The Long Way Home

Page 129

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When the bridge from ship to shore appeared, Clara was the first to take it.

Down, down, down. She led them, until she was standing on the dock. Her friends behind her.

“With your permission,” Gamache said, and Clara could see that something had shifted. He was asking, to be courteous. But that was all.

Clara nodded and Armand Gamache did not hesitate.

He walked briskly to the first person he saw, an elderly man with a large oiled hat, watching the Loup de Mer unload.

“We’re looking for a fellow named Norman,” he said. “He might go by the name No Man.”

The man looked away, out to the open river.

“Get back on the boat. There’s nothing here for you.”

“We need to see No Man,” Gamache repeated, his voice friendly but firm.

“You should leave.”

“Armand?” Myrna asked.

She and Clara were standing a distance away, scanning the harbor and the village for Peter. But there was no one about. No man, no woman, no child. The place felt more abandoned than deserted. As though everyone had fled. One step ahead of a disaster.

Myrna could feel her resolve slipping away. Flowing and flooding away. Pouring through the cracks in her courage. Behind them was the ship. With the croissants and the bathtub and the soft, rhythmic rocking.

It would take them home. To her croissants and her bathtub, and the solid ground of Three Pines.

Gamache and Beauvoir walked over to them.

“Jean-Guy and I need to find Norman. And you need to stay here.”

“But—” Clara was silenced by the slightest movement of his hand, and the determination in his face.

Whether he held the rank of Chief Inspector or not, this man would always lead, and would always be followed. Even if following sometimes meant staying behind.

“We’ve come this far,” said Clara.

“And this is far enough,” said Gamache. His look was so kindly she felt herself calming down.

“I need to find Peter,” she insisted.

“You will,” said Gamache. “But we need to find Norman first. The fisherman says he’s up there.”

Gamache pointed. Toward a rise, a hill. Where there were no dwellings, no buildings at all. It was just rock and scrub.

“There’s a diner.” Beauvoir waved at a weathered clapboard building. “You can wait for us there.”

Clara had forgotten that they’d been here before.

“I should go with you,” said Chartrand.

“You should stay here,” said Gamache. Then he turned to Clara. “You’ve brought us this far. Now you need to wait here. If we find Peter we’ll bring him to you. I promise.”

He gave a brief nod of thanks to the elderly man, who’d turned away and was again staring out at the harbor, and the river beyond.

And in that instant Gamache had the sense the elderly man hadn’t so much been watching for the ship, as waiting.

A mariner on dry land. But always a boatman. Perhaps even a voyageur.

Clara stopped at the door to the diner and watched as Armand and Jean-Guy walked out of town. And on the top of the hill, they paused.

Two figures, a few feet apart, against the morning sky.

Clara tilted her head slightly and narrowed her eyes. Then she felt her heart squeeze. They looked like the ears of a hare. Like in Peter’s painting.

In the diner she unrolled one of his canvases. Marcel Chartrand brought over a plate of lemon meringue pie and put it on one of the corners, to keep it from curling up.

Then Clara sat down and stared into the painting, the closest she could come, for now, to being in Peter’s company.

*   *   *

Ahead of them, in the distance, Gamache and Beauvoir could see the village of Agneau-de-Dieu. And at their backs was Tabaquen.

And in between was a stretch of terrain. Desolate. Empty.

No Man’s land.

Except for one neat little house.

No Man’s home.

As they watched, a figure slowly unfolded from a chair. Lanky, gangly, like a puppet or scarecrow. He stood, framed in the dark rectangle of the door. Then he took a step toward them. Then another.

And then he stopped. Paralyzed.

*   *   *

The man stood up when he saw them on the hill. He stood, and he stared. And then he reached out to grasp the weather-beaten post holding up the porch. He gripped it tight, clinging to it, and to his reason. Knowing what he saw could not possibly be real.

It was a mirage, a jest, a trick. Conjured from exhaustion and shock.

He leaned against the rough post and stared at the men.

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