Read The Alpine Christmas Online
Authors: Mary Daheim
“Yes, yes,” I interrupted, for Milo was starting to chuckle himself into a small fit. “But that’s definitely kid stuff. Stealing isn’t.”
“Arnie didn’t lock the damned van.…”
“It’s still stealing. Did you even bother to get prints?”
Having recovered from his bout of mirth, Milo gave me an irked stare. “Sure. We got a bunch of smudges. In this weather, who isn’t wearing gloves?”
I paused as the waitress brought our salads and poured more coffee. “Okay, let’s skip the silly stuff,” I said, a trifle tight-lipped. Reaching into my purse, I took out the note Oscar had written to me. Milo’s long face twisted in what might have been dismay, but more likely was disbelief.
“Hunh. So the old fart thinks he can get us moving by
making a claim like that?” Milo tossed the sheet of notepaper back.
“Can you disregard it entirely?” I asked. “Especially with dead bodies floating down the Sky?”
With a wave of his fork, Milo guffawed. “Now how the hell can you tie in one spare leg and an unidentified girl with the Nyquists? If the body was one of ours, okay. But nobody’s missing from Alpine. I’ve checked. The only person unaccounted for as of this morning is Durwood.”
“Okay, okay,” I said hastily. “But I promised I’d talk to Oscar about it tonight after work. I think I’ll ask Vida to come over, too.”
Milo rolled his eyes, then stuffed his face with salad. “Don’t you have enough to do with Ben in town and Adam on his way and the paper and all?” At least that’s what his remark sounded like through the lettuce.
“Oscar Nyquist isn’t exactly the fanciful sort. And he’s far from senile.” I speared a piece of tomato and gave Milo what I hoped was a steely stare. “I’ll hear him out. Vida thinks Bridget is behaving a bit oddly. Maybe the reason is because she feels her life is threatened.”
“Vida!” Milo chuckled again, though he spoke the name with affection as well as scorn. “By the way, those weren’t letters on that dead woman’s body.”
“What?” I held my coffee cup poised in mid-sip. “What do you mean?”
“They were numbers. One-Nine-Eight-Seven. The year, maybe, 1987. And it was
, or whatever we thought it was at first. Doc Dewey used his microscope.”
?” I gave a little start, spilling some of my coffee. Quickly, I mopped it up with my napkin. “That means Blanchet High School to me. I went there. The
could be the year she graduated. Well, Milo?”
An unsettled look came over Milo’s long face. “Is that right? In my line of work, it stands for Bushy-Haired Stranger. You know, the suspect who wasn’t there,” he said
in an unusually tentative voice. His gaze fixed on the remainder of his salad. “You’re right, it could be a high school. But why Blanchet? What about Bellevue? That’s where my kids have gone since Old Mulehide and I split up. Or Ballard or Bremerton or Bellingham or … hell, any place in the country with a high school that starts with the letter B.”
“That’s true. It’s just that those initials mean Blanchet to me,” I pointed out. “Had you figured that it might stand for a high school?”
Milo looked a trifle sheepish. “No. I was thinking more of a person. A guy, maybe.” He finished his salad, shoved the plate to one side, and nodded at a couple of loggers who were going into the bar. “There are about six missing women in the state who fit her description, but none of them are named Carol. If we could access a data base for high schools beginning with a B, then we could narrow it down to any Carols from the 1987 class. At least we’d have some place to start.”
“Then what?” I asked as the waitress removed the salad plates.
Milo lifted his hands in a helpless gesture. “Then we’d try to find out if any of them are missing. That’s assuming the dead woman’s name is Carol. It would be one hell of a job. I doubt that we could do it out of this office. If we found out that there are no missing Carols from Blanchet, Ballard, Bellevue, or any of the other
high schools in the state, then maybe we could get the FBI to come in.”
“For starters, I could call Blanchet,” I offered. “Mrs. Hoffman is still in the tuition office. She’s very helpful.”
“I could get my kids to check out the Bellevue annuals,” said Milo. “In fact, my oldest daughter graduated in ’eighty-seven.”
The waitress returned with our entrees and more coffee. There was still no one sitting directly across from us, though I’d seen four men move into the booth at my back. I couldn’t hear them, so I assumed they couldn’t hear us. I decided it
was time to reopen the subject of Oscar Nyquist’s biggest worry, but I’d do it in a roundabout way. I started by asking Milo if any of the Nyquists had reported a Peeping Tom incident.
“Not officially,” said Milo, drenching his meat with steak sauce. “But Arnie mentioned it when he was in with one of his numerous other complaints. Bridget Nyquist is a knockout. It’s no wonder some guy felt an urge to watch her undress. She should have pulled the shades.”
“Do you know who it was?”
“Hell, no. Sam Heppner tried to pin Arnie down, but he suddenly became vague. It makes me wonder if Bridget didn’t know damned well who the peeker was, but got skittish about saying so.” Milo wiggled his sandy eyebrows at me.
“You mean she knew the guy?”
“I mean she sure did, and maybe he thought he had a right to be there, but her husband wouldn’t have agreed.” Milo chewed his steak complacently.
“But they’re still newlyweds,” I protested. Then I thought of Travis, apparently flirting with Carla. I also remembered Travis’s warning to his grandfather. Had Travis been trying to keep Oscar from saying anything more about the Peeping Tom? I tried a different tack. “So you wouldn’t tie this peeker in with a threat on Bridget’s life?”
Milo gave a little grunt of a laugh. “If it’s what I think it is, the only danger she’s in is from Travis. In fact, the most likely victim would be the peeker. But if there’s something going on between this guy and Bridget, Travis is the type who’d want to save face. He’s got a big reputation in this town as an all-around success story. Four years on the job and he retires. Hell, why couldn’t I have found a boondoggle like that?”
“Luck,” I noted. “In my opinion, playing the stock market isn’t much different from betting on the horse races. You might as well pick out the corporate logo you like best, just like choosing a horse by the jockey’s colors.”
“He sure knew how to pick them,” said Milo. “Travis knew how to pick women, too, or so I thought until the so-called Peeping Tom showed up. If she’s playing around on him, he’s not so lucky after all.”
I wasn’t as ready as Milo to dismiss the peeker as a lovestruck suitor waiting for Bridget to give the all-clear. In fact, I was beginning to get the uneasy feeling that the Nyquists weren’t entirely wrong in their criticism of the sheriff’s department. I was getting anxious to hear what Oscar would have to say when he came to my house.
“How’s Saturday?” Milo was watching me expectantly. I’d been wool-gathering, and hadn’t heard the first part of the question. Judging from Milo’s quirky smile, he knew he’d caught me unawares. “For dinner at King Olav’s? Paging Emma Lord, paging Emma Lord …”
“It’s fine,” I said hastily. “Adam won’t be in until early next week. Ben will have the Saturday evening mass. What about Honoria?”
“She’s going to spend Christmas with her family in Walnut Creek,” said Milo. “She leaves Saturday morning.” His expression grew wistful.
“Do you want to have Christmas dinner at my place?” I asked.
“I’ll have the kids.” Milo didn’t seem thrilled by the prospect.
“So bring them.” His son, Brandon, was almost the same age as Adam; Tanya was a couple of years older, and Michelle was a high school senior. My brother related beautifully to young people. We could have a real family gathering. I rocked a little in my seat, excited at the idea.
“I don’t know.…” Milo was still looking uncertain. “They’ll be driving up from Bellevue Christmas morning. Tanya is probably bringing that five-star jerk she lives with. It’d be a lot of bother, Emma.”
“No, it won’t. I’d love to have you. The jerk, too. Honest.” Impulsively, I put my hand on Milo’s. “I’ll get a
twenty-five pound turkey. Stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans, and mince pie. Oh, rolls, too—I’ve got the Clemans family’s potato roll recipe. Vida gave it to me.” As far as I was concerned the matter was settled.
“It sounds good.” Milo was weakening, enticed by the vision of a groaning sideboard. “I could bring some wine.”
“Ben’s doing that. You can get sparkling cider or pop. And maybe some rum so I can make Tom and Jerrys.” I was very pleased. It would be the first big holiday dinner I’d fixed in years. In Portland, Adam and I had spent the first three Christmases by ourselves. I had been absolutely miserable.
Putting his free hand over mine, Milo gave me a surprisingly diffident smile. “It could be fun, huh?”
be fun,” I assured him. “We can play board games and act goofy. We can have a snowball fight. We can eat ourselves into a big fat fit.”
“It’s been a while since I’ve done that,” Milo mused. “Had a big family-style Christmas, I mean. Last year the kids and I ate at the Venison Inn.”
“Vida asked you to come to her house,” I reminded him. Adam and I had gone there, joining Vida’s three daughters, their husbands and children, and Carla. It had been lively, it had been lovely—but it hadn’t been my own.
“It would have been too crowded,” Milo asserted. Slowly, he removed his hand. I did the same. Our gazes locked, just for a moment, then fell away. “How about those Seahawks?” said Milo.
We returned to the outside world, once again firmly closing the door on our inner emotions. If we had any. I could never be quite sure.
“… So it could be Blanchet or Bothell or Burnaby, up in B.C., or any—”
Vida stared at me, her eyes wide behind the big round lenses. “Don’t you remember my wedding story?” She gave
a swift shake of her head. “No, probably not, you weren’t here, you were out of town. Bridget Nyquist went to Blanchet. And if memory serves, she was in the class of ’eighty-seven.”
I have seen the mountains scarred by logging; I have seen the loggers scarred from living. The great gouges along Mount Baldy and Tonga Ridge speak to me. But so do the men who made them, and their voices keep me awake at night. I have heard the cry of the spotted owl. I have seen tears in the eyes of rough-and-ready human beings whose pride has been destroyed along with their livelihood.
In early September, when newly restricted logging activities were further curtailed by the danger of forest fires, I’d interviewed several loggers and their families. The image I’d carried in Seattle and Portland of two-fisted, hard-drinking, poorly educated louts armed with chain saws and no brains had begun to change. In its place, a new portrait began to emerge, not in bright red and green plaid, but in more somber colors. Despair, discouragement, depression were etched in the worried faces of the men, women, and children who depended upon the woods to make their living. A logger is a logger, and can’t—not won’t—think of himself as anything else. In Alpine, as many as four generations in one family had worked in the timber industry. Some had lost a leg or an arm, many were missing fingers and toes, a few were paralyzed, and the death toll was too high for any business. But the risks didn’t scare off these gutsy woodland knights. What frightened them was the possibility of losing their livelihood—and their pride. The threat of shutting down the forests
hovered over these people like an axe. I decided it was time to take my stand.
Culling my research from a number of sources, I started to outline my piece for next week’s issue. After returning from lunch with Milo, I had called Blanchet High School in Seattle, but Mrs. Hoffman wasn’t in. Supposedly, she would call me back.
“Look,” Vida said, not exactly appearing out of nowhere, since I could hear her coming from a mile away. “I put together a Nyquist family tree.”
Sure enough, Vida had scrawled a genealogy of sorts on a sheet of typing paper. Lars, the Norwegian emigrant and founder of the dynasty as well as of the Whistling Marmot Theatre, had married Inga Fremstad in 1909. Oscar was born a year later; his sister Karen came along in 1917. Oscar had taken Astrid Petersen as his bride in 1932. Karen had become Mrs. Trygve Hansen in 1938. Astrid Nyquist had passed away three years ago. Two children had been born of that union—Thelma, who married a man named Peter Nordoff and moved to Spokane, and Arnold, whose wife, Louise, had been born a Bergstrom. Their son, Travis, was an only child.
“I’ve met Louise Nyquist but I honestly don’t remember the woman,” I mused. “What does she look like?”
Vida was scanning my owl editorial on the computer screen. “Good for you, you’re taking a stand. You’ve got spunk, Emma. I’ve always said as much. Which,” she went on without missing a beat, “is more than I can say for Louise Nyquist. No wonder you don’t remember her. She fades into the woodwork, like an unnecessary coat of varnish. Mousy creature, your height, plump as a pigeon, and about the same coloration—gray and more gray. She’s never stood up to Arnie, but how many people have where the Nyquist men are concerned? They don’t even stand up to each other.”
I couldn’t place my encounter with Louise Nyquist. Not at bridge club, not from the library, not in passing at the
grocery store, not as a member of any of the civic groups I came into contact with through the newspaper. “Does she ever leave the house?”
Vida gave me a scathing look. “Well, of course! She’s not a recluse, and she’s no dope—she’s just a mouse. She still occasionally substitutes as a teacher. She taught all the time Travis was in high school. Then she decided to get her M. A. about three years ago. Now that was something, I’ll admit. She had the gumption to live in Seattle and take classes at the UDUB and come home every other weekend. I heard Arnie was fit to be tied.”
I admired Louise Nyquist’s determination. “At least she’s tried to establish her own identity,” I remarked.