Great-grandfather Patrick was smiling and so was another man, standing next to him. But everyone else in the photo looked grim. And why not? Their lives, like their fathers’ before them, would have been miserable.
Irish immigrants, they’d come to Canada for a better life only to die of plague in the crowded ships. Those that survived spent their lives in menial labor. Living in squalor in the Basse-Ville, the Lower Town, in the shadow of the cliffs, below the mighty Château Frontenac.
It was a life of near despair. So why were these two men smiling? Gamache turned the photo around. It too was sealed.
“I’d like to take this backing off. Do you mind?”
“I think it might help us with the case.”
“I can’t tell you, but I promise not to harm the photo.”
“Is this going to get me into trouble?”
Patrick searched Gamache’s face and rested on his thoughtful eyes.
“Not at all. Indeed, I’d consider it a favor.”
After the briefest pause, Patrick nodded.
“Bon, merci. Can you turn on all the lights and get me your sharpest knife?”
Patrick did all that and the two men and a dog leaned over the table, the knife in Gamache’s hand. It shook slightly and Gamache gripped it tighter. Patrick glanced at the Chief Inspector, but said nothing. Gamache lowered the knife and carefully pried the brittle old paper away from the frame. Little by little it came up.
Resisting the temptation to rip it off in one go, they carefully teased it up until it was off and the back of the photograph was exposed to sunlight for the first time since it was sealed more than a century earlier. And there, in precise, careful writing, were the names of the men, including the two who were smiling.
Sean Patrick and Francis O’Mara.
The note in Augustin Renaud’s diary didn’t say 1809. It said 1869.
Chiniquy met with this Patrick and this O’Mara and James Douglas in 1869.
Gamache looked over at the wall of ancestors standing outside this home. A great distance from the Basse-Ville, a universe away from there. Much further than the distance between Ireland and Canada, this was the unbridgeable gap between Us and Them.
A rough Irish laborer in a fine Upper Town home, in 1870. It should not have been. And yet, it was.
Gamache looked back down at the smiling men in the photograph, standing in front of a building. O’Mara and Patrick. What were they so happy about?
Gamache could guess.
Gamache saw the man’s back stiffen. It was an eloquent little movement, involuntary and habitual. Here was a man engrossed in what he was doing, not pleased with the interruption. That, Gamache knew, was understandable. Who didn’t feel that way occasionally?
What was even more telling, though, was the long pause. Gamache could almost see the armor going on, the plates snapping down the archeologist’s back, the spikes and prickles and chains clicking into place. And then, after the armor, the weapon.
“What do you want?” the stiff back demanded.
“I’d like to speak with you, please.”
“Make an appointment.”
“I don’t have time.”
“Neither do I. Good day.” Serge Croix leaned further over the table, examining something.
There was a reason, Gamache knew, Québec’s Chief Archeologist chose to work with clay and shards of pottery, with arrowheads and old stone walls. He could question them and while they might, occasionally, contradict him it was never messy, never emotional, never personal.
“My name is Armand Gamache. I’m helping to investigate the murder of Augustin Renaud.”
“You’re with the Sûreté. You have no jurisdiction here. Go mind your own business.”
Still the stiff back refused to move.
Gamache contemplated him for a moment. “Do you not want to help?”
“I have helped.” Serge Croix turned round and glared at Gamache. “I spent an entire afternoon with Inspector Langlois digging in the basement of the Literary and Historical Society. Gave up my Sunday for that and you know what we found?”
“Potatoes. Which is more than Augustin Renaud ever found when digging for Champlain. Now, I don’t mean to be rude but go away, I have work to do.”
“On what?” Gamache approached.
They were in the basement of the chapel of the Ursuline convent. It was lit with industrial lamps and long examination tables were set up in the center of the main room. Dr. Serge Croix stood beside the longest table.