Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #14) - Louise Penny Page 0,1
Finding Reine-Marie. Having their son and daughter. Now grandchildren.
Finding their refuge in Three Pines. The quiet moments with friends. The joyful celebrations.
The father of a good friend had developed dementia and died recently. For the last year or so of his life, he no longer recognized family and friends. He was kindly to all, but he beamed at some. They were the ones he loved. He knew them instinctively and kept them safe, not in his wounded head but in his heart.
The memory of the heart was far stronger than whatever was kept in the mind. The question was, what did people keep in their heart?
Chief Superintendent Gamache had known more than a few people whose heart had been consumed by hate.
He looked at the crooked house in front of him and wondered what memory was consuming it.
After instinctively committing the license-plate number to memory, he scanned the yard.
It was dotted with large mounds of snow, under which, Gamache guessed, were rusted vehicles. A pickup picked apart. An old tractor now scrap. And something that looked like a tank but was probably an old oil tank and not a tank tank.
Gamache put on his tuque and was about to put on gloves when he hesitated and picked up the letter yet again. There wasn’t much to it. Just a couple of clipped sentences.
Far from being threatening, they were almost comical and would’ve been had they not been written by a dead man.
It was from a notary, asking, almost demanding, that Gamache present himself at this remote farmhouse at 10:00 a.m. Sharp. Please. Don’t be late. Merci.
He’d looked up the notary in the Chambre des Notaires du Québec.
Maître Laurence Mercier.
He’d died of cancer six months earlier.
And yet— Here was a letter from him.
There was no email or return address, but there was a phone number, which Armand had called but no one had answered.
He’d been tempted to look up Maître Mercier in the Sûreté database but decided against it. It wasn’t that Gamache was persona non grata at the Sûreté du Québec. Not exactly, anyway. Now on suspension pending the outcome of an investigation into events last summer, he felt he needed to be judicious in the favors he asked of colleagues. Even Jean-Guy Beauvoir. His second-in-command. His son-in-law.
Gamache looked again at the once-strong house and smiled. Feeling a kinship toward it.
Things sometimes fell apart unexpectedly. It was not necessarily a reflection of how much they were valued.
He folded the letter and placed it in his breast pocket. Just as he was leaving the car, his cell phone rang.
Gamache looked at the number. Stared at the number. Any sign of amusement wiped from his face.
Dare he take it?
Dare he not?
As the ringing continued, he stared out the windshield, his view obscured by the now-heavy snow, so that he saw the world imperfectly.
He wondered if, in future, whenever he saw an old farmhouse, or heard the soft tapping of snowflakes, or smelled damp wool, this moment would be conjured and, if so, would it be with a sense of relief or horror?
* * *
The man stood by the window, straining to see out.
It was distorted by frost, but he had seen the car arrive and had watched, with impatience, as the man parked, then just sat there.
After a minute or so, the new arrival got out but didn’t come toward the house. He was standing beside his car, a cell phone to his ear.
This was the first of les invités.
The man recognized this first guest, of course. Who wouldn’t? He’d seen him often enough, but only in news reports. Never in person.
And he’d been far from convinced this guest would show up.
Armand Gamache. The former head of homicide. The current Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, on suspension.
He felt a slight frisson of excitement. Here was a celebrity of sorts. A man both highly respected and reviled. Some in the press held him up as a hero. Others as a villain. Representing the worst aspects of policing. Or the best. The abuse of power. Or a daring leader, willing to sacrifice his own reputation, and perhaps more, for the greater good.
To do what no one else wanted to do. Or could do.
Through the distorted glass, through the snow, he saw a man in his late fifties. Tall, six feet at least. And substantial. The parka made him look heavy, but parkas made everyone look heavy. The face, not pudgy, was, however, worn. With lines from his eyes, and, as