Authors: Louise Penny
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It strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.
Armand Gamache sat in the little room and closed the dossier with care, squeezing it shut, trapping the words inside.
It was a thin file. Just a few pages. Like all the rest surrounding him on the old wooden floor of his study. And yet, not like all the rest.
He looked at the slender lives lying at his feet. Waiting for his decision on their fate.
He'd been at this for a while now. Reviewing the dossiers. Taking note of the tiny dots on the upper-right corner of the tabs. Red for rejected. Green for accepted.
He had not put those dots there. His predecessor had.
Armand placed the file on the floor and leaned forward in his comfortable armchair, his elbows on his knees. His large hands together, fingers intertwined. He felt like a passenger on a transcontinental flight, staring down at fields below him. Some fertile, some fallow and ripe with potential. And some barren. The topsoil masking the rock beneath.
But which was which?
He'd read, and considered, and tried to drill down past the scant information. He wondered about these lives, and he wondered about the decisions of his predecessor.
For years, decades, as head of homicide for the SÃ»retÃ© du QuÃ©bec, his job had been to dig. To collect evidence. To review facts, and question feelings. To pursue and arrest. To use his judgment, but never to judge.
But now he was judge and jury. The first and final word.
And Armand Gamache realized, without great surprise, that it was a role he was comfortable with. Even liked. The power, yes. He was honest enough to admit that. But mostly he appreciated that he was now in a position not simply to react to the present, but to actually shape the future.
And at his feet was the future.
Gamache leaned back and crossed his legs. It was past midnight, but he wasn't tired. A cup of tea sat on his desk beside a couple of chocolate chip cookies. Uneaten.
The curtains of his study fluttered and he could feel a cold draft coming in through the slightly open window. And he knew if he drew back the curtains and turned on the porch light, he would see the first snow of the season swirling in the light. Falling softly and landing on the roofs of the homes in this tiny village of Three Pines.
It would cover the perennial gardens and leave a thin layer on cars and porches, on the bench in the middle of the village green. It would be landing, softly, on the forests and mountains and the RiviÃ¨re Bella Bella that flowed past the homes.
It was the beginning of November and this was an early snow even by QuÃ©bec standards. A tease, a portent. And not enough, yet, for children to play in.
But soon, he knew. It would come soon enough. And the gray November would be transformed into a bright, sparkling wonderland of skiing and skating. Of snowball fights, and snow forts and snowmen, and angels made in snow that had fallen from the heavens.
But for now the children slept and their parents slept. Everyone in the small QuÃ©bec village slept, while the snow fell and Armand Gamache considered the young lives that lay at his feet.
Through the open door of his study, he saw the living room of the home he shared with his wife, Reine-Marie.
Oriental rugs were scattered about the wide-plank flooring. A large sofa sat on one side of the large stone hearth and two faded armchairs on the other. Side tables were piled with magazines and books. Bookcases lined the walls and lamps filled the room with pleasant light.
It was an inviting room and now Gamache stood up, stretched, and walked out into it, their shepherd Henri following him. He poked the fire and sat in one of the armchairs. His work wasn't done yet. Now he needed to think.
He'd made up his mind about most of the files. Except that one.
When he'd first seen it, he'd read the contents then set it aside, in the rejected pile. Agreeing with the red dot of his predecessor.
But something had niggled at him and he kept returning to that one file. Reading and rereading it. Trying to work out why this one dossier, this one young woman out of all of them, was troubling him.
Gamache had brought the file with him, and now he opened it. Again.
Her face stared at him. Arrogant, challenging. Pale. Her hair jet black, shaved in places, spiked in others. There were unmistakable piercings through her nose and brows and cheek.
She claimed to read ancient Greek and Latin, and yet she'd barely scraped by in high school and had spent the past few years doing, from what he could tell, nothing.
She'd earned the red dot.
So why did he keep going back to it? To her? It wasn't her appearance. He knew enough to look beyond that.
Was it her name? Amelia?
Yes, he thought, that might be it. She shared the name with Gamache's mother, who'd been named for the aviator who'd lost her way and disappeared.
And yet, when he held the file he didn't feel any warmth. In fact, he felt vaguely revolted.
Finally Gamache took off his reading glasses and rubbed his eyes before taking Henri outside for a last walk of the night, in the first snow of the season.
Then it was upstairs to bed for both of them.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
The next morning Reine-Marie invited her husband to breakfast at the bistro. Henri came along and lay quietly under their table as they sipped bowls of
cafÃ© au lait
and waited for their maple-cured bacon with scrambled eggs and Brie.
The fireplaces on either end of the long beamed room were lit and cheerful, conversation mingled with the scent of wood smoke, and there was the familiar thudding of patrons knocking snow from their boots as they entered.
The flurries had stopped in the night, leaving just a thin layer barely covering the dead autumn leaves. It seemed a netherworld. Neither fall nor winter. The hills that surrounded the village and seemed to guard it from an often hostile world themselves looked hostile. Or, if not actually hostile, at least inhospitable. It was a forest of skeletons. Their branches, gray and bare, were raised as though begging for a mercy they knew would not be granted.
But on the village green itself stood the three tall pines from which the village took its name. Vibrant, straight and strong. Evergreen. Immortal. Pointing to the sky. Daring it to do its worst. Which it planned to do.
The worst was coming. But so was the best. The snow angels were coming.
” said Olivier, placing a basket of warm almandine croissants on their table. “While you wait for breakfast.”
A price tag hung from the basket. And from the chandelier above their heads. And the wing chairs they sat on. Everything in Olivier's bistro was for sale. Including, he'd intimated more than once, his partner, Gabri.
“A bag of candy and he's yours,” Olivier was heard to offer patrons when Gabri turned up in his frilly apron.
“That is how he got me,” Gabri would admit, smoothing the apron he only wore, they all knew, to piss off Olivier. “A bag of allsorts.”
When they were alone, Armand slid a file across the table to his wife.
“Could you read this, please?”
“Of course,” she said as she put on her glasses. “Is there a problem?”
“No, I don't think so.”
“Then whyâ¦?” She gestured toward the folder.
He'd often discussed cases with her, before his early retirement from the SÃ»retÃ©. He was not yet sixty and this was more of a retreat, really. To this village, to recover from what lay beyond the ridge of mountains.
He watched her over the rim of his strong, fragrant coffee, holding the warm bowl between his hands. They no longer trembled, Reine-Marie noted. Or at least not often. She always looked, in case.
And the deep scar near his temple wasn't quite so deep. Or perhaps familiarity and relief had filled it in.
He limped still, sometimes, when he was tired. But besides that, and the scar, there were no outward signs of what had happened. Though she did not need any signs. It was the sort of thing she would never forget.
Almost losing him.
But instead, they'd found themselves here. In the village that managed to be welcoming even on the dullest day.
Reine-Marie had known, even as they'd bought the home and unpacked, that the time would come when he'd want and need to go back to work. The only question had been, what next? What would Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, the head of the most successful homicide department in the country, choose to do?
He'd had plenty of offers. Their study was filled with envelopes marked “Confidential.” He'd taken plenty of meetings. From heads of major corporations, to political parties anxious for him to run for office, to police organizations, national and international. Discreet vehicles had pulled up outside their white clapboard home and discreetly dressed men and women had knocked on the door. And sat in their living room, discussing “what next.”
Armand had listened politely, often offering them lunch or dinner or a place to stay if it was late. But never tipping his hand.
Reine-Marie herself had found her dream job, after leaving her post at the BibliothÃ¨que et Archives nationales du QuÃ©bec as one of the head librarians. She'd volunteered to sort years of donations to the regional historical society.
It was a post her former colleagues no doubt viewed as a significant step down. But Reine-Marie wasn't interested in steps. She'd arrived at where she wanted to be. No more steps. She'd stopped. Reine-Marie had found a home in Three Pines. She'd found a home in Armand. And now she'd found her intellectual home, investigating the rich and disorganized collection of documents and furniture and clothing and oddities left to the region in wills.
For Reine-Marie Gamache, each day felt like Christmas, as she sorted through the boxes and boxes. And boxes.
And then, after much discussion between them, Armand had decided on his next step.
For weeks after, while she pored over piles of letters and old documents, he pored over his files, studying confidential reports, schematics, curricula vitae. Across from each other in their comfortable living room, they'd gone through their separate boxes, while the fire mumbled and the coffee perked and late autumn turned into an early winter.