Up the stairs they raced, taking them two at a time, trying to be as quiet as possible. Gamache struggled to keep his breathing steady, as though he was sitting at home, as though he had not a care in the world.
“Sir?” came the young voice over Gamache’s headphones.
“You must believe me, son. Nothing bad will happen to you.”
He hoped the young agent couldn’t hear the strain in his voice, the flattening as the Chief Inspector fought to keep his voice authoritative, certain.
“I believe you.”
They reached the landing. Inspector Beauvoir stopped, staring at his Chief. Gamache looked at his watch.
In his headphones the agent was telling him about the sunshine and how good it felt on his face.
The rest of the team made the landing, tactical vests in place, automatic weapons drawn, eyes sharp. Trained on the Chief. Beside him Inspector Beauvoir was also waiting for a decision. Which way? They were close. Within feet of their quarry.
Gamache stared down one dark, dingy corridor in the abandoned factory then down the other.
They looked identical. Light scraped through the broken, grubby windows lining the halls and with it came the December day.
He pointed decisively to the left and they ran, silently, toward the door at the end. As he ran Gamache gripped his rifle and spoke calmly into the headset.
“There’s no need to worry.”
“There’s forty seconds left, sir.” Each word was exhaled as though the man on the other end was having difficulty breathing.
“Just listen to me,” said Gamache, thrusting his hand toward a door. The team surged ahead.
“I won’t let anything happen to you,” said Gamache, his voice convincing, commanding, daring the young agent to contradict. “You’ll be having dinner with your family tonight.”
The tactical team surrounded the closed door with its frosted, filthy window. Darkened.
Gamache paused, staring at it, his hand hanging in the air ready to give the signal to break it down. To rescue his agent.
Beside him Beauvoir strained, waiting to be loosed.
Too late, Chief Inspector Gamache realized he’d made a mistake.
“Give it time, Armand.”
“Avec le temps?” Gamache returned the older man’s smile and made a fist of his right hand. To stop the trembling. A tremble so slight he was certain the waitress in the Quebec City café hadn’t noticed. The two students across the way tapping on their laptops wouldn’t notice. No one would notice.
Except someone very close to him.
He looked at Émile Comeau, crumbling a flaky croissant with sure hands. He was nearing eighty now, Gamache’s mentor and former chief. His hair was white and groomed, his eyes through his glasses a sharp blue. He was slender and energetic, even now. Though with each visit Armand Gamache noticed a slight softening about the face, a slight slowing of the movements.
Avec le temps.
Widowed five years, Émile Comeau knew the power, and length, of time.
Gamache’s own wife, Reine-Marie, had left at dawn that morning after spending a week with them at Émile’s stone home within the old walled city of Québec. They’d had quiet dinners together in front of the fire, they’d walked the narrow snow-covered streets. Talked. Were silent. Read the papers, discussed events. The three of them. Four, if you counted their German shepherd, Henri.
And most days Gamache had gone off on his own to a local library, to read.
Émile and Reine-Marie had given him that, recognizing that right now he needed society but he also needed solitude.
And then it was time for her to leave. After saying good-bye to Émile she turned to her husband. Tall, solid, a man who preferred good books and long walks to any other activity, he looked more like a distinguished professor in his mid-fifties than the head of the most prestigious homicide unit in Canada. The Sûreté du Québec. He walked her to her car, scraping the morning ice from the windshield.
“You don’t have to go, you know,” he said, smiling down at her as they stood in the brittle, new day. Henri sat in a snow bank nearby and watched.
“I know. But you and Émile need time together. I could see how you were looking at each other.”
“The longing?” laughed the Chief Inspector. “I’d hoped we’d been more discreet.”
“A wife always knows.” She smiled, looking into his deep brown eyes. He wore a hat, but still she could see his graying hair, and the slight curl where it came out from under the fabric. And his beard. She’d slowly become used to the beard. For years he’d had a moustache, but just lately, since it happened, he’d grown the trim beard.