A Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #15)

His questions were for the benefit of the team.

Beauvoir sat now with his elbows on the shiny table, hands clasped, leaning forward. Intent, focused. He hoped he gave off an aura of calm and steady leadership. The truth was, he gave off a sense of energy. Vitality. Extreme alertness.

As he glanced at his investigators, Jean-Guy Beauvoir’s eyes were bright and encouraging. His glasses gave the impression he was older than he actually was. In his late thirties, he was younger than many of the senior investigators in the room.

Twenty years younger than the man to his right.

Slender and well-groomed, Beauvoir had dark hair that was just be ginning to show some gray. And his once-lithe frame was filling out slightly.

As he’d approached the conference room, he’d heard some of the comments. And knew who they came from. It was no surprise. These were the agents most likely to question.

When Gamache was the Chief Superintendent, Lacoste and Beauvoir had gone to him asking that these same troublesome agents be removed.

“Remember what happened before,” said Beauvoir.

There was, within the S?reté du Québec, a before and after. A line drawn in their collective and institutional memory.

“Before” was a time of fear. Of distrust. Of enemies disguised as allies. It was a time of vast and rampant brutality. Of senior officers sanctioning beatings and even murders.

Gamache had led the resistance, at huge personal risk, and had eventually agreed to become Chief Superintendent himself.

No one left standing in the S?reté who’d been through that could ever forget what had gone “before.”

“We have to get rid of these agents,” Lacoste had said. “They were transferred into homicide when things were out of control, just to cause trouble.”

Gamache nodded. He knew that was true.

But he also knew that few were more loyal than those who’d been given a chance.

“Keep them on,” Gamache had said. “And train them properly.”

They had. And now, under Chief Inspector Beauvoir, those agents had become leaders themselves. Battle-hardened and trusted.

Which wasn’t to say they didn’t have their own opinions, opinions they were keen to voice.

Those had been the very homicide agents Beauvoir had heard questioning Gamache, just before he had arrived in the conference room.

With the Monday-morning meeting about to wrap up, something caught Beauvoir’s attention, and he looked down the long conference table.

“Are we boring you?”

Agent Lysette Cloutier looked up, and her eyes grew round.

“Désolée,” she said, fumbling with her phone.

Chief Inspector Beauvoir continued to stare at her until she put it down.

The meeting continued, but only for another minute, before Beauvoir stopped it again.

“Agent Cloutier, what’re you doing?”

Though it was clear what she was doing. She was typing on her phone. Again.

She looked up, flustered.

“I’m sorry. So sorry, but—”

“Is it a personal emergency?” Beauvoir asked.

“No, not really. I don’t think—”

“Then put it away.”

She lowered the phone to the table, then picked it up again. “I’m sorry, sir, but there is something.”

“For us?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

The final report was wrapping up, and the others in the meeting wanted to finish and get out of there. Which meant they wanted her to put down the damned phone and shut up.

Feeling all eyes on her. Feeling her heart pounding in her chest. In her neck. In the vein at her temple. Agent Cloutier clutched the phone and spoke up.

“A friend has emailed me. His daughter is missing. Been gone since Saturday night.”

“Where?” asked Beauvoir, pulling a pad of paper toward him.

“In the Eastern Townships.”

“How old is she?”

“Twenty-five.”

His pen stopped. He was expecting a child. He was relieved, but also slightly annoyed. Agent Cloutier could see this and tried to get him onside.

“She was on her way to visit him up north but never arrived.”

“Is she married?”

“Yes.”

“What does her husband say?”

“Nothing. Homer, her father, has called him over and over, but Carl just says there’s nothing wrong and to stop calling.”

“But she isn’t at home?”

“Apparently not. Carl won’t say where she is. He just hangs up on Homer. Now he isn’t answering at all.” She was talking rapidly, trying to get it all in. Searching the Chief Inspector’s face for some sign of concern. Some sign she was getting through to him.

“Where does the father live?”

“North of Montréal. In the Laurentians. Ste.-Agathe.”

“Has he gone down?”

“No. He wanted to give it until today.”

Beauvoir considered the woman at the far end of the table. This was, as far as he could remember, the first time Agent Cloutier had spoken in a meeting.

“I can see why you’d be concerned, but this is a local issue. Let the local detachment handle it.”

Beauvoir returned his attention to the inspector, who was just wrapping up her report.

“Homer called the local S?reté. They sent a car but didn’t find anything. That was yesterday. She’s still missing. He’s getting really worried.”

“Then he needs to file a missing-persons report. You can help him with that.”

He didn’t mean to sound callous, but there were clear delineations of duties, and best not to step into someone else’s lane.

“Please, patron,” said Cloutier. “Can I go down? Take a look around?” She could see that Chief Inspector Beauvoir was undecided. Teetering. “She’s pregnant.”

Cloutier felt everyone turn to her. Flushing wildly, she kept her eyes on the Chief Inspector.

Beauvoir considered her again and weighed his options.

The fact this woman was pregnant shouldn’t change anything. And yet, for Beauvoir, it did.

Missing. Pregnant. Unhelpful husband.

These were worrying signs. Warning signs.

Lysette Cloutier was not an experienced or, let’s face it, effective criminal investigator. If he freed her up to look into it, just for the day, she’d come back with nothing. Probably because there was nothing to find.

The missing woman had probably just gone away for the weekend. Told her husband she was visiting her family but was really with girlfriends. Or a lover.

Far from the first person to do that.

“What do I tell her father?” Cloutier pressed. “He’s really worried. It’s not like her.”

“He might not know her as well as he thinks he does.”

“But he knows his son-in-law.”

“What does that mean?”

“He’s never said it outright, but I know he doesn’t like him.”

“That’s not a reason to engage the resources of the homicide department, Agent Cloutier.”

“He thinks something bad’s happened.” She could see she was losing him. She racked her brains for something else to say. “How would you feel, sir? If your child didn’t come home?”

She could see that the words had hit home, but not in the way she’d hoped.

Chief Inspector Beauvoir now looked angry.

Beside him, Superintendent Lacoste watched and braced. There’d be a collision after all, but not with Gamache. Chief Inspector Beauvoir was about to run over Agent Cloutier.

“My son is an infant,” Beauvoir said, his voice cold. “There’s a difference.”

“But if you love them, age doesn’t matter, does it? Really?” she persisted, barely believing she was doing this. “They’re still our children.”

Beauvoir stared at her, the whole room holding its breath while the Chief Inspector weighed the options.

“What’s the name?”

“Vivienne. Vivienne Godin.”

Beauvoir wrote that down. “And husband?”

“Carl Tracey.”

If this Vivienne Godin really was missing, then something bad had happened, and time counted.

Unfortunately, Cloutier was pretty much their Clouseau. She would not find the woman, even if standing next to her in line for a Double Double at Tim Hortons.

It wasn’t that Cloutier was an idiot, just that this was not her strength. It wasn’t why she was brought into homicide.

In a swift glance, Beauvoir took in the officers around the table. All had their hands full with active murder investigations. Where murders had indeed been committed and killers needed to be found. Urgently.

His eyes came to rest on the one officer as yet unassigned.

Jeez, thought Beauvoir, am I really going to do this to him?

“Would you work with Agent Cloutier and see if there’s anything there? Just for the day?”

“With pleasure,” said Chief Inspector Gamache.





CHAPTER FOUR


“I’m sorry,” Beauvoir said under his breath as they left the meeting.

“Why?” asked Gamache.

“You know why.” Beauvoir cocked his head toward Cloutier, who was at her desk. “She stapled her transfer papers to her thigh the first day here.”

“She isn’t armed, is she?” asked Gamache.

“Are you kidding?”

“Is she working out?” Gamache asked. After all, it had been his decision to transfer this desk agent into homicide.

“Actually, if kept off the streets and away from any citizens or anything sharp, yes.”

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