A Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #15)

He looked around the room.

“Neither did I,” he admitted when no one spoke. “I had to look it up. It means ‘Be Not Afraid.’” His eyes returned to the unhappy young agent. “In this job you’ll have to do things that scare you. You might be afraid, but you must be brave. When I ask you to do something, you must trust there’s a good reason. And I need to trust that you will do it. D’accord?”

The agent looked down at his phone, clicked it on, and began reading.

“Gamache is a madman. A coward,” he read. His voice was strong and steady, but his face was a bright red. “He should be locked up, not sent back to duty. Québec isn’t safe as long as he’s there.”

The agent looked up, his eyes pleading to be allowed to stop. “They’re just comments, sir. Responding to some article. These aren’t real people.”

Gamache raised his brows. “Unless you’re suggesting they’re bots—”

The agent shook his head.

“—then they are real people. I’m just hoping they’re not Québécois.”

“That one’s from Trois-Rivières.”

Gamache grimaced. “Go on. Anyone else have one?”

They went around the table, reading wildly insulting posts.

“Gamache doesn’t even want to be back,” one agent read. “I heard he turned the job down. He doesn’t care about the people of Québec. He only cares about himself.” The agent looked up and saw a slight wince.

“Others are saying the same thing. That you didn’t want to come back to homicide. To work with us. Is that true?”

“Partly, yes.”

No one in the room expected that answer. All phones were lowered to the table as they stared.

“I did turn down the offer to return to homicide as Chief Inspector,” said Gamache. “But not because I didn’t want it.”

“Then why?”

“Because you have an exceptional leader in Chief Inspector Beauvoir. I would never displace him. I wouldn’t do that to him, or to you.”

There was silence as the officers took that in.

“You’re wondering if I really want to be here or if I took the job to spite those who only offered it to humiliate me?”

Now they stared at him, clearly surprised by his candor. At least the younger ones were. Isabelle Lacoste and other veterans looked on with amusement at their amazement.

“Did you?” asked an agent.

“No. I turned the offer down when I thought Chief Inspector Beauvoir was staying. But when he told me he was taking up a job in private industry, in Paris, he and I talked. I spoke to my wife and decided to accept the position.” He looked around the room. “I understand your concern, but I wouldn’t be here unless I wanted to be. Working in the S?reté, in any capacity, is a privilege. It’s been the greatest honor of my life. I can think of no better way to be useful, or better people to serve with.”

He said it with such conviction, such unabashed sincerity, that the motto on their warrant cards, their vehicles, their badges, suddenly had real meaning.

Service, Intégrité, Justice.

Gamache turned his attention to the long whiteboard covering a wall. He’d come in over the weekend, when it was quiet, and sat in this conference room studying the files. The photographs. Going over the cases, the faces on the wall.

He knew where the investigations stood and what each lead investigator had done—or not done.

Just then all eyes shifted to behind Gamache.



* * *



When Jean-Guy Beauvoir had arrived twenty minutes earlier, he’d gone directly to his office and closed the door. It wasn’t something he normally did. Normally his door was wide open. Normally he went straight to the conference room. Normally he was the only Chief Inspector of homicide there.

But this was not a normal day. How the next half hour or so went would set the tone going forward.

He needed to gather himself.

How would his agents and inspectors react to having not just their former Chief Inspector back but one so storied? A private man who’d become a public figure.

But, even more complex for Beauvoir, he wasn’t really sure how he himself would react. He and Armand had discussed it, of course, at length, but theory and reality were often very different.

In theory, this would go smoothly. He would not be intimidated, prickly, which he knew he tended to be when feeling insecure. He would not be defensive or resort to sarcasm.

Chief Inspector Beauvoir would be confident. Calm. In control of the meeting and, even more vitally, of himself.

That was the plan. The theory.

But the reality was that the vast majority of his career had been spent working alongside, and slightly behind, Gamache. It was natural for him, at this point almost instinctive, to give Gamache the final word. The authority.

Jean-Guy took a deep breath in. Deep breath out. And wondered if he should call his sponsor but decided to just repeat the Serenity Prayer a few times.

He opened his eyes when a familiar ding sounded on his phone. An email from Annie.

Are you with Dad? You need to see this.

Clicking on the link, he read. Following the thread. Tweet after tweet. Comment, reply. Like some demented call and response. A liturgy gone wrong.

“Christ,” he muttered, and closed the link.

He was glad his wife had sent it. She was a lawyer and understood the importance of preparation and information. Even things, especially things, we didn’t really want to know.

The clock in front of him said one minute to eight. He rubbed his sweaty hands on his slacks and looked at the photo on his desk. Of Annie and Honoré. Taken at the Gamache home in Three Pines. In the background, unnoticed except by someone who knew it was there, was a framed picture on the bookcase. A smiling family shot of Annie, Honoré, Jean-Guy, Reine-Marie, and Armand.

Armand. Always there. Both a comfort and an undeniable presence.

Taking a deep breath, Jean-Guy placed both hands on the desk and thrust himself out of the chair. Then he opened his door and walked, strode, across the huge open space, past near-empty desks piled with reports and photographs and laptops.

He walked into the conference room. “Salut tout le monde.”

Everyone got to their feet, including Gamache.

Without hesitation, Jean-Guy put out his hand, and Armand took it.

“Welcome back.”

“Merci.” Gamache nodded. “Patron.”





CHAPTER THREE


They looked to Chief Inspector Gamache first, of course. Speaking to him. Reporting to him. Looking for his comments, his approval, as they went through their cases.



* * *



Gamache, for his part, listened closely but did not speak. Instead he looked to his left. To Chief Inspector Beauvoir.

For direction.

And Chief Inspector Beauvoir gave it. Calmly, thoughtfully. He asked clear questions when needed. Guiding, at times prodding. But otherwise he just listened.

He did not become defensive, or prickly.

Though, to be fair, he did feel no small annoyance, but not at Gamache. Not even at his investigators. Just at the situation. And the higher-ups he suspected had done this on purpose. Pitting two senior officers against each other. For the sake of the force? Non. For fun. To see if they could drive a wedge between them. Create enemies from friends in a kind of malevolent alchemy.

And perhaps, a slight warning voice suggested, for more than fun.

To his left, Superintendent Lacoste watched all this. Aware of the forces at work. Hoping for the best but half bracing for the collision.

Yet as the meeting went on, Jean-Guy Beauvoir was showing a side to himself she hadn’t seen before.

She’d seen him display incredible bravery. Fierce loyalty. Dogged, often brilliant commitment to finding killers.

What she’d never seen before, in this kinetic man, was restraint.

Until today.

Somewhere along the line, probably in that sunny Québec forest, Beauvoir had learned which battles needed to be fought. And which did not. What mattered and what did not. Who were true allies and who were not.

He’d entered the woods a second-in-command. He’d left it a leader.

It was a shame, Lacoste thought, that it should happen just as he was about to leave the S?reté.

They went through the cases, one by one, each lead investigator speaking succinctly about the homicide they were heading up. Giving updates on forensics, interrogations. Motives. Suspects.

As always, cell phones had been turned off and put away, banned for the life of the meeting.

As the gathering went on, the investigators slowly stopped looking to Gamache. Stopped glancing toward Superintendent Lacoste. And turned their full attention to Chief Inspector Beauvoir. Who gave them his.

Where arrests had been made and they were going to court, Beauvoir wanted to know what the Crown Prosecutor thought of the case. Though the fact was, he already knew. No homicide went to trial without Chief Inspector Beauvoir’s being completely aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the case.

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