The Beautiful Mystery

Page 20

The Chief Inspector glanced around. He’d expected the infirmary to be old, ancient even. He’d privately prepared himself to see something out of the Dark Ages. Operating tables made of stone slabs, with open gutters for the fluids. Wooden shelves with dried and powdered herbs from the garden. Hacksaws for surgery.

Instead, this room was brand-spanking-new, with shining equipment, orderly cabinets filled with gauze and bandages, pills and tongue depressors.

“The coroner will do the autopsy,” said Gamache to the doctor. “We don’t want you doing any medical procedures on the prior. All I need is for his clothes to be removed so we can properly search them. And I need to see his body.”


“In case there are other wounds or marks. Anything else we should see. The faster we can collect the facts the sooner we can get at the truth.”

“But there’s a difference between fact and truth, Chief Inspector,” said the abbot.

“And one day you and I can sit in that lovely garden of yours and discuss it,” said Gamache. “But not now.”

He turned his back on the abbot and nodded to the doctor, who got to work.

The dead man was no longer curled in the fetal position. Though rigor mortis was setting in, they had managed to lay him flat on his back. The prior’s hands, Gamache noted, were still buried up the long black sleeves of his cassock, and wrapped around his midsection, as though gripping in pain.

After untying the cord around the prior’s middle, the doctor pried the dead man’s hands from his sleeves. Both Gamache and Beauvoir leaned forward, to see if they had hold of anything. Was there anything under his nails? Anything in those balled-up fists?

But they were empty. The nails clean and tidy.

The doctor carefully placed Frère Mathieu’s arms at his side. But the left arm slipped off the metal table and dangled. Something dropped from the sleeve and drifted to the floor.

The doctor stooped to pick it up.

“Don’t touch that,” Beauvoir ordered, and the doctor stopped.

Putting on a pair of gloves from the Scene of Crime kit, Beauvoir bent and picked a piece of paper off the stone floor.

“What is it?” The abbot stepped forward. The doctor leaned across the examination table, the body forgotten in favor of what Inspector Beauvoir held.

“I don’t know,” said Beauvoir.

The doctor came around the table and the four men stood in a circle, staring at the page.

It was yellowed and irregular. Not store-bought. Thicker than commercial-grade paper.

On it, in intricate script, were words. The black letters calligraphied. Not ornately, but in a simple style.

“I can’t read it. Is it Latin?” asked Beauvoir.

“I think so.” The abbot leaned forward, squinting.

Gamache put on his half-moon reading glasses and also bent toward the paper. “It looks like a page from an old manuscript,” he finally said, stepping back.

The abbot looked perplexed. “It’s not paper, it’s vellum. Sheepskin. You can tell by the texture.”

“Sheepskin?” asked Beauvoir. “Is that what you use for paper?”

“Not for hundreds of years.” The abbot continued to stare at the page in the Inspector’s hand. “The text doesn’t seem to make sense. It might be Latin, but not from any psalm or Book of Hours or religious text I know. I can only make out two words.”

“What are they?” asked the Chief.

“Here,” the abbot pointed. “That looks like ‘Dies irae.’”

The doctor made a small noise that might have been a guffaw. They looked at him, but he fell completely silent.

“What does that mean?” asked Beauvoir.

“It’s from the Requiem Mass,” said the abbot.

“It means ‘day of wrath,’” said Gamache. “Dies irae,” he quoted, “dies illa. Day of wrath. Day of mourning.”

“That’s right,” said the abbot. “In the Requiem Mass the two are said together. But here, there is no dies illa.”

“What does that tell you, Dom Philippe?” asked the Chief.

The abbot was quiet for a moment, considering. “It tells me this isn’t the Requiem Mass.”

“Does it make any sense to you, Frère Charles?” Gamache asked.

The doctor’s brow was creased in concentration as he stared at the vellum in Beauvoir’s hand. Then he shook his head. “I’m afraid not.”

“Neither of you have seen this before?” Gamache pressed.

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