Gamache could believe they didn’t have a hope. He’d seen the famous canoe race across the St. Lawrence River every Carnaval for decades, and every year he wondered what could possess a person to do such a thing. It took huge athleticism and more than a little insanity. And while the young minister looked fit enough Gamache knew from his notes that his teammate, Ken Haslam was in his sixties. It would be, not to put too fine a point on it, like dragging an anvil across the river. Haslam on the team certainly handicapped them.
One day he might ask this man why he, or anyone, would enter such a race. But not today. Today belonged to a different subject.
“I’m glad I was able to help a little,” said Gamache. “But I’m afraid it’s far from over, despite your sermon today.”
“Oh, my sermon wasn’t meant to dismiss what happened, but to accept and celebrate the man’s life. There are enough people out there,” he waved toward the beautiful stained glass windows and the genteel city beyond, “who’ll condemn us, I thought I might as well try to be uplifting. Do you not approve?”
“Would it matter?”
“It always matters. I’m not preaching at you, you know.”
“As a matter of fact I thought your sermon was inspired. Beautiful.”
The Reverend Mr. Hancock looked at Gamache. “Merci. It’s a risk. I just hope I haven’t done harm. We’ll see.”
“Are you a Quebecker by birth?”
“No, I was born in New Brunswick. Shediac. Lobster Capital of the World. It’s a regulation that when you say Shediac you must also say—”
“Lobster Capital of the World.”
“Thank you,” Hancock smiled and Gamache could see he spoke of joy for a reason. He knew it. “This is my first assignment. I came three years ago.”
“How long have you sat on the board of the Lit and His?”
“About eighteen months I guess. It’s not very onerous. My biggest job is to remember not to actually suggest anything. It takes a lot of effort to halt time, and for the most part they’ve done it.”
Gamache smiled. “Living history?”
“Sort of. They can be old and cranky, but they love Québec and they love the Literary and Historical Society. They’ve spent years trying to keep a low profile. They just want to be left alone, really. And now this.”
“The murder of Augustin Renaud,” said Gamache.
Hancock was shaking his head. “He came to speak to us, you know. Friday morning. But the board refused to see him. Quite right too. He can go through regular channels, like everyone else. He seemed unpleasant.”
“You saw him?”
Hancock hesitated. “No.”
“Why wasn’t Renaud’s visit mentioned in the minutes?”
Hancock looked nonplussed. “We just decided it didn’t matter.”
But Gamache had the impression this had been news to Hancock.
“I understand you and Monsieur Haslam left early?”
“We had a practice at noon so yes, we left.”
“Was Augustin Renaud still outside?”
“Not that I saw.”
“Who had access to the basement?”
Hancock thought for a moment. “Winnie would know better. She’s the head librarian, you know. I don’t think the basement doors were ever locked. It’s really more a question of who could find them. Did you go down?”
“Then you know you have to go through a trap door and down a ladder. Not exactly the grand staircase. A casual visitor would never find that basement.”
“But renovations were being done and they included the sub-basement, where he was found. In fact, I understand it’s scheduled to be concreted over in the next couple of days.”
“That soon? I knew the work was being done but didn’t know when. Won’t happen now, I suppose?”
“Not for a while, I’m afraid.”
The Chief Inspector wondered if the Reverend Mr. Hancock realized he’d all but admitted only a member of the Literary and Historical Society could have killed Renaud. And not a casual user of the fine library, but someone intimately familiar with the old building. The Chief remembered wandering the labyrinthine corridors. It was a warren of hallways, staircases, back rooms.
Would Augustin Renaud have been able to find that trap door on his own?
Almost certainly not.
Someone guided him down there then killed him.
Someone who knew all about the Lit and His.
Someone who knew the sub-basement was about to be concreted over.