As Clara Morrow approached, she wondered if he’d repeat the same small gesture he’d done every morning.
It was so tiny, so insignificant. So easy to ignore. The first time.
But why did Armand Gamache keep doing it?
Clara felt silly for even wondering. How could it matter? But for a man not given to secrets, this gesture had begun to look not simply secretive, but furtive. A benign act that seemed to yearn for a shadow to hide in.
And yet here he was in the full light of the new day, sitting on the bench Gilles Sandon had recently made and placed on the brow of the hill. Stretched out before Gamache were the mountains, rolling from Québec to Vermont, covered in thick forests. The Rivière Bella Bella wound between the mountains, a silver thread in the sunlight.
And, so easy to overlook when faced with such grandeur, the modest little village of Three Pines lay in the valley.
Armand was not hiding from view. But neither was he enjoying it. Instead, each morning the large man sat on the wooden bench, his head bent over a book. Reading.
As she got closer, Clara Morrow saw Gamache do it again. He took off his half-moon reading glasses, then closed the book and slipped it into his pocket. There was a bookmark, but he never moved it. It remained where it was like a stone, marking a place near the end. A place he approached, but never reached.
Armand didn’t snap the book shut. Instead he let it fall, with gravity, closed. With nothing, Clara noticed, to mark his spot. No old receipt, no used plane or train or bus ticket to guide him back to where he’d left the story. It was as though it didn’t really matter. Each morning he began again. Getting closer and closer to the bookmark, but always stopping before he arrived.
And each morning Armand Gamache placed the slim volume into the pocket of his light summer coat before she could see the title.
She’d become slightly obsessed with this book. And his behavior.
She’d even asked him about it, a week or so earlier, when she’d first joined him on the new bench overlooking the old village.
Armand Gamache had smiled as he said it, softening his blunt answer. Almost.
It was a small shove from a man who rarely pushed people away.
No, thought Clara, as she watched him in profile now. It wasn’t that he’d shoved her. Instead, he’d let her be, but had taken a step back himself. Away from her. Away from the question. He’d taken the worn book, and retreated.
The message was clear. And Clara got it. Though that didn’t mean she had to heed it.
* * *
Armand Gamache looked across to the deep green midsummer forest and the mountains that rolled into eternity. Then his eyes dropped to the village in the valley below them, as though held in the palm of an ancient hand. A stigmata in the Québec countryside. Not a wound, but a wonder.
Every morning he went for a walk with his wife, Reine-Marie, and their German shepherd Henri. Tossing the tennis ball ahead of them, they ended up chasing it down themselves when Henri became distracted by a fluttering leaf, or a black fly, or the voices in his head. The dog would race after the ball, then stop and stare into thin air, moving his gigantic satellite ears this way and that. Honing in on some message. Not tense, but quizzical. It was, Gamache recognized, the way most people listened when they heard on the wind the wisps of a particularly beloved piece of music. Or a familiar voice from far away.
Head tilted, a slightly goofy expression on his face, Henri listened, while Armand and Reine-Marie fetched.
All was right with the world, thought Gamache as he sat quietly in the early August sunshine.
Except for Clara, who’d taken to joining him on the bench each morning.
Was it because she’d noticed him alone up here, once Reine-Marie and Henri had left, and thought he might be lonely? Thought he might like company?
But he doubted that. Clara Morrow had become one of their closest friends and she knew him better than that.
No. She was here for her own reasons.
Armand Gamache had grown increasingly curious. He could almost fool himself into believing his curiosity wasn’t garden-variety nosiness but his training kicking in.
All his professional life Chief Inspector Gamache had asked questions and hunted answers. And not just answers, but facts. But, much more elusive and dangerous than facts, what he really looked for were feelings. Because they would lead him to the truth.
And while the truth might set some free, it landed the people Gamache sought in prison. For life.
Armand Gamache considered himself more an explorer than a hunter. The goal was to discover. And what he discovered could still surprise him.