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Authors: Kathleen Ernst

Old World Murder (2010) (5 page)

BOOK: Old World Murder (2010)
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“Have you worked here for long?” Chloe asked.

“Since Old World opened.”

“In the Norwegian area all that time?”

“I’ve been the Norwegian lead for three years.” Delores stepped onto the Kvaale porch. “Before that I worked all over. Let me tell you, we have
really
been looking forward to having a collections curator on site! We have these reproduction request forms to let someone know what we need for daily programming. We keep turning them in to Byron.”

“I’m sure Byron’s got them all waiting for me,” Chloe said quickly, wanting to stem a potential side trip into several years’ worth of queries. “I’ll go through them as soon as I can. Actually, today I’m looking for a rosemaled ale bowl.”

“Those are the only rosemaled pieces we’ve got.” Inside the main room, Delores pointed to the shelf Chloe had already examined.

“I’m looking for an ale bowl with cow head decorations.”

Cindy, still valiantly hunched over the spinning wheel, looked up. “That’s funny,” she said. “You’re the second person looking for an ale bowl with cow heads.”

“What?”

“Some visitor asked me about ale bowls with cow heads. I think it was the first weekend we were open.” Cindy fussed with the tension knob on the spinning wheel. “Delores, are you sure you want me to keep going with this bobbin? Your yarn is so even, and mine is so lumpy. I feel like I’m just wasting wool.”

Delores laughed. “We’ve got plenty of wool.”

“What did they say?” Chloe asked.

“About the ale bowl? Just that!” Cindy shrugged. “Somebody asked me if we had one. I said we didn’t. I work Fossebrekke too, so I know.”

“A woman? A man?” Chloe’s voice sounded sharp, and she tried to tone it down. “Was the person young, old? Try to think back.”

Cindy sighed. “I really don’t remember. That was probably a thousand visitors ago.”

Chloe forced herself to swallow her frustration. “OK, thanks. If anyone else asks about a rosemaled ale bowl with cow heads, could you ask them to contact me? Or—maybe just see if they’ll give you their name and phone number.”

“Sure. Whatever.” Cindy began to work the treadle. The yarn whipped from her fingers, wrapping itself—again—among the coils already on the bobbin.
“Delores!”

“I’ll let the other interpreters know,” Delores told Chloe, then turned back to the younger woman. “You just pushed too hard, that’s all. Find the end and I’ll show you …”

Chloe stepped outside. The lambs cavorted in the sunshine. Above her head, a red-tailed hawk circled on a thermal. She barely noticed. It seemed odd that someone had visited the Kvaale farm in search of a rosemaled ale bowl decorated with cow heads just two weeks before Mrs. Lundquist showed up, wanting to reclaim that very item. Too odd to be a coincidence. Mrs. Lundquist had said plainly that
she
had not visited the site.

So … what the hell was going on?

Roelke slowed his pickup
truck and checked the fire number he’d written on the slip of paper. He was driving on a state-designated “Rustic Road.” Nothing more than a tourism official’s propaganda, but the scenery was admittedly classic Wisconsin: stately old farmhouses, hay and corn fields, pastures of placid Holsteins, and nary a speedy-mart or factory farm in sight. Roelke didn’t have the barn gene, even though three generations of his maternal German-American forebears had farmed Wisconsin soil. Still, he appreciated the legacy.

He found the number he’d been looking for posted by a gravel driveway that looped behind a tired two-story frame house in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint. Cow pastures bordered the house on the east and south, with a huge garden and second farmhouse on the west. New alfalfa rippled green in a field across the road.

Roelke pulled into the driveway, got out of the truck, and walked across the lawn to the front porch and door. His cousin Libby’s voice echoed in his head as he knocked:
This isn’t your problem, Roelke. Leave it.
He ignored the voice.

The inner door swung open. “Oh!” Chloe said. “Officer … Mc-Kenna. I didn’t … that is, um, would you like to come in?”

“Yes, if I may.”

She held open the door, and frowned slightly when she noticed his truck. “You’re not on duty?”

“Just finished my shift,” he told her. “Parking police cars in peoples’ driveways sets off all kinds of speculation. This isn’t official business.”

“Oh.”

Roelke stepped inside. Cardboard cartons were stacked in the bedroom he glimpsed to his left. In the living room she led him to, also. Bare walls. No sign of personality. No sign of life.

She noticed his perusal and shrugged. “I just moved in. Can I get you something to drink? I’m having a rum and soda.”

“Nothing for me, thanks.” He perched on the sofa, and watched her sink back into a deep chair by the window. She had traded her casual work attire for shorts. God, she was thin. Too thin. She’d left her glass on the table by her chair, but he saw no evidence of a book or television set.

Abruptly he realized she was waiting for him to explain his visit. “Mrs. Lundquist was a member of the Lutheran church in Daleyville. The minister is planning a service for ten A.M. Friday morning.”

Chloe narrowed her eyes in thought. “Daleyville … that’s west of here, isn’t it?”

“Probably about an hour away. Eastern Dane County.”

“Have any relatives come forward?”

He shook his head. “No. Her neighbor said she attended the church, so the county guys checked with the minister. He wasn’t aware of any relatives, either. Mrs. Lundquist had been a widow for years.”

Chloe picked up her glass and took a sip. “Did they figure out what caused the accident?”

“Heart failure. She was seventy-four. These things happen.” His words sounded clipped and brusque in his own ears. He wasn’t any good at this stuff.

“I see.” Chloe used one finger to poke at an ice cube.

Roelke leaned forward, elbows on knees. “Did you find that antique she was looking for?”

“Does it matter?”

He shrugged. “I was just curious. Wrapping up loose ends.”

“I haven’t been able to find it.”

He got the distinct impression that she had something more to say. He waited, giving her plenty of space to spit out whatever was on her mind. She evidently decided against it. “I’ll keep my eyes open, though,” she said. “And I left a message for the sites division curator in Madison, to see if records on that end are more complete.”

Roelke watched her. Should he press for more? No. He didn’t have any reason to. He didn’t have any reason to even be here, since she’d given him her telephone number.

He stood. “Since Mrs. Lundquist didn’t have any legal claim to the antique, I think the issue is closed.”

“Yes, I guess so.” Chloe padded after him to the door. “Thanks for letting me know about the funeral.”

Roelke drove north through the Kettle Moraine State Forest, thinking about the woman sitting alone in a sterile farmhouse, nursing a drink, surrounded by moving cartons that showed no signs of being unpacked.

He felt too restless to head home. Fifteen minutes later, without conscious decision, he pulled over in front of an old farmhouse built from the locally common “cream city” yellow bricks. Shrubs had grown up over the house’s lower windows, and a garden plot visible in the side yard was choked with burdock and dandelions. The weathered barn showed no sign of animal life. Once, though, Holsteins had filed in and out of stanchions, filling the barn with the warm smells of milk and manure.

And once, Roelke had milked those cows in that barn. After high school he’d left the farm behind, moved to Milwaukee. And if he’d sometimes thought about his maternal grandparents—both dead, by then—he’d given little thought to their farm. But since he’d moved back out from the city … well, sometimes he felt the impulse to drive by the old place.

God knew why, though, he thought. He checked for traffic, put the truck in gear, and did a tight U-turn on the road.

Ten more minutes and he was back in Eagle. He pulled into the space at the village parking garage that he’d vacated before driving to Chloe’s house.

The Eagle Police Department employed half a dozen officers. All but one of those were part-timers, most trying either to break into a police career or to ease out of one. Roelke was officially part-time as well, although the chief gave him extra hours when he could, and had recommended him for pick-up shifts in nearby Palmyra and North Prairie.

Chief Naborski had a private office. Marie, the clerk who entered citations and filed reports and prepared everything for court, had her own desk in the small squad room. The officers shared workspace and a typewriter, a necessity that generally worked out but sometimes got on Roelke’s nerves. Skeet Deardorff, who’d come on as Roelke went off, was out on patrol. Now would be a good time to catch up on paperwork.

He had a lot of paperwork waiting. Chief Naborski liked being able to show the taxpayers exactly how his officers spent their time. In addition to Mrs. Lundquist’s accident and the usual speeding citations and a report of property damage, Roelke had also arrested a drunk driver the evening before.

For some reason, though, he had trouble concentrating. He got up and opened his locker. On the top shelf sat a small photograph of a pretty young woman, smiling from a simple gold frame. His muscles tensed. He’d met Erin Litkowski only once, and weeks went by without him really seeing the photo. Sometimes, though, her smile chided him. Like now. He picked the photograph up, stared at it, put it back in place. When he sat down again he turned back to the DUI report he needed to complete, looked at it, and put it down, too.

When the phone rang he snatched the receiver before it could kick over to dispatch. “Eagle Police, Officer McKenna.”

“For cripes’ sake, Roelke,” a woman complained in his ear. “If I needed help, your tone would scare the crap out of me. When are you going to lighten up?”

“When are you going to stop calling me when I’m working?”

“You’re not working. You went off duty over an hour ago. I tried your place first, and when I didn’t get an answer, it didn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out where to find you.”

He leaned back in his chair, stretching the phone cord as far as it would go. “I’m staring at a stack of paperwork that would—”

“Why don’t you come over to my place? I’ve got bratwursts simmering in beer and I just lit the coals.”

“I went by the farm this afternoon.”

“You—why? Why do that?”

“I don’t know. I just did.”

Libby exhaled audibly. “Roelke, put away whatever you’re doing and come by. The kids want to see their favorite uncle.”

“I’m their second cousin.”

“See you in ten.” She hung up.

The wall clock ticked noisily as Roelke replaced the receiver, contemplating an evening with his cousin and her two kids. Libby had never lost her I’m-older-than-you attitude. She’d scold him for faults both real and imagined, jab the hot buttons she’d identified by age seven, and then make him scrub the grill after dinner.

He grinned. The reports could wait.

Chloe made it to
work the next morning in time to attend the interpreters’ briefing with Byron, held on-site in the basement of the Four Mile Inn. Byron was somewhere in his late twenties, of medium height, and thin. His shaggy brown hair, tiny goatee, and wire-rimmed glasses reminded Chloe of early Russian revolutionaries. He led the morning briefing efficiently, reviewing the tour schedule and last-minute staffing changes. The program assistant who helped Byron announced that she hadn’t finished the next month’s staff schedule yet, so there was no point in asking her about it. One of the historic farmers, already sweat-stained and smelling of manure, asked who needed milk for the day’s cooking. Then Byron introduced Chloe, and had each of the four lead interpreters wave as he pointed them out to her.

“I’m glad to be here,” Chloe said, with her warmest smile. “I’m eager to help ensure that the material culture in each exhibit provides helpful tools in your interpretation.” She looked at the ring of faces, suddenly wondering if any of them had worked in the Norwegian area in the 1970s. If so, they might know if Berget Lundquist’s ale bowl had ever been displayed in the Kvaale house.

Then she saw Byron glance pointedly at his watch. “Thanks,” she concluded. The interpreters stampeded toward the steps.

Chloe was heading toward the state sedan when someone called her name. She turned to see the village lead, a stout, gray-haired woman in a blue bustle dress.

“Got a minute?” the woman asked.

Chloe nodded. “Sure.” Byron hadn’t emerged from the basement yet.

“I know you’ll be coming to our weekly leads’ meetings—”

She would? Had Byron told her that?

“—but we have a lot of questions about the artifacts in Tobler—”

Tobler
? Shit.

“—and all we’ve gotten is a list of facts about the furnishings. We usually get an interpretive plan that helps us understand main themes for each exhibit—”

Of all the personal requests she could have gotten, why did the first one—the very first blinkin’ one—involve the Swiss carpenter’s cottage?

“—and on top of that, the wallpaper is already curling at the seams,” the woman concluded. “You need to look at the paste job.”

Byron bounded up the steps. “We’ve got to get the car out of here,” he barked at Chloe. “There’s an early tour.”

Chloe gave the village lead a rueful gesture:
I’d love to do it now, but I can’t. Darn.
“I’ll check it out next time I’m in the village.”

“Let’s go!” Byron started the car. Chloe managed to jump in and slam her door before Byron took off.

Byron drove the way he talked—impatiently. He whipped down the village hill, slowed briefly to skirt the German area, and left a wake of dust as he flew along the gravel road toward the gate at Highway S. “You know you can’t drive on the site during open hours, right? But we’re OK until nine o’clock.”

“Got it.” Chloe eased a hand to the seat and hung on.

“And never drive into the farmyards, even after-hours. We don’t tolerate modern intrusions like tire tracks.”

“No tire tracks. Got it. Listen, Byron, I was wondering if any of the original interpreters still work here.”

“Me.”

“You?”

Byron swerved wildly to avoid a maintenance truck that appeared around a corner. “Yeah, me. I started here as an interpreter.”

“Oh. Did you ever work Norwegian?”

“No. Just the village shops. And that reminds me, we’ve got this great new guy who wants to make a wagon. I think he can do it, but he needs tools. Can you stop by the wagon shop and take a quick look at our jack? It’s an original, but I think it’s sturdy enough for use.”

“Sure, I’ll look at it.”

“You and I need to talk about record collection items—those are reproductions, or artifacts that you designate, that the interpreters can actually use in the foodways and gardening and craft programs.”

“OK—”

“I can’t today, I’m booked solid. You’ve got the dates for the summer interpreters’ training down, right? It’s too bad you weren’t here for spring training, but I’ll encourage the veterans to attend your presentations. And …”

Chloe hadn’t managed to steer the conversation back to her ale bowl by the time they got back to Ed House. “Byron!” she said finally, before he could bolt from the car. “I’ve got another question for you. I’m trying to find a Norwegian ale bowl—”

“Great!” Byron awarded her a look of approval for the first time. “I’d love to see a couple more ethnic pieces put on display. There’s a great tankard in the pink trailer that would work. Acculturation is a big theme in the Norwegian area, and—”

“No,
wait
. Please. I’m looking for one particular ale bowl. It’s not on exhibit, and it doesn’t seem to be in storage. Is there a place interpreters bring items that are damaged, or need attention? Anything like that?”

“Come inside,” Byron said.

He was inside the building, rummaging in the top drawer of an ancient metal filing cabinet, before Chloe caught up. He began extracting bulging file folders and piling them on his desk. “First, I’ve saved all the collections-related catalogs that have come in. Some are for archival supplies, some for repros.”

“OK,” Chloe said dubiously, eyeing the towering stack.

Byron continued to pull folders from the cabinet. “And these are reproduction request forms. Six years’ worth. There you go.”

Chloe glanced inside the top folder, riffled through the pages, and saw a bewildering assortment of handwriting, pencil and pen, some with a few printed words and some with lines and lines of cramped cursive.

“I’m glad to get all this stuff out of here,” Byron said. “I need the filing space.”

So
do
I
, Chloe thought, picturing the tiny galley/office/mouse hole of a workspace in her trailer.

“As for damaged items, the interpreters bring them to me. I put them upstairs. Come on. I’ll show you.”

Most of the second story of Ed house was a single, long room running under the eaves. Low metal shelves lined two of the walls, and someone had covered half of the floor space with sheets. These were covered with dozens and dozens of objects in need of attention: cracked china cups, rusted iron ware, books with loose bindings, rag rugs starting to fray … Chloe stared with dismay at the graveyard. She shouldn’t have been annoyed to learn she had an intern. She needed an army of interns.

Byron gave her a satisfied look. “It’s all yours.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Most of these things are repros, if that makes you feel any better,” he added.

“Not much.”

Byron smiled. “I’d appreciate it if you could get these things moved out of here as soon as possible.”

“Well, don’t get too excited. I have to make a lot of progress in the trailers before I can start moving anything else in there.”

“I’m sure you’ll do your best.” Byron glanced at his watch. “I gotta head over to the visitors’ center and meet some Swedish dancers. Planning session for Midsummer. One of our big special events.”

“Mind if I stay and look these things over?”

“Suit yourself. Just lock up when you leave.”

Chloe listened to Byron bolt down the stairs, then slam the exterior door. A moment later she heard the sedan start and roar away. Only then did she draw a deep breath. Byron was acting like a royal jerk, dumping all of this on her so smugly. Chloe replayed their conversation in her mind, feeling self-righteously indignant—then suddenly hit pause.

Byron had mentioned a tankard in the pink trailer. Evidently Nika hadn’t been the only person in the trailers recently.

Chloe searched carefully, but the rosemaled bowl was not among the casualties. One more dead end.

She gathered the files Byron had given her, made the short drive back to the restoration area, and settled down at the picnic table to take a closer look. She flipped through the reproduction requests quickly, reading a few random samples:

June 12, 1977. We need another tin washbasin in Schulz.

September 14, 1979. The hoe handle at Pedersen cracked. Next time you order hoes, get stronger ones.

May 3, 1981. Any chance we can get a reproduction cookstove at Benson? The stove we have heats really uneven.

Chloe glanced up, grateful for any diversion, as a blue Mustang pulled in and parked on the far side of the lot. Stanley Colontuono burst from the maintenance building. “You’re late!” he bellowed at the young man who emerged from the Mustang.

“Geez Louise,” Chloe muttered, watching the teen slouch toward his boss. The two met halfway across the lot. The offender, a lanky boy with too-long bangs and tight blue jeans, stood silent, shoulders hunched. Stanley dropped his voice but launched into a tirade that included finger pointing and even one hand chopping into the other palm. After several minutes Stanley turned and stalked back toward the maintenance building. Chloe wasn’t surprised. She knew Stan’s type, all false charm that hid an explosive and controlling temper. What a jerk.

She looked back at the files in her lap, then shut her eyes, suddenly exhausted. Perhaps she’d given up the anti-depressants too soon. She thought of the orange plastic bottle waiting all by its lonesome in her medicine cabinet.

Then she opened her eyes. No, dammit. She’d either make it on her own or cash in her chips. She wasn’t going to live some half-life of psychiatrists and drugs.

So. Chloe glanced at her watch, considering. She really should head back to the Village. She should stop down at the basement of St. Peter’s Church to see how Nika was doing with her retro-fitting plan, and then stop by the Tobler House to assess the furnishings and look at the problematic wallpaper. And she would do both of those things, Chloe promised herself. Just not right this minute. Right this minute what she needed to do was get these frickin’ reproduction request files out of sight.

Leaving the files in tidy stacks, she walked to the maintenance building. The young man who’d come late to work was loading flats of sodas into the back of one of the state trucks. “Hi,” Chloe said as she passed. “My name’s Chloe.”

He looked startled. “Uh, hi. I’m, uh, Rupert.”

“Nice to meet you, Rupert.” She smiled. There. She’d done her bit to even out someone’s bad karma for the day.

She found Stanley leaning back in his chair, feet on his desk, laughing into the telephone. When he saw Chloe he planted his cowboy boots—black today—back on the floor. “I’ll talk to you later,” he muttered into the phone, and hung up.

“Sorry to disturb you, Stan,” Chloe said.

He grinned in a manner she suspected he hoped was sensual. She resisted telling him that his boots and red curls made her think of Howdy-Doody. “You’re not,” he said. “In fact, I’ve been meaning to ask you about something. It seems like somebody took a dislike to my calendar. You know anything about that?”

“Not a thing,” she lied calmly.

“I figured it must have been someone who wasn’t gettin’ any.”

Chloe had to unclench her teeth before speaking. “I need some empty cardboard boxes. You got any around here?”

“Sure, doll. Big stack out back.”

She smiled sweetly. “You may
not
call me ‘doll.’ ‘Chloe’ works just fine.”

Stan shrugged and laced his fingers over his big belly. “Well, saw-ree.”

“I’ll go grab those boxes, then,” Chloe said. “Thanks.” Asshole.

After stuffing the reproduction request files into two cartons, she folded the flaps in and dumped them into the trunk of her car. They could wait until she had the time and energy to tackle them.

Inside the pink trailer, she shuffled through her orientation file until she found the phone list she’d been given. Then she dialed a Madison number.

Old World Wisconsin was only one of a handful of historic sites owned and maintained by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The historic sites division consisted of a division administrator and a collections curator. The division curator, a woman named Leila, answered her phone on the first ring.

“I’m sorry I haven’t called or been out to welcome you,” she said when Chloe identified herself. “We had some flooding at Villa Louis, so I’ve been helping out there.”

BOOK: Old World Murder (2010)
3.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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