Authors: Louise Penny
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Adult, #Contemporary, #Suspense
Gamache cursed himself for a fool and looked at the empty leash in his hand. Had Henri gotten a whiff of deer or coyote, and taken off into the woods?
“Henri,” the Chief called. “Come here, boy.”
He whistled and then noticed the paw prints in the snow. They headed back across the road, but not toward the bed and breakfast.
Gamache bent over and followed them at a jog. Across the road, over a snow bank. Onto a front lawn. Down an unshoveled walkway. For the second time that day, the Chief felt snow tumble down his boots and melt into his socks. Another soaker. But he didn’t care. All he wanted was to find Henri.
Gamache stopped. There was a dark figure, with immense ears, looking up expectantly at a door. His tail wagging. Waiting to be let in.
The Chief felt his heart simmer down and he took a deep, calming breath.
“Henri,” he whispered vehemently.
The shepherd looked in his direction.
Gone to the wrong house, thought Gamache, not altogether surprised. While Henri had a huge heart, he had quite a modest brain. His head was taken up almost entirely by his ears. In fact, his head seemed simply a sort of mount for those ears. Fortunately Henri didn’t really need his head. He kept all the important things in his heart. Except, perhaps, his current address.
“Come here,” the Chief gestured, surprised that Henri, so well trained and normally so compliant, hadn’t immediately responded. “You’ll scare the people half to death.”
But even as he spoke, the Chief realized that Henri hadn’t made a mistake at all. He’d meant to come to this house. Henri knew the B and B, but he knew the house better.
Henri had grown up here. He’d been rescued and brought to this house as a puppy, to be raised by an elderly woman. Emilie Longpré had saved him, and named him, and loved him. And Henri had loved her.
This had been, and in some ways always would be, Henri’s home.
Gamache had forgotten that Henri knew Three Pines better than he ever would. Every scent, every blade of grass, every tree, every one.
Gamache looked down at the paw and boot prints in the snow. The front walk hadn’t been shoveled. The steps up to the verandah hadn’t been cleaned. The home was dark. And empty.
No one lived there, he was sure, and probably hadn’t in the years since Emilie Longpré had died. When Armand and Reine-Marie had decided to adopt the orphan puppy.
Henri hadn’t forgotten. Or more likely, thought Gamache as he climbed the snowy steps to retrieve the dog, he knew this home by heart. And now the shepherd waited, his tail swishing back and forth, for a woman long dead to let him in and give him a cookie, and tell him he was a good boy.
“Good boy,” whispered Gamache into the immense ears, as he bent down and clipped the leash on Henri. But before going back down the stairs, the Chief peered into a window.
He saw furniture covered in sheets. Ghost furniture.
Then he and Henri stepped off the porch. Under a canopy of stars he and Henri walked slowly around the village green.
One of them thinking, one of them remembering.
* * *
Thérèse Brunel got up on one elbow and looked over the lump in the bed that was Jérôme, to the clock on the bedside table.
It was past one in the morning. She lowered herself onto the mattress and watched her husband’s easy breathing, and envied him his calm.
She wondered if it was because he really didn’t grasp the seriousness of the situation, though he was a thoughtful man and should.
Or, perhaps most likely, Jérôme trusted his wife and Armand to know what to do.
For most of their married life, Thérèse had been comforted by the thought that as an emergency room physician Jérôme would always be able to help. If she or one of the children choked. Or hit their head. Or were in an accident. Or had a heart attack. He’d save them.
But now she realized the roles were reversed. He was counting on her. She hadn’t the heart to tell him she had no idea what to do. She’d been trained to deal with clear targets, obvious goals. Solve the crime, arrest the criminal. But now everything seemed blurry. Ill-defined.
As Superintendent Brunel stared at the ceiling, listening to the heavy, rhythmic breathing of her husband, she realized it came down to two possibilities. That Jérôme had not been found in cyber space. Had not been followed. That it was a mirage.
Or that he had been found. And followed.
Which meant someone high up in the Sûreté had gone to a great deal of trouble to cover up what they were doing. More trouble than a viral video, no matter how vile, warranted.
Lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, she thought the unthinkable. What if the creature they hunted had been there for years, growing and scheming? Putting patient plans in place?
Is that what they’d stumbled upon? In following the hacked video, had Jérôme found something much larger, older, even more contemptible?
She looked at her husband and noticed that he was awake after all and also staring at the ceiling. She touched his arm and he rolled over, bringing his face very close to hers.
Taking both her hands in his, he whispered, “It’ll be all right,
She wished she could believe him.
* * *
On the far side of the village green, the Chief Inspector paused. Henri, on his leash, stood patiently in the cold as Gamache studied the dark and empty house where Henri had been raised. Where Henri had taken him that evening.
And a thought formed.
After a minute or so Gamache noticed that the shepherd was raising and lowering his front paws, trying to get them away from the snow and ice underfoot.
” he said, and walked rapidly back to the B and B.
In the bedroom, the Chief found a plate of thick ham sandwiches, some cookies, and a hot chocolate. He could hardly wait to crawl into bed with his dinner.
But first he knelt down and held Henri’s cold paws in his warm hands. One after the other. Then into those ears he whispered, “It’ll be all right.”
And Henri believed him.
A tap on the door awakened Gamache at six thirty the next morning.
he called, then threw off the duvet and went gingerly across the cold room to shut the window.
After showering, he and Henri headed downstairs, following the scent of strong coffee and maple-smoked bacon. A fire popped and leapt in the grate.
“One egg or two,
?” called Gabri.
Gamache looked into the kitchen. “Two eggs, please. Thank you for the sandwiches last night.” He put the empty plates and mug in the sink. “They were delicious.”
“Slept well?” Gabri asked, looking up from pushing the bacon around the skillet.
And he had. It had been a deep and restful sleep, his first in a very long time.
“Breakfast will be ready in a few minutes,” said Gabri.
“I’ll be back by then.”
At the front door he met Olivier and the two men embraced.
“I heard you were here,” said Olivier, as they bent to put on their boots.
Straightening up, Olivier paused. “Gabri told me about Constance. What a terrible thing. Heart?”
When Gamache didn’t respond, Olivier’s eyes slowly widened, trying to take in the enormity of what he saw in the Chief’s somber face.
“It’s not possible,” he whispered. “Someone killed her?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“My God.” Olivier shook his head. “Fucking city.”
“Glass houses, monsieur?” asked Gamache.
Olivier pursed his lips and followed Gamache onto the front porch, where the Chief clipped Henri onto his leash. They were approaching the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The sun wasn’t yet up, but villagers were beginning to stir. Even as the two men and the dog stood there, lights appeared at windows around the green and there was a faint scent of wood smoke in the air.
They walked together toward the bistro, where Olivier would prepare for the breakfast crowd.
“How?” Olivier asked.
“She was attacked in her home. Hit on the head.”
Even in the dark, Gamache could see his companion grimace. “Why would anyone do that?”
And that, of course, was the question, thought Gamache.
Sometimes it was “how,” almost always it was “who.” But the question that haunted every investigation was “why.”
Why had someone killed this seventy-seven-year-old woman? And had they killed Constance Pineault, or Constance Ouellet? Did the murderer know she was one of the celebrated Ouellet Quints? And not just a Quint, but the last one?
“I don’t know,” Gamache admitted.
“Is it your case?”
Gamache nodded, his head dipping in rhythm with his steps.
They came to rest in front of the bistro and Olivier was about to say good-bye when the Chief reached out and touched his arm. Olivier looked down at the gloved hand, then up into the intense brown eyes.
Gamache lowered his hand. He was far from certain that what he was about to do was wise. Olivier’s handsome face was turning pink in the cold, and his breath was coming in long, easy puffs.
The Chief broke eye contact and concentrated on Henri, rolling in the snow, his feet thrashing in the air.
“Will you walk with me?”
Olivier was a little surprised, and more than a little guarded. It was rarely a good sign, in Olivier’s experience, when the head of homicide asked to speak privately.
The hard-packed snow of the road squeaked as they walked with a measured pace around the village green. A tall, substantial man and a shorter, slighter, younger man. Heads bent together, sharing confidences. Not about the murder, but about something else entirely.
They stopped in front of Emilie Longpré’s home. There was no smoke from the chimney. No light at the windows. But it was filled with memories of an elderly woman Gamache had greatly admired and Henri had loved. The two men looked at the house, and Gamache explained what he wanted.
” said Olivier after listening to the Chief’s request.
“Thank you. Can you keep this to yourself?”
They parted, Olivier to open his bistro, Gamache and Henri for breakfast at the B and B.
A large bowl of
café au lait
was waiting for the Chief on the worn pine table in front of the fireplace. After feeding Henri and giving him fresh water, Gamache settled at the table, sipping his café and making notes. Henri lay at his feet but looked up when Gabri arrived.
” The innkeeper put a plate with two eggs, bacon, toasted English muffins, and fresh fruit on the table, then he made himself a
café au lait
and joined the Chief.
“Olivier called a few moments ago from the bistro,” said Gabri. “He told me that Constance had been killed. Is it true?”
Gamache nodded and took a sip of his own café. It was rich and strong. “Did he tell you anything else?” Gamache kept his voice light, but studied Gabri.
“He said she’d been at home.”
Gamache waited, but it seemed Olivier had kept the rest of their conversation secret, as he’d promised.
“It’s true,” said Gamache.
“But why?” Gabri reached for one of the toasted English muffins.
There it was again, thought Gamache. Like his partner, Gabri hadn’t asked who, but why.
Gamache, of course, could answer neither of those questions yet.
“What did you think of her?”
“She was only here a few days, you know,” said Gabri. Then he considered the question. Gamache waited, curious to hear the answer.
“When she arrived she was friendly but reserved,” said Gabri, finally. “She didn’t like gays, that was obvious.”
“And did you like her?”
“I did. Some people just haven’t met many queers, that’s their problem.”
“And once she had met you and Olivier?”
“Well, she didn’t exactly become a fag hag, but the next best thing.”
Instead of a clever quip, Gabri grew serious. “She became very motherly, to both of us. To all of us, I think. Except Ruth.”
“And with Ruth, what was she like?”
“At first Ruth wouldn’t have anything to do with her. Hated Constance on sight. As you know, it’s a point of pride for Ruth, that she hates everyone. She and Rosa kept their distance and muttered obscenities from afar.”
“Ruth’s normal reaction, then,” said Gamache.
“I’m glad Rosa’s back,” Gabri confided in a whisper, then looked around in exaggerated concern. “But does she look a little like a flying monkey to you?”
“I wonder if we can stick to the point, Dorothy,” said Gamache.
“The funny thing is, after treating Constance like something Rosa pooped, Ruth suddenly warmed to her.”
“I know. I’d never seen anything like it. They even had dinner together one night, at Ruth’s home. Alone.”
“Ruth?” Gamache repeated.
Gabri put marmalade on his muffin and nodded. Gamache studied him, but Gabri didn’t seem to be hiding anything. And the Chief realized Gabri did not know who Constance was. If he did, he’d have said something by now.
“So as far as you can tell, nothing that happened here would explain her death?” asked Gamache.
Gamache finished his breakfast, with Gabri’s help, then he got up and called Henri.
“Should I keep your room for you?”
“And one for Inspector Beauvoir, of course. He’ll be joining you?”
“No, actually. He’s on another assignment.”
Gabri paused, then nodded. “Ahh.”
Neither man really knew what the “ahh” was supposed to mean.
Gamache wondered how long it would be before people stopped looking at him and seeing Beauvoir standing beside him. And how long would it be before he himself stopped expecting to see Jean-Guy there? It wasn’t the ache that was so difficult to bear, thought Gamache. It was the weight.
When the Chief Inspector and Henri arrived at the bistro, it was full with the breakfast rush, though “rush” might have been the wrong word. No one seemed in much of a hurry.