She clicked the device while the others gathered round.
“You’re not kidding,” said Jean-Guy.
“That’s not me, dickhead,” said Clara, and for the first time Beauvoir saw evidence of Ruth as Clara’s muse.
The madman glared out at them. Disfigured with wrath.
“Poor man.” Myrna was the first to react. She, alone among them, was familiar with madness. If not immune to it.
Her “poor man” reminded Gamache of something Marcel Chartrand had said when looking at Peter’s paintings.
Poor Peter, he’d said.
While Peter’s lip painting hadn’t achieved the horror of this portrait, there was a similarity. Like looking at a younger self. And seeing where it was heading.
“Professor Norman?” Myrna asked, and Gamache nodded.
“A self-portrait,” he said. “Look at the signature.”
“Enlarge it,” he said.
And then they looked at him, confused.
“But it doesn’t say Norman,” said Clara.
And it didn’t. Only in enlarging it was the signature clear.
“I need some fresh air,” said Clara. She looked as though someone had just put a pillowcase over her head. Disoriented, she put down the device, picked it up again, then gave it to Myrna.
She turned full-circle, looking around for the door, and finding it, she left.
The others followed her.
She walked quickly and they had to rush to catch up, until they were strung out behind her like a tail.
Far from slowing down, Clara gathered speed. She sped down the alleyways, down the back streets, the cobbled streets, the side streets, where tourists never ventured. She headed past the faded Québécois homes, chased by that bloated face, until she’d left the town behind.
Until she reached the edge. Until there was no more there there. Only air. And the river beyond.
Only then did she stop.
Jean-Guy was the first to reach her. Then Gamache and Chartrand and finally, huffing and puffing but undeterred, Myrna arrived.
Clara stared ahead, clear-eyed, her chest heaving.
“What does it mean?” She spoke as though the vast river might know. Then she turned and looked at them. “What does it mean?”
“It suggests that Professor Norman and this No Man are the same person,” said Gamache.
“Suggests?” said Clara. “Is there any other interpretation?”
“And if Norman and No Man are the same person?” Clara demanded. “What does that mean?”
“For us?” asked Gamache. “You know what it means.”
“It means Professor Norman came here when he was fired,” said Clara. “He was probably from around here. He came back, but not as Sébastien Norman. He decided to become No Man.”
“But why change his name?” Beauvoir asked.
“Shame, maybe,” said Myrna. “He’d been fired.”
“Or maybe it was the opposite of shame,” said Gamache. “He wasn’t exactly in hiding. You said he started an artist colony.”
Chartrand nodded and looked troubled. “He did, but I don’t think he meant to.”
“What do you mean?”
“He built a place for himself not far from here. In the woods. But then people started joining him. Other artists. Uninvited. It just sort of happened.”
“Peter came here looking for him,” said Clara. “He wanted to find Professor Norman for reasons I can’t begin to understand. But did he find No Man instead?”
“Non,” said Chartrand. “C’est impossible. No Man was long gone by then. His colony collapsed years ago. Long before Peter arrived.”
“Why did Peter come all this way looking for Professor Norman?” Clara asked. “What did he want from him?”
There was no answer to that, and so they remained silent.
“Where is he?” Clara asked. “Where’s Peter?”
“Where’s No Man?” Beauvoir asked.
Gamache hadn’t taken his eyes off Chartrand. “Well?”
“Where’s No Man?”
“I don’t know,” said the gallery owner. “I’ve already told you that.”
“If you don’t know where he is, you at least know where he was,” said Gamache. And Chartrand nodded. And pointed.
Away from the river and into the woods.
* * *