A Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #15)

Gamache didn’t think so. He’d remember. And yet he knew this man.

There was also the issue of his eyes. Where the other officers in the room seemed curious, this one seemed wary.

The commander waved them to chairs on the other side of her desk and closed the door.

“How can I help you?” Flaubert asked.

Gamache took off his coat and nodded to Agent Cloutier to start.

“Ummm. Well.” She tried to gather herself. “We’re interested in a local woman. Vivienne Godin. We understand she’s missing.”

She placed a photo of Vivienne on the commander’s desk.

Flaubert saw a young woman. Straight brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her eyes were a clear, almost piercing blue. She didn’t look particularly happy, but neither did she look angry or upset. Vivienne Godin looked almost blank.

While she might have been attractive in real life, this picture drained all the life from her, leaving her pretty features dulled.

Commander Flaubert looked up from it, then from one to the other, eyes resting back on Agent Cloutier.

“I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with her. She’s local, you say?”

“Yes. Married to Carl Tracey.”

“Ahh. Tracey I know.” Flaubert went to the door and called another officer over. The one who’d caught Gamache’s attention when they’d arrived.

“This’s Agent Cameron.”

Gamache rose and saw immediately that he’d been wrong. This man wasn’t six feet tall or even six-one. He’d be at least six-three. And formidably built.

His face from a distance was unremarkable.

But that changed once up close. What was remarkable about it was the scarring. There was a permanent cut through his lip and another through his left brow. His left cheekbone was slightly flattened, as was his nose.

Gamache also noticed, though it was admittedly hard to miss, the ring on Cameron’s finger.

That’s where he knew him from.

“Patron,” said Cameron.

Gamache pointed to the ring. “A great game. I was there. Alouettes came from behind. You had some very impressive blocks. One at the end of the third quarter, right? Allowed the quarterback to run for a touchdown.”

“Right.” Cameron smiled as his beefy hand released Gamache’s grip. He remained standing, squeezed into the small room. “That was a long time ago.”

“Not so long. It’s Robert Cameron, n’est-ce pas?”

“Bob. Yes.”

This man had been a tackle with the Montréal Alouettes. Helped them win the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup a few years back.

And now he was with the S?reté.

His brown hair was cut short, and his eyes had a sharp focus. An athlete’s eyes. Always aware of his surroundings. Prepared to act and react.

Also a useful quality in a S?reté agent, thought Gamache. As long as react didn’t become overreact. In a man this size, it could be brutal. Even fatal.

But when Cameron spoke, it was almost in a whisper. His voice was deep, audible, more gentle than soft. Many large men enjoyed lording over, looming over, lesser beings. Intimidating with their height and girth. But Bob Cameron seemed anxious to put people at ease. To try to fit into a world not made for him.

It was both endearing and perplexing. Because Gamache had seen this man play football.

Had seen what Cameron was capable of. What he was good at. What he clearly enjoyed. And that was not just blocking and tackling. It was doing damage, to flesh and bone.

Gamache was pleased to see that off the field, and in a S?reté uniform, Bob Cameron was not a natural brute. In fact, he reminded Gamache of his own son, Daniel. Taller than his father. Heftier. But gentle and thoughtful. Though there was that other side to him.

Gamache knew it was folly to assume Agent Cameron had the same qualities as his son, but still, he found himself warming to the man. While keeping an image in his mind of the left tackle in action. Grabbing hold of opponents. Slamming them to the ground.

“Bob, are you aware of a missing woman?” the commander asked. “Vivienne—”

“Godin,” said Cameron. “Oui. Her father called yesterday, and I spoke to an agent from Montréal this morning.” He turned to Cloutier. “You?”

“Oui.”

“Has something else happened? She’s not—”

He knew that Gamache had been returned to homicide. And like everyone else in the station, in the S?reté, probably in the province, he’d also seen the posts on social media that morning.

But he hadn’t heard that a body had been found, never mind this body.

“No,” said Gamache. “But we thought we’d look around, if it’s all right with you.”

“Fine with me, but like I told her father, we don’t consider her missing.”

“Why not?”

“After his call, agents went to the place. Spoke to Tracey. When told his wife never arrived at her father’s home, he apparently laughed. Said he wasn’t surprised. He said she was probably off with some lover.”

“That’s not—” Cloutier began before Gamache signaled her to be quiet.

“And they believed him?” he asked.

“Not completely, of course. They looked in the house and the outbuildings. There was no sign of her. Her car was gone, and they also didn’t see any sign of violence. They had to leave it at that.”

“You say ‘they,’” said Gamache. “You weren’t with them?”

“No. I had other assignments.”

“I see,” said Gamache. “We hear there were complaints of domestic abuse.”

“Yes. I answered those calls, but Madame Godin would never press charges.”

“You don’t need her to,” Gamache pointed out.

“I know, but she didn’t want us to do anything. Asked us to leave.”

“Madame Godin isn’t at home and isn’t with her father,” said Gamache. “So where do you think she went?”

“Honestly?”

“Yes, please.”

“She was obviously being abused. I tried to help. First time she called, I gave her the number for the local shelter.”

“You think she might be there?” Cloutier asked.

“I called and asked. She isn’t. I think she just took off. She’s holed up in some motel, trying to get as far from Tracey as possible.”

“Then why didn’t she go to her father?” asked Cloutier.

“Maybe she just needed time to herself.”

It seemed a strangely unsatisfactory answer.

Gamache thought for a moment. “Does she have a cell phone?”

“No. There’s no reception up there in the mountains.”

“You don’t seem particularly worried, Agent Cameron,” said Gamache. “An abused woman disappears and you just go about your day?”

“I’m worried,” snapped Cameron, then pulled back. “Désolé.”

Not so slow to anger after all, thought Gamache.

“Yes, I’m worried,” said Cameron. “I know what a piece of work Tracey is. But she’d been gone only a few hours at the time. I was going to give it until noon today, then alert missing persons.”

They looked at the clock. It was ten thirty in the morning.

“Do you mind my asking why you’re here?” he asked. “How did you even hear about this?”

“Her father emailed me this morning,” said Cloutier. “We’re old friends.”

“So this’s unofficial?” asked Cameron.

“Oh, no,” said Gamache. “This’s official. You might be right and she’s safe in a motel. But let’s be certain.” He turned to the commander. “Can you send out an alert, please? And make sure the information gets to all the shelters in the province.”

“Oui, absolument.”

“What did her friends tell you?”

“I didn’t ask,” said Cameron.

“Why not?”

“Because it wasn’t an active investigation,” said Cameron. “Look, if Vivienne needs time away, I for one can’t blame her. I’m not going to track her down for her husband.”

“But it’s not for him,” said Cloutier. “It’s for her father. He was expecting her Saturday night. It’s now Monday. You don’t think she’d have called him by now, if she was safe?”

“Maybe she’s afraid of him, too,” said Cameron. “Maybe they didn’t get along.”

“Then why would she say she was going to him? She must’ve been in trouble. Where else would she turn? Where else would she feel safe?”

Gamache suspected that was true. But he also knew, from experience, people escaping abusive situations often made a fatal, though understandable, error.

They went to where they felt safe. Their families, their best friends.

Obvious places for support. But also obvious places to be found.

Where would the abuser look first, except family and friends?

If Vivienne Godin was leaving her abusive husband, Gamache hoped she’d changed her mind and instead of going to her father, she’d gone to some motel. Or shelter.

“Is that the woman you met?” He pointed to the photo on the desk.

“That’s her,” Cameron said in his gentle voice.

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