Read The Alpine Pursuit Online
Authors: Mary Daheim
“I’ll be darned. So I am.”
The sheriff ignored my sarcasm. “You saw what happened. Maybe I’ll stop by after I see Destiny.”
“I’ll leave a light in the window,” I said. “That way, if you run amok with the snowmobile, you’ll know how to avoid hitting my little log cabin. Why don’t you take lessons from Durwood Parker? He used to drive a snowmobile before you benched him after he took out the Kiwanis Club ice sculpture in Old Mill Park.”
“That’s how we got the snowmobile,” Milo said. “We bought it from Durwood in exchange for a fat reckless driving ticket.”
Durwood, who was a retired pharmacist and the original owner of the local drugstore that still bore his name, was the worst driver in Alpine. It was a miracle that he’d never done serious damage to anyone, including himself. His license had been suspended for years.
“You could always ski up here,” I remarked.
“I haven’t skied in ten years,” Milo said. “My knees won’t take it anymore.”
Yet another reminder that Milo and I weren’t getting any younger. We were growing old, but not together.
∗ ∗ ∗
I’ve always liked history. But maybe I’m shallow. Ben had seen the Roman Forum before, so I went without him, joining a tour group led by a hyper young woman who spoke four languages and kept screaming at us to stay together, move along, listen up. I’d felt as if I were in third grade.
From our guide’s rapid-fire English I learned that there had been several forums, built by different emperors, and that serious disintegration didn’t start until a great fire in the ninth century. Almost a millennium passed before restoration was begun.
But the place still looked like a wreck to me. Broken columns, decaying marble, grass and moss creeping everywhere, with nary a bathroom in sight. The names of the great emperors rolled by—Julius Caesar, Augustus, Trajan, Hadrian. They’d had a long run. But they were all dead, some for over two thousand years. What was left of the Forum seemed a symbol of life’s futility. I felt depressed again.
But I finally found a bathroom.
∗ ∗ ∗
Vida was not depressed. When she called me about half an hour after I got through talking to Milo, my House & Home editor was in high gear.
“Imagine!” she shrieked in my ear. “Roger couldn’t settle down last night until almost three in the morning! Can you think how hard this has been on him? Why, he might have been shot, too! He’ll have nightmares for months!”
“It’s pretty hard on Hans, too,” I noted. “Have you found out if he has family?”
“No one around here,” Vida retorted, indicating that if the deceased had survivors somewhere other than in Alpine, they might as well not exist. “According to Stella Magruder, Hans and Rita Patricelli were romantically involved. Stella does Rita’s hair—every week Rita has hers touched up, can you believe it?—and they had plans to go to Hawaii over spring break.”
I recalled Rita’s hysterical reaction to Hans’s death. “I’d heard they were seeing each other, but I didn’t know it was serious.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Vida responded. “You never know with people’s morals these days. But Rita certainly was upset. My niece, Marje Blatt, told me she had to be sedated last night and one of the Patricellis had to stay with her.”
As usual, Vida’s grapevine was working well.
“Furthermore, Amy told me that Roger said Destiny and Hans did not get along
and that she—Destiny—would never have cast Hans in the part except for pressure from Clea Bhuj. Destiny and Hans fought the whole time.”
“Wasn’t Roger cast at the last minute?” I asked.
“Yes,” Vida replied, “but he’d been ‘hanging out’—as the young say—with Davin. They’re friends, you see. And of course with Roger’s interest in the theater, he attended most of the rehearsals. That’s how he knew Davin’s part so well.”
I still couldn’t see Roger bitten by the acting bug. Maybe, I mused, someone was handing out not just parts but also marijuana. “Why was Clea so insistent on Hans being in the play?”
“I’ve no idea,” Vida said, sounding miffed with herself. “Campus politics, maybe. Hans was dean of students, Clea is head of the Humanities Division. I understand that the so-called Ivory Tower is fraught with political maneuvering. Wouldn’t you think that
would be enough?”
“It probably has something to do with
,” I said. “College professors don’t get rich, not even the administrators. And don’t forget power. In a small world like a college campus, power can be a heady thing.”
“Really,” Vida sniffed. “I can’t think why. I mean it isn’t like government or some large corporation.”
“Power’s power,” I said, looking out of the window and noting that icicles were forming. Maybe it was starting to thaw. “Let’s face it,” I went on, remembering Nat Cardenas’s offers from other schools. “SCC is a small college. It may be a jumping-off place for ambitious educators.”
“Nonsense!” Vida snapped. “Why would anyone want to leave Alpine? Larger schools are usually in larger cities. Think of all the problems there must be in a place like Seattle or . . .” I was sure she was shuddering. “. . . Los Angeles.”
“The pay’s better in California, I hear.” I wasn’t ready yet to break Nat’s confidence. “Do you really think Nat would shoot a colleague over a job issue?”
“No. No, of course not,” Vida said in a more reasonable tone. “But isn’t that the point of the investigation? To find out if someone intentionally put real bullets in Jim’s gun?”
“I suppose it is,” I allowed. “But was Hans the one who was supposed to get shot?”
“Yes,” Vida stated. “I read the script after I got home last night. I picked up a copy at the theater when we were backstage. The character of the café owner was supposed to be an innocent victim of gun violence. Surely you noticed that no one acted surprised when Hans fell to the ground.”
“That’s true.” Thus, Hans was the intended victim all along. But obviously he wasn’t supposed to die. “Say, did you hear anything about the car that was supposedly floating in the Sky last night or did the medics make that up?” I’d forgotten to ask Milo. His interest in Destiny had gotten me sidetracked.
“What car?” Vida’s reaction was swift.
I explained what Del Amundson had said after she had left. “I didn’t listen to the radio this morning,” I confessed. “I couldn’t bear to hear Spence gloating over his latest scoop.”
“He doesn’t usually work on weekends,” Vida said. “He lets those college students take over for him. Not,” she added hastily, “that I listen to KSKY very often.”
I don’t believe Vida when she insists that she ignores the competition. Never ever would she turn down a news source, not even if Hitler were the disc jockey, playing German military marches between newsbreaks.
“Besides,” she continued, “I didn’t have time. I was too worried about Roger and then I got on the phone. I’ll have to call my nephew, Billy. He wasn’t scheduled for duty this weekend, but with everything happening around here, Milo probably has all his deputies on the job.”
Bill Blatt was yet another one of Vida’s blood-related sources. Since she hadn’t yet mentioned Destiny’s dead dog, I decided to relay the one piece of news I possessed.
“Dogs!” Vida exclaimed. “Noisy creatures. But not as bad as cats. Cats are so spoiled. And they don’t
anything. I’m perfectly satisfied with Cupcake. A canary is a most enjoyable pet. Which,” she added on a darker note, “is another reason I think it’s wise for Buck to have his own place. He has a dog, you know.”
“I didn’t,” I said. “You mean he’s found somewhere to live in town?”
“Yes,” Vida replied. “He’ll be moving in when he gets back from Palm Springs. It’s a small house near Burl Creek. It needs work, but he’s handy.”
Vida and Buck had almost parted ways last fall when she refused to let him move in with her after he sold his home down the highway at Gold Bar. She had argued that not only would people talk, but that she needed all three bedrooms—one for her, one for Roger when he stayed over, and one for her hats. Buck, naturally, had failed to understand.
“By the way,” I asked, “do you know where Hans Berenger lived?”
“An apartment,” Vida answered promptly, “in the same building where Leo lives. But someone—now who was it? I don’t recall—told me that he’d bought some property not far from the campus. Maybe he intended to build. Really, I must dash. I want to phone Amy and see how Roger’s doing this afternoon. It’s so difficult not to be able to get out and about.”
It seemed to me that Vida was keeping very busy at home. Despite my misgivings, I flipped on the radio. It was almost two o’clock and time for the news.
A canned commercial for McDonald’s was airing, but as soon as it finished, an unfamiliar voice filled the airways. “This is Rey Fernandez, with the news from your favorite station, KSKY, the voice of Skykomish County.”
I should have recognized Rey, but he sounded very different from the itinerant worker he’d portrayed in
. The whining Hispanic accent was gone, replaced by a smooth baritone. He sounded almost professional.
“The investigation of the death of Hans Berenger, Skykomish Community College dean of students, continues today as witnesses undergo interrogation by Sheriff Milo Dodge. It has yet to be determined if the fatal shooting of Berenger, age forty-eight, will be ruled an accidental homicide.”
Rey continued with some of the details, then switched to the weather, which, as anybody with eyes could see, wasn’t good: “The forecast for Skykomish County predicts temperatures slightly above freezing by late this afternoon. Tonight may bring freezing rain, with winds up to ten miles per hour. Look for a break in the weather by tomorrow, with higher temperatures and more rain.”
That meant slush, great big piles of it, but only if it didn’t get colder and freeze everything into dangerous ice. It also meant that the river would rise.
Rey said as much, then segued to the floating car story. “Sheriff’s deputies are still seeking the driver of a nineteen-ninety-nine Mitsubishi Galant that plunged into the Skykomish River around midnight. Divers have been brought in from Snohomish County to help with the search. It’s not known whether anyone was actually in the vehicle when it went into the river not far from Anderson’s Auto Supply and the steel bridge into town.”
Rey broke for a couple of commercials before returning with regional, national, and international news. I turned off the radio when he got to the first story out of Olympia, the state capital. By the time we received the information from the wire service Monday, it would be old news. Over the weekend, everything I wanted to know was happening here in Alpine.
I wasn’t alone in seeking the local angle, however. The phone rang as soon as I stepped out into the carport to check the thermometer. The caller identified himself as Rolf Fisher from the Associated Press. The name was familiar. I’d spoken with him a few times concerning other news items originating out of Skykomish County.
“We got wind of your drama disaster,” Rolf said in a voice that had some kind of New York accent. “Can you fill me in?”
I went on the defensive: “Why me?”
“Sheriff Dodge isn’t talking,” Rolf replied. “Neither is the college president. Come on, Emma. We’re in the same business.”
I hedged. “How did you hear about it?”
“We picked it up from your local radio station this morning,” Rolf replied. “KSKY doesn’t have much of a signal, but one of our guys went steelheading early up on the Sky near Sultan. He managed to get it on his car radio.”
“Then you know as much as I do,” I said, noting that it was thirty-four degrees in the shelter of the carport. “We’re snowbound. I haven’t been able to get out today and Sheriff Dodge is hampered in his interviews by the weather.”
“You didn’t happen to be in the audience, did you?” Rolf asked.
Emma Lord, eyewitness reporter.
I didn’t much like scooping myself. “I saw what everybody else saw, which is what got reported on KSKY. Talk to Spencer Fleetwood, the station owner. He was there, too. He was actually in the play.” Let Spence take the heat. He already had the story.
“We did,” Rolf responded, sounding impatient. “He gave us the party line, too. What is this, some kind of cover-up?”
“Are you kidding?” I’d come back inside and was taking a jug of apple cider out of the fridge. “Why would we do that? We simply don’t know anything yet.”
“You know,” Rolf said, sounding amused, “you small towners are all alike. You take care of your own. You barricade yourselves up in the woods or out on the farms and do everything but build a moat around yourselves. What’s the point?”
point?” I snapped.
Rolf uttered a little laugh. “My point is getting a news story, same as yours. It’s not my fault that the
or whatever your paper is called happens to be a weekly. I’ve got a deadline to meet. It’s one thing if some logger bashes in another logger’s head in a tavern brawl. But this is different, in case you haven’t noticed. Some guy gets whacked in plain sight of several hundred people and nobody even knows he’s dead until he doesn’t get up for his curtain call. That, lady, is news.”
I didn’t like the lecture and I hadn’t liked being called a small towner. I still felt like a city girl inside. Rolf Fisher was making me mad.
“Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” I said, and banged down the phone.
Five minutes later, I berated myself for being childish. Rolf was doing his job, and it was the same as mine. I’d treated a colleague badly. Maybe I should call him back and apologize. But before I could make up my mind, I saw the snowplow coming down Fir Street. Milo was driving and he had a passenger with him.
The plow stopped in front of my house. Or rather, it stopped in the middle of the street, where the sheriff got out, and loped his way through the snow that had piled up in Destiny Parsons’s front yard. Jim Medved, lugging an animal carrier, followed in Milo’s tracks. Azbug’s body was about to be removed.
A dead man, a dead dog,
I thought to myself, watching the sheriff and the vet go inside Destiny’s house. I couldn’t see her, but I knew she was there. It bothered me that Destiny seemed more distraught over the death of her pet than the possible murder of her colleague. Human beings should always come first in the hierarchy.