“S’il vous plaît.”
It was a scene familiar to the Chief Inspector. A homicide team in the early stages of collecting evidence that would one day convict a man of murder, or a woman. The coroner was still there, just rising, a young doctor sent over from Hôtel-Dieu hospital where the Chief Coroner of Québec kept an office. This man wasn’t the Chief. Gamache knew him, but he was a doctor and judging by his composure he was experienced.
“He was hit from behind with that shovel there.” The doctor pointed to a partly buried tool beside the body. He was speaking to Inspector Langlois but shooting glances at Gamache. “Fairly straightforward. He was hit a few times. I’ve taken samples and need to get him onto my table, but there doesn’t seem to be any other trauma.”
“How long?” Langlois asked.
“Twelve hours, give or take an hour or so. We’re lucky with the environment. It’s consistent. No rain or snow, no fluctuation in temperature. I’ll tell you more precisely later.” He turned, collected his kit then nodded to Langlois and Gamache. But instead of leaving the coroner hesitated, looking round the cellar.
He seemed reluctant to leave. When Langlois peered at him the young doctor lost some of his composure but rallied.
“Would you like me to stay?”
“Why?” asked Langlois, his voice uninviting.
But still the doctor persevered. “You know.”
Now Inspector Langlois turned to him completely, challenging him to go further.
“Well,” the doctor stumbled. “In case you find anything else.”
Beside him Gamache felt the Inspector tense, but Gamache leaned in and whispered, “Perhaps he should stay.”
Langlois nodded once, his face hard, and the coroner stepped away from the pool of light, across the sharp border into darkness. And there he waited.
Everyone in that room knew “in case” of what.
Chief Inspector Gamache approached the body. The harsh light left nothing to the imagination. It bounced off the man’s dirty clothing, off his stringy, long, white hair, off his face, twisted. Off his hands, clasped closed, over dirt. Off the horrible wounds on his head.
Yes, he was unmistakable. The extravagant black moustache, at odds with the white hair. The long, bushy eyebrows political cartoonists were so fond of caricaturing. The bulbous nose and fierce, almost mad, blue eyes. Intense even in death.
“Augustin Renaud,” said Langlois. “No doubt.”
“And Samuel de Champlain?”
Gamache had said out loud what everyone in that room, everyone in that sous-sol, everyone in that building had been thinking. But none had voiced. This was the “in case.”
“Any sign of him?”
“Not yet,” said Langlois, unhappily.
For where Augustin Renaud was there was always someone else.
Samuel de Champlain. Dead for almost four hundred years, but clinging to Augustin Renaud.
Champlain, who in 1608 had founded Québec, was long dead and buried.
That was the great mystery that hounded the Québécois. Somehow, over the centuries, they’d lost the founder.
They knew where minor functionaries from the early 1600s were buried, lieutenants and captains in Champlain’s brigade. They’d unearthed, and reburied, countless missionaries. The pioneers, the farmers, the nuns, the first habitants were all accounted for. With solemn graves and headstones, visited by school children, by priests on celebration days, by tourists and tour guides. Names like Hébert and Frontenac and Marie de l’Incarnation resonated with the Québécois, and stories were told of their selflessness, their bravery.
But one remained missing. One’s remains were missing.
The father of Québec, the most revered, the most renowned, the most courageous. The first Québécois.
Samuel de Champlain.
And one man had spent his entire adult life trying to find him. Augustin Renaud had dug and tunneled and hacked away under much of old Quebec City, following any whimsical clue that surfaced.
And now here he was, beneath the Literary and Historical Society, that bastion of Anglo Quebéc. With a shovel.
Dead himself. Murdered.
Why was he here? There seemed only one answer to that.
“Should I tell the premier ministre?” Langlois asked Gamache.
“Oui. The premier ministre, the Minister for Public Security. The Chief Archeologist. The Voice of English-speaking Québec. The Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society. The Parti Québécois.” Gamache looked at Langlois sternly. “Then you need to call a news conference and tell the population. Equally. At the same time.”