“One of Peter’s paintings has this checkerboard pattern,” said Gamache. “We thought he was just fooling around with an old art school exercise. But he wasn’t.”
“He was painting what he saw,” said Reine-Marie.
“But what is it?” Jean-Guy asked.
“And where is it?” Gamache added. “May I?”
Reine-Marie stood up and Armand sat in front of the computer. He tapped out an email to Constable Stuart, asking for more specifics.
“May I?” Jean-Guy replaced Gamache in front of the computer and brought up a search engine. He put in key words. Dumfries. Checkerboard.
But nothing useful appeared.
“Try Dumfries, Scotland, checkerboard,” Gamache suggested.
“May I?” Reine-Marie replaced Beauvoir and added one word to his search. Then hit enter.
And up flashed the answer as though it had been waiting for the magic word.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” whispered Reine-Marie.
* * *
“The Garden of Cosmic Speculation?” Clara asked. “Are you kidding me?”
But their faces told her this was probably not a joke.
Her phone had rung ten minutes earlier and she’d bolted upright, answering on the first ring and looking at the clock. Not yet 6 a.m.
It was Armand. They wanted to come over.
Now four people in dressing gowns, and a dog, stood in Clara’s kitchen. Jean-Guy placed the laptop on the pine table next to Peter’s early paintings.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” said Clara.
She looked at Peter’s paintings. Then back to the laptop.
Then back to the paintings. One in particular.
“That’s not an exercise in perspective,” she said, staring at the black and white checkerboard pattern that snaked across Peter’s painting. “It’s this.”
She turned back to the photograph, where a black and white pattern wound in and out of the mist. Like a cobra.
“Whoever took this must’ve been almost exactly where Peter stood when he did the painting,” she said. She spoke as though to herself.
Clara felt her heart race, pound. Not in excitement—this was no happy dance in her breast.
There was something eerie about the photograph. It showed a world where anything could come out of the mist. Where anything might crawl out of that rent in the ground, formed by the black and white pattern.
That feeling now transmitted itself to Peter’s painting. While the photo showed a gray world, Peter’s normal world, his actual painting was a wild confusion of color.
But both images had one thing in common. They coalesced around the simple, clear checkerboard snake. In the garden.
She felt her skin crawl and tingle as the blood crept away from the surface. Away from the painting and the photograph. To hide in her core.
“Here,” she said, pointing to the painting. “This is where it happened.”
“What happened?” asked Reine-Marie.
“Where Peter started to change. I was wondering why he didn’t save any of his other works. He probably did some in Paris, he probably did some in Florence and Venice. But he didn’t save them, didn’t give them to Bean to keep safe. Why not?”
“I was wondering the same thing,” said Armand. “Why didn’t he?”
“Because they weren’t worth saving?” Jean-Guy suggested, and was rewarded with a beam from Clara.
“Exactly. Exactly. But he saved these. He must’ve heard about this garden in his travels and decided to go there—”
“But why?” asked Beauvoir.
“I don’t know. Maybe because it’s so strange. Venice and Florence and Paris are beautiful, but conventional. Every artist goes there for inspiration. Peter wanted something different.”
“Well, he found it,” said Jean-Guy, looking at the paintings.
They were still merde. It was as though Peter had fallen into a pile of shit. Then painted it.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Clara. “But something in that garden changed Peter. Or began the change.”
“Like a ship,” said Gamache. “Changing course. It might take a while to get to port, but at least it was going in the right direction.”
Peter was no longer lost. He’d finally found his North Star, thought Gamache.
If so, why had he then flown to Toronto? Was it to deliver the paintings to Bean? But they could have been mailed, like the others.