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Authors: Mary Daheim

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BOOK: The Alpine Fury
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“Stop the presses?” Leo murmured.

I gave a little shake of my head. “I don’t know. He may be passing through from Eastern Washington.”

Leo waited for the waitress to deliver our salads. “Do people driving the pass usually go a mile off the highway to have dinner this time of year?”

They didn’t, especially not with snow in the forecast. Cross-state travelers were anxious to get as far below the summit as possible, lest they get caught in a storm.

When the waitress returned with Leo’s second drink, he handed her a five-dollar bill. She started to protest, no doubt to tell Leo it was on the dinner tab, but he gave her hand a quick squeeze.

“This is a bribe, honey,” Leo said in a low voice. “You know Ms. Lord here?”

The waitress, whose name was Dina and who was a recent graduate of Alpine High, nodded. I smiled encouragement at Dina. Leo gave her his most conspiratorial look.

“We want you to do some newspaper sleuthing for us, honey.” He inclined his head in the direction that the unknown man had just gone. “Go roll those big blue eyes at the guy with the briefcase and pretend you’re with the chamber of commerce. Ask where he’s from, why he’s here. You know, all the guff you do so well with the tourist trade.”

Dina’s big blue eyes got even bigger. I suspected that she was too shy and too new at the job to ask for more than food orders. But she was game. Gulping and nodding, she hurried off to the other side of the dining room.

Leo complacently savored his fresh drink. “I like giving women a thrill. She probably feels like a spy from World War Two.”

“She’s probably never heard of World War Two,” I
remarked. “My son thinks the War in Nam is a rock group.”

Leo seemed amused. But then I’m his employer. “What about Pop? Did he fight in Nam?”

This was the first time that Leo had ever asked about Adam’s father. He knew Tom Cavanaugh; he had worked for one of Tom’s weeklies in California. He also knew that I knew Tom, since that was where the recommendation had originated. But Leo didn’t know how well I knew Tom. Eventually he would have to find out. But not just yet.

“No,” I answered, trying to sound natural. “Pop was too old.” And married.

I was spared further disclosures by Dina’s return. Her fair face was flushed and she was tugging nervously at her blonde pigtail. “He’s from Seattle,” she whispered. “He’s on
Her breath came in little gasps.

“Well done.” Leo’s smile didn’t ring quite true. “What kind of business?”

Dina’s face fell. “I don’t know, sir. He didn’t say.”

“Where’s he staying?” Leo was clearly making an effort to keep his voice casual.

Now Dina looked close to tears. “I don’t know that either. And I

Leo patted Dina’s arm. “That’s okay. You got the goods, honey. Thanks. How about that T-bone?”

Finding comfort either in Leo’s manner or the request for something she knew how to do, Dina scurried off to the kitchen. Leo pushed his empty salad plate aside and lighted yet another cigarette.

“What do you think?” he asked in a musing tone.

I considered. “He could be a salesman. But he didn’t look like it.”

“That’s a six-hundred-dollar overcoat,” Leo said. “The briefcase is real leather.”

“Somebody from the state? A lobbyist, maybe?”

“That’s possible,” Leo conceded. “But why not say so?”

I rubbed my chin. “BOW?” Leo wasn’t familiar with the acronym. “The Bank of Washington,” I explained.

Leo’s eyes glinted. “Let’s say you could bank on it.” He gave me a quick wink. His T-bone and my trout arrived, courtesy of Dina, who was now all shy smiles.

I didn’t feel like smiling. If the lanky man in the expensive overcoat really was from the Bank of Washington, it looked to me as if this was the end of the Bank of Alpine.

ter Four

The Advocate
had made no more than the usual waves. Clancy Barton of Barton’s Bootery and lone Erdahl of kIds cOrNEr weren’t happy with the City Council’s decision to ban overnight parking at the Alpine Mall. An unidentified woman railed against the Halloween antivandalism editorial, insisting that kids will be kids. I assumed one of hers had been caught vandalizing. Joe Igryskzsty, local tax consultant, called to inform us that we had misspelled his name—for the fifth time. I apologized, refraining from telling him that he was lucky Carla hadn’t misspelled
. Only my alert proofreading had prevented the Episcopal rector’s last name of Bartleby from being spelled with an

The snowstorm had never materialized. By Thursday, it had disappeared from the forecast, and temperatures were close to forty with a ninety percent chance of rain. That suited me fine, since I had to attend the monthly county commissioners meeting at seven
Two of Skykomish’s three commissioners had held their elective positions for over twenty years. George Engebretsen owns the local saw shop, and Alfred Cobb is retired from Blackwell Timber. The third member, Leonard Hollenberg, was elected six years ago. He’s also retired,
a former railroad man, and lives on the river about four miles west of town.

For reasons that elude me, county commissioners meetings usually draw a fair-sized crowd. The meetings are held in the main courtroom, with the three commissioners sitting behind the judge’s bench like a troika. This month’s agenda was mundane, dealing mainly with road improvements, participation in a proposed Highway 2 Greenway, and somebody’s herd of cows that had wandered across the Snohomish-Skykomish County line. The last item might prove to be the most controversial. I scanned the audience of fifty-plus to see if I could spot any unfamiliar faces. The Snohomish County farmer might have shown up with a phalanx of supporters.

One face did stand out: Big Mike Brockelman was in the fourth row, his burly arms folded on his barrel chest. I leaned across the elderly couple sitting next to Mike at the end of the aisle.

“Hi—you scouting more jobs?”

Mike didn’t recognize me at first. Then his rugged, weathered face broke into a grin. “Oh! Ms. Lord. You bet! I like to know what’s coming up, especially this time of year when the weather cuts back so many projects. A lot of county roads around here are maintained in conjunction with the state.”

I nodded. “Because of the timberlands,” I said, then smiled and moved away. The couple I’d been blocking had started muttering to each other.

The meeting began, with the commissioners droning on about whether or not an offshoot of the Martin Creek Road should be maintained at county expense. If anyone in journalism school had ever warned me that much of a reporter’s life would be spent sitting on hard chairs listening to tedious talk, I might have gone into veterinary
medicine. Or medieval history. Or ceramic engineering … My attention dribbled off until Averill Fairbanks asked for the floor.

Averill always asks for the floor. He is Alpine’s resident sighter of UFOs and other space aliens. Now he was asking the county commissioners if they were making any progress building a landing pad on Mount Baldy. Figuring this was as good a time as any to take my mediocre pictures, I knelt on the hardwood floor and snapped away.

The commissioners did their usual stall on Averill, then did the same with somebody’s legitimate query about a county bond issue to fund the sheriff’s department. My brain returned to outer space, along with Averill Fairbanks’s UFOs. Unless the meeting grew more lively, I’d rely on the minutes for the bare bones of my story.

It was nine thirty-five when we were finally adjourned. The wandering cows had been tabled until December. Some of the audience had already left, including Big Mike Brockelman, who had made his exit after the commissioners finished blundering their way through the back roads of Skykomish County.

With my handbag slung over one shoulder and my camera on the other, I headed for the door. At the back of the room, I saw Larry Petersen standing under a portrait of George Washington and chatting with Henry Bardeen from the ski lodge.

Larry looked as if he wanted to avoid me, but he smiled anyway. Since it was getting late, and I was tired, I decided to let him off the hook. Any official questions about the bank could wait. I’d already been talked to death by the county commissioners and their commentators in the crowd. Or maybe I was getting too
old for fourteen-hour days. Either way, I was anxious to go home.

On Friday, the Petersens still weren’t talking. I tried not to press Marv or Larry, but I’d dropped by the bank in the morning to send a money order to Adam, and I couldn’t resist asking if there was any news. Marv had given me a baleful look; Larry had laughingly thrown up his hands. But Rick Erlandson, who had actually waited on me, seemed even more glum than he had on Monday. I tried to banter with him, but found every jolly remark falling flat.

As usual, I was not sorry to see the workweek end. Vida went home early, to begin her revels with Roger. Ginny and Carla left like a pair of funeral mourners. Except for Carla’s brief spurt of enthusiasm over her new photography assignment, neither had regained her emotional equilibrium. My only hope was that on their announced trip to Seattle over the weekend, they would find happiness and romance. If not, maybe they’d stay there. I was getting sick of their doleful faces.

Leo, however, was cheerful. He was abandoning his crutches, and felt sufficiently healed to walk to the clinic.

“I can drive again,” he announced, preparing to leave. “How about those Sonics?”

Leo and I could bond over sports. I didn’t, however, share his enthusiasm for Seattle’s current NBA team. “Five bucks says they don’t get past round one in the playoffs,” I responded. “They’re too erratic.”

“You’re on,” said Leo with a grin. “Come April, don’t forget. I hate welshers.”

I was putting on my duffle coat, wondering about dinner. I had to grocery-shop. The thought turned my mind to restaurants. “Instead of money,” I said on a
sudden whim, “let’s make it dinner at King Olav’s. Or do you still want to go there?”

Leo glanced up from the drawer he was closing. “I’ve been there.” His brown eyes avoided me. “Besides, we’re talking springtime. If you want to make a serious bet, let’s say fifty.”

Somehow, I felt foolish. “Oh—well, okay.” I did a small jig at the door. “How’d you like King Olav’s?”

Leo seemed intrigued by something under his desk. “It was okay. Mostly Scandinavian stuff. Kind of heavy.” He’d all but disappeared.

“That’s because Alpine is mostly Scandinavian.” I paused, waiting for Leo to come up for air. He did, barely.

“Have a good one, babe,” he said.

I shrugged. “You, too.” I left.

By the time I restocked at the Grocery Basket and got into my car, the revised weather forecast was calling for snow, at least above the two-thousand-foot level. Since Alpine is well within that range, I took notice. But if weathermen are sneered at in other parts of the country, their task in dealing with the Cascade Range is even more onerous. The Pacific Ocean sends the warming Japanese Current inland until it hits the mountains. Winds blow down from Canada and air floats up from the Columbia River. All sorts of strange currents buffet the coast of Washington. It’s a meteorologist’s nightmare, and advanced technology hasn’t helped long-range forecasting.

Still, I wanted to be prepared. I had rock salt for my walk and enough food to last through Wednesday. In case of a power failure—which could happen in any kind of weather in Alpine—there was a Coleman lantern left over from Adam’s camping days and a battery-run radio. My woodpile was well stocked, and during
the most recent earthquake alarm, I’d purchased several gallons of well water. I should have felt secure as I unloaded the groceries in my pine-paneled kitchen.

And maybe I did. But I also felt lonely. There was one message on my answering machine, from City Librarian Edna Mae Dalrymple, asking if I’d host a bridge date the week after Thanksgiving. That, I realized, was the extent of my current social life. I finished putting away the groceries and poured myself an unusually large bourbon and water. Halfway into it, I called Milo Dodge.

“I’ve got enough salmon for two,” I said, which wasn’t true when taking Milo’s prodigious appetite into account. “Are you hungry?”

But Milo already had his TV dinner in the microwave. My only consolation was that he sounded genuinely sorry. I suspected, however, that his regrets were more for the fish than my company.

Briefly, almost nervously, I considered calling Leo. But that would be reckless. Then I wondered who had been Leo’s companion at King Olav’s. Perhaps he’d dined there alone. It didn’t seem likely; the restaurant wasn’t the sort of place where people ate solo.

Carla and Ginny had gone to Seattle; Vida had Roger. There were plenty of single people in Alpine who were probably as lonely as I was.

But I wasn’t unhappy. Being alone was quite different from being lonely. I was merely going through a bad patch, probably triggered by Ginny and Carla’s long faces. I marched out to the kitchen and put the salmon under the broiler. All of it.

And I ate it, along with a potato and some green beans.

I still felt lonely. Maybe I was unhappy, too.

* * *

Saturday morning didn’t exactly dawn, it hovered over Alpine like a pall. The clouds were low and gray, with the rain coming down in buckets. I did laundry and vacuuming and dusting. By noon, the rain had stopped, but the clouds were still there, so heavy that I could almost feel them.

In the afternoon, I decided to drive to Monroe. I had no reason, I simply wanted to get out of Alpine. Once I hit Highway 2, my mood began to lighten. So did the sky. As I descended the pass, the clouds lifted and brightened. My mouth twisted into a wry smile. Like most native Pacific Northwesterners, I wasn’t bothered by gray, rainy days. In fact, I like them. I didn’t blame my emotional slide on the weather. It was caused by something else, and I felt at a loss to figure out what it was.

The strip malls in Monroe helped. My only purchases were a couple of paperbacks and a shirt for Adam’s Christmas. I stayed long enough to eat an early dinner at a Japanese take-out restaurant, and arrived home shortly after six.

BOOK: The Alpine Fury
8.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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