The slashes of vivid color had become a wide and turbulent river. The bold red lips had become waves. What had appeared to be trees now became cliff faces.
The three of them stood in front of what Peter had really created. The smiles weren’t smiles at all. There was nothing giddy, nothing joyous about this picture. Peter had painted a vast and endless river of sorrow.
“I know this place,” said Gamache.
“Armand.” Reine-Marie appeared in Clara’s kitchen with a sheet of paper. “Constable Stuart wrote back.”
She looked perplexed and handed him the email she’d printed out.
He took it and in turn pointed her to the wall of paintings. She walked over as he read, his brows drawing together as he got further and further into the message.
He handed the paper to Clara and joined Reine-Marie at the wall of paintings.
“All right?” he asked, noticing her pale face.
“Oui. Peter finally figures out how to paint emotions, and he paints this.” She paused. “Poor one.”
“Come with me,” he said.
They left the sad painting on the wall and returned to the Garden of Cosmic Speculation on the pine table.
Clara finished reading and passed the page on to Myrna.
“You don’t believe it, do you?” asked Reine-Marie, looking from Clara to Armand and nodding toward the letter now in Myrna’s hands.
“One impossible thing before breakfast?” Armand asked.
He placed his hand, splayed, in the center of one of the paintings on the table. And turned it.
Only then did they see what Peter had done.
He hadn’t created something with these paintings. He’d captured something. A moment in a garden at dusk.
What had looked like a circle of stones in the painting when it was the other way around was indeed a circle of stones. Tall, solid, gray.
But now they saw something else. Long, strong slashes of color off the top of the stones.
“Peter would never have believed such a thing,” said Clara. But in her heart she knew she had to stop saying that. If they had a hope of finding out what had happened to him, she had to accept that the man she’d known was indeed gone.
Down the rabbit hole. Where impossible things happened.
Where hares turned to rune stones.
Where giddy smiles turned into vast sorrow. And back again. Depending on your perspective.
When she’d started the search there’d been an element of guilt. Of responsibility. She’d wanted to find him, she wanted him to be safe. But she hadn’t been sure she wanted him back.
But the more they discovered about Peter now, the more desperate she was to meet this man. To get to know him. And have him meet her, for the first time.
Clara realized she was falling in love. She’d always loved Peter, but this was something else. Some deeper vein.
“It doesn’t matter what we believe,” said Myrna, joining them to stare at the picture. “What matters is what Peter believed he saw.”
They looked from the table over to the paintings on the wall.
One was now quite clear. The waves of red lips. Frowning. Moaning. Sighing.
They’d turned the other two paintings around as well, but those had yet to give up their secrets.
“Should we go to Dumfries?” Clara asked. “See for ourselves? Talk to this Alphonse?”
“Non,” said Armand. “Whatever happened there is in the past. Both Peter and time have moved on. We’re going there.”
He pointed to the river of sighs.
To a place Gamache knew well. It was in Québec but not of Québec. This area was unique in the world, having been created hundreds of millions of years earlier, by a catastrophe. A cosmic catastrophe.
* * *
Gamache, Jean-Guy, and Reine-Marie stood at the large map of Québec tacked up on their sitting room wall.
How often, Beauvoir wondered, had they stood in front of this very map when it had been in the Gamaches’ Montréal home, plotting the best way to get to a crime scene? A body. A murder.
He hoped that wasn’t what they’d find at the end of this journey too.
But the silence from Peter was ominous, and the sooner they could get there the better. And at least now they knew where “there” was.
The Chief’s finger traced a line from Three Pines, near the Vermont border, up to Autoroute 20. Along to Quebec City, then over the bridge, skirting the city, and up again.
Up, up along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. Traveling northeast.
To their destination in the Charlevoix region.