Harriet looked in the mirror, her toothbrush hanging out of her mouth. It was the first of June and she’d forgotten to say, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.
She said it now, toothpaste foaming on her lips, but had the sinking feeling it was too late. The magic wouldn’t work. And if there was any day when she needed magic, it was today.
“It’ll bring you good luck, little one,” Auntie Myrna had assured her niece when she’d taught her the incantation. “It’ll protect you.”
That had been years ago, but the rabbit habit hadn’t wholly taken. Most months Harriet remembered, but of course this month, when she needed it most, she’d forgotten. Though she knew it was probably because she had so much else on her mind.
Did she really believe repeating rabbit, rabbit, rabbit made a difference? No. Of course not. How could she? It was a silly superstition. There was nothing actually magical about those words. Where did it even come from anyway? And why “rabbit”?
It was ridiculous.
She was an engineer, she told herself as she prepared for her morning run. A rational human being. But then so was her aunt. Did Auntie Myrna even do it? Or had it been a joke the timid child had taken to heart?
Setting aside the absurdity of magical incantations, Harriet marshaled her rational self and entered the day.
Everything will be okay, she said as she ran through the warm June morning. All will be well.
But Harriet Landers was wrong. She really should have repeated rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.
* * *
It was the beginning of November when the Chief Inspector first saw Clotilde Arsenault. He pulled his field jacket closer around him and knelt beside her, like a penitent at some awful altar.
Do you want to hear my secret?
“Oui,” whispered Armand Gamache. “Tell me your secret.”
He heard a snort of derision behind him and ignored it, continuing to stare into the worried eyes of the dead woman at his feet.
The head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec had been called away from Sunday breakfast with his young family. He’d flown hours northeast from his home in Montréal to the shores of this godforsaken lake to kneel beside the body that now bobbed in near-freezing waters. She was shoved half ashore by the gray waves that were growing increasingly insistent by the minute.
Whitecaps had formed out at the center of the lake, and even in this fairly protected cove, they bumped up against the woman, moving her limbs in some mockery of life. As though she’d decided she wasn’t dead after all and was about to rise.
It added a macabre element to an already morbid scene.
It was a bleak day. The first of November. A wind blew in from the north, bringing with it the promise of rain. Perhaps sleet. Perhaps freezing rain. Even snow.
It frothed up the already tumultuous lake, creating waves on the waves. Shoving the dead woman ever forward, offering her to Gamache. Insisting he take her.
But he couldn’t. Not yet. Though all he wanted to do was haul her further onto the rocky shore. To safety. He wanted to wipe her face dry and close those glassy eyes. And wrap her in the warm Hudson’s Bay blanket he’d spotted in the back of the local Sûreté vehicle that had driven him there.
But he, of course, did none of those things. Instead, with immense stillness, he continued to stare. To take in every detail. What could be seen, and what could not.
It was hard to tell her age. Not young. Not old. The water, and death, had slackened her face, washing away age lines. Though she still looked worry-worn.
She obviously had had good reason to worry.
Blond hair, like string, was plastered across her face. A strand touched her open eyes. Gamache could not help but blink for her.
He didn’t have to guess her age, he actually knew exactly how old she was. Thirty-six. And he knew her name, though they hadn’t yet searched her body for ID, and no formal identification had been made.
Copyright © 2022 by Three Pines Creations, Inc