten by everyone else, had lodged inside the murderer. And hed begun to fester.
What kills cant be seen, the Chief had warned Beauvoir. Thats what makes it so dangerous. Its not a gun or a knife or a fist. Its not anything you can see coming. Its an emotion. Rancid, spoiled. And waiting for a chance to strike.
The car slowly moved toward the bistro, toward the body.
‘Merci, said Gamache a minute later as a local Sûreté officer opened the bistro door for them. The young man was just about to challenge the stranger, but hesitated.
Beauvoir loved this. The reaction of local cops as it dawned on them that this large man in his early fifties wasnt just a curious citizen. To the young cops Gamache looked like their fathers. There was an air of courtliness about him. He always wore a suit, or the jacket and tie and gray flannels he had on that day.
Theyd notice the moustache, trimmed and graying. His dark hair was also graying around the ears, where it curled up slightly. On a rainy day like this the Chief wore a cap which he took off indoors, and when he did the young officer saw the balding head. And if that wasnt enough theyd notice this mans eyes. Everyone did. They were deep brown, thoughtful, intelligent and something else. Something that distinguished the famous head of homicide for the Sûreté du Quebec from every other senior officer.
His eyes were kind.
It was both his strength, Beauvoir knew, and his weakness.
Gamache smiled at the astonished officer who found himself face to face with the most celebrated cop in Quebec. Gamache put out his hand and the young agent stared at it for a moment then offered his own. ‘Patron, he said.
‘Oh, I was hoping it would be you. Gabri hurried across the room, past the Sûreté officers bending over the victim. ‘We asked if the Sûreté could send you but apparently its not normal for suspects to order up a specific officer. He hugged the Chief Inspector then turned to the roomful of agents. ‘See, I do know him. Then he whispered to Gamache, ‘I think it would be best if we didnt kiss.
Gabri looked tired and stressed, but composed. He was disheveled, though that wasnt unusual. Behind him, quieter, almost eclipsed, stood Olivier. He was also disheveled. That was very unusual. He also looked exhausted, with dark rings under his eyes.
‘Coroners just arriving now, Chief. Agent Isabelle Lacoste walked across the room to greet him. She wore a simple skirt and light sweater and managed to make both look stylish. Like most Québécoise, she was petite and confident. ‘Its Doctor Harris I see.
They all looked out the window and the crowd parted to let a woman with a medical bag through. Unlike Agent Lacoste, Dr. Harris managed to make her simple skirt and sweater look slightly frumpy. But comfortable. And on a miserable day like that “comfortable” was very attractive.
‘Good, said the Chief, turning back to Agent Lacoste. ‘What do we know?
Lacoste led the Chief and Inspector Beauvoir to the body. They knelt, an act and ritual theyd performed hundreds of times. It was surprisingly intimate. They didnt touch him, but leaned very close, closer than theyd ever get to anyone in life, except a loved one.
‘The victim was stuck from behind by a blunt object. Something clean and hard, and narrow.
‘A fireplace poker? Beauvoir asked, looking over at the fires Olivier had set. Gamache also looked. It was a damp morning, but not all that cool. A fire wasnt necessary. Still, it was probably made to comfort more than to heat.
‘If it was a poker it would be clean. The coroner will take a closer look of course, but theres no sign of dirt, ash, wood, anything in the wound.
Gamache was staring at the gaping hole in the mans head. Listening to his agent.
‘No weapon, then? asked Beauvoir.
‘Not yet. Were searching, of course.
‘Who was he?
‘We dont know.
Gamache took his eyes off the wound and looked at the woman, but said nothing.
‘We have no ID, Agent Lacoste continued.. ‘Weve been through his pockets and nothing. Not even a Kleenex. And no one seems to know him. Hes a white male, mid-seventies Id say. Lean but not malnourished. Five seven, maybe five eight.
Years ago, when shed first joined homicide, it had seemed bizarre to Agent Lacoste to catalogue these things the Chief could see perfectly well for himself. But hed taught them all to do it, and so she did. It was only years later, when she was training someone else that she recognized the value of the exercise.
It made sure they both saw the same things. Police were as fallible and subjective as anyone else. They missed things, and mis-interpreted things. This catalogue made it less likely. Either that or theyd re-enforce the same mistakes.
‘Nothing in his hands and it looks like nothing under his fingernails. No bruising. Doesnt appear to have been a struggle.
They stood up.
‘The condition of the room verifies that.
They looked around.
Nothing out of place. Nothing tipped over. Everything clean and orderly.
It was a restful room. The fires at either end of the beamed bistro took the gloom out of the day. Their light gleamed off the polished wood floors, darkened by years of smoke and farmers feet.
Sofas and large inviting armchairs sat in front of each fireplace, their fabric faded. Old chairs were grouped round dark wooden dining tables. In front of the mullioned bay windows three or four wing chairs waited for villagers with steaming café au laits and croissants, or scotches, or burgundy wine. Gamache suspected the people milling outside in the rain could do with a good stiff drink. He thought Olivier and Gabri certainly could.
Chief Inspector Gamache and his team had been in the bistro many times, enjoying meals in front of the roaring fire in winter or a quiet cool drink on the terrasse in summer. Almost always discussing murder. But never with an actual body right there.
Sharon Harris joined them, taking off her wet raincoat then smiling at Agent Lacoste and shaking hands solemnly with the Chief Inspector.
‘Dr. Harris, he said, bowing slightly. ‘Im sorry about disturbing your long weekend.
Shed been sitting at home, flipping through the television channels trying to find someone who wasnt preaching at her when the phone had rung. It had seemed a God-send. But looking now at the body, she knew that this had very little to do with God.
‘Ill leave you to it, said Gamache. Through the windows he saw the villagers, still there, waiting for news. A tall, handsome man with gray hair bent down to listen as a short woman with wild hair spoke. Peter and Clara Morrow. Villagers and artists. Standing like a ramrod beside them and staring unblinking at the bistro was Ruth Zardo. And her duck, looking quiet imperious. Ruth wore a sowester that glistened in the rain. Clara spoke to her, but was ignored. Ruth Zardo, Gamache knew, was a drunken, embittered old piece of work. Who also happened to be his favorite poet in the world. Clara spoke again and this time Ruth did respond. Even through the glass Gamache knew what shed said.
Gamache smiled. While a body in the bistro was certainly different, some things never changed.
The familiar, deep, sing-song voice greeted him. He turned and saw Myrna Landers walking across the room, her electric yellow galoshes clumping on the floor. She wore a pink tracksuit tucked into her boots.
She was a woman of colour, in every sense.
‘Myrna, he smiled and kissed her on both cheeks. This drew a surprised look from some of the local Sûreté officers, who didnt expect the Chief Inspector to kiss suspects. ‘Whatre you doing in here when everyone else is out there? he waved out the window.
‘I found him, she said, and his face grew grave.
‘Did you? Im sorry. That mustve been a shock. He guided her to a chair by the fire. ‘I imagine youve given someone your statement?
She nodded. ‘Agent Lacoste took it. Not much to tell Im afraid.
‘Would you like a coffee, or a nice cup of tea?
Myrna smiled. It was something shed offered him often enough. Something she offered everyone, from the kettle that bubbled away on her woodstove. And now it was being offered to her. And she saw how comforting it actually was.
While she sat warming herself by the fire Chief Inspector Gamache asked Gabri for a pot of tea, then returned. He sat in the armchair and leaned forward.
‘I go out every morning for a long walk.
‘Is this something new? Ive never seen you do that before.
‘Well, yes. Since the spring anyway. I decided since I turned 50 I needed to get into shape. She smiled fully then. ‘Or at least, into a different shape. Im aiming for pear rather than apple, she patted her stomach. ‘Though I suspect my nature is to be the whole orchard.
‘What could be better than an orchard? he smiled, then looked at his own girth. ‘Im not exactly a sapling mysef. What time do you get up?
‘Set my alarm for six thirty and Im out the door by quarter to seven. This morning Id just left when I noticed Oliviers door was open a little, so I looked in and called. I know Olivier doesnt normally open until later on a Sunday so I was surprised.
‘But not alarmed.
‘No. She seemed surprised by the question. ‘I was about to leave when I spotted him.
Myrnas back was to the room, and Gamache didnt glance over to the body. Instead he held her gaze and encouraged her with a nod, saying nothing.
Their tea arrived and while it was clear Gabri wanted to join them he, unlike Gamaches son-in-law David, was intuitive enough to pick up the unspoken signals. He put the teapot, two bone china cups and saucers, milk, sugar and a plate of ginger cookies on the table. Then left.
‘At first I thought it was a pile of linen left by the waiters the night before, Myrna said when Gabri was out of earshot. ‘Most of themre quite young and you never know. But then I looked closer and saw it was a body.
It was the way someone describes a dead man, not a living one.
‘I knew he was dead right away. Ive seen some, you know.
Gamache did know.
‘He was exactly as you see him now, Myrna watched as Gamache poured their tea. She indicated milk and sugar then accepted her cup, with a biscuit. ‘I got up close but didnt touch him. I didnt think hed been killed. Not at first.
‘What did you think? Gamache held the cup in his large hands. The tea was strong and fragrant.
‘I thought hed had a stroke or maybe a heart attack. Something sudden, by the look on his face. He seemed surprised, but not afraid or in pain.
That was, thought Gamache, a good way of putting it. Death had surprised this man. But it did most people, even the old and infirm. Almost no one really expected to die.
‘Then I saw his head.
Gamache nodded. It was hard to miss. Not the head, but what was missing from it.
‘Do you know him?
‘Never seen him before. And I suspect hed be memorable.
Gamache had to agree. He looked like a vagrant. And while easily ignored they were hard to forget. Armand Gamache put his delicate cup on the delicate saucer. His mind kept going to the question that had struck him as soon as hed taken the call and heard about the murder. In the bistro in Three Pines.
He looked quickly over to Olivier who was talking to Inspector Beauvoir and Agent Lacoste. He was calm and contained. But he couldnt be oblivious to how this appeared.
‘What did you do then?
‘I called 911 then Olivier, then went outside and waited for them.
She described what happened, up to the moment the police arrived.
‘Merci, said Gamache and rose. Myrna took her tea and joined Olivier and Gabri across the room. They stood together in front of the hearth.
Everyone in the room knew who the three main suspects were. Everyone, that was, except the three main suspects.
Copyright © 2009 by Louise Penny
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