* * *
Chief Inspector Gamache sat in the large living room of the bed and breakfast. The walls were painted a creamy linen, the furniture was handpicked by Gabri from Olivier’s antiquing finds. But rather than heavy Victoriana he’d gone for comfort. Two large sofas faced each other across the stone fireplace and armchairs created quiet conversation areas around the room. Where Dominique’s inn and spa gleamed and preened like a delightful gem on the hill, Gabri’s bed and breakfast sat peacefully, cheerfully, a little shabbily in the valley. Like Grandma’s house, if Grandma had been a large gay man.
Gabri and Olivier were over at the bistro still serving lunch, leaving the Sûreté officers alone with the B and B guests.
It had been a rocky start to the interviews, beginning before they’d even crossed the threshold. Beauvoir gingerly took the Chief aside just as they reached the porch of the B and B.
“There’s something I think you should know.”
Armand Gamache looked at Beauvoir with amusement.
“What have you done?”
“What do you mean?”
“You sound exactly like Daniel when he was a teenager and had gotten into trouble.”
“I got Peggy Sue pregnant at the big dance,” said Beauvoir.
For just an instant Gamache looked surprised, then he smiled. “What is it really?”
“I did something stupid.”
“Ahh, this does bring me back. Good times. Go on.”
“Monsieur Beauvoir, what a pleasure to see you again.”
The screen door opened and a woman in her late fifties greeted him.
Gamache turned to Beauvoir. “What exactly have you done?”
“I hope you remember me,” she said with a coy smile. “My name’s Paulette. We met at the vernissage last night.”
The door swung open again and a middle-aged man appeared. Seeing Beauvoir, he beamed.
“It is you,” he said. “I thought I saw you coming down the road just now. I looked at the barbeque last night but you weren’t there.”
Gamache gave Beauvoir an inquiring gaze.
Beauvoir turned his back on the smiling artists. “I told them I was the art critic for Le Monde.”
“And why would you do that?” the Chief Inspector asked.
“It’s a long story,” said Beauvoir. But it wasn’t so much long as embarrassing.
These were the two artists who’d insulted Clara Morrow’s works. Mocking the Three Graces as clowns. And while Beauvoir didn’t much like art, he did like Clara. And he’d known and admired the women who became the Three Graces.
So he’d turned to the smug artists and said he very much liked the work. Then he used some of the phrases he’d heard floating around the cocktail party. About perspective, and culture and pigment. The more he said the harder it was to stop himself. And he could see that the more ridiculous his statements the more these two paid attention.
Until he’d finally delivered his coup de grâce.
He trotted out a word he’d heard someone use that evening, a word he’d never heard before and had no idea what it meant. He’d turned to the painting of the Three Graces, the elderly and joyous old women, and said—
“The only word that comes to mind is, of course, ‘chiaroscuro.’”
Not surprisingly, the artists had looked at him as though he was mad.
Which made him mad. So mad he said something he instantly regretted.
“I haven’t introduced myself,” he said in his most refined French. “I am Monsieur Beauvoir, the art critic for Le Monde.”
“Monsieur Beauvoir?” the man had asked, his eyes widening nicely.
“But of course. Just Monsieur Beauvoir. I find no need for a first name. Too bourgeois. Clutters up the page. You read my reviews, bien sûr?”
The rest of the evening had been quite pleasant, as word spread that the famous Parisian critic “Monsieur Beauvoir” was there. And all agreed that Clara’s works were a marvelous example of chiaroscuro.
He’d have to look it up, one of these days.
The two artists had in turn introduced themselves as simply “Normand” and “Paulette.”
“We use only our first names.”
He’d thought they were joking, but apparently not. And now here they were again.
Normand, in the same slacks, worn tweed jacket and scarf from the night before, and his partner Paulette, also in the same peasant-type skirt, blouse and scarves.
Now they were looking from him to Gamache, and back again.