I hate the term scoop. I don’t know its derivation in newspaper terms, but I hate it anyway. What I hate even more is having it done to me and The Alpine Advocate. But two months ago that’s what happened for the first time in my career as an editor and publisher.
Spencer Fleetwood, owner and operator of my nemesis, radio station KSKY, managed to scoop me on a story about a missing snowboarder on Mount Baldy. I’ve never liked Spence, as he calls himself, probably because he’s so full of himself. And, to be candid, because he’s provided the Advocate with the only serious competition I’ve ever faced. Furthermore, I think his radio station with its weak little signal and prepackaged DJs is just one step up from shouting through a megaphone on a soapbox in Old Mill Park.
But he beat me on the snowboarder story, and I’m still mad. It started with the “exclusive report” of the missing snowboarder. I’m still not certain how Spence got the so-called scoop, but it was probably from one of the park rangers. In the past, they’ve always come to me first with any breaking news. I suspect Spence was hanging on to a barstool at the Venison Inn when one of the rangers came off duty and the story fell into his lap before he fell onto the floor.
“You’re being unfair,” Leo Walsh, my ad manager, declared for about the fiftieth time in the ten weeks that had passed since the snowboarder’s disappearance. “Drop it. That’s the only story he’s beat you on since he started up the station last summer. Face it, the Advocate’s a weekly. With daily radio competition, you’re bound to get beat now and then.”
I shook a finger in Leo’s weathered face. “Don’t patronize me! Don’t humor me!”
“Hey!” Leo batted my hand away and scowled. “Don’t wag your finger at me!”
I stared into Leo’s green eyes. He was wearing the look that he usually reserved for advertisers who were late with their payments. It was also a look he’d probably used in years gone by for his ex-wife, the publishers who had canned him, and the bartenders who’d refused him a last drink before closing time.
I backed off. “Okay,” I said crossly. “I’m sorry. But you, of all people on the staff, know what a pain in the butt this Fleetwood is. You’ve had to hustle twice as hard since he got here just to keep us faintly in the black.”
The hard-edged glint faded from Leo’s eyes as he perched on the edge of his desk and lighted a cigarette. “Get used to it,” Leo said, squinting through a cloud of smoke. “He’s been around for a while. Besides, I thought you’d be in a better mood these days since your knight in shining armor showed up.”
I thought I detected bitterness in Leo’s tone, but maybe I was flattering myself. “I was glad Tom visited me, of course,” I said in an uncharacteristically formal tone. “I hadn’t seen him in over a year.” More like two, I thought with a pang, but managed to keep my head up and my gaze steady.
Leo burst out laughing. “Come on, Emma, you practically hyperventilated the day he got here. How many times did you walk into the wall? Four?”
“Twice,” I said sharply. “But that was because the phone rang the first time, and the second time Vida screamed.”
“The mouse,” Leo said, looking amused. My House and Home editor, Vida Runkel, was afraid of neither man nor beast—except for mice. “The mouse was more afraid of the Duchess,” Leo asserted, using the nickname Vida loathed. “I thought she was faking it. The next day I figured she’d show up with stuffed mice all over one of her damned hats.”
“Even Vida is occasionally vulnerable,” I said, though her armor was as solid as that of anybody I’d ever met.
Leo and I seemed to have reached neutral territory. I smiled and went over to the coffee urn to fill my Seattle Mariners mug, a gift from my onetime lover, Sheriff Milo Dodge. I was stirring in a teaspoon of sugar when my only reporter, Scott Chamoud, came through the door.
“Hey, what’s up?” Scott inquired, dumping a dark green backpack on his desk by the coffee urn. “Is this Monday, or am I in a fog?”
My smile turned wry. “Both, maybe.”
Scott gave me his killer grin. “I did have a good weekend, now that I think about it.”
Scott, who is so tall, dark and handsome that he’s a cliché, had fallen in love with a local lass. Frankly, his choices were limited in Alpine, with its slightly more than three thousand population. I’d figured Scott, at twenty-six, would probably fall for a student from the community college. Instead he had succumbed to the charms of one of the instructors, the thirty-something Tamara Rostova, whose dark beauty rivaled his own.
“Sheesh,” Leo exclaimed, stubbing out his cigarette, “love is in the Alpine air. I feel lonesome.”
The smile I gave Leo probably conveyed more amusement than pity. “You don’t seem to be looking very hard since you broke up with Delphine Corson.”
“Delphine?” Vida stood in the doorway, majestic as ever in a hat with tulips plastered all over its straw brim. “What about Delphine? Did she break her engagement to Spike Canby?”
Leo gave Vida a wry glance. “Spike left town when the construction crew headed for a job in Everett. Ergo, down at the flower shop, Delphine’s run out of daisies to pull apart for ‘He loves me, he loves me not.’ ”
Scott was looking puzzled. “Sometimes I feel like I miss things around here. Is that because I wasn’t born in Skykomish County?”
“Exactly,” Vida declared, with a bob of the tulips. “You can’t possibly know everyone’s background unless you were born and raised here.”
Leo, Scott, and I exchanged bemused expressions. None of us could claim to be a native, and even I, with the longest tenure—over a decade—in Alpine, was still frequently treated as an outsider. To balance off our staff, the two other locals—besides Vida, of course—came into the editorial office. Kip MacDuff, who ran the backshop, and Ginny Erlandson, our business manager and receptionist, both looked fresh-faced and eager on this Monday morning in June. Kip and Ginny were both redheads, but no relation unless Vida knew a long-ago secret she had never shared with me.
Ginny’s face fell when she approached the coffee urn. “Where are the pastries?” she asked forlornly.
Scott slapped a hand to his forehead. “I forgot! Darn, I’ll run down to the Upper Crust Bakery right now.” He was out the door before anyone could say “bear claw.”
“Scott’s in love,” I said.
Kip lifted his eyebrows. “That college teacher? She’s hot.”
“Kip!” Vida sounded severe. “That’s no way to speak of a young lady.”
Kip barely managed a contrite expression. He had known Vida since he was a baby; like most of Alpine’s younger generation, he had often been scolded by her. Vida was either related to half the under-forty set or had baby-sat for their parents. They all knew better than to talk back. And that included the older generation.
“Scott’s serious about Tammy,” Ginny declared, putting lo-cal sweetener into her coffee. “I hope he’s not in over his head.”
“He’s fine,” Leo asserted. “He’s a city boy, originally.”
Vida’s head whipped around so fast that her hat almost flew off. “So?”
Leo shrugged. “I mean that Tamara Rostova strikes me as more worldly than most of . . . the few girls Scott’s dated since he came to work for the Advocate.” My ad manager recovered quickly from what I’m sure was an Alpine gaffe. “But Scott’s reasonably sophisticated, so the age difference doesn’t matter much.”
Vida snorted, then started to launch into a diatribe, which was cut short by the arrival of Al Driggers, the local undertaker. “Death news,” Al intoned, looking as gaunt and gray as some of the corpses he embalmed. “The first one since mid-April.” Death was bad for most people, but good for Al. The profit motive, of course.
Vida practically jumped out of her seat. “Who?” she demanded.
“Oscar Nyquist,” Al responded. “He died this morning at five-oh-five. Heart attack.”
“Oscar!” Vida yanked off her glasses and blinked several times at Al. “Goodness, he must have been over ninety. I should have known. I’d heard that he’d been shopping for caskets.”
“Ninety-two come August twenty-first,” Al responded, handing Vida the notice. “Yes, he selected one that was top of the line, what I call Celestial Blue, both inside and out. Very comfortable. Oscar couldn’t take his eyes off it. Strange, in a way—I thought he’d live to be a hundred. Oh, well. You never know.”
Oscar owned the local movie theatre, the Whistling Marmot. He was a widower, but had extended family in Skykomish County. Vida pounced on the funeral date.
“Saturday?” She was aghast. “At two o’clock? There are four weddings scheduled that afternoon. Then, in the evening, there’s the Alpine High School graduation. Whatever were you thinking of, Al?”
From the expression on Al’s long face, he hadn’t been thinking as hard as Vida. “Well . . . the family wanted it then. I would’ve suggested an earlier time, but some of the relatives have to come from out of town. Oscar wanted to be buried with his parents, in Oppdal, Norway.”
“Ridiculous,” Vida declared. “His wife’s buried right here in Alpine. Where did he get such a silly idea? And what’s that got to do with when the funeral is held? The out-of-towners could come Friday and stay overnight. You won’t have half the turnout for Oscar you’d have if the funeral were at ten, or even on Friday. What’s wrong with Friday?”
Al considered his answer. “The out-of-towners,” he finally said, in his deliberate manner. “They couldn’t make it.”
“Pooh.” Vida waved a dismissive hand and put her glasses back on. “They could if they tried. You should have insisted on a better time. As it is, many people will be torn between attending the funeral and the weddings. Of course there will be better food at the bridal receptions. But you really can’t cut one short to run off to the other. Think of the emotional mood swing required. This could start some feuds.”
Excerpted from The Alpine Nemesis by Mary Daheim. Copyright © 2001 by Mary Daheim. Excerpted by permission of Fawcett, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.