Amid all the brush strokes, all the elements, all the color and nuance in the portrait, it came down to one tiny detail. A single white dot.
In her eyes.
Clara Morrow had painted the moment despair became hope.
François Marois stepped back half a pace and nodded gravely.
“It’s remarkable. Beautiful.” He turned to Gamache then. “Unless, of course, it’s a ruse.”
“What do you mean?” asked Gamache.
“Maybe it isn’t hope at all,” said Marois, “but merely a trick of the light.”
The next morning Clara rose early. Putting on rubber boots and a sweater over her pajamas, she poured herself a coffee and sat in one of the Adirondack chairs in their back garden.
The caterers had cleaned up and there was no evidence of the huge barbeque and dance the night before.
She closed her eyes and could feel the young June sun on her upturned face and could hear birdcalls and the Rivière Bella Bella gurgling past at the end of the garden. Below that was the thrum of bumblebees climbing in and over and around the peonies. Getting lost.
It looked comical, ridiculous. But then so much did, unless you knew.
Clara Morrow held the warm mug in her hands and smelt coffee, and the fresh-mown grass. The lilacs and peonies and young, fragrant roses.
This was the village that had lived beneath the covers when Clara was a child. That was built behind the thin wooden door to her bedroom, where outside her parents argued. Her brothers ignored her. The phone rang, but not for her. Where eyes slid over and past her and through her. To someone else. Someone prettier. More interesting. Where people butted in as though she was invisible, and interrupted her as though she hadn’t just spoken.
But when as a child she closed her eyes and pulled the sheets over her head, Clara saw the pretty little village in the valley. With the forests and flowers and kindly people.
Where bumbling was a virtue.
As far back as she could remember Clara wanted only one thing, even more than she’d wanted the solo show. It wasn’t riches, it wasn’t power, it wasn’t even love.
Clara Morrow wanted to belong. And now, at almost fifty, she did.
Was the show a mistake? In accepting it had she separated herself from the rest?
As she sat, scenes from the night before came to mind. Her friends, other artists, Olivier catching her eye and nodding reassuringly. The excitement at meeting André Castonguay and others. The curator’s happy face. The barbeque back in the village. The food and drink and fireworks. The live band and dancing. The laughter.
But now, in the clear light of day, the anxiety had returned. Not the storm it had been at its worst, but a light mist that muted the sunshine.
And Clara knew why.
Peter and Olivier had gone to get the newspapers. To bring back the words she’d waited a lifetime to read. The reviews. The words of the critics.
Brilliant. Visionary. Masterful.
Dull. Derivative. Predictable.
Which would it be?
Clara sat, and sipped, and tried not to care. Tried not to notice the shadows lengthening, creeping toward her as the minutes passed.
A car door slammed and Clara spasmed in her chair, surprised out of her reverie.
“We’re hoo-ome,” Peter sang.
She heard footsteps coming around the side of their cottage. She got up and turned to greet Peter and Olivier. But instead of the two men walking toward her, they were standing still. As though turned into large garden gnomes.
And instead of looking at her, they were staring into a bed of flowers.
“What is it?” Clara asked, walking toward them, picking up speed as their expressions registered. “What’s wrong?”
Peter turned and dropping the papers on the grass he stopped her from going further.
“Call the police,” said Olivier. He inched forward, toward a perennial bed planted with peonies and bleeding hearts and poppies.
And something else.
* * *
Chief Inspector Gamache straightened up and sighed.
There was no doubt. This was murder.
The woman at his feet had a broken neck. Had she been at the foot of a flight of stairs he might have thought it an accident. But she was lying face up beside a flower bed. On the soft grass.
Eyes open. Staring straight into the late morning sun.
Gamache almost expected her to blink.
He looked around the pleasant garden. The familiar garden. How often had he stood back there with Peter and Clara and others, beer in hand, barbeque fired up. Chatting.
But not today.