Read The Alpine Menace Online

Authors: Mary Daheim

The Alpine Menace (6 page)

“It's too bad it's dark,” Vida remarked as I slowed down by the huge maple that stood in front of my old home. The tree was in bud, its gnarled trunk taking up most of the parking strip, its old roots raising parts of the sidewalk. “This was your house?” Vida asked, leaning forward to look past me. “It's rather nice.”

The Craftsman bungalow dating from the World War I era had received a coat of paint and a new roof since I'd last seen it ten years ago. Ben and I had made a sentimental journey before I moved to Alpine and he was transferred to the mission church in Tuba City, Arizona. After our parents had been killed in a car wreck eighteen years earlier, we'd sold the house to a newly married
couple who were expecting. I had no idea who lived there now, but the lights were on and a small station wagon was pulled into the garage out back.

“Did Ronnie ever visit here?” Vida asked.

It was the furthest thing from my mind. “Ronnie?” I thought back, peeling the years away. “Yes, once or twice when he and his sisters were very young. They tore the place up. My parents were furious, but Aunt Marlene and Uncle Gary didn't do a thing to stop them.”

“Memories,” Vida murmured. “Family. How sweet.”

I ignored the remark. My recollections were very different from Vida's fixation. Ben and me, plundering our presents under the tree on Christmas morning, our mother's Thanksgiving turkey roasting in the gas oven, our father loading us into the secondhand sedan on Sunday mornings to attend Mass at St. Benedict's. The irony that one of the altar boys was Tom Cavanaugh, who lived in a neighborhood two miles away in Fremont, but belonged to the same parish. He and I hadn't realized that until many years later when we were in bed.

“We didn't do a lot of things with the rest of the relatives,” I said. “Dad had only the one sister, Marlene, and Mom had a brother who lived in Olympia and another in California. There wasn't much of an extended family to mingle with.”

“A pity,” Vida said, still gawking at the house and what she could make out of the garden, which was fairly large but well kept up. “Youngsters need aunts and uncles and cousins. It makes life so much richer.”

“We had us,” I said, feeling defensive. “Our own little quartet. It was enough.”

Vida didn't respond, even though I knew she disagreed. Reversing down to the intersection, I took a left to head for Ashworth, just a few blocks away.

“You didn't plan on visiting the Addisons tonight, did you?” I asked Vida.

“Nooo,” Vida replied, peering at her watch. She refused to read the time from the digital clock on the dashboard, having often expressed her disapproval of “unnecessary gadgets” in the newer automobiles. “It's after nine. We might be imposing.”

The Addison house was a larger version of my old home, with stone pillars on the front porch. The lights were on there, too, and the front door was open. I was halfway into the curb when a man carrying two cardboard boxes came rushing down the front steps. A plump woman followed, screaming and waving her arms.

“Goodness!” Vida exclaimed. “What's this?”

The man, who was big and balding, dumped the boxes on the parking strip, opened the trunk of a Honda sedan, and was about to pick up the boxes again when the woman kicked him in the rear end. He whirled around and made as if to grab her, but swore instead. She swore back. Then, apparently noticing my headlights, they both stopped and stared.

To my dismay, Vida rolled down her window and leaned out. “Yoo-hoo! Is this the way to the zoo?”

“The zoo's closed!” the man shouted.

“No!” Vida cried. “That can't be! Are you sure?”

He took a step closer and lowered his voice. “Yeah, it's after dark. You'll have to come back tomorrow. It's right over that way.” His arm shot out to his left. “Just follow Fiftieth Street.”

“You don't have a map, do you?” Vida asked.

“Not handy,” the man replied, impatient. “’ Scuse me, I'm busy here.”

The woman, meanwhile, had picked up the boxes and was scurrying back into the house. He didn't notice until she reached the door, which slammed shut behind her.

“Damn!” The man pounded a fist into his palm. “Damn, damn, damn!”

“Dear me,” Vida said. “Is there a problem?”

“You bet,” he said, already rushing back to the house. We watched as he beat both hands against the door and yelled, “Kathy!” several times.

“What do you think?” Vida asked in a musing tone.

“I think we'd better get out of here,” I said, pulling back into the street. “If we call on the Addisons again, how are we going to explain our nocturnal desire to visit the damned zoo?”

“Please, Emma, just because you're in the city doesn't mean you have to swear like the rest of these people.”

“Sorry.” I sighed, maneuvering the car down the narrow street, which allowed parking on both sides. “But haven't we blown our cover?”

Before Vida could respond, a small sports car came tearing around the corner. We both put on our brakes and must have missed a collision by inches. I let out a little cry, Vida emitted a gasp, and the sports car didn't budge.

“You have the right-of-way,” Vida said in annoyance. “Why doesn't this silly fool back up so you can get by?”

The “silly fool” appeared to be a young woman. I could see the outline of a curly head of hair and a pair of hands held up in a do-something gesture. I did some-thing—I honked four times. My adversary put her hands back on the wheel and emphatically shook her head.

“Idiot,” I spat out. “She's just being stubborn. I'd have to back all the way to the Addisons’ to pull over. Which I refuse to do. We'll sit it out.”

“Good for you,” Vida said, glaring at The Enemy. “Don't give in. She looks young and is probably spoiled. We'll teach her a lesson.”

I folded my arms across my chest. There was no reason—at least that I could see from my boxed-in position—that the girl couldn't back around the corner. Vida and I were in no hurry; we could afford to wait.

Or could have, until a car honked behind us. I looked
in the rearview mirror and saw the Honda with the bald man driving.

“Great,” I said, gritting my teeth. “Now she's going to have to move or we'll spend the night on Ashworth.”

To my surprise, the girl got out of the car. I braced for a tirade, but she squeezed between the Lexus and a van parked beside me. Quickly, I also rolled down my window. She had reached the Honda.

“Dad?” the girl said. “Where do you think you're going?”

We couldn't hear the answer.

“Kendra?” Vida mouthed, her gray eyes wide behind the big glasses.

“Maybe,” I said, craning my neck to get a better look at the argument that was going on behind us. I caught the words
leaving her
end of my rope
from the man I assumed to be Sam Addison.

“This isn't a good time,” the girl said, her high-pitched voice carrying on the night air. “Calm down, Dad. Let's go inside and talk.”

“I'm through talking,” Sam retorted. “Move your car, Kendra. Let these two nuts in front of me get by.”

“Dad… Hey, Dad, open the damned window! Don't be such an ass!” Kendra was all but hopping up and down next to the Honda.

“We're the nuts?” Vida breathed. “Really, now.”

Kendra stomped past us without so much as a glance. She got into the sports car, which I'd finally identified as a Mazda Miata, and backed up. I offered her a halfhearted wave, then took a right to Green Lake Way, leaving the Addisons to their peril.

“Most interesting,” Vida murmured as we headed for the Aurora Bridge. “What do you make of it?”

“Something has brought things to a crisis in the Ad-dison household,” I said. “I wonder if it has something to do with Carol's murder.”

“A catalyst, perhaps,” Vida said. “Drat. I shouldn't have asked about the zoo. Sam Addison will remember me.”

I didn't mention that Vida was unforgettable, especially wearing a feathered hat that looked like it might have been one of Montezuma's ceremonial headdresses.

It seemed too late to start pub crawling in search of witnesses. In fact, it was probably too early, but Good Friday didn't strike me as an appropriate time for hitting the bars. Still, neither Vida nor I go to bed early, so I gave her a quick tour of the two major neighborhoods that flanked the city center, Queen Anne Hill and Capitol Hill. Then we drove around downtown, through the canyons between skyscrapers, and finally returned to our motel around eleven.

“So big.” She sighed, sitting on one of the twin beds and removing her shoes. “So many cars. So many people. How do they stand it?”

“I like it,” I declared. “I miss it. Seattle energizes me.”

“Twaddle. How can you stand driving around and not knowing who lives in all the houses? How can you possibly feel connected to half a million people?”

“I don't need to,” I said. “When you grow up here, you know your neighbors. At least most of them. Being anonymous is what many people like about a big city.”

“Twaddle,” Vida repeated. “It doesn't make sense.”

It wouldn't to Vida, but it did to me.

We had breakfast at a café in the lower Queen Anne district, then headed downtown to the jail. Vida complained about the traffic, which was unusually heavy for a Saturday morning.

“It's the day before Easter,” I explained. “Everyone's out doing last-minute shopping. We'll be lucky to find a parking place close to the jail.”

“Parking!” Vida exclaimed. “I cannot think when I
haven't been able to find a parking space at the Alpine Mall.”

There was no point in arguing. The mall was a collection of two dozen shops, none of them bigger than my modest log house. We were in luck, however. The city and county buildings are south of the larger stores, and since most office workers had the day off, we were able to find a meter a half block away.

Vida griped all the way to the visitors’ area. People weren't friendly, the walls needed paint, the place didn't smell quite right. With her nose in the air she marched along beside me to the visitors’ area, where I asked the guard if we could both see Ronnie at the same time.

We couldn't, so I went first, and was shocked to see my cousin. He wore a big bandage across his forehead, one eye was blackened, and his lower lip had been cut. He must have seen the sympathy in my expression because he insisted he was fine.

“I can handle myself,” he asserted with a bravery I was sure he didn't feel.

“It doesn't look like it,” I said. “Or is the other guy in worse shape?”

Ronnie avoided the question. “I guess I said the wrong thing to Bubba,” he said with a pitiful smile. “Bubba rules.”

“With his fists,” I retorted. “How do you really feel?”

Ronnie's narrow shoulders went slack. “Crappy.” He took a cigarette from the pack I'd brought him—against Vida's advice—and lit up. “How's Budweiser?”

“What?” I didn't think I'd heard him right.

“Budweiser. My dog. Buddy, I call him. Or Bud.” Ronnie's beat-up face softened. “He's a mutt, but a real pal. I take him for walks around Green Lake sometimes. How is he?”

“I don't know anything about him,” I confessed. “Where did you last see him?”

“At the apartment.” Ronnie's face fell. “I took him outside before I hit the bars. Are you sure you ain't seen him?”

I shook my head. “I'll ask around, though. I promise.”

Ronnie brightened a bit. “Good. I can't lose Buddy. Not after losing Carol.” He paused, flicking his cigarette at a plastic ashtray. “What have you found out? Can I get out of here?”

“Not yet,” I said with a feeble smile of my own. “We're just getting started.” I explained what we'd done so far, which didn't seem like much, especially to Ronnie.

“What about my alibi?” he asked with a whine in his voice.

“We'll check that tonight,” I replied, wincing at the thought of dragging Vida along to bars and taverns. “It'd help if you could remember where you were.”

“It had to be one of four places,” Ronnie said. “Five, maybe, 'cept I don't go to Top's that often. You shoulda gone last night, 'cause it was a Friday.”

Feeling guilty for sightseeing instead of sleuthing, I grimaced. “You mean the same crew hangs out on the same nights?”

Ronnie yawned, then nodded. “Sure. Tonight might be different, though sometimes weekends draw all the regulars.”

“We'll do it,” I promised. “Look, is there anything else you can tell us? Something you remember or thought wasn't important? What about suspects? Who might want to kill Carol?”

Ronnie yawned so wide that I could see his tonsils. “Huh?”

“Motive,” I persisted. “Had Carol quarreled with somebody? How did she get along with Kendra?”

“Carol and I argued a lot,” Ronnie said, his eyelids drooping.

I leaned forward in the uncomfortable chair. “Ronnie, are you all right?”

He nodded twice, his chin almost touching his chest. “I'm just tired. I don't sleep so good in here.”

I didn't want to think why Ronnie couldn't get a decent night's rest in his cell. “Is it better during the day?”

This time he nodded only once. “Sometimes.” The words were muffled, his eyes were almost closed.

“Ronnie, try to tell me—” I stopped. His breathing had become shallow, he was slumped in his chair, and I heard what sounded like a snore.

Ronnie was sound asleep.

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