A Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #15)

But Gamache wasn’t fooled. He’d seen the man play. Had watched, cheered, as the Alouettes won the Grey Cup on that snowy day. Had seen how ferociously, certainly gleefully, this man had plowed into oncoming defensive tackles. Protecting his quarterback with all his might. And he was certainly mighty, even now.

Though something perplexed Gamache. That scarring. Football players wore helmets with grilles to protect their faces. While they could get concussions and twisted arms and legs, it would be almost impossible to get injuries like that to his face.

Those came, Gamache knew, from other types of blows.

“When was the first time she called for help?”

“Last summer sometime. I answered the call.”

“You obviously remember it,” said Gamache. He saw Cameron flush and tucked that away.

“And she called you more than once?” said Cloutier.

“Not me, 911. But yes, mostly when welfare checks came out.”

“They’re unemployed?” asked Gamache.

“Yeah, but Tracey does pottery.”

“Pottery?” said Gamache, far from sure he’d heard right. “Like clay?”

“Yes. He makes things that people can’t use. Useless. Like the man.”

Carl Tracey was an artist, thought Gamache. But then, why not? Having known many artists in his life, especially through Clara, he’d grown to realize they were often not the most stable, or house-trained, individuals.

“When was the last time you were called to the home?” Gamache asked.

“Two weeks ago. Again she refused help.”

“Why would she call, then refuse help?” asked Cloutier. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“She just wanted the beating to stop,” said Cameron. “But she didn’t want him arrested. I think she knew he’d be out in hours and then things would get really bad.”

Gamache nodded. It was the terrible flaw in the system. It appeared to help the abused while actually just piling on more abuse. Worse abuse.

“There was nothing more we could do, really,” said Cameron.

“Really?”

“Sir?” asked Cameron.

“You said there was nothing you could do … really.” Gamache let that sit for a moment. “But was there something you did do?”

Cameron hesitated before finally answering. “I took Carl aside when I saw him in town last week. I warned him.”

“What did you say?” asked Gamache.

“I told him I knew what he was doing to his wife and if there was one more complaint, I’d beat the shit out of him.”

“You did what?” asked Gamache while beside him Cloutier muttered, “Good.”

Gamache stood up and faced the mammoth man.

The small room grew even smaller. Suffocating.

“That was the wrong thing to do,” said Commander Flaubert, recognizing that something needed to be said, though her tone was without real reproach.

“Why was it wrong?” asked Cameron, addressing Gamache. “He needed to know.”

“Know what?” asked Gamache. “That cops with an ID card and a gun will be judge and jury and carry out the sentence? Did you want him to know that punishing one beating with another is the way we do things in the S?reté? Did you want to cede all moral high ground?”

Gamache spoke clearly. And slowly. Choosing his words carefully and swallowing the ones that were screaming to get out. Though his outrage was evident. In his extreme stillness. And in each tightly. Controlled. Word.

“Threats of violence will not be tolerated. You’re an officer in the S?reté du Québec, not a thug. You set the tone, the atmosphere. You act as a role model, either consciously or unconsciously.”

“My concern was for a vulnerable woman, a pregnant woman and her unborn child. Not for the entire population of Québec.”

“The two are the same. No citizen is safe in a state where police feel free to beat those they don’t like. Who take the law into their own hands.”

“And you didn’t?” asked Cameron.

“Agent Cameron!” snapped Commander Flaubert.

It was too late. The words were out, the line had been crossed.

Cloutier’s mouth dropped open, but she said nothing. Just stared at the two men, staring at each other.

“I did,” said Gamache. “And paid the price. Knew I would. Knew I should. You seem to think you’re perfectly within your rights to threaten assault. To maybe even do it. Without censure.”

Cameron couldn’t deny that.

“At what stage did you think a threat of violence was appropriate?”

“At the stage, sir, when I realized the law could not protect Vivienne Godin.”

“So you would? By piling violence on violence?”

“If you’d seen her—”

“I’ve seen worse.”

The truth of that, the horror of that, pressed up against them in the tiny room.

“I’m not saying what was happening to Vivienne Godin was all right,” Gamache went on. More gently. “Of course it wasn’t. Of course it’s tempting to do something, anything, to stop it. It’s horrific when, as people sworn to protect, we cannot. When someone we know to be guilty is beyond our reach. When they can keep doing it and we can’t stop it. But it’s even worse if the cops become criminals, too. Do you understand?”

“Yessir.”

“Do you really?” asked Gamache.

There was a pause as Agent Cameron considered, then finally nodded.

“There’s one other thing,” said Gamache, his voice now back to normal. “Did you consider what a threat like that would do to a man like Carl Tracey? Did you really think it would stop him from abusing his wife? Or would it, could it, enrage him even more? And who would he take it out on? You—or her?”

There was silence as Cameron considered a question he hadn’t thought of before.

“Consequences,” said Gamache. “We must always consider the consequences of our actions. Or inaction. It won’t necessarily change what we do, but we need to be aware of the effect. That’s the contract we have with the people of Québec. That those who have an ID card and a gun also have self-control.”

“Yessir.”

“Bon.”

He at least now understood why Cameron hadn’t gone to the farmhouse himself yesterday.

Gamache sat down again. “Go on, Agent Cloutier.”

The room, still tingling, settled back to near normal.

“Do you know if Vivienne has any friends we can contact?” Cloutier asked. “Anyone she might be with?”

Cameron shook his head. “Tracey didn’t provide any names, and no one’s come forward or shown concern.”

They were getting a picture of Vivienne Godin’s life, and what they saw was not good.

A woman isolated in a remote farmhouse. It was, they knew, one of the warning signs of extreme abuse. Control.

“Any gossip?” Cloutier asked.

“You mean an affair?” asked Cameron. “Again, if there was, I never heard it.”

“And Tracey, does he have any friends?”

“Drinking buddies,” said Cameron. “But even they seem to have disappeared. Last time I saw him in town, he was drinking alone at the joint on the edge of town.”

“Name?” asked Cloutier. She was getting the hang of this.

“Le Lapin Grossier.”

“The Dirty Rabbit?” she asked as he wrote.

“More like filthy,” said Cameron.

“The Obscene Rabbit,” said Flaubert. “It’s a strip joint.”

The interview was winding down.

“Thank you for your help,” said Gamache as he stood and took his coat off the back of the chair.

“What’re you going to do now, if you don’t mind my asking?” said Cameron.

“We’re going to visit Monsieur Tracey,” said Gamache.

“Would you like me there?”

Gamache paused. He’d been about to decline, given Cameron’s last encounter with Carl Tracey, but now wondered if it mightn’t work in their favor. While Cameron’s threat to beat Tracey was wrong, it was done. Gamache, the realist, knew that showing up with this agent might just shake some truth loose.

“If you don’t mind,” he asked the commander, who nodded, “that would be helpful. You can show us the way.”

“I’ll get my coat,” said Cameron.

After he left, the commander said, “I’m sorry he threatened Tracey. I didn’t know about that.”

“Are you? Sorry?”

Commander Flaubert reddened. “I understand why he did it.”

Gamache thought for a moment, looking at the closed door through which the large man had disappeared.

“The scars on his face?” he said. “Not from football.”

“Non. Those are thanks to his father.”

Gamache took a deep breath and shook his head. Had Bob Cameron turned that hurt, that pain, that betrayal, into something useful? Into sport? And now into protecting others?

Or had he learned something else from his father?

That day in the bitterly cold stands in Montréal again came to mind. Wrapped in blankets with Reine-Marie and their son, Daniel, watching the Grey Cup final. Hearing the crashes and grunts and shouts from the field.

The brutality. As the massive left tackle found his quarry. And decked him. Standing over the body and opening his arms in a primal display of domination.

To wild applause. To approval.

Was he still doing it, only now in a S?reté uniform?



* * *



Once in the car, following Agent Cameron’s vehicle, Gamache asked Agent Cloutier, “What do you think of him?”

“Cameron? I don’t know.”

“Think about it.”

She thought. “He called her Madame Godin, but when he got angry, he called her Vivienne.”

“Oui. When you spoke with him this morning, did you mention she was pregnant?”

Cloutier went back over the conversation. “No.”

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