Reine-Marie’s laughter came down the line and he smiled as he turned in her direction. In the background he heard them calling her flight.
“Armand, what do you know about the Muses?”
“The Muses?” He wasn’t sure he heard her over the general boarding announcement. And then there was another, clearer voice.
“Get off the phone, for chrissake.”
“Is that Ruth?”
“She came with me. I think she has a crush on Professor Massey.”
“I know. You should’ve seen her. All giggly and blushing. They even recited part of her poetry together. I just sit where I’m put … That one.”
“Hurry up,” came the snarly voice. “If we get on now we might down a Scotch before the fucking thing takes off.”
“I have to go,” said Reine-Marie. “I’ll tell you more once we’re home. Professor Massey gave me a yearbook. I’ll study it on the flight.”
“Merci,” he called down the line. “Merci.”
But she was gone.
He returned to the office to find the four of them bent over one of the other canvases.
“Anything?” he asked.
“Nothing.” Chartrand shook his head and straightened up as though repulsed by the canvas. “Poor Peter.”
Clara met Gamache’s eye, her fears realized. It felt like Peter’s dirty underwear was spread out on the desk.
“You?” Jean-Guy asked, pointing to the phone still in the Chief’s hand.
“Reine-Marie. She and Ruth are just getting on the flight back to Montréal.”
“Ruth?” asked Clara.
“Yes, she went with Reine-Marie. Seems Professor Massey took a shine to her.”
“He seemed so sane,” said Myrna, shaking her head. “Did he survive?”
“Oh, he survived,” said Gamache. “Ruth even giggled.”
“No ‘numb nuts’?” asked Jean-Guy. “No ‘shithead’? Must be love. Or hate.”
“Did Reine-Marie find out anything?” Clara asked.
“Only that Professor Norman was considered unbalanced. He taught art theory. He’s from Québec. She’s waiting to find out where.”
“I’d forgotten about that,” said Clara. “Had a strange accent, though. Hard to place.”
“Just as their flight was called, she asked if I knew anything about the Muses,” said Gamache. “Does that make sense?”
“The brasserie?” asked Myrna.
“No, I think she meant the actual Greek goddesses.”
Clara snorted. “God, I’d forgotten about that too. Professor Norman was obsessed by the Muses. Peter used to laugh about that.”
“But what’s so funny?” Myrna asked. “Don’t most artists have a muse?”
“Absolutely, but Norman turned it into a sort of mania. A prerequisite.”
“A muse is supposed to inspire an artist, right?” said Jean-Guy.
“Oui,” said Chartrand. “There was Manet’s Victorine and Whistler’s Joanna Hiffernan—” He paused. “How odd.”
“How so?” asked Gamache.
“Both those women inspired works that ended up in the first Salon des Refusés.”
“So much for muses,” said Jean-Guy.
“But there’re lots of other examples,” said Chartrand. “And even those two paintings were eventually considered works of genius.”
“Because of the muses?” asked Jean-Guy. “Don’t you think the artists’ talent might’ve had something to do with it?”
“Absolument,” said Chartrand. “But something magical happens when a great artist meets his or her muse.”
There’s that word again, thought Gamache. Magic.
Clara listened but couldn’t bear to look at Beauvoir as Chartrand tried to explain the inexplicable. Jean-Guy was so like Peter, in so many ways.
Peter hadn’t believed in muses. He believed in technique and discipline. He believed in the color wheel and rules of perspective. He believed in hard work. Not in some mythical, magical being who would make him a better artist. It was absurd.
Clara had secretly hoped that, despite what Peter believed, she was his muse. His inspiration. But she’d had to eventually surrender that thought.
“Who’s your muse?” Jean-Guy asked.
“Mine?” asked Clara.
“Yeah. If a muse is so important, who’s yours?”