The Alpine Menace: An Emma Lord Mystery

Mass Market Paperback | October 3, 2000

byMary Daheim

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For once, Emma Lord, editor-publisher of The Alpine Advocate, isn't thrilled by having an inside track. The Seattle strangling murder of Alpine native Carol Stokes is generating headlines, but the accused killer is Emma's long-lost cousin Ronnie, who swears he was out drinking when his girlfriend was strangled. But he can't prove it, and neighbors claim they heard the couple fighting moments before the murder. Now Emma and supersnoop Vida, the Advocate's house-and-home editor, must find another suspect. Someone who hated Carol enough to write a tragic ending to her life story. Someone who is preparing to edit Emma and Vida right out of existence. . . .

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From the Publisher

For once, Emma Lord, editor-publisher of The Alpine Advocate, isn't thrilled by having an inside track. The Seattle strangling murder of Alpine native Carol Stokes is generating headlines, but the accused killer is Emma's long-lost cousin Ronnie, who swears he was out drinking when his girlfriend was strangled. But he can't prove it, a...

From the Jacket

For once, Emma Lord, editor-publisher of The Alpine Advocate, isn't thrilled by having an inside track. The Seattle strangling murder of Alpine native Carol Stokes is generating headlines, but the accused killer is Emma's long-lost cousin Ronnie, who swears he was out drinking when his girlfriend was strangled. But he can't prove it, a...

Mary Richardson Daheim started spinning stories before she could spell. Daheim has been a journalist, an editor, a public relations consultant, and a freelance writer, but fiction was always her medium of choice. In 1982, she launched a career that is now distinguished by more than sixty novels. In 2000, she won the Literary Achievemen...

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Format:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 6.88 × 4.25 × 0.65 inPublished:October 3, 2000Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345421248

ISBN - 13:9780345421241

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The last time I saw my cousin Ronnie, he was half of a sack race at afamily picnic. He was a clumsy kid, and the leg that was tied to mybrother, Ben, managed to trip them both, so that they finished dead last.I never imagined that the next time I saw Ronnie he'd be in the KingCounty Jail on a homicide charge.The Ronnie Mallett I remembered from the gathering at Seattle's WoodlandPark was nine or ten, an undersized, unremarkable boy except for hischeerful disposition. I'd been entering my junior year at the Universityof Washington and felt the natural superiority that comes from age and theuse of good grammar. Maybe that's the thing I remembered best aboutRonnie: He said ain't a lot."I ain't guilty, Emma," Ronnie said now, his thin face wearing an earnestexpression that didn't quite suit him. "Hey, why would I kill Carol? I wasnuts about her."Carol Stokes was his girlfriend, a thirty-four-year-old woman who had beenfound strangled in the living room of her one-bedroom apartment inSeattle's Greenwood district. Obviously, I was supposed to say somethingreassuring, such as, "Of course, you didn't, Ronnie."But I couldn't and didn't. I hadn't seen my cousin in over twenty-fiveyears. For all I knew, he could be a serial killer."I'm not sure I can be of much help," I said, substituting candor forcomfort. "I'm not exactly sure why you asked me to come down from Alpineto see you here."Ronnie's knuckles whitened as he gripped edge of the table that separatedus. We weren't more than three feet away from each other, yet I felt thedistance might as well have been the eighty-plus miles between Alpine andSeattle. The visitors' area was painted a pale blue, about the color ofRonnie's eyes, and just about as lifeless. My chair was hard anduncomfortable; so was Ronnie's, I supposed. The difference was that afterI stood up, I could leave the building."Like I said," Ronnie explained, "a coupla months ago Carol told me youwere some kind of detective. See, she was raised in Alpine, but moved outwhen she was just a kid."The original message I'd received from Ronnie's court-appointed lawyer twodays earlier had asked me to visit my cousin in jail because I was aninvestigator. I was puzzled, since my job as editor and publisher of TheAlpine Advocate didn't seem to qualify."I'm not a detective," I said firmly. "I do some investigative reportingfor the weekly newspaper I own in Alpine.""Carol said you caught a couple of killers," Ronnie said in an accusingtone."Not exactly." An editor, a publisher, a reporter in a small town can getcaught up in a case when local law enforcement is hampered by size andbudget. Certainly in the ten years since I'd bought the paper, I'd helpedout with some homicide investigations. Digging for information was anoccupational necessity. But I was no sleuth. "Carol must havemisunderstood. My main job is to report the stories after they happen."Ronnie's lean face fell. I knew he was in his mid-thirties, but he looked younger, if pinched and hollow-eyed. His dullblond hair fell over his high forehead, his upper lip disappeared when hesmiled, and his eyebrows didn't quite match. Ronnie's overall appearancewas that of a very old little boy.I could see no family resemblance. Ronnie was fair, while I wasdark-haired and dark-eyed. His narrow face with its ferretlike featureswas the flip side of my softer, more rounded contours. Maybe one of us hadbeen a changeling."What'll I do?" Ronnie asked in a helpless voice."You've got a lawyer," I pointed out.Ronnie shook his head. "He can't do me much good. Alvie's kinda young andreal busy."On the phone, Alvin Sternoff had sounded as if he was straight out of lawschool and maybe had finished in the bottom 10 percent of his class. Hehadn't offered much advice on how I could help Ronnie."What do you want me to do?" I asked my cousin, and immediately cursed thesoft heart that matched my even softer brain.Ronnie leaned back in the plastic chair and gave me his guileless smile."Find out who really killed Carol," he said, " 'cause I ain't guilty.""Do you believe him?" Vida Runkel asked the following Monday morning as Istood in The Advocate's newsroom drinking coffee."I don't know," I said with a shake of my head. "The problem is, I don'tknow Ronnie. The last time I saw him, he was just a kid, and I don't thinkour families had gotten together more than four or five times before that.My parents thought that his parents were--as my mother put it--'partypeople.' I translated that as 'too dumb to be hippies.' ""My, my," Vida said, setting down her mug of hot water and adjusting thepinwheel straw hat that sat at a peculiar angle atop her unruly graycurls. "And you say his girlfriend--the victim--came from Alpine?"The local angle intrigued Vida more than Ronnie or the murder. My Houseand Home editor is so thoroughly centered in the town of her birth thatoccasionally she has trouble accepting events that happen elsewhere asimportant or even real. Indeed, even World War II had been reduced inVida's mind to how she had traipsed along with her father on hisair-raid-warden duties and looked into the windows of those foolish enoughto leave the lights on and their shades pulled up. Snooping into otherpeople's homes was a habit that she had never outgrown."Yes. Carol Stokes. Don't tell me you know her?" I was aghast. Vida kneweverybody in Alpine, going back to the generations before her birth somesixty-odd years ago.She grimaced. "Honestly, I can't say that I do. Carol Stokes." She saidthe name as if it were an incanta-tion. "She must have left town at an early age and married. Carol Stokes,"she repeated. "Carol . . . Carol . . . Carol . . ." Obviously, Vida wasreaching into the past, taking inventory of every Carol who had walkedAlpine's steep streets on the face of Tonga Ridge. "Ah," she exclaimed atlast, "Carol Nerstad! Now I remember!" Her broad face beamed in triumph."Nerstad?" The name was unfamiliar.Vida nodded, the straw hat swaying dangerously. "Her parents died quiteyoung, and Carol's brother, Teddy, moved to California. Burl, the father,was killed in the woods, and Marvela, the mother, had cancer. A shame, ofcourse, though they were a bit odd."I refrained from asking Vida how odd. In her critical mind, the word couldhave described a penchant for putting gravy on gingerbread or having aphysical relationship with the family pet."Goodness," Vida mused, "that must have been almost twenty years ago. As Irecall, Carol left town under a cloud, as we used to say."My ad manager, Leo Walsh, turned away from his computer screen. "You meanshe got knocked up?"Vida scowled at Leo. "Mind your language. Yes, I believe she was pregnant.One of the Erickson boys. Or was it a Tolberg?" She stopped and stared atme through her red-framed glasses. "Carol Nerstad was murdered? Heavens,that's a page one story! Why didn't you say so, Emma?"My family problem had finally landed in Vida's lap. "Because I didn't knowCarol was from here until I saw Ronnie when I was in Seattle over theweekend. Yes, it is a story for The Advocate, even though the actualmurder happened a couple of weeks ago."Vida was agog. "What about services? Where was Carol buried? Who handledthe arrangements?" She slapped at her visitors' chair. "Do sit and stopprowling around like a cat on a griddle. "Why didn't we get a notice fromthe funeral home in Seattle?"With a sigh, I sat down next to Vida's desk. "I haven't any idea about theburial. You know perfectly well that we don't always get alerted when aformer resident dies. If my cousin had anything to do with it, he probablydidn't even mention where Carol was born. I'm not sure he knows where hewas born.""But you do," Vida said, looking as if she was about to pounce on me."Yes, he was born in Seattle." I stared at Vida. "So what?""Family. Kin. Ties. Really, Emma," she said in reproach, "except for yourparents and your brother, Ben, you don't speak much about your relatives.Frankly, I've always found that odd."Leo chuckled. "I find it a damned good thing. The trouble with you,Duchess," he went on, using the nickname Vida despised, "you've got somany relatives and in-laws and shirttail relations that nobody can keepthem straight.""I can," Vida snapped. "One of the things that's wrong with this world isthat families don't keep up with each other. They move here, there, andeverywhere like a bunch of nomads. What are they looking for? Trouble,mostly. If Carol Nerstad had stayed in Alpine, she probably wouldn't havegotten herself murdered. Now," she continued, her voice quieting, "tell mewhat happened, Emma.""I would if I could get a--"" 'Morning, all," said a deep voice from the doorway as Scott Chamoudarrived, late as usual. "What's up?""The Duchess's dander," Leo replied. "Thanks for joining us, Scotty. We'rehaving a staff meeting."My young reporter's limpid brown eyes grew wide. "We are? Did I forget?""No," I managed to get in, "you didn't. Leo's kidding. But," I added witha meaningful glance at my watch, "you're late. It's almost eight-thirty."Scott waved a white paper bag he'd been hiding behind his back. "I know.It was my turn to stop at the Upper Crust Bakery. Anyone for freshdoughnuts and some cinnamon twists?"It was hard to get mad at Scott. He was not only a good writer, buthandsome as hell. I didn't bother to remind him that he would have beenlate with or without the bakery stop."I'll take a twist," I said, holding out my hand. Vida, who is alwaysdieting to no perceptible effect, staunchly shook her head. Leo snagged acouple of doughnuts before Scott sat down behind his desk."Okay," I said, taking a deep breath, then glancing at Scott. "I'm fillingeveryone in--I guess--on the recent murder in Seattle of a young woman whogrew up in Alpine and 'left under a cloud.' ""Pregnant?" Scott asked.