Authors: Mary Daheim
THE ALPINE ADVOCATE
“The lively ferment of life in a small Pacific Northwest town, with its convoluted genealogies and loyalties [and] its authentically quirky characters, combines with a baffling murder for an intriguing mystery novel,”
—M. K. W
THE ALPINE BETRAYAL
“Editor-publisher Emma Lord finds out that running a small-town newspaper is worse than nutty—it's downright dangerous. Readers will take great pleasure in Mary Daheim's new mystery.”
THE ALPINE CHRISTMAS
“If you like cozy mysteries, you need to try Daheim's Alpine series…. Recommended.”
THE ALPINE DECOY
“[A] fabulous series … Fine examples of the traditional, domestic mystery.”
Lovers Bookshop News
By Mary Daheim
Published by Ballantine Books:
THE ALPINE ADVOCATE
THE ALPINE BETRAYAL
THE ALPINE CHRISTMAS
THE ALPINE DECOY
THE ALPINE ESCAPE
THE ALPINE FURY
THE ALPINE GAMBLE
THE ALPINE HERO
THE ALPINE ICON
THE ALPINE JOURNEY
THE ALPINE KINDRED
THE ALPINE LEGACY
THE ALPINE MENACE
THE ALPINE NEMESIS
THE ALPINE OBITUARY
Books published by The Ballantine Publishing Group are available at quantity discounts on bulk purchases for premium, educational, fund-raising, and special sales use. For details, please call 1-800-733-3000.
, my former ad manager at
The Alpine Advocate
, took over the local food bank last March, there was some concern about whether or not he was eating more than he handed out. When presented with day-old donations from the Upper Crust Bakery, the millionaire by inheritance had frequently been spotted stuffing doughnuts into his mouth and sweet rolls into his pockets. I didn't doubt the reports. As Ed stood in front of my desk at the newspaper office, two chocolate-chip cookies fell out of his jacket.
Ed and I both pretended we hadn't noticed. Easing his bulk into one of my two visitors' chairs, Ed's eyes briefly veered in the direction of the floor, “How do you feel about tithing, Emma?” he inquired in his most serious voice.
“You mean at church?” I frowned at Ed, who had picked up a stray pencil from my desk and was idly toying with it. “Don't we already do something like that through the annual archbishop's appeal?”
“Some people do.” Ed was now looking gloomy, an expression I recalled all too well from his days on the job. “But plenty of our fellow parishioners at St. Mildred's don't bother to fill out the pledge cards, or if they do, they don't send in the money.”
I wasn't surprised. There isn't a lot of money floating around Alpine these days. As an isolated community of four thousand people historically nurtured by the timber
industry, Alpine is in an economic slump. In recent years logging cutbacks have put many residents out of work. Two unemployed loggers had stepped in front of Burlington Northern freight trains; a family of six had burned their crumbling house down around them; and spousal abuse had risen dramatically, along with alcohol and drug addiction. From a distance Alpine looked like a picturesque mountain community; up close it wasn't so pretty.
“What's your point?” I asked, hoping not to sound impatient. It was Tuesday, the twenty-second of August, and deadline was upon us for the weekly edition, which shipped each Wednesday.
“Well …” Ed dropped the pencil. He all but disappeared on the other side of the desk. I suspected he was scrambling around on the floor, retrieving his cookies. When he surfaced, he held up the pencil and beamed as if he'd found a gold nugget. “Sorry about that,” said Ed, placing the pencil on the desk. “You were saying … ? Oh, my point.” The grin faded. Ed was again the somber man of affairs. It was a pose he enjoyed since reaping his windfall from an aunt in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “St. Mildred's coffers are pretty low. I was talking to Father Den about it last night—Shirley and I had him over to dinner. We were going to take him to that French restaurant down the highway, but the weather's so warm, we decided to just throw some wienies on the grill and kick back.”
I felt myself growing tense as Ed rattled on. The door to the editorial office was ajar, and I could hear my current ad manager, Leo Walsh, taking down last-minute instructions on Safeway's insert. Vida Runkel, my House & Home editor, was pounding away on her battered upright. My sole reporter, Carla Steinmetz, had just disappeared with notebook and camera in hand. Our office manager, Ginny Burmeister Erlandson, was delivering the morning mail.
“Anyway,” Ed went on, attempting to wedge himself more comfortably into the chair, “Father Den is really pleased with the way I've pitched in these last few months to help out at church. But he needs more than manpower. The parish needs money. You've no idea what a drain the school is. I suggested a tuition hike, but Father Den wanted to think it over, maybe talk to the parish council first.”
“I should hope so,” I replied somewhat stiffly. “That would be a big step, and a real hardship for many parents.”
Ed nodded rather absently. “Right, yeah. You know,” he continued, folding his hands on his paunch, “there's a special parish-council meeting tonight. It's going to be held in conjunction with the school board because classes start two weeks from today. Maybe you should come.”
In the course of professional life, there are far too many meetings that I'm compelled to attend. I try to delegate some of them, but I still get stuck with at least one a week. The last thing I wanted to do on a warm August evening was sit on uncomfortable chairs in the stuffy confines of the parish rectory.
“Look, Ed,” I said, still somehow mustering patience, “I'm always beat on Tuesday nights after we get the paper ready for publication. If something major comes out of the meeting, let me know. It'll be too late for this week's edition anyway.”
Ed scowled. “Now, Emma, this is no ordinary jaw session. This is your parish. You ought to have more than just a news interest. Or have you got something hot going with the Man Behind the Star?” Ed wiggled his heavy eyebrows in a lascivious manner.
The reference to Sheriff Milo Dodge annoyed me, but I wouldn't let it show. “I was planning to go over the statements for the new back-shop operation,” I said stiffly.
Ed waved a pudgy hand. “That'll keep. The meeting
won't. Tonight could determine the whole future of St. Mildred's. This is big.”
So was Ed, I thought, watching his three chins quiver with self-importance. The significance of any activity in which he was involved always became inflated. Still, Ed's admonition gave me pause. Despite the fact that I regularly attend church, that I contribute my fair share of money, and that my brother is a priest in Arizona, I have never been involved in parish activities. Over the years I've used up a lot of excuses: as a single mother, I never had the time; as a newspaper reporter on
, I never had the time; as
editor and publisher, I never had the time. But there were other busy people who made the time. Maybe Emma Lord should become one of them.
The phones were ringing like mad, both on my desk and in the news office. I tried to ignore the flashing lights and hoped that Ginny would pick up my lines. “Have you got an agenda?” I asked, feeling myself weaken.
The beginnings of a smug little smile played around Ed's mouth. “You bet. It's the Good Guys versus the Bad Guys. That's all you need to know.” With a grunt, Ed stood up. “I'm one of the good guys. Natch. See you at seven-thirty.”
My phones had trunked over to Ginny's line. The cluttered cubbyhole I call my office suddenly seemed quiet. Scribbling in the time of the parish-council meeting on my crowded calendar, I looked up to see Vida Runkel looming in the doorway.
“Well?” huffed my House & Home editor. “What did that ninny want now?”
could have applied to most of Alpine as far as Vida was concerned, I knew she meant Ed Bronsky. “It's some minor crisis at St. Mildred's,” I said, motioning for her to sit down. “I should never have talked Father Den into asking Ed to get involved with parish activities. Ever since he's been a regular gadfly.”
“Ed had too much time on his hands,” Vida said, adjusting the straw boater that sat on her disordered gray curls. “He still does. You'd think that between volunteering at your church and overseeing that monstrosity of a house he and Shirley are building, Ed could keep out of mischief.”
Just picturing the Bronsky housing site made me wince. Leo Walsh had remarked that the architectural rendering we had been conned into running reminded him of Hearst's Castle at San Simeon, only more ostentatious. Leo had been exaggerating. Still, the Spanish-style residence that Ed called his “villa” didn't fit in a mountain community like Alpine.
But I knew Vida hadn't come into my office on a hectic Tuesday morning to discuss Ed or his house. She proved the point by handing me a sheaf of copy paper. “See what you think. It's the feature on Ursula G'Toole Randall. The woman is such a pretentious sort that I had problems keeping my perspective.”
I couldn't help but give Vida a quizzical look. Despite her critical attitude in private, she always managed to maintain objectivity when writing a story. Apparently Ursula was an exception. I had met her only once, at coffee and doughnuts after Mass. She had struck me as egotistical, but nothing more. On the other hand, our conversation had been brief, devoted mostly to whether raised doughnuts were preferable to the cake variety.
“Okay, let's see,” I said, scanning the half sheets filled with Vida's erratic, two-fingered typing. “ 'Someone once said you can't go home again,' “ Vida wrote, “ 'but Ursula O'Toole Randall is trying to prove otherwise. After twenty-four years in Seattle, twenty of which were spent married to the late Dr. Wheaton Randall, Ursula has returned to her hometown.' “
I glanced up at Vida. “So far, so good. Am I missing something?”
Vida's mouth was pursed. “Keep going. You can skip
the part about her being Jake and Buzzy O'Toole's sister, her high-school career, the Miss Skykomish County pageant, the tragic early marriage, the world travel, and how she's engaged to Francine Wells's ex-husband, Warren. Move on to where she talks about being Lady Bountiful.”
Lady Bountiful showed up on page seven. “ 'Ursula is a firm believer that the more a person has received from life, the more one ought to give back. “I've been so blessed,” she said, waving a graceful hand at the artworks and fine furnishings that fill her newly acquired home in The Pines subdivision. “Some days it seems as if God looks down and smiles and gives me a little nudge. So I get in my new Lexus and rush off to church, where I beg Father Dennis Kelly to let me do something for the less fortunate. He—and God—need all the help they can get. My old hometown is full of needy people who need me to pull them out of the hole they've dug for themselves.” ' “
Wide-eyed, I slapped at the copy paper. “Vida—is that an actual quote?”
My House & Home editor nodded solemnly. “There was more, but I didn't use it. Really, Emma, the woman is insufferable. She has a dreadful do-gooder complex. Is there anything worse?”
I've known the type. Filled with energy, zeal, and enormous ego, the good-works moguls plunge into charities and causes. They want to feed the hungry, house the homeless, stop abuse, save the whales, spare the spotted owl. While their goals may be worthy, many actually seek nothing more than self-aggrandizement.
Vida gestured at the copy paper. “Read the last graf. And please don't be ill. I almost gagged when I wrote it.”
“ 'In the parishes I attended in Seattle,' “ Vida quoted Ursula, “ 'I discovered that while priests and nuns see themselves a part of the solution to social ills, they are often part of the problem. Sometimes there is a chasm
between them and the laity, which creates a vacuum that encourages irresponsible behavior on both sides. In other instances, members of religious orders feel a need to behave as if they are no different from the people they serve. These extremes are ridiculous. That's why it's so important for well-grounded individuals—such as myself—to become deeply involved.' “