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Authors: Kathleen Ernst

Old World Murder (2010)

BOOK: Old World Murder (2010)
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Old World Murder: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery
© 2010 by Kathleen Ernst.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Midnight Ink, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

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Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author’s copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

First e-book edition © 2010

E-book ISBN: 9780738727370

Book design and format by Donna Burch

Cover design by Kevin R. Brown

Cover illustration © Charlie Griak

Editing by Connie Hill

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Midnight Ink does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business arrangements between our authors and the public.

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For the interpreters and curators I knew,

with respect and affection;

and for Sergeant Robert J. Bord,

with thanks.

Author’s Note

Old World Wisconsin is a real place. I had the pleasure and privilege of working there for twelve years, starting in 1982. However, this book is a work of fiction. All characters, including Chloe Ellefson, were born in my imagination. I freely fabricated events to serve the story. For example, although most of the historic structures mentioned do exist, Mr. Tobler’s cobblestone cottage does not. To learn more about this very real and fascinating historic site, visit the website:

Perhaps only one thing has remained constant: like most museums and history-related institutions, Old World Wisconsin relies upon public support. Please help sustain your local historic site!

As Chloe Ellefson walked
from 1982 into 1870s Wisconsin, a white frame church emerged from the trees, prettily framed against a cloud-studded blue sky. The view alone was enough to make most visitors pause, appreciate the simple elegance of the restored church, perhaps even wonder about the lives of those women and men and children who had first worshiped within its walls.

For Chloe, the historic site’s newest employee, the scene represented a fresh start.

A cadence in her mind kept time with her steps:
Must – make – this – work. Must – make – this – work.
Dr. Eberhardt could no doubt have written a thesis about that obsessive little drone … but Dr. Eberhardt was still in North Dakota with his white pills and his spiral notebook and his guttural grunts that had reminded her all too often of Markus’ father. Visiting a psychiatrist who reminded her of the people she was trying to escape seemed counter-productive, but Solomon, North Dakota—population 793 on a good day—hadn’t offered many options in low-cost mental health care.

Anyway, Chloe had come to Wisconsin to stand on her own two feet. Although, she thought as she reached the church gate, it would be more accurate to say she’d come
to Wisconsin. The last thing she’d ever expected to do. But she was here now. A new job. A new life. And she was determined to make it work.

After all, her chosen field was all about façades. Curators at living history sites presented impressions of the past. The bustles and bonnets (or braces and boots) that interpreters wore hid more than modern clothes and hairstyles. Well, she thought, nothing wrong with a good façade. In fact, a huge historic site intended to create and present illusions wasn’t a bad choice for someone wanting to rewrite her own history.

Chloe had visited the outdoor museum during open-hours only once, the day before her interview almost a month earlier. As she’d wandered the sprawling grounds that day, her spirits had unexpectedly begun to rise. Over fifty historic structures had been restored among the Kettle Moraine State Forest’s woods, prairies, and kettle ponds. Interpreters in period clothing brought the farmsteads, homes, and service buildings to life by telling tales and churning butter and making shoes and weeding gardens, and giving visitors as many participatory and sensory experiences as possible. Old World Wisconsin, the state’s newest historic site, was spectacular.

Now, she was hoping to recapture some of that good vibe. It was a late Monday afternoon. The last group of shrieking school children had tramped from the site, quickly followed by the interpreters’ stampede toward the parking lot. Chloe’s first day on the job, a blur of paperwork, staff meetings, and behind-the-scenes orientation, was winding to a close. This was the best time of day to visit any historic site. And having after-hours access was one of the true perks of becoming an employee.

Chloe knew it would take a long time to become truly familiar with Old World Wisconsin. She planned to visit a building or two after-hours each day. Starting with … she consulted her map … St. Peter’s Church.

She mounted the steps and, feeling important, used her new master key on the lock. Once inside she paused, letting impressions of the place come. St. Peter’s Church offered nothing too striking. Good.

Next, she took a quick curatorial survey: plain wooden pews, a pump organ, painted stations of the cross hanging on the walls. Most of the window panes were thick and distorted—original, amazingly enough. The altar cloth needed cleaning, and she scrawled a note on her pad.

Outside, tires screeched on gravel. A moment later heavy steps thumped up the stairs and a stocky, white-haired, red-faced man burst into the sanctuary. “Who are you?” he demanded.

Chloe blinked. “Who are

He scowled. “Look here, lady, the museum closed at four o’clock. You can’t be in here!”

Belatedly Chloe noticed the vague uniform: dark brown trousers, tan shirt, patch of some kind duly sewn on his sleeve. His official attire contrasted sharply with the non-uniform she’d mustered for the day: tan chinos and a royal blue cotton shirt, long blonde hair captured in a single braid and coiled behind her head.

OK, Chloe told herself, time to get one more working relationship off to a good start. “My apologies. I should have introduced myself. My name is Chloe. I’m the new curator of collections.”

The security guard rubbed his chin. “Marv left something in the log about a new curator starting … but that’s not the right name. It was something Scandihoovian. Inger? Ingrid! Yeah, that was it. Ingrid—”

“I go by Chloe. But I
the new curator.”

“Well …” He still looked suspicious. “You can’t come out on the site after hours without letting us know.”

Chloe mustered her brightest smile. “I’m really glad to know that site security is so tight. But I’ll need after-hours access on a regular basis. Can we consider some other solution, um … what did you say your name was?”

The guard hesitated. “Hank,” he said finally. “Well, just be sure to check the alarm before you go barging into buildings. The Village buildings have been switched over to the new security system. Did Marv give you the access codes?”

Had Marv given her access codes? She couldn’t remember. She couldn’t even picture Marv. The day had been full of too many names and too much information. “I’m not sure, to be honest. I’ll have to look through my notes.”

Hank showed her the security touchpad hidden behind a door, and gave her an access code. “That’ll work for every building in the Village,” he told her. “There are different codes for the German and Finn-Dane areas. The Norwegian buildings are still on the old microphone system, so you’ll have to call. You’ll be outta here within the hour?”

“Less,” she promised. “I’ve got a five o’clock meeting in the restoration area. I’ll probably just visit one more building here before heading out for the night.”

Hank made a big show of seeing her out of the church. Lovely, Chloe thought, as she watched him get back into his car and drive slowly away. Day One, and she’d already annoyed a security guard.

“Just keep trying,” she ordered herself softly. She had a new position—and a permanent one, which was hard to come by in the mostly seasonal world of outdoor museums, complete with benefits and a salary that actually covered rent with enough left over for a bit of food each week. “I will,” she announced, “stay positive.”

That resolve fled as soon as she oriented herself on the visitor guide and map. The next building was a small cobblestone cottage across the road from the church. She’d skipped the Tobler House on her earlier visit, but the new curator of collections couldn’t ignore one of the exhibits just because its first occupant had happened to come from Switzerland.

Chloe knew that her Swiss connection had helped land the job. “I see you spent five years at Ballenberg,” Ralph Petty, the site’s director, had said during her interview. He’d tilted his head to peer at Chloe over the half-glasses that perched on his nose. “The Europeans have so many excellent outdoor museums. Did you enjoy living in Switzerland?”

“Oh, yes,” Chloe assured him blithely, as her fingernails dug angry red trenches into her palms. “I

“We’re currently restoring the home of a Swiss immigrant in the Crossroads Village,” Petty said. “Aldrick Tobler emigrated from Switzerland to Green County, Wisconsin, in 1872. We were able to get our hands on the small structure that served as both his carpentry shop and living quarters.”

“Will—will I be expected to furnish the Tobler building?” Chloe stammered. If so, they might as well end this interview right now. No way was she up to that.

“Unfortunately … no. We want to open the building to the public later this year, and we couldn’t wait for your position to be filled. I hired a freelancer last winter to develop a furnishings plan.” And Director Petty had rattled on enthusiastically about the project for at least another ten minutes. Chloe had tried to nod in appropriate places.

She could skip the Tobler house today. Just mosey on down the path to the Hafford House. Mary Hafford had been an Irish laundress, and Chloe was eager to visit her home.

But … no. Just check the place out and be done with it, Chloe told herself. She let herself inside and quickly punched in the access code on the security box hidden behind the door.

As she turned, Chloe paused to get a feel of the century-old building. She got a brief glimpse of half-papered walls; a worktable covered with tools. Then the impression came. It was not the distant jumble she’d felt in St. Peter’s Church. Instead, a sense of palpable unhappiness crackled in the air.

Chloe clenched the doorknob. The sensations grew stronger, although she couldn’t quite define the root emotion: Frustration? Discontent? When her skin began to tingle, she bolted from the building.

On the front step she wiped her forehead with suddenly trembling fingers. What the hell was
After a lifetime of absorbing impressions of old buildings, she’d learned to take the occasional flash in stride. But that sensory barrage had been unexpectedly strong. Chloe pulled the door tightly shut and snapped the lock.

It probably wasn’t even the house, she thought, as she hurried away. Poor old Mr. Tobler had probably lived a hum-drum life and died without leaving any bad ju-ju behind. Surely her own bad ju-ju had caused her reaction. It had been a mistake to enter the Swiss exhibit alone. She’d come back some day when the site teemed with hyperactive fourth graders. That energy would dispel bad vibes of any vintage.

Chloe checked her watch. Time to head out, anyway.

Once she retrieved her green Pinto from the main parking lot, she drove down the site’s twisting entrance road. The village of Eagle lay to the left, but Chloe turned right onto Highway 67. She passed the 1940s-era house that inconveniently held Old World Wisconsin’s administrative offices. Another right turn onto County Highway S took her past a tree-lined prairie that marked, if she remembered correctly, the edge of the museum’s German area. The huge historic site warranted several access gates for staff use.

A mile or so later she slowed and turned right again onto a gravel drive with a fading sign that proclaimed “Restoration Area.” In front of her was a long, low building that housed the maintenance staff. A pole barn held a few large artifacts and two of the big trams used to haul visitors around the site.

Two ancient trailers squatted off to the left, almost hidden in a grove of pines. The words “Celebrate The Bicentennial! Visit the History Mobile!” were barely legible in peeling paint on one. The other, an ugly pinkish-gray rectangle on cinder blocks, gave no hint of its lineage. Both trailers had been pressed into temporary service for collections storage, and were crammed with shelves of artifacts.

Chloe climbed rickety steps to the pink monstrosity. The tiny kitchen area had evidently provided desultory office space to a curator who, in a whirlwind of energy, had furnished the exhibit buildings before Old World’s grand opening six years earlier, in 1976. The burned-out curator had soon after joined the Peace Corps and moved to New Guinea. State-imposed budget cuts had left Old World Wisconsin without someone to oversee its collections ever since.

The office held a miniscule table and two chairs. It was cramped and dusty, and smelled of mice. Chloe had been aghast that morning when the museum’s receptionist had handed her a note with the meeting arrangements on it. “You told a potential donor to meet me at the

The receptionist—what was her name?—had shrugged. “Look, once this lady heard you’d actually been hired she called half a dozen times, wanting to know when your first day was. She was determined to come out today.”

Chloe turned on the ancient faucet. After several moments of agonized burbles and clanks, a dribble of rust-colored water reluctantly emerged. She used the tap water and a few paper towels to wipe down the yellow Formica table and two wooden folding chairs. She jumped when a phone rang. She hadn’t known she
a phone in here. By the fifth ring she’d located the ancient rotary-dialed monster—an artifact in its own right—behind a stack of black notebooks.

“Chloe? Listen, are you expecting a Mrs. Lundquist? She ended up over here at Ed House by mistake.”

Chloe mentally fast-forwarded through a filmstrip of her morning. Ed House … yes, she remembered.
House. Another of the empty homes left behind when the state bought out the few properties that infringed on the projected Old World Wisconsin site, now used by research and interpretation staff. If she wasn’t mistaken, this male voice belonged to the curator of interpretation.

BOOK: Old World Murder (2010)
4.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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