Like Old Mundin, The Wife was young, and like Old, she was stunning. Not in a Vogue sort of way, but her beauty came from her obvious good health and humor. Her dark hair was cut very short and her eyes were deep brown, large and warm. She smiled easily and readily, as did Old, as did Charlie.
“Come in, before you freeze,” Old said, closing the door. “Would you like a hot chocolate? Charlie and I just got back from tobogganing and we sure could use one.”
Charlie, his round face ruddy red from being outside, his eyes sparkling, looked up at Jean-Guy as though they’d known each other all their lives.
“I’d love one.” Beauvoir followed them into their home.
“You’ll have to excuse our place, Inspector,” said The Wife, leading the way into the warm kitchen. “We’re still renovating.”
And the place certainly looked it. Some rooms weren’t yet dry-walled, others had the plaster done, but no paint. The kitchen looked like something out of the 1950s, but not in a good way. Tacky, not retro-chic.
“It looks fine to me,” he lied. What it did look, and feel, was comfortable. It felt like a home.
“You wouldn’t know it,” said Old, helping The Wife with the hot cocoa, “but we’ve actually done a lot of work. You should see the upstairs. It’s wonderful.”
“Old, I can’t imagine the Inspector’s come all this way to see our renovations,” laughed The Wife. She returned to the kitchen table carrying steaming mugs of hot chocolate each with a large, melting, marshmallow.
“We saw you at the bistro the other night,” said Old. “Gabri says you’re here for a holiday. That’s nice.”
They looked at him with sympathy. It was gentle, it was meant to be supportive, but Jean-Guy wished it would stop, though he knew this young couple meant it kindly.
Fortunately, their sympathy also gave him the opening he needed.
“Yes, I haven’t been back since the Hermit case. What a blow to the community.”
“Olivier’s arrest?” said The Wife. “We still can’t believe it.”
“You knew him quite well, as I remember,” Beauvoir turned to Old. “Gave you your first job.”
“He did. Restoring and repairing furniture.”
“Show, show, show,” said Charlie.
“Exactly,” said The Wife. “Chaud. Chocolat chaud. He wasn’t speaking six months ago but Dr. Gilbert’s been coming once a week for dinner and working with him.”
“Really? Vincent Gilbert?”
“Yes. You knew he used to work with children with Down syndrome?”
“Boo,” said Charlie to Beauvoir, who smiled and tried to ignore the child. “Boo,” Charlie repeated.
“Boo!” said Beauvoir back, thrusting his head forward in a way he hoped was more playful than terrifying.
“He means wood. Bois,” explained Old. “Yes Charlie, old son, we’ll go soon. We whittle together in the evenings.”
“Didn’t Havoc Parra used to whittle toys for Charlie?” Beauvoir remembered.
“He did,” said Old. “I’m afraid he’s wonderful at cutting down trees but not so good at carving them, though he enjoys it. Comes here sometimes to help me with the furniture. I pay him a little.”
“What does he do? Restore it?”
“No, that’s way too specialized. He helps when I have some furniture to make. Mostly staining.”
They chatted about local events, about renovation projects and the antiques waiting to be restored. Beauvoir pretended to be interested in seeing Old Mundin’s furniture and almost bought a bookcase thinking he could pass it off as his own creation. But he knew even Enid wouldn’t believe that.
“Would you like to stay for dinner?” The Wife asked when Beauvoir said he had to go.
“Merci, but no. I just wanted to stop by and see your furniture.”
They stood by the back door, waving to him. He’d been tempted to accept their invitation to join their little family. As he drove away he thought again about what Old had said so innocently about Havoc and his skill as a whittler, which rivaled Charlie’s. On arriving back in Three Pines he went across to the bistro and ordered a tarte au sucre and a cappuccino. Myrna joined him with her éclair and café au lait. They chatted for a few minutes then Beauvoir made notes and Myrna read the London Sunday Times Travel Magazine, moaning occasionally over the éclair and over the descriptions of the spa getaways.
“Do you think it’s worth a twelve-hour flight to go here?” She turned the magazine round and showed him soft white beaches, thatched huts, nubile young men, shirtless, carrying drinks with fruit in them.