About the Author:
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
LOUISE PENNY is the #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail bestselling author of ten Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels. She has won numerous awards, including a CWA Dagger and the Agatha Award (five times) and was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. She lives in a small village south of Montréal.
Up the stairs they raced, taking them two at a time, trying to be as quiet as possible. Gamache struggled to keep his breathing steady, as though he was sitting at home, as though he had not a care in the world.
“Sir?” came the young voice over Gamache’s headphones.
“You must believe me, son. Nothing bad will happen to you.”
He hoped the young agent couldn’t hear the strain in his voice, the flattening as the Chief Inspector fought to keep his voice authoritative, certain.
“I believe you.”
They reached the landing. Inspector Beauvoir stopped, staring at his Chief. Gamache looked at his watch.
In his headphones the agent was telling him about the sunshine and how good it felt on his face.
The rest of the team made the landing, tactical vests in place, automatic weapons drawn, eyes sharp. Trained on the Chief. Beside him Inspector Beauvoir was also waiting for a decision. Which way? They were close. Within feet of their quarry.
Gamache stared down one dark, dingy corridor in the abandoned factory then down the other.
They looked identical. Light scraped through the broken, grubby windows lining the halls and with it came the December day.
He pointed decisively to the left and they ran, silently, toward the door at the end. As he ran Gamache gripped his rifle and spoke calmly into the headset.
“There’s no need to worry.”
“There’s forty seconds left, sir.” Each word was exhaled as though the man on the other end was having difficulty breathing.
“Just listen to me,” said Gamache, thrusting his hand toward a door. The team surged ahead.
“I won’t let anything happen to you,” said Gamache, his voice convincing, commanding, daring the young agent to contradict. “You’ll be having dinner with your family tonight.”
The tactical team surrounded the closed door with its frosted, filthy window. Darkened.
Gamache paused, staring at it, his hand hanging in the air ready to give the signal to break it down. To rescue his agent.
Beside him Beauvoir strained, waiting to be loosed.
Too late, Chief Inspector Gamache realized he’d made a mistake.
“Give it time, Armand.”
“Avec le temps?” Gamache returned the older man’s smile and made a fist of his right hand. To stop the trembling. A tremble so slight he was certain the waitress in the Quebec City café hadn’t noticed. The two students across the way tapping on their laptops wouldn’t notice. No one would notice.
Except someone very close to him.
He looked at Émile Comeau, crumbling a flaky croissant with sure hands. He was nearing eighty now, Gamache’s mentor and former chief. His hair was white and groomed, his eyes through his glasses a sharp blue. He was slender and energetic, even now. Though with each visit Armand Gamache noticed a slight softening about the face, a slight slowing of the movements.
Avec le temps.
Widowed five years, Émile Comeau knew the power, and length, of time.
Gamache’s own wife, Reine-Marie, had left at dawn that morning after spending a week with them at Émile’s stone home within the old walled city of Québec. They’d had quiet dinners together in front of the fire, they’d walked the narrow snow-covered streets. Talked. Were silent. Read the papers, discussed events. The three of them. Four, if you counted their German shepherd, Henri.
And most days Gamache had gone off on his own to a local library, to read.
Émile and Reine-Marie had given him that, recognizing that right now he needed society but he also needed solitude.
And then it was time for her to leave. After saying good-bye to Émile she turned to her husband. Tall, solid, a man who preferred good books and long walks to any other activity, he looked more like a distinguished professor in his mid-fifties than the head of the most prestigious hom icide unit in Canada. The Sûreté du Québec. He walked her to her car, scraping the morning ice from the windshield.
“You don’t have to go, you know,” he said, smiling down at her as they stood in the brittle, new day. Henri sat in a snow bank nearby and watched.
“I know. But you and Émile need time together. I could see how you were looking at each other.”
“The longing?” laughed the Chief Inspector. “I’d hoped we’d been more discreet.”
“A wife always knows.” She smiled, looking into his deep brown eyes. He wore a hat, but still she could see his graying hair, and the slight curl where it came out from under the fabric. And his beard. She’d slowly become used to the beard. For years he’d had a moustache, but just lately, since it happened, he’d grown the trim beard.
She paused. Should she say it? It was never far from her mind now, from her mouth. The words she knew were useless, if any words could be described as that. Certainly she knew they could not make the thing happen. If they could she would surround him with them, encase him with her words.
“Come home when you can,” she said instead, her voice light.
He kissed her. “I will. In a few days, a week at the most. Call me when you get there.”
“D’accord.” She got into the car.
“Je t’aime,” he said, putting his gloved hand into the window to touch her shoulder.
Watch out, her mind screamed. Be safe. Come home with me. Be careful, be careful, be careful.
She put her own gloved hand over his. “Je t’aime.”
And then she was gone, back to Montreal, glancing in the rear-view mirror to see him standing on the deserted early morning street, Henri naturally at his side. Both watching her, until she disappeared.
The Chief Inspector continued to stare even after she’d turned the corner. Then he picked up a shovel and slowly cleared the night’s fluffy snowfall from the front steps. Resting for a moment, his arms crossed over the handle of the shovel, he marveled at the beauty as the first light hit the new snow. It looked more pale blue than white, and here and there it sparkled like tiny prisms where the flakes had drifted and collected, then caught, remade, and returned the light. Like something alive and giddy.
Life in the old walled city was like that. Both gentle and dynamic, ancient and vibrant.
Picking up a handful of snow, the Chief Inspector mashed it into a ball in his fist. Henri immediately stood, his tail going so hard his entire rear swayed. His eyes burning into the ball.
Gamache tossed it into the air and the dog leapt, his mouth closing over the snowball, and chomping down. Landing on all fours Henri was once again surprised that the thing that had been so solid had suddenly disappeared.
Gone, so quickly.
But next time would be different.
Gamache chuckled. He might be right.
Just then Émile stepped out from his doorway, bundled in an immense winter coat against the biting February cold.
“Ready?” The elderly man clamped a toque onto his head, pulling it down so that it covered his ears and forehead, and put on thick mitts, like boxing gloves.
“For what? A siege?”
“For breakfast, mon vieux. Come along, before someone gets the last croissant.”
He knew how to motivate his former subordinate. Hardly pausing for Gamache to replace the shovel, Émile headed off up the snowy street. Around them the other residents of Quebec City were waking up. Coming out into the tender morning light to shovel, to scrape the snow from their cars, to walk to the boulangerie for their morning baguette and café.
The two men and Henri set out along rue St-Jean, past the restaurants and tourist shops, to a tiny side street called rue Couillard, and there they found Chez Temporel.
They’d been coming to this café for fifteen years, ever since Superintendent Émile Comeau had retired to old Quebec City, and Gamache had come to visit, to spend time with his mentor, and to help with the little chores that piled up. Shoveling, stacking wood for the fire-place, sealing windows against drafts. But this visit was different. Like no other in all the winters Chief Inspector Gamache had been coming to Quebec City.
This time it was Gamache who needed help.
“So,” Émile leaned back, cupping his bowl of café au lait in slender hands. “How’s the research going?”
“I can’t yet find any references to Captain Cook actually meeting Bougainville before the Battle of Québec, but it was 250 years ago. Records are scattered and weren’t well kept. But I know they’re in there,” said Gamache. “It’s an amazing library, Émile. The volumes go back centuries.”
Comeau watched his companion talk about sifting through arcane books in a local library and the tidbits he was unearthing about a battle long ago fought, and lost. At least, from his point of view lost. Was there a spark in those beloved eyes at last? Those eyes he’d stared into so often at the scenes of dreadful crimes as they’d hunted murderers. As they’d raced through woods and villages and fields, through clues and evidence and suspicions. Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears, Émile remembered the quote as he remembered those days. Yes, he thought, that described it. Chasmed fears. Both their own, and the murderers. Across tables across the province he and Gamache had sat. Just like this.
But now it was time to rest from murder. No more killing, no more deaths. Armand had seen too much of that lately. No, better to bury himself in history, in lives long past. An intellectual pursuit, nothing more.
Beside them Henri stirred and Gamache instinctively lowered his hand to stroke the shepherd’s head and reassure him. A...
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