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Page 8

Gamache laughed. “So what brings you here?”

It was, as the Chief knew, a private cocktail party the night before the public opening of Clara’s big show. Only the select were invited to a vernissage, especially at the famous Musée in Montréal. The monied, the influential, the artist’s friends and family. And the artist. In that order.

Very little was expected of an artist at the vernissage. If they were clothed and sober most curators considered themselves fortunate. Gamache stole a glance at Clara, looking panicked and disheveled in a tailored power suit that had experienced a recent failure. The skirt was slightly twisted and the collar was riding high as though she’d tried to scratch the middle of her back.

“I’m an art dealer.” The man produced his card and Gamache took it, examining the cream background with the simple embossed black lettering. Just the man’s name and a phone number. Nothing more. The paper was thick and textured. A fine-quality business card. No doubt for a fine-quality business.

“Do you know Clara’s work?” Gamache asked, tucking the card into his breast pocket.

“Not at all, but I’m friends with the chief curator of the Musée and she slipped me one of the brochures. I was frankly astonished. The description says Madame Morrow has been living in Québec all her life and is almost fifty. And yet no one seems to know her. She came out of nowhere.”

“She came out of Three Pines,” said Gamache and at the blank look from his companion, he explained. “It’s a tiny village south of here. By the Vermont border. Not many people know it.”

“Or know her. An unknown artist in an anonymous village. And yet—”

Monsieur Marois opened his arms in an elegant and eloquent gesture, to indicate the surroundings and the event.

They both went back to gazing at the portrait in front of them. It showed the head and scrawny shoulders of a very old woman. A veined and arthritic hand clutched a rough blue shawl to her throat. It had slipped to reveal skin stretched over collarbone and sinew.

But it was her face that captivated the men.

She looked straight at them. Into the gathering, with the clink of glasses, the lively conversations, the merriment.

She was angry. Filled with contempt. Hating what she heard and saw. The happiness all around her. The laughter. Hating the world that had left her behind. Left her alone on this wall. To see, to watch and to never be included.

Like Prometheus Bound, here was a great spirit endlessly tormented. Grown bitter and petty.

Beside him Gamache heard a small gasp and knew what it was. The art dealer, François Marois, had understood the painting. Not the obvious rage, there for all to see, but something more complex and subtle. Marois had got it. What Clara had really created.

“Mon Dieu,” Monsieur Marois exhaled. “My God.”

He looked from the painting to Gamache.

*   *   *

Across the room Clara nodded and smiled, and took in almost nothing.

There was a howl in her ears and a swirl before her eyes, her hands were numb. She was losing her senses.

Deep breath in, she repeated to herself. Deep breath out.

Peter had brought her a glass of wine and her friend Myrna had offered a plate of hors d’oeuvres, but Clara was shaking so badly she’d had to give them both back.

And now she concentrated on trying not to look demented. Her new suit itched and she realized she looked like an accountant. From the old Eastern Bloc. Or maybe a Maoist. A Maoist accountant.

It wasn’t the look she’d been going for when she’d bought the suit at a swank boutique on rue St-Denis in Montréal. She’d wanted a change, something different from her usual billowy skirts and dresses. Something sharp and sleek. Something minimalist and coordinated.

And in the store she’d looked just great, smiling at the smiling saleswoman in the mirror and telling her all about the upcoming solo show. She told everyone about it. Cab drivers, waiters, the kid sitting next to her on the bus, plugged into his iPod and deaf. Clara hadn’t cared. She’d told him anyway.

And now the day had finally arrived.

That morning, sitting in her garden in Three Pines, she’d dared to think this would be different. She’d imagined walking through those two huge, frosted glass doors at the end of the corridor to wild applause. Looking fabulous in her new suit. The art community would be dazzled. Critics and curators would rush over, anxious to spend a moment with her. Falling all over themselves to congratulate her. To find just the right words, les mots justes, to describe her paintings.

Formidable. Brilliant. Luminous. Genius.

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