It had taken Gamache about ten seconds to appreciate the difficulty of the situation. It’s not that he didn’t understand what Ken Haslam was saying, it was just that he couldn’t hear it. Finally, when even lip-reading failed, the Chief interrupted.
“Désolé,” Gamache put up a hand. Haslam’s lips stopped moving. “Can we perhaps move closer together. I’m afraid I’m having some trouble hearing you.”
Haslam looked perplexed but got up and moved to the chair beside the Chief.
“I really just need to know what happened at the board meeting of the Lit and His, the one where Augustin Renaud appeared.”
Mumble, mumble, arrogant, murmur, couldn’t possibly mumble. Haslam looked quite stern. He was a handsome man with steel gray hair, clean shaven, ruddy complexion that looked like it came from the sun and not the bottle. And now that they were closer together Gamache was better able to understand him. While he still spoke below a whisper it was now almost intelligible and the other signals were clearer.
Haslam was annoyed.
Not at Gamache, he thought, but at what had happened. Someone familiar with the Literary and Historical Society had murdered Augustin Renaud. And the fact the lunatic archeologist had asked to see the board on the very day he died, and been refused, cannot be seen as a coincidence.
But Haslam was mouthing again.
Murmur, mumble, Champlain, mumble idiocy, mumble, canoe race.
“Yes, I understand from Mr. Hancock that you and he left early for a practice. You’re entered in the ice canoe race this coming Sunday.”
Haslam smiled and nodded. “It’s a lifelong dream.”
The words were spoken low, but clear. In a gravelly whisper. It was a warm voice and Gamache wondered why he didn’t use it more, especially in his job. Surely this was a financially fatal flaw, being a tour guide who didn’t speak.
“Why enter the race?” Gamache couldn’t help himself. He was dying to know why anyone, never mind someone closing in on seventy, would do this to themselves.
Haslam’s answer surprised him. He’d expected the Everest answer, or something about history, which the man clearly loved, since the canoe races re-created the old mail-runs before ice breaking ships appeared.
Mumble, like, murmur, people.
“You like the people?” Gamache asked.
Mumble, Haslam nodded and smiled.
“Can’t you just join a choir?”
Haslam smiled. “Not quite the same, is it Chief Inspector?” And Haslam’s eyes were warm, searching, intelligent.
He knows, thought Gamache. Somehow this man knows the value of not only friendship but camaraderie. What happens to people thrown together in extreme situations.
Gamache’s right hand began to tremble and he very slowly curled it into a fist but not before those thoughtful eyes across from him dropped to them. Saw the tremor.
And said nothing.
Armand Gamache walked slowly back up the small hill, to Petit-Champlain and the Funicular. As he walked he thought about his conversations with Haslam and the receptionist, who had been equally, perhaps even more, informative.
No, Mr. Haslam doesn’t do tours himself, he arranges them through emails. Mostly high-end, private tours of Québec for visiting dignitaries and celebrities. He was a little, she said, like a concierge. He’d done it so long people had come to ask for very strange things, and he almost always could accommodate them. Never, she rushed to assure him, illegal, or even immoral. Mr. Haslam was a very upstanding man. But unusual, yes.
Her French was excellent, and Haslam’s, when audible was even better. Had his name been anything other than Ken Haslam, Gamache would have thought him Francophone. According to the receptionist, Mr. Haslam lost his only child to leukemia when she was eleven, and his wife had died six years ago. Both buried in the Anglican cemetery in the old city.
His roots went deep into Québec.
Once up the Funicular, forcing himself to appreciate the magnificent view but gripping the wall behind him, Gamache leaned into the biting wind. His next stop was clear, but first he needed to gather his thoughts. He walked through the little alley called rue du Trésor which even in the bitter cold February day had artists selling their gaudy images of Québec. Bars carved out of blocks of ice had been set up off the alley and were selling Caribou to tourists who would soon regret this lapse in judgment. Once out of the alley he found the Café Buade and went in to both warm up and think.
Sitting in a banquette with a bowl of chocolat chaud he pulled out a notebook and pen. Occasionally sipping, sometimes staring into space, sometimes jotting thoughts, eventually he was ready for the next visit.