Authors: Mary Daheim
It had finally occurred to me that Elmer was talking about the silent partner who had helped found the Bank of Alpine. “Who was it, Mr. Petersen?” I asked, keeping my voice bland.
“Who?” Elmer chortled. “Earl Ennis Blatt, that’s who. Vida’s old man. How do you put up with that Runkel woman? She drives me nuts.”
A week later, life at the office had calmed down considerably. Because we had to work the Friday after Thanksgiving, I gave everybody, including me, Wednesday afternoon off. Adam and Ben were flying into Sea-Tac at six-ten. They planned to rent a car and drive to Alpine. Meanwhile, I had to run a dozen errands, which included a big stop at the Grocery Basket. It was almost five when I got home.
I checked the answering machine, but there were no messages. None of my guests had called to cancel. Adam and Ben must be on schedule. I hadn’t heard from Tom since his call ten days earlier. He was probably caught up in preparing for the farce that would be the Cavanaugh Thanksgiving dinner. I guessed it would be catered, or that they’d eat out in an elegant San Francisco restaurant. Sandra hadn’t been much of a cook even in the days before she boiled her purse in the soup kettle.
Next, I put away the groceries. I could barely squeeze the huge turkey onto the bottom shelf of my refrigerator. But its plump presence made me smile. I liked the idea of big holiday gatherings. It would have been even better if Vida could have joined us, but naturally, she preferred spending the day with her three daughters and their families. Maybe some of Roger’s cousins would truss him up and roast him on a slow-turning spit.
Maybe I shouldn’t have such evil thoughts about Roger. Instead, I should think kindly on the shattered Petersens. Linda was dead; Larry was in jail. They’d never share Thanksgiving again with their family.
But as far as I could tell, the Petersens’ holidays had never been happy. The facade was there, but like so many of Alpine’s secrets, the reality was ugly, and filled with rancor.
Finally I made myself a ham sandwich and sat down to look at
, which I hadn’t yet seen in print. Leafing through the Thanksgiving special edition, I felt a surge of pride. The front page had a follow-up story on the Petersen murder, the second lead was the state auditors’ request that criminal charges be filed against Christie Johnston, and our third big article featured interviews with the county commissioners regarding the proposed bond issue. There were plenty of ads,
too, including a two-column-by-six-inch Buddy Bayard studio portrait of the munificent Ed Bronsky family, wishing that everybody in Alpine would get stuffed for Thanksgiving. I’m not sure if Ed meant what he said, but he was smiling in the picture.
At last I came to Vida’s “Scene Around Town,” which I hadn’t yet read this week, and which she had proofed herself:
Rick Erlandson and Ginny Burmeister holding hands at Sunday’s turkey shoot at the Overholt farm … Durwood Parker spotted on a snowboard coming down Sixth Street and making an unscheduled stop under a mailbox between Cedar and Cascade … Deputy Sam Heppner, on a well-deserved day off, displaying the eleven-pound steelhead he caught in the Tye River Monday … Darla Puckett’s lips were sealed when fellow members of the Burl Creek Thimble Club tried to get her to reveal her mouthwatering pecan pie recipe…. That’s newcomer Amanda Hanson waiting on the organized early birds who are already mailing off their Christmas parcels at the post office…. Elmer Petersen suffering from scratches in a fight with his pretty Persian, Mamie Eisenhower. Did the cat get your tongue, Elmer? It should have….
How did Vida know?
That was one mystery I’d never attempt to solve. And I didn’t dare ask. Vida’s secret was safe with me. I had a feeling it would henceforth be safe with Elmer, too.
I went out into the kitchen to make the dressing and boil the cranberries. Back in 1911, the Alpine Lumber Company had started holding an annual Thanksgiving
feast for the entire town. The dinners continued until the mill was shut down by Carl Clemans in 1929. I have two framed photographs in my living room. One shows the families gathered in the old social hall circa 1927, wearing their Sunday best and looking at the camera in a self-conscious manner. The other is of the mill itself, with snow covering the tin roof and the lumber on the railroad siding. Smoke is pouring out of the stacks. Across the valley where the highway and the river still run is Mount Baldy, with a huge gouge halfway up its flanks, mute evidence of where the loggers had stripped away the forest.
Baldy is now covered with second-growth timber. Many of the present generation of loggers and their families would have to get their Thanksgiving fare from the food bank. The environmentalists tell us we have come a long way since the reckless plundering of the woods. My head tells me that’s true. My heart sends a different message.
The previous night, the wind had changed, blowing the clouds over the mountains into Eastern Washington. Looking through the kitchen window, I saw the vast array of stars, so close that they seemed to hover atop the snowcapped trees. A crescent moon was slung above Tonga Ridge. It tilted upward. My mother used to tell me that was a sign of clear weather. The moon held the snow in its cradle.
Somewhere out there, in the winter to come and the spring beyond, was the future.
future. I would grapple with it and fret over it and stagger and stumble and try to make the right decisions. As if there were any. There is only today, and getting through it without doing harm. Doing right, even doing good—those are bonuses.
For now, on the eve of Thanksgiving, a fat turkey in
the refrigerator and the smell of onions frying in butter was enough. My menfolk were winding their way up the Stevens Pass corridor to Alpine. At least two of them were.
I wandered out into the living room. From over sixty years ago, the faces around the table in the social hall stared out at me. Maybe they weren’t so self-conscious after all. Studying them in the lamplight, I thought they looked a little smug. What did they know that I didn’t? Was their Alpine different from mine?
Yes, it was.
In Alpine, murder always seems to occur in alphabetical order—and you can be sure Emma Lord, editor and publisher of
The Alpine Advocate
, is there to report every detail.
Don’t miss any of the Emma Lord mysteries, beginning with
THE ALPINE ADVOCATE
As editor-publisher of
The Alpine Advocate
, Emma Lord is always in search of a good story. But when Mark Doukas—heir to the richest old man in town—is murdered, Emma gets more than she bargained for.
THE ALPINE BETRAYAL
Dani Marsh—former Alpine resident, now Hollywood star—returns to Alpine for some location shooting in the Cascades Mountains only to become embroiled in the murder of her ex-husband Once again, Emma Lord has to do some heavy investigating to get to the bottom of the story.
THE ALPINE CHRISTMAS
It’s Christmastime in Alpine, and that means snow, carolers, Christmas trees … and murder. The discovery of one woman’s leg and another woman’s nude, half-frozen body in the lake leads Emma Lord and her House & Home editor, Vida, into a deadly holiday.
THE ALPINE DECOY
The arrival of a young African American nurse in Alpine is news enough in this predominantly white community. When a second newcomer—a young black man—is found dead, Emma Lord suspects that something sinister is afoot.
THE ALPINE ESCAPE
When Emma Lord decides to take a few days off, she expects some time alone to do some soul-searching. Instead, she is caught up in a century-old mystery: Her friends have found the skeleton of an unknown young woman in their basement….
THE ALPINE GAMBLE
The year’s biggest news story is the development of a luxury spa around Alpine’s mineral springs—and the controversy surrounding it. But even those who predicted that the spa would bring sleaze and “Californicators” didn’t expect to be confronted with murder.
THE ALPINE HERO
In the facial room of Stella’s Styling Salon, Emma Lord stumbles across the body of a woman, anonymous under a mud pack, throat slashed. As rumors begin to fly, shady strangers turn up in town, and a young woman disappears—making Emma more determined than ever to scoop this story.
THE ALPINE ICON
Glamorous Ursula Randall returns to Alpine to marry her third husband—only to be murdered, her body dumped facedown in the river. As Emma Lord hunts for a stop-press story, a snake-in-the-grass killer, unappeased by one murder, slithers unnoticed through the shadows….
THE ALPINE JOURNEY
A picturesque Oregon seashore village may not be Emma’s traditional beat, but when a sensational headline-grabbing murder occurs, she’s on the case. It all begins as sexy Audrey Imhoff emerges from her nightly nude dip in the Pacific—and a killer makes it her last. A week later Audrey’s husband disappears, and the couple’s three adolescent children seem strangely relieved by his absence. Emma Lord will get to the bottom of all this strange behavior—or die trying….
by Mary Daheim
Published by Ballantine Books.
Available at your local bookstore.
Copyright © 1995 by Mary Daheim
The Alpine Gamble
by Mary Daheim copyright
© 1996 by Mary Daheim
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.