The Long Way Home

Page 79

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Young Peter longed to be set free too. And the paintings on the walls of that grim home were his way out. Since he couldn’t actually escape into them, he’d done the next best thing.

He became an artist. Despite his family. Though his family had accomplished one thing. They drained the color and creativity from him, leaving him and his art attractive but predictable. Safe. Bleached.

Gamache stared at the walls of the Galerie Gagnon. At the vivid colors. At the swirls and flowing brush strokes. At the landscapes that were as much internal as external.

Peter had stared at these same walls. And then disappeared.

And for a moment Armand Gamache wondered if Peter had achieved the magic he seemed so desperate to find, and had actually entered one of the paintings.

He leaned closer, examining the man with the lantern. Was it Peter? Plodding toward home?

Then he grinned. Of course not. This was Baie-Saint-Paul, not the Twilight Zone.

“Is this why Peter came to Baie-Saint-Paul?” Gamache indicated the paintings lining the gallery.

Chartrand shook his head. “I think it was a perk, but not the reason.”

“What was the reason?”

“He seemed to be looking for someone.”

“Someone?”

“Someone or something, or both. I don’t know,” said Chartrand.

“Why didn’t you tell us this last night?”

“I hadn’t really thought about it. Peter was an acquaintance, nothing more. Just another artist who came to Charlevoix hoping for inspiration. Hoping that what inspired these”—he gestured toward the Gagnons on the walls—“would also inspire him.”

“That Gagnon’s muse would find him and come out to play again,” said Gamache.

Chartrand considered for a moment. “Do you think he’s dead?”

“I think it’s very difficult for people to just disappear. Much harder than we realize,” said Gamache. “Until we try.”

“Then how’s it done?”

“There’s only one way. We need to stop living in this world.”

“You mean die?”

“Well, that would do it too, but I mean remove yourself from society completely. Go to an island. Go deep into the woods. Live off the land.”

Chartrand looked uncomfortable. “Join a commune?”

“Well, most communes these days are pretty sophisticated.” He studied his host. “What do you mean?”

“When Peter first visited the gallery, he asked after a man named Norman. I had no idea who he meant, but I said I’d ask around.”

“Norman?” Gamache repeated. The name sounded familiar. “What did you find out?”

“Nothing useful.”

“But you did find something?” Gamache pushed.

“There was a guy who’d set up an artist colony in the woods, but his name wasn’t Norman. It was No Man.”

“Noman?”

“No Man.”

They stared at each other. Repeating the same thing, almost.

Finally Chartrand wrote it down and Gamache nodded. He understood, though his puzzlement increased.

No Man?

*   *   *

Clara and Myrna came down a few minutes later, followed by Jean-Guy.

“No Man?” asked Myrna.

They’d left the gallery and were walking down a narrow street toward a local café, for breakfast.

“No Man,” Chartrand confirmed.

“How odd,” said Clara.

Beauvoir didn’t know why she was surprised. Most artists he’d met shot way past odd. Odd for them was conservative. Clara, with her wild food-infested hair and Warrior Uteruses, was one of the more sane artists.

Peter Morrow, with his button-down shirts and calm personality, was almost certainly the craziest of them all.

“Peter wasn’t looking for No Man. He was trying to find a guy named Norman,” said Chartrand.

“And did he?” asked Clara.

“Not that I know of.”

They’d arrived at the small restaurant and sat at a table inside. At Gamache’s request, Chartrand had taken them to the local diner where Peter sometimes ate.

“Oui, I knew him,” said their server when shown the photograph of Peter. “Eggs on brown toast. No bacon. Black coffee.”

She seemed to approve of this spartan breakfast.

“Did he ever eat with other people?” Clara asked.

“No, always alone,” she said. “What do you want?”

Jean-Guy ordered the Voyageur Special. Two eggs and every meat they could find and fry.

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