A Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #15)

Could Beauvoir bring himself to give orders to his former boss and mentor?

And, more to the point, could the former Chief Superintendent take them? Gamache, as respectful as he might be, was used to being in charge. And in charge of Beauvoir.

“But it’s not just that, is it?” said a senior officer.

“There’s more?” asked an agent.

“You don’t know?” The officer looked around, intentionally, it seemed, avoiding the warning in Lacoste’s eyes. “Gamache wasn’t just Beauvoir’s boss. He’s his father-in-law.”

“You’re kidding,” said the agent, knowing that the officer was not.

“Non. He’s married to Gamache’s daughter, Annie. They have a kid.”

While the personal connection between Gamache and Beauvoir wasn’t exactly a secret, neither did the two men go out of their way to advertise it.

There was a snort from down the table, and an agent looked up from his cell phone. “They’re really going after the man. Listen to this—”

“Non,” said Lacoste. “I don’t want to hear it.”

There was movement by the door.

They looked over, then jumped to their feet.

The senior officers saluted. The younger ones looked momentarily taken aback.

Some in the room had never seen Armand Gamache in person. Others had not seen him in months. Not since that steamy hot July afternoon in the forest. The air filled with the stench of gun smoke and the cries of the wounded. When it had cleared, they’d seen the head of the S?reté, weapon in hand. Hauling a body through the pretty woods.

Had Gamache known when he’d dressed that summer morning, putting on the clean white shirt and the suit and tie, that that was how the day would end? With blood on his clothing. And on his hands.

He’d risen that sultry day the Chief Superintendent of the S?reté du Québec. A confident leader. Unhappy about, but committed to, a dangerous course of action.

He left the woods, late that afternoon, shattered.

And now he was back.

A better man? A bitter man?

They were about to find out.





CHAPTER TWO


The man they saw at the door was in his late fifties. Tall, not heavy but sturdy. Clean-shaven. And while not classically handsome, he was more attractive, certainly more distinguished, than the pictures on social media that morning had led the younger agents to believe.

Armand Gamache’s hair, once dark, was mostly gray and slightly wavy. His complexion was that of someone who’d spent hours in open fields, in damp forests, in knee-deep snow, staring at bodies. And tracking down those who’d made them.

He had the appearance of someone who’d spent years shouldering heavy responsibility. Weighing dreadful choices.

The lines down his face spoke of determination. Of concentration. Of worry spread over years. And sorrow. Spread over decades.

But as the agents watched, Gamache smiled, and they saw that the deepest of those lines ran from the corners of his eyes.

Laugh lines. Far more pronounced than those caused by worry and pain. Though they did meet, mix, intersect.

And then there was the unmistakable, unmissable scar at his temple. Like a calling card. A mark that distinguished him. It cut across the worry lines and laugh lines. And told a story all its own.

That’s what the newer agents saw.

For the veterans it was different. They didn’t so much see as feel.

There was silence, stillness, as Armand Gamache stood on the threshold, looking at them, meeting eyes that were suddenly moist.

The agents in the room never thought he’d return. Not to the S?reté and certainly not to homicide. This senior officer they’d worked alongside for years. Who’d mentored most. Who’d taught them how to catch killers. And not lose themselves in the process. How to be great officers and even better men and women.

He’d taken each for a leisurely walk, early in their placement in homicide, and told them the four statements that led to wisdom.

Never repeating them.

I was wrong. I’m sorry. I don’t know. I need help.

They’d watched, impotent, as Gamache had been brought down. Then thrown aside.

But today he’d come back. To them.

He always wore a suit and tie, a crisp white shirt, as he did today. Even in the field. As a sign of respect for victim and family. And as a symbol of order in the face of the chaos that threatened.

He looked unchanged. But that, they knew, was superficial. Who knew what was going on underneath?

Gamache stepped into the conference room. “Bonjour.”

“Bonjour, patron,” came the response.

He nodded, subtly acknowledging the salutes, while also indicating they weren’t necessary.

“Superintendent, I didn’t expect to see you here.” He put out his hand, and Isabelle Lacoste took it. A far more formal greeting than the one they’d exchanged when she and her family visited the Gamaches in Three Pines.

“I was in the neighborhood,” she said.

“I see.” He glanced at the wall clock. “Your first appointment is in half an hour, I believe.”

Isabelle Lacoste smiled. He knew. Of course he’d know. That she was there that morning for a round of interviews, speaking to various departments. To see which one she’d head up once her leave was over in a few weeks.

Though it wasn’t a complete coincidence she’d scheduled the appointment on Chief Inspector Gamache’s first morning back.

“It is. I’m starting at the top.”

“The janitorial service?”

“Of course. A girl can dream.”

“All your years cleaning up my messes—”

“Finally paying off, oui.”

He laughed.

Gamache knew that Isabelle was actually starting with the Serious Crimes division. Which would make her, in effect, his boss.

“You have your pick of positions, Superintendent. Any one of them would be lucky to have you.”

“Merci.” She was genuinely moved by what he said.

He turned then and offered his hand to the young agent closest to him. “We haven’t met. I’m Armand Gamache.”

The agent froze, staring at the hand, then into the smiling face. Into his eyes.

Not the eyes of the moron some were claiming in the tweets. Not the eyes of the cold-blooded killer others were depicting.

As the agent introduced himself, he caught a very slight scent of sandalwood and rose.

“Ah, oui,” said Gamache. “You were with the security detail at the National Assembly in Québec City.”

“Oui, patron.”

“Settling into Montréal all right?”

“Yes, sir.”

Leaving the agent slightly stunned, and more than a little ashamed of what he’d said earlier, Gamache circled the table. Introducing himself to those he hadn’t met. Chatting briefly with the officers who’d worked under him in the past.

Then he looked around.

The chair at the head of the table was empty, and Gamache walked toward it, all eyes on him. Then, pulling out the seat to the right of it, he sat and nodded to the others to also take their places.

He’d arrived a few minutes early for the meeting, knowing it might be necessary to clear the air. And answer some questions. Get it out of the way before Jean-Guy Beauvoir arrived.

Truth be told, he had not expected that the air would be so foul.

“You were talking about a blog post, I believe,” he said.

He’d brought out a handkerchief and was wiping his eyes.

“A tweet, actually,” said the agent, and got a filthy look from the others. “Not important, sir.”

He put the phone down on the table.

“We’re not going to start out by hiding the truth from each other, are we? It was important enough to mention before I arrived. I’d rather colleagues didn’t talk behind my back.” He met their eyes, then smiled. “I know this’s awkward. I’ve read some of the posts. I know what they’re saying. That I should’ve been fired. That I should’ve been put in jail. That I’m incompetent, perhaps even criminally so. Is that right?”

He was no longer smiling, but neither was he angry. Armand Gamache was simply stating facts. Clearing the air by exposing the crap.

He leaned forward. “You can’t possibly think I have a thin skin, do you?”

Heads shook.

“Good. I doubt you’re going to read anything I haven’t heard before. Let’s get it out in the open. I’ll answer your questions, once, and then we can put it behind us. D’accord?”

The unhappy young man was again clutching his phone and willing the building to collapse.

No one reached the top rank of a police force as large and powerful as the S?reté without being ambitious. And ruthless. And the agent knew what Gamache had had to do to get to the top. He also knew what they were saying about Gamache on social media. That he was no better than a sociopath.

And now that man was staring at him. Inviting him to walk into what was almost certainly a trap.

“I’d rather not, patron.”

“I see.” Gamache lowered his voice, though all could still hear the words. “When I was Chief Superintendent, I had a framed poster in my office. On it were the last words of a favorite poet, Seamus Heaney. Noli timere. It’s Latin. Do you know what it means?”

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