A Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #15)

“Then what does?”

“Everyone in her section was in the lottery pool, right? Ten people?”

“Yes.”

“But it says here there’re eleven in that division. One was left out. Which one?”

Beauvoir sat back and thought. It seemed a tiny detail, but that was the thing about murders. And murderers. They hid in the details. The small things easily overlooked.

“You think whoever was left out killed her for the lottery ticket? But why not take it?”

“Non.” Isabelle was shaking her head. Then she suddenly looked at her watch. “I’m going to be late for the next meeting.”

“But wait, why leave the ticket behind if that was the motive?” asked Beauvoir, calling after Lacoste as she made for the door.

“Because the ticket wasn’t the motive. Being left out was. And it probably wasn’t the first time. What happens when someone is shunned, over and over?”

He grabbed the dossier and scanned it, muttering, “Merde. She might be right.”

Chief Inspector Beauvoir called the lead investigator and suggested he find out all he could about the co-worker who had not been included.

Then he sat back down and continued to go over the files.

He was damned if he was going to leave a mess for his replacement. Especially since he’d be spending holidays with that replacement for years to come.

In ten days’ time, he and Annie would get on a flight to Paris with Honoré, to start their new lives. And he to start a new job in private industry.

It was almost impossible to believe.

April in Paris. The trees would be in leaf. The gardens, laid out so formally, would be in bloom. Parisians would be sitting at sidewalk cafés enjoying the warmth and their aperitifs.

The City of Light at its most luminous.

He looked out his large window at Montréal. He couldn’t see the top of Mont Royal for the low-hanging clouds.

While the snow had stopped, the gloom had not.

Late spring in Québec was beautiful.

Early spring, on the other hand, was a pile of shit. Literally, in some cases. Some places.

He could almost smell it now. In the city it was not really noticeable. But in the countryside?

After years visiting the Gamaches at their home in the tiny village of Three Pines, Jean-Guy had gotten much closer to nature. To the rhythms. The surprises. The miracles.

Close enough to confirm that he hated the countryside. It was dirty and unpredictable. And it smelled.

Beauvoir still harbored the suspicion that those who could live in Montréal or Québec City but chose the countryside had at least one screw loose. This was confirmed when he’d first met the residents of Three Pines, and especially the old poet. Who seemed to have lost all her screws and, as a result, spent her time screwing with others. Or at least with Jean-Guy.

It didn’t help that many of the villagers were Anglophones. And Jean-Guy was an Anglophobe.

They scared him. Partly because while his English was good, he rarely caught the nuances. Or the cultural references. Who was Captain Crunch? Captain Kangaroo? Why so many captains? Why not generals? And why did they eat frites with ketchup and not mayonnaise? And how do you begin to explain plum pudding? It looked, and smelled, like early spring.

And they ate it.

Over time, he’d grown to not just like the village but love the villagers. To accept their foibles. As they accepted his.

But still, plum pudding? It sounded so good and tasted so bad.

Anglos.

His cell phone rang, and he answered immediately.

“Salut,” came the cheerful voice. “Am I calling at a bad time?”

“If it was, I wouldn’t answer.”

Though they both knew that wasn’t true. Short of being in the middle of a shoot-out, when Annie called, he answered.

A successful lawyer, Annie had arranged a transfer to the Paris office and was now studying to get her license to become an avocat in France.

“Do you think you can go to Three Pines tonight?” she asked.

“I wasn’t planning to. Why?”

“I just called Mom, and she told me the Bella Bella’s going to flood.”

“It does every spring.”

“This seems different. She tried to sound casual, but I could hear that she’s worried. She wanted to make sure Honoré and I weren’t going down.”

“That bad?”

It would have to be near catastrophic for his mother-in-law to give up precious time with them.

Jean-Guy dropped his feet off the desk and leaned forward.

“They’ll need help sandbagging,” said Annie. “Still, how bad can it be? It’s the Bella Bella, not the St. Lawrence or the Mighty Mississippi. The worst that can happen is water in the basements, right? It’s never completely flooded before.”

Beauvoir walked to the window.

Lots of things never happened before, he knew. Then suddenly did. It only took once. Murder, for instance. A person was only killed once. And that was enough.

Yes, just because something had never happened, that didn’t mean it couldn’t. Or wouldn’t.

And Annie was worried. Otherwise she’d never have called and asked him to go down.

After he hung up, he continued to look out the window. She’d mentioned the St. Lawrence. If the Bella Bella was flooding, what was the huge river that encircled the island of Montréal doing?

Through the skyscrapers, he could see the river was still frozen. He sighed with some relief. Now, that would be a problem.…

But then he looked more closely, and as his eyes adjusted, he could see fissures. And long shadows. That meant columns of ice had pushed their way up and out. Great chunks were piling up, and unless something happened soon, the St. Lawrence would also flood. And worse. The force of it could crush the pylons holding the bridges in place.

He picked up the phone. As he waited for Chief Superintendent Toussaint to answer, he thought again about Paris. Where the flowers were in bloom.

Where his little, growing family would live. In peace.





CHAPTER SEVEN


Awful! Arrogant poseur #MorrowSucks

Overrated. No talent. #MorrowSucks

Just plain shit. #MorrowSucks

Lock him up #GamacheSux

The donkeys noticed first.

They turned in the field and started forward. Toward the fence. One or two were braying.

Carl Tracey came out and stood in the doorway of the barn and watched as three figures, covered in mud, trudged down the drive.

They looked like something out of a horror film. Golems, heading his way.

Tracey reached over and took hold of the pitchfork.



* * *



Gamache raised his hand in a fist, to signal them to stop.

Cameron, familiar with the silent combat gesture, did.

Cloutier did not.

“Agent Cloutier.”

When she turned, Gamache nodded forward, and she saw it then.

Framed in the open barn door was a man straight out of some horror film.

He was disheveled. Filthy. With a pitchfork.



* * *



Tracey watched them closely. The two men were large. Disheveled. Filthy. The woman was small and filthy.

He tightened his grip on the pitchfork.



* * *



“Monsieur Tracey?”

“What do you want?” he shouted. In English.

Gamache lifted his hands, to show they held no weapon, and stepped forward. Cameron instinctively went to join him, to protect his quarterback, but once again Gamache gave him a signal.

To stand down. But remain alert.

The Chief Inspector took a few steps toward Tracey. There were at least fifteen paces to go before they’d be face-to-face, but already he could smell the booze.

“We’re with the S?reté du Québec—” Gamache began, in English.

“Get off my land.”

“My name is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. This is Agent Cloutier. And this—”

“I know who that is.” Now that they were closer, Tracey recognized the man who’d threatened him with a beating not long ago. “Get him the fuck off my land.”

He lifted the pitchfork and pointed it toward Cameron. Making a small jabbing movement. It was a futile, almost comic gesture.

But Gamache wasn’t smiling. Instead he put his arms out at his sides and took a few steps closer.

Carl Tracey was in his mid-thirties. Slightly shorter, slightly lighter than Gamache. But where Gamache was solid, this man was not. As he jabbed, he jiggled.

Still, Gamache knew it was never wise to underestimate anyone. Especially someone with a pitchfork.

He stopped.

“We’d like to speak with your wife, please. Vivienne Godin. Is she here?”

“No. I already told the cops that she’s gone away.”

“And you haven’t heard from her? She hasn’t called?”

“No.”

The only one who’d called him was her crazy father. Every hour, on the hour. Even through the night. Threatening him. But he wouldn’t tell them that.

He noticed Cameron had opened his jacket. To reveal a gun on his belt.

Shit.

But the man standing just a few feet away, the guy in charge, displayed no weapon. In fact, he seemed to be trying to lull Tracey into some sort of trance. So deep and calm was his voice.

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