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Authors: Kathleen Ernst

Old World Murder (2010) (8 page)

BOOK: Old World Murder (2010)
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His forehead smoothed out again, and he turned to stare thoughtfully out a window for a few moments. Then he shook his head. “Sorry, Miss Ellefson. I can’t think of a thing. I don’t know why she wanted it back so much. She had one son, but he died in Vietnam. Pretty early in the war—he was one of the first.”

Nineteen sixty-two, Chloe thought, remembering that Mrs. Lundquist had donated her heirlooms after her son’s death. “Did she mention getting a phone call or visit that distressed her within the last month or so?”

“No. And I kept a good eye on that house, let me tell you. I did it for her husband. I know he’d have done it for my wife if things had been different.”

“I’m sure you did.” Chloe gave him a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Solberg. I won’t take up any more of your time.”

She stood up, and he did too. But he didn’t step into the aisle. “I suppose you could look around,” he said slowly.

“Look around?”

“Her house. I suppose that would be all right.”

“Look around her house?” Chloe repeated stupidly.

“I have a key. I don’t know what’s going to happen to her things, but nothing’s happened yet. We can go right now, if you want.”

Chloe considered. She
should start that storage building proposal. Still, her afternoon was clear—she’d actually gone through her orientation notes the evening before, checking for any scheduled meetings. Nika had somehow badgered the restaurant staff into giving up two tables, and the maintenance staff into hauling them down the narrow stairs to the basement of St. Peter’s church. With her own portable typewriter in place, already hard at work, she wasn’t likely to even notice that Chloe was gone.

Mr. Solberg stood waiting patiently. “Sure,” she told him.

“I’ll just be a minute.” Mr. Solberg walked slowly to the coffin and stood, head bowed.

Not wanting to intrude, Chloe turned away. Roelke McKenna still stood near the back of the sanctuary. She joined him. “Good morning. I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“When people die on my shift I always attend their funerals, if I can.”

“Oh.” Chloe stared back toward the casket, wishing Mr. Solberg would hurry.

“Did you check into the other donations?”

Chloe blinked at Officer McKenna. “I beg your pardon?”

“The other donations,” he said patiently. “You were going to call Madison.”

“Oh. Right. Yes.” Shit. Why did she always stutter like an idiot in this man’s presence? “I called the registrar yesterday. She said the ale bowl was the only artifact from Mrs. Lundquist’s donation that was transferred to Old World.”

He nodded. “Well, I need to get to work.”

Me too, Chloe thought, but she felt no inclination to tell this uptight cop that she was about to poke through the dead woman’s home and belongings.


Mrs. Lundquist lived—had lived—in a tiny frame house just off the main street. Lace curtains hung in the window, and a wicker rocking chair waited on the small front porch. Crimson geraniums blossomed cheerfully in half-barrels on either side of the front walk. Life goes on, Chloe thought, but it all seemed strange.

Mr. Solberg unlocked the front door. Chloe stepped inside and automatically paused, taking in the feel of the place. The house was forty, maybe fifty years old. It held a distant jumble of sensory energy, but the strongest sensation was one of calm quiet. That made sense; Mrs. Lundquist had lived alone for a long time.

Pocket doors to the right of the entrance hall led to an eat-in kitchen. Mr. Solberg turned left. “If there’s anything to find, I think it’d be in here,” he said.

Chloe scanned the tidy living room. The furniture was old, worn but not dingy. A recliner waited in front of a television set, holding a half-done crocheted afghan in cheery purple and yellow. Mr. Solberg picked up the project, smoothing the zigzag pattern with his fingers. “Berget always was one for crochet. She’d make blankets and donate ’em to the hospital in Madison for new babies.”

Chloe murmured something sympathetic before turning away from the sadness in the old man’s eyes. Bookshelves lined two walls. Mrs. Lundquist’s reading tastes had ranged from James Michener’s novels to presidential biographies, but evidently did not include Norwegian history or antiques.

A montage of photographs formed a square on one wall, and Chloe stepped closer for a good look. Mr. Solberg joined her. “There’s Berget and Jack. Jack died young. Bad ticker.” He pointed to a black-and-white wedding photograph of a beaming couple. Mid-1930s, Chloe guessed, judging by the gown style. She stared at Berget as a young bride, trying hard not to juxtapose the lovely image with a lined face, slack in death.

The other photographs were older and of still, stern people, stiffly posed. Mrs. Lundquist’s parents, grandparents? “Do you know if both of the Lundquists had Norwegian ancestry?” she asked.

“She did, that’s for sure. She was proud of her people. ‘I’m from good Norwegian stock,’ she always said. But Jack was Swedish. Berget used to say how open-minded she was, marrying a Swede.”

Ah! It was an old jest, but helpful. The sketchy accession form specifically noted a
ale bowl. If Jack Lundquist had been Swedish, the ale bowl had almost certainly come through Mrs. Lund-quist’s family, not his.

“We should take a look at her desk,” Mr. Solberg told her. He led Chloe to a small desk in a back corner, painted white. A tiny, almost thread-bare stuffed rabbit rested against a mug holding pens and pencils. Her son’s? Chloe touched the toy with a finger.

In the top drawer they found neat stacks of bills and canceled checks. “Were you aware of any financial difficulties Mrs. Lundquist was experiencing?” Chloe asked, uncomfortably aware that she sounded more like Officer McKenna than herself. “Property tax payments, a medical problem, anything like that?”

He waved that idea aside. “No. She wasn’t rich, but Jack’s insurance policy left her provided for. She took pills for arthritis, but that’s it. Not like me. I take seven different medications.”

“Then I don’t think we’d learn anything helpful by examining her finances,” Chloe said. The idea of pawing through the dead woman’s bank records felt just too intrusive.

The second desk drawer held packets of yellowed thank-you notes, half-used boxes of faded Christmas cards, one unopened package of elegant writing paper.

“Did Mrs. Lundquist have many friends?” Chloe asked. “Other than you, I mean?”

“She lived pretty much in Jack’s shadow when he was alive. A lot of the gals did, back then. After he died, I think most of their friends drifted away. Jack was orphaned young, so there’s no family there. And then Berget’s son got killed in Vietnam. Now, that was a nasty war.”

“So Mrs. Lundquist never had any grandchildren?”

“Nope. She was a loner, I guess you’d say. She was a regular down to church, and helped out with the altar guild. Those three ladies at the service this morning are altar guild. But Berget was reserved. Always was. Didn’t make friends easy, I’d say. And did just fine on her own.”

Chloe sighed and closed that drawer. Crouching, she pulled out the bottom one. It was heavier than the first two, and revealed two leather-bound photograph albums. Chloe pulled out the first. The most recent photographs were already decades old; evidently Mrs. Lundquist hadn’t taken a picture since her son died. Chloe flipped back through blurry snapshots that documented Christmases, a family picnic, a trip to the Grand Canyon, color portraits of a young man in uniform. Mrs. Lundquist looked perpetually happy.

The second album held more heirloom photographs—cabinet cards and
cartes de visites
. “Do you suppose this is Mrs. Lundquist?” Chloe asked, pointing to a lovely girl in white. “It looks like confirmation day.”

Mr. Solberg peered over her shoulder, and tapped the photo with a trembling finger. “Oh, yes. That’s Berget.”

“This must be her and her parents. But who’s this?” Chloe stared at a studio-posed cabinet card. A very young Berget stood at her mother’s elbow. A boy stood beside the man Chloe assumed was Berget’s father. “A brother?”

He squinted at the photo. “Perhaps. Whoever the boy was, he must be long dead. I heard Berget say more than once that everyone had died on her. She didn’t have any family left.”

“That’s so sad.” Something began to ache in Chloe’s chest as she stared at the sweet girl Mrs. Lundquist had been—not knowing she was destined to bury her parents, her brother, her husband, her child.

“Ooph.” Mr. Solberg straightened with a little grimace of pain. “Knees don’t work the way they used to. Don’t get old, Ms. Ellefson. It’s no fun. Although, as they say, consider the alternative.”

I have
, Chloe wanted to say. Suddenly she’d had enough. She put the photo albums back carefully, shut the drawer, and turned to her host. “Thank you, Mr. Solberg, but I don’t think we’re going to find anything to tell me more about that ale bowl.”

After pulling his squad
car into The Eagle’s Nest parking lot that evening, Roelke surveyed his surroundings. The bar occupied the lower level of a small, two-story frame building. It had stood empty for most of Roelke’s time in Eagle. In the past he’d occasionally made a pass through the parking lot while on patrol, checking for kids huddled behind the building to smoke cigarettes or pot. Now, half a dozen cars and pickup trucks were parked in front of the bar, and three motorcycles waited for their drivers in the glow of a pole-mounted security light. Low gray clouds threatened rain, and made the neon Miller and Bud signs blinking in the front windows seem welcoming.

Somewhere inside, according to Ginger Herschorn’s nephew, a nameless bookie had pressured the underage kid to bet a lot of money on a baseball game. The boy had been half defensive and half surly. “I wagered on a ball game,” he’d said with a shrug, slunk down low on the flowered sofa in his parents’ living room. “I lost some money. No big deal.”

Roelke parked around the corner to keep the car accessible without being blatantly visible. He pulled his nylon jacket on when he got out of the car. The air felt damp and cool as he headed across the parking lot. The shrieking vocals of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”
pulsed from a jukebox and into the night. Blues, he thought wistfully. Just once I’d like to do a bar check and hear some good blues.

A wall of smoke and noise greeted him inside, accompanied by the odor of fried mushrooms and onion rings. The bar itself stood island-like in the middle of the room. A horseshoe of small wooden tables sat along the front and side walls. A waitress sporting bottle-blonde hair and tight black jeans was delivering a tray of beer mugs to a noisy group in one corner. She glanced at Roelke when he came in, but didn’t stop moving.

Two pool tables sat behind the bar. And in the wall behind them, three closed doors. One no doubt led to a kitchen. One room was probably an office. And the third?

Roelke approached the bartender, a cadaverous-looking man perhaps in his fifties. The barkeep stopped sliding clean glasses into overhead wooden racks, looking wary. He had thinning gray hair combed away from a narrow face. The overhead light’s yellow glow wasn’t kind to his sallow complexion, or to the dark circles under his eyes.

“How’s it going?” Roelke asked, his tone pleasant but not jovial. Finding the friendly-balance in a bar was a knife-edge thing. If he was too friendly, regulars would come to expect chit-chat, slowing him down whenever he did a bar check while on patrol. Not friendly enough, an empty beer bottle might just come sailing from some dark corner next time he stopped by.

“Ah, Jesus.” The barkeep put both palms on the bar. “You got some problem in here?”

“As a matter of fact, we have had a complaint. Underage drinking and underage gambling.” Out of the corner of his eye, Roelke saw the waitress slide quietly through one of the closed doors. “Are you Joe Pagenkampf?” One Joe Pagenkampf had filed a request for the tavern’s liquor license.


“You know anything about those things?”

“Nope.” Pagenkampf shook his head. “I run a clean place.”

“That’s good to know,” Roelke said politely, holding the man’s gaze for an extra moment. Message delivered.

Before leaving he strolled around the room, nodding hello at the patrons. Most looked to be nothing more than tired men and women enjoying a cold one on their way home. He didn’t see anyone who looked young enough to card. He checked the bathroom. A bookie might not operate in the john, but drug dealers often did. This one was empty. In need of scrubbing, but empty.

As Roelke emerged from the bathroom a red-haired man wearing work clothes and cowboy boots burst through the door. “Is he here?” he demanded of the bartender. “Is he back there?”

Pagenkampf cocked his head infinitesimally in Roelke’s direction, then lowered his voice. “Sorry, Stan. Haven’t seen him tonight.”

Roelke had gone very still, watching.

Stan glanced at the policeman and shed his anger like a lizard shedding his skin. “Hey,” he said with a friendly nod, and slid onto a barstool. “Get me a draft Miller,” he told the bartender.

Roelke returned the greeting and headed out to the squad. After calling back in to service he sat, staring at the bar, thinking. Who had this Stan guy been looking for? The bookie?

Raindrops began a tentative sprinkle against his windshield. Roelke tapped a rhythm against the steering wheel with his thumb. He’d done all he could do tonight. The chief would probably send one of the young guys in wearing street clothes, one of the part-timers, not likely to be recognized. The EPD’s newest hire was fresh from the academy, still in the John Wayne phase. He’d leap at the chance to try to make nice with the bartender, and see if he could sniff out any hint of whatever was going on.

But Roelke would quietly talk with a few people in Eagle as well, see what else he could uncover. If a bookie was operating out of the back room at The Eagle’s Nest, the cops would need a warrant to nail him. And to get a warrant, they’d need more than a sullen teen’s vague admission.

His ear caught a call among the radio chatter, just as rain began a torrential timpani on the car roof. “George 220. Respond to a 10-45, northbound lane of Highway 67, approximately one mile north of junction with Highway 59.”

Great. Ju-u-ust great. “George 220. On my way.”

He started the car and pulled out of the lot. If he was a gambling man, he’d have put a lot of dollars on his guess that no one—not from Waukesha County, not from the DNR, not from any of the surrounding municipalities—would show up to offer assistance on this call. His unseen colleagues would no doubt judge Roelke competent enough to move an animal carcass from the road in a downpour, all by himself.

“Protect and serve,” Roelke muttered, and headed north.

BOOK: Old World Murder (2010)
10.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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