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Page 18

The thought dismayed him.

“Here’re the pictures you asked for.” Beauvoir handed the Chief Inspector a photograph. Gamache studied them.

“Merci. C’est parfait.” He looked up at the four people watching him. “I’d like you all to look at these photographs of the dead woman.”

“But we’ve already seen her,” said Gabri.

“I wonder if that’s true. When I asked if you’d seen her at the party you all said she’d be hard to miss in her red dress. I thought the same thing. When I tried to remember if I’d seen her at your vernissage yesterday, Clara, what I was really doing was scouring my memory for a woman in bright red. I was focusing on the dress, not the woman.”

“So?” asked Gabri.

“So,” said Gamache. “Suppose the red dress was recent. She might have been at the vernissage, but wearing something more conservative. She might have even been here—”

“And changed into the red dress mid-party?” asked Peter, incredulous. “Why would someone do that?”

“Why would someone kill her?” asked Gamache. “Why would a perfect stranger be at the party? There’re all sorts of questions, and I’m not saying this is the answer, but it is a possibility. That you were all so impressed by the dress you didn’t really concentrate on her face.”

He held up a photograph.

“This is what she looks like.”

He handed it to Clara first. The woman’s eyes were now closed. She looked peaceful, if a little flaccid. Even in sleep there’s some life in a face. This was an empty face. Blank. No more thoughts, or feelings.

Clara shook her head and passed the picture to Peter. Around the circle of friends the photo circulated, to the same reaction.

Nothing.

“The coroner’s ready to move the body,” said Beauvoir.

Gamache nodded and placed the photo in his pocket. Beauvoir and Lacoste and the others would have their own copies, he knew. Excusing themselves they walked back to the body.

Two assistants stood by a stretcher, waiting to lift the woman onto it and take her to the waiting van. The photographer also waited. All looking at Chief Inspector Gamache. Waiting for him to give the order.

“Do you know how long she’s been dead?” Beauvoir asked the coroner, who’d just stood up and was moving her stiff legs.

“Between twelve and fifteen hours,” said Dr. Harris.

Gamache checked his watch and did the math. It was now eleven thirty on Sunday morning. That meant she was alive at eight thirty last night and dead by midnight. She never saw Sunday.

“No apparent sexual assault. No assault at all, except the broken neck,” said Dr. Harris. “Death would’ve been immediate. There was no struggle. I suspect he stood behind her and twisted her neck.”

“As simple as that, Dr. Harris?” asked the Chief Inspector.

“I’m afraid so. Especially if the victim wasn’t tensing. If she was relaxed and caught off guard there’d be no resistance. Just a quick twist. A snap.”

“But do most people know how to break someone’s neck?” asked Agent Lacoste, brushing off her slacks. Like most Québécoise she was petite and managed a casual elegance even while dressed for the country.

“It doesn’t take much, you know,” said Dr. Harris. “A twist. But it’s possible the killer had a fall-back plan. To throttle her, if the twist didn’t work.”

“You make it sound like a business plan,” said Lacoste.

“It might have been,” said the coroner. “Cold, rational. It might not be physically hard to snap someone’s neck, but believe me, it would be very difficult emotionally. That’s why most people are killed with guns or a club to the head. Or even a knife. Let something else do the actual killing. But to do it with your own hands? Not in a fight but in a cold and calculated act? No.” Dr. Harris turned back to the dead woman. “It would take a very special person to do that.”

“And by ‘very special’ you mean?” Gamache asked.

“You know what I mean, Chief Inspector.”

“But I want you to be clear.”

“Someone who either didn’t care at all, was psychotic. Or someone who cared very, very deeply. Who wanted to do it with his bare hands. To literally take the life, himself.”

Dr. Harris stared at Gamache, who nodded.

“Merci.”

He glanced at the coroner’s assistants and at a signal they lifted the body onto a stretcher. A sheet was placed over the dead woman and she was carried away, never to be in the sun again.

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