“Both. I tried to speak to him but he was busy with others.”
There was a pause, and the world-weary artist seemed to sag. Dragged down by the great weight of irrelevance.
“Very surprising Fortin was here,” said Paulette, “considering what he did to Clara.”
It was left hanging, begging a question. Paulette and Normand looked eagerly at the two investigators, like hungry children staring at a cake.
To Beauvoir’s delight Chief Inspector Gamache chose to ignore the opening. Besides, they already knew what Denis Fortin had done to Clara. Which was why his presence at the party surprised them so much.
Beauvoir watched Normand and Paulette. They looked exhausted. But from what, the Inspector wondered. The long night of free food and drink? The longer night of desperate networking, disguised as a party? Or just plain tired of swimming so hard but still going under.
Chief Inspector Gamache took a photograph from his pocket. “I have a picture of the dead woman. I’d like you to take a look please.”
He handed it to Normand, whose brows immediately rose.
“That’s Lillian Dyson.”
“You’re kidding,” said Paulette, moving closer and grabbing the picture. After a moment she nodded. “That is her.”
Paulette’s eyes rose to the Chief Inspector. It was a sharp look, clever. Not as immature as she’d first appeared. If she was child-like, thought Gamache, she was a cunning child.
“So you knew Madame Dyson?” Beauvoir asked.
“Well, didn’t know, exactly,” said Normand. He seemed, Gamache thought, almost liquid. Certainly languid. Someone who adjusted to the currents.
“Then what, exactly?” asked Beauvoir.
“We knew her a long time ago, but hadn’t seen her for a while. Then she showed up again this past winter at a couple of shows.”
“Art shows?” asked Beauvoir.
“Of course,” said Normand. “What else?” As though no other form of culture existed, or mattered.
“I saw her too,” said Paulette, not wanting to be left behind. Gamache wondered at their partnership, and what creations came out of it. “At a few shows. Didn’t recognize her at first. She had to introduce herself. She’d dyed her hair. Used to be bright red, orange really. Now it’s blond. She’d put on weight too.”
“Was she working again as a critic?” Gamache asked.
“Not that I know of. I have no idea what she was doing,” said Paulette.
Gamache looked at her for a moment. “Were you friends?”
Paulette hesitated. “Not now.”
“But back then, before she left?” asked the Chief.
“I thought we were,” said Paulette. “I was getting my career going. Had had some successes. Normand and I had just met and were trying to decide if we should collaborate. It’s very unusual for two artists to work on the same painting.”
“You made the mistake of asking Lillian what she thought,” said Normand.
“And what did she think?” asked Beauvoir.
“I don’t know what she thought, but I can tell you what she did,” said Paulette. There was no mistaking the anger now, in her voice and in her eyes. “She told me Normand had bad-mouthed me at a recent vernissage. Joked about my art and said he’d rather collaborate with a chimp. Lillian said she was telling me as a friend, to warn me.”
“Lillian came to me shortly after that,” said Normand. “Said Paulette had accused me of plagiarizing her works. Stealing her ideas. Lillian said she knew it wasn’t true, but wanted me to know what Paulette was telling everyone.”
“What happened?” asked Gamache. The air around them suddenly seemed to sour, with old words and bitter thoughts.
“God help us,” said Paulette. “We each believed her. We broke up. Took years for us to realize that Lillian had lied to both of us.”
“But now we’re together.” Normand laid a hand softly on Paulette’s and smiled at her. “Despite the years wasted.”
Perhaps, thought Gamache as he watched, that was what exhausted Normand. Lugging around this memory.
Unlike Beauvoir, Chief Inspector Gamache had a great deal of respect for artists. They were sensitive. Often self-absorbed. Often not fit for polite society. Some, he suspected, were deeply unbalanced. It would not be an easy life. Living on the margins, often in poverty. Being ignored and even ridiculed. By society, by funding agencies, even by other artists.
François Marois’s story of Magritte wasn’t singular. The man and woman sitting here in the B and B were both Magrittes. Fighting hard to be heard and seen, respected and accepted.