A Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #15)

“Good to know.”

Gamache watched Agent Cloutier sitting at her desk, staring into space. He tried to believe she was thinking, but the look on her face said that she was paralyzed by indecision.

“Noli timere,” said Beauvoir with a grin.

“Huh. Well, maybe just a little timere,” admitted Gamache. As he considered Agent Cloutier, he thought about her question.

How would you feel…?

How would he feel if his daughter, a grown woman, a married woman, had been missing for a day and a half?

He’d be frantic. He’d hope and pray that someone would pay attention. Someone would help.

Agent Cloutier’s persistence had shown courage. Her question had shown empathy.

Both were extremely valuable, he told himself, even as he watched her knock her phone off the desk. Into the garbage.

She was nervous, that much was obvious. About the missing young woman? About working with him? About failing? Or was there something else?

“I’ve arranged for another desk to be put into the office,” said Beauvoir. He’d almost said “my office” but had stopped himself.

“Merci. I appreciate the thought, but I’d like to sit out here.”

“Really?” Beauvoir looked around.

Desks were placed together, facing each other, two by two. Some neat, some with documents piled high. Some personalized, with family photos and memorabilia. Others antiseptic.

Gamache followed Beauvoir’s gaze. It had been years, decades, since he’d sat in an open bullpen. At a desk like any other.

An investigator like any other.

Far from the humiliation it was meant to be, this actually felt comfortable. Comforting, even. Someone else was in charge, and he could just concentrate on the job at hand.

“If it’s all right with you, I’ll take that desk.” He pointed to the empty one across from Cloutier.

“It’s all yours.” Putting his hand on Gamache’s back, Beauvoir said, “If you need anything, or just want to talk, my door’s always open.”

Gamache recognized it as something he said to raw recruits. “When’s your last day again?”

Beauvoir laughed. “It’s good to have you back. Sir.”

Gamache took a deep breath. The place smelled of sweat. Of coffee burned to the bottom of the glass pot. Every day. For years.

For intelligent people, no one in homicide, it seemed, ever learned to turn the thing off. Or make a fresh pot.

It smelled of paper and files, and feet.

It smelled familiar.

When a nervous Agent Gamache had walked in, his first day at homicide, the place had been a riot of noise. Of agents yelling to each other. Phones ringing. Typewriters clacking.

Now there was a murmur of voices, the soft buzz of cell phones, and the tippity-tap of laptops.

Plus ?a change, plus c’est la même chose.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

While the technology had changed, the job had not.

Killers were still killing, and S?reté agents were still hunting them down.

Only then did Gamache realize how much, deep in his core, he’d missed this.



* * *



They left the island of Montréal, driving over the Champlain Bridge to the south shore.

He was in the passenger seat while Cloutier drove. Below them, the St. Lawrence River was packed with broken ice, as the spring melt took hold. Rivers across Québec were freezing and thawing, then freezing again. Creating massive ice jams. The rivers, swollen with melting snow and April showers, had nowhere to go. Except to burst their banks.

It happened every spring, the flooding. But this, he could see, was different.

Gamache hated heights, preferring to look straight ahead whenever he drove across the impressive bridge. But now he forced himself to look down. Feeling light-headed and slightly dizzy, he gripped the door handle and stared over the edge, at the huge, jagged columns of ice thrusting toward him out of the river.

As far down the St. Lawrence as he could see, there was ice. Cracked and heaved. And heading their way.

Turning to the front, he began breathing again, and with each breath he prayed to God the warm weather would take hold and melt the jams. Melt the dams. Relieve the rivers before they burst free.

But it didn’t look promising, he thought as the wipers of their vehicle swept wet snow off the windshield. And the sky ahead was choked with cloud.

“Tell me what you know,” he said to Agent Cloutier.

“Vivienne Godin and Carl Tracey live on a farm in the countryside not far from Cowansville. Before we left, I did a bit of digging. The local S?reté detachment sent someone to her place yesterday, after Homer called them. They searched but found nothing. No evidence of violence.”

“And no Madame Godin.”

“Non. They’d been called to the home three times in the past, all for domestic violence. But each time they arrived, Madame Godin withdrew the complaint and refused to let them in.”

So her father had been right, thought Gamache. Something bad was happening.

“Officers no longer need a formal complaint,” he said. “They can make an arrest if they themselves see evidence of abuse.”

“Yes, but I guess there wasn’t enough evidence.”

“So no arrests?”

“Non.”

They rode in silence, each looking out at the gray, damp day. Thinking.

Gamache about this young woman, Vivienne Godin.

Cloutier about Vivienne’s father, Homer.

When she went to turn off the highway, Gamache instructed her to continue on.

“We need to get as much information as possible before visiting her home and speaking to her husband. We’ll get one shot at that before he kicks us off the property. We have to make each question count. Take the next turnoff, please, and head for the local detachment. They’re the ones who took the calls, right?”

“Yes, but I’ve already spoken to them.”

“Speaking on the phone and doing it in person are two different things. There’s also the issue of respect. This’s their territory. We shouldn’t just barge in and start questioning people. Besides, we’ll probably need their help.”

A few minutes later they turned in to the town.

“Down here, please,” said Gamache, pointing to a side street and then at a low building with the S?reté emblem out front.





CHAPTER FIVE


“Bonjour. I’m Chief Inspector Gamache, this is Agent Cloutier.” He slipped his S?reté ID under the glass partition, and the receptionist took it. “We’d like to see Commander Flaubert, s’il vous plait.”

The man behind the glass, a civilian, glanced at the ID, then at them, and pointed to a hard bench where a drunk was slumped.

“Wait over there.”

“Merci,” Gamache said, and took a seat under a photo of the Premier Ministre du Québec, the man responsible for his demotion.

Crossing his legs, he leaned back on the bench and waited. Apparently just staring into space.

Cloutier paced, checking her phone for messages, gazing at posters, photographs, warnings, commendations on the walls. Photos of the S?reté hockey team. She checked her phone for messages. Again.

Finally an officer came out and hurried across the entrance hall. Her hand extended. “Chief Superintendent—”

“Inspector,” Gamache corrected, and wondered how many times he’d have to do that. “Chief Inspector.” He was on his feet.

“Brigitte Flaubert,” she said, shaking his hand.

“Yes, I remember,” said Gamache.

As Chief Superintendent, he’d made it a point to visit each detachment in the province. To sit down with the commander, and especially the agents. To get their take on what needed improving.

“Sorry to keep you waiting.” Commander Flaubert looked at Gamache with an increasingly familiar searching gaze. He suspected he’d have to get used to it.

Different from the curious looks he normally got on the street, as passersby tried to place this familiar face. The looks today were not so much to place him as to judge him.

Flaubert shot a displeased glance at the receptionist, who did not seem to care, then she turned to Agent Cloutier, as Gamache introduced her.

“If you’ll come with me,” said Flaubert.

They followed her into the back of the station and to her office, walking past desks occupied by busy S?reté officers, who glanced up as they passed, then back down.

Then up again. Realizing that the large man in the parka wasn’t a stranger at all but the former head of the whole damn force.

For his part, Gamache scanned the room, meeting eyes that quickly dropped.

But one officer caught his attention. He was hefty though not fat. Solidly built, he sat at his desk, and when the others dropped their gaze, he did not.

Gamache’s eyes moved on, but not before thinking he knew the man. Recognized him from somewhere.

He’d be about thirty. Short, dark hair. Built like a truck. Six feet tall, maybe six-one, Gamache guessed, though it was hard to tell with him sitting down.

Where had he met this officer? The academy? Had he taught him? Had he presented him with a medal? Service? Bravery? Distinction?

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