A Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #15)

And would never, ever wish to be there again.

Those in the room who’d been on that last raid were looking at the agent. Some with outrage. But some almost wistfully. Remembering when they’d been that young. That na?ve. That immortal.

Nine months ago.

They thought back to the summer afternoon. In the pretty forest by the Vermont border. How the sun broke through the trees and they could feel the warmth on their faces.

That moment that seemed to hang in midair before all hell broke loose.

As weapons were raised and fired. And fired. Cutting down the saplings. Cutting down the people.

The screams. The chocking, acrid stench of smoke from the weapons. Of wood and flesh burned by bullets.

Chief Inspector Lacoste was one of the first to fall. Her actions giving Chief Superintendent Gamache that one moment he needed to act. And act he had.

Isabelle Lacoste hadn’t seen what Chief Superintendent Gamache had done. By then she was unconscious. But she’d heard about it. She’d read the transcripts of the investigation, after he’d been suspended.

Gamache had survived the events that day.

Only to be cut down by his own people.

And the attacks were continuing, even as he returned to work.

Isabelle Lacoste, and every veteran officer in that room, knew that the decisions Chief Superintendent Gamache had made were audacious. Daring. Unconventional. And, unlike what the tweets claimed, hugely effective.

But it could very well have gone the other way.

It had been a coup de grace. The last desperate act of the most senior officer in Québec, who felt there was no other option.

Had Gamache failed, and for a while it appeared he would, the S?reté would have been crippled, leaving Québec defenseless against an onslaught of gang violence, trafficking, organized crime.

Gamache had prevailed. But just barely, and at a cost.

Any reasonable person making those decisions would expect a consequence, no matter the outcome. The Chief Superintendent was reasonable. He must’ve expected to be suspended. Investigated.

But had he expected to be humiliated?

In their own coup de grace, the political leadership had decided to save their own skins by putting Gamache’s career out of its misery. Though vindicated in the investigation, he would be offered a job he could not possibly accept. Chief Inspector of homicide. A position he’d held for many years. One he’d handed over to Lacoste when he’d been promoted to head of the S?reté. After she’d been wounded, it was a job now filled by Jean-Guy Beauvoir.

It was a demotion, the leadership knew, that Armand Gamache could not agree to. The humiliation would be too great. The cut too deep. He would resign. Retire. Disappear.

But Armand Gamache refused to go. To their astonishment, he’d accepted their offer.

His fall from grace would be completed here. In this room. Today.

And it appeared he’d land, with a thump, right on top of Jean-Guy Beauvoir.

It was seven minutes to eight. The two men would soon walk through the door. Both holding the rank of head of homicide.

And then what would happen?

Even Isabelle Lacoste found herself glancing at the door. Wondering. She didn’t expect trouble but couldn’t help thinking about what George Will called the “Ohio Event.”

In 1895 there were only two automobiles in the whole state. And they’d collided.

No one knew better than Lacoste that the unexpected happened. And now she found herself bracing for the collision.

* * *

“It’s your own fault,” said Ruth Zardo. “You should never have agreed to it, if you ask me.”

No one had.

“Listen to this one,” the elderly poet continued, reading off the phone. “Clara Morrow’s contribution is trite, derivative, and banal. They left out clichéd and pedestrian. Or maybe someone says that further down the thread.”

“I think that’s enough, Ruth,” said Reine-Marie Gamache.

She glanced at her watch. Nearly eight. She wondered how her husband was getting on. It did not take a savant to know how Clara was doing.

Her friend had dark circles under her eyes and looked drawn. And slightly painted. There were dabs of cadmium red and burnt umber on her face and in her hair.

Clara was wearing her usual jeans and a sweater. Success as an artist had not changed her fashion sense. Such as it was. Perhaps because recognition had come later in Clara’s life. In her late forties now, she’d been working in her studio for decades, creating works that went unnoticed. Her greatest success had been her Warrior Uterus series. She’d sold one. To herself. And given it to her mother-in-law. Thereby weaponizing her art. And her uterus.

Then, after an evening in the bistro with women friends from the village, Clara had gone back to her studio and started something different. Portraits. Oil paintings. Of those women.

She’d painted them as they really were, their lines and lumps and wrinkles. But what she’d really captured, in her bold strokes, were their feelings.

The portraits burst onto the art scene, lauded as revolutionary. Bringing back a traditional form but revitalizing it. Her portraits were luminous. Joyous. Vibrant. Unsettling at times, as the loneliness and brute sorrow in some faces became apparent.

Her portraits of the women were challenging and bold and audacious.

And now, this April morning, many of those same women had joined Clara in the bistro. They’d celebrated her successes here. Today they came to comfort.

“They don’t know what they’re talking about,” said Myrna. “It’s just mean, malicious.”

“But if I believed them when they loved the works, shouldn’t I believe them now?” asked Clara. “Why were they right then but wrong now?”

“But these aren’t art critics,” said Reine-Marie. “I bet most of them haven’t even seen the exhibition.”

“The art critic for the New York Times just posted,” reported Ruth. “He says in light of this disaster, he’s going to go back to your earlier works, the portraits, to see if he’d been wrong about them. Shit. He can’t mean the portrait you did of me, can he?”

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” muttered Rosa. The duck was sitting on Ruth’s lap and looked irritated. But then, ducks often did.

“It’ll be fine,” said Myrna.

“That I believe,” said Clara, running her hands through her thick hair so that it stood out from her head. Making her look like a mad madwoman.

Perversely, Ruth, who almost certainly really was mad, looked perfectly composed.

“The good thing is, nobody will see your crap,” said Ruth. “Who goes to an exhibition of miniatures? Why in the world would you agree to contribute to a group show of tiny oil paintings? It’s what bored society women in the 1700s painted.”

“And many were far better than their male counterparts,” said Myrna.

“Right,” said Ruth. “Like that can be true.”

Rosa rolled her duck eyes.

“You paint portraits on large canvases,” Ruth persisted. “Why do tiny landscapes?”

“I wanted to stretch myself,” said Clara.

“By doing miniatures?” asked Ruth. “Bit ironic.”

“Did you see Clara’s works?” Reine-Marie asked.

“Don’t have to. I can smell them. They smell like—”

“You might want to take a look before you comment.”

“Why? Apparently they’re trite and banal.”

“Do you write the same poem over and over?” asked Myrna.

“No, of course not,” said Ruth. “But neither do I try to write a novel. It’s all words, but I know what I’m good at. Great at.”

Myrna Landers heaved a sigh and shifted her considerable weight in her armchair. As much as she longed to contradict Ruth, she couldn’t. The fact was, their drunk and disorderly old neighbor in Three Pines was a brilliant poet. Though not much of a human being.

Ruth made a noise that could have been a laugh. Or indigestion.

“I’ll tell you what is funny. You crash and burn trying to do something different while Armand destroys his career by agreeing to go back and do the same old thing.”

“No one’s crashing and burning,” said Reine-Marie, glancing at her watch again.

* * *

The atmosphere in the conference room was crackling.

“So how’s this going to work?” asked one of the agents. “Are we going to have two Chief Inspectors?”

They looked at the visiting Superintendent. “Non. Chief Inspector Beauvoir will be in charge until he leaves for Paris.”

“And Gamache will be…?” asked another agent.

“Chief Inspector Gamache. This’s a transition for a few weeks, that’s all,” said Lacoste, trying to sound more confident than she actually was. “This is a good thing. There’ll be two experienced leaders.”

But the men and women in the room weren’t idiots. One strong leader was great. Two led to power struggles. Conflicting orders. Chaos.

“They’ve worked together for years,” said Lacoste. “They’ll have no trouble working together now.”

“Would you be okay taking orders from someone who’d been your subordinate?”

“Of course I would.”

But despite her annoyance, Lacoste knew it was a legitimate question.

previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ..78 next