He followed Finney down the hall and into a light-filled living room. The furniture was a mix of British antiques and fine Québec pine. The Chief, a great admirer of both the early Québécois and the furniture they made, tried not to stare.
A comfortable sofa was slipcovered in a cheerful but muted pattern, and on the walls he saw works by some of the most prominent Canadian artists. Jean Paul Lemieux, A. Y. Jackson, Clarence Gagnon.
But not a single Peter Morrow. Nor was there a work by Clara.
The Chief walked across the room to the chair by the window and the elderly woman who sat there. Irene Finney. Peter’s mother.
Her silken white hair was done in a loose bun, so that it framed her face. Her eyes were of the clearest blue. Her skin was pink and tender and scored with wrinkles. She wore a loose dress on her plump body and a kindly expression on her face.
“Monsieur Gamache.” Her voice was welcoming. She held up one hand and he took it, bowing slightly over it.
“Fully recovered, I see,” she said. “You’ve gained weight.”
“Good food and exercise,” said Gamache.
“Well, good food anyway,” she said.
Gamache smiled. “We’re living in Three Pines now.”
“Ahh, well, that explains it.”
The Chief stopped himself from asking what it explained. That was the first step into the cave. And he had no desire to enter this woman’s lair any further than he already had.
“What can I get you?” asked Monsieur Finney. “A coffee? A lemonade perhaps?”
“Nothing, thank you. I’m afraid this isn’t a social call. I’ve come…”
He paused. He could hardly say “on business” since this was no longer his business, nor was it really his personal affair. The elderly couple looked at him. Or Madame Finney looked while her husband pointed his nose in Gamache’s direction.
The Chief could see the beginning of concern on Monsieur Finney’s face, so he plunged ahead.
“I’ve come to ask you a couple of questions.”
The relief on Finney’s misshapen face was obvious, while Madame Finney remained placid, polite.
“So there’s no bad news?” Finney asked.
Armand Gamache had become used to this reaction after decades with the Sûreté du Québec. He was the knock on the door at midnight, he was the wobbly old man on the bicycle, the grim-faced doctor. He was a good man with bad news. When the head of homicide came calling, it was almost never a happy occasion. And it seemed this specter had followed him into retirement.
“I’m just wondering if you’ve heard from Peter lately.”
“Why are you asking us?” asked Peter’s mother. “You’re his neighbor.”
The voice remained warm, pleasant. But the eyes sharpened. He could almost hear the scrape against the stone.
Gamache considered what she’d just said. She obviously didn’t know that Peter hadn’t been in Three Pines for more than a year. Nor did they know that Peter and Clara were separated. Neither Clara nor Peter would thank him for spilling their private life all over his family.
“He’s away on a trip, probably painting,” said Gamache. That much might be true. “But he didn’t say where he was going. I just need to get in touch with him.”
“Why don’t you ask Claire?” asked Madame Finney.
“Clara,” her husband corrected. “And she probably went with him.”
“But he didn’t say they went away,” she pointed out. “He said, ‘he.’”
Irene Finney turned her soft face to Gamache. And she smiled.
No fact escaped this woman, and the truth interested her not at all. She’d have made, Gamache thought, a great inquisitor. Except that she wasn’t at all inquisitive. She had no curiosity, simply a sharp mind and an instinct for the soft spot.
And despite Gamache’s care, she’d found it. And now she drilled down.
“He’s finally left her, hasn’t he? Now she wants Peter back and you’re the hound who’s supposed to find him and take him back to that village.”
She made Three Pines sound like a peasant slum and the act of returning Peter a crime against humanity. And she’d called Gamache a dog. Fortunately, Armand Gamache had a great deal of time for hounds, and had been called worse.
He held those gentle eyes and met her smile. He neither flinched nor looked away.
“Does Peter have a favorite place to paint? Or someplace he spoke of when he was growing up that he always wanted to visit?”