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Authors: Mary Daheim

The Alpine Escape

BOOK: The Alpine Escape
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Praise for Mary Daheim and her Emma Lord mysteries


“In THE ALPINE ADVOCATE the lively ferment of a 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


“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.”

G. H


“If you like cozy mysteries, you need to try Daheim’s Alpine series.… Recommended.”

The Snooper

By Mary Daheim
Published by Ballantine Books:


A Ballantine Book
Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group

Copyright © 1995 by Mary Daheim

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Ballantine and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 94-96482

eISBN: 978-0-307-76013-5


ter One

warned. Sooner or later, it was bound to happen. My beautiful secondhand Jaguar would develop mechanical problems. Apparently, it finally had. It wouldn’t start. To me, that’s a mechanical problem.

I’d parked the Jag at the end of a long row of cars in the lot reserved for the Three Crabs Restaurant & Lounge near Dungeness Spit. On an overcast July day the Strait of Juan de Fuca looked gray and dull, as if it were bored with its endless passage between the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island.

I, however, was not bored but agitated. And confused.

My car wasn’t my only problem. With great reluctance I’d abandoned my duties as editor and publisher of
The Alpine Advocate
in an attempt to reassess my life. Maybe it’s naive to think that forty-two years of eluding reality can be rectified in three days, but I had to start somewhere. The Olympic Peninsula seemed like a good place for soul-searching.

Now my priority was a tow truck. I marched back inside the restaurant, found the pay phone, and scanned the local directory. The towing service in Sequim would be out in an hour. Where did I want to go?

That was a good question. I had no idea who could handle Jaguar XJ6 repairs on the Olympic Peninsula. I was just off Highway 101, so I wasn’t exactly stranded
in the middle of nowhere. The town of Sequim was a bustling place, chock-full of dissatisfied and retired Californians who had found an authentic Sunbelt in the Pacific Northwest. A few miles to the west lay Port Angeles, with a population of 18,000. Surely one or two of these people owned a Jaguar. Surely someone could do the repairs.

“Gee,” said the friendly voice at the other end of the line, “I don’t know who fixes those things around here. There used to be a bunch of hippies at Happy Valley who worked on foreign cars. Good mechanics, too.”

“It might be something simple,” I said, sensing the onslaught of a panic attack. “The Jag’s green. My name is Emma Lord. How about taking me to a Chevron or a BP station here in Sequim?” I had plastic for the two oil companies. My budget for the three-day trip was two hundred and fifty dollars. If the repair was over fifty bucks—and when was it ever under?—I’d have to charge it.

“We’d better haul you into Port Angeles,” said the man at the other end. “You’ll have better luck there with that Jag. See you around two. More or less.”

Back outside, I prowled the sands, feeling a cool breeze on my face and hearing the tide slap against the shore. Dungeness Spit snakes five miles out into the strait, with one of the last two manned lighthouses in the continental United States. Recently, I’d heard it was scheduled for conversion to a computerized operation. So much for romance. But I, too, was trying to convert. Outmoded romantic notions were impeding my personal progress as well.

Some seventeen miles across the strait, I could make out the cluster of buildings that was Victoria, British Columbia. I hadn’t been to Victoria in twenty years. Indeed, I hadn’t been on the Olympic Peninsula since then, either. My plan to drive around the loop was hitting
a snag. Trying to avoid added pressure on myself, I’d resolved not to make reservations. I dealt with deadlines every day on the job in Alpine. But the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston had been full; traffic heading across the Hood Canal Floating Bridge had been heavy. Maybe I should go back to the restaurant and call ahead to book a motel room. If nothing else, it would help kill time while I waited for the tow truck.

With my short brown hair tousled by the wind—and sand in my open-toed shoes—I trudged the long, narrow spit, my eyes straying to the rugged bulk of the Olympic Mountains that seemed to rise almost directly above the highway. I was accustomed to mountains. In Alpine I live among them, eight miles west of the Cascade summit, in a town built into the rocky face of Tonga Ridge. Fleetingly, I thought of my little log house. Already I missed it. But, as my House & Home editor, Vida Runkel, had advised, I needed to get away. Alone. I went back into the restaurant, which was still busy. Judging from the license plates in the parking lot, most of the lunch crowd were tourists like me.

The motels were also doing a brisk business. They were all booked except for the ones that were out of my price range. The bed and breakfast establishments were full, too. Discouraged, I went into the bar and ordered a Pepsi, then felt my mouth twist with irony. Here I was, Emma Lord, forty-two years old, mother of a twenty-one-year-old son, never married, university graduate, newspaper owner, fairly bright, reasonably attractive, and sitting alone at a bar on a Tuesday afternoon drinking soda pop. No wonder I needed time to reflect. I felt like a real loser.

The woman tending bar was younger than I, but not by much. She was pretty, her makeup carefully if generously applied to hide a sallow complexion. At the moment I was her only customer.

“Where you from?” she asked after giving me my Pepsi.

I told her. She looked vague. “Idaho?”

“No.” I explained where Alpine was located. It didn’t surprise me that she hadn’t heard of my hometown. With only four thousand residents living in relative isolation off the Stevens Pass highway, Alpine isn’t exactly a Washington State hub.

“Traveling alone?” she asked, trying to sound casual.

I nodded.

She looked vaguely shocked. “That takes guts these days. Too many creeps out there.” Using her white ceramic coffee mug, she gestured in the general direction of the entrance. “You’re not camping, I hope?”

It was my turn to look shocked. “Oh, no!” I’ve always felt that if I had a sudden urge to sleep outdoors, I’d join the army and get paid for it. On the off chance that the bartender might have a brother or a friend in the hostelry business, I told her of my dilemma.

The best she could do was suggest places I’d already called. Frowning into her coffee mug, she shook her head. “You don’t know anybody around here?” Apparently, it seemed inconceivable that a stranger should have no local connections. As a small-town dweller I understood her thinking. Everyone knows everyone else, and half of them are somehow related. It was no different in Clallam County than it was in Skykomish County.

The bartender’s question jolted my memory. “As a matter of fact, I do. Sort of,” I added lamely. Before buying
The Advocate
and moving to Alpine, I had toiled for seventeen years on
The Oregonian
in Portland. My best friend on the paper was Mavis Marley Fulkerston, now retired and living in Tigard, Oregon. But Mavis’s daughter, Jackie, had gotten married on St. Valentine’s Day and moved to Port Angeles. I hadn’t attended
the wedding, but I’d received an invitation. I racked my brain trying to remember her husband’s name. With a dawning sense of doom I decided that I could hardly barge in on someone whose last name I didn’t know. On the other hand, I’d sent Jackie and her groom a toaster oven.

The tow truck arrived just as I was finishing my drink. Overtipping the sympathetic bartender, I hurried outside. After checking the battery and finding it wasn’t the cause of my trouble, we hit the road to Port Angeles. My gloomy mood persisted all the way past Morse Creek and into town. Things weren’t looking up half an hour later when the mechanic at the Chevron station announced that he couldn’t find the trouble. Could I wait for Jake? He knew a little something about foreign cars.

I didn’t have any choice, but since Jake and his knowledge were off somewhere in the mysterious West End, I resumed cudgeling my brain for Jackie Fulkerston’s married name. I went halfway through the alphabet in my mind and stopped at
. With my eyes locked on the Jag, which was up on the hoist, I snapped my fingers. One of the mechanics darted me a curious look.

“Melcher,” I said firmly. “Do you know a young couple named Melcher? They moved here late last winter.”

The mechanic, who was young and needed a shave, closed one eye and wrinkled his thin nose. “Melcher. ’Ninety-two Wrangler. ’Eighty-nine Honda Accord. Yeah, they come in here. She had a lube job on the Honda last week.”

Figuring that the newlywed Melchers wouldn’t have made it into the current Port Angeles phone book, I trotted over to the comer booth and dialed directory assistance.
Jackie’s husband was named Paul. Their phone was answered on the second ring.

“Emma!” shrieked Jackie Fulkerston Melcher. “How
” To my dismay she began to sob.

“Jackie, what’s wrong?” I asked, alarmed.

Two gulps later she replied, “I’m pregnant! Isn’t it wonderful?” She sobbed some more.

“Well … it sure is.” I frowned into the stainless-steel pay-phone panel. “I … uh … just thought I’d call and say hi since I’m passing through.”

Jackie sniffed loudly before speaking again. “You’ve got to stop in and have a drink or something. Where are you?”

I told her, then added that my car was temporarily out of commission. I was beginning to feel embarrassed.

Jackie, however, was a font of sympathy. “Oh, how awful when you’re on a trip! I
it when that happens! Remember the time Mom had to drive down to Coos Bay and her wheels fell off?”

I did, but my version wasn’t quite the same. Mavis had hit a deep rut while trying to turn around off the highway and had jarred her axle. I’d forgotten that Jackie was inclined to dramatic exaggeration.

“Cars are such a
,” Jackie was saying, and I could envision her wide mouth turning down at the corners and her gray eyes rolling heavenward. “Listen, I’ll be down to get you in five minutes. We’re right up here on Lincoln Hill. Oh, I’m so
you called! It’s like the answer to a prayer!”

BOOK: The Alpine Escape
2.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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