They crowded around as Clara removed the brown paper. A note, scribbled by Marianna, came loose and drifted to the floor. Jean-Guy scooped it up and read.
“Here’re the paintings. Three on canvas are the most recent. Peter sent them to Bean in May. Don’t know where they were mailed from. The other three are on paper. He gave them to Bean when he visited in the winter. Glad to send them.”
That sounded to Jean-Guy like “Glad to get rid of them.”
“Let’s see,” said Gabri.
He’d just arrived and he and Ruth were elbowing each other for position.
Jean-Guy took one of the canvases and Reine-Marie took another. They unfurled them, but the sides kept curling back up.
“I can’t see,” snapped Ruth. “Hold them open.”
“This is too awkward,” said Myrna.
They looked around the kitchen and finally decided to place the three canvases on the floor, like area rugs.
They smoothed out the canvases, placing a large book at each corner, then stepped back. Rosa waddled toward the pictures.
“Don’t let her step on them,” Clara warned.
“Step on them?” asked Ruth. “You’ll be lucky if she shits on them. Could only improve ’em.”
No one disagreed.
Gamache looked at them. Tilting his head this way and that.
Clara was right. They were a mess. And he realized he hadn’t quite believed they would be.
He’d hoped that the paintings would at least show promise. But he’d actually expected they’d be better than that. Unconventional, yes. Unexpected. Even slightly difficult to fathom. Like a Jackson Pollock. All wild color. Blobs and drips and lines of what looked like spilled paint. Accidents on canvas.
But those coalesced into a form, a feeling.
Gamache leaned slightly to the left. To the right. To the center.
These were just messes.
Sitting on the floor like that, Peter’s paintings literally looked like a dog’s breakfast. If the dog had no sense of taste. And then had thrown up.
Whatever Rosa might drop on the paintings wouldn’t do any damage, thought Gamache.
Clara was across the kitchen and had taken the elastics off the smaller paintings and placed them on the table, anchoring each corner with salt and pepper shakers and mugs.
“So,” she said as the others joined her, “according to Marianna, these are Peter’s earlier works.”
These works were no better. In fact, they were, if such a thing was possible, even worse than what lay on the floor.
“Are we sure Peter did them?” Gamache asked. It was extremely difficult to believe the same artist who’d painted the bland, tasteful, precise works in the studio was responsible for these.
Clara was looking doubtful herself. Leaning in, she examined the lower right corner.
“There’s no signature.” She was gnawing the side of her mouth. “He normally signs his works.”
“Yeah, well, he normally takes six months to do a painting,” said Ruth. “He normally doesn’t show any of his works until they’re perfect. He normally uses shades of cream and gray.”
Clara looked at Ruth in astonishment. Perhaps her head wasn’t quite as far up her ass as Clara had assumed.
“Do you think they’re Peter’s?” she asked Ruth.
“They’re his,” said Ruth decisively. “Not because they look like his but because no one in their right mind would take credit for these if they hadn’t painted them.”
“Why didn’t he sign them?” Jean-Guy asked.
“Would you?” Ruth asked.
They went back to studying the three paintings on the table.
Now and then one of them, as though repelled by these three, broke away and went over to the paintings on the floor.
Then, as though repelled again, they returned to the table.
“Well,” said Gabri, after consideration. “I have to say, they stink.”
The paintings were garish, splashes and clashes of color. Reds and purples, yellows and oranges. Fighting with each other. Dashed on the paper and canvas. It was as though Peter had taken a club to every rule he’d learned. Hacking away at them. Breaking them like a piñata. And out of those shattered certainties paint had poured. Gobs and gobs of brilliant paint. All the colors he’d sniffed at, sneered at, mocked with his clever artist friends. All the colors he’d withheld and Clara had used. They poured out. Like blood. Like guts.
They hit the paper and this was the result.
“What does this say about Peter?” Gamache asked.